In the latest escalation of diplomatic tensions between France and Algeria, the French military announced on October 3 that Algeria had closed its airspace to French military aircraft, reports CNN. Algeria accuses French President Emmanuel Macron of unnecessarily intervening in internal affairs and pushing false narratives about the Algerian government. The restriction comes as a blow to the French military, which regularly uses Algerian airspace to conduct military operations in the Sahel region of Sub-Saharan Africa.
According to Al Jazeera, France has about 5,000 troops in the Sahel region, primarily in the countries of Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, and Mali. France’s primary military operation in the Sahel, known as Operation Barkhane, started in 2013 to focus on fighting armed militant groups with ties to ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Although the French military has scaled back its presence after announcing in June that the country has plans to end Operation Barkhane, they have not fully withdrawn yet. The French military claims that Algeria’s actions will only have a marginal impact on their military and intelligence operations in the region.
The diplomatic spat between the two countries began earlier this fall when France announced that it would significantly reduce the number of visas granted to citizens of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. France claims this is because the three countries are not doing enough to take back migrants who are illegally staying in France, BBC News reports. France rejected thousands of visa requests this year from nationals of the three countries who are living in France, but very few have been deported. Paris says that the North African nations have not cooperated to provide the necessary documents to expel the migrants from France.
Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia all opposed France’s move, rejecting the claims asserted by the French government. The countries believe that this is a political move on President Macron’s part, as immigration will play a big role in the upcoming French elections in 2022. Macron’s challengers on the right, primarily Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally Party, have heavily criticized his immigration policies. As Macron’s popularity wanes, he has been accused of shifting more and more to the right in the past few years, according to The New York Times.
In addition to banning French military planes, Algeria also recalled their ambassador to France in response to controversial comments made by President Macron about Algeria, according to Al Jazeera. While meeting with a group of descendants of Algerians who fought for France during the Algerian war for independence, Macron accused the Algerian government of being a “political-military system.” He also allegedly accused the Algerian government of “rewriting history” to foment hatred against France. In his comments, he implied that the Algerian nation would not have existed at all without France. The Algerian government referred to these comments as “irresponsible” and unnecessary interference in Algerian affairs. They also criticized Macron for not mentioning the brutality with which the French ruled the North African country, referring to it as a genocide. According to Euronews, Algerian society has reacted negatively to Macron’s comments with much of the media considering his remarks inflammatory.
According to France24, Macron has now said he wants “a calming down” of tensions between the countries. The two countries have had a complicated relationship since Algeria gained its independence, and memories of French colonialism are still remnant in society. Macron noted that he has a good relationship with Algerian president, Abdelmajid Tebbounne, and he wants both countries to move forward.