The North African country, a non-permanent member of the Security Council for the 2024-2025 term, has abstained from voting on a resolution calling for an "immediate" end to Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea

Algeria tries to defy the West at the UN

El presidente argelino Abdelmadjid Tebboune se dirige a la 78ª Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas en la sede de la ONU en Nueva York el 19 de septiembre de 2023 - AFP/ANGELA WEISS
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune addresses the 78th UN General Assembly - AFP/ANGELA WEISS

Algeria has begun the year by maintaining and reaffirming its foreign policy, which seems to be aimed at distancing itself from the West and aligning itself with countries such as Russia, China and Iran.

In this sense, Algiers has condemned the recent bombings by the United States and the United Kingdom against Houthi positions in Yemen after numerous threats and attacks by this Iranian-backed rebel militia on commercial ships since last November.  

  1. How far will Algeria be able to resist Western pressure? 
  2. Algeria distances itself from the interests of the West and Arab powers 

According to a Foreign Ministry statement, "this dangerous escalation will undermine efforts by the United Nations and countries in the region to find a solution to the conflict in Yemen". It should be noted that the US and British military actions followed several warnings against the Houthis, who were demanded to end hostilities in the Red Sea for the sake of international trade.

Still, Algiers has expressed "deep concern" over the bombings that hit "several cities in the sister Republic of Yemen". The US and British attacks targeted an air base, airports and a military camp and left several fighters dead.

The attacks also took place in areas controlled by the Houthis, who have been waging an offensive against Yemen's internationally recognised government for years. Also, during the years of civil war, the Houthis have been accused of violating the human rights of Yemeni civilians, as well as looting international humanitarian aid.  

However, Algeria has not only expressed its rejection of US and UK retaliatory attacks, but has also abstained from voting on a UN Security Council resolution calling for an 'immediate' end to Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea as they 'hinder international trade and undermine navigational rights and freedoms, as well as peace and security in the region'.

In addition to Algeria - a non-permanent member of the body for the 2024-2025 term - Russia, China and Mozambique also abstained from voting on the resolution, drafted by the US and Japan.

The resolution "condemns in the strongest terms the attacks - at least two dozen - on merchant and commercial vessels since 19 November 2023", when the Houthis seized the ship Galaxy Leader and took its 25 crew hostage. 

Algeria's ambassador to the UN, Ammar Benjameh, argued that his country had abstained as it "believes that any military intervention in the region, especially in Yemen, should be approached with the utmost caution, and such an intervention may carry the risk of undermining previous efforts made by the United Nations".

"The recent negotiations between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis generated great hope in the region regarding the possibility of resolving the conflict in Yemen," he added.

Benjameh also stated that the Algerian delegation worked "so that the clear link between the Houthi attacks on commercial ships and what has been happening for three months in Gaza could not be ignored". On 7 October, following an unprecedented and brutal Hamas attack on Israel that left 1,200 people dead and more than 200 kidnapped, the Israeli army began an air and then ground offensive against the terrorist group, which is hiding in the Gaza Strip, in order to eliminate its infrastructure and rescue hostages.  

The Algerian diplomat stressed the need for the Security Council not to ignore the bombardment of Gaza, which has caused a serious humanitarian crisis. "We prefer to abstain from voting because we cannot associate ourselves with a text that ignores the 23,000 people who were killed during the last three months in Gaza," Benjameh concluded.

According to the territory's Hamas-run health ministry, 23,000 people have died as a result of Israeli attacks. Israel, for its part, blames Hamas for the high number of civilian deaths in Gaza, accusing the terrorist group of using Gazans as "human shields". 

How far will Algeria be able to resist Western pressure? 

The position adopted by Algiers reflects an apparent defiance of the West, although analysts quoted by Al-Arab note the extent to which the North African country is capable of resisting the influence and pressures of Western powers.

The US think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, noted that Algeria's mandate on the UN Security Council could be an opportunity for the Arab nation to establish itself as "a more important global and regional actor". In the words of Algeria's own Foreign Minister, Ahmed Attaf, his country will boost "the African voice" in its next mandate.

The centre's analyst Sabina Henneberg highlights in particular the role that Algeria could play on issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Ukraine and the Western Sahara dispute.

Abdelmadjid Tebboune
Algeria's President Abdelmadjid Tebboune - PHOTO/FILE

"Algeria's accession to the council is likely to bring opportunities to enhance its diplomatic stature and reinforce messages on issues of domestic importance," writes Hennberg, who also stresses that Algiers will face challenges.

In this regard, she cites the need for Algeria to balance its national interests - including the pursuit of stronger relations with the US - with its role as a proxy for the Arab and African regions, as well as its long-standing relationship with Russia.

Algiers has tried to position itself as a relevant regional and global actor by offering to mediate in several conflicts and applying for BRICS membership, but was ultimately rejected. "These attempts to enhance diplomatic visibility echo similar efforts during Algeria's last term on the council in 2004-2005," says Henneberg.

However, some believe that Algeria's efforts to play a prominent national role in the Security Council will not long withstand pressure from Western powers that have some influence in Algeria, such as France and the US. Al-Arab also stresses the 'failure' of joining the BRICS group, which will force it not to distance itself too far from Western powers, even if that requires making some concessions. 

Algeria distances itself from the interests of the West and Arab powers 

For years, Algeria has positioned itself against Western and some Arab interests. For example, it refused to participate in the Arab alliance - led by Saudi Arabia - to restore legitimacy in Yemen and refused to classify the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.

On the current issue, the Houthi threats in the Red Sea, Algeria has adopted a discourse similar to that used by those who do not condemn, or at worst defend, the destabilising actions of the Houthis.  

PHOTO / REUTERS – Militantes hutíes cerca de la ciudad de Hodeidah, Yemen
Houthis near the city of Hodeidah, Yemen - PHOTO / REUTERS 

Algeria has emphasised that "the issue of maritime security in the Red Sea cannot be addressed by ignoring the clear link that everyone sees between the Houthi attacks on commercial vessels and the massacres committed by the Zionist occupation in the Gaza Strip". Yemeni rebels claim to attack only ships linked to Israel or travelling to Israeli ports, although the vast majority of ships that have been attacked did not meet either of these criteria.

"As Algeria calls for an end to military interventions because of their catastrophic consequences for peace in the world - the price of which is paid by defenceless civilians - it urges all parties to put an end to this dangerous and disproportionate military escalation and focus on addressing the root and real causes of the crisis," an official Algerian statement said.