Algerian government pushes for closer cooperation within Maghreb region

 

For decades, Algeria has been decidedly non-interventionist, a stance that has helped it develop relationships with countries around the world, from Cuba to Angola to China. From the 1960s until the mid-1980s, its foreign policy was founded on the principles of national sovereignty and freedom from external influence.

As a result, Algeria became a proponent of increased cooperation between countries in the global South and a vocal member of the Non-Aligned Movement in the 1960s, supporting several independence movements throughout the Cold War. Strains of this policy continue today. Algeria opposed NATO intervention in Libya, for example, and, unlike many other Middle Eastern and North African powers, declined to become involved in the recent conflicts in Yemen and Syria.

Regional Broker

This does not mean that Algeria shies away from foreign engagement. The country’s diplomats have been particularly active in pushing for mediation in conflicts throughout the region.

The Algerian government actively sought diplomatic efforts to cease hostilities in Mali in 2014, when it initiated talks between Tuareg separatists and the government-allied militia. The talks, which lasted for 18 months, included four governments and eight sub-state actors. Persistence paid off in June 2015, when a peace deal was signed between the government and the Coordination of Movements of Azawad, an alliance of Tuareg-led rebels, though sporadic attacks still occur. Algeria has played a similar diplomatic role in assisting the UN mission in Libya to reinforce both peace stablisiation and political reconstruction.

Algeria is also a participant in several organisations that aim to foster economic and political cooperation. It is a member of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), which was created in 1989 and groups together Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia in a collaborative platform on political, security, economic and development issues. At the July 2012 AMU Council of Ministers summit in Algiers, member states concluded a joint security strategy to protect the primary transportation routes in North Africa. Algeria also pushed for the creation of an integrated economic block that would encourage collaboration in areas such as agriculture, water resources, infrastructure and renewable energies. Mourad Medelci, the former minister of foreign affairs, told OBG in 2012 that Algeria was increasingly allowing for a broader regional component to its national development projects, for example.

Algeria is also a member of the Union for the Mediterranean (Union pour la Méditerranée, UpM), which was launched in 2008 as a continuation of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership established in 1995. The UpM provides a platform for 43 countries in Europe, North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean to collaborate on business creation and trade, as well as key issues such as renewable energy, maritime and land transport, civil protection and higher education.

However, regional integration is complicated by the stalemate with Morocco. While Algeria has supported the claims of the Western Sahara independence movement, the Polisario Front, Morocco considers the area critical to its territorial integrity. As a result, the border between Algeria and Morocco has been closed since 1994, although since 2006 the two countries have followed a policy of visa waiver reciprocity, and tensions have been low in recent years.

Scope For Improvement

Despite Algeria’s diplomatic clout locally and the ongoing efforts to improve integration, there is still scope for increasing bilateral and regional engagement, particularly in economic terms. Partly as a result of the cool relationship between Algiers and Rabat – which govern the bloc’s two largest economies – the volume of trade among AMU countries is under 10% of overall volumes, far lower than many comparable organisations. Regional trade to member states accounts for more than one-third of the five-member East African Community’s overall volume, for example, while for the EU the figure is well over 50%.

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