November 29, 2021

“Emmanuel Macron would have to recognize the state massacre” of October 17, 1961

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Mohammed Harbi, in Paris, December 3, 2019.

Mohamed Harbi, 88, is Algeria’s most famous historian. FLN executive during the war of independence – he was an expert during the first negotiations in Evian (May-June 1961) – he directed the weekly African revolution under the presidency of Ahmed Ben Bella before switching to the opposition following the coup d’état by Houari Boumediène in 1965. Imprisoned then placed under house arrest, he escaped in 1973 to France where he began a university career . He recently published The origins of the FLN (Editions Bouchene, 2020).

The relationship between France and Algeria is experiencing a new crisis following Emmanuel Macron’s remarks on September 30. Should we be worried?

We are there in the uses of history and not in a debate. On Macron’s point of questioning the existence of an Algerian nation before French colonization, the reaction of Algerian opinion is not only subjective. It should be remembered that this thesis of the non-existence of an Algerian nation and therefore of a national feeling was forged at the time to make French colonization accepted. This is moreover an argument that we find widely developed in the dossier presented by France to the United Nations during the debates on Algeria before 1962. There is nothing new. It was the dam that had been built to deny Algeria’s right to independence. This is what makes the Algerians react viscerally.

On the other hand, Macron’s reference to the Algerian “politico-military system” is rather acceptable to Algerian opinion …

The Algerian soldiers themselves know this. The role of the military in the system has been talked about for a long time. Personally, I spoke about it publicly in 1980 in my book The FLN, Mirage and Reality [Editions Jeune Afrique]. I characterized the political system as “an army which has a state”. So this is nothing new. In the debates between Algerians, we clearly speak of a military system and expressly demand a civilian government.

What about Macron’s mention of “Turkish colonization” that we tend to forget in favor of “French colonization”?

At the beginning of the XVIe century, the Algerians – of the time – had turned to the Ottomans to protect themselves from the empire of Charles V. The Ottoman Empire was seen as a Muslim empire, at least ruled by Muslims. The Ottomans organized the protection of entire communities by giving them management powers. They certainly imposed requirements on them, but which were less restrictive than one might think. They did not attack the possession of the land, as the French did. In the Ottoman political system, tribes or administrations had full autonomy. This could have lasted three centuries with, of course, being brought into line from time to time. Let us not forget that there was a French consul in Algiers.

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