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Is Algeria an Anti-Imperialist State?

[Principle leaders of the FLN (left to right: Mohamed Khider, Mostefa Lacheraf, Hocine Aït Ahmed, Mohamed Boudiaf, and Ahmed Ben Bella). Taken after their 22 October 1956 arrest by the French Army following the interception of their (Moroccan civilian) flight between Rabat and Tunis headed for Cairo. Image from Wikimedia Commons.] [Principle leaders of the FLN (left to right: Mohamed Khider, Mostefa Lacheraf, Hocine Aït Ahmed, Mohamed Boudiaf, and Ahmed Ben Bella). Taken after their 22 October 1956 arrest by the French Army following the interception of their (Moroccan civilian) flight between Rabat and Tunis headed for Cairo. Image from Wikimedia Commons.]

In the last two years, several articles and analyses have attempted to decrypt Algeria’s ambiguous position toward Western imperialist interventions in Libya and Mali. In contrast to its assertive and resolute diplomacy of the 1960s and 1970s, the Algerian regime confused more than one observer, as it was not easy to tell whether it supported or opposed these recent wars.

On the one hand, reductionist views failed to analyze the situation objectively and resorted to the easy explanation: that Algeria is being pragmatic and that the seeming contradictions in its decisions and actions are only a reflection of its realist approach. On the other hand, those who adhere to a binary view of the world, divided into an imperialist North and an anti-imperialist South, had a Pavlovian attitude, which advanced the idea that Algeria is under immense pressure and is being targeted for its resource nationalism and resistance to Western hegemony. [1]

Will these claims stand the test of scrutiny? Is the Algerian position toward these imperialist interventions justified? Why has Algeria failed to play a more proactive role in solving the crises in Mali, Libya, and now in Syria, given that it is a regional military and economic power that should have been at the forefront in these conflicts? This is even more important, as Algeria was concerned about its security and warned against the risks of destabilization and spillovers in the whole region if the conflicts escalated after Western intervention. Finally, is Algeria really resisting Western hegemony and challenging imperialist domination?

This article will attempt to provide some answers to these questions and shed some light on Algeria’s foreign policy. First and foremost, let us examine the Libyan, Malian, and Syrian cases.

Tacit Complicity with NATO’s intervention in Libya

The Algerian regime was generally hostile to the uprisings that took place in neighboring countries, and adopted its so-called “neutralist” position to these momentous events. How could it be otherwise for an authoritarian regime whose survival was threatened by the risk of the revolutionary wave reaching its shores? Several high-ranking officials declared that Algeria had its “Arab Spring” in 1988. They insisted on maintaining the “false” stability of the country and used the card of the 1990s' traumatizing civil war to dissuade the population from going down the same path as the Egyptians and Tunisians.

The Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC), irritated by the “neutralist” position of the Algerian authorities and their refusal to recognize it as an interlocutor, claimed--without any documented evidence--that Algeria gave support to the Gaddafi regime and provided him with mercenaries to curb the revolution. The NTC also reacted angrily to Algeria's decision to grant members of the Gaddafi family asylum and considered this an enemy act.[2] The Algerian ambassador to the United Nations told the BBC that Algeria was simply respecting the "holy rule of hospitality" and was accepting the family on humanitarian grounds. Moreover, some sources have reported that the government had promised to hand over Muammar Gaddafi should he try to follow his family into Algeria. 

A closer look at the seemingly ambiguous position of the Algerian regime reveals that the country was trying to adapt to a fast-changing situation in the region and was mainly preoccupied about its survival and stability. Algeria voted against a resolution endorsing a no-fly-zone that the empty shell Arab League adopted, and declared it was up to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to decide on such a matter, which it did through resolution 1973, allowing for a NATO intervention in Libya.

Algeria did not oppose the intervention and did not even question its imperialist motives and only resorted to vague criticism of the Western powers’ implementation and interpretation of UNSC resolution 1973.  Algeria’s reluctance towards this intervention can be explained through its fear of possible consequences in the border zone and through what has become a spiritless and perfunctory opposition to foreign meddling in other countries’ internal affairs.

Collusion in the French Intervention in Mali

While Algeria was actively pushing for a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Northern Mali and was a mediator in negotiations between the Malian authorities, the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), and the Islamists of Ansar Eddine, France was not too keen on this approach from the start and ended up intervening unilaterally in January 2013. The Algerian regime surprisingly declared its respect for the French decision to intervene because Mali requested help from “friendly” powers. Since when has the ex-colonial master become a “friendly” power that cares about the livelihood of Malians? Since when has France, with its neo-colonial tools (Françafrique, Francophonie...), cared about the fate of Africans?

Two explanations can be put forward to understand the Algerian reaction: a) the Algerian regime naively believes that the Western powers have suddenly become altruistic, abandoning their imperialist mission of dominating and controlling the world according to their narrow interests, or b) the regime simply abdicated to Western hegemony and is willing to cooperate.

A few days following the French intervention in Mali [3], the Algerian people had to suffer the humiliation of receiving news from the French foreign minister that Algerian authorities had “unconditionally” opened Algerian airspace to French planes and demanded that Algiers closes its southern borders. Who said that neo-colonial attitudes are anachronistic?

Some journalists also reported that a US drone was allowed to monitor the hostage standoff in the British Petroleum plant in In Amenas, in south-eastern Algeria, and more recently, it came to light that the Algerian authorities were giving precious support to the French operations in Mali by discretely providing much-needed quantities of fuel to the French military [4]. This, in fact, amounts to collusion with the French neo-colonial expedition.

Algeria and the Military Threat on Syria: Words Are Not Enough

Algeria was among the eighteen countries (from a total of twenty-two) who voted in November 2011 for Syria’s suspension from the Arab League and for implementing sanctions over its failure to end government crackdown on protests. It is a staggering majority-decision coming from countries like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Algeria, which possess dazzling records on democracy and human rights.

In a move perceived as a withdrawal from the process of the search for political settlement for the Syrian crisis, the Qatar and Saudi-Arabia-led Arab League made the decision, on March 2013, to offer the Syrian National Council (SNC), Syria’s place in the Arab League. Algeria and Iraq voted against the motion, arguing that such a decision contradicts the Arab League Charter on the inadmissibility of any actions aimed at regime change in the Arab states.

The summit’s final document says that, “each member state of the Arab League has the right to supply defensive means as it so wishes--including military defense--to support the resistance of the Syrian people and the Free Syrian Army (the armed wing of the Syrian opposition).” With such a statement, one only wonders if the Arab League has not become a sycophant for the Western powers (France, Britain, and the United States) and a legitimizing tool for their agendas in the region.

On 1 September 2013, the Arab League urged international action against the Syrian government to deter what it called the “ugly crime” of using chemical weapons. It was a major step toward supporting Western military strikes but short of the explicit endorsement that the United States and some Gulf allies had hoped for. Echoing its position in the Libyan crisis, Algeria, alongside Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Tunisia expressed its opposition to a foreign military intervention in Syria outside of the “international law”, a euphemism for the rule of the powerful. Fortunately, this time, Russia and China are not on the side of the Western powers.

It is inconceivable to deem such a stance as anti-imperialist or reconcile it with an outright collusion in the French intervention in Mali. Such behaviour is utterly inconsistent with a coherent anti-imperialist line and it can hardly be qualified as resistance to Western hegemony. Algeria has adopted a very low-profile diplomacy in the Libyan conflict, and  toward the Arab League and Turkey’s reactions to the Syrian crisis; a position that no longer captures its heavy-weight and daring diplomacy of the 1960s and 70s, and which exemplifies the erosion of any semblance of an anti-imperialist line, once attached to the FLN regime. However, it is not contradictory with the Algerian regime’s narrow survival policy, even if it means going by the dictates and decisions of the powerful and maneuvering within this framework of Western and US domination over the world.

An anti-imperialist line should be inscribed in a well-thought out vision that not only attempts to contest this domination, but also strongly opposes imperialist interventions and meddling in other states’ affairs. This stance should also challenge the profoundly unjust political and economic order, and fully support the emancipation struggles for people all over the world. Surely, there will be some contradictions along the way, but these need to be addressed on a solid foundation, with the principal aim of bringing an end to imperialist domination.

If Algeria really wanted to play an active role in the momentous changes happening in the region (including firmly opposing the Gulf monarchies’ and Turkey's intentions in Syria) and to be a relevant actor in managing the multiple crises in its immediate neighbourhood, it needed to change itself first. 

Algeria Is Submissive to Imperialism

Long gone are the days when the capital Algiers was seen as the Mecca of revolutionaries all over the world from Vietnam to Southern Africa, who desired to bring down the imperialist and colonial order. Times are bygone when Algeria was audacious and undeterred in its foreign policy, when: a) it supported anti-colonialist struggles all over the world, b) the question of Palestine and Western Sahara were at the top of its foreign policy priorities, c) it significantly supported (in financial and military terms) the Palestinian cause in the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973, d) it broke its diplomatic relations with the US in 1967, e) it played a leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement and hosted its 1973 summit in Algiers, which strongly denounced the intolerable logic of structural inequality in the global system, benefiting already-privileged countries at the expense of the proletariat nations. Long gone is the era when Algeria engaged in a delinking experience to break away from imperialist domination. It sadly renounced the pursuit of an autonomous national development that involved a certain degree of economic and political confrontation with imperialism. The infitah (economic liberalization) of the last three decades ended up assigning the country to a status of a dependent of imperialism and an exporter of energy within the neo-colonial framework of the international division of labor. [5]

Alas, recovering national sovereignty from French colonialists was not accompanied with the recuperation of the popular sovereignty, through building a strong civil society and actively involving the masses in public life in a democratic way. These are absolutely necessary conditions in sustaining the resistance to Western domination. The new pathology of power (to borrow Eqbal Ahmad’s words) observed in the authoritarian and coercive practices of the nationalist bourgeoisie, the demobilization, and de-politicization of the rural and urban masses, was at the heart of the subsequent dismantling of the national development project and replacing it with an anti-national one. In his chapter on “the pitfalls of nationalist consciousness” in the Wretched of the Earth, Fanon foresaw this turn of events. He strongly argued that unless national consciousness at its moment of success was somehow changed into a political and social consciousness, the future would not hold liberation but an extension of imperialism with its divisions and hierarchies.

Algeria nowadays, and especially after 9/11, closely cooperates with NATO, an organization that not only supported the French military against the Algerian people in the war of liberation (1954-1962), but recently invaded Afghanistan and intervened in Libya. The regime also collaborates with the American and British armies that invaded Iraq and equally with the French army that intervened recently in the Ivory Coast to impose a presidential candidates, and in Mali to supposedly fight Islamist fundamentalists. The secretive and authoritarian regime dubbed by Algerias as “le Pouvoir”, participates alongside the CIA, FBI, MI6, and DGSE in the global war against terror, which constitutes another alibi for imperialist interventions. In fact, Algeria is complicit in the human right abuses associated with the illegal CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition program, as it permitted use of its airspace and airports for these operations.[6] Additionally, it plays the role of a guardian to fortress European borders against poor African immigrants who are escaping the misery European powers caused in the first place. Algeria also joined the Union for the Mediterranean alongside a colonialist state like Israel, and now has a “moderate” position towards the Palestinian question. Likewise, with the Western Sahara situation, Algeria is now backing the outrageous principle of a solution accepted by both parties. Since when do the dominated need to wait for the dominant to accept the terms of their liberation? There was also a rapprochement with the world organization of the Francophonie, one of the principal instruments of French political domination in the world. This bleak picture of a reactionary and shameful foreign policy is truly disgraceful to the memory of the historical revolutionary FLN.

Having said that, Algeria has not yet become a simple valet to imperialism like the petro-monarchies of the Gulf, the Egypt of Hosni Mubarak, or the Jordanian monarchy, but it renounced the logic of resistance. It embraced another logic, that of abdication, submission, and collusion, which will only get worse. The Algerian regime does not contest the profoundly unjust international order and seeks instead to adapt to it. It is far from the conscious resistance of certain Latin American countries like Chavez’s Venezuela and Morales’ Bolivia. 

Anti-Imperialism and the Democratic Struggle

The Comprador Bourgeoisie

The above analysis suggests that an anti-national, sterile, and unproductive bourgeoisie is getting the upper-hand in running state affairs in directing its economic choices, albeit with some resistance from a quasi-nonexistent national bourgeoisie (amendment of the unashamedly anti-national hydrocarbon Khelil law in 2006 after Hugo Chavez lobbied against it). It is enough to look at the unproductive nature of the Algerian economy, with the preponderance of import-import trade activity and deindustrialization to realize that this bourgeoisie has a character that is essentially rentier, commercial and speculative. It is also only interested in exporting its own profits abroad, hoarding them in tax havens or investing them in non-productive sectors/assets such as restaurants, hotels, and properties. (On how this bourgeoisie is striving to sell off the economy in the most anti-national manner, please see Hocine Belalloufi’s book:  Democracy in Algeria: Reform or Revolution). [7]

This comprador bourgeoisie does not produce, but rather, consumes what it imports and seriously undermines vital public services such as health and education, which are deteriorating year after year. The Mafiosi-like oligarchy is neoliberal by religion and has no regard for the future of the country and its population. It is parasitic and rapacious as it preys on the economy and maintains an endemic corruption (responsible for a series of recent major corruption scandals that touched important sectors of the economy, including the most strategic of them all: the energy sector). It is entirely subordinated to the international system of economic, political, and military domination, and therefore, represents the true agent of imperialism and its useful accessory.

No to Imperialist Meddling, No to the Status Quo

This largely comprador regime is the biggest threat to the sovereignty of the nation and must surely be overthrown. However, it is necessary to make sure that this fall should occur within a national context and will not lead to the instauration of another regime submissive to imperialism. This is an extremely challenging task for the democratic opposition and necessitates an adequate understanding of imperialism and its workings to avoid becoming an instrument of destabilization for the country in favor of imperialism. However, an absolute vigilance toward imperialist designs must not lead to accepting or defending the status quo and the fake stability, namely supporting a regime that is denying its own people the right of self-determination. This caution must not lead to renouncing the struggle for democracy and the hegemony of the oppressed masses.

A narrow and simplistic anti-imperialist stance that is based on a Manichean view of the world should not blind us, i.e., an imperialist north and an anti-imperialist global south. This view ignores the realities on the ground where  corrupt and authoritarian regimes are suffocating the people, most of which are clients of the Western powers. It also dilutes with its distasteful lack of nuance the importance of building strong democratic states and comforts certain parasitic comprador classes that posture as super-patriots. Unfortunately, this view is reinforced with what has been happening to the inspiring “Arab Spring”, especially after its hijacking through the Western intervention in Libya and the proxy war in Syria.

It is therefore paramount to realize that authoritarianism and corruption are the twins of any neocolonial enterprise and are objective allies of imperialism (reactionary political Islam being another example). Imperial centers can easily manage non-democratic regimes (like those of Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, Bashar Al Assad, and Bouteflika). As long as these regimes are vassals to the imperial powers, they can repress and oppress their people at will, and when they are no longer useful, they are abandoned and replaced (Saddam, Mubarak, Ben Ali, Gaddafi, Ali Saleh, and probably Al Assad). This refusal of democracy is hence very perilous for the sovereignty of the nation and its territorial integrity.

Moreover, these “patriotic” dictatorships serve the imperial designs of redrawing a greater Middle East within a strategy of weakening nation-states [8]. Along with Western military supremacy and massive propaganda, our dictators are key elements in this plot. They repress their own people, participate in proxy wars for the empire (Iraq against Iran), and can be used at the end as a justification for a direct intervention/occupation. The Iraqi scenario is not something of the past; it has been replicated rather efficiently in Libya and is currently underway in Syria, albeit taking a different approach. It can potentially be extended to other countries including Algeria to fully eradicate any unwillingness to be dominated. It does not happen only to others, so how can we avoid re-colonization, the direct management of our energy resources, the control of our territory, as well as the subordination of the country to interests that are not ours?

There is no better quote to respond to this question, to emphasize the extreme danger of dictatorial systems to national security and to underscore the necessity of a national cohesion based on citizenship and freedom than what the late Abdelhamid Mehri, an intellectual of the Algerian revolution, had to say about Algeria in the aftermath of the historic events in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011: “If you do not want to be changed by the others, you have to change yourself. Democracy is not only an ethical necessity; it is equally a national security imperative. Therefore, dictatorship and authoritarianism are real existential threats and objective allies to imperialism.” Fifty years after its independence, Algeria has to reconnect with its past revolutionary ideals through the instigation of a democratic revolution to end tyranny and injustice, as well as dismantling the comprador state and installing an audacious anti-imperialist regime that will truly liberate the people and also strive to build an equitable multi-polar world order. This can be done through transcending national constraints and establishing strong alliances worldwide, in particular south-south in order to rise, emerge, and achieve freedom from imperialist domination.


[1] The African Union, Algeria and Mali: The West’s War Against African Development Continues by Dan Glazebrook, Counterpunch, Weekend Edition February 15-17, 2013. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/02/15/the-wests-war-against-african-development-continues/

[2] Diplomatic standoff after Gaddafi's family make a break for the border by Julian Borger, Martin Chulov and Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, 30 August 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/aug/30/muammar-gaddafi-family-armoured-limousines

[3] Algeria, Mali: another front in the “Global War on Terror”? by Hamza Hamouchene, openDemocracy, 27 January 2013. http://www.opendemocracy.net/hamza-hamouchene/algeria-mali-another-front-in-%E2%80%9Cglobal-war-on-terror%E2%80%9D

[4] Mali : l'aide logistique et discrète des Algériens by Jean Guisnel, Le Point, 26 April 2013 http://www.lepoint.fr/editos-du-point/jean-guisnel/mali-l-aide-logistique-et-discrete-des-algeriens-26-04-2013-1660562_53.php

[5]  Algeria, an Immense Bazaar: The Politics and Economic Consequences of Infitah by Hamza Hamouchene, Jadaliyya 30 January 2013. http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/9851/algeria-an-immense-bazaar_the-politics-and-economi

[6] Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition,  Open Society Justice Initiative, February 2013. http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/globalizing-torture-20120205.pdf

[7] Democracy in Algeria : Reform or Revolution by Hocine Bellaloufi, APIC and Lazhari Labter editions, Algiers 2012.

[8] Les dictatures de l’insécurité nationale by Ahmed Selmane, La Nation, 20 March 2013. http://www.lanation.info/Les-dictatures-de-l-insecurite-nationale_a2052.html

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