In a clear demonstration of the sour relations between Algeria and France, Algiers drew its ambassador to Paris for consultation, state television reported, in a move that followed French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to halve visas and controversial comments on Algerian politics and history. .
The North African country’s decision came three days after the French ambassador to Algiers was summoned to the Foreign Ministry to protest Paris’ decision to reduce the number of visas granted to Algerian citizens. During the crisis, however, Macron added more fuel to the fire on Thursday through a series of controversial comments on the political situation in Algeria, which minimized his country’s role in the brutal colonization of the country and attempts to rewrite history.
On Thursday, Macron met 18 young Algerians and French people with Algerian roots at the Elysée Palace in the capital, Paris. According to the transcript of the meeting released by the French newspaper Le Monde on Saturday, Macron accused the Algerian political system of building on the traumas and tragedies of the past, namely inflicted under French colonial rule and the brutal repression of Algeria’s eight-year struggle for independence.
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 has a good dialogue with President Abdelmedjid Tebboune and added: “..but I see that he is stuck in a system that is very difficult.”
After these fluctuations, Macron went on to say that the latest visa waiver decision will target the Algerian ruling elite while assuring that it will not affect students or businessmen. “If you do not work together to keep people in an irregular and dangerous situation away, we will not make your life easier,” Macron told Le Monde.
Since 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 after the abolition of elections in late 1991. The political system was partially relaxed in the late 1990s and early 2000s during the presidency of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who ruled the country for 20 years before he resigned in the middle of mass protests in April 2019. Bouteflika, who is already suffering from poor health during his last term, recently passed away in September at the age of 84.
France on Tuesday had said it would sharply reduce the number of visas granted to people from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, accusing the former French colonies of not doing enough to allow illegal immigrants to return. Immigration will be an important campaign issue for the French presidential election in April next year, with right-wing and far-right parties challenging politicians for centrist Macron, whose behavior is becoming increasingly popular and candidacy remains limited.
Starting in a few weeks, the French government plans to reduce the number of visas issued to Algerians and Moroccans by half and to Tunisians by 30%, according to government officials. All three countries were part of France’s colonial empire, and many European migrants and other visitors coming from the North African countries have family or other ties in France.
French spokesman Gabriel Attal told Europe-1 radio that France decided to take action because the Maghreb countries had recently refused to provide consular documents for their citizens to be deported from France after arriving illegally. Restrictions on virus travel have also complicated such return efforts.
A senior French presidency official said France particularly wanted North African countries to take back people flagged for extremism and expressed hope that a solution could be found soon. Attal said France has been trying to reach a diplomatic solution since adopting a tougher immigration law in 2018.
Between January and July, French judicial authorities ordered 7,731 Algerians to leave French territory because they did not have a residence permit but only 22 left because many lacked the necessary documents from Algeria, Europe-1 reported.
Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said his country had issued 400 consular documents to Moroccans deported from France, but the number was limited as many of them refused to take a virus test, which is required to re-enter Morocco. It is “France’s problem, which must be dealt with,” Bourita told a news conference in Rabat. He said Morocco was trying to “find the necessary balance between facilitating the movement of people, whether students, businessmen or those who want to benefit from medical services and the fight against secret immigration.”
Tunisia took a more conciliatory public stance. President Kais Saied’s office said: “We are among countries cooperating in this area and we have excellent relations with France.”
The far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen provided qualified support for the visa reduction but suggested that Macron’s government wait too long before taking action. Le Pen was Macron’s main rival in the 2017 election and is seen as his main opponent if he runs again.
“I have long, long, long, long, long called for action to be taken to compel certain countries to respect international law,” she said, naming Algeria and Tunisia. “I’m glad the President of the Republic heard me. I think it’s a little late.”
Le Pen spoke in Paris at a press conference about her plans, if elected, for a referendum on her proposal for a “drastic reduction” of immigration to France.