Global Insider: Morocco, Algeria Take First Steps Toward Normalization

Moroccan Foreign Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani traveled to Algeria in January for talks with Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. In an email interview, Ahmed Aghrout, a specialist in the international relations of the Maghreb at the University of Salford, Manchester, discussed Morocco-Algeria relations.

WPR: What is behind past tensions between Algeria and Morocco, and how have they impacted regional issues such as terrorism and Western Sahara?

Ahmed Aghrout: The relationship between the two neighbors has, in the main, been marked by mutual distrust and, at times, by antagonism. The beginning of the tensions can be traced back to the October 1963 war -- usually referred to as the Sand War -- over a border territory that Morocco claimed as its own. Algeria’s opposition to the 1975 annexation of the former Spanish Sahara by Morocco and its unwavering support for the right of self-determination of the Sahrawi people also developed into a major issue of contention between the two sides. Moroccan accusations that Algeria’s security services were involved in a 1994 terrorist bombing in Marrakech only drove them further apart, as Algeria unilaterally closed its 900-mile border with Morocco. The two countries’ struggle for regional leadership, mutual accusations and differences over the status of Western Sahara have combined to impact negatively on the development of regional integration -- with the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) being a prime example. In the same vein, bilateral collaboration on security matters, especially the fight against terrorism, has been hindered by each country’s respective agenda.

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