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Under Pressure: The Algerian President’s Messages and the Implications of his Visit to Ankara

The visit of Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to Ankara on 15 May marked a vital step in the relationship between the two countries, particularly amid the development of Algerian-Turkish political and economic relations and the declining economic situation in the two countries due to the repercussions of the Russo-Ukrainian war. 

Tebboune’s visit is the first by an Algerian president in 17 years, following the last visit of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in February 2005. Recently, the political and economic relations between Algeria and Turkey have witnessed remarkable development that reflects mutual consensus between the two countries, towards achieving their mutual interests. Interactions between the two countries were not limited to the political and economic aspects, but extended to include the military dimension, which that visit gave rise to.

A Pressing Context

Tebboune’s visit to Turkey came amid a domestic tense situation in both countries, in view of the deteriorating internal economic conditions, repercussions of the Russo-Ukrainian crisis, and the fluctuations in the intertwined issues affecting Algeria and Turkey, including:

  • Fissures in the Libyan Scene and the Country’s Move Back to Square One: Tebboune’s visit comes amid complexities on the Libyan arena regarding the contradictions and disagreements between the Libyan actors on the electoral law and the indefinite postponement of the elections on the one hand and the crisis of the parliament-appointed Fathi Bashagha government and the continuity of Abdul-Hamid Al-Dbeibeh’s government, a situation that takes the scene back to what Libya has experienced over the past years. Perhaps this would take Libya back to the armed civil conflict circle, as happened on 17 May 2022 between the supporters of the outgoing Libyan Prime Minister Al-Dbeibeh and the designated Prime Minister, Fathi Bashagha, which reopens the door for calculations that give rise to political balances that achieves Turkish and Algerian interests in Libya, particularly since both countries still support Al-Dbeibeh as head of the government, as has been evidenced by Tebboune’s announcement on 24 April on the sidelines of a media meeting where he said that “Algeria supports international legitimacy; that is why it supports Al-Dbeibeh government”, the same direction that Turkey took, expressing that Al-Dbeibeh’s government enjoys legitimacy in Libya.
  • The Increasing Turmoil in the Sahel and Diminished Military Support: This visit also comes amid the worsening situation in the Sahel region, which portends potential security risks in the Sahel-Saharan region given the deteriorating situation in Mali, the decline of funding of the joint forces to combat terrorism, and the Chadian government decision to reduce the security presence along the three-country point from 1,200 to 600 troops (in August 2021) which would consolidate the concentrations of terrorist groups, a situation that would pose an explicit threat to Algerian national security. Perhaps discussing military cooperation between the two sides and the Turkish President’s confirmation on strengthening the bilateral cooperation in the field of defense industries may achieve a balance in the regional security equation.
  • Global Unrest against the Backdrop of Russo-Ukrainian Crisis: The Russo-Ukrainian war represents a pressing challenge for economies, particularly given its impact on the energy and food industries, the use of energy (gas and petrol) as a weapon in this war, the pressures from Western countries on the Arab, Gulf, and African countries to increase their energy production in a way that would help address the negative repercussions of the war, and the parallel pressure from Russia to prevent increased energy exports to Europe. This puts Algeria in a dilemma as it will have to search for alternative markets, especially since President Tebboune has expressed during his visit to Ankara his country’s aspiration to review its unbalanced and unequal relations with Western countries, particularly France and the European Union, to break unipolarity and the Western hegemony towards more openness and diversity of regional and international partnerships.

Diverse Goals

Tebboune’s visit to Ankara is meant to achieve several aspirations and goals at the bilateral level, whether within the framework of political and diplomatic relations or under an economic umbrella, towards greater revitalization of trade exchanges and joint investments between Algeria and Turkey, given their congruent policy on regional portfolios, as follows:

  • Revitalizing the Politics of Axes: Algeria aspires to revitalize the politics of axes to achieve regional balances on the outstanding issues, particularly on the Libyan file. The Turkish-Algerian convergence on the current situation in Libya pushes them to cooperate to regain control over the Libyan scene without coordinating with interested countries in this regard. This would give rise –once again– to a state of military mobilization and threaten the political and military paths of understanding and lead to divisions, which will ultimately create a highly volatile military situation.

On the other hand, Algeria’s rapprochement with Turkey is aimed at balancing the Moroccan-Israeli engagement in Africa, particularly since Turkey’s view on Western Sahara, focuses on finding a political solution within the framework of the relevant United Nations (UN) resolutions. Arguably, Algeria is seeking supporters for its vision on Moroccan Sahara and is looking forward to widening the circle of regional and international partnerships outside the traditional circle, following Europe’s recent alignment with Rabat and the West’s support of its autonomy initiative. Relatedly, Algeria is looking for the Moroccan-Turkish disengagement, particularly given the remarkable growth in military cooperation and arms deals concluded by Rabat with Ankara, demonstrated by Morocco’s acquisition of Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones in 2021. Further, the Moroccan Royal Navy and Turkey have been negotiating an arms deal since the beginning of this year. Perhaps Tebboune’s reference to the current military consultations with Turkey on the sidelines of his visit to Ankara demonstrated that, proving Algeria’s endeavors to restore military balance with Morocco on the one hand and diversify sources of Algeria’s weaponization sources in view of the potential unrest and suspension of transactions with Russia (which dominate the Algerian Market) due to the Ukraine war. 

  • Activating Security Cooperation: Given the worsening internal political situation in Algeria, the mounting opposition, the visibility of movements that oppose Tebboune’s policies (e.g. the Islamist Rashad group and MAK separatist movement in the Kabylia region) and their involvement in the fires in Algeria end of last year and the beginning of this year, and the escape of opposition figures to Turkey, Algeria aspires to broaden the cooperation umbrella to include the intelligence and security aspects as well.
  • Strengthening Economic Partnership: The bilateral economic and trade interactions between Algeria and Ankara came at the top of the agenda of Tebboune’s visit to Ankara with the aim of strengthening bilateral cooperation backed by the Friendship and Cooperation Agreement signed in 2006, enhancing Turkish investments in Algeria, and expanding the volume of trade exchanges between the two countries, amounting to about $4.2 billion in 2021. Towards that, a joint committee headed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of both countries was established to address the challenges facing investors. Perhaps this visit gave rise to 16 bilateral cooperation agreements and memoranda of understanding in many economic sectors, which would play into the hands of both countries given their mutual economic need to market local products and their desire to consolidate their partnerships in the energy sector, particularly natural gas, through cooperation between Algeria’s oil and gas company Sonatrach and Turkish firm Ronesans, a cooperation that both sides look up to, towards broadening the cooperation umbrella to cope with the global changes in the energy market. Notably, Algeria has renewed its LNG supply contracts with Turkey through the state-owned BOTAŞ corporation and this cooperation is expected to continue until 2024, with export quantities amounting to about 5.4 billion cubic meters. Perhaps this may bring financial returns for Algeria, probably contributing to addressing the deteriorating economic conditions. Algeria’s desire to converge with Turkey is a tactical goal for Turkey as well as it would enable Ankara to secure its economic interests in Africa.
  • Promoting the “Reunion” National Initiative: Tebboune’s visit coincides with the launch of the “Reunion” initiative, through which Algeria wishes to address the internal political crisis, putting an end to the political divisions and opening the door for the opposition to engage in dialogue, towards forming a coherent domestic front. The significance of this initiative was highlighted in Tebboune’s meeting with the Algerian community in Turkey to elaborate on the initiative’s dimensions and objectives.

In short, Algeria’s moves in its Arab, African, and regional context reflects its desire to bring about axes of interaction that are aligned with Algeria’s aspirations to disengage from Europe in general and France in particular and diversify its partnerships, which would take it out of the traditional relations established over the past years. Additionally, given the power balances in the Maghreb, Algeria targets the disengagement of Turkish-Moroccan military relations by broadening the umbrella of cooperation with Turkey to include the military industries, which would enable it to diversify its weaponization sources, particularly given the crisis situation in Russia (the key arms provider to Algeria) and create military balance with Morocco in the midst of the ongoing conflict with it.

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