A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, April 9, 2012

"Azawad": Will Algeria be Drawn Into the Mali Conflict?

The proclamation of an independent "Azawad" by Tuaregs who, with their Islamist allies (or rivals?) have taken northern Mali in the wake of the coup in Bamako (where the coup-makers are now standing down) has raised concerns throughout the Maghreb, but most intensely in Algeria. Seven Algerian diplomats were reportedly kidnapped in Gao, but now have reportedly been released. The kidnappers were supposedly from the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA in its English acronym, MUJAO in its French), an offshoot that broke from Al-Qa‘ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Though the diplomats are now said to be free, Algeria is talking tough and saying it cannot accept the breakup of Mali, and there is growing concern that the northern extension of Mali could become a new rogue state aiming at destabilizing the region. Algeria has already had to face raids by AQIM from across its southern border. There were reports even before the kidnappings that Algerian special forces might intervene in Mali (report is in French).

But unsurprisingly, it's kal at The Moor Next Door who has a lot more about the Algerian buildup and the possibility of Algerian intervention. His article, quoting various Algerian reports, seems to suggest that Algeria might intervene in cooperation with the MNLA, the Tuareg force that initially won the north and then found its Islamist rivals pushing it out of the cities. But Algeria is also pledged to the unity of Mali, and cooperation with the MNLA might seem to contradict that goal. Kal's analysis was written before the diplomats' release, so the likelihood of an immediate Algerian intervention may now be much reduced.

There is still considerable confusion about the roles of the Tuareg MNLA, the Islamist Ansar Eddine, and MUJWA in the occupation of the north but they clearly have fallen out among themselves. Al-Jazeera English did score an unusual first with a report on the Ansar Eddine from Timbuktu (and where did they get the tanks?):


Analitikis said...

Algeria has had a long history of involvement in the Mali conflict, primarily as a third party mediator with major stakes in the outcome. This unique position has allowed the Algerian Chiefs of Staff to maintain deep relationships with the ATT government on the one hand, and the Touareg rebels on the other (including all groups that have preceded the MNLA). Most importantly, Algeria has had a personal relationship with most of the rebel leadership including the controversial Iyad Ag Ghali and the late "trigger-happy" Ibrahim Ag Bahanga (who is said to have died in a car accident last August, weeks only after his return from Libya). Equally important is the fact that about 20% of Kidal's Touaregs hold dual Algerian-Malian nationalities (a residue of long years of migration and reverse migration followed by an abrupt expulsion from Algeria in the late 80s). So, to answer the question of whether the Algerians would be drawn into Mali one should first answer the following questions:1)Why would the MNLA who maintains strong working relationship with the Algerians declare Azawad independent despite equally strong Algerian opposition? 2)Could MUJWA's kidnapping have brought MNLA and Algeria even closer? 3) Where does Ag Ghali stand on the issues of the declaration of independence and the kidnapping of the diplomats (Algeria was reported to have grown tired of Ag Ghali and that the sentiment was shared by ADC leadership)? How did Algeria react to ATT's transformed stance on the Polisario Front following the latter's December Azawad incursion that left one dead (Jeune Afrique quoted ATT saying that he would no longer Polisario's behavior as if Mali was "the Wild West")?

xoussef said...

When there is a "Saharan people liberation" in Morocco, Algeria is all for, when it's another "Saharan people liberation" in Mali, Algeria is dead against. Just sayin'