By Mohammad el-Ashab
By Mohammad el-Ashab
July 10, 2011
While there were expectations that the response will rather come from Algeria, Paris has stepped right in the middle of the existing crisis between Morocco and Algeria, expressing its wishes that the obstacles preventing the establishment of the Maghreb Union would be overcome. According to France, the Moroccan King Mohammad VI’s call for a new page in the relationships between the two neighboring countries t, might indeed help in bringing the different points of view closer together.
Nothing new has come up in terms of the crisis between Algiers and Rabat. However, the occasion of the Algerian independence – like all the occasions that make room for agreement and solidarity in the relationships of the two countries to rematerialize– has prompted their brothers in Morocco to reopen the door of hope, wishing that historic occasions could achieve what everything else has failed to realize.
Regardless of the sensitivities that are inherent to the Algerian reactions vis-à-vis everything related to France, given that the latter’s colonial history cannot be forgotten in the country of the one million martyrs, the initiative in itself does not constitute mediation. It rather represents the legitimate intentions of France, and all European capitals that are close to the southern bank of the Mediterranean, to see the North African region free from tension.
The matter involves aspirations to guarantee interests, so long that stability in the region helps mutual gains. The Americans too had previously pushed in the direction of establishing a wider partnership with the Maghreb countries. In addition, some Arab countries made strong efforts to mend the gap between Morocco and Algeria. So did some African actors such as Senegal and others. This means that the regional repercussions of the crisis between Algeria and Morocco are frustrating, and represent a real obstacle to reorganizing the Maghreb structure, based on a favorable succession of developments.
What’s missing in the political conscience is that – as much as the different circles and parties are taking the side of improving relations, trust, and betting on the future in order to overcome setbacks – the two sides concerned seem to be out of this context. But Rabat, for its part, has always had its hand extended, while Algeria has been laying out conditions for normalization. These conditions, from the Algerian point of view, have always been based on factoring in both the possible and the impossible, at the same time.
In the past, accusations against the others’ roles in preventing improved relations were always ready. This was in line with conspiracy-theory thinking, which linked regional crises to foreign machinations. However, the end of the Cold War, which led to the collapse of the concept of the division of the centers of influence, did not lead to the consolidation of a wider regional agreement in the North African region. The Moroccan-Algerian differences represented perhaps, the worst manifestations of the wars taking place in psyches.
The Algerians themselves keep reiterating, every time the issue of the relations with their Moroccan neighbor is raised, that they do not need mediation and that they do not wish for any side to interfere. They go as far as to say that their relationships with their brothers are normal, except when it comes to the differences regarding the Sahara or the reopening of the borders. This is encouraging as long as the issue of the Sahara can be overcome through supporting the efforts of the United Nations, in order to end the tension and solve the conflict in a peaceful manner. However, the second aspect [i.e. re-opening the borders] is quintessentially a matter of choice for both countries. Although the reasons to close the borders no longer exist today, this has not been translated yet into canceling out the repercussions of the initial measure. In other words, relationships have not been normalized in a way as to guarantee the natural right of passage of people and goods, in addition to designating a border area for a comprehensive cooperation.
Every time an improvement in the relationships is nearly achieved, other reasons surface out that complicate things again, such as the Algerian-Moroccan differences with respect to dealing with terrorism in the coastal area to the south of the desert. This concern is added to the overt caution present in calculating gains and the losses when it comes to renormalizing the relationships. Meanwhile, a major element of initiative is lacking, namely, the political will, between intentions and abilities.
The road between Wejda and Telmessan is closer than the road between Algeria and Paris, or the road between Rabat and any European or Arab capital. However, the distance is not being calculated according to the rule of the straight line, but rather it goes through deserts, memories, and all kinds of misunderstanding and hesitation. This is the origin of the tragedy in the crisis of a region that would have otherwise formed a power to be reckoned with.
Picture credit: algeria.com