The North African tour that french president Nicolas Sarkozy will start tomorrow by a visit to Algeria, is a real test of his diplomacy. It comes in the midst of regional competition between Morocco and Algeria.

The french president, who makes his first tour outside Europe since he has been elected last may, has sensed the sensitivity of its mission, when Morocco had announced last week the cancellation of Sarkozy's visit to Rabat, as part of the tour which will also lead him to Tunisia.

According to Rabat, the cancellation of the visit is due to the heavy agenda of the Moroccan monarch, King Mohammed VI, while the spokesman of the French Presidency said that Sarkozy's visit to Rabat was overruled at the last minute at the request of Moroccan authorities for undetermined reasons concerning the "dates". At the same time, the spokesman of the Elysee said that Sarkozy would travel to Morocco during the second half of next October.

However, observers believe that the real reason is the short duration of the visit, which was to be two days. A period considered inadequate by Rabat to discuss the many issues of common interest.

In addition, some diplomats said that Morocco, considered as the greatest ally of France in North Africa, was not happy with the fact that Sarkozy began his tour, which aims at strengthening relations between France and North African countries, a region of high importance for the security of Europe in the field of energy, by visiting Algeria, the regional competitor of Rabat and the country whose weight is becoming more and more important in the field of energy, especially natural gas.

The Moroccan attitude has surprised the entire region, which is an area of influence for french trade since long time, while the Rabat was, by custom, the first destination of each new french president outside Europe.

Analysts and politicians are convinced that Morocco, whose leaders had close personal relations with the former french President Jacques Chirac and benefited from his support for the Moroccan Sahara conflict, has committed a big mistake by cancelling Sarkozy's visit.

Qader Abdel Rahim, an expert in the affairs of the Arab Maghreb at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations in Paris, sees that the cancellation of the visit of a president recently elected, and who has a strong personality and very popular, would have an Diplomatic impact later. "Rabat thought that it could make its relationship with Paris, headed by Sarkozy, as strong as the era of Chirac, but this is not true because another generation coming to power in France", He adds.

According to Abdel Rahim, Sarkozy owes nothing to Moroccans or Algerians. "From french interests point of view, Sarkozy sees that Algeria is more important in the medium term", he says.

Sarkozy wants to change the method of France's policy in Africa. He sees that this policy in the era of Chirac, was based on personal relations.

During his tour, Sarkozy must explain its plan to build a Union comprising the countries of southern Europe and its neighbours in North Africa as a formal partnership between countries of the Mediterranean. This plan, which is so far unknown.

Tunisia and Morocco are major destinations for investment french, while Algeria, which was a French colony for over 130 years, is the first commercial partner of France in Africa.

In Algeria, which Sarkozy will visit again next autumn, the Franco-Algerian talks will focus on trade relations and cooperation between the french company "Gaz de France" and algerian one "Sonatrach", in addition to the establishment of nuclear power plants for peaceful purposes.

Relations between Paris and Algiers were marked by tension during the era of Chirac, leading to non-signing of "friendship treaty" between the two countries, while Sarkozy believes that friendship between the two countries did not need a treaty, but only overcome the past and its pain who humiliates the two sides.

In this context, Sarkozy called for starting strong relations and "extraordinary" partnership, without declaring the "remorse", which he said represent a "self-hatred".

The talks must also cover the issue of the Moroccan Sahara, the main cause of disagreement between Morocco and Algeria. A case where France, led by Chirac, presented a calm but "cutting edge" support to the Moroccan proposal to grant autonomy to the Moroccan Sahara, whose population amounts to 260 thousand people, under the Moroccan sovereignty.

This french support has angered "the Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Oro" (Polisario), which seeks to declare the independence of the Moroccan Sahara from Rabat and supported by Algeria. The secretary general of Polisario, Mohamed Abdelaziz, criticized France in April this year for what he called "the attitude supporting Morocco" in the Moroccan Sahara conflict. He said that "France abandons international justice and provides unlimited support to the Moroccan colonial adventure in the Sahara".

However, after the election of Sarkozy last May, the Polisario's Secretary General expressed the hope to see France show "greater neutrality" in the Moroccan Sahara issue during the reign of Sarkozy. "I hope that Paris will adopt a constructive spirit in its attitude contrary to the era of Chirac", he added.

But analysts believe that Sarkozy's economic talks in Algeria will not have a great success, unless he demonstrates his willingness to change French policy towards the issue of the Moroccan Sahara, which is also a "stumbling block" to the growth of trade between the Arab Maghreb countries, given the closure of borders between Morocco and Algeria since 1994.

In this context, the former Algerian Prime Minister, Redha Malek, said that the success of the Sarkozy's visit to Algeria will depend on his attitude to the issue of the Moroccan Sahara. "During his tour in North Africa, Sarkozy will realize the complexity and sensitivity between Morocco and Algeria", he added.

From this point of view, Sarkozy's visit to North Africa will largely determine the future relations of France with Morocco and Algeria. It will also have an impact on relations between Algeria and Morocco, especially after that the Polisario Front has expressed, in mid-June, its willingness to accept the proposal on the Moroccan Sahara autonomy, in the frame of a free and democratic referendum under United Nations auspices, and after the positive atmosphere that prevailed talks that have been in New York between Rabat and the Front.