Pro-Morocco remarks from a former top Algerian official generated hope about the prospects of Algeria-Morocco relations, but Algiers has a different perspective.
Rabat – The Algerian regime has finally responded to the pro-Morocco comments of a former leader of Algeria’s National Liberation Front (FLN) on the Western Sahara conflict, reiterating its traditional commitment to the Polisario Front and the “Sahrawi people’s struggle for self-determination.”
In comments to Algerian government-run news outlet Ech-Chaab on Monday, October 21, Communication Minister and Government Spokesperson Hassan Rabhi said that Algiers’ stance on Western Sahara remains unchanged and that any pro-Morocco comments do not remotely reflect the guidelines set by the Algerian regime.
“Algeria’s position on this issue is clear,” the minister said. “The only solution to the [Western Sahara] conflict is one that guarantees the organization of a transparent and inclusive referendum on self-determination, as laid out in all the UN charters and resolutions.”
Rabhi spoke about the need to draw the boundaries between individuals’ opinions and the government’s position. Regardless of a person’s status in the country’s political landscape, Rabhi suggested, any comments not made via official government channels should be perceived as “not reflecting the government’s position,” or influencing high-profile decisions on particular, sensitive issues.
The expectedly muscular response comes unexpectedly late, four days after Amar Saadani, a former FLN Secretary General, said that “Western Sahara is Moroccan and nothing else.” Speaking to Algerian outlet TSA on Thursday, October 17, Saadani even went as far as lambasting Algiers for “pouring huge sums of money for the so-called Polisario for fifty years.”
The former FLN leader spoke about the need to “break the impasse” in Western Sahara and recognize Morocco’s historical right to the disputed territory. He emphasized the importance of ending what he sees as a pointless rivalry between Algiers and Rabat in order to focus on building a working Maghreb Union.
In the government’s response, Minister Rabhi asserted that Saadani is “entitled to his own opinions.” But the Algerian government’s spokesperson went on to belittle the FLN official’s statements, saying they do not have “the faintest value” or impact on either the Algerian government’s foreign policy or “the high level of responsibility with which the UN treats this [Western Sahara] question.”
The comments from Saadani generated wild speculation about Algeria’s Western Sahara diplomacy. Supporting Polisario or the “Sahrawi cause” has been a distinguishable feature and “a cardinal principle” of the Algerian regime since the start of the conflict.
With Polisario-bashing comments from a former leader of the country’s ruling party, however, there were talks of a growing discontent in parts of the Algerian political establishment with the country’s direct and heavy involvement in the Western Sahara stalemate. That Algiers waited four days to react, which is considered a very long time in such a case, reinforced that perception.
Both Saadani’s remarks and Algiers’ uncharacteristic silence, some Algerian outlets enthusiastically commented, could mean that there were winds of change in the making regarding Algeria’s Western Sahara stance.
The sense was that, after more than four decades of staunch upport to the Polisario Front, the new FLN cadre was perhaps poised to move past some of the party’s old principles and focus on opening up new avenues in regional politics.
But the response from the Algerian government means such enthusiastic proclamations can wait. While issued late, Algiers’s response is set to dent the hope that greeted Saadani’s remarks, suggesting self-determination or support for Polisario is set to remain the essence of the Algerian regime’s Western Sahara agenda for some more years.