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Forest fires reduce to ashes the incandescent relations between Algeria and Morocco


If relations between Algiers and Rabat have never been good since the independence of the Cherifian Kingdom, the storm, which had been brewing since the beginning of the summer, fuelled by several thunderclaps, ended up causing a diplomatic blackout.



The border between Morocco and Algeria has been closed since August 1994 (photo: DR)
The border between Morocco and Algeria has been closed since August 1994 (photo: DR)
ALGERIA / MOROCCO. The affair had been simmering for several days and by dint of being strained, the meagre links ended up breaking down. By announcing, on Tuesday 24 August 2021 in Algiers, that Algeria was breaking its diplomatic relations with Morocco, Ramtane Lamamra has taken a new step in the conflictual relations between the Republic and the Kingdom.
This ultimate decision is justified in a long statement, read by the Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, but attributed to President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, and published on Twitter: "It is historically and objectively established that the Kingdom of Morocco has never ceased to carry out hostile, unfriendly and malicious actions against our country and this, since Algeria's independence. Further on, the text blames 'the security and propaganda apparatus of the Kingdom of Morocco (which) is waging a low-level and large-scale media war against Algeria, its people and its leaders, not hesitating to forge fanciful scenarios, invent rumours and propagate defamatory statements.

Above all, Ramtane Lamamra hurled the anathema at Morocco, which was accused of supporting groups behind the catastrophic fires that broke out on 9 August 2021 in Kabylia, in northern Algeria. These numerous fires, ninety-two recorded by the Civil Protection in sixteen wilayas, caused some ninety deaths, including thirty-three soldiers. According to the Algerian authorities, most of the fires are of human origin and voluntary. Twenty-two suspects were arrested in mid-August 2021. "Only criminal hands can be behind the outbreak of more than fifty fires in all the municipalities of the state at the same time," said Kamal Beljoud, Algerian Minister of the Interior, on 10 August 2021.

Algeria, Spain, Italy, Greece, Albania, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, and recently France, and even the north of Morocco ten days ago, the entire Mediterranean region has been the victim of devastating and deadly fires during this episode of high heat (45° recorded at the beginning of the month in Algeria). The flames found a favourable terrain to propagate, benefiting from water stress in this summer period and very violent winds.

The Western Sahara issue, heart of the storm

The Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately regretted in a statement this decision "completely unjustified, but expected in view of the logic of escalation observed in recent weeks. Moroccan diplomacy points to "the fallacious, even absurd, pretexts that underlie it". However, it refuses to rub salt in the wound, saying it wants to "remain a credible and loyal partner for the Algerian people and continue to act, with wisdom and responsibility, for the development of healthy and fruitful inter-Maghreb relations.

Nothing has been going on between the two enemy brothers for decades. In fact, since the departure of the Spaniards in 1975 from Morocco without a settlement of the Western Sahara issue. Classified by the United Nations as a "non-self-governing territory" since 1963, but claimed in its own right by Morocco (which controls 80% of it), the Western Sahara is the scene of indirect confrontations between the two countries. The heart of the storm that is rumbling between the two neighbours. Algeria supports the Polisario Front (20% of the territory). This independence party unilaterally proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in 1976. They were only "normalised" in May 1988 on the basis of four principles: A will to promote permanent relations of peace, good neighbourliness and cooperation between the two peoples; a contribution to the acceleration of the construction of the Greater Arab Maghreb; a contribution to the strengthening of Arab ranks around the cause of the Palestinian people; support for a just and definitive solution to the Western Sahara conflict through a referendum on self-determination.
So many points that have been "denied in whole or in part, in a serious and repeated manner" by Morocco, according to Ramtane Lamamra, who recalled them very opportunely today.

The last one remains the red thread. If the UN - which has a force on the spot, the Minurso since 1991, to carry it out - advocates the organisation of a consultation on Western Sahara, the decades follow one another without any solution being found to put an end to this pebble in the diplomatic shoe of the two countries. A few weeks before the forest fires, this issue was burning the relations between Rabat and Algiers. They were, on this subject, already well inflamed by the normalisation of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel in return for a recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara by the United States of Donald Trump. While Algeria supports the Palestinian cause. But also, and above all, by three other notable events that took place during the summer.
 

Diplomatic melodrama in three acts

In mid-July 2021, at a meeting of the non-aligned movement in New York, Morocco came to sow discord on the Algerian side. Omar Hilale, ambassador of the Cherifian Kingdom to the UN, said that "the valiant Kabyle people deserve, more than any other, to fully enjoy their right to self-determination. You support the Sahrawis, I support the Kabyles. A stone in every garden...
Algiers does not appreciate this, especially since the Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylia (MAK) is on its red list of terrorist organisations. It therefore recalls its ambassador to Rabat for "consultations with immediate effect". This is the first act of this melodrama that will lead to the rupture of diplomatic relations.

The second was the Pegasus affair, the same month. The revelations about the use of this Israeli spy software will arrive in Algeria in a tidal wave. Several senior Algerian officials were targeted by it. Algiers immediately sees the hand of Rabat, confiding its "deep concern following the revelations (...) reporting the large-scale use of Pegasus by the authorities of certain countries, and particularly by the Kingdom of Morocco".
On 8 August 2021, King Mohammed VI's proposal, as a sign of appeasement, to reopen the borders (closed since 16 August 1994 by Algerian decision) between "the two twin countries that complement each other", will have no impact.

Then came the forest fires and the unequivocal message of 18 August from Algiers: "the incessant hostile acts perpetrated by Morocco against Algeria have necessitated the revision of relations between the two countries and the intensification of security controls at the western borders". This statement paved the way for the rupture of diplomatic relations decreed on Tuesday 24 August 2021. "The Moroccan security services and propaganda are waging a despicable war against Algeria, its people and its leaders," commented Ramtane Lamamra.
 

The AMU is out of steam

A good relationship between Algeria and Morocco remains the missing link in the regional integration of the Maghreb. The cost of non-Maghreb would cause each Maghreb country to lose between one and three points (according to various studies) of growth annually. That is to say about 10 billion dollars per year and hundreds of thousands of jobs lost. A study on regional integration in the Maghreb by the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) and the Forum of Moroccan Alternatives (FMAS), published in November 2017 and co-financed by the European Union, underlined that trade in goods between the Maghreb countries represented only 3.6% of their trade with the rest of the world. It estimated the contribution of intra-Maghreb trade to the region's GDP at only 2.05% in 2015 for an estimated potential of 27.4%. "Morocco, on the other hand, has exceeded its export potential to all Maghreb countries except Algeria. The model's estimates show that Moroccan exports to Algeria reached only 4.05% of their potential in 2015," lamented the survey's editors.

"During the last three decades, the cumulative intra-Maghreb FDI flows (FDI stock) between 1985 and 2014 reached only 476.7 million US dollars, which is derisory compared to the region's share in global FDI flows (111.8 billion dollars during the same period)," the study also revealed.

The lack of entente cordiale between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Republic of Algeria reflects on the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU). Bringing together Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and Mauritania, the organisation's ambitions are being held back by political, economic, social and institutional factors. Yet it was created in February 1989 (Treaty of Marrakech) precisely to promote this integration in the wake of the reconciliations between Algiers and Rabat but also between Tunis and Tripoli. The institution has run out of steam. The main reasons for this immobility are the blockage of the Western Sahara conflict, the closure of the borders between Algeria and Morocco, and the breakdown of diplomatic relations between Algiers and Rabat.

 

Frédéric Dubessy


Thursday, August 26th 2021



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