Merkel’s visit to Algiers was a platform for a longer term relationship between Algeria and Germany. The goal was to investigate the feasibility of establishing a strong bilateral relationship with Algeria as a counterweight to Gazprom. The “charm offensive” ensured that the Germans will be back.
The Chancellor’s entourage was full of business representatives and her itinerary reveals her priorities. First, she met with Ouyahia, then meeting with the head of religious affairs (undoubtedly to discuss the giant mosque that is being planned for Algiers with German knowhow and Algerian money; it will be an enormous mosque with an enormous price — 100 billion dinars), and then, after formalities, visited the war memorial with Chakib Khelil, the Minister of Energy and current President of OPEC. Khelil stressed that Sonatrach can “operate freely in Europe,” addressing German concerns about it being tied in Gazprom’s scheming in Mitteleuropa and acknowledging that Algeria is prepared to help Germany expand its energy profile off of the continent. She attended a d
inner hosted by the German-Algerian Chamber of Commerce at the Sheraton in Algiers. To sway the Algerians, the Germans dangled prospects of car factories and new military/naval hardware (notably a deal for five frigates for the Algerian navy). Germans are eager for both a bigger share of Algeria’s gas and its market, but are not oblivious to the country’s “Third World bureaucracy” and “socialist oriented” economy, as several German reports noted.
Some mentioned that increased economic activity would lessen the appeal of Islamist groups and terror cells.
In addition, Merkel met with civil society and women’s groups, expressing disress over the fact that rape within marriage has yet to be criminalized in Algeria. Interestingly, several reports have noted that Bouteflika told the German Chancellor that he believed Syria would open a diplomatic mission in Lebanon soon. They apparently discussed the Sudanese file, though I cannot imagine that the two saw eye to eye on it.
Her departure was delayed by problems with her Airbus: A 30 centimeter crack in the fuselage kept it grounded (apparently the (accidental) handywork of an employee at the airport). Bouteflika offered his presidential Air Algerie plane to the chancellor, but it was too small and would have required that most of the delegation be left behind. Not wanting to leave behind CEOs and top executives, Merkel declined and had another serving of coffee with Bouteflika while she and her entourage waited for a larger plane.
Question of the day: Did the photographer attempt to minimize the height difference between Boutef and Merkel in this photo?