Nothing better for the Algerian regime than a new tension with Morocco to avoid its people the right to raise again all the promised reforms that the Algerian President made in 2011 following the rise of the Arab Spring.
While accelerating preparations for military intervention in Mali, a sudden rise in the tension between Morocco and Algeria shakes again the Maghreb region. The fall of 2012 was supposed to be devoted to the revival of the Maghreb Union, to meet the good and generous intentions of the Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki. It turned to be, unfortunately, an orchestrated Algerian media war targeting Morocco.
The moment the Moroccan Delegate Minister for Foreign Affairs, Youssef Amrani raised the issue of Moroccans expelled from Algeria in 1975 following Moroccan decision to organize a peaceful Green March to regain it territories in the Sahara. Thousands of Moroccans were expelled arbitrarily, separated from their Algerian relatives and all their properties were confiscated. Their only “crime” was being Moroccan citizens living in Algeria. Moroccan wives were separated from their Algerian husbands and vice versa and their kids were either forced to to live in orphanages or expelled towards Morocco. A real tragedy that these families are still suffering from. This issue that was brought up by the Moroccan minister incited the Algerian to respond aggressively through their media apparatus instead of calling for calm and serious dialog in an attempt to resolve this humanitarian issue. The Algerian government claims that the majority of Moroccans who left Algeria in 1975, “do not possess property in the country, but rather rented land and property belonging to the domain of the Algerian state or a third party” . The spokesperson of the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Amar Belani, even went further claiming publicly that Morocco should rather pay compensation to nearly 14,000 Algerians “robbed of their property and their land “compensation estimated at $ 20 billion.
It appears now, two years after the outbreak of the Arab Spring, all promises made by the Algerian regime were not respected. No serious (political or economic) reform was introduced. So the regime has started looking for a pretext or rather a scapegoat to justify the absence of commitments the regime was forced to to take to appease the tension that prevailed during the Arab Spring and continue even now when the Algerians have noticed that sweeping reforms were initiated in neighboring countries that led to democracy, rule of law and freedom of expression. Algeria’s government has operated under a state of emergency for nearly two decades. Its battle with Islamic militants reached a peak in a brutal civil war in the 1990s, in which more than 100,000 people were killed. That conflict began after the military-backed government annuled elections that an Islamist party Front Islamist S appeared poised to win. On Feb. 12, 2011, riot police officers stifled a protest in Algeria’s capital, Algiers, by hundreds of people voicing the same demands for change that helped topple autocratic governments in Egypt and Tunisia and Libya. Yet even as North African neighbors have erupted, the oil-producing giant of Algeria has kept a sullen calm in the wake of the February protest, with the regional upheaval, so far, not catching on. The government has promised concessions, accelerating vows to lift a years-old state of emergency and speaking of new jobs and housing. Discontent with the government is real. Five died in riots in January 2011, and hundreds of small protests throughout the country punctuated all of 2010. The repression, youth unemployment and large-scale corruption that provoked uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt exist here, too. Conditions are ripe for revolt. But the upheavals in neighboring countries are unlikely to be immediately repeated in this vast desert nation say analysts and some political figures. The scars of a decade of civil war are still too fresh. The government is awash in oil money — Algeria has Africa’s third-largest proven reserves — and is adept at distributing it to dull discontent: wages for civil servants have risen 34 percent recently, according to the IMF. The ailing president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, is a holdover from the earliest days of independence but is considered a mere figurehead for aging military officers who hold real power but whose precise identities are considered opaque. Opposition parties with long memories of compromises made during the decade of Islamist insurgency distrust one another and appear uninterested, for the moment, in coalescing around a common set of grievances. The turnout at the Feb. 12 demonstration was estimated at no more than a few thousand, vastly outnumbered by the police. Demonstrators that day chanted “Bouteflika out!” referring to Mr. Bouteflika, who has ruled Algeria with a tough hand since 1999. The government of Mr. Bouteflika — he was re-elected to a third term with a widely derided 90 percent of votes in 2009 — is not popular, according to analysts, but neither is the opposition. For now, the street protests appear to be the expression of a minority, even among those who oppose the government. In particular, the political party leading the movement, the Rally for Culture and Democracy, is distrusted for having backed the army’s campaign against the Islamists in the 1990s.
Nothing better than a new tension with Morocco to forget the so long sufferings while key constitutional reforms have been introduced in that neighboring country and international media continue to hail and praise all efforts and the clear vision of the Moroccan leadership. A vision that was praised by the former French President Who during a cabinet meeting stated “I am very satisfied with the outcome of the referendum in Morocco (July 1 2011). More than 72% turnout and 94% yes. The U.S. president, for his part, praised “Algeria after the lifting of the state of emergency calling it a” positive sign “. Obama, however, stressed that the U.S. is “looking forward to the next steps to be taken to allow Algerians to fully exercise their universal rights, including freedom of expression and association.” And it is in this perspective that the United States will continue to cooperate with Algeria” he added. The Assistant Secretary of State for Political Affairs, William Burns, visited Algiers, spoke on the recent measures taken by the Algerian leaders. Following a meeting he had with President Bouteflika Mr. Burns said in a press statement that he considers “very positive commitments that have been made to provide more opportunities regarding employment, housing and education. ” But he added that his visit comes at a time when “people are looking for freedom, dignity and opportunity,” noting that “the answer to these aspirations should be” the most open, the most serious, the clearest and as soon as possible.” In other words, Americans expected Bouteflika on the “real change.” So nothing better than a new tension with Morocco to forget that the Algerian government is taking its time to initiate reforms it promised on April 15, 2011. Algerians should benefit from the winds of the Arab Spring like others in neighboring countries.
The Americans had opposed the compelling argument “Cost of non-Maghreb”. It would be huge. Interstate commerce in North Africa is equivalent to 1.3% of their trade, the regional rate the lowest in the world. The State Department is working on reports of the Peterson Institute, which focuses on international economic issues. The Institute has listed the advantages that North Africa may enjoy if the borders between Morocco and Algerian are open. Despite numerous resources (oil, gas, phosphates in abundance varied agricultural production), stunning scenery which attracts millions of foreign tourists every year, millions of young people continue to enter the labor market. A growth rate higher than that of China. Also, the loss of two points that cost growth closed borders is a challenge. Eight billion of private capital leaves the region each year and adds to the existing stock, estimated at $ 200 billion.
Post Arab Spring, Bouteflika has emerged as a president without legitimacy (WikiLeaks revelations of fraud in the 2009 elections), have to negotiate his external support to stay in power. Wednesday 23 February 2012, at a press conference, Mourad Medelci, Minister for Foreign Affairs, surprises everyone and said that Algeria is working to improve its relations with “Moroccan brothers and friends.” Better, he announced that Morocco and Algeria have agreed on a political initiative to strengthen bilateral relations. Moroccans were looking forward to giving a new impetus to the bilateral relations but apparently the Algerians are not that enthusiastic.
On February 10, 2011 A report from the Congressional Research who had to sift through the current situation in Algeria, submitted a report to all members and all committees of the U.S. Congress, saying that Algeria is an important partner of the United States in the fight against terrorism, but political instability and lack of democracy remained fundamentally disturbing factors. As the strategic goal of the U.S. is “trying to find a balance between the assessment of cooperation with Algeria in the fight against terrorism and encouragement for greater democratization” (says the report). “The Department of State continues to see many problems concerning human rights, including restrictions on the freedoms of assembly, expression and association, which prevents the activity of political parties and limit the possibility for citizens to change their government by voting. ”
This is why the return of regional tension allows the Algerian regime to put the issue of “national honor” before the reforms, cancel its promise to attend the Summit of Maghreb Arab Union and suspend its commitments on restoration of fraternal relations with Morocco. However, as we read in the Algerian daily El Watan a statement made by a senior Algerian official reacting to King Mohammed’s recent speech that “Morocco should be blamed for torpedoing the process of normalization of relations between our two countries while we were engaged in a constructive dialog that aimed at consolidating our bilateral relations. ”
It is time for the Algerian regime to listen to their people urgent and legal demands for a real democracy, economic growth, rule of law and freedom of expression. Moroccans will be the first ones in the region to applaud and praise positive reforms in their neighboring country.
The views expressed are the author’s own.