Economy

"Metro Colonialism"? Paris Public Transport Operator Spreads Subways In North Africa

Casablanca's RATP tramway
Casablanca's RATP tramway
Philippe Jacqué

ALGIERS - Since the first subway line opened in the end of 2011, it is much appreciated.

“It is a lot easier to get to court," explains Lydia, a young lawyer. She adds that the ticket fare (around 50 cents) is reasonable for the middle class, and the service beats collective taxis or having to change buses several times. "It's also fast," she says.

The fact that it is the RATP Group – the French state-owned public transport operator – that manages the subway in Algiers does not shock her. “On the contrary, we are proud of that. Here, the RATP is highly regarded. Algerians do not have a complex regarding France. The time when we were a French colony is behind us!

In the past five years the RATP, through the intermediary of its international branch RATP Dev, has built up its network across the Maghreb.

In Algeria, the Algiers subway is also operated on a daily basis by the RATP, same with the Casablanca tramway in Morocco, which is operated with a local partner. The tramways in Algiers and Oran, which opened on May 1 are also by the RATP. In July, another tramway will open in Constantine, which is operated jointly with two state-owned Algerian companies.

Algiers' subway - Photo: Magharebia

“We employ around 3000 people in the Maghreb and should earn in the long run an annual revenue of 100 billion euros,” says Mathieu Dunant, head of North Africa operations for the RATP. And the boom is far from over, since in Morocco for instance, cities want to limit the use of cars. In Tunisia, where there is already a large tramway system, the RATP is looking closely at the suburban trains that are being developed in Tunis.

Finally, thanks to the financial windfall of oil, the Algerian government launched an impressive program to develop tramways and subways throughout the country. Around $40 billion were invested in these infrastructure projects. Construction on six new tramway lines should begin before the end of the year. In the long run, the country should have about 20 lines.

A French history

The RATP will continue to develop itself in what has now become its own little playground. “We will be alone in the Maghreb for a while yet,” says Pierre Mongin, CEO of the RAPT. There is no competition from non-French operators like Arriva or First Group. During the call for tenders, the Algerian government decided to limit tenders to Francophone companies only.

However, the two other French public transportation giants, Transdev and Keolis, are today out of the race in the region. Heavily indebted, Transdev, who manages the Rabat tramway in Morocco, has decided to concentrate its development on Australia and northern America. Keolis, originally had high hopes in Algeria, but has given up for now, even though in 2008, it had won the bid to operate the Algiers tramway, which opened in 2011.

Paris' metro - Photo: Kyah117

After Keolis signed its Algiers contract, there were rumors of corruption. “We did not understand the accusations,” says a source in the company. “We believe it was about internal power struggles in the Algerian government.” In the end Keolis lost the contract. “Algeria has a way of governing that is hard to understand. The RATP proved that they had the abilities to deal with this kind of contract. For us though, it is Khalass – ‘Over’ in Arabic!” explains the source.

Keolis’ loss is the RATP’s gain. The company was able to decode the Algerian arcades of power and advance its cause efficiently. “The decision process is a bit complicated here,” admits Mongin, “but once a policy is planned and made official, it is applied.”

The Maghreb is the launching pad for the RATP’s internationalization. Everything started in 2004, when the RATP invested abroad for the first time, by taking a 20% stake in M’dina Bus, a state-owned bus company in Morocco. Confronted with the unabated competition of the private bus companies, the RATP lost large amounts of money – 10 million euros. But this sacrifice opened the doors of the Moroccan market for them.

The Algerian success gave new ideas to the RATP. “For the last four years, we have been prospecting the Middle-East,” says a RATP Dev. Executive. “In Algeria, we are training executives who will later be able to develop our activities in the region.” The firm is tendering to operate a bus network in Riyadh, Saudi-Arabia as well as the Dubai tramway.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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