Saudi crown prince wraps up Arab tour after G20
TUNIS – Following his participation in the Group of 20 summit in Argentina, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz concluded a six-country Arab tour December 3 with a stop in Algeria.
“As I’m leaving your brother country, I’m pleased to express my gratitude for the warm welcome and the kind hospitality you extended me,” the crown prince said. “The visit, the discussions we had and the common willingness we share will deepen and broaden the relations between our two counties in all fields.”
Algerian General Bachir Tartag, the chief of the Directorate of the Security Services, which controls the paramount military intelligence, made a rare public appearance to join Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and other top government officials welcoming Crown Prince Mohammed on his arrival, an indication of the importance Algeria placed on the visit.
Algeria, which had often clashed with Saudi Arabia over oil policies and regional issues, saw its ties with Riyadh improve since Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika took office almost 20 years ago.
“With Bouteflika in power, the links between Algeria and Saudi Arabia strengthened,” said Algerian political writer Hacen Ouali. “Algeria under his leadership went so far to show eagerness to preserve its good relations with Saudi Arabia by expressing its regrets for hostile remarks or gestures from the public opinion like football fans at stadiums.”
Bouteflika was said to be ailing with a case of the flu and did not meet with the crown prince. “As the president was unable to meet him, the distinguished guest expressed his best wishes for a speedy recovery of the head of the state,” the president’s office said in a statement.
After talks between Crown Prince Mohammed and Ouyahia, as well as meetings between ministers from both governments, Algeria and Saudi Arabia set up a council to be led by the crown prince and Ouyahia.
A statement said the council would boost cooperation in political, security and anti-terrorism fields as well as in trade, investment, energy, mining, culture and science.”
Business leaders from the two countries said they expected investment and trade between two of the largest economies in the Arab world would soon expand from $400 million to $10 billion.
Wahiba Bahloul, director-general of the Algerian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the petrochemical, pharmaceutical, farming, manufacturing and tourism sectors would have priority in cooperation between the two countries.
“Algeria, with its upgraded basic infrastructure and technical development level, would be the gate for Africa,” said Saudi Commerce and Investment Minister Majid bin Abdullah al-Qasabi.
Algerian analysts said Saudi Arabia, at the behest of Crown Prince Mohammed, is seeking to counter Turkey and Qatar in the economic realm of in their competition in the region.
“In the economic field, the Saudis are less aggressive than the Qataris or the Turkish in the Algerian market. They aim at catching up as they plan to invest in tourism, agriculture and petrochemicals,” said Algerian economist Faysal Mataoui.
“However, the first tour by Crown Prince Mohammed is a political approach since the lines on the unstable Middle East have suddenly shifted following the issue of the death of the Saudi journalist [Jamal Khashoggi] that put… Saudi Arabia on the defensive,” he added.
Algerian analysts said the crown prince’s Arab tour highlighted the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and its allies and a de facto alliance between Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups, Turkey and Qatar.
Most mainstream secularist parties, as well as dominant Salafist groups, backed the Algerian government’s invitation to Crown Prince Mohammed but leftist groups expressed opposition to the visit.
Before the G20 summit, Crown Prince Mohammed toured the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Tunisia. After leaving the G20, he visited Mauritania where he was welcomed by President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz in Nouakchott.
Much like Tunisia and Algeria, Nouakchott condemned Khashoggi’s killing but warned against political campaigns aimed at destabilising Saudi Arabia and undermining its international standing.
Mauritania and Saudi Arabia consider the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates as threats to the Arab region.
In Tunisia, Mauritania and Algeria, Islamists were the most vociferous critics of Crown Prince Mohammed’s visits. In a stark contrast to his welcome to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in February, Abderrazak Makri, head of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Movement for Society and Peace, assailed the Algerian government for hosting the Saudi crown prince.
Makri faulted intellectuals and human rights activists who opposed Erdogan as “traitors.”
“Why is there such a duality in Makri’s view? Because Makri is part of the Brotherhood like Erdogan and because Crown Prince Mohammed is a leader from Saudi Arabia,” wrote Algerian political writer Abed Charef.
“It is a divide that risks down the road of redrawing the map of the Middle East and North Africa. It is the result of a geopolitical competition between the Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia and its allies. The ascent of Crown Prince Mohammed has accelerated and intensified that evolution.”
Algerian analysts said the reception Crown Prince Mohammed received at the G20 in Buenos Aires vindicated his international outreach to counter pressures on Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi’s killing.
“Crown Prince Mohammed’s participation at the G20 restored the reputation and prestige of Saudi Arabia on the world stage,” said Algerian political writer Redouane Mahmoudi. “Several days before the convening of G20, people imagined that Argentine authorities would not host him.”
While in Argentina, the crown prince met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and discussed investments and economic partnerships with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The enthusiastic greeting Crown Prince Mohammed received from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin drew much attention. A White House statement said US President Donald Trump “exchanged pleasantries” with Crown Prince Mohammed. Saudi state media described interactions between the two as “friendly.”