18/07/2016

Algeria and the US

After Houari Boumédiène (1932-1978) presidency had engaged Algeria on the way of socialism, the country renewed his relationship with the US only during Chadli Bendjedid (1929-2012) presidency, who visited the White House in 1985. Bouteflika went after him in 2001 and has become since a strong supporter to the US in their international War against terrorism. After its "Black Decade" (1991-2001), Algeria has found in the US a strategic partner on security and intelligence matters. Besides, the Algerian military has received trainings there. In 2012, the two countries started a Bilateral Strategic Dialogue with the aim of going further in their cooperation on education and civil society. If the American embassy in Algeria is also expanding, a more global cooperation is not established yet. Algeria remains careful.

About Salsabil Chellali

Salsabil Chellali is a French-Algerian journalist. Now based in Morocco, she previously worked in France, Algeria and Tunisia. She covered politics during the last elections in Algeria and Tunisia. Also interested in social and cultural issues, she keeps an eye on what’s changing in Africa and Middle East.

Running as the Republican candidate for the US presidency, Donald Trump is raising concern all over the world, and America’s allies are taking a close look at him. Algeria’s partnership with the US has been strengthened in the last couple of years. So would Trump’s presidency constitute a threat to these relationships?

By using 1980 Reagan’s slogan campaign Make America great again, Trump won the hearts of many voters whom he convinced with his unorthodox methods to do politics. On the other hand, the billionaire may horrify the Algerian people by his racist and close-minded ideas, his unrealistic political program and utopian foreign policy. If some regions of the world, especially the Middle East, are worried about his political agenda, his possible move into the White House and his growing popularity have not yet been questioned in Algeria.

The reasons for that are manifold. Algeria can be seen as an ostracized country, which in the outside world doesn’t exist. Not internationally-minded, it is the most isolated country of the Maghreb since decades. So why would the general public be interested in what is happening on the other side of the Atlantic? These days, Algerians are more preoccupied by the current affairs of their country, where oil prices have cut down the national economy and where the succession to president Abdelaziz Bouteflika is being prepared under cover from the citizens. Lately, the regime, afraid of a social collapse, has been taken captive by its old demons – banning free speech and putting journalists in jail.

The two faces of Donald Trump

It is clear that Algerians would prefer Clinton over Trump, but in both cases, America will remain as it is: a country with a remote ideology, still being the face of imperialism. Even the Algerian press seems to be covering the presidential race with indifference. The facts are scarcely highlighted or analysed and the Algerian journalists do not engage in their favourite hobby – writing tribunes and opinion pieces. Obviously, they get more passionate when it concerns the French politics and next 2017 presidential election.

Yet, his inflammatory statements about Muslims such as calling for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US, and his refusal to accept refugees shocked the Algerians as well. Maybe some of his positions would have not been so appealing coming from a politician in Algeria, but such comments when they are stated by a presidential candidate of the so called “greatest democracy in the world” are and will always be contested.

For Algerians, Trump refers to diverse and quite conflicting figures. First, he is for many the embodiment of the “uninhibited Americanism”, the caricature of the hated self-absorbed American guy. Yet, at the same time, Trump could have been Algerian in regard to his populist, protectionist and isolationist policies. He can be seen as the reflection of our own political figures and here again, that’s not good for the world.

Even though he may share similar ideas with our politicians regarding his excessive and ill-advised nationalism, that wouldn’t imply a good understanding between them, mostly because Trump would very quickly hurt their feelings with his lack of tact and diplomacy – while the Algerians are known to be very proud and touchy, which makes them also a difficult partner.

Trump & Algerien
 

Over the last years, Algeria and the US have built a solid relationship, strengthening their military and economic cooperation through the Global Counterterrorism Forum and the bilateral Trade & Investment Framework Agreement. If their mutual interests had converged after 11/9 more explicitly during the Bush presidency, Obama’s arrival at the White House marked a step forward in their cooperation.

The US have remained silent about Bouteflika’s well-known health issues and the political system. In 2014, John Kerry visited Algeria during the presidential campaign. Subject of criticism from politicians and journalists, his visit was considered as an implicit support to the status quo. Apparently, Algeria is enjoying its position as the stabilizer country in North Africa. While the country agrees for some concessions on economics and intelligence to the United States, President Bouteflika, who ran for a fourth presidential term without a real presidential campaign, has never been castigated by the US.

Are Algerians worried about Trump who may have a chance to be the next US president? No, but they should. His election may break down the relationship between the two countries and may lead to classify Algeria as a dangerous Muslim country. But worse, if Trump decided to maintain the partnership between the US and Algeria, what would that look like? It would probably be risky to have a partnership turned only towards counterterrorism which leaves aside what matters such as education, culture, tolerance and democracy. Obsessed by national security, Trump would support any regime, especially an autocrat one, as long as it matches his ideas and protects US national interests.