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Algeria and Libya, Italy’s exposed nerves

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President Sergio Mattarella’s visit to Algeria touched raw nerves in North Africa and the Middle East. From Morocco to Israel, from Libya to the Sahara, from the Sahel to migration, including the never- ending competition with France with the homage to Enrico Mattei, the founder of ENI – a strategic pillar of energy and foreign policy – an uncomfortable actor in the 50s and 60s of oil and gas, little loved by the powers and the Seven Sisters of black gold, and above all sponsor of Algerian independence from Paris.

Following the fall of Gaddafi in 2011, Algeria is our major ally on the southern shore, Italy’s leading trade partner in Africa and the Middle East. Of course, it cannot replace the Libyan ray, but it is undoubtedly the country with which we have the greatest affinity, as well as being the second largest gas supplier after Russia. It is not an easy ally: Algeria is on a collision course with Morocco but also with Macron’s
France, as Algerian President Tabboune himself declared.

Algiers remains however an important player also for Libya, where in Tripolitania there is Erdogan’s Turkey and on the other side General Khalifa Haftar – supported by Russia, Emirates, Egypt and France who the other day sent his son Saddam to Israel with the intention of negotiating, in case he is elected president, Libya’s accession to the Abrahamic Pact.

In short, in the Libyan electoral campaign – where on December 24 should vote for the presidential and legislative (as announced by the head of parliament in Tobruk, Aguila Saleh) – Israel also enters that military assistance to the Cyrenaica of Haftar has already provided in anti-Turkish (the gas agreements of Israel, Cyprus and Greece for the EastMed pipeline are opposed to those between Turkey and
Tripoli).

But the Abrahamic pact sought by Trump to establish official diplomatic relations between Israel, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan is perhaps bringing more destabilization than governability to Africa. It is enough to see the enigmatic Sudanese coup d’état, the effects on the civil war in Ethiopia and the very
heavy tensions between Algeria and Morocco over the issue of Western Sahara where the Saharawi people are still waiting in vain for a referendum on independence.

It was Trump himself in December 2020 who had recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, disputed between Rabat and the Polisario Front, in exchange for normalizing Rabat’s relations with Israel. This is what it means to touch the raw nerves of the Sahara and the Sahel where the European Union acts with its military contingents in Niger in Mali against jihadist forces. Surprises may await us, and not all of them pleasant.

And now these great manoeuvres – from which Lebanon, on the verge of collapse and in the sights of Saudi Arabia, is not excluded – could also make their effects felt in Libya which, in view of the elections, is struggling with the ghosts of Gheddafi and the still uncertain (and contested) presidential candidacy of the rais’ son, Saif Islam.

This is the context in which the Presidential Council announced the suspension for two weeks of Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush, who is disliked by the Muslim Brotherhood, after she told the BBC that she was willing to consider the extradition to the United States of former Khadafi intelligence chief Abu-Aqila Mohammed Massoud, accused of organizing the attack against the Pan Am Boeing 747 that exploded in the Scottish skies over Lockerbie in December 1988, killing over 270 people. The Libyans closed the case by compensating the families. Yet the interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dabaibah has confirmed that Mangoush will be at the Paris conference on November 12 where Macron wants to relaunch the Libyan role of France, which in 2011 wanted the fall of Gaddafi dragging behind the U.S., Britain and NATO, including Italy, then precipitated in the crisis of migrants and ambiguous relationships, reconfirmed by the Draghi government, with the criminal Libyan coast guard.

It is no coincidence that the Algerian president, at the same time as Mattarella’s visit, attacked Macron in an interview with the German weekly Der Spiegel. “I certainly won’t be the one to take the first step to normalize relations with France,” Abdelmajid Tabboune said after Macron claimed that “before the arrival of France, Algeria had no national identity.” And he confirmed the retaliation: French military planes bound for Niger and Mali will not be allowed to fly over Algerian skies, bringing flight times from four to nine hours.

No one has failed to notice that the central moment of Mattarella’s visit to Algiers was the inauguration of the gardens and the bust dedicated to Enrico Mattei, who was killed in a suspected plane crash in Bascapé in 1962. Mattei supported and financed the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) in its anti-
French struggle.

So we had to go to Algiers to talk about the former partisan who founded Eni, despite the fact that the Americans and the British after the war had insisted on the liquidation of Agip and our energy assets. This is why the past is close to today’s events, this is why Mattei is still so uncomfortable. Bare nerves.

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