“There is a new Algeria, our voice should be louder than usual,” Algeria’s Sabri Boukadoum said in Moscow.
“We wish the best for Morocco and no harm will come from Algeria. We only ask for respect. I wish the best for all our neighboring countries,” Algeria’s Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum told Russian media outlet Russia Today.
In Moscow on an official diplomatic visit, the Algerian FM addressed the ongoing tension between his country and Morocco. Boukadoum emphasized that the future of North Africa and “the Great Maghreb” lies in “unity.”
In a backhanded affirmation of friendship, the FM referenced the recent diplomatic incident between Morocco and Algeria involving a Moroccan diplomat in Oran. “You will never hear from Algeria or an Algerian official any inappropriate remarks about Morocco,” Boukadoum told the Russian news outlet.
“We do not involve ourselves in insulting conversations, you will never hear anything negative about Morocco coming from us [Algeria],” the FM said. He emphasized that Algeria is “open to all respectful partnerships, with mutual respect.”
The comments came after Boukadoum summoned the Moroccan ambassador to Algeria in May following allegations that a Moroccan consul general in Oran, Algeria’s second-largest city, had referred to Algeria as “an enemy country.”
In a public statement, the Algerian FM said: “The qualification by the consul general … is a serious violation of diplomatic habits and customs, which cannot be tolerated.” Though the consul general flatly denied the allegations, saying they had been fabricated, the situation went from bad to worse, with Algeria accusing the diplomat of being a spy.
Despite the affirmations of friendship and good feeling towards Morocco, Boukadoum made it clear in his Moscow interview that the question of Western Sahara will always stand between the two countries. He clarified that Algeria’s position on the Western Sahara conflict will not change and is well known to Morocco.
Obsession and empty words
Boukadoum’s comments echo those Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune made in an interview with France24 in early July.
Tebboune told reporters he would welcome any initiative “which would bring an end once and for all to this matter … We have no problem with our Moroccan brothers, they appear to have a problem with us.”
The Algerian president, like Boukadoum, made it very clear, however, that no such rapprochement could take place while the Western Sahara conflict continues. Neither Morocco, for whom the conflict is a question of territorial integrity, nor Algeria are willing to let the matter slide.
For decades, Algeria has strongly opposed Morocco’s moves to consolidate its territorial integrity and unite the Moroccan Sahara with the rest of the kingdom within international law. For Algeria, supporting the Polisario Front and their independence claims against Morocco is a priority on a par with domestic matters.
Following a March 2020 visit to Algeria, US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper highlighted Algeria’s obsession with Western Sahara.
Speaking to reporters, 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 noted 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.
Algerian FM Boukadoum’s focus on Western Sahara during an interview about Algeria’s diplomatic relations with Russia, on a state visit to Russia, again reflects Algeria’s view of the Western Sahara question as one that takes priority in Algerian foreign and domestic policy.
Washington-based senior political adviser and co-founder of Morocco World News Samir Bennis recently revealed 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 to undercut Morocco stretch across continents. “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.
Algeria in Libya
In recent months, Algeria, though not loosening its grip on the Western Sahara dossier, has been seeking to extend its influence in North Africa and the Sahel. “There is a new Algeria, our voice should be louder than usual,” Boukadoum told Russia Today.
Boukadoum emphasized that Algeria “supports Libya’s territorial integrity” and that Algeria’s vision does not “seek to compete with other initiatives on the table.” He said Algeria is already in negotiations with Libyan parties and is “ready to host” further dialogue.
The Algerian approach, the FM said, “is in line with the Berlin conference that we participated in.” He added, “No party is rejecting the Algerian initiative.”
While the comment on the Libya conference could be harmless, it could also be a veiled dig at Morocco who, despite previous involvement in peacekeeping efforts in Libya, did not receive an invitation for the January Berlin Conference.
A statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, African Cooperation, and Moroccan Expatriates in January said “the Kingdom of Morocco has always been at the forefront of international efforts to resolve the Libyan crisis.”
“Rabat played a decisive role in the conclusion of the Skhirat agreements, which are, to date, the only political framework – supported by the Security Council and accepted by all Libyan parties – for the resolution of the crisis in this brotherly Maghreb country,” the statement added.
Morocco and Algeria both favor a political rather than military solution in Libya, and are both well-positioned politically and geographically to support and facilitate efforts to find a resolution to the conflict in the North African country.
Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita has emphasized the kingdom’s position on Libya on a number of occasions, making the same as arguments as his Algerian counterpart Boukadoum.
“There is no military solution to the conflict in Libya. The solution to the conflict can only be political, and lies in the agreement between the Libyan parties, within the framework of the supreme interest of Libya and the Libyan people,” Bourita said in January.
“Libya cannot become a political ‘commercial asset’ that serves diplomatic conferences and meetings instead of serving the vital need of the Libyan people in peace and security,” he added.
If Algeria’s wish to facilitate the Libyan peace process is genuinely non-competitive and altruistic, and if Tebboune and Boukadoum’s protestations of respect and friendships with Morocco are also genuine, perhaps the two “brotherly” countries will be able to put aside their differences and work together for a strong and unified North Africa.