In the era of colonialism, starting with the French conquest of Algeria in 1830, a new rapport was created across the Mediterranean, a hegemonic one that insisted on the more "civilised" character of the northerners as opposed to the inhabitants of its southern shores. Paradoxically, this also resulted in very close economic, political and cultural ties between north and south, even if the main beneficiaries were not in general the peoples of North Africa and the Levant, significant numbers of whom did, however, learn to speak French. The emancipation of the colonised from the colonisers in the second half of the 20th century has had several important effects, most notably the fracturing of the Mediterranean into northern and southern zones that to a large extent operate apart from one another.
To say this is not to defend the actions of the colonisers which were, notably in Algeria, often brutal and counter-productive. However, decolonisation coincided with the attempts of the Soviet Union to establish a foothold within the Mediterranean, and newly independent countries such as Egypt were lured into economic disaster as clients of Moscow. Relations between Algeria and Libya and the European states have been especially difficult, and under Gaddaffi Libya in particular tried to eradicate traces of its colonial past, even banning public signs that were not written in Arabic. Places once celebrated for the meeting of cultures, religions and peoples became monochrome cities inhabited solely by the majority population of the interior.
The Jews, in particular, disappeared from all those lands in the Mediterranean where they had formed an integral part of a larger society, migrating to one embattled corner (Israel), or sometimes to southern France, bringing to an end a 2,000-year history of diaspora around the shores of the Mediterranean. Seen from this perspective, the creation of Israel was another episode in the fragmentation of the Mediterranean, as different ethnic and religious groups carved out their own territories, and peoples were shunted around, beginning with Greeks, Turks and Armenians in the population exchanges of the 1920s. In Israel, the ascendancy of a political class mainly drawn from central and eastern Europe accentuated the sense that the country's destiny must lie in becoming more European and less "Levantine". Without disparaging Israel's achievements one can, and should, feel strong twinges of regret at the ending of the Jewish role in the life of a dozen great Mediterranean cities.
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