Algeria and Morocco: Using the Western Sahara conflict to distract from domestic troubles?

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A file picture taken on February 27, 2011, soldiers from the Pro-independence Polisario Front parade during a ceremony marking the 35th anniversary of the proclamation of independence of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in the Western Sahara village of Tifariti. The Western Sahara's Polisario Front independence movement threatened on November 9, 2014, to take up arms again after Morocco's king said his country will stay there "until the end of time". AFP/Dominique Faget

By: Adam al-Sabiri

Published Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Western Sahara returns to the forefront today due to the ongoing dispute between Morocco and Algeria over its ownership. While the United Nations considers it a question of "decolonization," the Moroccan and Algerian regimes see it as an excuse to evade internal economic, social, and political problems faced by citizens of the two Arab countries.

Algiers – The address given by Moroccan King Mohammed VI on the anniversary of the so-called "Green March" increased tension between Algeria and Morocco. The king explicitly accused Algeria of obstructing the seizure of the Republic of Western Sahara. "Algeria is a key player in the Western Sahara issue," he said.

His statements about Algeria's resources have shown that there is fierce competition over the disputed territory. The people, on the other hand, continue to pay the price for the tyranny and selfishness of the two regimes, especially as the borders between the two countries remain closed.

Following the king's accusations, relations between Algeria and Morocco are increasingly becoming tense. Morocco claims ownership of the Western Sahara and says that it falls within its territories, although the case is currently under review by the UN, which considers it an issue of "decolonization."

In his address, Mohammed VI challenged the international community, maintaining that the Saharan territories are not up for discussion or negotiation and belong to Morocco "until God takes back Earth and its inhabitants," and that an autonomous rule is the greatest concession Morocco is willing to make. Meanwhile, Algeria has maintained silence and not responded to the king's accusations as it usually does in such situations.

The king’s allegations were preceded by escalatory statements by officials from both countries in response to an incident involving an Algerian soldier opening fire at a Moroccan citizen at the border. The Moroccan authorities described the incident as a “serious slide,” while Algeria categorically denied it, saying it was fabricated to prolong the impasse that has persisted since 1994, the year Morocco closed its borders with Algeria.

Algeria was further infuriated when Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar called for the formation of an investigative committee "so the world would know who is telling the truth and who bears the responsibility." He added, "The kingdom will exert more pressure to find out who is fabricating these crises." Algeria saw this as an attempt to internationalize the issue of the closed borders.

The statements made by Moroccan officials prove that the two countries are competing for control over the region, seek to establish themselves as regional powers, and have an "inferiority complex.”

"Morocco will deal with our eastern neighbor as an adversary on all issues related to its sovereignty," and "the public is following up and knows who enjoys courage."

Algeria's Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Arabi Weld Khalifa responded to the Moroccan officials’ statements with threats, saying, "Algeria is peaceful with those who seek peace with it. But we warn anyone who tries to provoke or assault any part of its territories, or to approach its red lines, especially the army."

In a phone conversation with Al-Akhbar, Algerian security expert and researcher Bin Omar bin Janah commented on the Moroccan king’s statements saying, "Mohammed VI seems to be like someone who is drowning in mud and tries to hold on to a straw to get out of the predicament.”

Regarding the accusations [made by Morocco] against Algeria regarding the Western Sahara, he said, "According to the UN, the Western Sahara is not part of Moroccan territory, and there are calls for holding a referendum on self-determination."

Bin Janah described King Mohammed VI's statements as "proof of weakness, because if he was in a strong position, he would not have mentioned the Western Sahara." He added that the Moroccan regime is witnessing economic, political, and social troubles.

The security expert criticized the king’s disregard for diplomatic norms by attacking a neighboring country. He denied Morocco’s claims that Algeria has ambitions in the Western Sahara, saying that Algeria is the tenth largest country in the world in terms of area, and "thus it did not have any territorial ambitions in the past, and will not in the future."

There seems to be a large gap in this regard between Algerian officials and the political class, as opposed to Morocco, where most politicians believe that the issue aims to divert public opinion from major problems and popular demands to avoid unrest, and is merely a "fabrication” by the media to ensure the survival of the Algerian regime under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the Moroccan regime in the Alawite Palace.

"We cannot keep wasting our time on statements by Rabat, especially after the UN and Western countries have maintained neutrality on the issue of the Western Sahara," Moussa Touati, head of the Algerian National Front, told Al-Akhbar.

"The situation was a great embarrassment to Morocco at the international level," he said. “We should focus on critical issues, and this is addressed to politicians in Algeria and in Morocco."

Touati added, "Algeria is facing an internal crisis, but it does not have external problems. Also, there has always been a gap between the Moroccan people’s concerns and royal decrees. Therefore, the Moroccan regime always attempts to solve its internal problems by reviving external crises."

For its part, the Algerian Islamic Current said that statements made by Morocco are insignificant and are "not even news." Abdullah Gaballah, head of the Algerian Movement for Justice and Development, told Al-Akhbar that "we should not respond in the same manner to all statements made by a specific person or country." He stressed the need to give importance to priority international issues, as well as the internal situation. "Instead of paying attention to domestic affairs, Morocco is attacking its neighbors," he added.

Despite the "understanding" or "contempt" of the Algerian political class, officials in the two countries continue to exchange accusations, especially with regard to the “cyber war.” Mbarka Bouaida, minister delegate to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Morocco, accused Algeria of launching a “cyber war” against Morocco, in reference to leaked information from a number of diplomatic documents. She said that the move “targets Moroccan diplomacy."

Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra said that the escalation against Algeria stems "from a bad strategy aimed at creating tension,” adding that Algeria has declared its position "and this is all we have to say for now."

He said that [further statements] are "would be untimely, and would not serve mutual interests or those with other countries, describing the "extremely negative and unacceptable" remarks by Morocco about Algeria as "exaggerated and silly."

Pro-regime parties in Algeria commented on the crisis. Mohammed Yahiaoui, a leader of Tajamou Amel al-Djazair (TAJ) who is close to the pro-government circles, told Al Akhbar that "Morocco has been fabricating crises for months, even though the [Algerian] government has responded with an assertion to maintain neighborly relations. Rabat is trying to implicate Algeria in the Western Sahara conflict."

He called for the need to give priority to common interests in the service of the two peoples, and in order to achieve the unity of the Maghreb (North African) region.

Contrary to politicians, former officer in the Algerian army Ahmed Uzaimi expressed surprise to Al-Akhbar that the crisis coincided with the launch of the second round of financial negotiations.

"Morocco suffers a malady called Algeria, and it cannot live as its neighbor," he explained. "Rabat knows that Algeria is facing pressure on its borders with Libya, Tunisia, and the south, thus assuming that Algeria cannot get involved in a military venture on its western borders. Therefore, the incident aims to pressure Algeria on the issue of the Western Sahara."

Abdulaziz Hariti, head of Amal al-Ummah for Strategic Studies, told Al-Akhbar that the conflict between Algeria and Morocco "primarily serves the interests of the ruling classes in both countries and impedes political and economic unity of the Maghreb."

He added that "the crises that surface from time to time between the two countries are fabricated, and aim to divert people’s attention from the real problems they face." These include the right of citizens to participate in the decision-making process, and increasing political and economic freedoms, which would allow holding the authorities accountable in both Morocco and Algeria regarding governance and social justice.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

The Western Sahara belongs to Morocco "until God takes back Earth and its inhabitants,"

Moroccans are not fool. We re attached to our Land and we will never give it up. Algerian regime is running out of time because of lack of alternatives but provoking morocco.

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