Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune takes back the reins of international politics

Abdelmadjid Tebboune

Despite his delicate health, the result of a coronavirus infection and his long hospitalisation in Germany, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune is determined to regain control of foreign policy and international negotiations in which Algeria is involved.

The appointment by presidential decree of seven political figures to take charge of the most burning international issues is seen as a fundamental move by the Algerian head of state to take strategy and diplomacy away from the military intelligence services, which until now have been the masters of Algeria's foreign policy. 

In addition to Maghreb and Western Sahara issues, which the president has entrusted to diplomat Amar Belani, he has appointed Ahmed Benyamina to handle international security issues, including terrorism; Budjema Delmi for African affairs and the Sahara-Sahel region; Taos Haddadi-Djellouli for migration; Abdelkrim Harchaoui for economic diplomacy; Nordin Aouam for the Arab world; and Leila Zerrougui for major international agreements. 

Until now, in all of these areas, the intelligence services, and behind them, the military leadership, had the upper hand. 

To complete the restructuring of the foreign policy system, Tebboune has smashed the entire corps of ambassadors and diplomatic representatives by appointing young diplomats, many of them women, to key posts in 70 destinations around the world. 

Numerous capitals will be affected by this mini diplomatic earthquake. The Algerian embassies in Paris and Madrid are not known to be affected. 

The appointment of Amar Belani to take charge of the Western Sahara issue and indirectly of relations with Morocco, currently on hold, has been highly controversial. Considered intransigent in his support for the Polisario Front and hostile to Moroccan policy in all areas, the former ambassador to the European Union and NATO has emerged from ostracism to handle the most sensitive issue for the Algerian regime at the moment. The difference with the previous situation, however, is that the Presidency of the Republic, and not the army, will assume and dictate the guidelines to be followed by the new heads of Algeria's strategy and international relations. 

Amar Belani's initial statements, in response to Saudi Arabia's attempts at mediation to reconcile Algeria and Morocco, that "there will be neither mediation nor settlement" on this issue are of little significance to analysts. The new guidelines for his actions will be given to Anar Belani by Minister Ramtan Lamamra, who includes him in his new organisation chart, but they will come from the presidency and not from the secret services. 

Along the same lines, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has strengthened the Crisis Prevention and Management Committee, a body responsible for identifying and dealing with threats that could affect Algeria, and which should accompany the National Defence, without replacing it. This is a way for the presidency to enter a sector in which until now the military has maintained a strict monopoly. 

So far there have been no reactions from the opposition, civil society or intellectuals to the changes made by the president, but it is in everyone's mind that they coincide in time with the appeal made by more than 240 intellectuals and civil society activists in the Maghreb against the severing of diplomatic relations and in favour of reconciliation between Algeria and Morocco.  

A chapter for which Hassan Aourid, a fellow student with King Mohammed VI at the Royal College in Rabat, recalls the deep historical ties between the two peoples and between the two regimes. "The man who designed the Moroccan flag was an Algerian, Kaddour ben Ghabrit, says Aourid, the same man who drew up the protocol of the Makhzen system of government. The same as "who inspired the celebration of the Feast of the Throne was an Algerian who lived in Salé, and that the first secretary of King Mohammed V was the fquih Si Mammeri (Mohammed Mammeri), born in Algerian Kabylia, the first head of the royal protocols and ceremonies, and preceptor of the princes in the royal palace".

The ties are not limited to the field of administration, but have historically extended to the anti-colonial struggle. "The founder of the largest Islamic party in Morocco was Dr Abdelkrim al-Khatib, of Algerian origin, who obtained Moroccan citizenship by virtue of a Dahir published on Morocco's independence day, 18 November 1955', Hassan Aourid also recalls, 'as did the late official historian of the Kingdom, Abdel Wahab ben Mansour, a native of Ain El-Hout, near Tlemcen'.

In an extensive research paper published in the London-based newspaper Al-Qods el Arabi, Hassan Aourid notes that "the first president of independent Algeria, the late Ahmed Ben Bella, is of Moroccan origin, from the outskirts of Marrakech. His family moved from Marrakech to the Algerian town of Maghnia, named after a saint, Lalla Maghnia, who is highly revered on both sides of the border'. 

The links between the two countries are also shown in the figure of Mehdi Ben Barka, who was Hassan II's teacher and studied at the University of Algiers. As for President Ben Bella, Aourid recalls that he surrounded himself with advisors, including the Moroccans Mohamed Tahiri Jouti and Salam Jebali. The former helped to lay the foundations of Algerian agriculture, which had been taken back from the hands of the large French settlers. 

The former schoolmate of Mohammed VI also recalls that many Algerian personalities lived in Morocco before his country's independence, such as Houari Boumediene, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Larbi Belkheir, Kasdi Merbah, Yazid Zerhouni, Abdellatif Rahal, Cherif Belkacem and Chakib Khalil, among others.

In the chapter of close relations, which this abrupt break in diplomatic relations will not be able to hide, is the organisation on Moroccan soil and with discreet official support, of the first Algerian Liberation Army arms factories, in which "internationalist fighters" such as the Argentine Roberto Muñiz, alias Mahmoud, worked, recalling that the five arms manufacturing workshops set up in Morocco were set up with the blind eye of Sultan Mohammed V and Crown Prince Hassan II. 

Although tension between the two main countries of the Maghreb has risen dangerously, making it easier for Polisario armed groups to make incursions into the Western Sahara area, the two peoples are reluctant to engage in a military adventure, from which no winner can emerge.