Recently in Algeria

 Fast Algeria updates, as I see them relevant:

1. Algeria and Libya are pushing especially hard for cuts in output ahead of the OPEC emergency meeting. Poorer OPEC states are particularly interested in boosting prices, after prices fell rapidly. Saudi Arabia isn’t as keen on the idea, though. Algeria had hoped to increase its gold output, but did not.

2. The Algerian FM, Mourad Medelci visited Italy and Norway in October. In Norway, the business on the agenda was gas and increasing Norwegian investment in Algeria. Medelci is meeting with Norwegian officials and leaders in the petrochemical sector. Increasing cooperation between Sonatrach and Satoil has been on the plate for Algerian-Norwegian relations for sometime, with a Norwegian eye towards solidifying the North African gas market as an element distinct from Russia. On the Algerian side, the priority is diversifying foreign investment and improving Sonatrach’s capabilities by means of cooperation with more advanced foreign firms. 

In Italy, Medelci, together with his Italian counterparts, declared both Italy and Algeria “victims of illegal immigration.” The statement matches sentiments on both sides of the Mediterranean, as Algerians complain about sub-Saharan African migrants using Algeria as a way-station before moving onto Europe (often Italy) and Italians complain about … blacks and Arabs. He also discussed the development of oil and natural gas pipelines. The Italians receive something on the order of 40% of their natural gas from Algeria and, like many Europeans, would like to ensure that that supply continues to flow independently, and perhaps increases in relation to their Russian supplies. As per the usual, Medelci also asked that Algerians living in Italy help their country (e.g., send us cash!). He also encouraged the creation of a UN convention on terrorism, as the Algerians have been doing for many months. Berlusconi will visit Algiers by the end of the year. 

At the beginning of the month, Medelci also gave an interview in Asharq Alawsat, which is not especially impressive. He reiterated Algeria’s position on the Palestinian problem, the Western Sahara (Morocco’s autonomy plan, backed by the US and others, is, in his words, “inconsistent with UNSC resolutions”), and so on. He emphasized the international nature of terrorism, after denying that Bouteflika’s peace and reconciliation plan had failed, saying that terrorists acts in Algeria are being carried out and financed by outsiders. “We believe that terrorism is not internal and despite out solution of [to?] international terrorism, the problem is outside Algeria and an international one.” He also denied that al-Qaeda is present in Algeria. There are bits of truth in these statements but they must be taken in stride and understood to be little more than political statements, formulated without a firm commitment to the reality of the situation. In other words, they are loosely true, being based loosely on facts.

3. Bouteflika visited Quebec, coordinating his visit to Ottawa with the Francophone summit. He defended Algeria’s observer status in the concert of French-speaking states, stating that Algeria “clings to her Arab and Amazigh identity.” Nevertheless, discussion on how to increase cooperation and coordination between Algeria and OlF took place. More important were the deliberations on Algerian-Canadain relations. Canadians have taken a keener interest in investing in Algeria in recent years. Bouteflika praised Quebec and met with Steven Harper. 

4. PM Ahmed Ouyahia visited Damascus earlier in the month, meeting with Syrian PM Mohamed Naji Ottri. Algeria and Syria signed economic pacts, with Algeria offering exploration assistance via Sonatrach. 11 agreements were signed in all. Ouyahia rejected foreign interference in Arab affairs and called for the return of the [occupied] Golan in full. Continuing in that vein, he — with Ottri — called for the continuation of material and moral support for the Palestinians, condemned all forms of terrorism. In typical Algerian style, Ouyahia stressed the need to separate terrorism from the “legitimate right to resist foreign occupation.” Like other Algerian officials, including FM Medelci, Ouyahia used the visit to call for a UN convention on terrorism. President As`ad was invited to visit Algiers, and will do so soon (perhaps before the end of the year).

5. The Algerian-American chief of the National Institutes of Health, Elias Zerhouni gave a long interview in El Watan, where he discussed the brain drain, the development of Algeria’s medical research facilities, and other matters.

6. Noureddine Ait Hamouda, an RCD parliamentarian, jumped into hot water on 11 October by raising the issue of “false mujahideen” during the debate over the 2009 Finance Act. The controversy revolves around the national budget, under which the Ministry of Mujahidine (or the Veterans Ministry, if you like) receives one of the largest shares. Money that goes into the Ministry often disappears or finds its way into places where state funds do not belong. ONEM — the Organization of the Children of Mujahidine — is the most powerful interest group of descendants of war veterans, lobbying for war veterans and their kin. Regional leaders from this organization have condemned Ait Hamouda’s comments, accusing him of mobilizing against Algeria on behalf of foreign powers, as have various other individuals. A “son of France,” is the epithet used when the influence and finances of the Ministry of Mujahidine are questioned, often because there are legitimate questions to be asked of why the veterans’ ministry receives as much money as it does. Ait Hamouda has responded to his critics by stating that he is willing to “challenge anyone daring to deprive me of my parliamentary immunity.” Indignantly, he has said that he has “evidence proving that high level officials used to be agents for the colonial forces, however, they are considered today as War-veterans!” 

7. France is accusing Mohamed Ziane Hasseni, an Algerian diplomat, of killing Ali Mecili, an Algerian human rights activist, in Paris in 1987. Hasseni was arrested in Marseille in August, and was released under judicial supervision. FM Medelci visited Paris on Wednesday, urging for a expeditious settlement to the matter. The primary suspect in the killing was recalled from France after his arrest in the late 1980’s. D. Benchenou writes astutely on this example of “la Françalgérie,” arguing that the Algerians are so eager to burry this murder once again, not simply out of concerns over their immediate prestige and the present and former regime officials involved but instead out of  a fear that other problematic misdeeds carried out in France (if not elsewhere) would be brought to light and open season would be declared on the impunity with which the Algerian security services operated in Europe during previous years. Nowadays, Algerian dissidents are roped up by Western security services and sent back to whatever may await them in their home country. But the exposure of direct state involvement in murder and disappearances would surely ruin the reputation of the regime among Western governments which have tolerated its excesses under the pretense of ignorance and the argument that such behavior is acceptable against terrorists. If the Mecili case goes too far, it could end up altering the way that the Algerian state conducts itself abroad — making its assassinations and kidnappings less acceptable, not least because there are probably many other Mecili-like cases that cannot be excused by terrorism or “treason.” 

8. Word has it that Mauritanian students in Algiers protested in favor of the coup, and were not molested. Their protest would surely have benefited from the Egyptian fellow who accompanied Mauritanian (and Moroccan) protesters in Paris.  

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