Algeria: Macron Heads to Algeria With Energy, Post-Colonial Relations Topping Agenda

French President Emmanuel Macron travels to Algeria on Thursday seeking to soothe festering diplomatic tensions with an increasingly important supplier of gas to Europe in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.

More than 60 years after Algeria’s bitter war of independence, Franco-Algerian relations are still fraught with resentment from the colonial era. Paris ruled the North African territory for more than 130 years.

But they have been particularly stormy of late, after Macron reportedly questioned the existence of Algeria before French occupation and accused the Algiers government of fomenting “hatred towards France”.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune withdrew his country’s ambassador to Paris last October in response to the remarks, and banned French military aircraft from its airspace.

Aides to Macron believe that both sides have moved on, noting the resumption of normal diplomatic relations and overflights to French army bases in the Sahel region south of Algeria.

Macron’s visit to Algeria seen a ‘veiled’ gas trip https://t.co/kJccYmPhrP— EURACTIV Energy & Environment (@eaGreenEU) August 24, 2022

Gas diplomacy

Last year’s diplomatic row was brought to an end when Macron’s office issued a statement saying he “regretted” the misunderstandings caused by his comments.

Although the remarks were made behind closed doors, they were reported by the Le Monde newspaper.

France’s foreign minister at the time, Jean-Yves Le Drian, was also dispatched to Algiers to smooth over ties with Tebboune.

Macron’s desire to fully patch up relations comes as Algeria emerges as a key alternative gas supplier to the European Union following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

European nations are seeking to end their dependence on Russian hydrocarbons, giving Algeria – with its pipelines to Spain and Italy – renewed clout and importance.

According to Algerian economist Abderrahmane Mebtoul, “The French president will certainly ask Algeria to make an effort to try to increase its gas production.”

A controversial delegation

However, the Elysée Palace has cautioned against expectations that a major deal could be secured along the lines of the one announced by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi when he visited Algiers in July.

The head of French energy group Engie, Catherine MacGregor, will be among the high-powered French delegation accompanying Macron, including the defence, foreign and economy ministers.

Also accompanying the French head of state is the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, Chems-Eddine Hafiz, along with the Chief Rabbi of France Haïm Korsia, who is of Algerian origin.

Korsia’s inclusion in the delegation has sparked the ire of some commentators – including the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Abderrazak Makri – who say his presence will be used to exert more pressure on Algeria to normalise its relations with Israel.

” Ce rabbin affiche un soutien sans vergogne à l’entité sioniste “La présence inédite de Haïm Korsia (d’origine algérienne), dans la délégation qui accompagnera Emmanuel Macron à Alger, irrite certains politiques. https://t.co/fMIFvD9Lw8 pic.twitter.com/5gALhXmwWC— Le Point (@LePoint) August 23, 2022

No apology

Macron is set to spend three days in Algeria, visiting the capital Algiers and then the second-largest city of Oran, where he will stop off at a record store and attend a breakdancing show.

The 44-year-old president last visited Algeria in December 2017, shortly after coming to power.

Upon taking office, Macron made a series of gestures aimed at healing past wounds on both sides of the Mediterranean but was reportedly left frustrated by Algeria’s reaction.

He has ruled out issuing an apology for colonialism, a highly sensitive topic in France.

French historians say half a million civilians and combatants died during Algeria’s bloody war for independence – 400,000 of them Algerian – while the Algerian authorities say 1.5 million were killed.

Meanwhile Algerian rights groups have urged Macron not to overlook human rights abuses by the government that came to power when long-time leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down in 2019 after two decades in power.

Tebboune, a prime minister under Bouteflika, has clamped down on the Hirak opposition movement that forced his predecessor to resign.

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