Some important news out of Algeria this week:
- In February I wrote that a possible reason that Algeria returned several of the “sub-standard” MiGs it purchased from Russia was to pressure the Russians into letting them trade up for superior Su-35s. The Russians made that offer yesterday. If the Algerians found themselves in possession of these 4.5 generation fighters, the balance of power between Algeria and Morocco (Libya, too) would be dramatically altered, in Algiers’s favor. On paper, the Su-35 is far superior to anything in Morocco’s possession. Algeria’s goal for many years has been to assert air superiority over its western neighbor, whose arsenal is at present primarily made up of Franco-American aircraft that puts at a strategic advantage of the Algerians. In North Africa, the skies belong to Morocco. Simply having the Su-35s will not instantly or even assuredly alter Algeria’s standing pace air superiority; to be most effective they would have to be operated as a part of an integrated system (one with AWACS, for instance). It is debatable as to whether the Algerians are willing to take the financial and administrative burdens for such restructuring (with emphasis on the administrative end).
- Angela Merkel is in Algiers. She is accompanied by major energy and defense firms. The visit is probably designed to build further amiability between Algeria and Germany/Mitteluropa, in hopes of pushing Algeria way from Russia’s orbit on oil/gas policy thereby lessening the effect of Russia’s gas diplomacy in the long run. They would like to see that North Africa, contrary to Russian designs, remains an open third source of energy as opposed to being part of a wider Russian monopoly (even if Gazprom now has an office in Algiers). Solar energy is probably also being discussed to some degree. On the defense file, terrorism is probably also on the agenda. German firms Rheinmetall and Thyssen-Krupp are peddling their wares. The Germans may also be hoping to court the Algerians on the Mediterranean front, noting Algeria’s general pessimism about and concerns over the financing, utility and mission of Sarkozy’s Union for the Mediterranean (the Algerians, with the Libyans, dismiss the Union because it include Israel, even though they attended its opening). A lot of the economic discussion will probably center around increasing German FDI in Algeria. The Germans probably haven’t got quite as much to offer the Algerians outside of the oil/natural gas and solar sectors as the French or Russians do (see above, and the recent accords put together in June), but their efforts seem to fit well into Algeria’s grand strategy. It is Merkel’s first visit to Algeria.
- In case you thought Bouteflika had dropped his hopes of running for a third term via a constitutional amendment, Ahmed Ouyahia is reminding, nay, “stressing” to us that the amendment is still on the table, even if parliament is moving into recess without any work being done on it. But have no fear, that amendment, he says, is “imminent.” That, however, deserves some doubt, as Ouyahia’s Prime Minisership is itself evidence of something large at work. He also said that Algeria will be saying “no” to setting up sovereign wealth funds. The recently appointed PM also voiced frustration with the slow pace of government action, especially with respect to constructing parts of the east-west national high way. Interestingly, though not surprisingly, he said that the problems facing government action were “not seen by the public,” but were nevertheless of concern to the government (probably relating to corruption, ineptitude or, characteristically, both).
- 22 MPs from Algeria’s southern wilayat are worried that rioting could break out if power shortages and blackouts continue.
- A high level military delegation from Algeria traveled to Bamako, Mali on Monday. The two countries are now planning joint border patrols and intelligence sharing to combat the Tuareg rebells that cause the Malians so much grief, and the cross border al-Qaeda networking that assists AQIM.
- Torrential rains are flooding homes and taking lives in eastern Algeria.
- Also in eastern Algeria, an explosion near Boumerdes injured three people, as Ali Tounsi declared that “terrorism is almost defeated in Algeria.” The Interior Minister’s estimates put the number of remaining terrorists in Algeria at between 300 to 400.
- Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni expressed a desire to reform the country’s administrative system. Zerhouni stated that the country should move from “representative democracy to to participatory democracy.” To reorganize the wilayat and “modernize” the administration will be cheap, Zerhouni said.
- Algeria, a strong supporter of what might be called the Beijing consensus, joined a chorus of states condemning the ICC‘s indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for genocide and crimes against humanity.