Home In the News The Emergence of ISIS Has Changed Algeria’s Geopolitical Role

The Emergence of ISIS Has Changed Algeria’s Geopolitical Role


American Military University faculty member, Jacques Roussellier, recently wrote an article for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace about how the emergence of ISIS has allowed Algeria to reposition itself as an influential regional player. Professor Roussellier is a full-time faculty member at AMU, teaching international relations.

ISIS, a Game Changer for Algeria

By Jacques Roussellier

The emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) as a military force and existential threat to Iraq has once more turned the region into a global strategic playground for extremists. This demands a coordinated response at the regional and global levels. And in North Africa, the inspiration and vigor that the movement has generated among radical jihadis is leading to the geopolitical re-positioning of roles for Algeria and Morocco. This repositioning is allowing Algeria to regain the regional influence it lost following its failure to play an effective role in the conflict in Mali over the past two years.

The proportionally higher number of foreign fighters from North Africa, mainly from Tunisia and Morocco,1 joining jihadi groups in Syria and ISIS in Iraq, presents a range of problems for the region. Algeria is the first country besides Syria to witness the gruesome beheading of a Western hostage; late last month the ISIS-affiliated Jund al-Khilafa fi Ard al-Jazair (The Caliphate’s Soldiers in the Land of Algeria), also an al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) splinter group, killed French tourist Hervé Gourdel. Despite AQIM’s initial rejection of the ISIS Caliphate, some of their affiliates in Tunisia and Libya said that they either considered or intended to switch allegiance to ISIS.

In 2012, in response to broader regional threats, Washington laid the foundations for a differentiated approach to Morocco and Algeria with its Strategic Dialogue initiative with Rabat and Algiers. The launch of the parallel dialogues was an indication of the U.S. concern for the stability of the Maghreb in light of deteriorating circumstances in Libya and Mali. The dialogue with Morocco focuses primarily on political reform and economic development, while with Algeria the focus is on security concerns. The United States has put a premium on Algeria’s counterterrorism efforts and role as a regional stabilizer, in particular in Mali and Niger. By contrast, democratic and governance reforms remained at the top of the U.S.-Moroccan diplomatic agenda.

But since the emergence of ISIS as a regional threat, the United States has pushed for Morocco to join the military coalition against ISIS, while Algeria stayed out. Algeria’s absence, perhaps to focus on its tasks in neighboring trouble spots, signals a realignment of regional forces: Morocco joins the anti-ISIS coalition and Algeria focuses its diplomacy efforts on Libya and Mali. Algeria’s failure to live up to international expectations to use its significant security and intelligence assets in the Sahel to crush the rebellion in Mali offered Morocco a rare opportunity. Morocco’s ability to seize this opportunity, albeit to a limited effect, allowed it to gain some influence in the Sahel and to use its new leverage to seek a solution to the Western Sahara conflict. Now, however, the tables are turning again. Rabat is on the offensive given its role in the anti-ISIS coalition and the high number of Moroccan fighters in the ranks of ISIS—meanwhile Algeria is regaining influence in the Sahel. …

Jacques RoussellierTo read professor Roussellier’s article in entirety, please visit the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace website.



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