Morocco has achieved a level of liberalization that is nearly unparalleled in the Arab world, while Algeria is a shambling husk of a state.
Rabat – How did Morocco and Algeria, once tied together under the banner of Islam, develop so differently to the point that the two now consider themselves bitter rivals?
Before the era of French colonialism, the Greater Maghreb was a consolidated cultural entity, with a shared dialect of Arabic, similar Arab-Amazigh (Berber) ethnic roots, and, obviously, a strong sense of cultural identity. However, the different states found today in the Maghreb could not differ more in terms of political structure.
Consider the two powers in the region: Morocco and Algeria. Morocco is a parliamentary, constitutional monarchy that, despite continuous human rights abuses by the state, has in fact achieved a level of liberalization that is unparalleled in the Arab World—except maybe by Tunisia.
Algeria, on the other hand, is a shambling husk of a state, exhausted from decades of violence, a dependency on oil, and the complete fracturing of society along neo-tribal lines.
In addition, Moroccan-Algerian relations since the independence era can be characterized by tense, antagonistic exchanges broken only ever so often by all-out conflict, such as the Sand War of 1963, or during the Western Sahara War of 1975-1991.
Similar, yet so different
How did the two countries, united within the Arab Muslim world due to their similar Amazigh roots and Darija dialect, develop in such different ways, even to the point where the two are now rivals in the contest for North African hegemony?
This is, somehow, in large part due to the different styles of colonialism practiced in each country. This cannot explain away all of the differences, however, and to find the other piece of the puzzle, one must turn to some of the state-crafting techniques utilized by resistance movements in both countries during the struggle for independence and the post-independence period.
Morocco’s state-crafting process was focused on unification—starting with the Tangier Speech of 1947—while Algeria’s process was characterized by different factions vying for power, something that has permeated the political culture of Algeria and still exists today.
To discuss the process of state-crafting in Morocco, it is important to understand a major advantage Morocco possessed over Algeria in terms of stability during the transitional period.
France’s “protectorate” approach to colonialism in Morocco essentially kept Moroccan society intact. Instead of removing the monarch from power completely, which could possibly cause massive revolts, the French instead kept the monarchy alive. This means that during the independence and post-independence eras, there was no question as to who was going to take the reins of the newly free state. Power was simply to return to the monarch.
Additionally, the protectorate system also preserved the Moroccan identity, to a certain extent. While Morocco would have to consider its future relationships with Europe and what role the French language would play in Morocco, there was still an underlying consensus of what being “Moroccan” meant.
Compare this with Algeria, where a period of brutal colonialism and subjugation had left the people unsure about the Algerian identity altogether.
These two characteristics—an idea of what it meant to be Moroccan, known locally as “tamaghrabit,” plus a clear-cut ruler to lead Morocco into the age of independence—contributed to the stability of Morocco. The absence of these characteristics in Algeria also explain why the converse is true of the Algerian state right now.
But to assume that the Moroccan monarch always held such sway over the Moroccan populace is blatantly incorrect. In fact, several accounts of public perception of the Moroccan King from the late 19th and early 20th centuries were overwhelmingly negative.
Cities, upon hearing of the arrival of the King, often “fled to other regions; and the Sultan often passed through a deserted country, except that the Governor and tribal representative had to be there to pour the little wealth of the countryside into the royal coffers,” wrote Walter Harris in his 1921 book “Morocco That Was.”
Another interesting point against the unity of the Moroccan people under the banner of the monarchy is the existence of the Rif Republic, from 1921-1925. The existence of Abd Al-Karim’s localized republic provides strong evidence that support for the King was not necessarily widespread until at least after the 1920s.
The Tangier Speech changed everything
It was not until 1947, when King Mohammed V gave the Tangier Speech that he cemented the position of the monarch as an important symbol of Moroccan unity and as the proprietor of a unified push for nationalism.
Using truly amazing rhetoric, Mohammed V united his people with incendiary words, such as, “We have become alienated from our sacred rights due to our ignorance, and the unity of our country is torn apart because of the mistakes we have made in this regard.” He also referenced the Islamic traditions that define Morocco.
By affirming his own rule through the common Islamic root that all Moroccans share, he not only drew the people together under the banner of one religion but also drew attention back to the source of his own legitimacy: The Alaouite bloodline.
Not only did the Tangier Speech bring together Moroccans under the banner of Islam, it united the different nationalist causes through Islamic motivation—not being Arab, not Moroccan nationality, but Islam as the one true underlying connection all Moroccans share.
He thus brought them together in support of a monarch that drew his legitimacy from the bloodline of the prophet, as Abdelhai Azarkan noted in his article “Statecraft and sovereignty in Mohammed V of Morocco’s Tangiers Speech (1947).”
The French retaliated by promptly exiling the King, which only strengthened the dedication and loyalty of the Moroccan people to the deposed monarch.
The Tangier Speech marks the beginning of what would become a successful independence movement with overwhelming support from every sector of Moroccan society and should be considered the most important act of statecraft during the independence movement in Morocco.
The aftermath of the colonial era
In the aftermath of the colonial era, Algeria did not have the same monarchical legacy Morocco had from which she could build a nation with a legitimate form of sovereignty.
Additionally, the various Algerian independence movements had not consolidated themselves under one concept other than opposition to the French as a whole.
Where the King in Morocco had successfully rallied both Islamists and nationalists alike by positioning himself as an Islamic ruler who stood for all of Morocco, Algeria quickly fell into a period of political infighting that was almost comparable with the era of colonialism itself.
The leaders of the revolution bickered amongst themselves in attempts to hold onto power, and Ben Bella established himself not as a leader with the intent of growing Algeria into a functioning nation but rather as a dictator.
In response to escalating political threats surrounding him, Ben Bella tried more and more fervently to retain his slipping grasp on the country. The idea of legitimated political violence that had helped Algeria fight the war of independence had quickly been adapted into the political landscape and was used more in practice than actual pluralism.
The National Liberation Front (FLN) party believed that as the harbingers of the revolution, it was their right and their right alone to control the future of Algeria, John Reudy explained in his book “Modern Algeria: The Origins and Development of a Nation.”
As if these two terrible additions to the Algerian political status quo were not debilitating enough, another fatal flaw came from the socialist policies of the 1960s and 1970s. In order to pacify the people, the government began to subsidize nearly everything. While this did in fact kept the masses at bay, it also had two profound impacts on the economy of Algeria.
First, farmers stopped working the fields, because the socialist government handed out paychecks incongruent to the levels of production. Algeria, for the first time ever, had to begin importing food to feed its own people, Ray Takeyh wrote in his paper on Islamism in Algeria.
Secondly, and more sociologically, it made the people unaccustomed to the idea of working and crippled any future efforts to wean the system away from oil profits.
During Bendjedid’s presidency, as oil prices dropped, Bendjedid worked to liberalize the economy of Algeria. Suddenly, people found themselves less provided for by the government than in years past, only adding to the continuously worsening state of affairs in Algeria.
Another nail in the metaphorical coffin of Algeria’s post-independence state of affairs was their complete dedication to non-alignment.
While Algeria did open up in some way to the USSR, for the most part, they viewed any interaction with the outside world (or rather, with the West, from where most economic opportunities would have come) as a revitalized colonialism, and so they cut off their economic ties.
Without foreign investment, Algeria essentially cut itself off from all of the luxury goods they had seen during the period of French colonialism, pushing the people even further into disenfranchisement.
The path to liberalization that lies before Morocco is a long one indeed. Yet, when we compare the state of Morocco to the state of Algeria, we see just how critical the authority of the monarchy has been to the development of civil societies and the general liberalization of political affairs in Morocco.
Without a strong authority figure, it’s not inconceivable that Morocco would be where Algeria is today.
Moroccan and Algerian people: Cut from the same cloth
Although Algeria and Morocco had opposed trajectories since independence, the people of the two countries have always been bound by a strong feeling of togetherness and brotherhood.
Realizing the strength of this feeling, the late Algerian President Boumedienne (1965-1978), after throwing his support behind the Polisario Front that is fighting for the independence and self-determination of the Western Sahara, called for the establishment of the “Maghreb of the People” which from the start looked like a vacuous political initiative to offset the enmity created by the Western Sahara issue.
However, in spite of these political hurdles, the Algerian people continued to visit Morocco in thousands to buy Western consumer goods and enjoy creature comforts not available in their beleaguered socialist country in spite of the undeclared reprehension of their government.
However, following a terrorist attack in a hotel in Marrakech in 1994, masterminded by Franco-Algerian terrorists, Morocco temporarily imposed visa restrictions on Algerian citizens.
The Algerian government, in reprisal, closed off the land border with Morocco to stem mass Algerian tourism. The border is still sealed off today to disallow the Moroccan treasury from making up to $3 billion in tourist revenues, according to Algerian sources.
Since February 16, 2019, the Algerian masses have taken to the streets to force the military to relinquish power and go back to their barracks.
This peaceful uprising known as the Smile Revolution, or Hirak, is yet another manifestation of the Arab Spring of 2011 whereby the people want real democracy and political self-determination after decades of military dictatorship.
The uprising has gained momentum over the months and pushed the army to make several concessions but not to give up power.
Nevertheless, the popular revolution will ultimately achieve its aims, in the long run, because the government is on the verge of economic and political bankruptcy: The sovereign fund is depleted, and the government is resorting to massive printing of paper money to pay functionaries. The subsidies have been abolished and if people cannot have free bread, they will want a promising democracy.
In the long run this Hirak will change the face of Algeria, have positive implications on Morocco, and allow the realization of the Great Maghreb and make of it an economic powerhouse in this part of the African continent that is aspiring for real change and positive prospects.
Consequently, Algeria will achieve democracy and the rule of law and open its doors for investors and regional and world capital.
The change of heart of Algeria will greatly benefit Morocco economically by allowing Moroccan businesses to enter the lucrative market of 40 million avid consumers and politically by rubbing off the sentiment of democracy on stable Morocco to trigger, once and for all, incremental democracy that will lead to full democracy and real constitutional monarchy.
Real democracy in Algeria will undoubtedly benefit, also, the limping democracy in Tunisia and cause the political tribes of Libya to reunite and re-establish a civilian state based on power-sharing and political responsibility.
The Algerian Hirak might also unite the people of the Maghreb and make it truly great to become an important partner of Europe and America and a viable actor in the Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East, not to forget, of course, Black Africa, replete with economic opportunities.
A unified Great Maghreb can become a force of stability in Africa and the Mediterranean by stopping irregular immigration, a source of problems for Europe and the West and by fighting, in unison, violent religious extremism thriving in the great expanses of the Sahara and inspiring such deadly movements as Boko Haram in Black Africa.
A democratic Maghreb can also stem at home such painful headaches as corruption, nepotism, embezzlement, abuse of power, gender inequality, and money laundering.
Hopefully, the Algerian uprising will activate full democracy and economic development in the region but also equity and equality by recognizing fully all ethnic and religious groups of the region be they Arab, Amazigh, Jewish, African, Christian or other minorities whatever they might be.
Algeria and Morocco, long opposed by ideology will, God willing, become responsible partners in democracy that will pull the Great Maghreb out of the actual quagmire into an era of wellbeing and togetherness.
Is this possible and feasible? Only time will show….
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial views.
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You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter @Ayurinu