Collective Memory: Algerian Historians’ Negotiating Cards With French Counterparts
The Algerians learned about the identity of the Algerian historians who will accompany their French counterparts in the mixed committee that was announced during the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Algeria at the end of last August. However, many observers ignore some of the privacy and backgrounds of these academics. Who are they, and how can their positions be expected in the “scientific negotiations” that bring them together with their French counterparts?
The list revealed by the Presidency of the Republic includes Mohamed El Korso, the historian and former senator, and chairman of the May 08, 1945, association, Abdelaziz Filali, Mohamed Hassan Zeghidi, Djamal Yahiaoui, and Idir Hachi, while the French side has not yet revealed the list of its historians. Some sources attribute this delay to the hypothesis of notes by the Algerian side on some French historians who will form the mixed committee.
Among the Algerian historians, the name of the historian Mohamed El Korso stands out, who previously presided over the May 08, 1945 association, after the death of the historical founder and Chairman of the National Assembly, Bachir Boumaza, and it is the institution that is credited with publishing the demand for an apology, then compensation for the crimes of France’s colonial past in Algeria.
In a forum on the events of May 8, 1945, hosted by the University of Guelma (eastern Algeria), which bears the name of those events, Mohamed El Korso talked about the necessity of France’s explicit recognition of its crimes, and also expressed the refusal of what he called “the drop by drop recognition.”
The historian also strongly criticized some French actions and positions in dealing with the period of the French occupation of Algeria, by highlighting what Paris considers to be bright aspects of the occupation, and referring here to the law of February 23, 2005, which glorifies the described crimes of the occupation, which was approved by the French Parliament, at a time when Paris scoops uncontrollably from the Algerian state’s deals.
From this standpoint, El Korso, a history professor at the University of Algiers, was chosen to be faithful to the demands raised by the May 8, 1945 association, even if he is no longer its president, represented, as we said, in pushing France to recognize its crimes in Algeria and to apologize to the Algerian people and compensate them for the killing, looting, plundering and preventing them from education and joining schools for 132 years of devastating settler occupation.
The choice of historian Abdelaziz Filali, a professor of history at the University of Constantine (eastern Algeria), for membership in the committee, came from his specialization in the history of the Algerian Muslim Scholars Association, which has a lot of credit for protecting the Algerian nation from organized and systematic metamorphosis operations carried out by the French occupation. Through attempts to impose an alien identity on Algerian society, such as the Christian religion and the French language, all of these attempts were unsuccessful thanks to the efforts of the pioneer of the Algerian Renaissance and the founder of the association, Sheikh Abdelhamid Ben Badis and his companions, the sheikhs, Mohamed Bachir El Ibrahimi, Mohamed El Mili, Larbi Tebessi and Tayeb Al Oqbi.
The historian Filali will likely confront his French counterparts with the identity paper that France tried to obliterate, and the practices of promoting ignorance and impoverishment that the occupation succeeded in imposing on the Algerians, hoping to divert them from their past, customs and traditions, and this is another card that plays in favour of the Algerian negotiator, who must be not only a neutral historian. Rather, he is a fierce defender of the rights of people who have suffered greatly from stupid and hateful colonialism.
The third historian, Mohamed Lahcen Zeghidi, is a professor at the University of Algiers. He is an academic, but he is politicized by the non-scientific positions he held, including the National Museum of the Mujahid war veteran), which qualifies him to be the standard-bearer of the demand for the recovery of the looted Algerian archive that was hidden in the French vaults, as is the case of Djamel Yahiaoui, Professor at the University of Algiers, who previously led the National Center for Studies and Research on the National Movement and the Liberation Revolution of 1954, which was suppressed with the ugliest brutality, as it witnessed a punishment that exceeded the limits of humanity because the French occupation army exiled everyone who participated in this revolution to places in the far corners of the world, such as New Caledonia in the far southeast of the Pacific Ocean and “Caen” in the Caribbean Sea in Central America, a card that, if the Algerian negotiator excelled in employing it, would put the French side in a dilemma.