The Western Sahara question is undergoing a transformation on regional, national, and geopolitical levels.
Rabat – Algerian diplomats called for impartiality after the US delivered a strong statement on Western Sahara in support of Moroccan diplomacy on Thursday. US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker visited with Algeria’s top diplomats in the capital Algiers. In the heart of Algeria, Schenker delivered a strong message in support of Morocco’s autonomy plan, which directly contradicts Algeria’s ambitions.
Over the past months the Western Sahara issue has morphed from a seemingly gridlocked process amid a 30-year ceasefire into a shape few would have predicted. The rapid changes reverberate on the local, national, and geopolitical stages with far-reaching consequences.
The Algerian-backed Polisario Front did not receive the international support they hoped for after their blockade of Morocco’s border with Mauritania. Algerian politicians are increasingly presenting foreign threats as motivation to demand loyalty from a restless population amid a dire economic crisis. On the diplomatic front, the status of Western Sahara has irrevocably changed because of broadly reiterated support for Morocco’s autonomy plan.
US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker arrived in Algiers to deliver a message few Algerian diplomats wanted to hear. Schenker reiterated the US’ position recognizing Morocco’s territorial integrity and its explicit support for Morocco’s autonomy plan. After years of apparent neutrality, the US has picked a clear side.
While many presented the US’ recognition as a momentous change in international diplomacy, the long-term trend already favored Morocco. A growing number of countries proclaimed their support for Morocco’s efforts under UN auspices and condemned Polisario for its blockade on trade and travel at the Guerguerat border crossing.
Schenker on Thursday reiterated the US’ stance that flies in the face of Algerian ambitions.
In the presence of Algeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sabri Boukadoum, Schenker reconfirmed the diplomatic evolution regarding the Western Sahara issue. Boukadoum and his diplomats had aimed to make Western Sahara a key point of discussion, but state media was eerily quiet about the outcome of those discussions following Schenker’s visit.
Algeria is rapidly losing influence on the Western Sahara issue on which it has spent untold fortunes in order to support the Polisario forces it hosts in Tindouf. Long seen as a way to hamper Moroccan development and occupy its diplomats, the evolution of the Western Sahara conflict is now having its effect on Algeria’s national politics.
Algeria’s long-absent President Abdelmadjid Tebboune is rapidly playing catch-up, approving bills and making decisions that were stalled for weeks or months as he received treatment in Germany.
To avoid blame for the political gridlock amid a grave economic crisis, Algerian politicians have aimed to present an outside threat as a reason for Algerians to rally behind the government. They have left no stone unturned as even Algerian mosques propagated an anti-Moroccan message during Friday prayers.
Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad told citizens that “the zionist entity as arrived,” following the quid-pro-quo agreement between Morocco, the US, and Israel. The decision, Djerad posed, came from “a real desire to attack Algeria.” Yet even for Algeria’s leaders, the evolution of the Western Sahara issue is undeniable, confirmed by Schenker’s statements on Thursday.
The diplomatic evolution of the issue reverberates on the regional level, with tangible impacts on Western Sahara and Algeria’s Tindouf camps.
In Wetsern Sahara, Moroccan press are racking up frequent-flyer miles as more and more consulates open in Laayoune and Dakhla. The opening of Bahrain and the UAE’s consulates provided a strong symbol of support from the Arab world. Sunday’s scheduled opening of the US consulate in Dakhla further engraves the region’s new diplomatic status.
While elaborate consulates are under construction in Western Sahara, the conflict’s evolution is pushing Polisario forces into ever more desperate endeavors. A French NGO recently accused Polisario of conscripting child soldiers into their militia.
It appears Polisario’s failed attempt to create a confrontation at Guerguerat has produced an evolution in the priorities of the group’s leadership as well.
Echoing a story many have tried to address for years, Jordanian expert Faouaz Al Khalayla recently said Polisario leadership is trying to enrich itself at the expense of impoverished Sahrawis living in their Tindouf camps. In an article for Ammon News, Al Khalayla decried Algerian “expansionist ambitions” while accusing Polisario leaders in Tindouf of trying to enrich themselves amid internal rifts.
The evolution of the Western Sahara issue is producing tangible results on the geopolitical, national, and regional levels. On the Moroccan side, diplomatic victories are becoming etched in stone, emblemized by the establishment of consulates and new economic initiatives.
On the Algerian side, it appears the situation is only worsening the fate of both regular Algerians and Sahrawis in the Tindouf camps alike. Unfortunately, political leadership in Algeria and Tindouf appears hellbound on profiting from the crisis as a means to cast blame on outside forces while maintaining their position in power.
After decades of unnecessary conflict and strife between two culturally similar nations, the one issue that seems unable to evolve is the mindset of Algerian politicians. For them, a fruitful rapprochement between Algeria and Morocco threatens their source of wealth, prestige, and power.