MAGHREB – January 2020
Turkey’s new gravitational pull in the Maghreb
After gaining a stable foothold in Libya and making inroads in Tunisia, Turkey is continuing its push in the Maghreb. On the 26th of January 2020 the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was in Algiers, his second visit in less than two years. Economic relations figured prominently on the agenda, as Erdogan reiterated his intention to increase trade volumes to US$5 billion and expand Turkish investments.
Energy, trade and investments represent important drivers for Turkey’s policy in the region, but clearly the ongoing conflict in Libya provided Ankara with an opportunity to reach out to possible partners.
Following a visit to Tunisia in December 2019, Erdogan’s presence in Algiers one month later suggests his intention to form a common front against General Khalifa Haftar and his foreign sponsors. Despite Algeria’s traditional non-interventionist stance and its firm rejection of the presence of foreign troops in neighbouring countries clashes with the Turkish military presence in Libya, Algiers seems increasingly gravitating towards Turkey’s position.
For the new Algerian authorities, this is in part a response to the isolation suffered in the past few months, to which the meeting of Libya’s neighbouring countries on the 23rd of January in Algiers attempted to remedy. It also highlights Algiers’ uneasiness with the increasing convergence between Egypt and Russia, which have not only enhanced their relations in recent years but are jointly backing Haftar’s attempt to seize Tripoli.
The unusual situation in which Russia, a traditional ally of and the most important military supplier to Algeria, parts ways with Algiers on Libya; and Algeria warms relations with a government expression of the political Islam in Turkey, is the result of the paradoxes created by the conflict in Libya, which has the potential to trigger a major realignment in the region.
At the same time, powerful forces in Algeria are pushing in the opposite direction, taking advantage of internal instability. While Erdogan was still in Algiers, the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Sheikh Abdallah bin Zayed al-Nayhan made a surprise visit, meeting with the Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad and the Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum.
The visit was a visible attempt to neutralise Turkey’s push in Algeria, where in the past few years the UAE have meticulously cultivated their relations with the army, that has restored its pivotal position in the institutions after the end of the Bouteflika era.
Commenting on Abdallah bin Zayed’s presence in Algiers, the Algerian press recalled the visit of the former chief of staff of the Army Lt.-Gen. Ahmed Gaïd Salah in Abu Dhabi one year ago, while the protests against the regime were intensifying at home, underlining the inter-mestic dimension of UAE’s policy in the region and its possible consequences on the Hirak.
Umberto Profazio – Maghreb Analyst for the NATO Defense College Foundation, he was previously Libya Analyst for the Conflict, Security and Development Programme at the IISS and regularly publishes on issues such as political developments, security and terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa region.