Sahara Occidentale, offensiva militare Marocco (La Presse)

How Turkish-Saudi Tensions are Affecting the Western Sahara Conflict

As Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdoğan’s domestic rule continues to be damaged by his son-in-law Berat Albayrak’s recent resignation as finance minister, the Turkish leader is also facing problems in the cold war between his nation and Saudi Arabia. Hostilities between the two countries have now spread to the Western Sahara.

According to Al-Monitor, Saudi Arabia has begun an unofficial boycott against Turkish goods, services and all things Turkish. It is possible that Ankara’s close ally, Qatar, may also be pressured to join the boycott due to Erdoğan’s plan to strengthen economic ties with Algiers, Tunis and Rabat.

Algeria and Turkey are Strengthening Ties

Algeria is of particular interest to the Turkish President. In January 2020, Turkey and Algeria committed to boosting their trade volume from $3.1 billion to $5 billion. The latter is currently the former’s second largest trading partner in Africa.

Algeria also supplies Turkey with gas shipments and has become the fourth largest supplier of natural gas to Ankara.

In addition, both nations share common positions and interests regarding Palestinian sovereignty and Libya, so it also makes sense for geopolitical reasons for Turkey and Algeria to strengthen their bonds.

The UAE Moves Against Turkey and Algiers in Western Sahara

Morocco’s alignment with Saudi Arabia has also forced Ankara and Algiers to develop their cooperation further. The most immediate problem is the Western Sahara, a disputed region controlled by Rabat. The Polisario Front is an Algerian-backed group that fights for the freedom of the Sahrawi people and it is an organization Erdoğan has refused to recognize since 2013.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) declared that it will open a consulate in Western Sahara, making it the first Arab nation to have representation in the area. This is a significant blow to both Ankara and Algiers. Alongside Riyadh’s successful call to boycott Turkish businesses, Erdoğan’s bid to expand Turkey’s influence in Africa may be starting to wane.

Western Saharan Autonomy Could Become a Reality

As World Bulletin wrote two years ago, the primary demand of the people of Western Sahara is independence, but such an outcome may be an effort aimed at destabilizing the region. This is because the Tawariks would also demand their freedom as well. Recent events in South Sudan also prove why independence would be such a problem.

One solution is to provide the Western Sahara with an autonomous administration recognized by Rabat, but it remains to be seen whether Algeria would also support such a proposal. Turkey’s influence over Algiers is crucial if they are determined to persuade the Algerian Government to resolve the Western Sahara crisis.

Last Monday, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy voiced his country’s support for a political solution in the framework of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions in the Western Saharan conflict. The comments came after the Moroccan military declared on Friday that it had launched an operation in a UN-patrolled border zone in disputed Western Sahara.

The Polisario Front Must Accept Defeat

The primary motivation behind Rabat’s recent operation is that they fear their sovereignty over the Western Sahara is being jeopardized. A proposed referendum on independence has been delayed for months due to disputes between the Moroccan Government and the Polisario over voter rolls and the question to be put on ballot papers. With Saudi support as well, it is likely that the most immediate conclusion all sides involved in the Western Saharan conflict need to agree on is autonomy for the region, especially as Erdoğan does not recognize the Polisario while Algeria does. Algiers’ hands may be tied in this situation.

If Turkey is serious about deescalating tensions with Saudi Arabia over the Western Sahara, both nations must work together to grant autonomy to the Western Sahara. Riyadh and Ankara can take advantage of their alliances with Rabat and Algiers respectively to make this happen.

The Polisario’s goal of independence will never happen in the immediate future and it is time that they came to terms with this reality for the sake of peace.