Morocco and Algeria: What went wrong

Ilyass Chetouani
2023 / 5 / 25

Political crisis between Morocco and Algeria reached its climax in August 2021, when Algeria suspended diplomatic ties with Morocco. The escalation has ended in reciprocal acerbities following a slew of ostensible accusations from both sides, mainly over Western Sahara case.

While the Moroccan Foreign Ministry maintains a politically correct and hostility-free discourse, Algerian regime opines that, according to President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, relations between two countries have superseded “the point of no return.” The crisis dates back to what’s renowned as the Sand War.

The Sand War
The Sand War was a border armed conflict between Morocco and Algeria in September 1963. It ensued from the Moroccan government’s claim to land ownership of Algeria’s Tindouf and Béchar provinces. The war was propelled by a myriad of reasons, mainly The lack of a conterminous border line between Algeria and Morocco, the discovery of abounding mineral resources in the disputed area, and the Moroccan irredentist drive galvanized by the Greater Morocco ideology of the 1960s. The war was short and suffered minor casualties from both sides. However, it marked exogeneous intervention from the Algerian side. Hundreds of Cuban and Egyptian troops were deployed to bolster the Algerian army. As for the Moroccan side, Western allies provided assistance and military equipment.

The Sand War marked the onset of a long and severely acute political contention between Morocco and Algeria. Part of this feuding is fueled by the vicissitudes in political plexus between the Islamic Moroccan monarchy and the socialist, Arab nationalist Algerian military regime.

In January 1969, Algerian President Houari Boumediene made a formal visit to Morocco and signed a treaty of friendship with the Moroccan government in the city of Ifrane. The treaty states that the two governments are to establish a joint commission to demarcate the border and determine future efforts to the utilization of natural resources in the disputed region. With signing the Accord of Ifrane, Morocco finally relinquished all claims to Algerian territory in 1972.

The war also ensconced Algeria’s stance in respect to the conflict in Western Sahara. Since the 1970s, Algeria has supported the Polisario Front, perfunctorily to ward off Moroccan expansionism in the region.

The Sand War exacerbated sheer tensions between the two countries for several decades. Along with the Western Sahara crisis, the relations between the two governments are at loggerheads.

Western Sahara Case
After Morocco gained its independence from France in 1956, the Western Sahara remained under Spanish control. Occupied until 1975, Western Sahara has been on the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories since 1963 after a Moroccan demand of annexing the territory. The Sahrawi people demanded self-determination as a lawful act of decolonization.

In October 1975, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) released an advisory opinion on the subject, which resolved that there were no ties of “territorial sovereignty between the territory of Western Sahara and the Kingdom of Morocco´-or-the Mauritanian entity” that would hinder the process of self -determination of the Sahrawi people. In the meantime, Morocco organized a march of hundreds of thousands of Moroccans into Western Sahara to affirm a “right to national unity.” In November 1975, Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania signed the “Madrid Accords,” which stated that Spain would unburden itself from any administering authority in Western Sahara. The Accords also declared that Morocco, Spain, and Mauritania, along with indigenous Sahrawi representatives, would cooperate together to establish a temporary administration, recognizing Western Sahara as self-governed entity.

A war broke out between the Sahrawi indigenous Polisario Front and Morocco from 1975 to 1991, marking the most crucial chapter of the Western Sahara conflict, with Algerian backing the Sahrawi people with political shielding and military assistance.

After six decades of recurrent political and military escalations, and ongoing media and propaganda firestorm, Morocco and Algeria stand on the edge of a precipitous breakdown. This opposition will only be mitigated by serious commitments from both sides to find peaceful and diplomatic solutions to the continuant quandary.

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