France and the Mediterranean Countries
Despite ambiguous sentiment in Algeria concerning its former
colonial power, France has maintained a historically favored position
in Algerian foreign relations. Algeria experienced a high level
of dependency on France in the first years after the revolution
and a conflicting desire to be free of that dependency. The preestablished
trade links, the lack of experienced Algerian government officials,
and the military presence provided for in the Evian Accords ending
the War of Independence ensured the continuance of French influence.
France supplied much-needed financial assistance, a steady supply
of essential imports, and technical personnel.
This benevolent relationship was altered in the early Boumediene
years when the Algerian government assumed control of French-owned
petroleum extraction and pipeline interests and nationalized industrial
and energy enterprises. French military units were almost immediately
pulled out. France, although apparently willing to maintain cooperative
relations, was overlooked as Algeria, eager to exploit its new
independence, looked to other trade partners. Shortly afterward,
Algerian interest in resuming French-Algerian relations resurfaced.
Talks between Boumediene and the French government confirmed both
countries' interest in restoring diplomatic relations. France
wanted to preserve its privileged position in the strategically
and economically important Algerian nation, and Algeria hoped
to receive needed technical and financial assistance. French intervention
in the Western Sahara against the Polisario and its lack of Algerian
oil purchases, leading to a trade imbalance in the late 1970s
strained relations and defeated efforts toward bilateral rapprochement.
In 1983 Benjedid was the first Algerian leader to be invited to
France on an official tour, but relations did not greatly improve.
Despite strained political relations, economic ties with France,
particularly those related to oil and gas, have persisted throughout
independent Algerian history. Nationalized Algerian gas companies,
in attempting to equalize natural gas export prices with those
of its neighbors, alienated French buyers in the late 1970s and
early 1980s, however. Later gas agreements resulted in a vast
growth of bilateral trade into the billions of dollars. Further
disputes over natural gas pricing in the late 1980s led to a drastic
drop in French-Algerian imports and exports. The former fell more
than 10 billion French francs, the latter 12 billion French francs
between 1985 and 1987. A new price accord in 1989 resurrected
cooperative ties. The new agreement provided substantial French
financial assistance to correct trade imbalances and guaranteed
French purchasing commitments and Algerian oil and gas prices.
French support for Benjedid's government throughout the difficult
period in 1988 when the government appeared especially precarious
and subsequent support for economic and political liberalization
in Algeria expedited improved French-Algerian relations. Finally,
rapprochement with Morocco, a number of joint economic ventures
between France and Algeria, and the establishment of the UMA relaxed
some of the remaining tensions.
One source of steady agitation has been the issue of Algerian
emigration to France. French policies toward Algerian immigrants
have been inconsistent, and French popular sentiment has generally
been unfavorable toward its Arab population. The French government
has vacillated between sweeping commitments to "codevelopment,"
involving extensive social networks for emigrant Algerian laborers,
and support of strict regulations concerning work and study permits,
random searches for legal papers, and expeditious deportation
without appeal in the event of irregularities. North African communities
in France remain relatively isolated, and chronic problems persist
for Algerians trying to obtain housing, education, and employment.
A number of racially motivated incidents occur each year between
North African emigrants and French police and citizens.
Equally problematic has been Algeria's handling of the emigrant
issue. The government has provided substantial educational, economic,
and cultural assistance to the emigrant community but has been
less consistent in defending emigrant workers' rights in France,
frequently subordinating its own workers' interests to strategic
diplomatic concerns in maintaining favorable relations with France.
The rise of Islamism in Algeria and the subsequent crackdown on
the Islamists by the government have had serious implications
for both countries: record numbers of Algerian Islamists have
fled to France, where their cultural dissimilarity as Arab Islamists
is alien to the country.
In the early 1990s, nearly 20 percent of all Algerian exports
and imports were destined for or originated from France. More
than 1 million Algerians resided in France and there were numerous
francophones in Algeria, creating a tremendous cultural overlap.
French remained the language of instruction in most schools and
the language used in more than two-thirds of all newspapers and
periodicals and on numerous television programs. Algeria and France
share a cultural background that transcends diplomatic maneuvers
and has persisted throughout periods of "disenchantment" and strained
relations. Over time, however, the arabization of Algeria and
the increasing polarization of society between the francophone
elite and the Arab masses have mobilized anti-French sentiment.
Support for the arabization of Algerian society--including the
elimination of French as the second national language and emphasis
on an arabized education curriculum--and the recent success of
the FIS indicate a growing fervor in Algeria for asserting an
independent national identity. Such an identity emphasizes its
Arab and Islamic cultural tradition rather than its French colonial
past. However, France's support for the military regime that assumed
power in early 1992 indicates that the cooperative relations between
the two countries remain strong.
For obvious geographic reasons, Italy, Spain, Greece, and Turkey
share a privileged position in Algerian foreign relations. The
economic and strategic significance of Algeria as a geographically
adjacent and continentally prominent nation are relevant to the
foreign policies of the Mediterranean nations. Whereas Algeria's
relations with France have been complicated by confusing emotional
and cultural complexities, its relations with the other Mediterranean
countries have been primarily driven by economic factors. Both
Spain and Italy have become substantial importers of Algerian
gas--1989 figures indicated that Italy was Algeria's largest customer
for natural gas. A transnational pipeline with three undersea
pipes runs from Algeria through Tunisia to Italy, and work has
begun on another. Greece and Turkey have both signed import agreements
with Algeria's national hydrocarbons company, known as Sonatrach.
Spain and Italy have extended sizable credit lines for Algerian
imports of Spanish and Italian goods. Since the latter 1980s,
Algeria has devoted increased attention toward regional concerns,
making the geographical proximity of the Mediterranean nations
of growing importance to Algeria's diplomatic and economic relations.
* * *
For the immediate preindependence and postindependence periods,
the best political analysis is found in William B. Quandt's Revolution
and Political Leadership: Algeria, 1954-1968 and David B.
Ottaway and Marina Ottaway's, Algeria: The Politics of a Socialist
Revolution. The Boumediene and Benjedid periods are covered
from contrasting conceptual perspectives in John P. Entelis's
Algeria: The Revolution Institutionalized, Mahfoud Bennoune's
The Making of Contemporary Algeria, 1830-1987, and Rachid
Tlemcani's State and Revolution in Algeria. The most
recent analysis incorporating political, economic, and social
events through the military coup d'état of January 1992 is the
work edited by John P. Entelis and Philip C. Naylor, State
and Society in Algeria. (For further information and complete
Data as of December 1993