Libia Algeria (La Presse)

Algeria: The New Sheriff In Libyan Conflict

Libya’s civil war is keeps getting new backers on all sides, as both regional and global players try to carve out a piece of the country’s wealth for themselves. Turkey backs the Tripoli-based GNA government, Russia and UAE side with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s rebels, and the Western powers urge “restraint and peace.” The conflict has become quite messy and divisive, to say the least.

Algeria’s Unique Position Regarding Libya

However, unlike the rest of those involved who have large swathes of land or sea protecting them from the Libyan territory and are thus immune from many of their actions or escalations as a result of them, Algeria shares over a 1,000km border with the war-torn country that raises its stakes in the conflict. 

Until recently, Algiers had pursued a neutral policy, maintaining cordial relations with both the Tripoli-based UN-backed government and Haftar’s forces that reign supreme in the east where it borders Libya, thus making Algeria vulnerable to any possible escalation. At the same time, the country has also condemned any violence or foreign meddling as well. 

Beyond this though, the role of Algeria was largely limited to that of a passive outsider, given former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s weak health that excluded him from practically all matters, domestic or foreign. However, things have changed since the election of Abdelmajid Tebboune to the Algerian presidency last month and the new government has shown an increasingly proactive foreign policy outlook. 

Algeria’s Newly Reinvigorated Government

Just in January, Algiers has had engagements with foreign and local stakeholders at least four times, beginning with hosting Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavosoglu and GNA head Fayez Al-Serraj on January 6. The very next day, Algerian FM Sabri Boukadoum was in Rome at the invitation of his Italian counterpart to find a political situation for Libya.  

Algeria was also part of the 13 states that were invited to the Berlin conference earlier this month to discuss the future of Libya. The summit was criticized for excluding regional stakeholders, so immediately afterwards Algiers hosted six African states including Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Chad, Mali and Niger to seek further consensus on the truce. 

Then on Jan. 26, Algeria’s president hosted his Turkish counterpart, marking the third meeting and second visit with Turkey in a span of just 20 days. Here Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his host is “key to the regional stability” and said the conflict cannot be solved by military means. He also invited Tebboune to visit Turkey. 

Algeria And Ankara’s Strengthening Ties

This is part of the evolving partnership between Algiers and Ankara, who until now have had some differences on Libya. For example, the former’s rejection of “any foreign interference” included Turkey’s planned troop deployment after it signed a memorandum of understanding with al-Sarraj. 

But with the way things are moving as well as the pace of developments, Algeria and Turkey seem to be fast converging towards being on the same page. The relations between the two countries make geopolitical sense, as the African nation can play its role to buffer against Haftar’s rebel forces in the east while Edogan’s men support the weak government in Tripoli. 

Algeria’s vulnerable eastern front is not the only challenge Tebboune is confronted with though. Algeria has been bogged down in protests for a year, as people call for an overhaul of the political system. While the intensity has waned ever since the new government took charge, recent examples from the region show that they can flare up intensely at any moment. Hence, before pursuing an out-sized role in neighboring conflicts, the president should first calm his own subjects and prioritize domestic matters.