In Algeria, Sarkozy Condemns Colonialism, Pushes Mediterranean Union

Article excerpt

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 ruler.

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 push.

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. …

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