Nabila Ramdani: French-Algerians are Still Second-class Citizens

Nabila Ramdani is a Paris-born freelance journalist and academic of Algerian descent. She specialises in Anglo-French issues, Islamic affairs, and the Arab World.

It is now half a century since Algeria, the jewel in the crown of Gallic imperialism, was finally granted independence, so ending 132 years of often barbarous rule from Paris that culminated in a war in which more than a million Algerians died. This week the French president, François Hollande, is on a two-day state visit to the country. His main task is effectively to offer a qualified apology for what happened, and thus "turn a page" in arguably the darkest chapter in France's recent history. Moreover, Hollande will use the platitudinous jargon of modern global government to make the case for increased economic integration between the two countries, highlighting France's continuing friendship with her oil- and gas-rich North African partner.

Apologies and clean slates are to be welcomed in any language. Bitterness over a uniquely savage history achieves nothing in terms of economic policy. France is now Algeria's main trade partner, and it has to compete with countries including Britain, China and the US for highly lucrative markets. Algeria's president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, will use the two-day visit to show off positive business developments in the relationship between the two countries, including the building of a new Renault factory in Oran and the signing of at least 15 new contracts for the construction of trams, water-treatment plants, telecommunications and other infrastructure projects.

There is irony in Hollande, a socialist with an avowed dislike of the go-getting rich, seeking to expunge a dark colonial legacy with the promise of corporate profit. But he has displayed a genuine commitment to change. His presidential entourage in Algeria is one of the biggest ever, and he will become the first French head of state to address both houses of parliament in Algiers since the country's independence in 1962. Earlier this year Hollande broke the official state silence over the murders of as many as 200 Algerians (estimates of the exact number vary) during a pro-independence demonstration in Paris in October 1961, recognising the "bloody repression" of thousands of Algerians living in mainland France.

What Hollande's trip to Algeria fails to acknowledge, however, is just how oppressed so many French-Algerians still feel today...

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