The war in Gaza has deepened geopolitical fissures in the Maghreb, where Morocco has not reneged on its normalisation with Israel despite widespread protests common to the wider region. The firmness of Rabat has fuelled the animosity of neighbouring Algeria, which categorically rejects any diplomatic opening to Tel Aviv. Driven by the sub-regional rivalry with Morocco and the attachment to the Palestinian and Sahrawi causes, Algeria prepares to take a seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the next two years (2024-2025) at a critical juncture for international affairs.
At a closer look, however, Algeria has more serious problems to face in the short term, particularly along its southern borders. High volatility in the Sahel is making events extremely unpredictable, raising new doubts on the most deep-rooted assumptions of policymakers in Algiers. Protests raised in Bamako, where the Algerian ambassador was summoned in late December 2023 over what the government of Mali described as interferences and unfriendly acts, were just the latest example of how the Algerian policy in the region risks falling apart as troubles at the gates pile up.
The dispute revolves around a series of meeting held in Algiers between Malian rebel groups (including the Mouvement pour la Salut de l’Azawad – MSA – and the Cadre Stratégique Permanent – CSP) and the Algerian government. The military junta in Bamako was particularly annoyed by the presence in Algiers of Mahmoud Dicko, a Salafi imam and long-standing critic of Col. Assimi Goïta, interim President in power since the coup in 2021. In reality, it is the future of the 2015 Mali Peace Agreement signed in Algiers that is at stake: after the recapture of Kidal following the most recent offensive in northern Mali, and the winding down of the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA, Bamako seems now ready to reclaim the ownership of the peace process, to the detriment of Algeria’s influence and prestige.
The presence in the area of extremist and terrorist organisations such as the Islamic State Sahel Province and Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (Support Group for Islam and Muslims, French acronym CSIM) further adds to the complexity on the security level. However, it is clear how the recent shift in the Maghreb pushes Algiers to look at these developments more in geopolitical and geo-economic terms. Indeed, the Algerian press was quick to point out at the Atlantic Initiative launched by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI to grant sea access to Sahel states (using the coasts of Western Sahara) as a major driver of Mali’s recalibration. Same interest in the initiative was also expressed by landlocked Niger, whose post-coup trajectory suggests how things may simply slip out of Algiers’ hands.
Vehemently opposed to any military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States, Algeria has offered its good offices to break the impasse this summer. Nevertheless, facing the objections of the new military junta led Brigadier Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani, the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been forced to suspend its mediation efforts. An unexpected outcome for Algiers that cannot afford to look hostile to the new authorities in Niamey that have a say on important projects (such as the Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline and Trans-Saharan highway) backed by Algeria to contrast Morocco’s inroads in a region that increasingly look like a battleground for competing influences.