Why do friendly relations with Algeria seem so unattainable?
Rabat – In his speech of November 6, King Mohammed VI extended a hand for peace and goodwill to the Algerian government, with the hope to start a new chapter of good relations. Algeria has not yet responded to this initiative of friendship. Their no-answer posture is in many ways equivalent to saying unofficially: No way.
During the 130-year spell of French colonial presence in Algeria, France considered this country as a French department: “Algerie Francaise.” Realizing that it was going to ultimately leave Algeria when the independence war of November 1, 1954, to March 19, 1962, started, France turned to the Moroccans, asking to negotiate the restitution of territories that France cut off from Morocco during colonialization.
King Mohammed V, in the name of the pan-Arab brotherhood utopia of the time, turned down the French initiative saying that it would be equivalent to stabbing a sister country in the back. He said that after independence Algeria would, unilaterally, restitute the territories in question.
However, after independence in 1963, Algeria flatly refused to do such a thing on the grounds that the territories in question were fully Algerian.
The abrupt refusal escalated the tension between the two countries and a war known as the “Sand War” ensued in September 1963 leading to the defeat of Algeria. Rather than hold onto the territory grabbed during the brief war by the Moroccan army to make a land swap later on, King Hassan II, in an unexpected move, instructed the army to return home to avoid a long term conflict with Algeria.
But the harm was done and animosity towards Morocco was born in Algerian official circles.
During the era of Algerian President Houari Boumedienne (1932-1978), in the official narrative, Morocco was seen as the enemy because it fought Algeria as a young nation. The official policy among political leadership and army strategists stated, in private, that Morocco was a great danger to the unity and survival of Algeria and, as such, must be challenged in all areas and at all times.
One first such challenge was the Sahara issue. While Boumedienne in 1974 accepted the takeover of the territory by both Morocco and Mauritania, he adopted the Polisario Front in 1975. By the time Algeria had an upper hand over the Polisario Front, the latter’s goal was no longer to end Spanish colonization but to create an independent state.
The tripartite agreement between Spain, the colonial power, Morocco, and Mauritania, known as of November 15, 1975, ceded the territory to Morocco and Mauritania.
To mar the Moroccan-Mauritanian takeover, Algeria armed the Polisario, which launched attacks on both Morocco and Mauritania. Mauritania, unable to bear the brunt of the military onslaught, left the territory and ceded its part to Morocco in 1979.
During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Algeria not only armed the Polisario but, also and most importantly, bought external support for it in the Organization of African Unity and in the UN, thanks to the petrodollars it got from its oil revenues.
Morocco countered Polisario’s military efforts by building a defensive wall, the Moroccan Western Sahara wall, an approximately 2,700-kilmeter-long structure that stopped Polisario’s encroachments in the territory under Moroccan control.
Morocco also put forth an autonomy plan for the territory in 2007 as a possible solution to the Western Sahara conflict. The plan has since received support from many nations of the world as a viable political solution to the conflict.
Closing the border
Besides the Sahara conflict, official Algerian enmity is expressed through the actual closed border and the cessation of all possible economic activity.
In 1994, the Hotel Asni in Marrakech witnessed one of the first terrorist attacks in Morocco. Three Algerian-French nationals carried out the attack, which left two people dead. Morocco accused Algerian intelligence services of planning the deadly shooting, a claim that worsened the diplomatic relations between the two neighboring countries.
Morocco then closed off its border with Algeria briefly. Algeria used the move as an excuse to permanently close the borders to stop Algerians visiting Morocco in millions and spending lots of money, strengthening the Moroccan economy.
It is also an excuse to prevent the Algerian people from seeing Morocco’s tremendous development in various sectors of the economy in spite of Morocco’s lack of oil.
Algerian animosity toward Morocco is exclusively the work of the Algerian military that controls the country through docile political parties and an incapacitated president. Other than that, the Algerian people feel close to the Moroccan people because of shared religion, language, and culture, and they express this closeness every time they are given the opportunity.
What will alter Algeria’s belligerent attitude?
The hate of Morocco and what it represents is engrained in the Algerian military psyche, and only two possible developments can, ultimately, put an end to it.
The first possibility is that Algeria goes bankrupt and allows the IMF and the World Bank to clean its financial mess, opening its economic border and allowing Moroccan companies to do business in Algeria.
Another possibility is that Algeria will cut subsidies, bringing the population to the streets. An ensuing revolution could end military control and bring democracy to the country.
Barring these two developments, Algeria will continue holding a grudge against Morocco and the Maghreb Union will just be wishful thinking, if not a political joke, to say the least.