The Algerian government has banned French military aircraft from its airspace, the French army said on Sunday, amid a diplomatic crisis triggered by a visa bar and reported critical comments from French President Emmanuel Macron.
France’s jets regularly fly over Algeria’s territory to reach the Sahel region of West Africa, where its troops are helping to fight extremist insurgency as part of its Barkhane operation.
“This morning, when we handed in aircraft for two aircraft, we were told that the Algerians had stopped flights over their territory with French military aircraft,” an army spokesman, Colonel Pascal Ianni, told Agence France-Presse (AFP). He said the decision “does not affect our operations or intelligence missions” carried out in the Sahel.
But the move increased tensions between Paris and Algiers, which on Saturday recalled its ambassador to France, citing “unauthorized intervention” in its affairs.
According to French and Algerian media reports, Macron told descendants of figures in Algeria’s war of independence that the country was ruled by a “political-military system” that had “totally rewritten” its history.
The French president claimed that the Algerian system was “tired” and said that the Hirak protest movement that began in 2019 further weakened it. He added that he had a good dialogue with President Abdelmedjid Tebboune, adding: “But I see that he is stuck in a system that is very difficult.”
Since independence in 1962, the National Liberation Front (FLN), the leading independence group with a strong emphasis on Arab and Algerian nationalism and anti-imperialism, has dominated Algerian politics alongside the military. The country went through a civil war between state forces and extremist militias following the abolition of elections in late 1991.
The political system was partly relaxed in the late 1990s and early 2000s during the presidency of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who ruled the country for 20 years before resigning from mass protests in April 2019. Bouteflika, who was already suffering from ill health during his last term , recently passed away in September at the age of 84. His successor was once again from the country’s ruling elite.
Tebboune, a former minister and prime minister who took office in December 2019, saw protests gradually disappear with the COVID-19 pandemic. Algeria, however, returned to the streets in early 2021 and held protests for months, prompting Tebboune to carry out a large-scale change of government.
Algeria was also upset last week after France said it would sharply reduce the number of visas it grants to citizens of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.