Northwest Africa Heats Up!

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

Northwest Africa heats up:  Algeria breaks diplomatic relations with Morocco

 

By Bill Fletcher, Jr., September 2, 2021

 

            Context is everything.

 

            The break in diplomatic relations between Algeria and Morocco was a surprise to no one.  The relationship between the two countries has been problematic since 1962 when Algeria first gained independence from France, and Morocco launched an invasion to claim territory.  Over the years, Moroccan subservience to France and the USA has led to very tense moments between the two countries, exacerbated in 1975 when the Moroccans launched their invasion—dubbed the Green March—into the formerly Spanish-colonized Western Sahara.

 

            The situation has become more intense ever since November 2020 when the Moroccan government broke the 1991 ceasefire that had existed between itself and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (the government of the Sahrawi exiled and occupied populations, led by the Frente Polisario).   This unilateral break led to a return to open warfare between the Moroccans and the Saharawis, also exacerbating frictions between the Moroccan and the Algerian governments.   Ever since November there have been repeated warnings that this situation could get out of hand.

 

            The declaration by the Algerian government of a break in diplomatic relations comes amidst the aftermath of Donald Trump’s illegal recognition of the Moroccan occupation of the Western Sahara; increased warfare in the Western Sahara and southern Morocco (between Sahrawi and Moroccan forces); and Moroccan efforts to secure more sophisticated military technology.

 

            The Sahrawi/Moroccan conflict has been on most of the world’s backburner since the 1991 ceasefire.   While Sahrawis have waited patiently for a just and non-violent end to the Moroccan occupation, little to no pressure has been placed on the Moroccan government even after the Moroccan government abandoned all pretense of accepting the principle of Sahrawi self-determination.

 

            The current situation lends itself to multiple, potentially tragic consequences.  A break in diplomatic relations between Algeria and Morocco could be the first step towards armed conflict between the nations.  Were this to happen, what had been a Sahrawi/Moroccan struggle might evolve into a northwest African regional conflict involving Morocco, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, and Algeria, not to mention the French (the prime supporters of the Moroccan government), potentially Spain and Mauritania, as well as a host of non-state actors, such as the various branches of Al Qaeda and Daesh (ISIS) operating in the region.  Should this happen all bets are off.

 

            Attempting to keep this struggle on the backburner is no longer an option.  The pot is now boiling over.  The time has arrived for an international demand for the recognition of Sahrawi self-determination and Moroccan withdrawal.  A regional conflict will not leave anyone untouched, a fact that we should have learned many times over.

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Bill Fletcher, Jr. is co-coordinator of the Campaign to End the Moroccan Occupation of the Western Sahara.  He is also a longtime writer, trade unionist and a past president of TransAfrica Forum.