Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Reopening the Algerian Moroccan border - fact or fiction?

The ongoing domestic social tensions across North Africa and in the Middle East may seem an odd time to contemplate opening a border that has been closed since 1944, yet persistant rumours have been circulating and as Ibn Warraq reports, there may finally be some movement towards an open border between Morocco and Algeria.

The old Chinese saying "may you live in interesting times", has always been seen as a curse. Yet, the "interesting times" being experienced in the wider Arab world may turn out to be more of a blessing. The democratic movements are bringing change. New directions are being plotted and the future appears to be in the hands of the young.

While there are older Moroccans and Algerians who remember the "Sand War" of the 1960s ~ those skirmishes along the border that eventually escalated into a full-blown confrontation, with intense fighting around the oasis towns of Tindouf and Figuig ~ for most young people that is simply something they may have read about in school.

Reading the signs is a bit like reading tea leaves - you can read into them, whatever you want. However, some signs are important, such as the agreement in February this year when Algerian Foreign Affairs Minister Mourad Medelci announced that Morocco and Algeria had agreed to a new political initiative designed to boost bilateral relatiions. The agreement "will allow three ministers to visit the two countries next March to discuss the necessary ways to give new dynamism for bilateral relations in sensitive fields, especially energy and agriculture", Medelci said in a press statement.

According to a report in Magharebia online, Morocco's Foreign Affairs Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri said that Rabat was prepared to receive members of the Algerian government as a start, "especially as there is a will from the two sides to exchange visits on the level of two governments soon". He also expressed his sorrow for the continued closure of borders between Algeria and Morocco; something that "hinders Maghreb integration". He added that opening the borders between Morocco and Algeria has become an inevitable necessity, calling on Algeria "to forget the past for the best interests of the two peoples, especially after the change of leadership in both countries".

"We all pay a price every day for not creating the Arab Maghreb Union," Fassi Fihri said.

Just two days ago, the Algerian “Voice of Oran “ reported that the opening of the borders between Algeria and Morocco will take place on June 2nd.

Citing well informed sources, the Algerian newspaper stated that this decision was made at the highest level of the Algerian Government.

According to Hassan Masiky, writing for Moroccoboard.com, until now, the Algerian Government has rebuffed Moroccan overtures to open the borders describing them as attempts by Rabat to salvage its economy. Recent regional and international developments have exposed Algiers’ foreign policy shortcomings in North Africa.

Experts following the developments of the Algerian Moroccan relations have noticed an unusual cooling down s in the coverage of Morocco in the habitual anti-Moroccan press organs in Algiers. This noticeable calm was coupled with a muted Moroccan reaction to news of a new wave of Saharan escapees from the Algeria controlled Tindouf Camps to the Moroccan territories. Recent positive press declarations by high-ranking Algerian officials are all signs that Morocco and Algeria are close to re-establish full diplomatic and economic relations and reopen their closed borders.

Recent Exchange of official visits between the two countries and encouraging press declarations by Morocco’s Foreign Minister and Algeria’s Agriculture Minister regarding the possible opening of the borders are signs of a thawing in the relations between Rabat and Algiers.

And all this may have some interesting and positive outcomes for the troubles in the Moroccan Sahara. According to the Algerian newspaper “Liberte”, the Moroccan government has asked the Moroccan militant group “Association for the Moroccan Sahara” (ASM) to curb its activities. If confirmed, the news of the dissolution of the ASM, Morocco most virulent critic of Algeria’s position in the Western Sahara conflict, will be an indicator of vigorous and serious back room negations between Rabat and Algiers over resuming normal relations.

However, as journalist Hassan Masiky said in his Moroccoboard.com article... " for now, the information remains a rumor that needs official confirmation to become a reality."

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