Opinion

Game of Thrones between Paris, Rabat and Algiers

Emmanuel Macron, President of France, and Mohamed VI, King of Morocco

In politics, as in economics and real life, nothing is what it seems. It is a gigantic Chinese shadow play in which things are not what they appear to be. When applied to foreign affairs, this means that one should not believe everything we see right in front of our eyes. Mark Twain, the novelist, used to say: "Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please". 

The Paris-Alger-Rabat triangle has become a true Game of Thrones in which each vertex wants to impose on the other two, win the game and defeat them. But the three are ineluctably interdependent. 

The Sahara issue is very sensitive for Algiers, and the decision by President Macron's party to open an office in Dakhla is seen as a provocation by France, according to analyst Hasni Abidi, who believes that there is an anti-Algerian current within the French presidential party that wants to maintain tension between the two countries.

Yet, reality is somewhat different. Firstly, Macron's office is not yet open, and it is not certain that the president, no matter how friendly he is with Morocco and King Mohammed VI, will give the go-ahead. 

Mohamed VI, rey de Marruecos

Along the same lines, the Algerian ambassador in Paris, Mohamed Antar Daoud, believes that lobbies are acting to prevent a cordial understanding between Algeria and France, which, according to the diplomat, would have a bright future. Reality is again somewhat more bitter, and the Algerian ambassador, for unexplained reasons, has not yet presented his credentials at the Elysée, despite having been in office for eight months.

Paris-Algeria relations are bordering on an inextricable mystery. The military regime in power in the former French provinces of North Africa has surprisingly cancelled in extremis the official visit of the French Prime Minister Jean Castex to Algiers, and has the unofficial media claiming that Paris is to blame because it supports the Algerian popular rebellion that has been demanding a change of regime for two years, known as hirak, and harbours tiny opposition movements, such as the pro-independence Kabil Ferhat, or the human rights association Al-Karama and its political arm Rachad, based in Geneva. Algiers insinuates that Paris wanted to use this trip by the head of its government to invade the country with an armada of journalists, in order to get involved in human rights and the popular uprising. Something hard to imagine for anyone who knows Algeria, where the foreign press is tied hand and foot. 

Curiously, however, while blanks are exploding everywhere in the political arena, relations between Paris and Algiers are intensifying considerably in the military sphere. The Algerian newspaper Le Quotidien d'Oran claims that Paris has asked Algiers for help in the regional crisis in the Sahel. 

This seems to have been the main reason for the trip to Algiers on April 8 by the Chief of Staff of the French army, General François Lecointre, for face-to-face talks with Algeria's Chief of Staff, General Said Chengriha. Never before had the de facto head of the French army's operational command travelled to Algiers. According to experts on both shores, the agenda for the meeting included the Sahel, with the powder kegs of Niger and Mali, Libya, the aftermath of the French nuclear site in Algeria, and the terrorist phenomenon in North Africa.

Said Chengriha

Paris would like to put an honourable end to its derailed Operation Barkhane, a continuation of the previous Serval and Epervier operations, which in six years of deploying joint French and Sahelian forces, with the support of the US, the UK, Germany and Spain, has made the region even worse than before its military intervention. Paris wants to withdraw to Libya and is discussing with Algiers the Sahel takeover. Operation Takuba, launched by Europe less than a year ago, is not likely to succeed. It is no coincidence that Algerian President Tebboune has pushed through an amended constitution, legalising Algerian military intervention outside its borders for the first time. 

To gild the pill of military, and therefore institutional, overheating between Algiers and Paris, the government made an Algerian minister, El Hachemi Djaaboub, say that France is and will remain Algeria's traditional and eternal enemy. This statement is designed to satisfy unredeemed nationalism, while the mechanisms of military cooperation are being greased in the shadows. 

The issue regarding French nuclear tests in the Algerian Sahara is a minor one. Paris and Algiers may come to understand each other. It is a matter of budgets. Moreover, Algiers does not want to delve too deeply into the issue, because the French explosions continued until 1966, four years after Algerian independence, with the consent of President Ben Bella and his successor, Defence Minister Huari Bumedien.

This issue is linked to that of the French archives. The Algerian military legitimately wants to recover them, on condition they are the ones to handle them. This is because there are matters in the Algerian War archives that Algiers does not want aired, betrayals, settling of scores, unsolved assassinations, and French moles at the top of power in Algiers. It is not only about the Lacoste Promotion of Algerian officers and non-commissioned officers in the French armies who entered the country when De Gaulle was already negotiating independence, but also about some political leaders who collaborated with the French special services, and who allied themselves with Lacoste's military to remove the Algerian guerrillas from the future government. Dirty pages of history that will remain hidden.

Abdelmadjid Tebboune

In the background of the Franco-Algerian military negotiations, there is also Algeria's claim that, in exchange for taking Paris' chestnuts out of the fire in Mali, the former metropolis will grant them the same treatment as Marshal Al-Sisi of Egypt, with whom France is on a honeymoon, and does not ask for respect for human rights and freedoms. Algerian secret services, the real lungs of power, want France to sign a global military and security agreement, in return for the enormous efforts made by Algeria, dixit Said Chengriha, for stability in the Western Mediterranean area.

From Rabat, the Chinese shadow play is being followed in detail, knowing that Enmanuel Macron will not be able to emulate Donald Trump and recognise Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara. It is enough for Mohamed VI that the United States, the key player on the chessboard, does so. Ultimately, the White House's subordinates in NATO will end up following in the footsteps of the Washington diktat.

Things are still not what they seem. Some even assume that there is a kind of division of roles between Rabat and Algiers, and between the armies of the two neighbours, that goes beyond the second-order problem of the Sahara issue, over which they will never open hostilities. French and US strategists would agree that, under the cover of an exceptional rearmament of the two pivots of the Maghreb, Morocco would take care of the Atlantic seaboard and the US-Europe-Africa axis through Spain and the Strait of Gibraltar, while Algeria would focus its role on guaranteeing European and US access to the Sahel and stabilising the Libyan, Chadian and Sudanese powder keg. 

Hidden behind the apocalyptic scenario of the pandemic, a restructuring of the world order and its consequent geopolitical shifts is underway, including a particular Game of Thrones with Paris, Algiers and Rabat as main actors.