Since ancient Rome sacked Carthage, North Africa has kept a wary
eye on its neighbors across the Mediterranean Sea. Today, that
unease influences how many North Africans view French President
Nicolas Sarkozy, who is in Algeria for a three-day state visit along
with 150 business leaders and eight ministers.
Mr. Sarkozy arrived Monday in an effort to cool decades of tense
relations and ink new business contracts with France's ex-colony,
which gained independence in 1962, as well as pitch his idea for a
Mediterranean Union, a regional community that would unite the 21
countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
The union, an initiative that Sarkozy proposed soon after
becoming president, would focus on security, immigration, and
environmental and cultural linkages among all countries, from
Morocco to Malta to Israel, and help coordinate trade between this
region and Europe. But his message in the region is reaching many
skeptical ears, both those wary of a former colonial master as well
as those concerned such a formal compact would simply open the door
to European imports and guarantee hydrocarbon-hungry Europe a
reliable supply of energy.
On Tuesday, Sarkozy did his part to quell much of the rancor
between Algeria and France when he called France's colonial system
"profoundly unjust." Addressing the colonial era and the brutal
eight-year war of independence, he went partway toward satisfying
the longtime demand of Algiers, and of President Abdelaziz
Bouteflika, for Paris to apologize for its actions as the colonial
But, he said, "I came to Algeria to build ... an exceptional
partnership between our people, and that happens by way of
contracts.... The past exists. The future is to be built."
He announced that more than $7.3 billion in contracts were to be
signed Tuesday. He mentioned infrastructure projects, including a
long-stalled subway for Algiers, but agreements regarding gas
projects were also expected to be concluded.
These deals may add some fuel to Sarkozy's Mediterranean Union
North Africans "are on the lookout and they think they might be
able to get things from it ... they want to see tangible things,"
says Azzedine Layachi, associate professor of government and
politics at St. John's University in New York City.
But prominent Algerian journalist Ihsan el Kadi says average
Algerians don't give the still ill-defined union proposal much
thought. But, Mr. Kadi says, it has the full attention of
businessmen in the region, hungry for direct investment and willing
to offer incentives to spur more trade across the Mediterranean, or
the White Sea, as it's called in Arabic. …