Algeria’s Western Sahara Agenda Threatens Regional Prosperity
Rabat – The smaller party in a conflict is not always a victim. In the case of the Moroccan Sahara, a territory the size of the UK, Algeria is the elephant in the room.
The long-standing dispute bears all the hallmarks of an asymmetric conflict, but the Algerian government’s entrenchment via proxies has over the years made it an issue between equals.
This explains Morocco’s position to have Algiers sit at the negotiating table to reach a settlement. But the Algerian government insists it is not party to the conflict.
This plausible deniability cannot be sustained long-term.
The Polisario Front, by virtue of its relatively smaller size, has found support in untried circles who cherish the delusion of backing David against Goliath, and continue to project Morocco as a “colonizer” in its own land.
The Algeria-backed Polisario has all the odds stacked against it. Unlike other long-standing independence movements such as the Basque and Catalan, there is no ethnic rationale to justify the marginalization of fellow Sahrawis.
The Polisario must come to terms with the fact thousands of Sahrawis lead prosperous lives across Morocco, away from the inflated and artificial calls for independence driven by narrow political agendas.
Morocco, a reliable and stable international security partner, is facing an insurgency on its southern borders, which if not contained could expand across the region and Europe. As a nation-state with a deeply rooted history, Morocco chooses diplomacy over kinetic action.
The Moroccan government has gone the extra mile to accommodate the interests of all by proposing a special autonomous status for the southern. region.
Morocco attempted to negotiate for weeks to resume traffic at the strategic Guerguerat crossing but to no avail. Hence, the Kingdom mounted a legitimate and peaceful operation to reopen the crossing and enable the flow of goods into Mauritania and other countries in the Sahel.
Neighbors always have issues, but Morocco is ready to open up and pave the way for healthy competition between the two countries, building on the brotherly ties between Moroccans and Algerians who took to the streets over the past year to demand change.
Yet the Algerian government’s recent response shows that nothing has changed, a phrase the Hirak civilian movement is too familiar with by now.
Instead of promoting real change domestically, the Algerian government is undermining Morocco’s interests in the region as the cornerstone of its policy.
Algeria knows all too well that Morocco’s economic momentum poses a direct threat to its oil-dependent economy. It is clear then that this is a case of regional competition and Algeria’s support for Polisario’s so-called struggle for independence is far from altruistic.
Algeria’s geostrategic interests are clear; expansion via proxies to gain access to the Atlantic Ocean. Since that has not come to fruition, the Algerian government’s Plan B has been to deny Morocco the right to reinforce economic ties with neighbors and friends in the region. Algeria recently adopted similar tactics in the Libyan conflict by lending its support to the Tuareg tribes in the country’s southwestern areas.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument the Moroccan Sahara achieves independence in the long-term.
The question is what would Sahrawis be left with if Algeria achieved this objective?
Nothing more than a military-style regime controlled from Algiers thousands of kilometers away.
Healthy economic competition is acceptable but military posturing is not. While Morocco advocates trade and economic development across Africa, Algeria continues to view the region through its dark-tinted military lens which enables generals and senior commanders to remain in power. Both countries would benefit from greater economic ties.
Choosing between a full-fledged military project driven by Algeria’s geostrategic interests and a transparent economic development model should not be a difficult choice for pragmatic Sahrawis on the ground with enough “skin in the game.”
From a security standpoint, the Sahel insurgency will expand into the Moroccan Sahara should Polisario-backed armed factions gain the upper hand. In the interest of stability, the region should not allow the insurgency to grow under the guise of independence.
Morocco’s soft power in Africa has not spread at the purposeful expense of others and continues to reverberate in Algeria’s military ranks. Just like Turkey in Libya, Algeria finds it difficult to play politics and prefers flexing its military muscle. Until when?