In Amboise, the work in tribute to the Emir Abdelkader vandalized, the inauguration maintained as a sign of unity

His silhouette cut out of a sheet of rusty steel stares at the river. On the promenade on the banks of the Loire, at the foot of the royal palace of Amboise (Indre-et-Loire), a sculpture in tribute to the Emir Abdelkader and supported by the Elysée was inaugurated this Saturday by the mayor (LR) of the city, Thierry Boutard. But in the morning, it was found vandalized. Its lower part in particular was largely damaged. “She was cut with the grinder and twisted”, explains Thierry Boutard to Release. An investigation has been opened for “serious degradation”.

The city councilor immediately announced his “indignation”, the Algerian ambassador to France, Mohamed Antar Daoud, for his part called for “more dialogue and understanding”. Both decided to maintain the inauguration and not to change anything in the program of the day. “We did the inauguration as planned and I think it brought together all the people who were there. It created a certain unity. observes Thierry Boutard.

“Let us remember what unites us. The Republic will erase no trace or name from its history. She will not forget any of her works. She will not unbolt statues”, condemned Emmanuel Macron to Agence France-Presse.

“Major figure of the 19th century”

The work of the artist Michel Audiard, inspired by a photograph kept by the National Library of France, was unveiled in front of a handful of local elected officials and a few curious people in the morning. “We are resisters in the face of hatred. We are not going to bend in the face of the mediocrity of stupidity”, hammers the mayor, who affirms that the work will be repaired and “will stay in this place”.

Georges Morin, a repatriated Algerian member of the “Memory and Truth” commission set up after the submission of the Stora report on “the memories of colonization and the Algerian war»report in which the construction of a stele in homage to the emir was recommended – was also present at the inauguration.

“A memorial reconciliation between France and Algeria passes through a circulation of images, reciprocal representations, mutual discoveries”, Stora wrote. “I do not place myself at all in a Franco-Algerian political history”, explains for his part Thierry Boutard. The elected representative from Tours defends a “historic character” to which the city is strongly attached. “He is a major figure of the 19th century”, abounds the Franco-Algerian historian Ahmed Bouyerdene, author of a rich biography of the Emir Abdelkader.

The inauguration of this stele had however been targeted by the far right on social networks. The Fdesouche site qualifying, on Twitter, the Emir of “hero of the fight against France”. The former deputy of Gard Gilbert Collard, support of Eric Zemmour, spoke, him, of“historic adversary of France”.

“Multiple Character”

Abdelkader was born in 1808 near the town of Mascara, in western Algeria. From a family of chorfa (the descendants of the Prophet), he is educated in literature, mathematics, history, philosophy, learns to ride a horse and to handle the sword. Proclaimed “Commander of the Faithful” at the age of 24, the young man united the tribes and opposed, from 1832, the conquest of his country by France. Alternating victories and defeats, signing two peace treaties (including one with General Bugeaud guaranteeing him control of part of Algeria), the Emir and his comrades-in-arms finally surrendered to General Lamoricière on December 23 1847.

In exchange for his laying down of arms, a promise of exile in Egypt or Palestine is made to him. It will not be held. The emir is then imprisoned on the other side of the Mediterranean. First at Fort Lamalgue, in Toulon, then at the Château de Pau and finally in that of Amboise. There, on this rocky outcrop overlooking the Loire, the man lives recluse. He devotes himself to meditation and prayer. With his beard and his burnous, a long hooded woolen coat worn by the Berbers, it intrigues, arouses comments and sometimes mistrust.

“Things then softened, people came to see him”, says Martine Le Coz, author of Oriental Garden, the story of the Emir’s stay in Tours. “He especially she continues, established a real friendship with Father Robion.” The two beings discover each other, appreciate each other and talk about spirituality and tolerance. “His greatness of soul has always been recognized”, adds the writer. Released in 1852 by Napoleon III, the emir will end his life in Syria, where he died in 1883. After his departure from the city, a terminal surmounted by a crescent will be erected in the castle park, as well as a Muslim square , in tribute to the members of Abdelkader’s family. The historian Ahmed Bouyerdene evokes today a “multiple character”. “There is the figure of the soldier, the strategist, the diplomat. A great religious, too, who had the necessary charisma to harangue his people. And then that of the mystic.

“Symbolic gesture”

In Algeria, after independence in 1962, the regime overvalued this figure of resistance to the French. The national novel is written with this character, considered the father of the Algerian nation. In June, the former Algerian deputy Noureddine Aït-Hamouda caused a real outcry by calling “traitors” Emir Abdelkader, ex-president Houari Boumedienne and nationalist leader Messali Hadj. The sign that the memory of colonization, on this side of the Mediterranean, remains vivid. “The emir is a symbol claimed by both France and Algeria”, specifies Ahmed Bouyerdene. “It is however not a figure of consensus. But he questions modernity, tradition, Islam, the relationship between East and West…”

The inauguration of this stele in Amboise is supposed to bring a new small brick to the memorial site opened by the Head of State on the memories of the Algerian war. A series of “symbolic gestures”, according to the expression devoted to the Elysée, have thus been carried out since the beginning of the five-year term: the recognition of the assassination of Maurice Audin and Ali Boumendjel by the French army in 1957; the return of Algerian skulls kept since the 19th century at the Natural History Museum; the recognition of “inexcusable crimes” of October 17, 1961; or even the “sorry” history asked of the harkis and their descendants.

“All this is done in small steps”, recently slipped Benjamin Stora to Release. This gesture is symbolic, concludes Ahmed Bouyerdene. It is a positive and interesting act. But I regret that we only act on the symbols. The emir deserves to be better known. He is a positive figure for French youth.”

Update : addition at 12 noon of reactions from the mayor of Amboise, the Algerian ambassador and critics from the far right. Addition at 1 p.m. of the opening of an investigation and the reaction of the mayor to “Libé”. Addition at 3 p.m. of Emmanuel Macron’s reaction and clarification on the Emir’s laying down of arms.

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