Iran’s second-largest car manufacturer, Saipa, recently confirmed and had signed a memorandum of understanding with Algerian car manufacturer Tahkout. The agreement, which includes plans to jointly manufacture automobile spare parts and build a plant in Algeria with capacity to turn out 20,000 Saipa vehicles a year, is a significant milestone in Algeria’s attempt to diversify its economy. But, although Iran could be a valuable economic partner and counterweight to undesired influence, Algeria fears its industrial ambitions could endanger internal stability and existing strategic international alliances. The North African country’s conundrum is not limited to the economy. Since the 2015 P5+1-Iran nuclear agreement and subsequent partial lifting of international sanctions, Iran has expanded its initiatives to create ties with Algeria in culture and counterterrorism, among other fields.
Like other countries, Iran is using its cultural soft power to reinforce ties with the Maghreb’s first economy. However, it faces strong opposition from Salafist groups and Islamist political parties that have accused Iran of spreading Shiite ideology. By way of example, in January 2016, Iran’s cultural attache to Algeria, Amir El Moussaoui, was the target of a negative Twitter campaign after he made multiple visits to Sufi schools.
Those criticizing him have also accused the Algerian government of unwarranted tolerance at the risk of sectarianism. Such was the level of critique that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had to postpone an official trip to Algeria after another Twitter campaign called on authorities to cancel the visit in solidarity with the people of Syria, and as a way of denouncing Iran’s meddling in local politics. While the change in schedule was probably more related to the health of Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika, it appeared as a victory for Salafi movements.
Another example of Algeria’s reluctance to engage with Iran emerged after…