Should Hollande finally apologize to Algeria for France's treatment of the country. Jonathan Laurence considers all the angles.
With a soupçon of diplomatic courage, Hollande and his team could help turn the remaining two years of the Algerian president's term into something more than the twilight of a lame duck. Bouteflika himself announced in May that the country's political class resembled an "overripe orchard" -- i.e.,time to make room for the next generation to blossom -- and that he would not run again for president. Saying sorry now would provide closure to the Algerian leadership, many of whom personally fought in the war of independence, and help transition the FLN to a post-revolutionary era.
Even if France didn't believe this Algerian regime deserves the honor of a unilateral apology, withholding one strengthens the hand of nationalists who portray a hostile and conspiratorial Western bloc to justify their grip on power. In May, the prime minister drew connections between "the colonization of Iraq, the destruction of Libya, the partition of Sudan and the weakening of Egypt" as all being "the work of Zionism and NATO."
Hollande needs to find a way to issue French regret in a show of respect for the historical parties in power, while addressing the Algerian people's yearning for internal reform as a counterpoint to French contrition. This bilateral relationship is critical in matters of security cooperation -- from counterterrorism to the chaos in Mali -- and it is worth billions in trade and natural gas contracts. Only once France and Algeria look beyond the colonial era can their vital collaboration work on behalf of the shifting regional dynamics -- and not against them.