Ongoing Tensions Between Morocco and Algeria

Ongoing tensions between Morocco and Algeria in the Maghreb have not eased but have only deteriorated recently. The two neighboring countries are locked in a diplomatic standoff since the 1960s. Their rivalry has only intensified lately as Algeria cut its diplomatic ties with Morocco in August 2021. These come amid many developments in the last two years notably the USA support to Morocco, tensions over Kabyle statments, and the new Spanish position regarding the Sahara conflict.

Spain’s new stance

Recently, the diplomatic relations between Morocco and Spain resumed after many years of frozen relations. Spain seems to have caved in to one of Morocco’s main demands as it has announced a more positive stance to the Sahara issue after it resumed relations with Morocco in April 2022. This has, expectedly, caused open displeasure by Algeria.

The Spanish prime minister had written a letter to King Mohammed VI in March 2022 offering support for Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara. In the letter, he wrote that the plan was “the most serious, realistic and credible basis” for resolving the conflict. This marked a major shift in Spain’s position and a victory for Morocco, since it had previously remained neutral if not more supportive of Polisario.

The Spanish move formed part of a reconciliation with Morocco, opening what Spanish authorities called a “new stage” in relations between the two countries. Part of the agreed plans is supplying Morocco with natural gas (LNG) as Spain announced this Week. LNG would be sent to Morocco via an existing pipeline that crosses the Strait of Gibraltar. In response, Algeria has threatened to suspend its gas exports to Spain if the latter exports it to Morocco.

Recently, Algeria has gone as far as cutting the gas supply to a pipeline that runs through Morocco to Spain. In autumn 2021, it ended shipments of gas through the Maghreb-Europe pipeline that links Algeria, Morocco, and Spain. This pipeline used to provid gas for around one-tenth of Morocco’s electricity supply.

USA support to Morocco

The recent outburst are not surprising given the Geo-political developments seen lately. Particularly a shift in the position of USA. Morocco claimed a major victory when President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara desert in December 2020. This came in exchange for Morocco normalizing relations with Israel.

Morocco has adopted a more active role in Africa since it rejoined the African Union in 2017 after a gap of 33 years. Morocco also persuaded a wave of more than 20 middle east and African countries to open consulates in the Sahara, indicating their support of Morocco’s sovereignty.

Tensions over Kabyle

More friction ensued this year after news of Morocco’s use of the Pegasus phone hacking software that spied extensively on Algerian targets. Earlier in July 2021 Morocco’s UN ambassador distributed a note saying that “Kabyle people deserve, more than any other, to fully enjoy their right to self-determination.”

This led Algeria to cut diplomatic relations and recall its ambassador with Morocco. In retaliation, Algerian officials made claims of Morocco and Israel deliberate links to series of wildfires in the Kabyle in summer 2021. Algeria went further and cut further and closed its airspace to Moroccan planes.

This adds more friction to an already deteriorated relationship between the two countries.