France Assesses Damage to Postwar North African Ties

THERE was no cheering in the streets of Algiers Thursday morning with the word of the end of the Gulf war. Rather, says Dalila Bouakaz, it was a double deception that is likely to taint relations between the northern and southern coasts of the Mediterranean for years to come. ``We had started to forget a little about France's negative role in our past,'' says Miss Bouakaz, a journalist with the Algerian Press Service in Algiers. ``But the war and these past few days especially remind us. We feel deceived by the Americans who only wanted to crush Iraq, and we feel deceived by France for having joined them.''

Even before the ground offensive started Sunday, French officials had expressed deepening concerns that the violence and immediacy of a ground war would further poison relations between France and its North African neighbors.

Now, with the war over, France and its European partners will have to gauge the damage done to ties with North Africa, which is a key commercial zone for southern Europe and whose people reside in Europe - most numerously in France - in the millions.

One major worry has been that a new wave of public agitation over the ground war would destabilize the Maghreb's moderate governments in favor of something more extreme and stiffly anti-Western. Yet while no fresh round of public furry akin to earlier mass demonstrations - complete with French flag burnings and cries of ``Mitterrand, assassin!'' - materialized, no one in the French government is breathing any sighs of relief just yet.

In North Africa, observers say long-term prospects for relations between the north and south of the Mediterranean should be helped by the brevity of the ground war. Other important factors to be weighed will be how much ``humiliation'' is forced on Iraq and how seriously France and Europe take the Maghreb countries' deepening economic, social, and political troubles.

Officials in the French government say North Africa's volatility is an important reason France had hoped to avoid a ground war. The attitude is that the situation in North Africa ``held'' surprisingly well. Officials say the tight-knit political and economic links between France and North Africa, plus the Maghreb's ``diaspora'' in France, have caused mixed feelings among North Africans and attenuated their reaction to France's role in the war.

But there is also a realization that, as the colonial influence has waned, North Africa has over the past 20 years reaffirmed its Arab and Islamic roots - has ``turned back to the East,'' as one official says. This estrangement from France and the West, officials say, could accelerate.

In North Africa, many observers voice similar, though more condemnatory, views. ``There is a strong and growing sentiment of injustice aimed at France and its Western allies, and that will reinforce an Islamization and strengthen Arab pride,'' says Moncef Ben M'Rad, director of R'ealit'es, a Tunisian weekly.

Iraq had become a symbol of Arab technological, economic, and military success for the man in the street, Mr. Ben M'Rad says. ``The war is now perceived as a Western desire to obliterate Arab progress, and France is implicated in that.''

North African analysts say the public's relative calm this week reflects in part a strong public identification with their leaders' hardening tone toward the coalition.

Some Algerians note that the scars of French colonial role in North Africa had begun to fade, but that France's wholehearted engagement in the ground offensive has irritated them anew.

Despite the whipped up emotions, however, Ben M'Rad says people still realize how closely they are linked to France and Europe. ``People understand the need to preserve the future,'' he says. ``Despite today's disagreements, everything depends on how our needs and difficulties are addressed tomorrow.''

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