Morocco World News
Casablanca, January 30, 2012
The difficulties between Morocco and Algeria span over decades, and there’s still no sign of diplomatic rapprochement. The conflict between the two nations dates back to decolonization, when the dispute over borders caused a rift between neighbors and resulted in occasional altercations.
Despite the fact that Algeria has no territorial claim over the Sahara, it did not want it to be absorbed by either Morocco or Mauritania. So Algeria aligned with the Polisario, a separatist movement that claims sovereignty over the Sahara territory. The Sahara dispute has always been a stumbling block in the normalization of relations between Morocco and Algeria. This discord has also influenced Maghreb geopolitics more widely because it limited the cooperation among the African Union members. Morocco announced its withdrawal from the Organization of African Union (OUA) when many member nations declared their recognition of the Polisario Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), in the disputed region. (Later, some African countries retracted their support for the SADR.)
Recently, Algerian officials have engaged in diplomatic talks and visits with Morocco, avoiding the subject of the Sahara. Last Monday, the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Saad Din al Othmani, traveled to Algeria in his first diplomatic visit after the Islamist led government took office. The opening of the Morocco-Algerian borders, which have been closed since 1994, is one issue under discussion. The visit aims at sketching a cooperation agreement with clearly defined strategies. Intellectuals and others in society have been calling for cooperation between the two countries, which should benefit both economically as well as culturally.
Lakhdar Brahmimi, the former Assistant Secretary to the UN, told the Algerie Focus that, “all neighboring countries have problems but these do not always lead 20 years of closed borders.” Brahnmi believes there are still close ties between Algerian and Moroccan population, saying, “there are more regular transactions between Tlemcen and Fes than between Algerian cities.” He pointed out that the closed borders and lack of cooperation has resulted in the emergence of an informal sector that benefits only a handful of people.
Yahia Zoubir, professor of International Relations at Euromed Management, conjectures that the closed borders adds to the mood of suspicion between the neighboring countries, building off of events like the terrorist attack on the Hasni Hotel in Marrakesh. Zoubir finds that the majority of Algerians don’t believe the borders can be opened unless there is an equitable settlement of pending issues, most notably the Sahara conflict.
In an interview with Algerie-Focus, Bernard Koucnher, the former French Minister of Foreign Affairs, urged the Algerian government to conduct diplomatic talks with Morocco and Tunisia, noting that individuals talk and interact with ideological foes: “humans are better than what we imagine, what should be changed is politics.”
The emergence of the new Moroccan government heralds an improvement in the relations between Morocco and Algeria. In fact, the Arab Spring and the changes in Libya and Tunisia will draw a new map of alliances among the Maghreb countries. Bordered by Morocco in the west and Tunisia and Libya in the east, the Algerian leadership may find itself alienated in an environment where the struggle for democracy is at the forefront. Alain Gresh writing for Le Monde Diplomatique asserts that Algeria will try to ease tensions with neighbors in order to interact with the new democracies.
The revolutions in the Arab countries should result in a rapprochement among all the Maghreb countries, especially among the Islamist led governments in Tunisia, Morocco and also Libya. Diplomatic talks are expected to take place to resolve pending issues and lay the foundations for sustainable cooperation. In an interview with Aljazeera, Moncef Marzouki, the newly elected Tunisian president, solemnly declares “this year will be the year of Maghreb strength and we need our neighbors to support our revolution.” With the new democracies in the Maghreb joining forces, the Algerians and Moroccans should settle their disputes if they want to harvest the fruit of the regional awakening.
Edited by Jasmine Davey
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