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Algeria and the Libyan Crisis
Nigerien Foreign Minister Kalla Ankourao; Chadian Foreign Minister Mahamat Zene Cherif; Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry; Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum; Malian Foreign Minister Tiebile Drama; and Sabri Bache Tabdji, the state secretary responsible for the management of the Tunisian Foreign Ministry, pose during a meeting of Libya's neighboring countries in Algiers, Algeria, 23 January 2020. (Billal Bensalem/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Algeria and the Libyan Crisis

Al-Etihad, UAE, February 25

In the wake of clashing international positions on the civil war in Libya, it was easy to ignore Algeria, Libya’s neighbor to the west, which was busy dealing with its own internal affairs. Today, a new government in Algeria is trying to make its voice heard amid this fuss. A look at all the players that have a stake in the Libyan civil war reveals two main camps: first, the national reconciliation government recognized by the United Nations in Tripoli, and second, the Libyan National Army led by Khalifa Haftar. The former receives important military support from Turkey, financial assistance from Qatar, and some diplomatic support from Italy, while the latter’s list of benefactors includes Russia and France. This battlefield is also plagued by a variety of mercenaries and terrorists. All this is extremely troubling for Algeria, which is dealing with the consequences of political instability on its Eastern border: an influx of refugees, the infiltration of terrorists, and spillover of fighting. The costs of securing Algeria’s borders with Libya have risen since a 2003 terrorist attack on a gas station killed more than 40 employees, most of them foreigners. It is also believed that many terrorists belonging to al-Qaida infiltrated the country from Libya. Algeria, which views itself as a leading player in North African politics, has historically been suspicious of any foreign presence in its vicinity. However, the ill health of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who played an important role in the affairs of the Maghreb and Sahel regions for a long time, meant that Algeria could not impose its own position on Libya. Even as other countries stepped in, Algeria’s pursuit of regional primacy – as well as its rich oil and gas-backed economy – has weakened. Indeed, even before Bouteflika was forced to resign last spring, no one heeded Algeria’s warnings of instability. The Algerians recognized the government of national reconciliation, but they tried to maintain neutrality, and they encouraged the two warring parties to find a peaceful solution. These efforts at diplomacy have not matched the weapons and money that other players injected into the region. In recent weeks, the new government in Algiers has tried to re-establish itself as a regional arbiter. In this regard, Algeria last month hosted the foreign ministers of countries bordering Libya to discuss the ongoing crisis. The meeting yielded several photo-ops but it was quickly shadowed by two more important conferences on Libya held in Moscow and Berlin. The truth is that the new Algerian leader, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, has many domestic problems on his agenda. Libya is not one of them. In this context, Tebboune released many prisoners and promised constitutional reforms, to cleanse the government of the elements of the old regime, and to restore the embezzled money by figures from the previous ruling elite. Tebboune’s biggest challenge is to revive the Algerian economy; a task made harder given the low oil prices. Given this internal agenda, Algeria’s hopes for playing a role in ending the crisis with its neighbor on the East will have to wait. – Bobby Ghosh (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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