July 26, 2021

Algeria wants to restore its role as a regional power

It will be necessary to reckon with the return of Algeria in regional affairs, after years of erasure. The Algerian authorities do not miss an opportunity to repeat the message, the most recent being a statement by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to Al-Jazeera which caused a sensation. “Algeria was ready to intervene in one way or another in Libya”, the Algerian head of state revealed to the Qatari channel on Tuesday, June 8. Mr. Tebboune was referring to his warning he himself launched in January 2020 at the height of the “Battle of Tripoli” (April 2019-June 2020) when the Libyan capital was under siege by the marshal’s assaulting forces Khalifa Haftar. He had at the time mentioned “a red line” not to be crossed.

Eighteen months later, he assures Al-Jazeera that the warning was not just rhetoric. “We do not accept that the capital of a Maghreb and African country is occupied by mercenaries, he clarified. We could not sit idly by. The message has reached the affected recipients. “ Mr. Tebboune does not specify the identity of the “mercenaries” mentioned. They were in fact Russian fighters from the Wagner security company serving Haftar’s forces. The anti-Tripoli offensive was finally repelled thanks to Turkey’s decisive military support to the authorities at the time, the national accord government of Faïez Sarraj.

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The reminder by Mr. Tebboune himself of the episode is not trivial. It reflects the desire of Algiers to give back its voice in the regional concert while the end of the mandate of the former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika (1999-2019) had consecrated an eclipse of the Algerian influence in the region. “Algeria wants to regain its diplomatic power, especially in the Sahel region”, written on June 10 the official daily The Mujahideen. If Algiers lives in nostalgia for its flamboyant diplomacy of the 1970s, a time when the Algerian capital radiated its militant third worldism, the doctrine of its foreign action had to adapt to the evolution of the strategic environment.

Physical intervention deemed unlikely

This is evidenced by the constitutional revision adopted by referendum on 1is November 2020. For the first time since independence in 1962, the Algerian Basic Law expressly refers to “Sending units of the National People’s Army abroad”, contrary to the tradition of non-interventionism of which the country had hitherto been the herald. Admittedly, such a projection on foreign military theaters is framed in the revised Constitution. It is decided by the Head of State after approval by two-thirds of each Chamber of Parliament (article 91). In addition, participation in peacekeeping missions is made possible “Within the framework of respect for the principles and objectives of the United Nations, the African Union and the Arab League” (article 31). The inflection is no less real.

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