Algeria: A Threat Like No Other


July 1, 2020: In the last two years Algeria has dealt with a perpetual president, decades of corruption and the continued Islamic terrorist threat. A pandemic virus showed this year up but the scariest threat of all is a return of the Turks. The Imperial Turks were driven out of North Africa a century ago, but now they are back. It is unclear exactly what kind of response the new Turkish threat will receive. So far North African nations are discussing outright war against the Turks, who seem to think that is unlikely because it was the inability of the various North African factions to cooperate and coordinate that made possible centuries of Turkish occupation.

Meanwhile, there are some more deadly threats already inside Algeria. In late May Algeria knew of about 8,400 citizens who had come down with the covid19 coronavirus and since then the number of confirmed cases has increased to nearly 14,000. So far Algeria has suffered about 317 confirmed cases per million population and 21 deaths per million. That’s much less than the world average of 66 deaths per million. Algeria has one of the worst national health systems in the world and among Arab nations ranks 17th out of 21. What blurs these statistics is the fact that not all nations really know how many have caught the virus or died from it. Neighbors Tunisia had 99 cases per million and four deaths per million. For Morocco, it is 340 and six, Libya 120 and three. Egypt is 668 and 29 while Mali is 108 and six.

June 27, 2020: In the south (Medea province, 90 kilometers from the capital), two soldiers died after their patrol found a cache of Islamic terrorist weapons that included a locally made bomb. When moved the bomb exploded. This doubled (to four) the number of troops lost in counterterrorism operations this year.

June 25, 2020: The government approved the construction of a new army base in the northwest on the Moroccan border. This new base is in response to a new Moroccan military facility in the same area (Jerada province in northeast Morocco). This new Moroccan base, which is 38 kilometers from the Algerian border, is only for housing troops involved in anti-drug and counterterrorism operations. The only connection with Algeria is to prevent drug smugglers from leaving Morocco for Algeria or entering from Algeria. Morocco sees the new Algerian base as a continuation of the “Cold War” Algeria has been supporting for decades over a failed Algerian effort to support separatists in southern Morocco nearly half a century ago.

June 24, 2020: Another former prime minister was convicted of corruption and sentenced to twelve years in prison. Corruption prosecutions that had been stalled for years were revived over the last year as decades of autocratic rule by one party ended and free elections at the end of 2019 brought in a reformist government. One of the first reforms was to prosecute as many of the former senior officials and businessmen known to be corrupt as was legally possible. Those investigations and prosecutions revealed more evidence of illegal behavior and the corruption prosecutions are expected to continue for years. Algeria has remained on good terms with France, which was always a favorite exile for corrupt Algerian politicians or businessmen. Not so much anymore. The French are cooperating in seizing indicted former officials and freezing their bank accounts in France.

June 23, 2020: The government jailed five men who were arrested for continuing to participate in the weekly demonstrations that began in February 2019 to overthrow the FLN party, which had held onto power since the 1960s. The demonstrations forced out the then current FLN president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika and that led to free elections at the end of 2019. The weekly demonstrations, nicknamed the Hirak, continued and were outlawed by the new government. That convinced many Hirak supporters that the demonstrations should continue because there were still government practices that needed to be changed.

June 20, 2020: In Ain Defla province (100 kilometers west of the capital) soldiers were ambushed by some armed Islamic terrorists or smugglers. One soldier was killed and the ambushers escaped so it was unclear who the shooters were. This the second soldier to die so far this year fighting Islamic terrorists or gunmen who might have been Islamic terrorists. Many Islamic terrorists are now gangsters part-time as they sustain themselves by smuggling and distributing drugs and weapons.

June 14, 2020: The government lifted the curfew restrictions in 19 provinces. The government plans to lift more restrictions in 29 provinces. A nationwide curfew was implemented in early April but modified by region and gradually eased since then. The curfew was mainly about keeping people home at night. The curfew hours were longest in the capital and eight of the most populous provinces. For the other provinces, it was 7 PM to 7 AM. There are two southern provinces, which are thinly populated and largely desert, where they have been no reported covid19 cases. These two provinces have no curfew at all. As more provinces prove virus-free the curfew and other restrictions will be lifted.

June 13, 2020: The government and the army are in agreement about proposing a constitutional amendment that would allow Algerian troops to serve as peacekeepers. The army has come to believe that Algeria would be better protected if Algerian troops could operate on both sides of troublesome borders. This would be particularly useful down south on the Mali border and the east in Libya. It would take a year or more to get the vote done and there is no assurance it would be approved. Many Algerians feel the current rules have worked quite well and that the country is one of the safest in the region when it comes to Islamic terrorism and foreign criminals. One thing that is changing attitudes is the recent influx of Turkish forces in Libya. The Turks are apparently intent on backing a new government and dominating it for the good of Turkey, not Libyans and North Africa. This very real Turkish threat has alarmed all North African nations.

Turkey began its Libyan intervention in late 2019 on the side of the weaker (but UN backed) Libyan government and has brought in more and more weapons and troops. The Turks are seen as an unwelcome interloper taking advantage of the Libya chaos to serve its own goals. Algeria has consistently opposed any foreign military intervention in Libya, something Egypt agrees with. These two nations are neighbors of Libya and have devoted substantial military resources to guarding their Libyan borders to keep themselves safe from the Islamic terrorist groups that flourished in Libya after the Libyan dictatorship was overthrown in 2011. Despite, or because of, this “no armed intervention” policy it has taken nine years for one faction to pacify most of the country. But then the Turks showed up. Algeria, Libya and Egypt were all once (until the 19th century) provinces of the Turkish Ottoman Empire and do not remember that experience fondly. But now, as back then, it is difficult to get the Turks to leave. Egypt has threatened to send troops into Libya to confront the Turks and even Algeria is considering a similar move. A Turkish threat will do that in North Africa.

June 7, 2020: The government finally repealed the 2009 49-51 percent foreign investment rule that did not allow foreign investors to own a controlling share of any investment. Given the high level of corruption in Algeria, this rule meant few foreign investments and for the investment starved petroleum industry no foreign interest at all. Now foreign investors can have a hundred percent ownership in some areas. It is unclear which investment areas still have restrictions and potential investors are expected to query the government first before making their investment, or not. Foreign investors see the rules as a step in the right direction but not a cure for all the things that can still go wrong for foreigners who invest in Algeria.

June 3, 2020: In the south, across the border in northern Mali near the Algerian border French troops killed Abdel Malek Droukdel, the leader of AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and two of his followers. American UAVs, electronic surveillance and intelligence analysts assisted, as they have done in Africa since the 1990s. Droukdel has headed AQIM since 2007 and was the supreme leader of al Qaeda in North Africa. He was believed to be spending most of his tine hiding out in northern Algeria but like many other senior Islamic terrorist leaders, much effort was put into keeping their location secret. The Americans had taken the lead in finding al Qaeda founder bin Laden and ISIL founder Baghdadi and the French believed those search efforts would work in Africa. As with bin Laden and Baghdadi there was an effort to take Droukdel alive but that was not possible. In mid-June, AQIM put a video on the Internet confirming the death of their leader and vowing revenge and so on.

May 27, 2020: Algeria delivered 53 military vehicles to the Mali military. This was a gift, in recognition of the cooperation between Mali and Algeria against Islamic terrorists operating along their common border.

May 20, 2020: Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia are demanding that Turkey get out of Libya. The Turks are not impressed and their presence in Libya reminds Arab nations why Turkey ruled most of the Middle East for centuries. These neighbors of Libya cannot ignore the Turkish invasion and the UAE, a Persian Gulf oil state that has long supported the LNA (Libyan National Army), is not backing down either.




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