Algeria expels manager of Qatar-owned company, signalling strained relations with Doha

Ooredoo has become one of the tools used by Qatar to pressure governments in countries where the company operates.
Sunday 23/02/2020
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune speaks at a news conference in Algiers, last December. (Reuters)
Drawing the line. Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune speaks at a news conference in Algiers, last December. (Reuters)

ALGIERS - Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune ordered the deportation of the general manager of the Ooredoo branch in Algeria after the Qatari-owned telecommunications company’s plan to lay off 900 workers was made public.

The decision to deport Ooredoo manager Nikolai Bikers was a surprise but it carried signs of a looming crisis with Qatar. The Algerian presidency had chided local media for reporting about a forthcoming visit to Algeria by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. The presidency stressed in a statement “the need to tap official channels for news related to the president’s activities.”

Local media reported that Sheikh Tamim was to soon arrive in Algeria but the Algerian presidency’s reaction suggested that relations between the two countries had gone cold. The expulsion of Bikers apparently confirmed that relations were strained.

Indications of weakening ties began with the vagueness surrounding Sheikh Tamim’s expected visit, which was described by some as “a disturbance to the Algerian-Gulf rapprochement of recent months,” a reference to a recent exchange of diplomatic visits between Algeria, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Riyadh invited Tebboune to visit the kingdom.

Algerian analysts said that, since his election to the presidency, Tebboune has shown a desire to change the direction of Algerian diplomacy to express independence of foreign influences, and especially to dispel the image that Algeria was part of an alliance that includes Turkey and Qatar.

Local media said Tebboune’s decision to expel Bikers was based on a complaint by the trade union branch of Ooredoo. The union said the company planned to lay off 900 of its employees in Algeria, even though it was making a good profit every year.

Public Security Forces Authority officials on February 19 took Bikers from his office to the airport for deportation, the reports said.

There were no statements from Ooredoo.

Ooredoo has become one of the tools used by Qatar to pressure governments in countries where the company operates. In 2014, Ooredoo Algeria broke diplomatic norms when it transformed its funding of the Algerian Football Association in a way to impose oversight over the Algerian national team.

At the time, Ooredoo announced that the national team was going to be hosted in Qatar by the Qatari channel beIN Sports after its participation in the 2014 FIFA World Cup but Algerian authorities only allowed three players to make the trip to Doha.

After that, the Algerian Football Federation removed Ooredoo as a sponsor in favour of the Algerian state-owned company Mobilis. Ooredoo’s position in Algeria started to decline and Doha’s diplomatic influence also shrunk despite its attempts to keep pace with the wave supporting the regime of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

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