France’s Hollande Finds Tricky Balance in Morocco, Algeria Ties

France’s Hollande Finds Tricky Balance in Morocco, Algeria Ties
French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech upon his arrival at Houari Boumediene airport in Algiers, Algeria, June 15, 2015 (AP photo by Sidali Djarboub).

Ever since the end of the colonial period, in 1956 for Morocco and in 1962 for Algeria, France has had a complex and often ambivalent relationship with the two former colonies that formed the core of its North African empire. Social and economic ties have drawn all three countries closer together, but diplomatic tensions, usually involving Algeria, remain. In a recent reversal, however, Morocco has aired resentments over its colonial past after a series of recent spats with Paris, while Algeria has a newfound preference for closer French trade and security ties.

French relations with Algiers were strained for many years after the savage 8-year-long war that eventually achieved independence and led to the precipitate departure of up to 1 million former French residents from Algeria. In Morocco, independence was achieved more amicably and ties subsequently were generally warm, except for occasional tensions. France long distrusted Algeria’s nonalignment during the Cold War but encouraged Morocco’s pro-Western commitments, even tacitly supporting its claims to the Western Sahara over Algerian objections. Algeria, in turn, suspected France’s alleged neo-imperial ambitions in Africa and its Francophone cultural paternalism.

France’s resentments about the loss of Algeria, which had been administered as an integral part of metropolitan France for much of its 132-year colonial history, only began to heal in 1975, when a French head of state, President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, finally visited Algeria for the first time since its independence. Every French president since then has undertaken a visit, even during Algeria’s bloody 7-year civil war in the 1990s.

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