Despite spending millions of dollars to lobby against Morocco in Washington, Tebboune claims Algeria has “no ulterior motives” and “no problem with our Moroccan brothers.”
Despite Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune’s claims to the contrary, Algeria will never give up in its cold war with Morocco. “If they think an initiative should be taken, I think that would be good. They could take an initiative, which would bring an end once and for all to this matter,” Tebboune told France24 on July 4.
In the same interview, the Algerian president claimed that the historic Rabat-Algiers hostility is one-sided. “We have no problem with our Moroccan brothers, they appear to have a problem with us,” the Algerian president simpered.
According to Tebboune, Morocco is merely imagining hostile moves and suffering from prolonged paranoia as far as Algeria is concerned. “Everything we do within Algeria domestically … thinking we have some ulterior motives, we have none, no ulterior motives against our brothers in Morocco or the king of Morocco,” he said.
However, two-faced Tebboune does appear to have ulterior motives. There is one thing standing in the way of a Morocco-Algeria rapprochement and neither country has any intention of letting go. Until the Western Sahara dispute comes to a resolution, the two countries will remain at loggerheads.
The hostility between Algeria and Morocco dates back over fifty years to the 1963 Sand War. The neighboring countries came to blows over a disputed territory that had been used by colonial powers to play the two countries against each other. The Sand War ended in a military stalemate and the permanent closure of the borders in Figuig and Beni Ounif.
Though the violent conflict was over, the spark of hostility between the neighboring countries was far from extinguished. Then, in February 1976 when Spain officially withdrew from Western Sahara, following the November 1975 Green March in which 350,000 Moroccans marched into the territory to liberate it from Spain’s colonialism, Algiers declared support for the breakaway Polisario Front claiming the territory as an independent state.
Since the 1970s, Algeria has consistently supported the independence claims of the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), acting as an advocate for the Polisario Front and its separatist claims in international fora.
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. Morocco lifted the visa requirements for Algerians in 2004 but the borders remained closed.
Complicating matters further, despite its overt support for the Polisario Front, Algeria insists on maintaining observer status and refuses to engage in the United Nations-led peace process as an active party to the conflict. However, 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.
By refusing to engage in the peace process, Algeria is not maintaining neutrality but acting as a block to progress in the dossier while attempting to maintain the outward image of a bystander with no stakes in the dispute.
Furthermore, despite Tebboune’s protestations that Algeria has no ulterior motives or agenda that would harm Moroccan interests, Algiers regularly and actively seeks to muddy the waters at the UN and gain diplomatic influence to destabilize Morocco.
As recently as March 2020, US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper commented on Algeria’s obsession with Western Sahara after a state visit to the North African country.
At a press briefing, Cooper emphasized that his ministerial meetings all had an intense focus on the US position on Western Sahara. “I’m including not just ministers; this would be just people—as you all know, in the public sphere that’s a conversation, it’s a very robust discourse on the entire continent about our commitment.”
Cooper said that Algeria wants to guarantee a US position in line with the Algerian agenda on the conflict. “Their concern is if they want to be closer to us, they want to make sure that they see that commitment,” he explained.
Millions of dollars on destabilizing Morocco’s efforts
For a government that claims to have no ulterior motive and no interest in undercutting Morocco’s diplomatic efforts, the clear focus on Western Sahara seems out of place but comes as no surprise.
At the European Parliament, at the UN, and in Washington, Algeria deploys all of its diplomatic force to destabilize Morocco’s position on the Western Sahara dossier.
Washington-based senior political adviser and co-founder of Morocco World News Samir Bennis said that in Europe, “Algeria is known for being the only country in the world that is providing support to the Polisario and every year tries to lobby members of the European Parliament to adopt resolutions that go against Morocco.”
Bennis, who has written extensively on the Western Sahara question, explained that Algeria’s efforts are not limited to Europe. “In the US, Algeria has over the past 45 years spent over $50 million in lobbying against the Moroccan stance on the conflict and its efforts to find a mutually acceptable political solution.”
“Foley Hoag, the law firm that has been working on behalf of the Algerian government for the past two decades, between April of last year and last March had 45 meetings and interactions with members of Congress, the Senate, and the House [of Representatives], and members of the US administration,” he said.
“Forty-five meetings were focused exclusively on ‘human rights’ and ‘self-determination,’ and we know Algeria has been advocating the principle of self-determination in the conflict of the Sahara. We understand that all the lobbying Algeria has been deploying in Washington has been focused only on this topic,” Bennis explained.
For a country that has “no ulterior motive” and bears no hostility towards Morocco, $50 million on lobbying seems a high price to pay.
Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has stretched out the hand of friendship to Algeria on a number of occasions, only to be rebuffed, making Tebboune’s recent avowals of positive feelings toward Morocco seem even more disingenuous.
When Tebboune became president in December 2019, King Mohammed VI sent a message of “heartfelt congratulations,” calling 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 December 2019, the Algerian president said he is “extremely sensitive when it comes to national sovereignty. I forgive no one for interfering or for harming our sovereignty.”
In sharp contrast to his more recent statement, though no more genuine, the two-faced president only one thing is standing in the way of warmer relations between Morocco and Algeria: “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.”
However, the barrier to a Rabat-Algiers rapprochement will only be removed when Algeria gives up its obsession with Western Sahara and actively engages in the Western Sahara peace process, rather than standing between Morocco and its territorial integrity.
Since Tebboune’s July 4 pledge of amity and good feeling, Algeria has released no less than two statements lashing out at Morocco on the subject of Western Sahara, dashing any hopes that this time Tebboune may have been genuine in his wishes for renewed relations with Morocco.