Algeria Unamused by Hollande’s Terrorism Joke

President Hollande has once again landed in hot water after a recent joke about security in Algeria. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

President Hollande has once again landed in hot water after a recent joke about security in Algeria. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

François Hollande may like a good knee-slapper, but Algeria is not laughing along with him.

The French president, whose popularity is already historically low, irritated many in Algeria when he quipped that Interior Minister Manuel Valls had returned from a trip to the North African country “safe and sound … which is itself quite a feat.”

The joke was told before an audience at the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF). The organization is an umbrella group for Jewish civic life in France and was celebrating its 70th anniversary.

The former French colony, which won its independence after a bloody war, saw little humor in Hollande’s jest. Hollande, who had previously been popular in Algeria even as his domestic polls plummeted, was attacked on social media, and in the heavily state-controlled Algerian press.

One Twitter user branded Hollande a “fat pig,” and “a pawn in the hands of the CRIF Zionist gang.” One newspaper headline blared: “Hollande mocks Algeria in front of the Jews.”

Hollande has since apologized, and offered his “sincere regrets for the way his words were interpreted.”

While the Algerian government made its displeasure clear, it is unlikely to hold a grudge. Algerian Foreign Minister Ramante Lamamra called Hollande’s joke a “regrettable incident,” but said that he was satisfied with the president’s apology.

Politicians at home were more eager to chastise Hollande for his gaffe. Valérie Pécresse of the center-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP) called Hollande’s comments “clumsy and unworthy of a president.” UMP Deputy Secretary-General Geoffroy Didier called the joke “disgraceful.”

On the left, Parti de gauche co-founder and presidential aspirant Jean-Luc Mélenchon said that the joke made him “nauseous.”

Jokes about terrorism may strike a raw nerve in Algeria. From 1991 to 2002, the country suffered a brutal civil war between the government and the insurgents of the Islamic Salvation Front. The fighting, which was often indiscriminate, is estimated to have cost up to 150,000 lives.

While violence has fallen far from its bloody peak, Salafi terrorists rejected the 2002 cease-fire. Since then, they have merged with Al-Qaeda to form Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and continued to conduct deadly attacks throughout North Africa.

AQIM and France have clashed repeatedly, most notably in Mali this past year. The group has also kidnapped, ransomed, and killed European tourists and expatriates, including many French citizens.

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