Turkey determined to consolidate its ties with Algeria
In 1955, Turkey sided with the Western world and abstained from a vote on Algeria’s self-determination at the UN General Assembly thanks to its Western-oriented foreign policy line. Despite having a common historical legacy, Turkey and Algeria, due to their differing political and ideological tendencies, had a distanced relationship throughout the Cold War era. Even after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, the two countries failed to find common ground on which to build closer relations.
However, balances change quite fast in international politics. When it comes to the Middle East, the world‘s least peaceful region, the dynamics change even faster, mostly in an unprecedented manner. After many years of distant relations, Turkey and Algeria have recently started to develop their ties. The civil war in Libya was the turning point that led to the two countries increasing the frequency of their high-level political meetings and signing several agreements.
Turkey is trying to consolidate its political and military presence in Libya, fix its problems with Egypt, and maintain a careful relationship with Tunisia and Morocco. Ankara also places great importance on its relations with Algeria, which shares a border with Libya, where Turkey has increased its military activity, and which is a country considered by France — psychologically — to be its backyard.
In a recent interview with French weekly magazine Le Point, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said his country aims to establish a strategic partnership with Turkey, sending an implicit message to France. “Algeria has excellent relations with Turkey, which has invested about $5 billion in Algeria with no political strings attached. Anyone who is annoyed by this relationship should just invest in our country,” he added. With France’s regional influence fading, Algeria, which is concerned by the instability in Libya, considers its relationship with Turkey to be part of its policy of diversifying its international relationships.
Tebboune this month signed a presidential decree to ratify an agreement with Turkey that had been pending for 23 years. The agreement, which was signed in 1998 but not approved by the Algerian government, aims to increase trade between the two countries and bolster cooperation in the fields of transportation and maritime affairs. No statement was made by the Algerian side over the years-long delay of the deal. However, it is likely to be another gesture intended to improve relations.
In an earlier gesture, Ankara last year reportedly handed over a fugitive Algerian soldier accused of leaking confidential military information, following a request by Tebboune during a telephone conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The two presidents have had frequent phone calls, with the most recent being in May. Relations between the pair have reached the point that, during his visit to Algeria in January, Erdogan reportedly asked the Algerian authorities for access to their air and naval bases to assist the Turkish operations in Libya. Both states have also started work to reactivate the strategic agreement they signed in 2003.
The improved state of relations between the two countries is still a relatively new phenomenon, shaped by recent regional geopolitical changes and common concerns. However, the relationship, which was distanced for years due to political differences, is no bed of roses and has challenges that cannot be ignored. Firstly, the relationship has been based on pragmatism and on temporary circumstances caused by the insecure regional environment. Secondly, there are still some topics, such as Syria, NATO and Libya, on which their interests differ. Thirdly, the domestic transformation in Algeria that deposed former President Abdelaziz Bouteﬂika, whose foreign policy was marked by a focus on French-Algerian relations, led to closer relations with Turkey. Therefore, the domestic dynamics always matter when cultivating new relations.
During his visit to Algeria in January, Erdogan reportedly asked the Algerian authorities for access to their air and naval bases.
Algeria is still a new foreign policy arena for Turkey to establish a permanent relationship based on mutually beneficial interests. Thus, understanding the internal dynamics of a country and having dialogue with every party is significant for a long-term relationship.
Despite the presence of some news reports that indicate recent tension between Turkey and Algeria over Ankara’s support for an Algerian Islamist group, both sides are riding out the storm. Turkey, in particular, considers Algeria to be a door to its Maghreb policy, in which it has economic, energy and military objectives, so it doesn’t want their bilateral relations to suffer.
However, for Turkey, the facts on the ground also have to be taken into consideration. North Africa’s shifting geopolitical dynamics and increased polarization present challenges for Ankara. In order to secure its interests, Turkey needs to walk a thin line on the decades-old rivalry between Algeria and Morocco over the disputed Western Sahara territory. So Ankara has voiced its strong support for a political solution based on the framework of UN Security Council resolutions and it is likely to refrain from picking sides in this rivalry.
At a time when Libya is already unstable and Egypt is yet to approach Turkey, even after the latter’s recent overtures, the Maghreb region offers both challenges and opportunities for Turkey.
- Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey's relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz