Algeria a key part of Turkiye’s North Africa strategy

Algeria a key part of Turkiye’s North Africa strategy

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (AP file photo)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (AP file photo)
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Algeria occupies a key position in Turkiye’s Africa pivot, being neither distant nor an ally, while presenting both opportunities and challenges in its relations with Ankara. Algerian Foreign Minister Ahmed Attaf was in Ankara last week, having a closed-door meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Although no details were disclosed about the meeting at the presidential complex, a closer look at Turkish-Algerian relations will provide insights into their trajectory.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s state visit to Turkiye in 2022 and Erdogan’s reciprocal visit last year cemented their two countries’ growing ties. During Erdogan’s visit to Algeria, Ankara and Algiers elevated their relations to strategic level, marking a significant advancement in ties since Tebboune assumed office in 2019.

There were several reasons for the setbacks in Turkish-Algerian relations, but now there are compelling reasons for progress. In 1955, Turkiye 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. The wartime independence movement perceived Turkiye’s abstention as siding with France, yet the Turkish stance was rooted in its commitment to support its NATO allies. In 1960, following a change in government, Turkiye voted to support Algeria’s independence.

Despite having a common historical legacy, Turkiye and Algeria, due to their differing political and ideological tendencies, had a distant relationship throughout the Cold War era. In 1985, then-Prime Minister Turgut Ozal apologized for Turkiye’s partiality toward France in the 1950s. Despite these overtures and the collapse of the Iron Curtain, the two countries failed to find common ground on which to build closer relations.

There were several reasons for the setbacks in Turkish-Algerian relations, but now there are compelling reasons for progress

Sinem Cengiz

The so-called Arab Spring of 2010 introduced another dimension to their relations, albeit not in a positive manner. It is particularly important to add the Iranian dimension to the equilibrium in the post-2010 era. Iran has tried to exploit the lackluster performance on ties between Turkiye and Algeria. The Syrian crisis was an important ground for this Iranian strategy.

The increasing alignment in the policies of Algeria and Iran have gained momentum since the Syrian crisis, while Turkiye stood in the opposite camp to the Algerian-Iranian axis. Iran and Algeria have adamantly opposed any foreign interference in Syria’s internal affairs. They took a similar stance at the 2012 meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Makkah, where the suspension of Syria was approved by an absolute majority, with the only objections coming from Iran and Algeria.

Iranian leaders have underlined several times that Iran and Algeria have the capacity to create a new world order, adding that they could be an exemplar of brotherly ties via the expansion and diversification of relations in all spheres. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has said several times that the North African state has been a good partner and an anti-Israeli resistance front since the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

The other point that brings Algeria and Iran together is their anti-imperialist stance. Algeria has moved closer to Iran in an attempt to challenge the West’s preference for Morocco as its partner in the region. Against this backdrop, Iran stands as a regional rival for Turkiye in its Algeria pivot, as Tehran and Algiers have more in common when it comes to several regional dossiers.

Algeria is a strategic gate to Turkiye’s Maghreb policy, in which it has economic, energy and military objectives

Sinem Cengiz

However, the waning French influence in Algeria is playing into the hands of Turkiye. France is seeing a serious decline in its traditional colonial influence across the Maghreb, particularly among the new elites, who are less inclined toward a pro-French ideology. For instance, the Algerian government’s 2021 decision to prohibit French military planes from using its airspace carried significant implications beyond symbolism. Algeria aims to show to France that its historical role in the region, shaped by its colonial past, is not as strong as before.

This reflects a shift in mindset among Algerian leaders and paves the way for Turkiye to fill the vacuum of France, which is alarmed by the growing Turkish-Algerian relationship. The French concern is not only related to economic or political losses, but also its military influence across the Maghreb.

Turkiye is trying to consolidate its political and military presence in Libya, it has already fixed its ties with Egypt and it is carefully maintaining a balanced relationship with Tunisia and Morocco. Within this context, Ankara is placing great importance on its relations with Algeria, which shares a border with Libya, where Turkiye has increased its military activity. Algeria is also a strategic gate to Turkiye’s Maghreb policy, in which it has economic, energy and military objectives.

Algeria is the fourth-largest economy in Africa and an important source of energy due to its large reserves of natural resources. Turkish investments in Algeria have already surpassed China’s and are significant across a multitude of sectors. In terms of economic cooperation, the prospective membership of Turkiye and Algeria in the BRICS grouping is expected to add yet another dimension to these relations.

Although recent economic and political cooperation is making it an important partner for Turkiye, Algeria is still a new foreign policy arena for Turkish policymakers as they seek to establish a permanent relationship based on mutually beneficial interests. Material cooperation should be supported by nonmaterial cooperation. In this regard, cooperation on the Palestinian cause offers a significant avenue for Turkish-Algerian relations because, for many years, their bilateral ties were complicated by Ankara’s close relations with Israel.

Also, Turkiye should walk a fine line in its relations with Algeria and Morocco, which are at odds. So, while Algeria offers opportunities for Turkiye, it also has its challenges related to other countries’ competitive influence there.

Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkiye’s relations with the Middle East. X: @SinemCngz



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