As in Western Sahara, Algeria claims to maintain an impartial position in the Libyan conflict while actively influencing the mediation process.
Rabat – Algerian diplomacy has recently taken to tug of war politics as part of its ongoing efforts to undermine Morocco on the international stage. The North African country has thrown its hat into the ring as a mediator in the Libyan crisis, seemingly in order to ramp up its rivalry with Morocco.
Rabat has played a significant role in the Libyan peace process for many years and recognizes the UN-backed government in Tripoli, while Algeria’s interest in “mediation” is relatively recent. Algiers also claims it is stirring an “impartial” spoon in the bubbling cauldron, unable to take the same side as Morocco or to actively oppose the UN position.
Algeria’s increased interest in the Libyan conflict surfaced relatively recently, with Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum holding regular talks with his counterparts in Mauritania, Tunisia, Libya, and Serbia.
However, the Speaker of the Libyan Parliament, Aguila Saleh, traveled to Algiers on Saturday, June 13, one day after Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune for an acceleration of Algerian involvement in the mediation process, offering to facilitate Libyan-Libyan talks.
“The solution in Libya is seen in our contribution with Egypt and Tunisia in order to reach an agreement on the crisis,” Tebboune said.
The speaker met with his Algerian counterpart as well as FM Boukadoum. Saleh’s visit to Algiers came just days after a roundtable talk in Cairo with leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA) General Khalifa Haftar.
The talks in Cairo between the UN-backed Tripoli government and General Haftar saw the birth of the “Cairo Declaration,” hailed by Egypt as a route to reconciliation for the warring parties. Saleh’s Algeria visit, however, sparked speculation that the Tobrouk-based parliament is not satisfied with the Cairo talks and is seeking backing from other mediators for a different solution.
Algeria is keen to promote itself as a diplomatic leader in North Africa, and is unlikely to support a solution proposed by Egypt since such a move would negate Tebboune’s efforts to promote Algeria as a serious player in international diplomacy.
Spanish media outlets have branded the flurry of Algerian involvement in the crisis as a bid to oust, or at the very least destabilize, Morocco as a leading diplomatic light in the region, so beginning a tug of war for control over the Libyan peace process.
The Skhirat Agreement
For the past decade, Morocco has worked tirelessly to develop South-South cooperation in Africa, as well as a credible, positive image on the world stage. Going hand in hand with Rabat’s increased focus on supporting fellow African states is Morocco’s status as a mediator in war-torn Libya.
Morocco helped to broker the 2015 Skhirat Agreement, a treaty that provides an institutional framework for the route to a lasting solution to the conflict in Libya. Rabat advocates for a Libya-led resolution in the conflict and has warned of the dangers of politically-motivated international interference on a number of occasions.
In March of this year, Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita held talks with Libya’s Chairman of the High Council of State, Khaled Mishri. Following the meetings, Bourita emphasized that the only viable solution lies with the Libyan people rather than in foreign intervention.
The Moroccan FM was clear that a constitutional referendum, as well as presidential and parliamentary elections, would legitimize Libyan governance and lead to lasting peace in the North African country.
Bourita also clarified Morocco’s position on the conflict:Rabat will mediate and support a Libyan-led solution to a Libyan conflict, emphasizing that prolonging the conflict will only lead to further suffering for the Libyan people.
The statement echoed a January 2020 statement from then UN Envoy to Libya Ghassane Salame. The envoy, who resigned in March due to stress, asked international leaders to stop arms imports to Algeria and to support a dialogue-led political solution from within Libya.
“Libya is not only an oil story. Libya is not only a gas story. Libya is not only a geopolitical story: it is also a human story. And people are suffering, and for no other reason but for the fact that there is no international, clear message that enough is enough,” he said.
Beyond the headlines
While Morocco’s mediation role in Libya is in line with the UN position and Rabat actively discourages arms exports to Libya, Algeria’s position is more ambiguous.
In April, a UN Security Council vote saw Algeria’s Ramtane Lamamra vetoed as a possible replacement for Salame. The US, allegedly under pressure from Egypt and the UAE, rejected the Algerian diplomat’s candidacy.
Diplomatic sources speculated that Algeria’s relationship with Russia was behind the US decision to veto Lamrame as envoy. Russia backs the LNA in the conflict, leading to concern that the Russia-Algeria dynamic would influence Lamrama.
Though traditionally an ally of Russia, Algeria is insisting on its status as an “impartial mediator” and has not declared support for either the LNA or the Tripoli government, though its diplomacy appears to maintain closer links with the UN-backed government and Turkey.
And, if it is true that Tebboune is hoping to position Algeria ahead of Morocco as a leading player in international diplomacy, it is unlikely that Algiers would openly declare itself in opposition to the UN-led process or the international hopes for a Libyan-led dialogue.
Just days after Tebboune welcomed the Libyan speaker, styling himself as a regional leader in conflict resolution, the European Parliament heard calls from Anna Bonfrisco to investigate human rights violations in the Tindouf camps, where Algeria houses 90,000 Sahrawis.
Meanwhile, human rights organizations and media outlets have flooded the internet with condemnations of police crackdowns on journalists and activists, as the Hirak (protest movement) continues in Algeria, calling for a complete overhaul of the political system.
Whether Tebboune is using Libya as a distraction tactic to draw attention away from the rising tide of discontent within Algeria, as a move to undermine Morocco’s international reputation, or, indeed, as a genuine bid to ensure peace on the other side of the border, any intervention must be devoid of political cynicism. Tug of war politics will help neither the Algerian nor the Libyan people.
As the Moroccan FM said, the security and safety of the Libyan people must remain at the forefront of any peace process.