In the wake of the political changes that Algeria has witnessed since the end of 2018, and the subsequent overthrow of the Bouteflika regime and the rise of President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to power in December 2019, the Algerian foreign policy held many prominent features that became clear in the divergent treatment, to what was previously mentioned in the regional environment, especially the Libyan conflict. The constitutional amendments, which came into force in November 2019 predicted the new shifts in the foreign policy, especially after the approval of articles which give the president the right to send Algerian forces to help in foreign peacekeeping missions. This step is considered as a different approach to what previously happened, in light of the complexities of the scene in the coastal and Sahara region, as well as the various tensions in the regional environment.
There’s a set of priorities adopted by the Algerian foreign policy under Tebboune, including:
- Preserving Algeria’s national security: which is a fundamental pillar to the stability of the state, and that was evident in the accelerated engagement in the Libyan conflict, and the call for the importance of a political solution, instead of military interventions, due to the pressure that this applies on the Algerian-Libyan border, which reaches about 1,000 km2. In addition to the interest in the terrorism in the Sahel and Sahara region file, and the imperative of regional and international cooperation to undermine extremist movements in the region, in a way that helps achieve stability within the coastal and Sahara states, which also enhances the Algerian national security.
- Attempting to contain traditional problems: one of the main priorities of the new Algerian administration is to push towards solving the relationship issues that affect its external interactions and the nature of its relationship with neighbouring countries, and here we find a new trend towards zeroing traditional problems, on top of which comes the Sahara issue, which causes tension with the state of Morocco, and this emerged during Tebboune’s inauguration speech. During the speech, he pointed out that the issue of Western Sahara is an issue of decolonization and that the United Nations and the African Union are the bodies assigned to resolve this issue, against the background universal principles, which support the right of self-determination, without disturbing the relations between Marrakech and Algeria. Moreover, Algeria’s Foreign Affairs Ministry’s reply to the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statement on the colonial past of France, reinforces that hypothesis and the real desire to go beyond the painful historical milestones.
- Returning to the African and Arab environment: that is after Algeria has been characterized by its long periods of diplomatic freeze, and it remained far from any joint work in these two circles, especially in the recent period of Bouteflika’s rule and his illness, which prevented him from receiving or making any visits to any countries in the region, in addition to the heavy reliance on the military establishments rather than the Algerian Foreign Affairs Ministry, and the prolonged citizen movement and the continuation of the internal political stalemate caused a major retreat in the Algerian diplomacy from the Arab and African incubator; a matter that the new Algeria has understood and has started working on it by giving the Foreign Affairs Ministry the green light in various interactions.
The Algerian foreign policy has witnessed a wide pattern change in dealing with intertwined issues at a regional and international level, since the first moment Tebboune rose to the helm, he put a map of the state’s foreign interactions and the features of that foreign policy, they can be stated as follows:
- Safe positioning: the Algerian foreign policy came to achieve a state of balance and security between regional and international axes, as it achieved a reconciliation with both Saudi Arabia and UAE, without losing its harmony and reciprocal relations with Qatar and Turkey. In the Libyan file, which is witnessing a political breakthrough after the arrival of the Presidential council and the new government, Algeria openly interacted with both opposing sides there. During the visit of the Algerian Foreign Affairs Minister, Sabri Boukadim, to Benghazi and Tripoli in February 2021, he held a one-on-one meeting with both Fayez Al-Sarraj and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, to search for common grounds of dialogue toward resolving the conflict, through a balanced move that allowed him to flexibly interact with main parties of the conflict, and perhaps this step has been an ongoing strategy in Algeria’s approach toward the Libyan file.
- Continuing support for traditional issues: the Algerian foreign policy carries a constant support for traditional, regional issues, on top of which is the Western Sahara issue, through which it aims to overpower the Sahrawi people’s right of self-determination. Just as Algeria is pushing along this path, it’s also preforming diligent work to solve the Palestinian issue, which was evident in Tebboune’s inauguration speech and it’s considered one of the fundamental constants of Algeria’s policy of building a state with East Jerusalem as the capital; perhaps this principle, in the case of rejection and condemnation, was witnessed in the recent period against the Moroccan-Israeli normalization.
- Varying international partners: Bouteflika’s administration was distinguished by its rapprochement with France, which remained that way throughout Bouteflika’s entire period of ruling; however, these relations were marred by a lot of stalemate following the people’s movement and the resignation of President Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika. But it’s clear that there’s a tendency to leave the French dependency umbrella under the new administration, which seeks to break the traditional deadlock in Western interactions, while working on balancing interactions with European countries, as well as having the desire to find channels of communication and dialogue with European partners on local and regional issues, in a balanced way. Perhaps the recent interaction with Germany about the Libyan crisis and the harmony of the Berlin conference indicates that Berlin will represent the new action code for Tebboune’s administration. Additionally, the Algerian-Russian interactions witnessed further progress, especially that Moscow supported the balanced line followed by Algeria in international and regional affairs, and perhaps, this rapprochement will reflect on both economic and military fields, especially since Algeria is the largest importer of Russian weapons in Africa, and maybe President Putin’s invitation to his Algerian counterpart in early February marks the beginning of their strategic partnership.
A complex regional and international context
Algeria is pursuing an expansionary policy in the African Moroccan circle, due to its heavy geostrategic weight, its lively location and various constituents, perhaps the principles of Algeria’s foreign policy, whose priorities include pushing the path of self-determination as one of the most important dilemmas in the complexity and tension within the Algerian-Moroccan relations. This is what actually happened right after ‘Washington’ declared Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara region and the consequent opposition of this approach at all levels, which led to further complications in the matter between the two countries.
The Sahara issue witnessed many important developments throughout 2020, making it a main topic in regional and international interactions, and the most prominent of these developments were the events at the Guerguerat border between Mauritania and Morocco and the closure of the Polisario front of this crossing. As this file witnessed great coordination between Morocco and Mauritania, it led to Rabat deploying forces along the borders with Mauritania, especially on the path of the Karakat crossing, and pushing the path of resuming commercial and civil movement again after the suspension lasted for about three weeks during the month of November 2020, and that this was followed by the Polisario front’s announcement of its withdrawal from the ceasefire agreement signed in 1991, which negatively cast a shadow over the Moroccan-Algerian relations, and pushed Algeria to search for strengthening its relations with the rest of the Maghreb countries, on which Libya is the top, through early involvement in the crisis, and Tunisia, through joint coordination on regional issues, the most important of which are terrorism and the Libyan crisis.
Relations between Algeria and Tunisia are remarkably coming closer, Algeria was the first to visit Tunisian president, Kais Saied, after his election, and the repetition of that visit, the last of which was a visit made by the Algerian Foreign Affairs Minister Sabri Boukadim on 2 April. That is the same approach that Algeria is following towards Mauritania, which is demonstrated by the increased coordination between them in all types of issues, the latest of which was the signing of an agreement that provides the establishment of a joint border committee specialized in the cooperation in security issues, in managing crisis in border areas and the economy, we understand from this that Algeria is spending efforts to encircle Morocco diplomatically, as well as aiming to reactivate and revitalize its diplomatic presence in the geographical vicinity.
On the international level, Algeria aims to largely maximize its benefits from its geographical location, to achieve quick political and economic gains, this was evident in the Algerian tendency to exploit the maritime border advantage by demarcating its borders with Spain and Italy to open positive interaction windows, to avoid the relationship from being confined to the French side. This was largely evident in the talks that took place in March 2020, between the Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya and President Tebboune and Foreign Affairs Minister Boukadim, it was confirmed through these talks that there aren’t any problems concerning the demarcating the maritime borders and that the two countries have the right to demarcate their navy borders, but in the bilateral and not unilateral manner, which was expressed by the Algerian Foreign Affairs Minister, with the intention to negotiate in the future regarding any interference in the maritime fields.
Connecting to the previous point, Algeria sought to demarcate its maritime borders with the Italian side, and in light of that, a technical committee was formed to demarcate the maritime borders between the two countries during the Italian Foreign Affairs Undersecretary’s visit on 23 September 2020. This was in order to achieve a degree of coordination in the course of the bilateral negotiations about the joint maritime borders, and those actions began in the beginning of July of the same year, in order to avoid any potential paths in the Mediterranean Basin.
Perhaps the Algerian-French relations and the historical memory that follows it periodically creates a state of tension between the two countries, which has recently emerged widely, yet the rational policy requires working wisely on this sensitive file and requires keeping it away from ideological conflicts due to the considerations of common interests between both sides, on top of which comes the fight against terrorism, this was evident in the continuous coordination between Paris and Algeria concerning this file, and its latest demonstration was the visit of the French Minister of Interior Gerald Dar Manan to Algeria in November 2020, which makes it clear that the Algerian diplomacy is based on the pragmatic dimension, far away from nationalist and ideological slogans.
To sum up, Algeria’s foreign policy saw a qualitative change in the level of attention directed to the variety of regional issues that were mixed with traditional principles and goals. It also witnessed a tactical change in the tools for implementing its policy, which was evident in the constitution that allowed the Algerian forces to mobilize to engage in the regional peace-keeping process, which enhances its realization of a proactive presence in areas of tension that directly affect its national security, in addition to adopting a broad approach in light of the regional and international interactions through the diversity of its international partners in order to achieve