Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Algeria and Turkey: Relationships Governed by the Past and the Future

Algeria and Turkey
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and his Algerian counterpart Abdelmadjid Tebboune (R) speak as they review a military honour guard during the welcoming ceremony, in Ankara, on May 16, 2022. Adem ALTAN / AFP

Hussein Ali Alzoubi

Algerian-Turkish relations are based on three primary factors: economy, politics and history. Although their economies unite Algeria and Turkey more than anything, their close political visions undeniably bring the two countries together, especially where it concerns Algeria’s neighbours. Moreover, the shared history between the countries was emphasised when Algeria became an arena for the power struggle between Turkey and Europe, more precisely, between Turkey and France.

Economically, at the dawn of the 21st century, there were only seven Turkish companies in Algeria, but the number currently exceeds 1,300. According to Anadolu Agency, the official data from the Turkish Embassy in Algeria indicate this growth has created 30,000 job opportunities. Additionally, the agency mentioned the establishment of two of the largest export factories in Algeria through Turkish investments during the same period, the first of which was established in Oran through a partnership of a private Algerian company and Tosyali’s Global Steel Manufacturer. It is worth mentioning that the factory’s exports exceeded $700 million in 2021, with an intended increase to $1 billion by the end of 2022. The second factory specialises in textile and was built in Relizane. Taypa Textile partnered with an Algerian state-owned enterprise to make it one of Africa’s largest textile factories.

Conversely, government-owned Sonatrach renewed its contracts to supply liquefied gas to Turkey in 2018, reaching 5 billion cubic metres annually. In a partnership between Sonatrach and Rönesans Holding, a new petrochemical plant is currently under construction in Adana, southern Turkey, to produce polypropylene.

Despite the pandemic’s global repercussions, the two countries’ trade volume increased by 35 per cent from 2020 to 2021 to $4.2 billion. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave a speech stating Istanbul’s intention to reach $10 billion in the coming period.

The Turkish economy witnessed high inflation levels, and the lira lost more than 30 per cent of its value over the past few years. This has put pressure on the Turkish regime and has pushed it to develop economic partnerships with numerous countries. These partnerships become more significant in light of the upcoming elections in which the opponents are yesterday’s allies, most notably the former Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and the former Economy Minister Ali Babacan.

On the other hand, Abdelmdjid Tebboune was the first Algerian president with an economic background, as he graduated from the École Nationale d’Administration with a major in economics and finance in 1965. As a result, Tebboune focuses on advancing Algeria’s economy, which saw many setbacks during the country’s months of civil unrest and the pandemic.

In early 2019, 25 per cent of Algerians under 30 experienced unemployment. Young people represent around 70 per cent of the population of approximately 43 million. While the growth rate increased by 2.3 per cent in 2018, this rate declined to 1 per cent in 2019. The trade deficit in the first half of the same year reached 17 per cent. Domestic production capacities outside the energy sector decreased by 50 per cent. In the first quarter of 2019, the import bill for private car assembly lines increased by 20 per cent, equivalent to $1.234 billion. The foreign reserve decreased to $72.6 billion after it had reached $78 billion in  2014.

His economic and financial expertise, pragmatism, and out-of-the-box thinking in managing the country’s economic affairs made Aymen Benabderrahmane an ideal candidate to aid the president in advancing Algeria’s economy. Benabderrahmane became the first government official to hold two positions in the same government:  prime minister and minister of finance.

According to al-Ain, Tebboune’s assignment of his minister of finance to lead the new government has several reasons. He was appointed to the Bank of Algeria in the aftermath of the fall of the Bouteflika regime. Key members of this regime were prosecuted on unprecedented corruption charges. Benabderrahmane had to stop money from bleeding out of the country and is therefore familiar with the essential files, challenges and weaknesses of the Algerian economy.

Hot Files

The Western Sahara is one of the determinants of Algerian foreign policy, over which Turkey is not keen to dismay Algeria. It similarly tries to stay neutral so as not to agitate Morocco. Tanju Bilgiç, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, responded to media reports regarding recognising Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara: “Turkey calls for a political solution to the Western Sahara issue within the framework of relevant UN resolutions.” He added: “[Turkey] advocated to find a political solution to the issue of Western Sahara through dialogue,” pointing to Turkey’s support for “the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all countries in the region within its internationally recognised borders.”

As for Libya, the official statements from Ankara and Algeria indicate an agreement to end the decade-long conflict in the country with fair elections, as President Tebboune suggested in a press conference during his visit to Turkey in mid-May. Tebboune stressed the existence of a “substantial agreement” with Turkey that “Libyans need to restore their security through elections.”

Tebboune agrees with Erdoğan on “intensifying coordination and consultation on the Libyan crisis file.” He also considered that the “agreement that elections are the solution is the framework for the next joint steps regarding Libya.”

The Turkish-French conflict over Algeria

Algeria and Turkey
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during a reception to mark the National Day of Remembrance and Reflection in memory of the civilian and military victims of the war in Algeria, sixty years after the signing of the Evian Accords, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on March 19, 2022. The 60th anniversary of the Evian agreements has brought back into the presidential campaign a part of the pieds-noirs memory, which the right and especially the extreme right have often echoed, but its electoral weight is waning over the years. GONZALO FUENTES / POOL / AFP

The Turkish-Algerian picture is incomplete without France, which had a presence in Algeria for nearly 130 years. The Ottoman Empire preceded this presence for hundreds of years. Both countries have a, not always bright, history in Algeria and now seek to whitewash these pages of history by targeting one another.

French President Emmanuel Macron met with descendants of the Harkis ahead of the French elections. “There is a forgotten colonialist in Algeria”, said Macron, whose country is home to millions of Algerians. “I am fascinated by Turkey’s ability to make people completely forget the role it played in Algeria and the hegemony it exercised. It deludes the Algerians to believe that the French are the only colonisers.”

Turkish officials repeatedly refer to the “barbaric French colonialism and massacres and crimes against humanity.” On the other hand, Algeria’s French-oriented segments of Algerian society frequently refer to Turkey’s vote against Algeria’s independence at the UN. Ottoman-French relations were generally good since the reigns of François I and Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The Turks, therefore, remained silent about the colonial atrocities. For this reason, these same segments believe that Turkey has no right to comment on the topic. The Ottoman Empire was responsible for the fall of Algeria under French colonialism, and it did not come to its aid.

The journalist Hamid Fathi believes that the Ottoman Empire could not defend Algeria at the time but that this does not absolve it from its responsibility as the country’s ruler. In an article he published on Hafryat, Fathi cited what historian Saleh Abbad wrote about Hussein Dey, the last Turkish ruler who handed Algeria over to the French. According to Abbad, the Dey “not only left the treasury safe for the French, but also handed over the entire country in return for his life, his entourage, and the Janissaries.” He also “departed, leaving the Algerians to resist the occupation without money or weapons.” Fathi believes that the region’s rulers, known as “Beys”, followed suit. The Koulougli, people of mixed Turkish and Algerian ancestry, cooperated with the French against the national resistance led by Emir Abdelkader.

The historical presence of France and Turkey in Algeria is a great motivator for reviving that same presence. According to Tunisian political writer Ayman Abid, the “Greater Turkey” strategy prompted Turkish leadership to re-establish relationships with the Islamic world. Abid believes that the Turks achieved positive results pursuing this path in Central Asia, the Gulf and the Horn of Africa. However, they did not yet achieve similar results in North Africa. For this reason, Ankara has been monitoring developments in Algeria. Erdoğan was the first president to visit Algeria since President Abdelmadjid Tebboune assumed office.

Ankara appears to see Algiers as a gateway to Africa, which historically has been France’s backyard. The French presence in Africa is, however, declining: a dynamic that may explain the conflict between France and Turkey. A conflict in which the latter possibly gained the upper hand, especially when taking into account the multiple political disputes between France and Algeria. These tensions forced Algeria to ban French military aircraft from entering its airspace before diplomatic relationships with Paris had improved.

The confrontational politics between Paris and Ankara took myriad forms, including political statements that engaged in personal affairs and competed at economic and intelligence levels. Le Figaro leaked a document that linked the Islamic “Rachad” movement, classified as a terrorist organisation in Algeria, to the Turkish regime. According to the document, Ankara provided logistic support to the movement’s leaders to strengthen its presence in Algeria. The leak immediately followed Erdoğan’s call for opening the “case of France’s crimes in Algeria and the need for reparation.”

In summary, Algeria’s growing closeness to Turkey will continue to revolve around the commonalities between the two countries, from the economic, political and historical aspects to their fundamental disputes with France.

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