The Algerian president’s last-minute trip to Riyadh coincides with that of Moroccan officials, who are reportedly preparing for the visit of King Mohammed VI.
Rabat – Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune arrived in Saudi Arabia today on his first state visit since his election to office in December 2019.
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdel Aziz bin Saud and Riyadh’s governor Prince Faisal Bin Bindr Bin Abdul Aziz welcomed Tebboune at the King Khaled airport.
The Algerian president’s three-day visit to Saudi Arabia comes at the request of King Salman and Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
During an official visit to Algiers earlier this month, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah expressed his country’s interest in improving relations with Algeria.
The oil-rich Gulf country is one of Algeria’s major investors, with overall investments estimated at $3 billion and expected to exceed $10 billion within ten years.
The two countries have also signed 23 economic agreements between 2002 and 2018, with trade exchange reaching $500 million.
Countering Morocco’s regional efforts
The Algerian president’s visit to Riyadh comes a day after he received the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, in Algiers.
Tebboune is reportedly working to build support for a summit meeting on the Libyan crisis he aims to host in Algeria.
Algeria has previously expressed its intent to sideline Morocco’s efforts to mediate in the Libya crisis.
While Morocco argues that the 2015 Skhirat Agreement should be the only basis to end the conflict, Tebboune has insisted that Algeria is more concerned by the Libyan crisis as a direct neighbor. By extension, despite the general agreement around the Morocco-moderated Skhirat Agreement, the Algerian president has maintained that Algiers would be a more effective peace broker in Libya.
“Even when Algeria proposes peaceful solutions to regional crisis, Moroccan lobbies always find a way of intervening, claiming that Morocco is concerned too,” he said last week in an interview with French outlet Le Figaro.
Tebboune also used the interview to blame Morocco for the frozen diplomatic relations between Algiers and Paris, arguing that Moroccan lobbies intentionally “sabotage” Algerian and French efforts to enjoy “serene relations.”
Last-minute state visit
Algeria was scheduled to receive the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Arancha Gonzalez Laya, in the capital today.
However, after Gonzalez Laya confirmed on February 24 that Spain does not recognize the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the Algerian government postponed her visit until March 4.
The minister’s statements came after the Spanish coalition party Unidas Podemos received a delegation from the Polisario Front and expressed its solidarity with the Sahrawi people.
Gonzalez Laya reassured Morocco that the move does not have any bearing on Spain’s position on Western Sahara.
The Algerian president’s last-minute trip to Riyadh also coincides with that of Moroccan officials, who are reportedly preparing for the visit of King Mohammed VI to Saudi Arabia in the coming weeks.
The Moroccan King’s visit is not yet confirmed, but the Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita flew to Riyadh today with the adviser to the King, Fouad Ali El Himma.
The two officials carried with them a letter from King Mohammed VI to King Salman, diplomatic sources told Elaph.
The potential visit of the King to Saudi Arabia comes after months of speculation and rumors about alleged friction between the two kingdoms.
Earlier this week, Rabat and Riyadh held a series of talks on strengthening relations.
Meeting with the President of the Saudi Consultative Assembly (Shura Council) Abdullah Ibn Muhammad Al-Sheikh, Morocco’s Head of Government Saadeddine El Othmani commended the Saudi position on Western Sahara.
The President of Morocco’s House of Representatives, Habib El Malki, also thanked the Saudi official for his country’s “support for the autonomy initiative as a final solution to the artificial conflict over the Moroccan Sahara.”
The Western Sahara factor
Algeria is an opponent of Morocco on the Western Sahara question, although it claims to be only an “observer” and not a party to the conflict.
On January 12, Tebboune questioned Morocco’s territorial integrity and reaffirmed Algeria’s full support for the Polisario Front through a congratulatory letter to the leader of the breakaway group, Ibrahim Ghali, following his re-election as Secretary-General of the Polisario Front.
The Algerian president reiterated the country’s position on January 23, in a statement to the Algerian press.
“We said and we will repeat this, no matter the amount of insults and pressure we receive, the issue of Western Sahara is an issue of decolonization.”
Algeria’s government also released a series of statements to dismiss Morocco’s diplomatic achievements in Western Sahara, where seven African countries have opened general consulates in the cities of Laayoune and Dakhla.
In a move that directly contradicted its claim of detachment from the conflict, Algiers recalled its ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire on February 20, two days after the West African country opened a new consulate in Laayoune, southern Morocco.
“This kind of act from a founding member of the AU is a violation of the commitments resulting from the constituting act of the AU and a flagrant transgression of international law and of the resolutions of the Security Council and the Assembly general of the UN concerning the question of decolonization of Western Sahara,” Algeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated the day before the recall.
The Western Sahara question has also strained relations between Morocco and Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia provoked the North African country several times in the past few years, especially after airing a documentary challenging Morocco’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over Western Sahara on its state television network Al Arabiya.
Al Arabiya broadcast the documentary shortly after Morocco withdrew its military forces from the war in Yemen. The Moroccan army was part of the Saudi-led anti-Houthi coalition.
In February 2019, Morocco recalled its ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and the Moroccan FM acknowledged relations between Saudi Arabia and Morocco had experienced a rift.
From “the point of view of Morocco, relations with Gulf countries,” especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, “have always been deep historical relations,” Bourita said.
“It may happen that we do not agree on certain issues. Foreign policy is a matter of sovereignty, and in Morocco, it is also based on principles and constants.”
Morocco’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia returned to Riyadh in April 2019, with a message of “fraternity” from King Mohammed VI to King Salman.
Whether or not the Algerian president’s visit to Riyadh today will undermine Morocco’s regional efforts will depend on the outcome of Tebboune’s talks with Saudi officials.