France commemorates on Saturday the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Evian agreements which recognized the independence of Algeria during a ceremony at the Élysée. The bilateral relationship over the decades that followed was marked by episodes of turbulence and rapprochement.
In the 60 years since Algeria gained independence from France, it has gone through multiple crises with its former occupier, often fueled by domestic politics. Still, experts say the two sides enjoyed a surprisingly good relationship for four decades, and it wasn’t until the 1990s that things started to fall apart.
“Generally, despite appearances and criticism, there has been a stable, very balanced relationship,” said Luis Martinez, North African researcher at Sciences Po Paris.
And this despite the devastation caused by the eight-year war of independence which finally ended after the signing of the Evian Accords on March 18, 1962.
French historians say half a million civilians and combatants died – including 400,000 Algerians – while Algerian authorities insist that 1.5 million were killed.
Under French General Charles de Gaulle, whose administration signed the accords, and his successor Georges Pompidou, Paris enjoyed good relations with Algiers.
The same goes for the administration of François Mitterrand, even though he was Minister of the Interior at the start of the armed struggle for Algerian independence in 1954 and remained opposed to independence. from the country.
“Mitterrand was surrounded by people from the Socialist Party, who were all pro-FLN,” said historian Pierre Vermeren, referring to the National Liberation Front which led the revolt and has dominated Algerian politics ever since.
“(Mitterrand) was able to go to the back” and let the others take care of Algeria, said Vermeren, a professor at the University of the Sorbonne.
France was allowed to continue nuclear testing in the Algerian Sahara until 1967, and de Gaulle managed to negotiate a secret agreement with the new Algerian state to allow chemical weapons testing until 1978.
But in 1992, Paris angered by blaming Algiers for suspending elections after Islamist parties won the first round.
Algeria withdrew its ambassador in response.
The cancellation of the elections sparked another decade of devastating conflict, which only ended after an amnesty offer from Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who became president in 1999.
Although close to France, Bouteflika used anti-French rhetoric, mostly for domestic consumption, Vermeren said.
“To regain control of the ideological and political sphere after the civil war, (Algerian leaders) ‘forgot’ that France had helped them fight the Islamists,” he said.
“They have returned to their traditional enemy.”
‘Good relations in secret’ Under Bouteflika, Algerian leaders have used ever louder language against France, accusing it of ‘genocide’ during its more than 130 years of occupation of Algeria.
Then, in 2019, a massive protest movement toppled the autocratic leader after two decades in power – but the new regime kept the anti-French rhetoric going.
Observers, however, say the cooperation behind closed doors has been surprisingly close.
As early as 2013, Algeria had authorized French forces to use its airspace to reach Mali in order to fight jihadists.
According to Naoufel Brahimi El Mili, who wrote a book on 60 years of “secret stories” between the two countries, “Franco-Algerian relations are good when they are secret. They are more hostile when they are public”. .”
Relations were good under Emmanuel Macron, who became president after an election campaign during which he visited Algiers, where he called colonization a “crime against humanity”.
After taking office, he made gestures aimed at healing the wounds of the past on both sides of the Mediterranean.
But he refused to apologize for colonialism, a highly sensitive topic in France, which for decades considered Algeria part of French territory and where far-right discourse intensified.
Comments reported last October dampened hopes for reconciliation.
Macron accused the Algerian “politico-military system” of rewriting history and fomenting “hate towards France”.
In remarks to descendants of independence fighters, reported by Le Monde, he also questioned whether Algeria had existed as a nation before the French invasion in the 1800s.
Once again, Algeria has withdrawn its ambassador.
‘Algeria votes Macron’ Now, with French presidential elections looming in April, relations appear to be improving again. Millions of French citizens of Algerian origin and descendants of Europeans who left after independence are among the voters.
“Algeria will vote for Macron,” said author El Mili. “Algerians are convinced that a Macron II will be bolder.”
Xavier Driencourt, former French ambassador to Algeria, shares this point of view. “They don’t want (conservative candidate) Valérie Pécresse who has quite a right-handed tone, and certainly not (Eric) Zemmour or Marine Le Pen,” he said, referring to two presidential candidates from far right.
But a lot remains to be done. Sciences Po’s Martinez said Macron’s comments had done a lot of damage.
“They’ll go back to the drawing board and try to see what they can agree on,” he said.
Former envoy Driencourt said ‘it takes two parties to have a relationship’.
“I’m not very optimistic,” he said.