This weekend football fans and activists alike will march to advocate for the reopening of the Moroccan-Algerian border.
Last Sunday, July 14, enthusiasm grew when Algeria qualified for the final match. Activists seized upon the opportunity to build solidarity between the neighboring countries, whose border closed in 1994.
This weekend, Moroccans and Algerians will march to the border to demand that their governments reopen the doors between the two countries.
“We must take advantage of this moment to send a message about the links that unite the two peoples,” human rights activist and march organizer Hassane Ammari told EFE.
Instead of fostering a divide between fans, football has built alliances this summer.
Algeria will face off against Senegal in the final match of CAN on Friday, July 19.
On Saturday, marches will depart from sister cities on either side of the border, including Oujda in Morocco and Maghnia in Algeria, and Saidia-Marsa in Morocco and Ben M’Hidi in Algeria.
Activists have harnessed the energy CAN generated to draw attention to the economic and social repercussions of the closed border on surrounding communities, some of which were literally split in two 25 years ago.
“The situation of the families living in Morocco and in the other side of the border is getting worse,” Ammari said.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Maghreb Union countries lose around $16 billion annually to border closure.
Multiple protests to reopen the border have been organized in the past. Last July, activists participated in two simultaneous marches in both Morocco and Algeria, meeting on either side of the dividing fence in the border town of Zouj Bghal.
Tensions between the countries have been inflamed by Algeria’s support for the Polisario Front, and by the 1994 bombing in Marrakesh involving terrorists of Algerian descent which led to the border officially closing later that year. However, the roots of the dispute stretch back further to territorial imbalances bourne out of the colonial era.
Activists hope their governments will put aside decades of dispute that have jeopardized the safety and security of generations on either side of the divide.
“This march will mainly call for the reopening of border,” Ammari said, “but will also demand the creation of a humanitarian bridge for the families.”