On the 43rd anniversary of the Green March, which commemorates Morocco’s recovery of Western Sahara, King Mohammed VI surprised analysts and observers with the tone of his annual speech.
Washington D.C – Unlike in the past when the King devoted the bulk of his speech to defending Morocco’s position on the Sahara and denouncing Algeria’s efforts to thwart Morocco’s efforts to end the conflict, the Moroccan monarch sounded a friendly tone towards Algeria, opening Morocco’s arms and offering to engage in meaningful dialogue without preconditions and in good faith.
The flavor of the speech elicited the praise of several countries, such as France, Spain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Mauritania, Jordan as well as the United Nations Secretary-General. They were all unanimous in supporting Morocco’s offer to engage in dialogue with Algeria.
Algeria has still not issued any official statement on the Moroccan offer. Meanwhile, analysts are wondering whether the Moroccan offer is genuine and seeks to appease tensions between the two countries and pave the way towards a normalization of their relations or whether it is a ruse intended to embarrass the Algerian government.
King Mohammed VI firmly believes in the Maghreb
For starters, though King Mohammed VI has placed the Maghreb on the back burner in his recent speeches, the King has always been a firm believer in the need to achieve the unity and integration of Maghreb countries, mainly Morocco and Algeria. In his Ph.D. thesis, which he defended when he was still crown prince in 1993, King Mohammed VI argued that building a unified Maghreb and ending the rivalry between Morocco and Algeria was the only way for Maghreb countries to receive fair treatment from the European Union.
Since his ascendance to the throne, King Mohammed VI has repeatedly advocated for the reopening of the border between the two countries, expressed Morocco’s readiness to normalize its relations with Algeria, and called on Algerian officials to engage in dialogue. The border has been closed since 1994.
In the summer of 2004, the Moroccan government lifted the visa requirement for Algerian travelers willing to visit Morocco. Ever since, Morocco has called on many occasions for the reopening of land borders between the two countries. However, its calls fell on deaf ears with Algerian officials not showing any willingness to make reciprocal overtures.
What makes Morocco’s new invitation noteworthy is the appeasing tone of the King, as well as the context in which it was framed. The offer was made in the wake of the adoption of Resolution 2440, which extended the mandate of the UN mission to the Western Sahara, known as MINURSO, for six months. For the first time since 2002 and since the start of the UN-led political process in 2007, Algeria is mentioned in a Security Council resolution on the conflict on quasi-equal footing with Morocco.
While Algeria it still not considered a party to the conflict, the new language of the resolution could open the door progressively for the Security Council to consider it as party to it. In addition, the resolution adds new language that puts more emphasis on the need for neighboring states, Algeria and Mauritania, to engage in the political process.
Morocco shows willingness to turn the page
In light of the new language of the resolution and in preparation for the roundtable, which will take place in Geneva December 5-6 under the auspices of the UN personal envoy for Western Sahara, Horst Kohler, Morocco wants to place on record for the whole world to see that it is willing to engage in genuine and honest dialogue to thaw tension between the two countries and prepare conditions for confidence-building between its officials, which could eventually pave the way towards normalizing ties between the two countries.
By doing so, Morocco conveys to the Security Council its willingness to engage Algeria and work with it towards reaching an understanding on ways to overcome all the obstacles to solve the Western Sahara conflict. In the event Algeria rejects Morocco’s offer, the latter could argue that it has done its part to for constructive dialogue between the two countries, but the other party has refused.
But it remains uncertain whether Algeria will reject or accept Morocco’s invitation to engage in honest and meaningful dialogue. There are two scenarios for how Algeria will react to Morocco’s offer: One is very optimistic and may prove to be wishful thinking, and the other is a more realistic prospect that will most likely come to pass. Under the first scenario, Algeria will follow the logic of history, geography, shared language, and religion and open its arms to Morocco. In recent years, many former Algerian officials have deplored the closure of the border between the two countries and called on their leaders to end this anachronism.
In addition, there have been many grassroots initiatives organized on both sides of the borders calling on the two countries to normalize their ties. As recently as July 22, Moroccan newspaper Al Ahdath Al Maghribia reported that Moroccan and Algerian associations organized a march from the Moroccan city of Oujda and the Algerian city of Maghniya towards the border at Zouj Bghal.
Algeria will reject Morocco’s offer for dialogue
Under the second scenario, which I believe is the most likely, Algeria will turn down Morocco’s offer and insist that opening dialogue or the border would be contingent on Morocco’s acceptance of conditions Algeria laid down in 2013.
Reacting to Morocco’s call to Algeria to reopen the border at the time, the spokesperson of the Algerian government stressed that it would only happen with “the cessation of the smear campaign against Algeria; a sincere, efficient and productive cooperation against the aggression that we undergo daily in the field of drug infiltration; as well as the respect of the position of the Algerian Government with regard to the question of Western Sahara which we consider to be a question of decolonization which must find a settlement in accordance with international law within the United Nations.”
There is also a possibility that Algeria will never react officially to Morocco’s offer. While Algerian officials have not officially reacted to King Mohammed VI’s demand, some former Algerian officials and an authorized source told Algerian media that the Moroccan offer is “suspicious.”
Over the past five years, there has been no sign indicating that Algeria is ready to open a new chapter in bilateral relations. The same leadership is still governing the country, and the military and the intelligence services still maintain the upper hand on decision-making. In addition, Algeria has left no stone unturned to thwart every Moroccan effort to advance its position on the Western Sahara conflict. Algeria has continued its efforts to undermine Morocco and opposed its return to the African Union behind the scenes, though to no avail.
Facts belie Algeria’s statements
While the Algerian government continues to claim that it has no vested interests in the Western Sahara conflict and is only a neighboring country, the facts on the ground and information in the public domain belies those claims. It is an open secret that Algeria is Polisario’s main lifeline, and without it, the separatist group would stand no chance to survive nor enjoy diplomatic support.
It is self-evident that Algeria supports the Polisario at the financial, political, diplomatic, and military levels. A quick comparison between Mauritania, another neighboring country concerned with the conflict, and Algeria shows the difference between an actual neighboring country and a real party to the conflict. Despite some periods of tension with Morocco, there is no evidence that Mauritania has provided military, diplomatic, financial, or political support to the Polisario. Nor is there any evidence that Mauritania has ever lobbied foreign governments on behalf of Polisario.
Conversely, Algeria not only hosts Polisario and supports it financially, militarily, and diplomatically, but it also lobbies foreign governments on behalf of the separatist group. Over the past 27 years, the Algerian government has relied mainly on the services of lobbying firm Foley Hoag to help it secure US support for the Polisario Front.
Since it renewed its contract with Foley Hoag in 2007, the Algerian government has been spending $400,000 per year to ensure that Morocco does not end the conflict in its favor. Recently, Foley Hoag was among the signatories of a letter sent to the Security Council on September 28, which called for pressuring Morocco to enter into direct negotiations with Polisario and for preserving the right of the Sahrawis to choose their future.
Furthermore, the recent developments at the Security Council have provided more evidence that Algeria is a party to the Western Sahara conflict. As a result of the new dynamic created by Security Council Resolution 2440, Algeria moved to sign a new lobbying contract worth $360,000 per year with Keene Consulting. David Keene, the chairman of the firm, is the former president of the US National Rifle Association, and a close friend to US National Security Adviser John Bolton.
It is very telling that the new contract was signed just three days after the Security Council adopted a new resolution in which Algeria is mentioned for the first time and in which it is called upon to participate in the political process without preconditions and in good faith. Keene was quoted by Al Monitor as saying that he “will work on issues related to the disputed Western Sahara as well as military and defense cooperation.”
This will not be the first time Keene will work on behalf of the Algerian government. Keene had already lobbied the Bush administration and Congress on behalf of Algeria as part of the lobbying contract signed between the Algerian government and the Carmen Group in 2006-2007.
In addition, in 2010 he authored an op-ed in the Hill in which he lashed out at Morocco and used the same talking points used by the Algerian government regarding the Western Sahara conflict. In June 2016, he authored an hagiographic op-ed about former Polisario leader Mohamed Abdelaziz in which he described him as “great leader” and a “Muslim democrat.”
Based on these facts, I am intimately convinced that Algeria is determined to pursue the same aggressive and malignant foreign policy against Morocco and will, therefore, deem King Mohammed VI’s offer for dialogue a non-starter. As Algeria is ruled by the same political and military oligarchy, it would be illusory to think the opening of a new chapter in relations between the two countries is possible. In Algeria’s foreign policy doctrine, Morocco is not viewed as a partner, but as an adversary and an existential threat to its dream for hegemony over the region.
Nevertheless, regardless of Algeria’s reaction to Morocco’s offer, King Mohammed VI will have succeeded in exposing its duplicity and blatant contradictions. The Moroccan monarch is undoubtedly aware that his offer will fall on deaf ears like his previous offers, but he made it, nonetheless, to embarrass Algeria and expose its contradictions.
Algeria is now facing a tough dilemma. If it accepts Morocco’s offer without preconditions, it will leave the door open for future bilateral talks between the two countries about the Sahara. If it rejects the offer based on the claim that Morocco should respect its position on the conflict and that Algeria is not a party to it, it would be contradicted by the lobbying contracts it signed with Washington D.C.-based companies to lobby the Trump administration and Congress about the same conflict.
The deafening silence of the Algerian government five days after King Mohammed’s offer is very telling about the confusion in which Algerian officials have found themselves after the Moroccan monarch took them by surprise.
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis.