When asked by a French journalist about how he felt after the death of former Algerian President Houari Boumedienne, late Morocco’s King Hassan II said: "I felt like somebody who's lost his second half!" (1)
In fact, he lost his political vis-à-vis his best competitor for the leadership of the Maghreb region.
This anecdotical story tells a lot about the complicated relation between Morocco and Algeria.
On Tuesday, Moroccans celebrated the 14th anniversary of what is called here, the Throne Day (2).
King Mohammed VI addressed the nation with a balance about one year of political, social and economic achievements.
But he also took the opportunity to criticise Algeria’s stance about the Western Sahara issue and the way Algiers remains deaf to calls for the re-opening of the land border between the two Maghreb giants.
It's more than 1500km that’s theoretically locked down since 1994. Nobody can cross it. Nobody, but smugglers of drugs, fuel and illegal immigrants!
Moroccans and Algerians know that. They also know the closure of the border is more symbolic, than realistic.
Since the so-called Arab Spring revolutions, which cost his job to Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali his life to Libya's Moummar Gaddafi, Algeria and Morocco are seen as beacons of stability, in a boiling Middle East and North Africa region.
The two regimes have managed to navigate their way through social and political protests. Morocco has a new constitution, a new government and the voice of the February 20th Movement (3) has faded away. Algeria, with its huge oil revenues, has boosted subsidies, salaries and projects for its jobless youth.
But both countries have still to consolidate what Human Rights activists call “spaces of freedom”. They also have to come together in order to negotiate an end to their political animosity.
According to specialists, this animosity is costing the Maghreb region two percentage points in annual economic growth. The African Economic Commission says that if a Maghreb Union existed the five countries (4) would each gain 5% of GDP. Economists from the region call this "the cost of the non-Maghreb".
Political animosity between Morocco and Algeria is also provoking a growing sense of mutual hatred between the youth in both countries.
In Morocco, officials say they have made repeated gestures toward their Algerian colleagues. But the big problem they are facing is the opacity of the Algerian regime, according to many of them.
French and Spanish commentators are using the same argument, especially since the last health problems of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. He hasn’t been seen in public since more than two months.
On the other side of the border, Algerians remain adamant. They say normalisation with Morocco has to meet some conditions, mainly a serious effort in fighting drugs trafficking and the recognition of Algeria's support to the right of Western Sahara's people for self-determination.
On the same Throne Day, APS, Algeria's State News Agency, published a letter addressed by President Bouteflika to King Mohammed VI. The dispatch emphasizes “the historic ties between the two peoples” and praises “the King’s wisdom in leading Morocco”.
It's really a complicated relation!
1. Hassan II. La mémoire d’un roi. (By Eric Laurent. Plon).
2. An annual festival commemorating the king assumption of power.
3. On February 20th 2011 hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Morocco. The protests led to the ratifying of a new Constitution and early elections, won by the Islamists Justice and Development Party.
4. Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania.