The elements and consequences of Algeria’s Libya policy during the recent war is a point of continuing interest for this blogger. Le Quotidien Oran ran Abed Cheref’s analysis of Algeria’s Libya policy on 27 October. Cheref begins by lamenting that although Algeria and Egypt ought to have had a ‘leading role’ in managing the Libyan crisis, neither government ventured to do so. He boils their basic interests down to national stability, describes some of the internal dynamics which defined Algeria’s posture — such as the views of the President, the Army and the security services (DRS) — and then describes the ‘absence of institutional functioning’ in Algerian foreign policy which Cheref writes does not function well under normal circumstances let alone in a time of crisis. This dysfunction comes from excessive centralization of decision-making around the presidency which hinders Algerian diplomats from ‘taking the initiative and adapting’ to changing circumstances without going through President Bouteflika who, as Cheref and virtually everyone else notes, ‘still considers himself the foreign minister.’ Cheref thus chocks up Algeria’s poor showing during the Libya crisis up to ‘the presence of a man like Mr. Bouteflika at the summit of power.’
Not only is his reading of events based on a grid from the middle of the last century, it is at odds with the full reality, and the operations of the centers of power are thereby paralyzed which does not allow the adjustments necessary to defend the best interests of the country.
Cheref argues that had the Algerians recognized the CNT earlier on and shown support for the Libyan rebels Algeria’s regional interests would have been better served by now. He writes that Algeria might have been able to mediate between the rebels and Qadhafi if Algiers had established earlier and firmer contacts with CNT, which could have helped ‘avoid mistakes that led to the irreparable Civil War’ in Libya. The reader is doubtful that after a certain point such mediation would have been useful: rebel forces rejected dialogue with the Qadhafi government rather early in the crisis and after that stage in the struggle accommodation with Qadhafi was totally rejected, even before the military situation turned drastically against the Qadhafites. Cheref views Algeria as more vulnerable after the Libyan crisis. Its borders are more exposed to ‘all kinds of threats’ including great power exploitation. Cheref believes the situation can be ameliorated through greater regional cooperation with Sahel countries and Tunisia and Libya; he points to economic solutions, calling for Algiers to rethink its regional posture, arguing that Algeria’s Libya policy has locked it in place while the rest of the region changes. Cheref concludes by asking ‘Can Algeria have influence on change in the region if she herself does not change?’ Cheref’s concluding question points to the need for political change in Algeria as a way of producing a more dynamic foreign policy. The country’s internal politics are not dynamic and this is reflected in its foreign policy and magnified in times of crisis. He points to Bouteflika as the heart of the problem but understandably offers no alternative. And while Cheref argues for a rethinking of Algeria’s regional posture he does not argue for a total restructuring of the basic principles of Algerian foreign policy. He argues that Algeria should have been pragmatic by taking a keener tone toward the NTC, not that Algiers should support Arab uprisings as a matter of principle, though he does mention Libya’s role in Algeria’s war of independence.