By Frédéric Bobin

The disavowal is scathing for an Algerian diplomacy which hoped to find a certain brightness after a long erasure.

Ramtane Lamamra, top flight diplomat in Algiers ” expected “ to head the mediation of the United Nations in Libya, difficult but prestigious position, saw its candidacy torpedoed by a coalition of regional actors who knew how to find a favorable ear near the administration of Donald Trump in Washington.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Morocco are cited among analysts of the Libyan case as the likely sources of obstruction which blocked the way for the Algerian candidate.

In Algiers, the daily newspaper Patriotic algeria deplored in its edition of April 6 the plot hatched by the Emiratis and their Egyptian and Moroccan allies to prevent the appointment of the Algerian diplomat Ramtane Lamamra 

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Although no announcement has been made, the Americans have ” vetoed At this appointment of Mr.

Lamamra as head of the United Nations Mission for Libya (Manul), learned The world from a diplomatic source at the UN headquarters in New York.

The post has been vacant since the resignation on March 2 of Lebanese academic Ghassan Salamé, who had thrown in the towel after discovering his impotence to stem the escalation of foreign military interference in the Libyan theater.

A suitable profile

The failure of Mr. Lamamra’s candidacy is all the more worrying as it hampers the resumption of UN mediation at a critical time when fighting is intensifying in Tripolitania (west).

With the Covid-19 epidemic emerging in Libya, calls for a ceasefire have failed to silence arms between forces loyal to Faïez Sarraj’s “national accord” (GAN) government – formally recognized by the international community – supported by the Turks and the assaulting units of dissident marshal Khalifa Haftar supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

An expert in the mysteries of international affairs, Mr. Lamamra – former Algerian Minister for Foreign Affairs (2013-2017) and former Ambassador of Ager to the United Nations (1993-1996) and to Washington (1996-1999) – presented a suitable profile to take charge of UN mediation on Libya.

In fact, fourteen of the fifteen members of the UN Security Council seemed to favor his appointment until the Americans ended up blocking.

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Algerian and, beyond that, African – he had been the African Union (AU) special envoy in the crisis in Liberia (2003) -, Mr. Lamamra embodied in his own way the diplomatic return of an African region to a Libyan case which, since the fall of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, had been mainly managed by the Europeans and the Persian Gulf States. ”

 Lamamra is a bit of a Rolls-Royce candidate from a country that prides itself on having a rich and credible diplomatic tradition Said Jalel Harchaoui, a specialist in Libya at the Clingendael Institute for International Relations (Netherlands).

A somewhat self-confident Algeria

However, the obstacles were quick to stand in its way. To begin with, the method used by the Secretary General of the United Nations, the Portuguese Antonio Guterres, to informally promote the candidacy of Mr. Lamamra, whom he knew well when he was ambassador to Lisbon in 2004-2005, has paradoxically served.

” Guterres presented Lamamra’s choice as a fait accompli and this irritated “Reports a UN source.

The somewhat self-confident attitude of Algeria, which saw in this putting into orbit the signal of its great return on the international scene, especially during the joint UN-AU meeting on March 12 and 13 in Oyo (Congo-Brazzaville) in which Mr. Lamamra participated, then added to the puzzlement.

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The Algerians did not play very well, adds the UN source. They thought they were a little more beautiful than they really were. They wanted to regain control of the Libyan dossier within the AU. It was not felt very well 

Some states in sub-Saharan Africa, notably Congo-Brazzaville whose president Denis Sassou-Nguesso heads the high-level committee for Libya, have been able to take umbrage.

 There was a certain naivety on the part of the Algerians who would like in these types of circumstances to be perceived as Africans by the sub-Saharans, notes Jalel Harchaoui. 

But in an African Union where, moreover, Morocco was reinstated in early 2017, Algerians are not considered to be Africans. “

Too much sympathy for Sarraj”

Another difficulty: the historical links between Algiers and Moscow. ” The American perception of a close Algiers-Moscow proximity certainly did not help Lamamra “Says Mr. Harchaoui. 

Finally, Morocco, Algeria’s enemy brother and unenthusiastic at the prospect that it will regain diplomatic influence through strategic mediation on Libya, has probably activated its influence networks in Washington, say many observers.

But the argument that seems to have weighed most heavily on Washington is the difficulty for Algeria to remain above the Libyan melee, that is to say to stand at an equal distance between the west (the GNA de Faïez Sarraj) and the east (Marshal Khalifa Haftar at Benghazi). ” 

Countries have made reservations not on the person of Lamamra but on his nationality, observes a French source. 

They believe that it would add to the complexity of the case to appoint a mediator representing a contiguous country of Libya.

Egyptians or Algerians, whatever they say, have a bias for the east or the west of Libya, even if it is true that Algiers is more balanced than Cairo. “

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Emiratis and Egyptians have apparently argued in Washington this argument of a partial Algeria in Libya. ” 

For Abu Dhabi and Cairo, an Algerian mediator would have had too much sympathy for the GNA in Sarraj from the start Said Claudia Gazzini, International Crisis Group (ICG) analyst for Libya.

While the bilateral relationship between the United Arab Emirates and Algeria is rather good, the approach to the Libyan case diverges.

Algiers defends indeed a ” inclusive national dialogue Which would include all parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

A bitter taste in Algiers

The method clearly does not correspond to the more exclusive approach of Abu Dhabi militarily supporting a Marshal Haftar who associates the Muslim Brotherhood with ” terrorism “. ” 

Emiratis don’t want Algerian style, adds M. Harchaoui. They believe that inclusiveness defended by Algiers will only delay the process they want to influence. “

These Emiratis are apparently in a hurry. They are engaged alongside Haftar in a military offensive on Tripoli which has been bogged down for a year.

And in this military test, the time factor plays against the attackers, because it allows the Turks to consolidate the defenses of the capital alongside the GNA of Sarraj.

Relaunch of a political dialogue “Inclusive” would therefore not be in keeping with the military emergency which now animates the camp of regional sponsors of Haftar.

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Anyway, the failure of Lamamra’s candidacy leaves a bitter taste in Algiers. Because it underscores the weakness of the international position of Algeria, which hoped to regain some of the luster of its flamboyant diplomacy of the 1970s.

A prestigious UN mediation would also have helped the regime to regain national public opinion after the great Protest vertigo of 2019 around the Hirak.

Faced with the offensive of states hostile to Lamamra’s candidacy, notes Mr. Harachoui, “Algeria found itself alone, no one came to help it at a time when it is particularly weakened ”.


Frédéric Bobin – Journalist. North-Africa correspondent for Le Monde.


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