Emmanuel Macron seeks to re-establish Franco-Algerian relations

French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Algeria on Thursday for a three-day visit aimed at easing diplomatic tensions and re-establishing ties marked by a history of French domination and the fierce war that led to the Algeria’s independence in 1962.

On arrival, he laid a wreath at the memorial to the Algerians killed in the struggle for independence before meeting with Abdelmadjid Tebboune, the president of Algeria. Macron said the two countries “have a complicated and painful shared past. And it has at times prevented us from looking to the future.”

Tebboune described the visit as “promising” and “constructive”.

The French leader said the two governments would form a joint committee of historians to study archival documents about the colonial period.

Tensions flared last year after Macron accused the Algerian government of “exploiting memories” of the colonial era and of “rewriting history” based not on facts but on discourse dependent on “hate”. France”. Macron asked whether an Algerian state existed before French colonization, a rhetorical question many find offensive. Algeria summoned its ambassador to protest for three months.

Immigration It’s also a sore spot. In October, France cut the number of visas it grants to Algerians, Tunisians and Moroccans in response to what Paris sees as its refusal to accept illegal migrants. Since March, Algeria has issued temporary permits to about 300 of its citizens to allow them to be deported from France, up from just 17 last year and 91 in 2020, according to Elysée figures.

Neighborhood security Mali, which is fighting a jihadist insurgency, and in the Sahara is also expected to be on the agenda. France recently completed its withdrawal from Mali.

The French president was accompanied not only by the ministers of finance, interior, defense and foreign affairs, but also a delegation of about 90 people that included telecom billionaire Xavier Niel, French Olympic boxer Sarah Ourahmoune and U. Theoretician Kamel Daoud. The diverse composition of the delegation is geared towards a soft power focus to heal tensions and renew a complex relationship that is often emotional but underpinned by strong economic ties and mutual trust. presence of a large Algerian diaspora in France.

Although Algeria is a major energy producer, Elysée said new gas imports were not the focus of the visit, nor were major defense contracts expected. Macron’s schedule includes meetings with young Algerian entrepreneurs, visits to a famous record store in the port city of Oran, the birthplace of Rai music, and attending a breakdance performance. An Elysée official said “the choice was made to direct this visit towards the future and thus startups, innovation, youth and new sectors”.

The fierce history of the two countries will be the focus. Macron brought with him historian Benjamin Stora, the son of a Jewish family who fled Algeria upon independence. Last year, Stora wrote a report commissioned by Macron, proposing the steps needed to “reconcile memory” between Algeria and France in line with colonial history.

But Nacer Djabi, a professor of sociology at the University of Algiers, said it would be difficult for the French president to attract Algerians. Many will find it “psychologically difficult to get over” his remarks. He added that Algeria feels itself in a position of strength vis-à-vis France, due to its increased demand for gas.

Macron has done the repair of historical wounds between France and Algeria a priority since he was elected in 2017. He described colonialism as a “crime against humanity” but stopped to apologize for France’s 130 years in Algeria. He became the first French leader to publicly acknowledge the state’s role in torture during the pre-independence war.

Xavier Driencourt, who served as France’s ambassador to Algeria from 2008-12 and 2017-20, said the elaborate visit was a sign of the importance of the bilateral relationship, but he questioned how much would be achieved. much.

“The French side may want to bring the relationship back to a more positive state, but in my experience, Algeria only reacts when forced by power dynamics,” he said. The visa issue regarding Algeria’s acceptance of its nationals France wants to deport remains “a very sensitive subject and France is still awaiting the outcome”.

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