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Algeria-Morocco Tensions Are a Ticking Timebomb for North Africa

Algeria-Morocco Tensions Are a Ticking Timebomb for North Africa
People hold banners at a protest to condemn the killing of two men by Algerian forces after they strayed across Morocco’s maritime border with Algeria on water scooters, in Rabat, Morocco, Sept. 4, 2023 (AP Photo).

Two tourists were shot dead by the Algerian coast guard last week after mistakenly straying into Algerian waters on water scooters off the coast of neighboring Morocco. A third was arrested by Algerian security forces after swimming ashore on Algerian territory, when the group they were in—three of whom were French-Moroccan dual citizens—ran out of gas as night fell.

Algeria’s Ministry of Defense issued a statement confirming that the coast guard fired at one of the vehicles after multiple warnings. Morocco has so far responded only by stating that the issue is “a matter for the judiciary” and opening an investigation. But the incident highlights the potential for unintended escalation between the two neighbors and historical rivals, whose border has been closed since 1994 and whose diplomatic ties have been severed since August 2021, after months of diplomatic provocations caused tensions to peak. Two years later, the state of their relationship remains severely strained, as evidenced by last week’s fatal episode, and hopes for reconciliation remain dim, with both Algiers and Rabat claiming they are the victim of the other’s hostile rhetoric and policies.

The latest episode comes just weeks after Moroccan King Mohammed VI renewed speculation about the possibility of reaching a diplomatic settlement to restore relations and reopen borders between the two countries, when he said that Morocco hopes for “normal ties” with Algeria in a speech in July. But Algiers did not respond to the king’s overture, in line with a consistent pattern of refusing to engage with its neighbor. Algeria has also rejected several mediation proposals from Arab and international partners, including the most recent offer by Qatar to help find common ground between the two capitals. The rift was a focus of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Algiers in March 2022, and other Western powers have also encouraged possible paths for rapprochement.

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