French Army drawing about Berber issue ratchets up tensions between Algiers, Paris

Algeria’s discreet reaction hints at desire to patch up ties with France.
Friday 15/05/2020
Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum meets with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) in Algiers, last March. (AFP)
Bumpy relationship. Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum meets with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) in Algiers, last March. (AFP)

ALGIERS –Algerian-French relations are experiencing renewed turmoil that both countries are trying to keep quiet.

The Algerian foreign ministry recently summoned the French ambassador in Algiers to protest the French army’s publication of a drawing deemed offensive to Algeria, according to French media. The incident is straining the already frayed diplomatic relations between the two countries since Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune came to power.

A media report said the drawing was that of “a road sign showing directions to several international destinations, including Algeria. Next to the Algerian flag on the sign, a flag of the Amazigh region of Tizi-Ouzou was added, as if it was an entity independent of the Arab country.”

“The controversial drawing was published at the end of last April on the Twitter page of the French Army Command but was recently removed after the ripple effects it had on diplomatic relations between the two countries,” the report stated.

Relations between the Amazigh Berbers and Algeria’s central authorities have deteriorated since the beginning of the pro-democracy Hirak movement, which have become a major source of pressure for the Algerian government.

The drawing published by the French army were viewed in Algiers as encouraging separatist elements in the country’s Kabylie region.  Although calls for the region’s independence are rejected by the majority of the population, the country’s political and military elites have long been nervous about separatist demands, which they often cite as reasons for cracking down on protests.

Sore issue. Algerian protesters wave the Amazigh (C) and national flags during the Hirak demonstrastions in the capital Algiers, last June. (AFP)
Sore issue. Algerian protesters wave the Amazigh (C) and national flags during the Hirak demonstrastions in the capital Algiers, last June. (AFP)

Algerian authorities did not acknowledge the diplomatic row with France, perhaps to avoid further inflaming public opinion against Paris, especially that France removed the image from the army’s Twitter page.

Observers believe the Algerian government’s discreet reaction hints at its desire to patch up ties with Paris.

French-Algerian relations have soured since longtime Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down from power in early April 2019.

The French ambassador to Algiers was also summoned to the foreign mister over a previous incident relating to a French media report.

The Algerian government protested in the strongest terms an interview broadcast on France 24 in which a journalist claimed that “Algeria directed a Chinese health delegation which came to the country to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, to treating senior military officers.”

The tensions coincided with French energy conglomerate Total announcing its withdrawal from a deal to buy the assets of the Anadarko Corporation, which operates in Algeria and a number of African countries. This came after the Algerian government exercised its pre-emption right, which gives it priority in buying out any assets of a company operating on its soil.

Adding to tensions was Tebboune’s statements on the the anniversary of French massacres committed during the era of colonisation.

“French colonialism annihilated half of the Algerian people (approximately six million Algerians), during the colonial era (1830-1962), and colonial crimes are not subject to statutes of limitations despite attempts to whitewash them,” Tebboune said.

Since Bouteflika left office, the simmering diplomatic crisis between Paris and Algiers has led to increased anti-French discourse.

An editorial in the privately owned pro-government newspaper El Shorouk said that “the photo published on the Twitter account of the French Army Command carries a lot of hatred inherited from the era of the despicable French occupation, and lays bare attempts to dismantle our national unity.”