Could Algeria play a positive role in Libya?

Could Algeria play a positive role in Libya?

Algeria is already involved

The threat of a new large-scale conflict in Libya, primarily Egyptian intervention and a direct or indirect clash between Turkey and Egypt in the Battle of Sirte, naturally resulted in a lot of anxiety among Libya’s neighbors.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune made a number of rather sharp statements, saying in an interview with local media that armament of Libyan tribes may lead to “Somalization” of the situation in Libya. 

“I have heard during the previous 24 hours talk about arming the Libyan tribes for self-defence; this is very dangerous, and could result in a new Somalian scenario to which there would be no solution,” Algerian leader said July 19.

He stressed that he did not approve of unilateral actions in Libya, but stated that he would not interfere in the conflict. The statements were made against the backdrop of Egyptian threats to conduct its troops in Libya at the request of the tribes of the East of the country, concerned about the movement to the east of the army of the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is supported by Turkey.

It is noteworthy that the statement about external interference in the Libyan conflict leading to the Somalization of the country was made in response to Egyptian preparations, not during the Turkish intervention. In addition, the statement was supported by the deployment of Algerian troops and missile systems on the border with Libya.

Following these statements, acting UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya (and former US Ambassador to Libya) Stephanie Williams visited Algeria. Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum flew to Moscow last Wednesday, July 22. There he again – at talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov – expressed the opinion of the country’s leadership that the conflict in Libya has no military solution.

Turkey’s secret ally?

Traditionally, Algeria is considered to be more positive towards the GNA than the opposing LNA. The GNA officials frequently visit Algeria.

In January 2020, the Algerian authorities made a sharp statement regarding the situation of Libya. At the inauguration ceremony President Abdelmadjid Tebboune called Libya the priority of Algeria’s foreign policy. Before that, the press service of the President of Algeria called the capture of Tripoli by the LNA forces “a red line” and expressed hope that no one would cross it.

In the first years of the conflict in Libya, Algeria made an attempt to become a mediator between the conflicting parties, but against the background of the political crisis, which ended with the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the Algerian authorities have lost interest in the events in neighboring countries. However, the gradual resolution of the internal political crisis and the election of a new President of the country have freed up forces for more active diplomacy in the Libyan direction.

Over the past month, Algeria has repeatedly put forward proposals aimed at a political settlement in Libya.  Earlier this year, Abdelmadjid Tebboune proposed that a round of dialogue be held in Algeria with the participation of all Libyan political forces and communities.

At the same time, in June, the spokesperson for the President of Algeria, Belaid Mohand Oussaid, said that Algeria welcomed the “Cairo Declaration” aimed at a political solution to the Libyan crisis and the cessation of hostilities. Algeria supports any peace initiative aimed at ending hostilities in Libya, regardless of who the author is. 

Spokesperson of the Algerian President added that Algeria thinks first of all about the interests of the Libyan people and is ready to work with all parties to the conflict.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives of Libya (HoR) based in Tobruk Aguila Saleh visited Algeria on June 13. The day before, Algerian President said that Libya’s neighbours had a key role to play in achieving peace in that country. 

“The solution in Libya is seen in our contribution with Egypt and Tunisia in order to reach an agreement on the crisis,” said the Algerian leader.

June 20, Algerian President received Prime Minister of GNA of Libya Fayez Sarraj. Tebbun said that Algeria was making every effort to hold an inter-Libyan dialogue, which could solve the crisis politically. Tebbun also stressed that his country was in favor of preserving Libya’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and rejected foreign military intervention in Libya.

In order to understand Algeria’s position, one must understand its interests. Algeria, as a country neighboring Libya, has a direct interest in its stabilization. Islamic radicalism (both in the form of radical “Muslim Brotherhood” and Salafis, which are in the formations of all belligerents) poses a danger to Algeria, which has already experienced a religious civil war. 

The specificity of Algeria is in the position “Muslim Brotherhood in the political system of the country. The position of local “Muslim Brotherhood” is traditionally strong in Algerian society and political system. 

Algerian branch of this international in the 90s they refused to join the militant Islamists who started a civil war against the government of the country. Today “The Movement for the Society of Peace” (formerly known as Algerian Hamas) is represented in Algerian parliament with 33 deputies (from 462).

Algeria hopes to maintain a complex domestic political balance at home, thus it cannot allow itself to take a stance sharply against the government of the GNA, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

During his visit to Moscow, however, Sabri Bukadum noted that he understands Egypt’s security concerns in the context of current developments. This does not mean that Algeria approves of Egypt’s military preparations, but shows that Algeria is ready for a dialogue with Cairo.

It is likely that despite the cool attitude of the Algerian leadership towards Cairo’s political line and its sympathy for Turkey, Algeria will show the appearance of neutrality towards the parties to the Libyan conflict. 

Official intervention by the Algerian army in Libya is difficult. That contradicts article 29 of the Algerian Constitution, which prohibits the army from taking part in hostilities in other countries. On the one hand, it is a significant minus for the country’s pressure on the parties to the Libyan conflict, where force arguments are priced. On the other hand, it allows other external actors not to regard Algeria as a rival in the struggle for resources and influence in Libya, which makes it a convenient negotiating platform.

Rivalry with Morocco

There is another factor that should spur Algeria’s desire to contribute to normalizing the situation in Libya: the Algerian-Moroccan rivalry for leadership in the region.

On July 18, Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath sources reported that a two-day visit to Algeria by Chairman of the House of Representatives (Tobruk) Aguila Saleh was suddenly postponed. Saleh was scheduled to meet with President Abdel Majid Tebbun to discuss developments in the Libyan crisis.

However, on July 26, the Chairman of the High Council of State Khalid al-Mishri and the Chairman of the House of Representatives (Tobruk) Aguila Saleh arrived in Morocco at the invitation of Chairman of the Moroccan House of Representatives Habib al-Malki. The parties aimed to discuss the Libyan political crisis.

Let us recall that Morocco was the first country in the region to support the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. It was in Morocco that the Skhirat agreement (Libyan Political Agreement) was signed on December 17, 2015. It was supposed to put an end to the civil war in the country, but it never produced the desired result.

Morocco is trying to present itself as an independent mediator in Libya. In fact, it is trying to assert its influence in Libya after decades of confrontation with the regime of Muammar Gaddafi.

Moreover, as Moroccan analysts have noted, “Morocco does not welcome the rise of Algeria as a key player in the issue”. 

Algeria is harbouring in its territory fighters for the liberation of Western Sahara from the Frente Polisario, which Morocco considers part of its State.

Accordingly, Algeria will fear the Moroccan initiatives of Libya as an opportunity to exploit the situation in that country to put pressure on Algeria.

African mediation?

Turkey and Russia are currently holding talks on the situation in Libya. On Wednesday, two-day talks in Ankara, which were attended by senior representatives of the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs of the two countries, came to an end.

The Russian-Turkish consultations themselves were able to slow down the escalation of tensions around Sirte. At the same time, both Ankara and Moscow are actively trying to interact with European countries and the United States on Libya. 

Perhaps some part of the elites (pro-Western) in each country sees their influence on the Libyan process as a way of raising stakes in the eyes of Europe and the US, brokering a way to return to the “family” of Western peoples, from which Russia was “expelled” after the accession of the Crimea in 2014, and Turkey after the attempt of state revolution in 2016 and subsequent suppression of FETO. 

This, however, may cause mutual distrust, and also runs counter to each country’s global goal of destroying the hegemony of the US and the West as a whole.

On the contrary, joining the peace process of the countries of the region could lead to results similar to the Astana process on Syria: ousting the Western neocolonial powers from the decision-making process, pushing them to the sidelines of the political process. 

Algeria, could be a good candidate to participate in that process, along with Tunisia and, of course, Egypt.

On the one hand, Algeria’s positions in the Libyan conflict are close to those of Turkey. On the other hand, Algeria is a secular country where the army holds this status sacred; Algeria is a close military partner of Russia. Therefore, it can satisfy both sides of the conflict. Finally, Algeria’s signals on understanding Egypt’s concerns can be accepted in Cairo.

United World International

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February 2023