Algeria has found itself at the centre of an ugly and blatantly racist presidential election campaign being waged by France’s extreme right wing parties which are promoting a conspiracy theory about North African Muslims replacing the white Christian indigenous population.
During the past year President Emmanuel Macron has tried to deal with the painful memories of his country’s colonial history in Algeria, but its long shadows are being used by his opponents. A few months ago Eric Zemmour said, ‘France does not have to welcome and protect all criminals from North Africa’ while this week, Marine Le Pen, said that ’memory could not be reconciled by devouring itself in front of Algeria.’
Macron has acknowledged the crimes committed by the French army and police, blaming France for the lack of consideration for former settlers and the ‘harkis’ Algerians who fought for the French. He has also facilitated access to the war archives. This week, he continued with his reconciliatory line in a speech at the Elysée Palace to officially commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Evian Accords which ended the Algerian War of Independence.
These moves have not been appreciated by many on the far right and have been drowned out by an intense and often ugly debate about immigration and identity in which Algeria and France’s colonial past in Algeria are central issues. Zemmour, whose parents left Algeria shortly before the war, said the rise of immigration and Islam in France in 2018 was like ‘the second episode of the Algerian War.’ At a January press conference he said that France was not guilty and that colonisation had brought roads, hospitals and wells to Algeria.
Many of the ideological conflicts that coloured the 1954-1962 war, such as the struggle over whether French identity could be expanded to include Muslim Algerians, have been imported into France. Benjamin Stora, a French historian on colonial Algeria, compared this phenomenon with the Civil War heritage which still influences racial problems in the United States.
Many of the current French politicians driving this public debate, like both Zemmour and Le Pen, are closely linked to Algeria. Le Pen’s father was accused of torturing prisoners while fighting as a paratrooper during the Algerian War. The far-right party he founded, currently known as the Rassemblement national (RN), is rooted in those who opposed the end of colonial Algeria. Some of its current leaders are descendants of French settlers. Even within Macron’s administration, some ministers have expressed concern about attempts to investigate French colonial heritage. Prime Minister Jean Castex, whose father fought in the war, has been outspoken on Algeria (Algeria Politics & Security – 11.01.22). Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blankel, whose father was a prominent leader of the Pied-Noir community, said he had long opposed post-colonial studies that undermined French society.
The first round in the French presidential election is on Sunday 10 April and, until then, Algerians are likely to hear and read a great deal of what France, and especially its far right politicians, think of them.This excerpt is taken from Algeria Politics & Security, our weekly intelligence report on Algeria. Click here to receive a free sample copy.