Algiers “confronted” Morocco’s ambassador to Algeria after accusing the Moroccan consul in Oran of calling Algeria an “enemy country.”
Dorset – Algeria has stirred tensions with Morocco by summoning the Moroccan ambassador to Algiers to “confront” him over an alleged “serious violation of diplomatic habits and customs.”
“The ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco in Algiers was summoned, Wednesday May 13, 2020, by Sabri Boukadoum, Minister of Foreign Affairs to confront him with the remarks the Consul General of Morocco in Oran made while speaking with Moroccan citizens,” Algeria’s state press service reported on May 14.
Algeria accused Morocco’s Consul General in Oran of calling Algeria “an enemy country” while talking to a group of Moroccan citizens in the city. The Moroccans were calling on the consul to facilitate their repatriation to their home country amid the coronavirus crisis.
A video showing footage of the incident has circulated online.
The Moroccan consul has categorically denied the accusations, saying the comments were entirely made up and that his discourse pertained solely to the situation of the stranded Moroccan citizens.
Algeria’s FM, meanwhile, told the Moroccan ambassador that the alleged comments would “not be tolerated.”
He added that the purported comments represent “an attack on the nature of relations between two neighboring countries and two brotherly peoples.”
Boukadoum warned “Moroccan authorities to take appropriate measures to avoid the
repercussions of this incident on bilateral relations.”
The thinly veiled threat that accompanied the Algerian FM’s praise of the fraternal, friendly relations between Morocco and Algeria prompts a number of questions about both Algeria’s hostile rhetoric and the origins of the accusation against the Moroccan consul.
Years of friction
Despite the Algerian FM’s claims of “brotherly relations” between Morocco and Algeria, the accusations he leveled against Morocco come after a series of hostile and, largely baseless, statements from Algerian officials.
In November 2018, Algeria’s former Minister of Tourism Amar Ghoul accused Morocco of systematically sending “hashish and drugs” to Algeria.
He added that the trade balance with Morocco is lopsided, claiming: “These people take our oil, our sugar, and all consumer products subsidized to billions of dollars. They send us hashish and drugs instead.”
In August of the same year, the president of Algeria’s National Liberation Front (FLN), Djamel Ould Abbes, echoed Ghoul’s claims that Morocco “exports illegal drugs” to Algeria.
Algeria is facing “many dangerous challenges,” he said. “Among the challenges mentioned by the President of the Republic is what is happening in the country currently with drugs. Our neighbors to the west, may God forgive them, and I do not think he can forgive them, are flooding us with drugs.”
In 2017, Morocco’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita called on the Algerian government for an official apology after Soufiane Mimouni, the then-director general of the Algerian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, physically assaulted a Moroccan diplomat at a United Nations meeting in the Caribbean.
Agence France Press (AFP) confirmed the veracity of Bourita’s complaint.
The assault allegedly took place after Algerian diplomats at the meeting challenged the presence of elected Moroccan representatives from Western Sahara, in southern Morocco..
In response, Algeria alleged that the incident took place after Moroccan delegates sexually harassed a young Algerian diplomat.
A shared history
Rabat-Algiers relations are far from straightforward and have been marred by hostility and perceived insults since the 1960s, despite strong fraternal relations prior to independence.
Morocco gave tangible support to Algeria during its guerilla independence war against the French colonists, but their brotherly bonds of solidarity were soon broken due to a land dispute.
During the gradual withdrawal of colonial powers from North Africa in the 1950s in the wake of the arbitrary division of land in the 1845 Treaty of Lalla Maghnia, which left 165 square kilometers of desert between the two states, France used the mineral rich lands between Tindouf and Bechar as a bargaining chip in Algeria’s independence war.
In 1952, France ruled that the resource-rich region would be part of French Algeria. While struggling to retain control of Algeria in 1956, the French government offered to return the Tindouf-Bechar region to independent Morocco in exchange for withdrawing support from the Algerian struggle.
Morocco’s King Mohammed V refused to consider such an act, announcing that the matter of Tindouf-Bechar stretch would be settled between Morocco and the new Algerian regime, once the country gained its independence.
The exiled Algerian government agreed to Morocco’s terms. However, when Algeria finally gained its independence a new power emerged in the form of President Ahmed Ben Bella, all previous agreements were declared null and void.
In 1962, Morocco’s King Hassan II sent troops into the disputed region in a bid to finally settle the question of the Morocco-Algeria borders.
The incursion was short lived, but in 1963 internal tensions in both Morocco and Algeria led to renewed hostility between the two countries.
Turmoil was brewing in the newly independent Algeria in the form of a Kabyle rebellion. Algeria blamed Morocco for inciting the rebellion, leading to an outbreak of skirmishes in the disputed territory and a war that captured the imaginations of both the Algerian and Moroccan populations.
The conflict ended in a military stalemate and the permanent closure of the borders in Figuig and Beni Ounif.
The Sand War soured relations between the former allies, sealing Algiers and Rabat into a frosty stand-off that would cast a shadow over diplomatic relations for decades to come.
In February 1976 Spain officially withdrew from the Western Sahara, following the November 1975 Green March in which 350,000 Moroccans marched into the territory to liberate it from Spain’s colonialism. Despite previous agreements with Rabat, Algiers backed the breakaway group claiming the territory as an independent state.
Algeria has consistently supported the independence claims of the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), acting as advocate for the separatist claims in international fora.
Morocco’s neighboring country continues to provide arms and funding for the Polisario Front, the breakaway group that runs the Tindouf Camps in Algeria where 90,000 Saharwis are currently living under harsh conditions.
Despite its involvement with the breakaway group, Algeria styles itself as an observer and refuses to engage in the United Nations-led peace process as an active party to the conflict.
To impartial observers, however, Algeria’s role in the ongoing dispute is all too clear.
The United Nations has named Algeria as a party to the conflict on a number of occasions, calling on the North African country to engage in the peace process in good faith.
UN Security Council Resolution 2494 of October 2019 references Algeria five times: Three times in the preamble and twice in operative paragraphs.
The text of the resolution outlines the need for Algeria to assume responsibility in the conflict and to engage in the political process..
The already complex relations between Algeria and Morocco worsened in 1994 when Morocco introduced visa requirements for Algerians. The decision came after police found that Algerian terrorists led the bombing at the Atlas Asni Hotel in Marrakech.
Algeria responded to Morocco’s decision with the official closure of the borders.
Although Morocco lifted the visa requirements for Algerians in 2004, the borders remained closed.
The hand of friendship
Morocco has offered an olive branch to Algeria several times over the long years of cool relations. King Mohammed VI regularly calls on Algeria to normalize relations in both speeches and direct communications with the neighboring country.
When Abdelmajid Tebboune took up the Algerian presidency in December 2019, King Mohammed VI sent a message of “heartfelt congratulations.” The cable called for a “new page in relations between the two neighboring countries, based on mutual trust and constructive dialogue.”
The congratulatory message to Tebboune was not the first time King Mohammed VI had offered the hand of friendship to Algeria.
In November 2018, the King said Morocco was ready to engage in a frank and serious dialogue with Algeria to break the “political stalemate between Rabat and Algiers, to restore full diplomatic ties, and to reopen the borders between the two countries.”
Tebboune, however, shut down the messages of amity, making it clear that there would be no rapprochement in the near future.
“There have been events that have caused the borders to close [between Algeria and Morocco]. In my opinion, the main cause of the conflict must be removed and everything else will follow,” he said in December 2019.
The Algerian president added that he is “extremely sensitive when it comes to national sovereignty. I forgive no one for interfering or for harming our sovereignty.”
The Tebboune government reacted with hostility when a number of African states opened diplomatic missions in the Moroccan cities of Laayoune and Dakhla in Western Sahara in an apparent show of support for Morocco’s territorial integrity.
Liberia, Guinea, the Gambia, and Djibouti have all opened consulates in Dakhla, while Laayoune plays host to diplomatic missions from the Comoros, Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe, the Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, and Burundi.
Despite Algeria’s insistence on its status as an observer in the Western Sahara conflict, the North African country responded with a series of statements questioning the validity of the diplomatic missions and, through them, Morocco’s sovereignty in the region.
“This measure of exceptional gravity represents a flagrant violation of the norms of international law. It represents an attack on the rules and principles that should govern inter-African relations,” the Algerian Foreign Ministry said on the opening of the Comoros consulate.
After Cote d’Ivoire opened its consulate in Laayoune on February 18, Algeria recalled its ambassador from Cote d’Ivoire “for consultation.”
The Ivorian foreign minister, however, said the opening of the consulate was a “sovereign act.”
“In foreign policy, as in other fields, we are careful not to give moral lessons, nor do we want to be told what to do or not to do,” he remarked in response to the Algerian move.
The cold shoulder
New hope for Algiers-Rabat relations surfaced in April 2020 when the new president created the Algerian Agency for International Cooperation (AACI) to take over certain responsibilities and powers traditionally held by the military, including the Western Sahara file.
The launch of the AACI is designed to develop “conditions so that Western Sahara and the political and strategic crisis in the Maghreb region become the prerogative of the Presidency of the Republic,” reported Spanish news outlet Atalayar.
Algeria’s military has controlled foreign policy in the North African country since before it gained independence in 1962. The Liberation Army (ELN), and later the National Popular Army (ANP), have retained control of Algeria’s Western Sahara policy since the file was first opened in 1975.
The move led to speculation that relations between Morocco and Algeria might thaw with a new Western Sahara policy in Algiers.
Hopes were quickly dashed, however, when Tebboune vetoed the possibility of taking a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), saying that Algeria refused to bow to pressure from foreign powers. He cited the Western Sahara dossier as a key motivation for his position.
Algeria is a “free country,” the president said in a recent interview. Debts to international actors compromise this freedom, he added.
“[Algeria] will no longer be able to defend causes, like the Palestinian cause and the Western Sahara conflict.”
The latest development in Morocco-Algeria relations, whether the result of a misunderstanding or a fabricated slight, reflects the deep distrust between the two nations. Despite their shared history and culture, diplomatic ties between Rabat and Algiers will remain icy until the Algerian government is willing to put aside decades of tension and accept the hand of friendship Morocco continues to stretch out.