Thursday, August 17

Algeria and the Islamists of Morocco

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Mohammad el-Ashab

Some developments cannot bear any interpretations as they represent needs that are not bound to immediate considerations. The opening of Morocco and Algeria to one another is not a gift offered by Algeria to the Islamic movement leading the government in Rabat; but it could be considered as a way to salute the Moroccan people after selecting their new ruling elite. The visit paid by Moroccan Foreign Minister Saadeddin al-Othmani to Algeria only aimed at paving the way for the long awaited détente.

In this sense, the dialogue between the Algerian Authority and the Islamists of Morocco will be no stranger to the transformations that necessitated the reconciliation of Algeria with all its Islamic, liberal, leftist and even Amazigh components. What applies to the regional transformations applies even more to the internal level. The encouraging thing in this regard is that many calculations pertaining to setting things straight in both countries have gone or are on their way to take a back seat.

The important thing is that the train of normalization has set off at a less aggressive pace. There is no need to ask how or why now. Indeed, seclusion and self absorption have prevailed over an important period of the two countries’ lives. But this seclusion, which was imposed by the differences in positions, did not lead to new discoveries. Perhaps the most important discovery is that the two countries really need each other, no matter how long the years of estrangement are.

What came to be known as the Arab Spring happened to stir the dormant waters. The way the two countries have been running this phase does not only stop within their own borders. It rather reaches out for a horizon that has always been absent. The required change is not a prescription that can be sketched through democratic mechanisms which only consolidate the internal openness. It rather encompasses, and in an equally important manner, the highest levels of regional openness especially when it comes to a neighborhood that is enhanced by historic connections and the requirements of progress.

The train has set off again from Algeria this time. Whether its trip will take it in the direction of the bilateral reconciliation between Morocco and Algeria, or whether it will proceed in the direction of activating the stumbling Maghreb Union, the mere collective trip that is being taken in an atmosphere of hope implies that change could occur without any losses. The gains that could be achieved through this change and that are pointing in the horizon call for relinquishing selfishness and cautiousness.

The Maghreb Union – whose establishment will be celebrated on the 17th of the upcoming month – was founded in Marrakesh in 1989. But a few months prior to that, the summit of Zeralda was held in Algeria, thus paving the way for the implementation of a part of the historic dream of the region’s five countries. And whether the Moroccans want to connect the event to the city of Marrakesh, the capital of Almoravids and Almohads; or whether the Algerians want to cling to that the idea was born in Zeralda, what is certain is that the détente in the relationships of the two countries was behind the rebirth of that momentum that had nearly turned into an illusion.

As the little town of Zeralda made the history of the region along with its ambitions and defeats, Avren, a winter resort in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains, saw the extension of the treaty for the borders demarcation and the good neighborly relations that ended the series of caution back then at the end of 1988. This means that, once a party makes an initiative for openness, the other party responds better to it.

This is perhaps why the Algerians said on several instances that the normalization of their relations with Morocco is a mutual matter. But there is no longer a need for mediation since the two countries decided to reconnect on the diplomatic level. With the same keenness, the Moroccans worked on directing additional calls at their eastern neighbor in order to speed up the opening of the borders. But the politics of speaking out about the problems did not serve to either solve or decrease them.

It is hard to accomplish a mission this complicated in a short period of time, no matter how convergent the intentions and reasons are. But the record time required to solve problems perhaps consists of merely admitting their existence from the angle of a self-criticism that leads to a real frankness, which in turn leads to a viable reconciliation. Perhaps the most difficult challenge consists of avoiding additional problems.

The two countries have tried several paths, some of which leaned to giving the priority to the bilateral normalization without tackling the regional disputes, while some others aimed at addressing the heart of these disputes so that normalization may become permanent. Meanwhile, other projections placed all the hanging issues in one basket.

All this debate was concluded by the fact that the crisis of the two countries is casting its shadows on the entire region. And because there is a light at the end of the tunnel, the two countries must go together, and on the same road, in order to discover the “unknown continent” in the context of the relationships that never previously tried opening up to the future.


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