Algeria’s “Polisario first” policy is damaging its development, diverting efforts and resources that could benefit its economy and other foreign policy interests.
Washington, D.C. – Algerian officials have consistently made it clear that the “Sahrawi cause” is their number one concern and their government’s top priority.
Last month, the foreign minister restated his absolute support of the Polisario Front and his government’s unconditional patronage of the separatist movement’s maneuvers against Morocco.
The newly elected government of Abdelmadjid Tebboune seems to have little interest in shoring up Algeria’s economic interests or cooperation with other nations unless countries show unconditional support for the independence of Western Sahara.
Judging by the negative and “awkward” outcomes in Libya, Spain, and France, Tebboune’s first diplomatic ventures have been failures and embarrassments. Major international players have shown little confidence in Algeria’s diplomatic endeavors and no trust in its real objectives in the region. The emphasis on Western Sahara has tainted the reputation of Algerian diplomats and their institutions.
Facing a fluid political situation and a weakening economy, the new Algerian government needs to chart and implement urgent structural and economic reforms or risk further social and political instability. Instead, Algerian officials are spending their time, energy, and money to shore up a desecrated and irrelevant militia movement that continues to cost the Algerian people millions of dollars in expenses and lost revenue.
It was obvious, even before Tebboune was sworn in as Algeria’s new president, that his government would maintain his predecessor’s anti-Morocco foreign policy. The Algerian military’s long-standing pattern of disdain and harassment of its neighbor to the west remains the cornerstone of Algiers’ international relations strategy.
As the geopolitical landscape evolves around the globe, Algeria’s diplomacy remains stagnant. In prioritizing the Sahrawi dossier over economic development and the expansion of foreign investments, the Algerian military establishment, as a de facto ruling institution, puts the gains of a militia group over the interests of its own citizens.
On several occasions during the rule of the previous president, Bouteflika, the Sahara dossier overshadowed world leaders’ visits to Algiers. The Algerian government considers nations’ positions on the conflict to be as important as economic, trade, and bilateral relations. In fact, officials determine the success of a state visit by the number of references to Western Sahara in the final joint statements.
Damage to diplomatic relations
As a direct result of this shortsighted and simplistic “doctrine,” the Algerian diplomacy is ebbing on several fronts. From Spain’s recent decision to ban Polisario flags from official documents and buildings to the closing of the self-declared Sahrawi Republic’s offices in several Latin American countries, Algeria continues to face setbacks because of its anti-Morocco-centered approach to foreign relations.
Furthermore, the United Nations’ recent rejection of former Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra’s nomination as the UN envoy to Libya is a slap in the face and a denunciation of Algeria’s self-serving inferences in conflicts in the region. Lamamra’s years of traversing the world trying to weaken Morocco and advance his country’s position in the Western Sahra conflict only came back to haunt the veteran diplomat.
Currently, Algeria’s traditional allies are outcast governments of the likes of Venezuela and Iran or weak and collapsing nations such as South Africa and Nicaragua. The fact that key capitals like Washington, Paris, Madrid, and Moscow either support Morocco or remain neutral in the Western Sahara conflict is a consequence of Algeria’s “Polisario first” policy.
A balanced, unemotional, and genuine foreign policy is necessary for the advancement of national interest. Instead of creating sound economic, structural, and policy changes key to attracting international venture capital that the Algerian economy badly needs, the Algerian government keeps tallying world capitals’ attitudes toward a declining and irrelevant conflict.
Algerian officials’ primary duty should be to advance the political and economic interests of their citizens and not to counter and counteract Morocco’s diplomatic moves around the world. The fact that the Kingdom rules (or the opinion that it does not rule) Western Sahara has no impact on Algeria’s economy, investment climate, or political stability.
If the Algerian government redirects the energy and efforts it has devoted to supporting the Polisario Front toward attracting foreign investments and building economic ties with all nations, regardless of their positions on the Western Sahara conflict, the Algerian economy would be stronger, more diversified, and better suited to deal with economic blows.