ALGIERS – The strong economic and trade partnership existing between Algeria and Turkey was not enough to guarantee smooth and clear diplomatic relations between the two countries.
In fact, bilateral cooperation in various sectors conditioned on the resolution of conflicting positions and interests in the Libyan crisis. Algeria, which is looking for a political settlement to the crisis without foreign interference, finds itself clashing with Istanbul’s ambitions in Tripoli and the region in general.
The Libyan crisis weighed heavily in the diplomatic talks held in Istanbul by Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, in the hope of finding a political settlement to the crisis away from foreign meddling, especially after the recent ceasefire agreement announced by the Tobruk Parliament and the Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Fayez Sarraj in Tripoli.
Algeria is wary of Turkey’s growing ambitions in Libya, especially following Ankara’s deals with the Sarraj government. Despite the economic interests binding the two countries, which are expected to reach eight billion dollars in value, the Turkish military presence in Libya has become an unspoken concern for Algeria.
Algeria’s fear of a Syrian or Somali scenario in Libya that would result from foreign interference was expressed many times by more than one Algerian official. The growing Turkish military role only fuels such fears.
In a statement to the press during his visit to Istanbul, Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum stressed that “his country supports a peaceful solution in Libya, and that the shared values between Algeria and Libya will support and vigorously achieve a peaceful solution in Libya.”
Boukadoum departed from his previous declarations about the consensus between Libya’s neighbours about the crisis in Libya and its resolution and seemed less optimistic about that settlement track during his press conference with his Turkish counterpart, when he stated that he “has faith in the ability of Turkey and Algeria to find solutions to the existing crisis in Libya, through joint action.”
The Algerian FM reiterated his country’s approach to the crisis in Libya, which is based on “the contribution of the international community and international bodies to finding solutions to the problems in Libya, and his country’s readiness to provide all forms of support necessary for that,” which contrasts sharply with the Turkish approach based on monopolising the settlement agenda in Libya.
Algeria maintains close relations with both Turkey and France. It seems, however, that it has come under undeclared pressure from both to side with each one of them in the escalating crisis between Paris and Ankara in the eastern Mediterranean. The showdown has been reflected on the positions of the two parties in the Libyan crisis.
While Turkey tries to invest in the historical rivalries between the Algerians and the French and use them to block the way to any renewed strong partnership between Algeria and France, the French, for their part, are seeking to curtail the growing Turkish influence in North Africa, by focusing on the security and military risks to the countries of the region caused by the Turkish role in the crisis in Libya.
The crisis in Mali is one of the important cards that Paris can use in order to win Algeria over to its agenda. Algeria is increasingly concerned about the security threats on its southern and south-eastern borders, and French influence in Mali can be an asset for Algeria in ensuring stability in its southern flank, which represents an opportunity for France to mobilise the Algerian position to its side in its rivalry with Turkey.
When it comes to terrorism, it seems that the Turks have their own definition of it and of the jihadist groups invloved. In the joint press conference with his Algerian counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu said that “the two countries have agreed to increase their cooperation in the fight against terrorism. […] We do not want terrorist networks like the Gulen organisation in brotherly countries, and we have conveyed our aspirations in this regard.” The Turkish FM was referring to unsettled scores between the two countries since the 2016 failed coup attempt against Erdogan. Many supporters of the Turkish opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen reside in Algeria and the Algerian authorities have always refused Ankara’s request to have them deported to their home country.
Things, however, may very likely change in this respect, since Algeria has managed to recover Captain Qarmi tBounouira, former private secretary of the late General Ahmed Gaied Saleh, the former army chief of staff and the regime’s strongman after the fall of Bouteflika. Bounouira had fled to Turkey last March and is described by some as a real “black box” of the former regime. It is not far-fetched to imagine that price for Bounouira would be allowing Turkey to take back its nationals who are affiliated with Fethullah Gulen.