Why tensions between Algeria and Morocco increase

Article by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

In August, Algeria decided to cut diplomatic ties with Morocco (Aljazeera, 2021). Algeria accuses Morocco of supporting the Kabylie Independence Movement (MAK) in Northern Algeria, a movement fighting for the independence of the Berber population (Hagmann, 2021). The Kabylie Independence Movement is blamed by the Algerian government for starting the forest fires in the region (FAZ, 2021). Morocco, on the other hand, accuses Algeria of supporting the Polisario Movement, a movement fighting for the independence of the Sahrawi population in Western Sahara (a territory that the Moroccan government claims sovereignty over) (SRF, 2021). Both states are thus accusing each other of supporting separatist movements in the other country. This article focuses on the background of the Western Sahara conflict. 

The Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony. The territory is very attractive as it is rich in phosphate and fishing grounds (Sadaqi, 2021). As soon as the Spanish government withdrew from Western Sahara in 1975, Moroccan troops occupied the territory (Reuters, 2021). Since then, Morocco claims sovereignty over Western Sahara (Chograni, 2021). This forced “ten thousands of Sahrawi to flee“ (Azkue, 2021).

Until today, Sahrawi refugees were not able to return and live now dispersed in four different regions of the world (Algeria, Europe, Western Sahara under control of Morocco and Western Sahara under control of the Polisario Front (Azkue, 2021). Since the Moroccan occupation of the territory, the Moroccan government incentivised a Moroccan migration to Western Sahara by “building new homes and offering jobs”, so that “social and demographic characteristics in the area“ changed and the Sahrawi became “a minority in their own country“ (Azkue, 2021). The Moroccan government has rejected all calls for independence of the Sahrawi population and offered instead autonomy (Chograni, 2021). The Polisario Front (fighting for the independence of the Sahrawi population) rejected the Moroccan plans of autonomy for the Sahrawis “doubting the level of promised autonomy“ (Chograni, 2021).

The Polisario Front is recognized by the UN General Assembly as “international representative of the Sahrawi people“ (Lovatt & Mundy, 2021). The UN labeled the Western Sahara as a “non-self-governing territory“ (Lovatt & Mundy,2021). Furthermore, most of the international community (and the UN)  reject Morocco’s claims of sovereignty (Lovatt & Mundy,2021).The European Commision and the Council of European Union define the role of Morocco as “de-facto administering power“ (Lovatt & Mundy, 2021). In December 2020, the Trump administration recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara in return for Morocco’s efforts to normalize relations with Israel (FAZ, 2021). However, the Sahrawi government has asked the Biden administration to reverse the decision to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara (Reuters, 2021). 

With regards to the Sahrawi refugee situation in Algeria, it is of humanitarian and Human Rights interest, to solve the conflict. Furthermore, the alarming increase in tensions between Algeria and Morocco should serve as a warning shot for the EU and the international community to take action.

motorcycle in the middle of desert
Picture by Daniel Born published on Unsplash


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