Then-candidate Macron speaking from Algiers in February, 2017, described French Republic atrocities in Algeria as “crimes against humanity,” which sparked outrage from the far-right and the right political leaders, their voters, and the colonialist elite. Before him, in December, 2012, former President Hollande, during his official visit to Algiers, had declared that his country’s occupation was “unjust and brutal,” but didn’t mention apology, or eventually repentance and turn the page of the French colonial legacy.
In this love-hate relationship between the two nations, story lines still make headlines. As far as Algiers arms go, insistence that France must manifest its will and apologize for its crimes committed during its 132 years of harsh colonization, whereas France’s reticence to do so stays lodged in local political imperatives.
Yet last year President Emmanuel Macron admitted that France had a systemic chain that initiated torture during the seven years of a bloody liberation war, which led to the independence of Algeria in 1962. Fifty-eight-years later and this admission finally marks the French Republic’s acknowledgment that its military, para-troopers and special forces used torture in Algeria.
President Macron made the admission in a symbolic visit to the home of Maurice Audin’s widow. Her husband was an Assistant Mathematics Professor at Algiers University, a communist, anti-colonialist and pro-independence activist.
Dr. Audin was twenty-five-years when he was arrested at his home by para-troopers Chief General Massu, a vehement right-wing, vocal colonialist for l’Algérie-française. Dr. Audin was accused of harboring wanted members of the Communist party and the FLN leaders in Algiers. He died after being severely tortured in detention.
President Macron’s declaration, which recognizes that this was the result of a policy of repression and torture by the French government, is a sea-change. France’s former Ambassador Xavier Driencourt in Algiers told the online paper (TSA), “The President has condemned the use of torture during the Algerian liberation war, it’s a considerable gesture to acknowledge the responsibility of the government of that time.”
Let’s leave the emotional factor aside and face reality. Three-fourths of the population in Algeria was born after 1962, and don’t know who Professor Maurice Audin was, besides the Algiers University square that bears his name. Because of the selective history curriculum that is taught is dictated by the Algerian regime.
Hence the relations between France and Algeria have gotten tense, which is leading to troubled waters under President Macron’s bridge with Algiers, following the election of president Tebboune. “I have come to know that President Abdelmadjid Tebboune won the Algerian presidential election in the first round, and I hope for authorities to engage in a real dialogue with the protesting populations.” He told the press.
It’s an unusual comment from a French President towards his counterpart in Algeria, since traditionally France is the first country on the planet to congratulate the newly “elected” Algerian president, even before the official announcement of his election.
Algeria’s President Tebboune, however, did not waste time in responding to the French president’s statement. When he was asked by reporters in Algiers about President Macron’s comment on his election, the president said: “I have no comment, he (Macron) is free to market the goods he wants in his country, I only recognize the Algerian people.”
“We have a completely new situation in Algeria, which will undoubtedly initiate significant developments in this country,” declared Mr. Jean Yves Le Drian Minister of Foreign Affairs in reference to the recent election of President Abdelmadjid Tebboune. “New perspectives are opening up for relations between France and Algeria. If shared memory can be part of this new whole, it would be very good news for everyone.” He said.
What went wrong? The Algerian Mosaic Hirak changed the dynamic and the trajectory of the relations between Paris and Algiers.
This change has brought an end to the “velvet” relations between Paris and Algiers in light of the purge operation headed by the military against the ex-president’s oligarchs who have close ties with France’s President — like Issad Rabrab, Algerian billionaire and CEO of the Cevital group, was released from Al-Harrach jail last month, as he had been in detention for six-months, he was among then-French Presidential candidate Macron’s campaign donors, a similar relation he had with Ali Haddad, former boss chief of the “Bosses” who is jailed.
It is important to mention that some analysts in France believe that the new president of Algeria is hostile to the French interests. They based their analysis on evidence, that three years ago President Tebboune, when he was the Prime Minister, implemented tough measures against French agricultural products.
He dared to ban the import of French apples due to suspicions of inflating the bills after he investigated its price at its source and what was being marketed in Algeria. This caused a stir among farmers in France and the usual suspect alliance at home by some of the ex-system oligarchs, a bold policy that cost him his job. He was fired after eighty-nine days in office as Premier (the shortest term of a Premier in Algeria since 1979).
On the other hand, Algerians see their French counterparts behind the provocations coming from Paris. Last October the Algerian authorities arrested French MP Mathilde Panot in Béjaïa east of Algeria, who, with her deputy Mourad Tagzout, was “meeting” the radical elements in the peaceful Hirak popular movement in this sensitive ethnic area of the country. MP Panot is Vice-president of the parliamentarian group of the left wing party La France Insoumise.
The amateurish motion of the European MP Raphael Glucksmann at the E.U. Parliament suggested calling for a discussion of the current Algerian political situation, which provided a further irritant. MP Glucksmann headed the Socialist party list in last summer’s European election and he is a French philosopher like his father André Glucksmann also spoke twenty years ago on Algerian political turmoil and violence, calling the Algerian civilian war “a war against the civilians.” A comment read in Algeria and certain to stir up a bees’ nest.
Also Algiers’ foreign policy in light of the tri-polar system of Washington, Moscow and Beijing, would irritate the French President, whose foreign policy looks like his domestic policy.
Recently Algeria has received the skulls of 24 resistance fighters decapitated during France’s colonial occupation of the North African country, and which had been stored for decades in a Paris museum. The return of the skulls was the result of years of efforts by Algerian historians and comes amid a growing global reckoning with the legacy of colonialism.
The 24 fought French colonial forces who occupied Algeria in 1830 and took part in an 1849 revolt. After they were decapitated, their skulls were taken to France as trophies. The remains will be on public display at the Palace of Culture in the capital on Saturday, and will then be buried in a special funeral east of Algiers on Sunday – the 58th anniversary of Algeria’s independence from France after a long and bloody war.
In tears, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune presided over Friday’s ceremony, alongside the heads of both houses of Parliament and top military officials. Among the remains were those of revolt leader Sheikh Bouzian, who was captured in 1849 by the French, shot and decapitated, and the skull of resistance leader Mohammed Lamjad ben Abdelmalek, also known as Cherif Boubaghla (the man with the mule).
In 2011, Algerian historian and researcher Ali Farid Belkadi discovered the skulls at the Museum of Man in Paris, across from the Eiffel Tower, and alerted Algerian authorities. The researcher lobbied for years for their return, and Algeria’s then-President Abdelaziz Bouteflika eventually launched the formal repatriation request.
French President Emmanuel Macron agreed in 2018 but bureaucratic obstacles delayed the return until now. Historians welcomed the return of the remains, but say they are just part of Algeria’s history that is still in French hands.
“We have recovered part of our memory,” historian Mohamed El Korso told The Associated Press news agency. “But the fight must continue, until the recovery of all the remains of the resistance fighters, which number in the hundreds, and the archives of our revolution.”
Those interested in a first-hand account of the Algerian resistance and memory can get it from the expressive faces of their parents and grand-parents or read factual academic works by Professors Mohammed Harbi, Benjamin Stora, Vidal-Naquet and Yves Courrière, writers themselves who lived through these tragic events.