Rabat - French President Emmanuel Macron has made Algeria suspicious of his counter-terrorism plans the Sahel.
Rabat – French President Emmanuel Macron has made Algeria suspicious of his counter-terrorism plans the Sahel.
In Mali, one of the countries of the region facing a serious threat from armed groups including the recently formed Al Qaeda-linked Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), Macron pushed on Sunday for a joint regional force of 5,000 soldiers to help in military operations in the country’s north alongside French troops and the forces of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
The force is going to be set by the so-called “G5 Sahel” countries which include Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Niger, and Burkina Faso.
Macron’s visit to the torn-apart Sahel nation is the second since he was elected on May 14. Mali was the first non-European stop for Macron, arriving only five days after his election.The French president went to Gao in northern Mali, the site of France’s most important military base abroad hosting 1,600 soldiers.
In Gao, Macron sent the first “negative” signal to Algeria, according to local press.
“I have a strong request forSahel states and Algeria. We can’t show any weakness regarding terrorist groups,no matter the political or domestic reasons behind them,” he said in a press conference.
Algerian journalist Fayçal Mettaoui described Macron’s statement as diplomatically “awkward.”
Though not expressed formally, the Algerian state’s anger has been reflected in coverage by major local media which generally express similar stances vis-à-vis Algeria’s relations with other countries, especially Morocco and France.
Algerian media claimed Macron was insinuating that Algeria is turning a blind on the actions of some terrorist groups in Sahel.“This was ill-received in Algiers,” wrote news site Tout sur l’Algérie (TSA).
In addition to the perceived accusation, Macron’s phone exchanges with Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika suggest that Algerian officials believe the French president wants to use the country to help resume the peace process in Mali, while secretly planning to isolate Algeria.
Algerian media sees the French president as wanting to dictate his own terms on the peace process in Mali. At the same time, his goal seems to corner Algeria despite its strategic importance and long-time influence in the region.
“In less than two months, the French President called the Algeria head of state to talk to him about Mali, more than bilateral relations,” wrote TSA.
According to TSA, Macron’s plans to isolate Algeria in Sahel were highlighted by a meeting in Sevilla, Spain on Monday where the interior ministers of France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco discussed fighting terrorism, illegal immigration, and organized crime with the help of the G5 Sahel countries.
The news outlet said the joint force of the G5 Sahel countries was “under-equipped” and “under-financed,” a clear reference that they are not fit for the job in comparison with Algeria.
Whether Algeria’s anger is justified is unclear, as the country holds contradictory positions. On one hand, Algiers maintains that this issue has be dealt with either through inter-African talks in the framework of bilateral relations, or “informally” in the ‘5+5’ dialogue grouping five Mediterranean European countries (France, Spain, ¨Portugal, Malta and Italy) and five African ones (Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, Tunisia and Libya).
Also, the Algerian military officially does not take part in operations outside its own borders, which means it would have likely turned down any invitation from Macron to join in a regional force like the G5 Sahel.
Still, Algerian officials believe that the French president is trying to marginalize Algeria, to which the country’s media outlets have reacted negatively.
“What is the significance of ‘fighting against terrorism and organized crime’ without Algeria, the country which most has frontiers with Sahel [countries], and which has the most expertise in countering terrorist groups and criminal networks in the region?”said TSA.
“It is obvious that without Algeria, with its diplomatic, military and political influence in Africa, the G5 Sahel is going to do nothing.”
Algerian officials showed enthusiasm for Macron during his presidential campaign. Described by former Algerian former minister of foreign affairs Ramtane Lamamra as a “friend of Algeria, the country’s high hopes for stronger relations with the former colonizer were partly crushed when Macron chose Morocco as his first destination to North Africa, thus breaking his predecessors’ tradition of choosing Algeria as the first country visited after an election win.
Mistrust over France’s plans in the Sahel and its understanding of Algeria’s role has come as further proof for Algeria that Macron may not quite be the “friend” they had expected him to be.