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France interior minister criticised for tribute at Algeria war monument

Both Algerian and French figures and social media users have blasted Darmanin's tribute as 'shameful' and 'insulting' - but not always for the same reasons
Last week Darmanin, whose grandfather was Algerian, toured the Maghreb to discuss counter-terrorism and illegal immigration (Handout)

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has sparked controversy during a visit to Algeria after posting a video offering his respects to the “martyrs of the war” at a monument in Algiers on Sunday. 

Despite the Martyrs' Memorial - which commemorates those killed in Algeria's war for independence from French colonial rule - being a common stop for senior foreign officials visiting Algeria, the tribute has been condemned by some in France as an “insult” and “shameful”.

Darmanin began a two-day visit to Algiers on Saturday as part of a tour that focused on counter-terrorism and illegal immigration, following an attack by a Tunisian migrant that killed three people in the French city of Nice last month.

Meeting with his Algerian counterpart Kamel Beldjoud, Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad, Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum and Religious Affairs Minister Youcef Belmehdi, Darmanin stressed the importance of improving "distinguished" bilateral relations between the two nations.

Translation: Thank you to the Algerian people and their government for warmly welcoming me to Algeria. May the strong and inalienable ties of friendship between both our countries live on.

Darmanin hopes a tour of the Maghreb and visits to Italy and Malta will help strengthen France’s security standing and aid in its crackdown on extremism domestically, including a plan to expel a number of North African nationals deemed a security threat.

Darmanin, whose grandfather was Algerian and fought with the French resistance forces in 1944, also paid tribute to French soldiers at the Saint-Eugene cemetery in Bologhine, a suburb of Algiers.

However, his tribute at the Algerian monument was not well received by either Algerians or the French. 

EU Parliament member Thierry Mariani, who belongs to France's right-wing Les Republicains party, denounced Darmanin’s tribute as an "insult" and an "affront" towards harkis (a term used to refer to Algerians who fought for France), French settlers during colonial times known as the pieds noirs, and veterans of the French army.

Other political figures similarly denounced Darmanin's homage to Algerian resistance fighters - including Beziers Mayor Robert Menard - who was fined in 2017 for pushing the white supremacist "great replacement" conspiracy theory.

TranslationUndignified for a French minister to do that. Our fallen soldiers in Algeria, the tortured Harkis, the pied noirs families whose lives were shattered forever ... Does that mean nothing to him?

Another member of Les Republicains, Valerie Boyer, also criticised Darmanin, expressing her "disgust" at the "betrayal".

Translation: Once again disgusted by this indignity to which the Algerian government subjects France. I think of the tortured Harkis, of the pieds-noirs whose lives were shattered, of our soldiers who died on this French soil and I ask that their memory finally be respected. Stop these betrayals.

Meanwhile, some social media users have called out the French government for failing to be “consistent” on its position on colonialism. 

Translation: Three years ago [French President] Emmanuel Macron called colonisation a “crime against humanity”. Last Sunday, [Prime Minister] Jean Castex said that it was necessary to put an end to contrition over colonisation. Eight days later, Darmanin will repent in Algiers. Where is the consistency?

Many Algerians also reacted to the footage, branding it "shameful" on the part of the Algerian government.

TranslationIt is us who should be ashamed that a grandson of a Harki comes to pray at a memorial dedicated to the men who fought to reclaim their country.

Translation: I have tears in my eyes, isn't the government ashamed of sullying the honour of our martyrs by letting the coloniser come and mourn their dead on Algerian soil? Do you have so little regard for history? I'm disappointed, there's no need to do that.

Some users online highlighted comments made by Darmanin in 2017, in which he lambasted Macron's "unacceptable" remarks on colonisation being a crime against humanity.

Translation: Darmanin's visit to the Martyrs' Monument is disturbing, inappropriate and hypocritical. He may have deleted his tweets but I haven't forgotten, and Algerian foreign officials should have remembered that. It is an insult to the dead of colonialism.

Darmanin's visit to Algeria follows that of Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who visited Algeria last month and was hosted by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who has been hospitalised in Germany since 28 October after contracting Covid-19

Algeria has yet to officially comment on whether it will accept a list of its nationals France intends to expel for links to extremism, with unofficial reports already claiming that Algeria has rejected the repatriation request. 

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Tunisia however has expressed its willingness to repatriate Tunisian citizens suspected of being "radicals" as long as judicial rights are first guaranteed in France. 

This isn’t the first time Darmanin has stirred controversy since leading the recent crackdown on “enemies of the Republic” following the murder of  Samuel Paty, a 47-year-old teacher who had shown students cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by the magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Muslim charity BarakaCity was dissolved by French authorities after Darmanin claimed the organisation "justified terrorist acts".

Last month Darmanin was ridiculed on social media after giving an interview in which he suggested certain food aisles in supermarkets, including kosher food and halal food, contribute to “separatism”.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.