The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Algeria will be an insult to the nation’s history

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Bandar Al-Jaloud/Saudi Royal Palace/AFP)

Abdelkader Cheref is an Algerian scholar based in the United States. 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, is set to visit Algiers on Dec. 6. His planned trip to the nation is considered by the Algerian civil society as an affront.

Hundreds of resentful activists and indignant journalists have decried his planned visit to the Maghreb (North Africa). They have dismissed the trip as a PR stunt to whitewash his image in the wake of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder as the Group of 20 summit gets underway.

MBS’s responsibility in the war in Yemen, and his alleged involvement in the gruesome assassination and dismemberment of Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, makes him a persona non grata in Algeria. Following the brotherly grin-and-hugging in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt (he did not appear in Morocco), he was been greeted by a torrent of public anger upon his arrival in neighboring Tunisia.

However, many observers believe that the Saudi de facto ruler’s trip to Algiers would indisputably mortify the Algerian authorities. Though the government is willing to roll out the red carpet for a man who is responsible for the atrocities in Yemen and the vicious murder of Khashoggi that happened under his tutelage, the authorities are apprehensive about this visit. They are concerned that it would provoke a nationwide surge of indignation and could also be directed against those in the Algerian government who accepted this embarrassing and offensive visit.

It should be noted that the Algerian authorities took almost two months to condemn the assassination of Khashoggi. To add insult to injury, and running counter to the CIA’s reported assessment that MBS ordered Khashoggi’s slaying, they claim that they trust the Saudi judicial system to carry out a fair investigation. Yet, many academics, reporters, human rights activists, NGOs and leaders of opposition political parties question the timing of such a denunciation. They also refuse to be part of the programmed whitewashing.

Many people view this visit to Algeria as an insult to the memory of all journalists jailed or murdered for denouncing tyrannical Arab regimes where dubious anti-state laws are implemented to muzzle nonconforming political views.

For Abderrazak Makri, the leader of Algeria’s main Islamist political party, the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP), the crown prince’s visit “does not bode well for Algeria’s image and reputation.” Similar strong feelings are shared by the Algerian Francophone journalist and writer Kamel Daoud. “Mohammed bin Salman is a murderer and whoever shakes his hand in Algiers will be his co-conspirator,” he tweeted. It is crystal clear that the diplomatic issues the authorities have taken into account to agree to this inopportune visit are not shared by the majority of Algerians.

Truth be told, even before Khashoggi’s brutal murder was brought to light, Algerians have always expressed their revulsion of the anachronistic Saudi kingdom. Overlooking the implications that such a posture would have on Algerian-Saudi state relations, many in Algeria still recall the vexing role of the Saudi monarchy during the Algerian Civil War, which Khashoggi covered in the 1990s. In his memoirs, retired general Khaled Nezzar revealed the huge financial aid the Algerian regime got from Riyadh. Saudi Arabia’s pathological hatred of elected bodies did not favor the blossoming of a democratic Algeria, as it was the first country in the Arabic-speaking world to experience an “Arab spring.” The House of Saud did not spare an effort to help crush that. Its act plunged the country into a horrific civil war, which claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people. During the 2011 Arab Spring, Saudi Arabia was terrified by the repercussions of the uprising. It vehemently opposed pro-democracy movements in Tunisia and Egypt, manipulated armed militias in Libya, and energetically assisted in the brutal repression of Shiite protesters in Bahrain.

But the main issue here is: Who is going to meet-and-greet the Saudi crown prince? Especially when the real prince here is Jamal Khashoggi?

When MBS decided to go on a tour of several Arab countries, he thought he would make a home run, as most Arab leaders have tortured relations with the rule of law and moral principles. One can easily understand the exigencies of realpolitik, the constraints of international relations and the safeguard of national interests. Nevertheless, MBS’s visit is undignifying for a country that once hosted great revolutionary leaders such as Che Guevara, Samora Machel, Amílcar Cabral and Agostinho Neto. Receiving a Saudi-killer-of-journalists in Algiers is neither an honorable thing to do, nor a commendable feat.