Two weeks after the much-anticipated UN-led roundtable discussions on Western Sahara, it turns out Morocco’s diplomatic challenges are bigger than expected.
Speaking to Mauritanian outlet Anbaa on December 15, Blah Ould Mekia, Mauritania’s ambassador to Rabat said that his country’s position is more in line with Algeria’s than Morocco’s.
A known Polisario Front supporter, Algeria is pushing for self-determination in Western Sahara, in defiance of Morocco’s position that calls for local autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.
While Mauritania has traditionally dubbed itself a “neutral observer,” Ambassador Mekia said that Algiers and Nouakchott “share similar opinions when it comes to the Western Sahara conflict.”
The Mauritanian diplomat explained that his country feels closer to Algeria on various other security issues on the regional and continental stages.
On August 19, Algiers and Nouakchott opened the land border between them. Referring to the move in the warmest terms, Mekia said that the event is the start of the countries’ ambition to establish a bilateral platform to face regional challenges.
He said: “The two countries have a similar vision for several regional and international issues, especially when it comes to the Western Sahara conflict brought under the auspices of the United Nations, as well as issues related to the fight against terrorism and transnational organized crime.”
In addition to security, Algeria and Mauritania are collaborating to “strengthen cooperation at all levels” and further their common regional agenda. The reason for the change, the ambassador argued, is because “Algeria is aware of the Maghreb region’s challenges.”
Mekia’s statements are likely to shock Morocco’s diplomatic circles. Rabat expected closer ties with Nouakchott to allow for more diplomatic overtures in the Western Sahara settlement discussions.
In early November, Morocco’s foreign affairs minister Nasser Bourita traveled to Mauritania to extend to President Ould Abdelaziz “a special message” from King Mohammed VI. The visit sought to “open a new chapter” in the two countries’ relations and probably to get Mauritania onboard with Morocco at the December 5-6 Geneva meeting.
“Nothing will be like before,” an optimistic Bourita said after meeting with the Mauritanian president.
“There is sincere political will on both sides to impart a new dynamic to bilateral relations in all domains,” the Moroccan minister said of his expectations based on his “warm and candid” discussion with Mauritanian officials.
At the time, Morocco’s optimism seemed to echo in Mauritania.
Shortly before Bourita’s state visit to Mauritania, Sidi Mohamed Ould Maham, Mauritania’s communications minister and government spokesperson said, “If Morocco takes one step forward towards Mauritania, you should rest assured that Mauritania will take ten steps forward.”
Two weeks after the first Geneva meeting, however, the expected diplomatic overtures seem more distant than first thought.