Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Borders Of Morocco And Algeria

By Mohammad el-Ashab

It is unlikely that the incident of the border strip between Algeria and Morocco will have larger repercussions as long as the relationships of the two neighboring countries are less than normal and mutual cautiousness will not cause them to be even more strained. The incident might be due to the security chaos, or to the increased activity of the smugglers who become active when organized trade is absent, or to other considerations. However, this incident remains an additional indication that the situation on the border strip constitutes an exception that falls outside the natural context of what the relationships between two neighboring countries should be.

Based on the historic and political backgrounds, the borders used to always symbolize the nature of the relationship between Rabat and Alger, as they represented brotherhood and solidarity under common goals and in the periods of struggle against the French colonization. They also reflect the aspects of crisis and solidarity such as the experience of the Sands War in the fall of 1963. But at the same time, they have been the basis of a prominent economic cooperation in the horizons of the early efforts to build the Maghreb Union before it eventually collapsed. The proof is that the Union would not have been established if it wasn’t for the commitment of Rabat and Alger to renew their pledge to the border demarcation and good neighborliness.

And at the height of the escalation of the desert war, Morocco and Algeria vowed to renormalize their bilateral relations. The justification for this was logical and simple, as dialogue requires the presence of diplomatic channels to process the initiatives, efforts, and even reservations. The positive thing in this path was perhaps that the two countries kept the ball rolling in spite of their inflated disputes. However, the closing of the land borders, which will enter its seventeenth year in a few weeks, is neither encouraging nor is it a cause for optimism. This is because on the one hand, the two countries share the negative resulting toll on the human, economic, commercial, and political levels. And on the other hand, it is because the current situation is in contradiction with all the directions aimed at guaranteeing the safety of the transfer of people and goods in a world where border barrages are no longer existent except through procedural necessities. It is obvious that the main benefactors from this situation are those persons who are carrying out illegal actions including smuggling or illegal trades or the infiltration of radical organizations.

In other words, when the situation at the borders is un-natural, this encourages the outlaws to take advantage in order to carry out unnatural activities. Then, it would be useless to complain from dangers related to unstructured economy or illegal emigration or the limited security control especially when things relate to a wide border strip stretching over thousands of kilometers. It would be better to restore the borders to their nature before looking into the repercussions of the phenomenon that similar areas are hit with.

The mere agreeing on the fact that these trans-border dangers are touching on Morocco and Algeria equally, implies that the way of dealing with the issue of the borders should no longer be approached based on the concept of keeping the status quo, and that a different direction must be taken. Such direction implies, at least, that laying out the differences concerning this specific issue – and without linking it to other issues and files such as the stand concerning the Sahara dispute – might help in beating them, especially that Rabat and Alger have both canceled the visa system for their nationals who wish to visit the two countries. When the Moroccan side imposed the visa system, based on the backdrop of the terrorist attacks in Marrakesh, it was confronted by an Algerian decision to shut the borders. Presently, the reasons for this measure are no longer in place, and only the repercussions remain.

Morocco and Algeria both agree that they are targeted by the blind terrorism and the closed extremism. No country in the North African area, including Mauritania and Tunisia, constitutes an exception [as all the region’s countries] have been burnt by the flaring fire of this phenomenon. However, this does not negate the hypothesis that cooperating in order to confront this phenomenon is better than no cooperation. The same goes for phenomena such as smuggling, illegal emigration, and organized crime. However, in this case specifically, the two countries separated before even meeting. Indeed, Algeria has been absent from several African-European summits hosted by Morocco in order to look into the repercussions of illegal emigration. Morocco was also alienated from several regional, military and diplomatic conferences hosted by Algeria in order to discuss the security chaos in the region of the coast and the desert. But this absence, even if it had political motives related to issues with external dimensions, is unacceptable in major issues that relate to the fate of the Moroccan-Algerian relationships regardless of any disputes that will eventually wear off at the moment of the revival of the new awareness.

The border incident that caused the killing of a member of the support forces may be used as a basis to re-think a realistic approach in order to re-discuss the problems of the border. It will do the Algerians and Moroccans no harm if they were to meet over the dialogue table under an agenda headlined by the desire to re-open the borders. Then, all the other issues will become marginal. However, the difference between desire and capacity remains at the heart of the problem and of all the ensuing roads and complications consisting of the natural problems on the joint borders.

This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 26/07/2011

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