Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking to consolidate his influence in North Africa. To this end, he has invited his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, to Ankara. During this official visit, the first by an Algerian leader in 17 years, the two leaders signed 15 cooperation agreements in areas such as economy, trade, education, tourism, security and culture. In this regard, they agreed to open cultural centres in Turkey and Algeria.
More specifically, the two governments signed several memorandums of association related to social services, the environment, mining, technology, fisheries, transport, infrastructure, media and the fight against transnational organised crime. On this last point, Algiers could receive more opposition and political activists exiled in Turkey.
However, if there is one area that stands out in the cooperation reached between Erdogan and Tebboune, it is defence. The Turkish leader has pledged to strengthen collaboration in this industry, according to the Turkish news agency Anadolu. This partnership includes Turkish arms sales, as the Turkish president announced that "many Turkish defence companies were in talks with Algeria".
However, this move could lead to tensions with Russia, Algeria's main arms supplier. "Russia will not accept any duplicity in Algeria's positions, be it arms or gas," Al-Arab notes.
"As two countries that play an important role in ensuring peace and stability on the African continent, we are determined to strengthen cooperation in the defence industry," Erdogan said, according to Turkey's Daily Sabah.
Algeria stands to benefit from this military cooperation, while Turkey stands to gain economically, especially at a time when Turkey's economy is suffering a severe crisis. Arms cooperation allows Ankara to market its arms industry, while Tebboune has assured that the volume of investment with Turkey will increase by 10 billion dollars in the coming years.
In addition to seeking a lifeline for the national economy, Ankara is also fortifying its influence in North Africa with the aim of expanding into the Sahel at a time when France is losing its relevance in the region while Russia's is on the rise.
As political sources tell Al-Arab, the agreements signed by Erdogan and Tebboune are an opportunity for Ankara to take Algeria 'as a launching pad for its activities in North Africa, strengthen its role in Libya and Mali and put pressure on Tunisia, which refuses to fall under Turkish influence'. During a joint press conference, Erdogan acknowledged the importance of Algiers in the region. "We consider very much the role that Algeria plays in North Africa and in the Sahel".
The Sahel is an area where Ankara has for years been expanding its influence through soft power, taking advantage of the rise of anti-French sentiment in the region. In an interview with Jeune Afrique, French President Emmanuel Macron even accused Turkey of fuelling this sentiment on the African continent. As Crisis Group analyst Hannah Armstrong explains, Turkey's activities in the region focus particularly on 'development support and commercial engagement', although it has reached defence agreements with some governments in the region.
Such moves obviously cause suspicion in other countries that, like Turkey, look with interest to the Sahel. "While many Sahelians have applauded Ankara's rapid advance in the region, some Persian Gulf and Western states have reacted negatively," adds Armstrong..
Ankara has been trying for years to position itself as a key player in the region through the crisis in Libya, where it actively supports Abdul Hamid Dbeibé, head of the Government of National Unity (GNU). The country is once again witnessing armed clashes due to the recent arrival in Tripoli of Fathi Bashagha, appointed prime minister by the Tobruk parliament, despite the rejection of Dbeibé, the UN-backed acting prime minister.
Turkey is no stranger to this political hurricane either. Last week Bashagha paid a surprise visit to Ankara after receiving an official invitation. During this meeting, the Libyan prime minister recognised by Tobruk reportedly asked Erdogan for support in his political struggle with Dbeibé.
The crisis in Libya was also a topic discussed by Erdogan and Tebboune in Ankara. In the Turkish capital, the Algerian president reiterated his country's position. According to Algiers, the only solution is to "hold elections", something on which it agrees with the Turkish government. "There is no alternative to handing over the administration of the country to the Libyan people. We are already in mutual consultations with Turkey on this issue," Tebboune revealed.
Clashes erupted in Libya’s capital after a failed attempt by the parliament-appointed prime minister Fathi Bashagha to take power from his rival administration https://t.co/fnyi2rdOGy pic.twitter.com/OSk40k4Ln2— Reuters (@Reuters) May 17, 2022
Tebboune's official visit to Ankara comes just days after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu reiterated his support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of "brother Morocco". These statements came during a joint press conference in Marrakech between the head of Turkish diplomacy and his Moroccan counterpart, Nasser Bourita. Çavuşoğlu travelled to the Alawite kingdom to attend a meeting of the Global Coalition against Daesh.
The Western Sahara region, recognised by many countries as part of Moroccan territory, is a point of dispute between Rabat and Algiers. Indeed, Spain's new position on the area has caused a rift with Algeria, which has recalled its ambassador to Madrid.