The break between Morocco and Algeria increases tension in the Maghreb
In a little over a decade, the Maghreb has gone from a region of marked stability to a real pressure cooker. To the institutional collapse of the neighboring Sahel, we must add a serious internal political crisis in Tunisia, a state of cyclical civil war in Libya, and now also the serious deterioration of the still delicate relations between Algeria and Morocco, the two countries. who fought for decades for regional hegemony. Algiers’ decision to sever diplomatic relations with Rabat is the result of the gradual escalation of tension experienced in recent months, and it is not known how long it will last and how far its consequences may go.
Following the Algerian High Security Council meeting last week, President Abdelmajid Tebún’s office released a list of grievances which he said would lead to a “review” of relations with Rabat. Among them, Morocco’s alleged support for two opposition parties: MAK, which defends the independence of the Amazigh region of Kabylia, and the Islamist Rachad, both classified as “terrorists” and whom the authorities accuse of be at the origin of the wave of fires. who devastated the country. Similarly, Algiers pointed to the report prepared by several international media which assures that the Moroccan secret services could have hacked the phones of more than 6,000 Algerian citizens with an Israeli spy program, which would confirm the alleged conspiracy of these two countries against Algeria.
However, experts believe there are deeper reasons behind the current conflict. “The recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara by the United States under the Trump administration has changed the state conflict, something which, added to the normalization between Morocco and Israel, fueled the fire of historically conflicting relations, ”says Haizam Amirah-Fernández, researcher at the Elcano Institute.
A few hours after the announcement of the break, the Moroccan Foreign Ministry issued a statement in which it described the decision as “unjustified” and based on “fallacious, even absurd, pretexts”. The Moroccan association with the fires in Algeria has been ridiculed on Moroccan social networks, and even with the lynching of a young man by a crowd who mistook him for an arsonist. In an ironic article, the famous Moroccan writer, Tahar Ben Jelloun, writes “It is Morocco that lit the fires in Kabylia … and in Athens, Istanbul or even in California, everyone knows that Moroccans are pure arsonists. “. For their part, Moroccan analysts maintain that Algiers’ real objective is to distract attention and popular anger from all the crises – political, health, environmental – which have accumulated this scorching summer.
“It is clear that internal crises of various kinds, particularly health and economic, are stimulating a rise in temperature in relations with the neighboring country. But this is not only valid for Algeria, but also for Morocco. For several months now, the respective pro-government presses have been engaging in provocations creating a climate of mutual hostility, ”explains Amirah-Fernández, who specifies, however, that this mutual animosity is not shared by the citizens of the two countries.
Irene Fernández-Molina, professor at the University of Exeter and expert on the Maghreb, also sees a direct relationship between internal problems and bilateral crises in the region, one of the least integrated in the world. “When the perception of insecurity is asymmetric – as today, when Morocco is internally stronger than Algeria – relations tend to deteriorate and crises arise”, explains the professor. The analyst points to the possibility that the provocations of Morocco, at the same time when the king extended his hand to his neighbor in the throne speech at the end of July, respond to a Machiavellian strategy. “With this rupture, Morocco can present itself to the international community as the reliable partner, and to Algeria as the disclose [saboteador]“, apostille.
“Without a doubt, this is not good news for Spain, nor for the EU, nor for the Maghreb, a region which is facing many crises which require coordinated responses. And it is much more difficult when its two main countries do not have diplomatic relations ”, slips Amirah-Fernández. Various reports warn that the Mediterranean is one of the regions that will be most affected by the climate emergency, which adds to the current destabilization of its southern border, the Sahel.
Concretely, for Spain, the crisis could make it difficult to renew the trilateral agreement which allows the arrival of Algerian natural gas through the Maghreb gas pipeline, which expires in the fall. In principle, the break between Algiers and Rabat should not harm the reunion between Spain and Morocco, staged by the king of Morocco, Mohamed VI, in a speech last week. In fact, the opposite could have happened, that in anticipation of the head-on collision with Algeria, the Moroccan authorities would have accelerated the thaw with Spain to avoid having open conflicts with the two main neighbors.
Faced with such a poisoned context, it is to be feared that the spiral of provocations does not even lead to a kind of violent confrontation. At present, there have already been movements of troops at the border. “If the two regimes do not calm down, we will quickly enter into a confrontation, limited, but armed. After all, isn’t that what they want? Ali Lmrabet, a Moroccan dissident journalist, wrote in a tweet. Unsurprisingly, for years the two countries have embarked on a costly arms race – in the past five years their arms purchases have accounted for 70 % of all Africa – and historical precedents suggest that often it’s about using them.