Rabat – Morocco takes center stage in the upcoming Algerian elections as presidential candidates engage in providing a roadmap for what the Algeria-Morocco relations would be under their respective presidential tenures.
After a first round of positive comments on the Morocco-Algeria “historical” and “cultural” ties, the second round has been less indicative of promising Morocco-Algerian prospects, with one candidate describing Morocco as a cartel nation thriving on drug exports and other, related illicit activities.
Speaking to local channel Ennahar TV, Abdelkader Bengrina, a former tourism minister and now contending for the country’s presidential seat as leader of Al Bina, an Islamist “movement” he created in 2013, was rather dismissive of the positive remarks made earlier this month in some Algerian political circles about Morocco and the prospects of bilateral normalization.
When asked to comment on what the Morocco-Algeria ties would be under his tenure as president elect, Bengrina replied by recycling an established Morocco-damning talking point in Algeria’s political establishment.
“There is a systemic and worrying degree of drug exports [in Morocco],” he said. When challenged by the interviewer, on the basis that his answer may have inflated the reality of drug cartels in Morocco, the Islamist politician refused to yield. “All I can tell you is that [Morocco’s] drug exports are estimated in billions and not in millions of dollars.”
He added, in an even more pointedly provocative comment: “The drug export industry in Morocco, which works through two seasons, is almost equal to Algeria’s oil industry” in terms of revenues generated.
Bengrina’s accusing Morocco of being a champion drug exporter is hardly the first time an Algerian official throws the cartel nation card at Morocco. Over the years, the same rhetoric has been peddled in high places in Algiers, used by the country’s political establishment to dismiss Moroccan officials’ point about Rabat doing as well as, and sometimes better than the most natural resources-rich countries in the region.
For Moroccan officials, Morocco’s investments in its human resources have been critical in compensating for the country’s lack of raw, natural resources like oil and mining (phosphates being the only exception).
In Algiers, meanwhile, the idea has been floated around that drug exports and money laundering, rather than qualified human resources, have accounted for the bulk of Moroccan economic prosperity and influence (in Africa, for example).
“Many like to speak about the assertive presence of Morocco in Africa. But there is nothing there in reality,” Messahel said. “In reality, Moroccan banks in Africa mostly recycle hashish money.” He added that “Moroccan companies traveling across Africa do not only take passengers with them.”
The past months have seen a resurgence of speculations about whether Rabat and Algiers would forgo of decades of hostilities after the election of a civilian president in Algeria.
Some commentators have expressed hope about the possibility of normalization between the two neighbors.
Among their reasons for hope are the “frank dialogue” offer from Morocco’s Mohammed VI and the perception that a new, mounting cohort of Algerian politicians would be willing to break with many commitments of the military establishment that has ruled Algeria since independence.
But with the persistence of such hostile perceptions among leading contenders in the Algerian presidential elections, normalization with Morocco remains an open debate whose resolution may take longer than dovish politicians and analysts in both countries would have hoped for.