For decades, relations between Morocco and Algeria have been characterized by tension, indirect attacks and the support of proxies. Algerians support the Polisario Front, an armed group which fought Morocco for the control of Western Sahara from 1975 to 1991. Morocco is in charge of most of the territory and considers it its own, but the Polisario wants independence. Moroccans are accused of supporting groups Algeria recently designated as The Terrorists. These include the Islamist Rachad and the Amazigh Separatist Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylia (MAK).
Not all quiet on the Western Sahara front
The last episode in this strained relationship between North African nations came in August when Algeria severed diplomatic ties. reports with Morocco. The move came after a series of forest fires that swept through the Amazigh region of Kabylia in what Algeria claims was a covert Moroccan operation to bolster the MAK.
For Algeria, this has been a delicate time for the government due to an economic crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, political unrest since 2020, and the poor health and subsequent death of the country’s former leader. , Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Tensions in the Maghreb
Algeria and Morocco have been antagonistic neighbors since their respective independence from the French. Border discord gave rise to a stubborn rivalry that worsened with Western Sahara contestation when Algeria became the main support of the Polisario Front. This unfinished conflict and the decades closing of the land border between Algeria and Morocco are the most tangible examples of the enmity that keeps the Maghreb divided.
Diplomatic quarrels and mutual accusations of instigating internal unrest were frequent. One area where the tense calm in bilateral relations has been that of the military. The two countries are committed to rapid armament race fueled, in the case of Algeria, by generous hydrocarbon revenues during the first decade of the century. Despite its efforts, Morocco’s military budget has been exceeded since 2006. It is only because of Algeria’s economic fragility that Morocco has been able to make a recovery.
The last few years have been characterized by impetuous diplomatic activity on the part of Morocco, especially in the Gulf and throughout Africa. Faced with Morocco’s increased international projection, Algerians have tried to respond despite the country’s poor economic situation.
In particular, Algerians have sought to establish closer relations with African nations. Algeria strengthened ties with traditional ally Nigeria, resuming talks on building trans-Saharan gas pipeline. It has also strengthened cooperation with countries like Mali and Libya.
Implications for Spain
Europe overlooks North Africa and is only separated by a few kilometers from Morocco. Suddenly, Europeans are directly concerned by the tension in the south of the Mediterranean. The European country most affected by the recent escalation between Morocco and Algeria is Spain.
Taking a position in favor of a party could have direct consequences either on the security of the southern border of Spain close to northern Morocco, or on the supply of natural gas that it receives from Algeria. It comes at a time when the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean is increasing and the price of gas, coal and electricity is rising.
The closing of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline on November 1 has direct implications for Spain since the route has been a major source of supply for more than two decades. The pipeline also passes through Morocco, which has retained part of the gas in exchange for operating the line via its territory. Morocco has used the gas to generate around 12% of the country’s electricity. The Medgaz pipeline is seen as a replacement, which would allow Algeria to get rid of the middlemen and also deal a heavy blow to Morocco.
However, this will not spare Spain, which has no say in regional conflicts despite its desire to present itself as a strong European country. It is not known how long this new episode of tension in the Maghreb will last, but it could have serious implications for Europe.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Fair Observer.