From the beginning, the relations between France and Algeria had existed long before 1830. That year, however, saw a conflict erupting between the ruler of Algiers and French representative. This led to a naval battle between Algiers and France. The battle did not take a long time before Algiers surrendered. However, it marked the beginning of what Algerians called the Holy War. With this, the French saw a chance to show other European states that it is an exceptionally strong opponent. Algiers had an unusually strong port, which was of interest to the French. During this war, the French waged battles with some locals, thus making them realize the need to acquire the whole territory of Algeria and establish a French colony.
After French troops had secured the country, the next few years saw a rapid spread of French settlers throughout Algeria. However, after the encapsulation there was massive spread of French settlers shipped from France throughout the country. After fully taking control, the French divided Algeria into various departments which were controlled ferociously. The French relocated the natives to rural lands, which they felt were for tribal use. However, the natives continued the revolts, which were further aggravated by famine. Nevertheless, uprisings were dealt with fast and would lead to the loss of land and privileges from the rebels in favor of the military. A present resentment of the Algerians against the French existed from the initial seizure of their country to the way they suppressed revolts. This resentment culminated in a conflict in 1954, which gave rise to guerrilla bombings of French military posts and government buildings. This was led b a group known as FLN. The French committed more military forces, leading to a more open conflict. The struggle escalated, and more lives were lost with FLN, the Algerians suffering the biggest losses (Entelis, Colo and Boulder 1986).
The Effect of History
Algeria has celebrated over 60 years of independence from France. This independence was obtained following a long period of colonization and 8 years of peace agitation and war, which led to the deaths of thousands of Algerians. The Algerians suffered enormously from that war, but also from the long colonial years, throughout which the French took their best lands, plundered their resources, and precluded the natives from accessing education, among other crimes. The refusal by the French to acknowledge these crimes in Algeria has represented one of the major challenges in attaining complete reconciliation. In Algeria, the state and the society agree with regard to France’s colonial acts.
In their combined memories, Algerians remember the massacres that occurred throughout the colonial period, the refutation of citizenship, the famines and impoverishment that preceded the colonial conquest, resulting in the loss of a large portion of the native population between 1830 and 1870, the massacres of May 1945, 11 December 1960, and those committed by the Secret Army Organization in the year 1960 and 1952. The National Liberation war also known as the Algerian Revolution, or Independence War, which played a crucial role in the formation of Algerian identity. The national liberation movements of the Palestinians or the Sahrawi people went along in a similar vein. This clarifies why Algerians take exception to the French position on that historical period: they perceive it as an injury and denial of their national identity. They also wonder why France had to wait for a long time to admit that the Algeria events were more than sheer police action but an all-out war.
A more objective analysis of this situation shows that Algerians are not begging for France’s repentance, but insisting on recognition by the French government of the crimes committed during French colonization between 1830 and 1962. The passing of the Law of 23 February 2005, which praises the positive features of colonialism, led to much deterioration of the relations between the two nations. Even though the Constitutional Council later struck its passage, Algerians never forgot its pronouncement and feel that many people in France are of that view (Pickles 1970).
Italy issued a formal apology in the 2008 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with Libya, its former colonial power (1911-1943), for the crimes it had committed and agreed to pay compensations for it. Therefore, Algerians feel that France should do the same thing, based on the recognition of President Chirac in 1995 of the deportation of the Jews during the World War II, for which he acknowledged his country’s responsibility. Instead, France is making moves to honor the harkas - Algerians who collaborated with the French colonial forces against their countrymen and the ultra-nationalists who gave birth to the OAS, which served to provoke resentment and uproar in Algeria (Entelis, Colo and Boulder 1986).
Issues in the Relations
Despite former president Sarkozy’s visit to Algeria in December 2007, their relations have been at the lowest point ever. As revealed by many articles in the press, his visit was primarily to collect information on Bouteflika’s health; the Algerian President was treated in France in 2005 for a serious illness. Another reason could be that Sarkozy was trying to promote French business in the country; France was superseded by other countries there, such as China, which engaged in ambitious projects worth billions of dollars. This built up tension in respect to previously apparent cases soon after Sarkozy’s election in May 2007. Algeria, for instance, displayed a cautious reaction towards Sarkozy’s initiative about creating the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). It is clear that the French worked hard to try to convince Algerians that formation of UfM aimed to focus on Franco-Algerian economic relations. This posed a lot of temptations to Algerians when the strategic move fell under the EU’s patronage. The Algerians had no value for the Union and failed to be active members in it, but rather jointed as general members. Two unresolved issues made Algerians deny their full support for the initiative. All these were factors that triggered the formation of a viable state that was secure.
Since 1975, when the conflict started, France has been collaborating with Morocco against the Sahrawis. In this case support has been perceived by Algerians as injurious to regional stability and denying the genuine rights of Sahrawis. For France, on the divergent, Moroccan monarchy instability has been facilitated by the West Saharan as well as the kingdom in which it endorses significant interests. Algerians had misguidedly calculated that Sarkozy might be less pro-Moroccan than his forerunner was. However, shortly after his swearing in, Sarkozy made clear that he would follow the traditional policy. It is clear that, under Sarkozy, France fully backed the April 2007 monarchy’s suggestion of autonomy for the Sahrawis in line with a self-proclaimed referendum, which was conducted under the stipulated UN resolutions.
The relations under President Sarkozy reign continued to decline. This resulted in the arrest of an Algerian diplomat in the year 2008 on the charge of planning the assassination of a France-based Algerian opponent in 1997. According to Ali Mecili, Algerians saw the arrest as a form of hostage-taking. In his defense, the Diplomat claimed that his was a victim of mistaken identity. On the other hand, Algerians were convinced that the arrest was politically motivated. In August 2010, Hasseni was released, but there was an enormous level of political tension in the Franco-Algerian relations for the following two years.
It is clear that some other events were aimed at complicating the relations between the two countries.
Indeed, there were claims from the French officers that French monks were killed in Tibhirine in the year 1996 by the Islamic Group. However, their death was an accident due to lack of commitment by the military that Sarkozy called for cooperation between the Algerian government and the French authorities. They argued that the relations between dominant states were based on truthful facts. These facts, however, annoyed the Algerians who saw the allegation as a way to discredit their Armed Forces. The story faded, but there were clear indications that the GIA was after the monks’ assassination.
The other issues were based on the nuclear weapons in regard to a test conducted by France in the Sahara in 1960s. In 2009, there was a declaration by Mourad Medelci, a foreign minister in Algeria. He claimed that France should not only compensate the damages as a result of nuclear test, but also provide measures to decontaminate the area where the tests were conducted. In January 2010, Algeria was added to the list of countries whose citizens posed a threat to the French national security. Therefore, there were increased security concerns about those Algerian visitors who visited France immediately on their arrival to the seaports as well as airports. This led to rise of strong protest in Algeria, which resulted in the postponement of the French foreign minister’s visit to Algeria. In an attempt to end the crisis, Sarkozy came up with a strategy of dispatching the Secretary-General to have talks with the Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahiaer and senior Algerian officials (Pickles 1970).
There are other contentious issues in the relations between France and Algeria, such as immigration. The gist of the matter is restricting the number of Algerians that are allowed to enter the French territory, which initiated a debate about national identity. In its interpretation, this norm was perceived to target French citizens from Algeria. The Muslims were not exempted in general, but France’s threat to disregard dual citizenship forced its holders to choose either of them. It was also a move that helped target the French from Algeria. Algeria remained loyal to the Al-Qaida and paid the ransom in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) as a way of freeing the French hostages. According to Algeria government, such payments are a form of terrorist funding, since the money helps in the purchase of weapons (Elsson 2007).
The major reason for strained relations between France and Algeria are the French crimes committed during the colonial times. The failure by France to acknowledge them has only served to worsen the situation.