Algerian president stresses ‘strategic partnership’ with Turkey to put pressure on France

The Algerian president sees little reason to worry about Islamist parties and rejects current protest organisers as a “minority”.
Friday 04/06/2021
A fle picture shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C), Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune (R) taking part in the International conference on Libya, in Berlin, January 19, 2020. (AFP)
A fle picture shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C), Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune (R) taking part in the International conference on Libya, in Berlin, January 19, 2020. (AFP)

ALGIERS - Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has sent veiled messages to France implying his country’s willingness to establish a strategic partnership with Turkey  to ease pressures sparked by the tense relations with Paris, especially in light of the lack of serious French intent to settle the contentious issue of history and common memory between the two countries.

The irony seems to be that the Algerian president, in his attack on the French colonial legacy in his country, presents the Turkish model of investment as an alternative, somehow ignoring that the Ottomans themselves, were a colonial power in Algeria and that one of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan priorities is to revive the Ottoman project, as a formula for dealing with the former Ottoman provinces, especially those situated on the Mediterranean basin.

Tebboune told the French magazine Le Point, that, “Algeria has excellent relations with Turkey, which has invested about $5 billion in Algeria with no political strings attached. Anyone who is annoyed by this relationship should just invest in our country.”

According to the Algerian Agency for the Promotion of Investments, Turkey has overtaken France and become the leading foreign investor in the country with investments reaching about $4.5 billion dollars. Furthermore, more than 800 Turkish companies are active in Algeria in various sectors.

Analysts saw in Tebboune’s statements an explicit message from the Algerian president to the French who are unhappy with Turkish expansion in Algeria, especially in the economic and cultural fields.

While there is a consensus in Algeria over condemning the French colonial era (1830-1962) and the ambiguous relations between the two countries since independence, the Algerian-Turkish relations enjoy a kind of favourable bias from official circles and those close to them.

This accommodating attitude vis à vis Turkey has not been dampened  by warnings against what is described as “soft Turkish colonialism,” a tool that Erdogan is notorious for using in his drive to revive the past glories of the Ottoman Empire and rule its old colonies.

In his interview with the French weekly, Tebboune did not express any alarm or wariness over the risk of the return of the forces of political Islam supported by Turkey in next parliamentary elections scheduled for a this month, as he believes the Islamist ideology is no longer a source of concern for the country’s authorities.

He said, “Islamism as an ideology, that has tried to impose itself in the 1990’s in our country, will not exist anymore in Algeria.” He was alluding to the change in political attitudes of Islamist parties as a result of the bloody legacy of the Black Decade (1990-2000).

The lexicon used by Tebboune suggests that he has firm assurances over the intent of active Islamist parties and that he does not mind working with them if they put up a good performance during the parliamentary elections.

Some analysts believe that the experience of the bloody decade taught the Islamists to avoid confrontation with the authorities and shift their strategy to infiltration of the system from the inside.

Tebboune pointed out as an illustration of his argument to the approach followed by Islamist parties that participated in the executive bodies and official institutions from the mid-1990s to 2011. He was referring to Brotherhood parties that sat in parliament and took part in previous governments, led by the Peace Society Movement (Hams).

The Algerian president stressed that Turkish-backed political Islam does not hinder development in Algeria.

It is expected that Turkey will be one of the most important destinations scheduled on Tebboune’s agenda, after the global health crisis subsides, along with Qatar, Tunisia, Italy and Russia.

It seems according to analysts that by waving the Turkish card and emphasising that Ankara is an ally, Tebboune wants to put pressure on the French and to remind them of the unresolved issue of history and common memory, as he stressed that, “Algerians expect a full recognition of all the crimes.”

He said that in the history of French colonisation of Algeria “there were three painful stages: the start of colonisation, with the extermination during forty years of whole tribes and villages … Then there was the period of spoliation when land was confiscated from Algerians and distributed to Europeans, including the horrors of May 8, 1945 and their 45,000 dead. Then, there was the war of liberation when Algerians took up arms to free their country.”

Although Tebboune has expressed little interest in clinging to power and ruled out running for reelection, he seemed to welcome plans to launch a presidential political party that would draw forces loyal to him, especially organisations, associations and civil society activists and independent candidates for parliamentary elections, who are expected to win a large segment of the seats in the new parliament.

But Tebboune excluded the possibility of opening any political dialogue in the country, especially with the radical opposition and the protest movement. He rejected the description of the ongoing protests as a popular Hirak.

“I do not use the word (Hirak) because things have changed. The only Hirak in which I believe is the blessed and authentic Hirak, that had assembled millions of Algerians in the street. That Hirak chose the path of reason by taking part in the presidential election.”

He added that the organisers of current protests “are a minority that wants to go to a transitional phase with unknown consequences and I will not succumb to the pressure of the minority.”