Abdo Alaoui
24 January 2024

Geopolitical Syncope in the Maghreb Region: History, Check, and Mate (Part II)

Morocco is within its rights in the Western Sahara issue and will defend itself at all costs.
Morocco is within its rights in the Western Sahara issue and will defend itself at all costs.

The classical balance of power paradigm having drastically shifted over the years, Algeria would do better of giving up its dream of becoming the sole leader of North Africa.

It is said that he who wants too much without measuring the consequences always ends up empty-handed. Already, on the Algerian Eastern borders, Tunisians are beginning to talk about the territories of their country being unjustly attached to Algeria.

Indeed, President Habib Bourguiba urged France in 1959 to hand back these territories before Algeria’s independence. He reiterated the same request at the tripartite summit that brought him together with Houari Boumediene and Muammar Gaddafi in 1972 in Kef, when the latter proposed to him to form a union bringing together the three countries. Bourguiba claimed both the territories wrested, respectively, by France and Italy and attached to Algeria and Libya.

Curiously, Gaddafi always refused to recognize his country’s borders with Algeria, a position that remains that of Libya.On the other hand, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the Tunisian president, confirmed in 1995 the demarcation of the borders in return for the joint exploitation of iron deposits. Tunisia is still waiting for Algeria to fulfill its promise.

So if Algeria ventured more to play with fire on the Eastern Sahara issue, nothing would prevent Algeria’s neighboring countries (Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Tunisia) from going back on the border agreements signed in 1983.

Hence, ninth, the fourth synthesis: Algeria’s obsession with cobbling together a history. The determination of its media and some researchers born from the last rain to brew an appropriate history and cultural symbols in a space stretching from Morocco to the Middle East could only be explained by its leadership’s dismay at taking responsibility for the failure of a promising Algerian revolution. 

This failure is noticeable in almost all the avant-garde projects that the one-party state has supported for decades. As a matter of fact, the haunting of appropriation is a silent killer. The pretext of “external enemies,” who would encircle a successful revolution that the Algerian decision-makers keep using has fizzled out. 

             In quicksand, every grain becomes a rotary machine

Hence, the tenth, the fifth synthesis: Why does Algeria not turn the page of victimization and self-flagellation? Why not return to its true identity by reforming or even questioning a system that sees its legitimacy eroded by believing that the quicksand in which its ruling elites are entangled is moving in the right direction and will end up propelling them up and forward? 

Because when one moves randomly in the quicksand, one sinks. One finds out that help is scarce. Despite the fact that stroke is not an imminent fatality, it is certainly not an option. If one does not pull oneself together, death is inevitable.

Algeria is a country with considerable potential. If Algeria put its resources at the service of its own development and progress as well as regional integration, after the necessary upgrading, it would gain prominence.

Algeria would be one of the key players in building a strong Maghreb region that would be an engine for a joint effort that would encompass ECOWAS countries. This would give a real push to the African Continental Free Trade Area, established in 2018.

A first step would be to make the Nigeria-Morocco-Europe gas pipeline complementary to the Nigeria-Algeria-Europe Trans-Saharan gas pipeline that would benefit the other Algerian gas pipelines.

A second step would be to end his stubbornness and help resolve the artificial conflict over the Sahara. Locking itself into the call for the exercise of the right to self-determination in the Sahara under the pretext that Algeria had its independence thanks to the implementation of this principle is a lack of respect and even an insult to people’s intelligence.

Blaming Morocco and Tunisia for having allegedly regained their independence at the detriment of the Algerian revolution is another argument as absurd as it is insipid. For the record, Morocco and Tunisia were independent states before the arrival of the French, which is why they enjoyed the status of protectorates.

Moreover, the Evian Accords, signed in 1962, were acts of internal scope according to French legislation. They were published in a different order in France and Algeria. The referendum on self-determination focused on the question: “Do you want Algeria to be an independent State cooperating with France under the conditions defined by the declarations of March 19, 1962?”

According to many observers, the word “cooperation” suggests the existence of a subtle bond of dependence that has remained the rule in the tumultuous relations between France and Algeria. Therefore, Algerian decision-makers are called upon to definitively admit that creating an artificial state, as Boumediene wished to death, in the Moroccan Sahara is impossible.

Why won’t this happen? Because not only is Morocco within its rights and will defend itself at all expenses, but also because the major superpowers and their allies have perfect knowledge about the Saharan issue and, from the beginning, had no intention of letting a proxy movement indefinitely jeopardize regional stability and order. In fact, they never intended to tolerate the creation of a buffer state between Morocco and Mauritania.

Diplomatic childishness is more ridiculous than political amateurism. That is what Algeria has become famous for. Organizing a football match between the mythical team, the Mouloudiya Club of Algiers, and a selection picked up at the last minute by an artificial entity last May was cynical and silly behavior. This happened while Algerian decision-makers continued to refuse to conduct a census in the Tindouf camps, as required by the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council since 2007.

The consequences of such a left-wing decision were, among others, the failure of the president of the Algerian Football Federation to secure a seat in the Executive Board of the Confederation of African Football on July 14, 2023.

Last year, the Algerian delegate tried to get this artificial entity to be a member of the CAF, as in the good old days when Algeria could rain and shine at the Organization of African Unity, the precursor of the African Union. The other delegates ignored the move in a beautiful way, which they perceived as inappropriate.

This would not be possible unless Article 4 of the CAF statutes was amended. This has already happened in 2021. It stipulates that only federations representing independent countries and members of the United Nations are entitled to be full members of the CAF.

A third step would be for Algeria to work to consolidate its national unity by reconciling Algerians with their contemporary history but also by cleaning it of myths and untruths that no longer have reason to be sustained or put forward. Why not do like South Africa, which, thanks to a visionary man like Nelson Mandela, turned the page of Apartheid and reconciled South Africans with their soul and conscience?

            Identity is not a collection of random clichés

Instead of manipulating one of Mandela’s grandsons (a stooge whose probity and honesty are required to be proved), on the occasion of the last CHAN (February–January 2023), to pour his hatred against Morocco and score a virtual point, Algeria would have been better advised to choose a better venue.

And why not do just like Morocco, which courageously, thanks to its visionary King, turned the page on the Years of Lead by launching an Equity and Reconciliation Commission to investigate state violence? This bold initiative paved the way for an authentic promotion of human rights.

Yes, the abortion of the democratic experience in Algeria in 1991 took place with the complicity of foreign dark forces, which were not yet prepared to accept the arrival of Islamic movements in power in the Maghreb and the Middle East. The Islamic Revolution in Iran (1979), which they had provoked and helped to impose, disappointed them in the same way the Shah did and even more.

A fourth step would be for Algeria to give up its dream of becoming the sole leader of North Africa. The classical balance of power paradigm has shifted. It is no longer based on the assumption that a bipolar and multipolar international system alternately switches according to the major actors’ hierarchy.

Similarly, the current international system is going through a difficult and unpredictable transition in which the hierarchy of actors is more questionable. Moreover, the political and diplomatic asymmetry between actors with equal power in fragile subsystems does not allow the race for leadership to end with a checkmate.

So the fifth step would be to avoid seeing the country divided into four independent entities: Kabylie, Algerian Azawad-Tuaregs, Constantine and regions, Tindouf and regions, as well as Algiers and regions (back to the roots when Algiers was Ottoman property and taken over by France in 1830).

Similarly, the sixth step: Algeria is called upon to review its perception of security in the Maghreb and the Sahelo-Saharan Band. So far, Algeria has refused to cooperate with its neighbors, notably Morocco, to fight organized crime networks, including terrorist groups. Although suspected of having been behind the creation of certain extremist groups, Algeria has imposed its perception of security and stability on the region thanks to Western countries’ complicity, including France

Algeria should, therefore, cease to accept being used as a pawn in French domestic policy. Already, the refrain of the Algerian leadership of victimization vis-à-vis France’s colonial legacy sounds more and more false. Then, some analysts, who love this country, shared the view that henceforth it would be absurd and unrealistic to bet on Algerian decision-makers. For the time being, they suspected them of lacking vision, visibility, and, mostly, wisdom.

Other analysts, more aggressive, call into question the 1968 Agreement on the advantages granted to Algerian nationals. Moreover, political planners, who do not abide by foreign policy ethics, fear that Algeria will be heading towards an abyss and that it will drag with it certain allies, whose leaders have also proved, sometimes, to run against the wind.

And this is not an insult (cynicism or diktat) towards Algerians, who should be proud of their country. They must work in good faith to defend it in the concert of nations with a genuine, pure, and conciliatory identity. This would be better than succumbing to the temptation to nurture a false culture and coveting what does not belong to Algeria. Because this will never happen and will not solve their dilemma of identity versus existence.

With wishful thinking, one would be tempted to admit that the Algerian decision-makers’ behavior will only become more virulent after Israel’s recognition, on July 17, 2023, of Morocco’s sovereignty over the Sahara.

This might even be a source of deep concern with Iran’s potential shift toward making peace with Morocco. The Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs announced on June 28, 2023, that Iran would be willing to resume its diplomatic relations with Morocco.

If the announcement was a surprise, it was nevertheless a smart move to seek an exit strategy after succeeding in normalizing its relations with Saudi Arabia thanks to China’s mediation following Oman’s double-track mediation.

However, the resumption of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Iran would not happen anytime soon given the solid reasons that pushed Morocco to sever them in 2018. Besides, Morocco keeps saying that, henceforth, it will perceive its diplomatic relations with other countries on the basis of their positions with respect to its Southern Provinces. No double standards are accepted henceforth. Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara is not negotiable.

The possibility that a potential diplomatic normalization might take place between Iran and Morocco has already given the Algerian military establishment headaches and insomnia. On July 8, 2023, the Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs was dispatched to Tehran to find out about it and bargain again to keep things as they are.

Obviously, Algeria is isolated. Unless the Algerian decision-makers decide to address their own internal problems and refrain from looking for scapegoats to explain their failure to meet their people’s expectations, nothing promising will happen.

On the contrary, the Algerian decision-makers would certainly use every pretext available (real or imaginary) to stick to their stubbornness and, in the end, sink into political, security, and diplomatic disillusionment.

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