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It is time for reconciliation between Morocco and Algeria

The flags of Algeria (L) and Morocco flutters in Algiers, Algeria on 24 January 2012 [FAROUK BATICHE/AFP/Getty Images]
The flags of Algeria (L) and Morocco flutters in Algiers, Algeria on 24 January 2012 [FAROUK BATICHE/AFP/Getty Images]

Moroccans are grappling reluctantly with their country's shocking level of normalisation with Israel. They have organised sit-ins, and a petition to thwart the deal, while weighing the steep toll of the conflict of attrition with Algeria over the Sahara. However, neglect of the burning questions of the new reality still overwhelms Algerian policies.

A key facet in the new reality is that Morocco's normalisation follows the Guerguerat intervention. The Algeria-backed Polisario Front fled from the commercial corridor, while Rabat's approach to the Sahara conflict garners mounting support from African, Arab and international capitals and organisations.

Morocco is also becoming closer to the US, and President-elect Joe Biden may not rebuff the trilateral agreement. Rather, Washington might move the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) to Southern Morocco, generating more challenges for North Africa.

This adds to Algiers' domestic problems. Economically, plummeting oil prices aggravate the unsustainable economic model and key clients' reconsideration of Algerian gas tariffs and supplies. Politically, Hirak street protests may reignite after the Covid-19 lockdown, while the president's long absence abroad extends the void and fragility within the (mainly military) ruling elite.

READ: Moroccan Islamists say Western Sahara comes before Palestinian cause

Furthermore, with violent groups not so active in its south hinterland, Algeria is viewed less and less as a major exporter of terrorists. However, the chances for marketing its capabilities as a major fighter of terrorism are shrinking too. Moreover, Rabat is favoured in Libya, since the demise of ardent Algeria and Polisario supporter Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Hence, the impasse in the Tindouf gulag camps remains crucial for Algiers' regional policies. To protect territorial integrity, Moroccan foreign relations are shifting friendships and animosities accordingly. For instance, in 2014, Morocco congratulated Egypt's Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi for winning the presidential election. A year later, Moroccan media described him as the coup leader, due to his negative comments on the Sahara in return for Algerian efforts to keep post-coup Egypt within the African Union.

It is possible that the Algerian leadership will be compelled to take different steps. One is to support the Polisario further, although the Sahrawi self-determination narrative is waning as events reveal that Algeria is monopolising the situation for its own ends. Surreal media fabrications of Polisario attacks on Morocco further delegitimise Algeria's claims of neutrality.

Polisario troops in Western Sahara [Defensionem/Facebook]

Polisario troops in Western Sahara, 2 May 2018 [Defensionem/Facebook]

Another step is to buy more arms, especially from Russia. Algerian leaders pride themselves on military superiority, yet a war is the last thing that they need domestically and regionally. Different powers will undoubtedly intervene to prevent it.

A third is to approach the Biden administration. That means squandering more resources on lobbying and exposing Algeria to Zionist blackmail. As Morocco follows suit, excessive expenditure on arms and lobbying will simply rob Algerian and Moroccan citizens of development opportunities. Recalculating the depth of contemporary developments can save a lot of effort, funds and strategic time for regional progress.

READ: NATO map shows 'undivided' Morocco including Western Sahara

The three fault lines will polarise the situation, but not solve it. Above all, they reflect a misunderstanding of the changing realities. Rabat underwent similar pressures from US administrations before accepting the normalisation deal, such as increased duties on phosphate imports, buying arms without full consent to use them and continuous uncertainty over the mandate extension of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to include alleged human rights violations or end its biannual renewal.

Contrariwise, embarking on Morocco-Algeria proximity steps could be fruitful in the long run, if not immediately, building on several earlier positive signs. Diplomatically, for example, Morocco maintained a deliberate silence during the Algerian Hirak protests, and even officially condemned the comments of the ex-head of the General Confederation of Enterprises. Later, the King congratulated the Algerian national football team for winning the Africa Cup of Nations in 2019. Morocco's current Prime Minister, Saad-Eddine El Othmani, has stated his country's readiness to open the border with Algeria.

Economically, a cargo of Covid-19 related commodities was flown from Casablanca to Algiers in the early months of the pandemic. Moroccan media encouraged the move, hoping that other economic steps would follow from both sides to reverse bilateral animosity.

Despite the gloom of normalisation, Morocco is distancing itself from the full spectrum of the so-called Abraham Accords signed by the UAE, Bahrain and Israel last year. It is trying to reduce normalisation to the minimum, with observable difficulties. King Mohamed VI reiterates support for the Palestinian Authority, with practical challenges. Threats to territorial integrity certainly drain these measures, unlike reconciliation in North Africa.

READ: Algeria MP proposes anti-normalisation bill

To avoid making normalisation with Israel an excusable reality, their leaders need to stop complicating the bilateral dispute between Morocco and Algeria. Fragmentary separatism should be a red line not just for Morocco, but also for the region at large, since it facilitates foreign intervention and Zionist blackmail.

Rather than exacerbating the situation, a win-win outcome requires the prioritising of salient cooperation factors. Continuing the current tug-of-war pushes the two countries to political extremes. Morocco has accepted normalisation to mitigate separatism. Due to cultural, political and economic vulnerabilities, Algeria may also normalise with Israel, which would be another loss for North Africa.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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