When borders were a source of solidarity

The borders between Morocco and Algeria have always been a subject of debate, it is also the basis of the rivalry between the two countries since the independence of Algeria. But in history, the drawing of borders has been, on the contrary, an element of solidarity between the two countries. An expert tells.

The history of the neighborhood between Morocco and Algeria has seen several twists in recent years, but there was a time when the two countries were very close, especially when the two were fighting for their independence.

If there is one element that can explain the nature of Moroccan-Algerian bilateral relations, it is the border between the two countries. Professor Okacha Berahab, historian and former professor at the Faculty of Mohammedia, Hassan II University, guest of the Tuesdays of the Policy Center for the New South (PCNS) research center, tells how Morocco and Algeria were united and how the neighbors could take the path of reconciliation.

How can we qualify the significance of the borders between Morocco and Algeria and what are their characteristics?

We examine this question in the light of two phases. The first phase begins from the 16th century when the Turks enter Algeria and the first signs of the borders between the two states begin to appear. With the birth of the Alaouite state during the 17th century, the first Alaouite sultans made a commitment to the Turks of Algeria not to go beyond the Tafna wadi which is located west of Oran and extends south to west of Tlemcen. But the delimitation of the borders to the south of this wadi has remained unclear. The Sahara area was part of Morocco by virtue of the system of allegiance and the taxes that were collected.

During the second phase – the phase of French colonialism (1830-1962) – which introduced the new concept of borders based on maps and on the European model of the nation-state, Morocco will have to face the French expansion. Indeed, the Treaty of Lalla Maghnia on the borders intervened after a military defeat in 1844 and constituted a great injustice towards Morocco. The treaty was very ambiguous because it determined the landmarks in the Tellian zone, that is to say from the sea around the oases of Figuig, while the border south of Figuig remained deliberately vague, so that France can expand as it wants and when it wants. The Treaty of 1901 signed in Paris and the two Algiers agreements signed in 1902 thus completed the delimitation of the border south of Figuig, but included parts of Moroccan territory in Algeria, including, by way of example, the oasis of Touat, Béchar, Kenadsa, etc.

What are the characteristics of this interweaving of Moroccan-Algerian relations?

I would not say that there is an interweaving, but rather a form of solidarity which began since the French occupation of Algeria. This solidarity was manifested through support for the Algerian Emir Abdelkader, both at popular and official levels and continued until 1844 when a dispute over the question of resistance arose between the Sultan and the Emir, while the Moroccan tribes, who were on the borders, supported the Emir despite the Sultan’s pressure on them, but finally had to submit to the Sultan, which caused the Emir to resort to the French army in western Algeria in 1847 after military clashes with Morocco.

This case continues to weigh on relations between the two countries to this day. When Morocco became occupied like Algeria (1912-1956), great solidarity was expressed on the part of the Ulema of Algeria with the Moroccan cause, in particular with the revolution of Mohammed Ben Abdelkrim El Khattabi , while the Berber Dahir was condemned and the solidarity of the Ulema association with Morocco was renewed on the occasion of the exile of Sultan Mohammed Ben Youssef.

What is the role of border regions in the crystallization of Moroccan-Algerian solidarity?

Demonstrations of solidarity continued from 1956 to 1962. At the local level, the populations of the region welcomed the emigrants expelled from Algeria, while at the official level, the leaders provided the conditions necessary for the installation of the the Algerian Liberation Army throughout the border area, from Saïdia to the region of Figuig, and which left from eastern Morocco to attack the French army, then returned to its bases near the borders. Moreover, Morocco defended the Algerian cause in international spheres, in addition to the support given to it at all levels. However, after the independence of Algeria in 1962, the dispute over the delimitation of the borders would fuel the conflict in 1963 between the two neighbors, in the form of what was called the war of the sands. Thus, this was the first rupture between the two countries, the effects of which were very lasting.

The Ifrane meeting in 1969, then the 1972 agreement, aimed to forge this solidarity through certain common productive programs and projects. Can you tell us more?

The Treaty of fraternity and good neighborliness signed in Ifrane on January 15, 1969 set the basic rules of good neighborliness and economic cooperation. It was followed by the meeting in Tlemcen on May 27, 1970, which emphasized the need to implement all the agreements concluded between the two countries. Cooperation between them materialized through the agreement of June 15, 1972 signed in Rabat on the demarcation of borders. On the same date, a cooperation agreement was signed for the exploitation of the Garat Jbilet iron mine near Tindouf. Looking at this latest agreement, there are certain aspects that Morocco was unable to disclose at the time, including the recognition that the iron mine is on Algerian territory and that it is the Algerian state that has the right to extract the ore, sell it, market it and determine the quantity that can be exported.

The second condition appearing in the agreement consists in creating a Moroccan-Algerian company (equally between the two countries) which will be responsible for the construction of a railway line to transport the iron ore to the Moroccan ports on the Atlantic coast in for export. But this company can only acquire the iron with the authorization of the Algerian State, which serves the interests of Algeria more than the interests of Morocco. This is what prompted Morocco to refuse to ratify this agreement and to delay the ratification of the agreement on the drawing of the borders until the resumption of relations between the two countries following their rupture due to the tensions due to the question of the Sahara recovered in 1975. The agreement was then published in the official journal on June 22, 1992. Meanwhile, a rapprochement had taken place between the two countries after the creation of the Arab Maghreb Union in 1989, but this The rapprochement quickly began to dissipate following the terrorist acts that took place in Marrakech in 1994, which led Morocco to impose visas on Algerians and Algeria to retaliate by closing the land borders, which are still closed to this day (2022 ).

On the sidelines of these developments, in 1973, the question of the recovery of the Moroccan Sahara began to be on the agenda. Morocco feared to see projects set up in regions whose Moroccan identity was not yet established. This fear, as well as the inequality of interests in the agreements concluded, prompted Morocco to freeze the cooperation treaty for the exploitation of iron ore near Tindouf and to delay the ratification of the agreement on the delineation of the borders. There are other issues on which coordination between the two countries has been lacking, which has led to discord and tension, including the lack of coordination in the fight against smuggling, drug trafficking and terrorism. The electricity connection project is in fact the only project that is still in force between the two countries. Its maintenance is the result of international agreements linking the Arab Maghreb Union and Spain and cannot be broken.

As for the other projects, they were doomed to failure. We can cite, in this case, the project to install a cement factory in the border area, as well as the non-renewal of the agreement on the transport of Algerian gas to Algeria via Moroccan territory (31 October 2021). The reason for the failure of these projects lies in the absence of coordination between the two States and the lack of trust between them on the background of the question of the recovery of the Sahara.

What approach to improve relations between the two States?

To improve relations between the two countries, we must first restore trust between them. To this end, it is necessary to implement previous agreements which emphasize good neighborliness and the need to solve problems by peaceful and negotiated means. This requires the resumption of diplomatic relations, coordination in all bilateral matters, the establishment of joint development projects in border areas, while working to reconcile collective memory and unify school curricula in order to to anchor the spirit of solidarity, rather than hostility, in the mentalities of the younger generations.

In general, it seems that it is political calculations that dictate the establishment of normal neighborly relations between the two countries. Achieving consensus on them is likely to reduce tensions and incidents occurring on the borders and achieve economic development along the border area, which is what people on both sides of the border desire and hope for. the border. Only an agreement on the main point of contention, namely the question of the Moroccan Sahara, is able to bring relations between the two countries back to their normal state.

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