Algeria-France: Four Russian planes of the Algerian army escort Macron back to Paris

By Farid Alilat
Posted on Monday, 29 August 2022 18:04

France's President Emmanuel Macron (L) reacts during his visit at the disco Maghreb Shopin, the mythical label of rai music, in front of its owner, Boualem Benhaoua (R), and France's former minister and Arab World Institute President Jack Lang (3rdR) in Oran on August 27, 2022. - Emmanuel Macron is on a three-day visit to Algeria aimed at mending ties with the former French colony, which this year marks its 60th anniversary of independence.
France's President Emmanuel Macron (L) reacts during his visit at the disco Maghreb Shopin, the mythical label of rai music, in front of its owner, Boualem Benhaoua (R), and France's former minister and Arab World Institute President Jack Lang (3rdR) in Oran on August 27, 2022. - Emmanuel Macron is on a three-day visit to Algeria aimed at mending ties with the former French colony, which this year marks its 60th anniversary of independence. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

Emmanuel Macron's three-day visit to Algeria was highly appreciated both in Algiers and in Paris. As a symbol of this warming up, Algiers had the presidential plane escorted by four Russian-made fighter jets. A first for a French head of state.

It is an image and a gesture that suggests how well Emmanuel Macron’s trip to Algeria ended.

As the French president prepared to leave Algiers on Saturday 27 August after a three-day trip, Algeria’s Abdelmadjid Tebboune decided to have the French presidential plane escorted by four Sukhoï Su-30s of the army to the limits of Algerian airspace. In the plane that brought back Macron and his large delegation, it is an understatement to say that this gesture – which constitutes a first in the annals of relations between the two countries – was much appreciated.

“And after the signing of the Algiers declaration by the two heads of state, this exceptional gesture of an escort for the plane of the President of the Republic at the end of his visit,” tweeted Catherine Colonna, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, who accompanied Emmanuel Macron on this official and friendly visit.

In the Airbus taking him back to Paris, Macron did not hide his satisfaction and enthusiasm, both for the welcome he received in Algiers and Oran and for the content of the meetings and discussions with Algerian officials, to the applause of his advisers and the ministers present in the aircraft. “The president is very happy with his trip,” says a diplomat. “He is relaxed, satisfied and enthusiastic”, agrees one of the guests who took part in the dinner organized Friday evening in Oran and which lasted until late in the night.

One of the four Sukhoi Su-30s of the Algerian army that escorted the French presidential plane to the limits of Algerian airspace on 27 August 2022. (rights reserved)

Frank dialogue

This second trip by Emmanuel Macron to Algeria, after the short visit he made in December 2019, was nevertheless risky.

On both sides, there were apprehensions, doubts and even concerns as the climate was tense because of the 2021 in the fall quarrel that resulted in the recall, for three months, of the former Algerian ambassador to Paris. This quarrel was sparked by remarks made by President Macron in the newspaper Le Monde, in which he accused the Algerian “politico-military system” of having built “a tax on the past”, but also because of the decision of Paris to drastically reduce the number of visas issued to Algerians, and in particular to political leaders.

The climate has since relaxed and the two presidents have resumed dialogue over the months, while Algiers has appointed a new ambassador, Saïd Moussi, reputedly close to Tebboune.

But the fear that this trip would not go as well as the French wanted was palpable before the delegation landed on the tarmac of Algiers airport on Thursday 25 August. The rest of this visit was turned rather positive, even satisfactory on certain issues that constitute subjects of tension and stumbling blocks between the two capitals.

A good understanding, frank dialogue, and even a certain friendship between Macron and Tebboune were components in the success of the visit. During the three days of the visit, the two heads of state met and spoke five times, both face-to-face and during two lunches organised at the Palais du Peuple and at the state residence in Zéralda. This is a first between two Algerian and French presidents in two decades.

The two men do speak  regularly and at length on the phone. But in Algiers, they met for long one-on-one discussion, notably during the state dinner organised on Thursday during which Macron and Tebboune spoke until late at night. In the opinion of the members of the French delegation, these exchanges were decisive to relax the climate, move forward on issues and consider good prospects for relations between the two countries.

An almost improvised ‘Algiers Declaration’

It was during these two meetings held on Thursday that the “Algiers Declaration for a renewed partnership between France and Algeria” was born.

Macron suggested the idea to his Algerian counterpart, who then agreed. The French President then instructed his advisers to prepare a draft text to be submitted to the Algerians for discussion. After negotiations, the two parties agreed on the content of this document that lays the foundations for a renewed, concrete, and ambitious partnership.

The principle of this declaration was decided unexpectedly, “almost at the last minute,” says a diplomat who took part in its drafting.

It was necessary to conclude this visit with a strong gesture and a political initiative that would redefine the framework of relations between the two countries. The principle of such a declaration was not part of the official programme of the trip as agreed between the two partners, so it is a sign of the good understanding that prevailed.

At the end of his visit to Oran on Saturday 27 August, where he visited the Christian chapel of Santa Cruz and the headquarters of the rai label Disco Maghreb,  Macron was meant to return directly to Paris, until a sudden change of programme: the two presidents decided to meet again in Algiers for the signing of the famous joint declaration, in the presence of members of both delegations.

The Algerian President greatly appreciated that his French counterpart agreed to return to the capital for the solemn signing of this document,” confided a French minister on the condition of anonymity. After the signing, the Algerian head of state spoke in French, whereas he had spoken exclusively in Arabic during the joint declaration that sanctioned the first face-to-face meeting held on Thursday at the El Mouradia Palace.

In politics, small gestures are very important.

Unprecedented security meeting

The other step marking this new cycle in relations between the two countries was the meeting on Friday between the two heads of state at the Zeralda residence.

For this working lunch, Macron was accompanied by the Minister of the Armed Forces, Sébastien Le Cornu, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, General Thierry Burkhard, and the Director General of External Security, Bernard Emié.

Facing them, Tebboune was surrounded by the Chief of Staff of the Army, Saïd Chengriha, the Director General of the fight against terrorism, M’henna Djebbar, the Director General of Internal Security (DGSI), Djamel Kehal Medjdoub, and the Director General of Documentation and External Security (DGDSE), Abdelghani Rachedi.

If nothing has filtered through from their exchanges, we know that the two parties discussed at length the situation in the Sahel and Mali, the Libyan issue, as well as cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

“The meeting went very well,” said Thierry Burkhard, who confided in the members of the French delegation without divulging the content of the discussions. This is the first time since independence in July 1962 that French and Algerian presidents have met in the presence of senior military, security and intelligence officials.

This three-day trip by Macron began with concerns, apprehensions, bumps and tensions around the organisation of the work of accredited journalists from Paris. It ended with the escort of the French presidential plane by four Sukhoi Su-30s of the Algerian army.

A perfect end to what the French delegation never ceased to describe as an “official and friendly visit”.

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