The relations between Algeria and Morocco are getting complicated, once again, as their conflict over the Western Sahara is being renewed. The complications started when former American president, Donald Trump, had recognized the claim of Morocco to the phosphate-rich area of the Sahara, in November 2020. Since then, several ambassadors have been recalled, some borders have been blocked, and accusations have been thrown around.
On November 1st, bombings in the Moroccan controlled area in the Western Sahara, near the borders of Mauritania, killed at least three Algerians, who were driving a truck on a desert road. Algeria’s president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, accused neighbor Morocco of purposefully targeting the Algerian citizens, and promised that their murder ‘’will not go unpunished.” Up to this moment, Morocco has not taken responsibility for the bombings and has denied active involvement in killing Algerians.
Towards the end of November, the situation got worse, as Algeria abruptly terminated the contract for a gas pipeline that extends through Morocco to delivers gas to Spain. For the past 25 years, 10% of Moroccan gas supply used to come through this road, as a compensation for hosting the Algerian pipeline. Terminating this contract is an indication that the relationship between the two countries has reached a new low.
By closing the gas pipeline to Morocco, Algeria is endangering its relationship with Europe. The Algerian move raised concerns in Spain and other European countries that benefit from the gas pipeline. Therefore, Algeria declared that there is a smaller pipeline, which is still under construction, that will pump gas directly from Algeria to Europe. The tensions have also affected France, and reignited the historic diplomatic tensions between Algeria and France.
In a public statement, the French president Emmanuel Macron claimed that the history of Algeria was written with hate towards France, and not based on the true facts. He, even, accused Algerians of being barbaric. That aroused a wave of anger among the Algerian public, who are already sensitive towards France’s interventions in the Algerian domestic politics. In response, the Algerian Presidency condemned Macron’s statements and emphasized that “such comments cannot be accepted.’’ The Algerian Presidency’s response, also, asserted that the Algerian state rejects any act of interference in Algeria’s national matters. Then, Algeria decided to officially withdraw the Algerian Ambassador to France, Mohamed Antar-Daoud.
On a parallel dimension, the tensions between Algeria and Morocco have also affected the already disturbed political stage in Libya. On November 12th, France held a conference, titled “Paris International Conference for Libya” to encourage world and regional leaders to support the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in Libya, scheduled in December. Despite receiving an invitation to participate, the Algerian president declined to attend and sent a limited diplomatic delegation to participate.
In my opinion, Algerian president rejection to participate in the Paris Conference, did not harm France as much as it hurt Algeria. It has shown that Algeria cannot live up to its aspired role as a critical regional player in Libya, due to being Libya’s closest and largest neighbor at the western border. This would certainly score more points for Morocco in the competition between the two countries in regards to which gets a bigger influence over Libya. Clearly, Algeria is marginalizing itself every time it is working to marginalize Morocco in its regional context.
In a recent statement, Algeria’s president, Tebboune, stated that his country’s growing tensions with Morocco “may lead to an armed conflict.” However, we are not sure about that being a possibility. There is no pressing reason to start an armed conflict, that may further weaken the two fighting sides, especially on the economic level. The most realistic scenario, in this regard, is that the tensions will not fade away soon, but the bilateral relations will somehow find a way to proceed as usual. In general, the North Africa region is going through profound changes, with new powers emerging and old powers fading. This will affect every country in the region, including Algeria and Morocco and may have an effect on their historical conflicts.