Tebboune says Algeria was ready to enforce red-line in Tripoli against Haftar

Tebboune displays support for Turkish-Qatari alliance at the expense of traditional partners.

Wednesday 09/06/2021
File photo shows Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune in the capital Algier. (AFP)
File photo shows Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune in the capital Algier. (AFP)

ALGIERS - Recent statements by Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune have revealed his country’s close coordination with Turkey and Qatar in last year’s fight for control of Tripoli and the role played by Algeria in that showdown.

The revelations belie the claims of “neutrality” made by Algiers throughout the years of the Libya crisis and confirm its alignment with the axis of political Islam and affiliated militias.

The Algerian “red-line” preceded the other red-line drawn by Egypt when it took a public stand against permitting Turkey to reach Sirte.  Cairo did not conceal its support for the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

Tebboune said that his country’s message that Tripoli constituted a “red line” was one that did reach the parties concerned. He stressed that Algeria was “ready to intervene” to prevent the fall of the Libyan capital.

Tebboune’s statements were contained in excerpts released by Al-Jazeera satellite channel on Tuesday, from an interview it conducted with Tabboune which is scheduled to be broadcast in its entirety at a later date.

What the Algerian president told the Qatari Al-Jazeera channel reinforces the impression of the similarity of positions between the North Africa country and both Qatar and Turkey. Less than a week ago, Tebboune seemed already to side with the Turkish-Qatari camp, when he emphasised his country’s readiness to enhance its comprehensive cooperation with Ankara.

In buttressing his argument, he told the French magazine “Le Point” that “Turkey invests five billion dollars in Algeria with no political strings attached,” alluding to French investments that come for the most part with strings attached to political and diplomatic issues.

It seems that Tebboune, who is the first Algerian president to give an interview to Al Jazeerah since it began broadcasting in the mid-nineties, wants to send messages of reassurance to Qatari and Turkish allies, at the expense of countries known for their support for Khalifa Haftar, which are also classified as allies of Algeria, such as France and Russia.

In January 2020, the Algerian president had said, during a meeting with former Prime Minister of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez al-Sarraj, that, “Tripoli, in the eyes of Algeria, is a red-line that hopefully will not be crossed.”

Tebboune said at the time that his country “refused that Tripoli be the first Arab and Maghreb capital to be occupied by mercenaries.”

Tebboune did not specify then what he meant by mercenaries. Media reports at the time talked about Turkey’s transfer of thousands of mercenaries from Syria to Tripoli in support of the militias loyal to the GNA, while US officials indicated that Russian Wagner mercenaries were helping LNA troops.

Tebboune’s statements to Al-Jazeera confirm that he was referring to Wagner’s mercenaries and that Algeria had no problem with the Syrian mercenaries, even if media reports mentioned the presence of extremists from Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamist organisations in their ranks.

At that time, many observers thought that Tebboune was referring to Turkey in his statement, given the tensions between the Algerian army and the Islamists with whom it had fought a ten-year war during the so-called black Decade.

But Tebboune said in the excerpts of his interview with Al-Jazeera, which were published on the official page of the Algerian presidency, that “the Islamist trend in his country differs from that in other countries.”

He stressed that, “Algeria has gotten rid of ideological Islam forever,” referring to what the Algerian authorities consider Islamic extremist currents.

Since the start of the Libyan crisis in 2014, Algeria has presented itself a neutral country keeping the same distance from all parties, despite accusations of siding with the Islamist camp, especially after it received the former emir of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), Abdelhakim Belhaj.

Since the era of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, it has reiterated its rejection of “any military intervention in Libya” and its “promotion of political solutions”.  But its assertion of readiness to intervene in Tripoli has surprised those who were keeping track of Algeria’s “neutral” position.

Algeria’s relationship with Khalifa Haftar was either cool or tense, despite the limited number of meetings that brought him together with senior Algerian officials, especially after the threats attributed to him to invade the border region and the resentment he expressed more than once at what he called “Algeria’s bias in favour of its (LNA’s) opponents in the conflict in Libya.”

Observers say that Tebboune’s statements are aimed primarily at France, which backs Morocco in its row with Algeria over the Western Sahara, as the tensions between Algiers and Paris are thought to be mainly due to this issue.

The observers  do not rule out that Tebboune’s statements could affect the role that the new authorities in Tripoli would like Algeria to play during the coming period so as to achieve the desired reconciliation.

Libyan Prime Minister Abdelhamid al-Dbeibah, had asked the Algerian president to “participate in the Libyan national reconciliation; as Algeria is qualified to lead and support the Libyan-Libyan reconciliation.”

He pointed out that “Algeria has not interfered in Libyan affairs during the past ten years, and that Libya views Algeria as an older brother.”