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Independent Algeria turns 60, but the wounds of the colonial era remain

#Independent #Algeria #turns #wounds #colonial #era #remain

Algeria celebrates 60 years of independence from France on Tuesday, but rival narratives of atrocities committed during more than a century of colonial rule still fuel bitter diplomatic tensions.

The North African country gained its independence after a grueling eight-year war that ended in March 1962 with the signing of the Evian Accords.

On July 5 of that year, days after a 99.72 percent vote for independence in a referendum, Algeria finally broke away from colonial rule — but memories of the 132-year occupation continue to taint its ties with France.

The country’s authorities plan to mark the anniversary with pomp and ceremony, topped by a huge military parade in Algiers, the first of its kind in 33 years.

A show is also planned in the capital’s opera house that “traces the long history of Algeria,” said Minister for Independence Fighters, Laid Rebiga.

The government even commissioned a logo – a circle of 60 stars with military figures and equipment – to mark “a glorious history and a new era”.

Algeria’s war of independence left hundreds of thousands dead in its wake, and despite a series of gestures by French President Emmanuel Macron, a crisis late last year underscored how sensitive the issue remains six decades later.

Macron reportedly questioned whether Algeria had existed as a nation prior to the French invasion, accusing its “politico-military system” of rewriting history and inciting “hatred against France.”

In response, Algeria withdrew its ambassador.

“Relationships between the power system in Algeria and ‘official France’ have been marked by crises and pseudo-reconciliations since independence,” said Athmane Mazouz, leader of Algeria’s secular opposition party RCD.

“At this point, all bets are on whether they can form better relationships.”

– ‘Ignite the Debate’ –

France has ruled out any form of apology for the colonial era. But Macron has also made a series of gestures aimed at improving relations with the former colony.

Visiting Algiers during his first presidential campaign in February 2017, he described colonization as a “crime against humanity”.

He has since admitted that the French army was behind the deaths of Algerian nationalist lawyer Ali Boumendjel and anti-colonial French mathematician Maurice Audin.

France returned the skulls of 19th-century Algerian resistance fighters and opened state archives on the Algerian war.

And both sides seem to have put the recent crisis behind them. Macron and his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, reiterated their desire to “deepen” ties in a June 18 phone call.

Tebboune even congratulated Macron on his “brilliant” re-election and invited him to visit Algeria.

Historian Amar Mohand-Amer said it was time for “a speedy return to a normal situation”.

“Sixty years after independence, isn’t it time to take the heat out of this debate?”

– “Unstable Geopolitics” –

Mohand-Amer pointed out that the anniversary celebrations come at a time of heightened tensions in the wider region around Algeria.

The country severed ties with regional arch-rival Morocco last August, accusing it of “hostile actions”.

In early June, Algiers suspended a two-decade-old cooperation pact with Madrid after Spain backed Morocco’s stance in the long-running dispute over Western Sahara.

In the east, in war-torn Libya, the emergence of two rival governments has raised fears of a return to armed conflict after a two-year truce.

And to the south, Mali is in crisis after army officers, angered by the government’s failure to quell a jihadist insurgency, ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in 2020.

“The very unstable regional geopolitics requires strong positions in the medium to long term and the consolidation of political and economic ties” between Algeria and France, said Mohand-Amer.

But the historian fears Macron’s move toward reconciliation could be severely tested by the wins of far-right leader Marine Le Pen, of the Rassemblement National party, in June’s elections.

Le Pen said in March that colonialism had “contributed to the development of Algeria” and accused Macron of “spent his life apologizing without demanding anything in return from an Algerian government that continues to insult France”.

Mohand-Amer warned that “the French extreme right will turn this mandate into a great battlefield of memories where revisionism and historical falsification will be pervasive”.

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