Let them dig for themselves

El Khabar reminds us that all three of the international envoys that were in Nouakchott yesterday were led by Algerians: Ramdane Lamamra for the AU’s Peace and Security Council, Said Djinnit, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in West Africa, and Assistant Secretary General Ahmed Ben Hali of the Arab League. Whether this fact means anything in particular for the Algerian interest in Mauritania (i.e. buggering off the Moroccans) is uncertain. What is obvious, though, is that the Algerians, like many other countries, have tried to place able diplomats throughout the world’s deliberative fora as a means of fortifying their traditional legalistic and political claims, especially in regards to borders and sovereignty (not to mention as a means of building and consolidating their formidable diplomatic prestige). As has been the case with other regional players (such as Senegal, Morocco, Mali, etc.), Algeria’s stance on the coup has been muted. Bouteflika, in Tehran this week, expressed joint concern with President Ahmadinejad over “the situation in Mauritania where the democratic process must be preserved.”

The Algerians, as I have written, will very likely use the coup as a point of reference against Morocco’s Sahara position. The Moroccans, they will say, have consistently deviated from international legality in their interpretation of their post-colonial borders, their military conduct towards their neighbors, and their embrace of anti-democratic action in the region. That they have taken the position of the major international bodies concerned and all of the Great Powers (save for taciturn China) allows them to point to Morocco as the regional and continental outlier. 

So the Algerians are on one side of the coup and the Moroccans are on the other. There was a time when the Algerians were known for being able and businesslike diplomats who, perhaps due to their youth (after independence the Algerian political class was especially young, many of them having been appointed to positions in the FLN in their teens and having moved into ministerial portfolios in their early or mid twenties; Bouteflika is an example) were prone to outbursts of revolutionary fervor, often with the fallout being carefully cleaned up behind the scenes. A member of the Algerian mission at the UN once made a statement in which he endorsed the Moroccan claim on the Sahara, which was quickly corrected by other diplomats and by Boumediene himself. The militancy of the Algerian position is sometimes attributed to a mixture of this terrible gaffe and to the already existent revolutionism in the country. This era has been done with for some time. Rather than Algerian papers putting out violent condemnations or rhapsodic endorsements of the junta, the Algerians are allowing the Moroccans to embrace in effusive language a coup that may well be doomed. The language coming out of Algiers — in the press and the Foreign Ministry — is unified (no doubt the result of the fact that most of the major papers are owned by former military men). And the Algerians are, as they always do, looking for other Third Worlders to back up their position on the matter. The passive approach aims to allow the Moroccans to dint their own prestige, making the Algerians appear wise and balanced rather than petty and childish.


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