Algeria, Morocco and the distant prospect of normalisation

Sunday 04/09/2016

Can Algeria bypass its long-ingrained complex and re-evalu­ate its relations with Morocco based on common interests instead of an out-of-date ideol­ogy? Can the Algerian regime use a better language in dealing with the Morocco dossier, which has been unresolved for a long while? These are questions the Algerian leadership should ask itself.

Morocco had sent Algeria many clear messages on the need for normalisation between the two countries, the most recent on August 20th during the speech of King Mohammed VI on the occasion of the 63rd anniversary of the Revolution of the King and the People.

He stated that solidarity is the main guarantor of building a culture of neighbourly relations between the two countries that would overcome the cold-war attitude during the second half of the last century.

The king reminded Algeria of Morocco’s support towards its neighbour during the struggle for independence from French colonisation in the 1960s. Morocco had postponed the discussion of the borders until Algeria became independent.

The sensitivity between the two countries is created by the dispute over the Western Sahara.

This issue — among others — can be dealt with more realistically but first gestures of goodwill, such as the reopening of borders that have been shut since the early 1990s, must be shown. Is Algeria ready to move in that direction?

There are limits to what the Moroccan side can offer to re-establish ties with Algeria. The existence of an artificial state that breaks away from Moroccan territories is not on the table for discussion, no matter what the pressures are.

Historically, there has never been any separate political entity whose decision-making is independent of the central government of the kingdom of Morocco.

Many inside the Algerian establishment do not want to move towards having better relations with Morocco because they do not wish to give up their ambition in establishing a corridor that leads towards the Atlantic Ocean via the Polisario.

The Algerian side sometimes makes announcements that call for rapprochement yet, at the same time, uses its influence in the African Union to undermine the sovereignty of Morocco.

The visit of Moroccan officials to Algeria on July 15th was an indicator for the wish to establish better security cooperation between the two countries, which are both facing terror threats.

Counterterrorism efforts along the shared borders should not be placed on Morocco’s shoulders alone, especially given the vulnerability of Algeria’s location, which attracts terrorists and smugglers crossing from Libya and other countries.

The Algerian side did not appear to understand the nature of the visit. It assumed that it has the upper hand over Morocco, forgetting that the security of the region is a shared responsibility and the risks and benefits will affect all sides.

Algeria is the number one country in North Africa that should be concerned with the spread of the threat of terror. Algerian officials should get down from their high horses and begin visiting and coordinating with other countries. This would be the pragmatic thing to do for the sake of Algeria’s own interests.

The normalisation of ties between Algeria and Morocco will not happen overnight. It requires political maturity and the show of goodwill. It requires Algeria to meet Morocco half way.

Unfortunately, however, what the reality of the situation tells us is that the Algerian mindset has not yet moved on from the cold war barrier between it and Morocco. It is this mentality that is blocking progress.