Algeria: The Old Guard Says No

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This will be the last regular update for Algeria. The organized violence there has declined to the point where it no longer qualifies for regular updates. Instead, we will cover any major outbreaks of violence in our updates of neighboring countries or in a Potential Hotspot piece. Past updates for all wars remain available.

Since StrategyPage began in 1999 we’ve retired more wars than we’ve added. As we have noted frequently, the trend since the 1990s has been fewer wars. Those we have retired since 1999 include Haiti (2009), Nepal (2010), Sri Lanka (2010), Central Asia (2012), Ivory Coast (2012), Indonesia (2013), Chad (2013), Uganda (2013), Kurds (2013), Rwanda (2013), Balkans (2013), Ethiopia (2013), Congo Brazzaville (2013), Colombia (2017), Mexico (2017), Myanmar (2020), Algeria (2020), Sudan (2020) and Thailand (2020). Some of these former updates included nearby conflicts that also ended, like Micronesia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

December 30, 2020: Algeria is stuck in the past, something the current generation wants to change. Large-scale demonstrations, led by younger Algerians, ousted the FLN party from power in 2019. FLN claimed to represent the rebels that forced France to give up Algeria. The current generation of demonstrators are demanding fundamental changes to deal with all the problems FLN caused during half a century of misrule. Algerians have been tolerating the FLN and the corrupt and ruthless ruling class it represented, since the 1960s. That was when Algeria became independent again, ending 132 years of colonial rule. What brought the French conquerors in was the need to shut down for good the centuries of raids by Barbary Pirates and Saracen Corsairs operating from Algerian ports. The pirates did not return when the French left but the pre-colonial tradition of corrupt and inept rule by autocratic leaders did. In 1962 Algeria chose democracy, one of many bits of French culture the Algerians adopted, to one degree or another, during the colonial period. Democracy and the many personal freedoms Westerners take for granted did not thrive in independent Algeria and one response to the inept post-colonial government was a call for an Islamic religious dictatorship controlled by clerics. This led to a brutal and bloody civil war in the 1990s that made quite an impression on most Algerians and eliminated, for a few generations, any potential popular support for another “Islamic solution.” Yet the FLN remained conservative and leftist in its foreign policy. The communist Soviet Union was considered a friend and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was seen as an unfortunate event. The FLN still supports the Palestinians and their goal of destroying Israel. Algeria officially condemns Arab nations, including neighbor Morocco, that have established diplomatic and economic relations with Israel and reduced support for the corrupt and hapless Palestinians. The FLN still refuses to recognize Moroccan rule over the Western Sahara. These policies are one reason the demonstrators are still coming out to demand change. If Morocco, Egypt and the AUE can recognize the reality of Israel and the threat of Iran, why not Algeria.

Students of Algerian history note that autocratic and oppressive government was common in what is now Algeria for thousands of years and played a role in giving the French an excuse to take over in the 19th century Despite all the talk about a “new beginning” in the 1960s the post-colonial Algerian leaders promptly went old school and there it remained until February 2019 when a new generation of Algerians forced the FLN out. Now the demonstrators are trying to prevent FLN from creeping back into power. The main reason Europe pays attention to all this is because the return to the old school governing methods also meant the return of North African based criminal groups that found new ways to prey on Europe. Well, at least the pirate raids were gone. And so it came to pass the Algeria found it could resume extorting cash and other favors from European states. That sort of thing has not been seen since the 19th century and before that flourished for nearly a thousand years. Ancient vices are difficult to shed. But now Europeans are less willing to pay off the Algerians and North Africans in general.

Younger Algerians want the FLN era bureaucrats gone, along with their outmoded and harmful loyalties and prejudices. The old guard is digging in, sensing that it has a good chance of surviving the youthful exuberance of the protestors. Change will eventually come but the cost is high in this part of the world.

December 27, 2020: In Jijel Province (365 kilometers east of the capital) army investigators seized $100,000 that was part of $10 million ransom paid in Mali to get four hostages released. The money was held by known Islamic terrorist supporters. When Algerian officials found out about the large ransom they warned that it would mean more terrorist activity in Algeria and that happened. Jijel province has long been the scene of Islamic terrorist activity. In the last few years, a lot of that activity consisted of Islamic terrorists surrendering and taking advantage of the amnesty program, which includes their families. The amnesty terms require providing information about Islamic terrorist activity. That has led to more arrests and a larger list of known Islamic terrorists and supporters. There are still some Islamic terrorist supporters active in Boumerdes, Bouira, Tizi Ouzou and Jijel provinces east of the capital as well as the far south where border areas with Mali, Niger and Libya meet. The southern border is heavily used by smugglers and a far smaller number of Islamic terrorists. Coastal Jijel province has inland areas that are forested and mountainous and full of places to hide. The province is near the Tunisian border, where there are still some active Islamic terrorists based near the Algerian border. Add more cash and you get more Islamic terrorist activity. Money buys weapons, explosives and cooperation from some local sympathizers or criminals.

December 22, 2020: In Morocco an Israeli delegation met with government officials to finalize the details of implementing normal diplomatic and trade relationships. This is the fourth Moslem nation to establish relations with Israel this year. Sudan did so in October, Bahrain in September and the UAE in August. Saudi Arabia is considering such a move and meanwhile agreed to open their air space to Israeli commercial aviation. Indonesia is believed to be discussing establishing ties and Turkey is discussing restoring close ties it had with Israel before an Islamic party gained control of the Turkish government in 2000. By 1980 Israel had made peace with Jordan and Egypt.

Israel and the UAE have had covert relationships for over a decade but making it formal is all about dealing with Iran and Turkey. These two nations aspire to “lead” the Moslems in the region, at the expense of Arab Moslems. This new Israeli alliance is, in part, because of the realization that Israelis are also Semites while the Turks are Turks and the Iranians are Indo-European. Such differences matter, especially in the Middle East where Arabs are beginning to see Israel as an important Semitic state that differs only in terms of religion (mostly Jewish), greater prosperity, nuclear weapons and the most powerful military in the region.

December 16, 2020: In the east (Jijel Province) police arrested a known Islamic terrorist. Morocco has long maintained good, but unofficial, relations.

December 10, 2020: The United States recognized Morocco as the owner of the Western Sahara. This is seen as a defeat for Algeria, which has, since the 1970s, backed Polisario, the Western Sahara rebels. A month ago, Polisario announced that it was once more at war with Morocco. This is a problem for Algeria because most remnants of Polisario live in Algeria. Morocco says there are no new attacks by Polisario in the south (Western Sahara). There are UN observers in Western Sahara, to monitor the situation and they report no new violence. There was an incident where the Moroccan border wall was fired on by some Polisario gunmen but the Moroccan troops fired back and the outnumbered Polisario men fled. That is not unusual down there where some armed Polisario men continue to operate as bandits, if they can get past the border wall.

Something is going on in those Algerian Polisario refugee camps. Back in August foreign aid groups operating in Algeria warned international aid donors to be wary of donating anything to the Tindouf refugee camps in southwestern Algeria (Tindouf Province). Local police had a growing problem with the many supporters of Islamic terrorism living in these refugee camps for people from Western Sahara. Algeria has long tried to avoid confronting the growing problem with Islamic terrorists and criminal activity in these camps. That is changing as is the Algerian attitude towards Polisario. This is partly the result of what happened in early 2018 when Algeria assured neighbor Morocco and the UN that it no longer had anything to do with Polisario, a group of Moroccan terrorists that Algeria helped create decades ago. Then an Algerian Air Force transport crashed on takeoff in April 2018 and among the 257 dead were 26 Polisario members. The transport was taking off from a base near the Algerian capital carrying mainly military personnel.

This was more than an embarrassment, it confirmed the accusations that Algeria could not be trusted when it came to Polisario, and perhaps other matters as well. For example, Algeria is one of the few Sunni majority Arab countries that supports the Syrian Assad government. Algeria is a major customer for Russian weapons and admirer of current Russian politics, as in the creation of a “president for life” in what is supposed to be a democracy. That was very similar to what Algeria had from the 1960s to 2019. Back (before 1991) when Russia was the Soviet Union the Russians backed Algerian efforts to support and encourage Polisario and thereby weaken neighbor Morocco. That was because Morocco was, and still is, a centuries old monarchy and a more efficient government than the democratic dictatorship in Algeria. Morocco has accused pre-2019 Algerian leaders of being lying hypocrites and in 2018 the UN and many other nearby nations were agreeing with that. This was one of the many reasons the FLN lost power in 2019.

Polisario has always caused problems with neighboring Morocco and the problem got worse in 2013. Algeria and Morocco recalled ambassadors and there was talk of escalation. This made cooperation in counter-terrorism efforts (or anything else) with Morocco impossible. Meanwhile Polisario provided Islamic terrorists safe haven in Polisario refugee camps in Algeria (90,000 refugees) and Mauritania (24,000). This is all connected with the declining prospects of Polisario, which has been in bad shape since 1991. Back then, Morocco finally won its war with Polisario Front rebels, who were seeking independence for the region south of Morocco Western Sahara.

Polisario remains powerful in Mauritania, where the rebel group has official recognition and maintains several refugee camps. In the beginning (the 1970s) Polisario was so well-subsidized by Algeria, back when Algeria was a radical state, that Polisario still had enough diehards out there to keep lots of people in Western Sahara unhappy. This situation has also provided recruits and sanctuary for al Qaeda and other Islamic radicals. Since the 1990s the UN has been trying to work out a final peace deal between Polisario and Morocco. During the 1990s Algeria said it cut off all support for Polisario. But that, and UN efforts to mediate the differences, have just not worked. The contested area is largely desert with a current population of less than 600,000. Logic would have it that the area is better off as a part of Morocco. But there are still thousands of locals who would rather fight for independence than submit to Morocco.

Some resistance is tribal and cultural, with the Moroccans seen as another bunch of alien invaders. The area was administered until 1976 as a Spanish colony. Most Western Saharans have made peace with Moroccan rule, especially since Morocco has been spending a billion dollars a year on infrastructure and other improvements and doing so for decades. Western Sahara is a much nicer place because of that. Polisario still has several thousand armed men based in the refugee camps and refuses to accept Moroccan rule of Western Sahara. Polisario has become an outlaw organization with no real purpose. If the fighting breaks out again Morocco could defeat Polisario, but Polisario still has a sanctuary in the Algerian refugee camps. There Polisario discourages any talk of peacefully returning to Western Sahara, even though a growing number of the camp residents are quietly doing that. The refugee camps have become police states run by Polisario and tolerated, until now, by Algeria. As more veteran Algerian Islamic terrorists are captured or surrender the information they provide keeps pointing back to Polisario as a major source of support for AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and its lucrative smuggling (drugs, people, weapons) from the south into Algeria. Polisario was hoping to avoid a major confrontation with Algerian security forces over this that is becoming more difficult to do.

December 7, 2020: Algeria joined other neighbors of Mali and condemned the payment of ransom for the October release of three Europeans and a prominent Mali politician held for ransom by Islamic terrorists. The Mali government does not deny that it released 207 imprisoned Islamic terrorists as part of the deal but the suspected payment of over $10 million is officially denied and allegedly came from European sources. Ransoms give Islamic terrorists in Africa even more incentive to kidnap foreigners. The ransoms paid to al Qaeda (over $100 million since 2003) have been a major factor of the continued existence of al Qaeda in general and especially AQIM in Africa. Most Western governments no longer pay ransoms because they have come to understand that this only makes their citizens, especially when overseas, more likely to be kidnapped. As an alternative the Islamic terrorists will sometimes try to get a swap (for a jailed Islamic terrorist) deal. Making a video of the hostage being killed, usually by beheading, is also a possibility but this has been shown to increase the efforts to track down and kill the kidnappers. These videos still get made, but not usually in the Sahel where the Islamic terrorists are more concerned about the money. AQIM in particular was always more mercenary, and quite good at it. But it is a lot more difficult to get multi-million dollar ransoms these days because it is not only illegal but frowned upon globally and to be done it must be very clandestine. More difficult but not impossible and more effort is made to conceal where the cash came from.

December 1, 2020: In the east (Jijel Province) an army patrol encountered three armed Islamic terrorists and in a brief gun battle killed them. A soldier also died. Three assault rifles and additional ammo were seized.

 

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