Why is Algeria important for Turkey?

Instability in the Middle East has encouraged Turkey to strengthen relations with Algeria.

Turkey is one of Algeria's leading trade partners [AFP/Getty Images]

Although he was hardly seen during the election campaign season in Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika recently won another presidential term, extending his 15 years in power. Despite frail health of the president, Algeria has managed to retain relative stability in an increasingly unstable neighbourhood.

It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that Turkey is interested in closer relations. Historical ties and recent economic cooperation have made Algeria an important partner for Turkey, whose help can be used to re-establish stronger ties with Africa.

In 2013, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accompanied by 200 business people, paid an official visit to Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to bolster economic as well as political collaboration. During his visit, Erdogan voiced his desire to waive entry visa requirements between Algeria and Turkey. Erdogan also addressed lawmakers in the Algerian parliament.

Erdogan’s visit was an important indication of Turkey’s intention to diversify its alliances. The shifting balance of power in the Arab world following recent developments in Arab countries undergoing transition forced Turkish policy makers to seek new allies in the region. Algeria could well serve as a close and stable ally in a rather unstable region.

Growing economic ties

Algeria is one of the leading trading partners of Turkey in Africa. It ranks 32nd in Turkey’s list of trading partners in terms of volume. On the other hand, Turkey is one of Algeria’s top ten external trading partners. Trade between the two countries reached almost $5bn, excluding the so-called suitcase trading.

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Last year’s statistics show that Turkish exports to Algeria are on the rise whereas imports from Algeria to Turkey are waning. Considering this advantage carefully, Turkish businessmen are try to increase the share of Turkish investments in the country. In 2013, a Turkish steel company, Tosyali, launched an iron and steel plant in the city of Vehran, with an investment of $750m, the biggest of its kind in the country.

Due to Algeria’s relative political stability, Turkish companies have found Algerian markets particularly attractive; Turkish businesses hold contracts and projects in Algeria worth more than $6bn. Turkish companies engage in a wide range of projects, including building social houses, hospitals, dams, highways, tunnels and ports. The number of investment projects is increasing, under the encouragement of both governments.

The Algerian government’s plans for attracting more FDI can open up new opportunities for Turkish businesses interested in investing in the country. There are quite a number of state-owned companies which will be offered for privatisation. The Algerian government is also planning to invest heavily in infrastructure, with one report claiming that Algiers has planned $150bn in new projects.

There is another factor that makes Algeria important for Turkey: its natural resources. Algeria is the ninth biggest producer of natural gas in the world and has the tentth biggest proven reserves. It ranks 16th in the world in terms of proven oil reserves. It is the third biggest natural gas supplier for Turkey, after Russia and Iran (Russia: 58 percent, Iran: 18 percent, Algeria nine percent). Turkey clearly plans to ensure that the flow of natural gas from Algeria does not stop; in fact, Ankara extended its natural gas agreement with Algiers for an extra 10 years in 2013.

Political cooperation and democratisation

Along with its potential for investment, Algeria could also play a crucial role in Turkey’s foreign policy towards the region. The civil war in Syria, the deteriorating relations with Egypt, the uncertainty in Libya and the differences with some Gulf states puts Turkey’s foreign policy in the Arab World in a fragile position. Because of this ambiguous situation, Ankara is looking to establish more stable alliances that would withstand the ongoing regional turbulence. Algeria’s stability and welcoming attitude could pave the way for a long-term strategic partnership on the diplomatic front.

Ankara’s charm offensive towards Algiers has an easy stepping stone: the common Ottoman past. During Ottoman rule between 1514 and 1830, Algerians were given privileges and autonomy such that the country has become one of the most important political and economic actors in the region. Algerians believe that the Ottoman era helped them significantly in later establishing the modern Algerian state.

Since the independence from France in 1962, Algerians have been rediscovering their Ottoman past. Recently, Turkey’s foreign policy efforts in the Middle East and North Africa region, its investments in Algeria and its soft power instruments such as Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency projects and TV series have positively impacted on Algerians’ perception of Turkey. Turkey is now one of the most popular tourist destinations for Algerians, with the number of Algerian tourists doubling by almost 50 percent from 2011 to 2013.  

By engaging more with Turkey, Algeria can benefit from its recent experience with economic and political reform. Any careful Turkish visitor to Algeria will notice that the country looks very much like Turkey in late 1980s and early 1990s when PM (and later President) Turgut Ozal initiated an opening of the Turkish economy. This process helped Ankara integrate itself into the global economic market by successfully modernising its financial structure. Ozal’s steps also helped pave way for democratisation of the political scene. The Turkish model is indeed something that can be of use to the Algerian policy makers.

Sharing its experience with democratisation in a Muslim context can help Turkey solidify further its relations with Algeria and establish a trustworthy partnership in an ever changing and unstable region.

Ismail Numan Telci is a researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Sakarya University. He is also a PhD candidate at the Department of International Relations in Sakarya. He has published number of articles and book chapters on Egypt as well as on foreign policy of Turkey. He serves as the co-editor of Middle East Yearbook and Turkish Journal of Middle Eastern Studies.

Follow him on Twitter: @numanis