Algerian foreign policy
Algeria shares with other countries in the region, the distinctive characteristic of being an Arab, Moslem, African and Mediterranean country. This gives an immediate idea about where the Algerian foreign policy priorities lie. They have been shaped by geography and by the different civilisations, cultures and traditions in which Algeria is deeply rooted.
With the advent of globalisation and the emergence of the many problems it entails, the Algerian diplomacy had to integrate new priorities in its agenda. The purpose here is neither to take stock of every aspect of the Algerian foreign policy, nor to review the official stance of Algeria on current events. The intention is rather to pinpoint some key elements with a view to helping the reader to understand why Algeria, after having been on the brink of collapse during the nineties, is now playing, on the international scene, a role consonant with its acknowledged status of pivotal state in the region.
To understand why, one has to know about the main measures taken since 1999 to restore peace and stability after the war waged by the Djihadists to topple the Algerian legal institutions. From that terrible period, a lesson has been drawn long time before 9/11 that terrorism is a global threat demanding a global response. It is the reason why transnational terrorism and the collective way to combat it are given top priority by the Algerian diplomacy.
There exist other priorities but the choice has been to focus only on the core of them: the Arab Maghreb Union, Africa and the Western Countries
Algeria and terrorism
During what the Algerians call “the black decade” or “the national tragedy”, the westerners and more particularly the European Union member States drastically downgraded their relations with Algeria. They took the concerted stance to reduce the number and level of their delegations visiting Algeria; to prevent their air travel companies to land in Algeria; they imposed prohibitive export credit insurance to deter their companies from doing business in Algeria. To cap it all they were lax in granting political asylum and in so doing gave a free hand to terrorist rings enabling them to collect money and organise from Europe their terrifying crimes.
All this in the name of democracy convinced as they were that the cancellation of the second round of the 1992 general elections infringed upon democracy. And yet they were fully aware that the Djihadists resorted to violence long time before the Algerian authorities took the decision to stop an electoral process, which would have ineluctably led to the end of democracy. “One voice one time” as the then US undersecretary of state for Middle East and North Africa put it.
The electoral process resumed after a period of transition during which terrorism was at its peak. President Bouteflika was elected in 1999 and re-elected for five years in 2004. His programme included the restoration of peace and security as a precondition for sustainable development and for Algeria to reassert itself internationally.
Peace and security have been restored through a two-phased process of national reconciliation. The law on the civil concord and the charter for peace and reconciliation both sanctioned by a 2/3 majority in parliament have been massively endorsed by referendums held respectively in 1999 and 2005.
Algeria is a role player again. A whole succession of visitors go to Algiers: heads of state or government, ministers of foreign affairs, or of other ministerial departments, parliamentarians, business leaders from different countries.
Except a lunatic fringe still refusing to lay down arms and soon to be stamped out, the Algerians do not want terrorism to strike again. The people’s will is reflected in the active participation of Algeria in the global action against terrorism in the regional and international fora and bilaterally. It is worth mentioning in this regard that the headquarters of the African Center for the study and research on terrorism is located in Algiers and that Algeria is one of the main promoters of the July 1999 Algiers convention on the prevention and combating of terrorism.
The Maghreb integration: a strategic option.
Three North African parties, the FLN representing Algeria, which was not yet independent, the Neo-destour from Tunisia and the Istiqlal from Morocco, held a conference in Tangiers from 27 to 30 april 1958 and committed themselves to working for the Maghreb integration. Thirty-one years later the convention of Marrakech was signed by the then heads of state of Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia Libya and Mauritania.
Algeria attaches the greatest importance to Maghreb integration and tries its best to act in conformity with the spirit of the treaty binding the Arab Maghreb Union member States. With this in mind, the Algerian government took the option to supply gas to Europe via Morocco and Tunisia thus contributing in a sizeable way to the development and well being of these two sister countries. Furthermore, 1,5 million Algerians go on holiday to Tunisia each year and what they spend there represents about fifty per cent of the total revenue generated by the Tunisian tourist industry. Finally, public and private companies from both countries have set up successful joint ventures mainly in the energy sector, construction and food industries.
Unfortunately the Maghreb integration has been at a standstill for more than 30 years due to the fact that the Western Sahara question is at deadlock. Following the example of Israel in the Middle East, Morocco obstinately ignores the Security Council resolutions the most recent of which dated 28 April 2006, calls for “a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara”. In addition to that the Moroccan government has been accused recently of gross human rights violations in Laayoune and other towns in Western Sahara; which confirms its incapacity to impede, unless by unlawful means, the aspirations of the Saharawi people.
Morocco should be well inspired to stop playing a dangerous game likely to lead in a short or longer term to an aggravation of tension in the region. This country should forget about its anachronistic expansionist dreams and strictly abide by the international law. The Baker plan is a face saving compromise in that it gives the Saharawi people a choice between autonomy (wanted by Rabat) and independence. It is about time Morocco endorsed it. It is the only way for this country to decisively contribute to Maghreb construction to the benefit of all the people of the region.Africa: Algeria’s alter ego
During the war for independence the Liberation National Front (FLN) was given a strategic depth by sister countries and Algeria keeps a vivid memory of how dedicated the people and governments of Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and Egypt were to the noble cause the Algerian were fighting for.
No wonder then Algeria became after independence a haven for many liberation movements including ANC. It is worth recalling in this regard that President Nelson Mandela stayed in Algeria where he received military training.
It is also important to mention that Algeria played an important role of mediation between the Malian government and the Azawed movement in the mid nineties and between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 2000.
Algeria together with four other African countries including South Africa is one of NEPAD founding fathers. The main idea underlying this new initiative is self-reliance, which means that all African Union member States should rely first and foremost on their own resources and use them properly to the benefit of their people. This concept also includes collective self-reliance by dint of regional integration to avoid duplication and squandering. Hence the importance given to good governance acknowledged as such through the peer review mechanism. The report submitted by Algeria on its own governance is under review paving the way for further discussions about its content.
Bilaterally in its region, besides the convention of Marrakech binding the Arab Maghreb countries, Algeria has concluded agreements of cooperation and good neighbourhood with Mali and Niger.
Algeria and South Africa are pivotal states in their respective regions and have in common their mutual attachment to African renaissance as illustrated by the centrality of Africa in the external policy of both countries. A bi-national commission chaired by the two heads of state has been set up in 2000. On the political level the relations are excellent and the consultations between the two countries are constant and carried out at different levels and in various fora. The economic relations are progressing steadily since the two parties have decided to focus on some flagship sectors of mutual interest.
Algeria and Europe
Due to geographical proximity and common history Algeria has established strong political and economic relations with the developed side of the Mediterranean rim. Treaties of good neighbourhood, friendship and cooperation have been concluded with Spain and Italy. Algeria and France will follow suit as soon as they overcome the clash of memory concerning their common past.
With the European Union as such, there is a comprehensive agreement providing among other stipulations, for the establishment of a free trade zone. Last but not least, Algeria is with Russia, the main gas supplier of Europe and buys from the latter the bulk of its needs in terms of capital equipments.
The European Union is very much concerned by illegal immigrants. So is Algeria because some of them are its own nationals whilst the others representing the majority, choose Algeria to settle down or as a transit country before bounding for different destinations. In any case, Algeria is as interested as the Europeans in finding a lasting solution to their problems. It is the reason why it has proposed to the European side cooperation, to tackle it globally keeping in mind that the best way to stem the illegal migration flux is a sustainable development aiming at fixing the populations in their native country.
The Ministerial Conference on Migration and Development held in Tripoli from 22nd to 23rd November 2006, between the UE and Africa, is positive in so far as it showed that the European side seems to be ready now to discuss the problem following this line.
In conclusion thanks to the resistance of its population and the determination of its security forces, Algeria has overcome alone terrorism keeping in mind that only a global action can stem this global threat. Algeria is again a role player dedicated to peace, security and development in its region and in the world.
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