Algeria seeks revived diplomatic role through Libya mediation

Algeria’s priority would be to leverage its diplomatic activism to lure foreign investment to help it with its economic problems.
Sunday 26/01/2020
Diplomatic opportunity. Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri  Boukadoum leads a meeting with foreign ministers in Algiers, January 23.  (Reuters)
Diplomatic opportunity. Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum leads a meeting with foreign ministers in Algiers, January 23. (Reuters)

TUNIS - Algeria is aspiring to a revived diplomatic role by positioning itself as the Maghreb’s lead mediator in the Libyan conflict.

Top diplomats from Libya’s neighbours and beyond gathered in Algiers January 23, in the first diplomatic foray by Algeria into regional and international diplomacy since its leadership transition in December, in which Abdelmadjid Tebboune became president.

The Algiers meeting brought together foreign ministers from Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria, Tunisia and Mali. All the countries, except for Mali, border Libya and have suffered fallout from fighting there.

“Libya has been in turmoil. The conflict there has increasingly turned into a proxy war by foreign powers that are far away and much less affected by what is happening,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who took part in the meeting.

Maas, whose country hosted a peace conference on Libya January 19, said much of the fallout from the conflict had been borne by Libya’s neighbours. He also tried to respond to criticism over his country’s decision not to invite all Maghreb countries — Tebboune was the only leader of a Maghreb country to attend the Berlin Conference on Libya.

Algeria’s diplomatic momentum was seen by analysts as an attempt to gain the confidence of key international partners

and  show that Algiers is willing to play a support role in addressing world crises. Algiers is also signalling that it is coming on top of unprecedented protests at home.

Algeria will have to reckon with the fallout of a seemingly intractable conflict in Libya, which has caused it to increase spending on border security by approximately $500 million a year.

Senior diplomats in Algiers said countries attending the January 23 meeting agreed to respect Libya’s sovereignty and integrity, want the African Union to be involved in resolving the conflict and back efforts to stop weapons from being sent to warring parties.

“After a long absence, Algeria is staging its return to the diplomatic stage through the issue of the Libyan conflict,” said Jalel Harchaoui, a researcher at Clingendael Institute of International Relations in the Netherlands.

“Libya offers Algeria the opportunity to get noticed at the world stage and to be courted by other powers,” added Harchaoui, who wrote a study titled “Too Close for Comfort:  How Algeria Faces the Libyan Conflict.”

The diplomatic and intelligence services of Algeria are said to have been working since 2014 to strengthen relations with both sides of the Libyan conflict.

Khalifa Haftar, whose forces control most of Libya, is spearheading an offensive to capture Tripoli from Islamist militias aligned with the GNA, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

Since January 12, belligerents have observed a shaky ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey.

The frenetic diplomatic efforts have left mediators with the thorny issue of about how to reach out to the leaders of the Libyan main warring parties and convince them to sit around the same table.

Tebboune, in his first news conference since his election, said on January 23 that Algeria’s “equidistant stand” in the conflict allows it to bring together the warring rivals and their allies among the tribes and regions.

“Algeria has had a good experience in conducting mediations that benefited several countries,” he said.

Analysts said Algeria’s diplomacy will be tested in dealings with Turkey while trying to keep good ties with Arab countries that resent Islamist-driven Turkish and Qatari encroachment in Libya.

However, its priority would be to leverage its diplomatic activism to lure foreign investment to help it with its economic problems.

“The first concern of Algeria is not geopolitical but economic. Algeria badly needs foreign investment and later, without doubt, it will need foreign loans,” said Harchaoui.

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