The celebrations highlight the collective feeling that the ongoing political hostility does not reflect how the large majority of Moroccans and Algerians actually feel about each other.
Rabat – Near the Morocco-Algeria border in Oujda, in Northeast Morocco, the Algerian football team’s victory against Senegal in this year’s Afcon final was celebrated with resounding messages of “fraternity” and “open the borders” as Algerian and Moroccans joined to rejoice and show solidarity.
From the moment Morocco’s Atlas Lions were precociously and disappointingly eliminated from this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, Moroccans started rooting for Algeria, which most of them tellingly call their “second country” or “sister nation.”
As Les Verts—one of the two nicknames of the Algerian team—overwhelmed Guinea 3-0 in the round of 16, sent Ivory Coast out in penalty shootout after a tense and laborious 1-1 draw in the quarter-finals, and dramatically defeated Nigeria 2-1 in the semis after Riyad Mahrez, Algeria’s star player, sent home a late-minute screamer of a free-kick, the now epic “1, 2, 3; Viva Algeria” chant soon found its home in Moroccan cafes and streets.
The emotion, as the Algerian team impressed and swaggered, has been one of shared pride and fraternity.
But yesterday’s celebrations at the Moroccan-Algerian border were different, wilder, and more rapturous. The message was as unmistakable as the significance of the outpouring of shared joy among two people divided by politics but united in everything else.
The celebrations meant, as the crowd of Morocco-Algerian supporters made it plain in their ecstatic chants, of the urge to remind politicians in both countries to take into account the deeply entrenched bonds of brotherhood and shared culture between the two peoples across the borders.
“Look at the people in Oujda celebrating as though the victory was Morocco’s Atlas Lions,” one Moroccan tweeted. “How beautiful that is! Let’s open the borders,” said another.
That “open the borders” message was not simply a plea in the rapturous chants as Moroccans and Algerians celebrated at the border near Oujda. More than a chant or a message, it was a palpable feeling, a lived reality that politicians have so far failed to catch up with.
“Viva Algeria.” “We are all brothers.” “Let them open the borders.” The slogans changed throughout the celebrations. But the undertone, the underlying sense—or feeling—remained unchanged.
This was people using the kind of wild happiness that only football can bring (at least across Africa) to rise above the kind of divisiveness and animosity that only politics can cause.
And, as the crowd rose above the political divide and decades-long hostility between their two countries, they may have shown—which after all was their motivation in the first place—that the closed borders policy now in force between their two counties is not only anachronistic; it has never really been a reality in how the two peoples relate to each other on a daily basis.
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