Will Morocco and Algeria ever make peace?
After withdrawing from the African Union’s (AU) predecessor 33 years ago over the status of Western Sahara – a region supported by Algeria that is seeking a self-determination vote – Morocco joined the AU on 30 January
It is possible to say that the Maghreb’s two powerhouses are irreconcilable due to the Western Sahara quarrel, the regular accusations on drug smuggling or the bitter exchange around terrorism export. But that denies the role and the say of both populations, their respective masses and their independent, young, progressive intelligentsia. In the present day, there are two realms of reality when it comes to the Algerian-moroccan standoff. There is the institutional discourse which reigns at the helm of both neighbouring states, echoed by a servile media which fuels in its turn a sense of diplomatic warfare, mistrust and rivalry. Yet there is the street, filled with a disgruntled public and an increasingly savvy youth who might buy into some of Algiers’ or Rabat’s propaganda, but can still see very clearly at either side of the border that the two agents of this animosity are elitist, decadent regimes. When it comes to the question of Western Sahara, the vast majority of ordinary Algerians and Moroccans do not endure a state of constant obsessive paranoia, conditioning all interaction between the two parties to the feud. When they meet, they may agree or disagree over the fate of the Saharan territories, but they would talk about a whole array of other issues, which happen to be, more often than not, shared grievances of social injustice, political marginalisation, crackdown on dissent, and unemployment. A true rapprochement may not be imminent, but it is probable.
It appears that the rivalry between Morocco and Algeria will not end in the foreseeable future. There are complex issues associated with the contradictory historical and ideological paths of both countries, and the dispute over the demarcation of borders, as well as the issue of Western Sahara. Furthermore, Algeria politically and militarily supports the Polisario Front in line with the principles of decolonisation and the rights of the Sahrawi people to self-determination. In contrast, Morocco’s claim to full sovereignty over Western Sahara is a direct threat to regional unity. Despite the fact that Algeria was amongst the supporters for the return of Morocco to the African Union (AU), it is not indicative of the possibility of a political rapprochement between the two countries. The Algerian argument would be that Morocco’s commitment to the principles of the AU implies that Morocco needs to abandon its demands for the expulsion of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic from the AU, which in itself would be a tacit recognition of the Sahrawi Republic by Morocco.
Filmmaker, documentary photographer & producer
HAMDY A. HASSAN
Professor of political science, Cairo University