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Tenure of Algeria’s Bouteflika marked by French presidents’ recognition of colonial past


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During former Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s 20 years in office, the relationship between Algeria and its former colonial master France saw several ups and downs. While French presidents since Nicolas Sarkozy have taken steps in recognising France’s harmful actions, Algeria has yet to receive an official apology from the Élysée Palace.

Former Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who died at age 84 Friday, never shied away from reminding France of its colonial past over the course of his political career. On the eve of his election in 1999, when Paris raised concerns that many parties were boycotting the vote, this was his response:

“France pursued some very bad policies in Algeria because when France arrived here it saw a vast empty space –- an open playing field that it went on to use and abuse,” he said.

Once elected, Bouteflika asked multiple times for France to admit its colonial wrongdoings – yet he pushed for cooperation between the two countries.

But in 2003, a bilateral friendship treaty went unsigned when France’s then president Jacques Chirac wouldn’t openly discuss France’s colonial past. It wasn’t until 2007 that a French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, would publicly denounce colonialism.

“The colonial system was profoundly unjust, and ran counter to the three founding principles of the French Republic: liberty, equality and fraternity,” Sarkozy said.

Like his predecessor, François Hollande refused to apologise — but acknowledged the brutality of France’s actions in Algeria.

While campaigning for president in 2017, Emmanuel Macron made a comment that drew praise from many Algerians, but shocked the community of French people who had once lived in Algeria.

“It’s a crime. It’s a crime against humanity, a barbarity, and it’s part of a past that we must confront by apologising to those against whom we carried out these acts,” he said.

In January this year, French historian Benjamin Stora issued a detailed report, commissioned by Macron, recommending more than 20 ‘practical’ acts of recognition, but stopping short of apologising for France’s actions.

The Algerian government welcomed the gesture as a positive step – but is still waiting for an official apology from France.


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