The Algerian and Moroccan flags. Source: www.jadaliyya.com
On August 24th, 2021, Algeria formally broke off diplomatic relations with neighboring Morocco, with the foreign minister citing a series of alleged hostile acts. This move came at the end of a period of growing tensions between the neighboring North African countries.
“Algeria has decided to break diplomatic relations with Morocco starting today,” Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra said at a news conference, in which he read a statement from the president. As such, the announcement comes nearly a week after President Abdelmadjid Tebboune told a meeting of Algeria’s High Security Council that “incessant hostile acts perpetrated by Morocco have meant the need for a revision in relations between the two countries and the intensification of security checks” at the western borders with Morocco, the official Algerian APS news agency reported.
Both countries are allies of Western nations, and the move complicates diplomacy in the region. Both are important in the fight against terrorism in the nearby Sahel region.
Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Abdul Gheit called on both to avoid further escalation. He expressed hope the two countries can maintain a “minimal level of ties” to ensure stability for themselves and within the region.
However, the Algerian foreign minister cited an accumulation of grievances against Morocco leading to Tuesday’s decision. He also denounced “massive and systematic acts of espionage” by Morocco, a reference to allegations that the kingdom’s security services used Israeli-made Pegasus spyware against its officials and citizens, according to APS. Nonetheless, Morocco adamantly denies such claims.
Other criticisms ranged from reported remarks by Morocco’s UN ambassador in mid-July to recent comments by the Israeli foreign minister on an historic visit to Morocco as part of their normalization of ties, as the Algerian foreign minister was alluding to a remark by Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid in Morocco in which he referred to Algeria’s effort to stop Israel from having observer status in the African Union.
Morocco’s UN ambassador allegedly said that the people of Algeria’s Berber region of Kabyle should have the right to determine their status. He also cited Algeria’s claims that Morocco backs a separatist group in Kabyle, known as MAK, which Algiers has placed on a terrorism list. Algeria has suggested that MAK had a role in wildfires this month in the Kabyle region that killed scores of people, including more than two dozen soldiers. The issue of Kabyle recalls Algeria’s support for a bid by the Polisario Front, a pro-independence movement based in southern Algeria, for self-determination in the disputed Western Sahara that was annexed by Morocco in 1975. This issue is problematic because Morocco wants autonomy for the region under its supervision, while Algeria wants self-determination via a referendum.
In response to Algeria’s move, Morocco’s foreign ministry says the country “regrets” the “completely unjustified” decision of neighboring Algeria to break off diplomatic relations. The move was “expected … in view of the logic of escalation observed in recent weeks,” Morocco’s foreign ministry said in a statement released on Wednesday. However, “Morocco categorically rejects the fallacious, even absurd, pretexts underlying it,” it said.
In spite of this state of affairs between both countries, Morocco has publicly demonstrated its willingness to restore constructive dialogue with Algeria, and mend political relations. “The Kingdom of Morocco will remain a credible and loyal partner for the Algerian people and will continue to act with wisdom and responsibility, for the development of healthy and fruitful inter-Maghreb relations,” the statement concluded.
In the light of these events, on August 26th, media outlets announced that Morocco decided the closure of its embassy in Algeria and the repatriation of its diplomats. However, the general consulates of Morocco in Algiers, Oran and Sidi Belabbès will remain open and will continue their mission.
The neighboring countries have kept their borders closed since 1994, with the last official visit of prominent government officials dating back to 2012.
International reactions to the diplomatic crisis
On August 25th, the international community reacted with regards to the ongoing crisis.
In a statement, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric urged the two countries to find a mutual solution to the crisis. Dujarric stated the “Secretary-General of the United Nations encourages the two neighboring countries to find a way to move forward” from the current tensions. He emphasized the need for regional stability, and highlighted the necessity of maintaining “peace and security” in the Maghreb.
Several countries so far have expressed concern over the breaking of the diplomatic ties, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates among them. Saudi Arabia reached out not only through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but also through the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which also urged the two countries to engage in dialogue and maintain communication channels and discuss de-escalating their current tensions.
Bahrain has called for the resolution of the recently intensified diplomatic crisis between Morocco and Algeria and called on the two countries to resolve the dispute in accordance with the Moroccan King Mohammed VI’s speech that he gave for Throne Day, on July 31st. The dialogue should strive to promote stronger ties “between brothers,” to reach the best interests of both the people and the governments, as well as to preserve “security and stability” in the Maghreb region.
Expressing the same concern, France has urged the two North African countries to settle their disagreements, with the deputy spokesman for the French foreign ministry saying that President Emmanuel Macron’s administration is committed to stability in the Maghreb.
Similarly, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation issued a communique on Algeria’s decision to sever ties with Morocco, sharing its concerns about regional stability and urging Algiers and Rabat to engage in dialogue.
France and other countries in the West, depend on both countries in preventing irregular migration and combating terror groups. France, Spain, or the US, have repeatedly named Morocco as a key military ally and an example of stability, peace, and effective counter-terrorism in the MENA region. Similarly, after France declared its intentions to disengage its forces from the Sahel, Algeria was rumored to be interested in engaging its troops in the region to assert itself as a regional leader.
Following the allegations against Israel, an Israeli diplomat condemned the Algerian allegations against the country that came in the midst of diplomatic troubles between Morocco and Algeria, according to reports from Le Figaro on August 25th. “Algeria should focus on the several problems that confront it, particularly its serious economic problems,” the Israeli source further mentioned.
Yair Lapid, Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, has recently expressed concerns about Algeria’s role in the region during a visit to Casablanca. These concerns are the results of Algeria’s anti-semitic attacks against Morocco that came shortly after the establishment of relations between Israel and Morocco, as it was the fourth Arab state after the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan to normalize its relationship with Israel, part of the Abraham Accords.