France And North Africa: The Whiff Of Neo-Colonialism Has Returned
Whether it’s in Tunis, Algiers or Rabat, France is faced with the near-impossible task of finding its diplomatic footing in countries that were under its colonial rule last century.
PARIS — It went relatively unnoticed this week, but Algeria has recalled its ambassador to Paris. It's the language of international diplomacy to express a nation's discontent.
The matter at hand is not necessarily grave, and may be resolved quickly, but it shows just how challenging it has been for Franco-Algerian relations to find any semblance of stability, despite constant efforts from both sides.
And it is a reminder that the same problem is shared by the three main countries in northern Africa, albeit for different reasons.
The spark behind this latest Algerian tension is the fate of a woman, Amira Bouraoui, a figure of the Hirak, the democratic movement in Algeria. This gynecologist and activist fled illegally from Algeria to Tunisia, fearing she would be arrested again.
Bouraoui carries dual Algerian and French nationalities, yet was detained when she wanted to leave Tunisia with her French passport. She was threatened with deportation to Algeria, where she would surely be imprisoned. A negotiation with the French embassy allowed her to get on a plane to France, where she is now safe.
Unpredictable power dynamics in Algeria
As a first consequence, the Tunisian Foreign Minister was dismissed by President Kais Saïed, for being too accommodating to France. Saïed no doubt wanted to appease the fury of Algeria at the expense of France, which is not on his priority list at the moment.
France is facing so much anger in Africa because of its neo-colonial arrogance.
The second consequence being that Algeria has recalled its ambassador to France in consultation, an abrupt reversal to the recent warming of relations between the two countries. The Algerian Chief of Staff was in France last month, which was no small feat!
The power dynamics in Algeria are so unpredictable that it is impossible to know if this is a real crisis or simply a symbolic protest against a minor incident. In any case, the official press is kicking up plenty of dust: daily El Moudjahid wrote on Wednesday that "France, which is facing so much anger in Africa, because of its neo-colonial arrogance, will never change."
Ggynecologist and activist Amira Bouraoui, at the center of renewed tensions
Cold wind blowing from Morocco
One wonders if this diplomatic incident calls into question Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune's scheduled visit to France in May, a crucial moment in the "reconciliation" process. Tebboune has established a good relationship with French President Emmanuel Macron, but he is not the only one to call the shots in Algiers.
The weather in the Mediterranean is always that of a turbulent sea.
Relations with Morocco are no less complicated. First, because the Algerian-Moroccan rivalry means that efforts in the direction of one are taken as an affront by the other.
Second, because the Sahara affair continues to weigh on Moroccan foreign policy, as Spain knows well; and third, because Morocco has diversified its partnerships, with Israel for example, and looks less to Paris than it used to. Le Monde recently spoke of a "disenchantment" and a "cold wind."
A brief statement from the new French ambassador in Rabat last week made waves after the European Parliament voted to condemn the arrest of journalists in Morocco. "The vote of the European Parliament does not commit France in any way," he said, no doubt to calm the nervousness of the kingdom's leaders, but sending a disastrous signal to civil society.
Whether it’s in Tunis, Algiers or Rabat, France is walking on eggshells, every gesture or statement is inspected for ulterior-motives and signs of the colonial history. Emmanuel Macron wants to be the one to mend old wounds, but the weather in the Mediterranean always comes with a turbulent sea.
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