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An unhappily neutral neighbour

THE repercussions of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s demise are echoing loudly across the Middle East. Gulf monarchies that backed Libya’s rebels feel understandably smug, while neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia, fresh from their own political upheavals, are happy to welcome a third revolution next door. But for less nimble regimes facing revolutionary pressure at home, the collapse of Libya’s 42-year-old dictatorship is bad news, emboldening opponents and frightening their dwindling number of friends.
Algeria’s government is looking especially sheepish. Despite its own revolutionary pedigree and a history of strained relations with Colonel Qaddafi, it voted against the crucial Arab League resolution in March that endorsed NATO’s action in support of Libya’s rebels. It has yet to recognise the Transitional National Council as Libya’s government. Throughout the conflict, unsubstantiated rumours suggested that Algeria supplied the colonel with fuel, arms and transport for foreign mercenaries. When the rebels captured Tripoli, some of them ransacked the Algerian embassy. Others announced that a city square named for Algeria’s revolution would be known as Abu Dhabi Square, in gratitude for the Gulf emirate’s aid.
Algeria has its reasons for pursuing what it calls its strict neutrality over Libya. After two decades of strife between the state and Islamist insurgents, its government is disturbed by the strong Islamist component in Libya’s rebel movement, and is spooked by the spread of weapons in a country with which it shares a long desert border. And its own bitter history of struggle against European colonialism makes Algerian leaders instinctively wary of Western military involvement.

Still, Algeria’s decision, on August 28th, to let a convoy of armoured Mercedes cars take members of the colonel’s family across its border looked unusually provocative. The fugitives included the colonel’s wife, two of his sons, Hannibal and Muhammad, and his pregnant daughter Aisha, who promptly gave birth in an Algerian hospital. Aisha and the two sons, though not apparently implicated directly in violence, are subject to UN-decreed travel bans.
Several Algerian parties, including one belonging to the ruling coalition, have condemned the granting of asylum. In a sour remark on an Algerian website that reflects widespread disdain for the pouvoir, as the military-backed regime of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is commonly known, one writer noted that it was hardly surprising that Algeria had not recognised Libya’s council, “since the pouvoir doesn’t even recognise its own people.”
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