Morocco and Algeria start talking again as shifts in region make rapprochement appealing
Regional and pan-Arab political developments are driving North Africa’s two brother-enemies, Morocco and Algeria, closer to one another, observed Mohammed Lachhab, a journalist with the London-based newspaper Al Hayat, in a column yesterday.
On the sidelines of last week’s Arab-Turkish Cooperation Forum which was held in the Moroccan capital of Rabat, Morocco’s foreign minister and his Algerian counterpart held talks about pushing sectorial cooperation forward.
“With all the [regional] shifts that are happening, the two neighbours seem to have no better prospect than opening up to each other,” the writer said.
“The logic of closing down borders and putting roadblocks by way of self-protection has gone bankrupt. Since borders are proving porous to major events, and places that looked unbreakable turned out to be defenceless against change, a degree of rapprochement imposed itself.”
Besides border issues that kept festering since the independence of both countries from France in the second half of the past century, the more sensitive “Sahara dispute” lingers.
Morocco accuses Algeria of supporting the Polisario Front, an armed movement that lays claim to the Western Sahara, a large stretch of desert that the Kingdom of Morocco insists is part and parcel of its territorial integrity.
Sahrawis (natives of the Sahara) are said to have moved to southern Algeria after Morocco took over the Sahara from Spanish colonisers in a bloodless Green March in 1975.
Morocco maintains that Sahrawis are free to return to their homeland, under Moroccan sovereignty, and alleges that the Polisario Front is keeping Sahrawis in squalid refugee camps by force to vilify the Moroccan leadership internationally.
On the other hand, some Algerian politicians and Polisario Front leaders publicly accuse Morocco of being a colonising force squatting the native land of many thousand Sahrawis.
The United Nations, the United States and Europe take the side of caution on the issue that emasculated the once-promising Arab Marghreb Union – a five-country trade zone founded in 1989, also comprising Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania.
But all problems aside, Morocco and Algeria know they need each other. “Neither Morocco nor Algeria can wriggle out of the forced challenges ahead without an economic cooperation scheme leading to complementarity,” the writer said, “especially that the two neighbours have assets that favour that complementarity.”
Algerian gas and oil would certainly benefit Morocco, whose energy bill takes a toll on the annual budget. And Algeria could directly import good-quality Moroccan produce it ends up buying on the secondary market.
Egypt's generals need to listen to the street
For how long would Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the country's de facto ruling authority, go on "playing with fire" and "confiscating the achievements" of the January 25 revolution that broke Hosni Mubarak's 30-year-old grip on power? That was the question posed by columnist Mazen Hammad in yesterday's edition of the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.
"I say this as one million Egyptians … agreed [on Friday] to make a studied move to protect their revolution and its historic accomplishments," the columnist said. "The huge demonstration, which took place in Tahrir Square in Cairo and was accompanied by sit-ins in other Egyptian cities, goes to show the level of alertness of the Egyptian people and their hyper-sensitivity to the slightest attempt to tamper with the civilian authority poised to take over control of the country's affairs after the parliamentary elections due by the end of this month."
Egyptian demonstrators, mobilised by the Muslim Brotherhood, were protesting against the so-called "Al Salmi document", a proposal of basic constitutional provisions put forward by the country's deputy premier, Ali Al Salmi, which grants the military special privileges.
"The Egyptian revolution is still in its beginning. But it is clear that in a democracy, the army must answer to the politicians."
Fatah-Hamas peace is subject to politicking
Palestinians have been busy over the past two weeks talking about the prospective meeting in Cairo between the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas's political bureau chief, Khaled Mashaal, wrote columnist Hussam Kanafani in yesterday's edition of the Emirati newspaper Al Khaleej.
The meeting is expected to result in "a breakthrough towards the consummation of inter-Palestinian reconciliation", which has been staggering since Fatah and Hamas - the two major factions in the Palestinian struggle for statehood - signed a reconciliation deal in Cairo more than six months ago. The two view the struggle against Israeli occupation from opposite angles.
Still, it was important for Mr Abbas to make that deal with Hamas mostly because he was preparing to lodge the Palestinian bid for statehood with the United Nations, the columnist said.
Why bring up reconciliation again now that the Palestinian bid in the UN Security Council is as good as dead? Because the Security Council's Committee on the Admission of New Members reportedly cited earlier this month the PA's lack of control over the Gaza Strip - a territory controlled by Hamas - as one of the reasons why Palestine may not yet be eligible to become an independent state.
* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi