Robert Fisk: Algeria sends the West a message by taking in Gaddafi's brood
Neighbour thinks the Libyan revolution gathered Western support because the land is so rich in oil
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
When the Emir of Qatar flew to see President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria early this summer, he had one message to convey: don't help the Gaddafi regime. In other words, don't replace the dictator's Nato-destroyed armour with identical tanks and personnel carriers from the Algerian army. Word has it – meaning very good Arab military sources say – that Mr Bouteflika, almost as much a façade for the military authorities in Algeria as Mr Assad is for the Baath party in Damascus, gave all the necessary promises and then broke them. An awful lot of Gaddafi's Russian-made desert armour appears to be new; it didn't get its spotless shine after rotting in the desert for the past five years.
Qatar's role in the Libyan conflict remains one of the untold stories of the war – there were Qatari flags waved in Martyrs' Square in Tripoli last week – but so does Algeria's. Arabs were not surprised that so many of Gaddafi's family turned up in Algeria this week. For years, the Algerians have supported Gaddafi's independent – albeit crazed – policies because their own history has taught them to never accept orders from abroad. The moment the French – occupiers, colonisers and persecutors of Algeria for 132 years – bombed Libya, the Gaddafi regime's struggle to survive became a re-enactment of the Algerian FLN's 1954-62 battle for freedom against French rule. If the Libyans have been deprived of serious school history books for more than four decades, they know their country's travails all too well. For the Fezzan, the stony deserts and mountains south of the coastal cities, was occupied by French troops long after the Second World War to protect the frontier of Algeria – then still part of the French empire. The arid frontier between Libya and Algeria has been a smugglers' trail for centuries. Carrying the Gaddafi family into exile was not a major military operation.
Indeed, it was typical of the Algerian foreign ministry to announce the presence of the Gaddafi family on Algerian soil. Algerians like to show the West – especially the French – their freedom, the sacred trust of Algerian nationhood, damaged in the Islamist 1990-98 uprising, is not going to be traded for Western favours.