What to remember from Macron’s visit to Algeria

Key points: -French President Emmanuel Macron’s three-day visit to Algeria from August 25-27 involved an unprecedented meeting, bringing together – for the first time since Algeria’s independence – senior military and intelligence officials from both countries , in the presence of the two Heads of State .

-This process makes it possible to turn the page on Macron’s controversial October 2021 remarks, when he affirmed that post-independence Algeria was built on “a memory rent”, which Algiers had promoted beyond the Mediterranean and which opposed Algiers and Paris.

– This trip, which will soon be followed by a state visit to Morocco, is also part of efforts to restructure international relations.

Macron arrived in Algeria for an “official and friendly” three-day visit on August 25. His first stop was in Algiers, before going to the city of Oran, then returning to Algiers where several agreements were signed to promote cooperation in the educational and cultural sectors between the two countries.

In addition to the formal dimension of the visit and the signed agreements, this trip brought together the senior military and intelligence officials of the two countries – for the first time since the independence of Algeria on July 5, 1962 – in the presence of French leaders and state Algerian.

At the other end of the spectrum, the trip took the French president to the historic stronghold of the raï of Oran, the record store “Disco Maghreb”. He organized a private dinner with the author and journalist Kamel Daoud, as well as other personalities from Oran civil society. The dinner was marked by an informal exchange of views with young entrepreneurs and sportsmen, and was followed by a breakdance show in a sports complex.

In between, Macron’s visit to the Maqam Echahid – a huge monument commemorating those killed in the Algerian War of Independence – was followed by a wreath laying of fallen French soldiers and civilians at a monument in the Saint Cemetery. -Eugene, a walkabout in both Christian and Jewish cemeteries (where the famous French film actor Roger Hanin is buried), a visit to the Great Mosque of Algiers and a pilgrimage to the Santa Cruz chapel. The latter is a spectacular basilica overlooking Oran and the port of Mers El Kebir – where 19 martyrs, including seven monks from the Tibhirine Monastery, killed during Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s, were beatified four years ago.

This visit, which carries several meanings and to which the local authorities added a strong luster by displaying the Algerian and French flags along the route taken by Macron – which has not been seen since 1962 – was unique, perhaps because members of Algerian origin made up the lion’s share. of the large French delegation: the presence of deputies and senators, university deans, entrepreneurs, writers and artists, athletes and community leaders reflects the successes and the continuation of the pluralism of the he former Algeria, that of Muslims, Jews and Pieds-noirs (people of French and European descent born in Algeria under French domination), on metropolitan French soil.

The 132-year period of French rule in Algeria is now history. His memory is maintained today by his survivors and their descendants, who tell a controversial but collective “Great Story”.

Each of the interlocutors established the legitimacy of their own cause, accusing the other of guilt and abuse. Six decades after the end of the war, the main symbolic purpose of this presidential visit is to morally urge those concerned to overcome – without forgetting – these controversies to build a better future.

Drawing this future which is rooted in the present requires a major semantic change: Algerian immigrants in France and their descendants of all origins, yesterday forgotten by history, are today the actors of a history that is being made.

The process of “deconstruction”—according to Jacques Derrida, the contemporary Spinoza of a kind of Algerian Judaism, for whom Paris and New York were a modern-day Amsterdam—can evolve to reshape in a fruitful and matrix way the memories, whose foundation must be asked in particular by all the descendants of Algerian immigrants.

Following the work of Benjamin Stora, who was a very important member of the French delegation, the Algerian and French parties agreed to set up a committee of historians from both countries responsible for working immediately on the corpus of this collective memory. It was then that in France, the sons and daughters of Algeria were, for many, closely mingled, through marriage and descent, with the other components of modern French society.

This brand new process also makes it possible to go beyond the recent controversies arising from Macron’s remarks in October 2021, criticizing the “memory rent” as used by the Algiers regime.

The contrast between the curses of the past and the mutual enthusiasm shown today is not too surprising in light of the workings of politics in the Arab world, where rhetoric plays an outsized role: the expression of anathema is often a necessary prerequisite for reconciliation, because it makes it possible to go beyond the unspoken in a system of governance where democracy remains formal.

However, the Algerian side has explicitly expressed its motivation through multiple signs that are part of its own semantic register. Among them, the long hours of tete-a-tete at the presidential residence of Zeralda at night, the interactions with the press following the signing of the agreements where President Abdelmadjid Tebboune spoke exclusively in French, and the Algerian hunter Sukhoi Su -30 MKA1 aircraft escorting Macron’s presidential Airbus to the far reaches of Algerian airspace.

Algeria now has everything to gain from rebuilding its relationship with France, which will enable the country to face a certain number of structural difficulties which hinder both its internal development and its Mediterranean and African positioning, and to diversify its international alliances, where the significant weight of the Soviet Union and then of Russia, in addition to the disproportionate conditions imposed by its dependence on China at present, pose a problem.

Many journalists had mocked Macron’s trip before it happened, describing it as a rush for Algerian gas to keep warm in the winter, to compensate for the cut in gas supplies to Moscow in response to the European sanctions imposed following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

While Algeria has benefited, like all hydrocarbon producers (89% of the value of exports) from the rise in prices (+ 69% in 2021 for the Sahara mixture) after the peak of COVID-19 and the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, it is hardly able to meet the production quota of 1 million barrels per day (800,000 in 2020 against 1.3 in 2010) required by OPEC, due to the depletion of its reserves, obsolete installations, and growing domestic consumption (+4.5% per year) by a population of 44 million. Thus, the contribution of Algeria to winter heating in France can hardly be significant.

Food inflation (Algeria is the world’s largest importer of cereals per capita) over the past year has stood at 15% in the capital, and cereals represent 43% of the household food basket – which reflects the continuous depreciation of the dinar against the euro and the dollar.

Politically, after former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was ousted by the hirak – the massive grassroots movement that started in February 2019 and came to a halt a year later due to the COVID-19 outbreak – the stabilization of the power required a massive purge of 50 years of the previous era. – and 60-year-old technocrats, accused of corruption and sentenced to heavy prison terms.

The Chief of the Defense Staff, General Gaïd Salah, reputed to be close to Moscow and very hostile to Paris, and who had dismissed former President Bouteflika, died shortly after Tebboune’s election, with a low turnout. In turn, Salah’s networks were dismantled.

Senior government positions have become less attractive to young talent, fueling a brain drain to Europe and the Gulf countries, where Algerians have carved out a niche for themselves at the expense of the Lebanese.

In this spirit, the young age and dynamism of the members of the French delegation of Algerian origin created a contrasting effect – relayed by Macron’s appeal.

He urged to “face common challenges together, and to make every effort to provide answers and help Algerian and French youth to succeed… when they decide to join the two shores of the Mediterranean,… [they] are also dual nationals or heirs to this history, whatever its form.

He also announced that he had “made decisions on the issue of mobility and travel”. The problem of visa restrictions is being solved thanks to the large increase in the number of consular laissez-passer issued by Algiers for offenders who will be deported from France (as is the case for Morocco), which has was the source of the problem.

Many civilian and military members of the Algerian delegation were in their 70s, even in their 80s and 90s, which raises the question of bringing new blood to power, of which Bouteflika’s third and fourth terms were tragically an example.

This trip – which should be followed by a state visit to Morocco soon – is also part of Paris’ vision to restructure its international relations. The disintegration of historic alliances and partnerships was reflected in the divergent votes of most African countries at the UN immediately after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The doubts hanging over global allegiances resulting from the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of the USSR, to which must be added the disappointment of China’s partners, who are forced to give up some of their sovereign assets for lack of able to repay their debts to Beijing and questions about Turkish ambitions in Africa have fostered new state-to-state relations, especially since migratory flows have created complementarities between communities on both shores of the Mediterranean.

The challenge here is to make these [migration] positive flows by regulating them – as the European electorate increasingly votes in favor of those pushing the Great Replacement theory (a conspiracy theory claiming that there is a plan to replace European whites with non-whites ) – and contributing to the prosperity of migrant-sending nations, encouraging the transfer of talent, which in turn will help promote the transnational integration of diasporas.

In this case, overcoming the mental blocks and discomforts that arise from a normative interpretation of history, which uses decolonial ideology as an argument for activism, and creating a common memory, is for Macron the guarantee of a better future.

Read the original article in French, published in Le Grand Continent, here.

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