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Algeria loves Italy but cannot forget France, its first lover!

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French President Emmanuel Macron will visit Algeria from 25 to 27 August, the Elysée said, announcing a visit to revive the partnership between the two countries after several months of crisis.

“This trip will contribute to deepening bilateral relations by looking to the future (…) to strengthen Franco-Algerian cooperation in the face of regional challenges and to continue the work of reconciliation with the past,” the French presidency said after a telephone conversation between Macron and his counterpart Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

The visit will be Emmanuel Macron’s second to Algeria after a 12-hour visit in December 2017 at the beginning of his first term. A visit during which he was warmly welcomed by the Algerian president and the people themselves, who knows if he will receive the same warmth now!

The visit to Algiers and Oran comes at the end of a period symbolically full of anniversaries: the 60th anniversary of the Evian Accords (18 March 1962), which ended more than seven years of war between the insurgents and the French army, and the independence of Algeria (5 July 1962) after 132 years of French colonisation. This anniversary was celebrated in France, despite the resentment and objections of many.

Paris and Algiers hope to turn the page on a series of misunderstandings and tensions that culminated in the recall of the Algerian ambassador in October 2021 after the French president’s statements on the ‘politico-military’ system and the Algerian nation.

Will it be coincidental this Machiavellian chose to visit his favourite former colony precisely at this crucial time for Europe? Let us go in order and reconstruct the events prompting Macron’s trip.

As Hegel teaches us, History is cruel

In November 2021, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said that his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron had insulted his country. The French president claimed that Algeria is ruled by a ‘politico-military regime’ with an official history based not on truth but on hatred towards France, in addition to France’s decision to reduce the number of visas and expel some 8,000 Algerians. In response, Algeria recalled its ambassador from Paris. Days after summoning the ambassador, the Algerian authorities closed the airspace to all French military aircraft heading to the Sahel region as part of Operation Barkhane and Prime Minister Ayman Abdel Rahman called Macron’s statements ‘unacceptable’.

In 2017, however, the Elysée tenant’s rhetoric was quite different: in a speech, he had labelled colonialism a ‘crime against humanity’. 2018, again, is the year of the ‘Audin’ case, a communist mathematics professor involved in the terrorist activities of the FLN and arrested in Algiers in June 1957 by the military authorities and missing ever since. On that occasion, the tenant of the Elysée affirmed that Audin had been tortured and killed by soldiers in Paris, comparing the event to state murder and uttering a series of platitudes about the ‘criminal’ role of the army and the nefariousness of colonialism. The same year, the Journal Officiel published the decree by which the dramatic and misunderstood affair of the Harkis, the 250,000 Algerian fighters loyal to France and betrayed by France, was finally ennobled. About 190,000 of them were saved and managed to land in southern France, but were concentrated in peripheral locations and became ghosts, only to receive a symbolic mini-recognition between 1980 and 2000.

And as a corollary to all this there is the publication last year of Benjamin Stora’s contradictory report on the memory of colonisation, the idea, also contested by many, of a Franco-Algerian history museum, the very dubious declarations on the existence of a real Algerian nation before the arrival of France in 1830 (with the consequent cooling of bilateral relations) and the reception at the Elysée Palace on 26 January of representatives of the ‘pieds noires’ associations.

Algerian historians have stated in previous statements that France detonated some 17 nuclear bombs in Algeria and that the official side in Algeria did not act as requested in this matter. The first experiment was conducted on 13 February 1960, ‘the blue jerboa’, and was the first French atomic bomb made of plutonium, with a power of between 60 and 70 kilotons, about four times the power of the Hiroshima bomb. In addition, hundreds of thousands of tons of radioactive materials are buried under the sand in some Algerian regions. Nothing has been removed.

“The Past is not dead; it is not even past” Christa Wolf.

What is at stake

And now back to the meeting: it will focus on four important topics. The first, without a shadow of a doubt, is ‘memory‘, the second is energy, which is very important for France and the whole of Europe under Russian blackmail, the third on economic relations between the two countries, and the fourth and last on regional security in general (illegal immigration and the visa issue).

It is very likely that France, the queen of Europe now that Markel has left the scene, will make concessions on the first issue, that of memory, of the colonial past, in exchange for Algerian gas, also alerted by the agreement reached between Algiers and Rome in April after Draghi’s visit to the Maghreb and by the special relationship between Algiers and Madrid (despite the increase in natural gas export prices imposed only on Madrid following the new Spanish position on the Western Sahara issue). Algiers, for its part, is seeking economic relations between the two countries, especially regarding food security. Moreover, it cannot afford to fight on two fronts on the Mediterranean shore at the same time.

Algeria’s signing of an agreement with Italy to increase the volume of gas exports from 21 bcm/year to 30 bcm/year in the horizon 2023-2024, has aroused the interest of the French government, which wants to resume the construction/opening of a French-Spanish gas pipeline (MidCat) in the heart of Western Europe.

A 750-kilometre deep-water pipeline, called Medgaz, already connects gas-rich Algeria with southern Spain.

A second undersea pipeline, called GME, connects Spain to Algeria via Morocco, but in November 2021 Algiers cut off supplies due to a diplomatic conflict with Rabat.

Gas arriving in Spain by sea and pipeline from Algeria could then be sent to the rest of Europe via the MidCat pipeline. The MidCat pipeline is crucial for reducing the EU’s dependence on fossil fuels and ending the Kremlin blackmail.

Macron can take advantage of the diplomatic incident between his former colony and Spain (Madrid’s position on the Western Sahara issue) to reach a fruitful trade-off with Algiers.

Let us conclude by pointing out that the Algerian position is the strongest now at the negotiating table and Macron, to realise his dream and redeem Europe, must show magnanimity with the former colony aware of the protests this will provoke at home. And yes, dear Hegel, history is indeed cruel.

Article produced thanks to the valuable information received from Mr Fathi Aouadi, Senior Intel Analyst specialised in MENA and the Sahel region.

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