Algerian president says Morocco ties reach ‘point of no return’

The North African neighbours have been locked in a bitter rivalry for decades over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

Newly elected Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune gestures during a swearing-in ceremony in Algiers
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune gestures during a swearing-in ceremony in Algiers, Algeria on December 19, 2019 [File: Ramzi Boudina/Reuters]

Algeria’s relations with Morocco have reached “the point of no return”, according to Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, the latest evidence of the continued poor relationship between the two countries, which broke off relations in 2021.

Speaking to Al Jazeera in an interview on Tuesday, Tebboune said that while he regretted the deteriorating relations between Algeria and its neighbour, he blamed Morocco for the current state of affairs.

“We have practically reached the point of no return,” said Tebboune, who became president in 2019 after the resignation of longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika. “Our position is a response [to Morocco’s actions], we were never the ones who started [the problem].”

The North African countries have been locked in a bitter rivalry for decades over the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Algiers backs the armed Polisario movement that seeks independence for Western Sahara, a territory Rabat claims as its own.

The Polisario separatists took up arms in the 1970s and have continued to demand an independence referendum on the basis of a 1991 deal that included a ceasefire.

Algerian foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra announced the severing of diplomatic relations in August 2021, following growing tensions over the dispute.

Normalisation with Israel

In addition to differences over Western Sahara, Algeria and Morocco diverge in their position towards Israel.

In his interview, Tebboune emphasised his country’s support for Palestine and said that Algeria viewed the issue as akin to a domestic issue.

Algeria does not recognise Israel, while Morocco and Israel agreed to normalise relations in a deal brokered with the help of the United States in December 2020.

As part of the agreement, then-US President Donald Trump agreed to recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. Morocco has since demanded that Israel take that step before Rabat opens an embassy in Tel Aviv.

Spanish mediation

Tebboune also turned his ire towards Spain in the interview, which he accused of being biased towards Morocco.

He added that the Spanish government had forgotten its role as a former colonial power in Western Sahara and that it still bared responsibility towards resolving the issue.

Western Sahara was a Spanish colony until 1975. Morocco then took control of the vast swath of desert on Africa’s Atlantic coast, which is a little larger than the size of the United Kingdom, in a move that has not been recognised internationally.

International recognition of its control of Western Sahara is an important goal for the Moroccan government, which left the African Union in 1984 in protest against the organisation’s recognition of the Polisario. Morocco rejoined the continental body only in 2016.

Spain has maintained a neutral position on the issue for decades, but in March last year, Madrid backed a 2007 proposal by Morocco to offer Western Sahara autonomy under its sovereignty, describing it as the “most serious, realistic and credible basis” to end the long-running conflict.

Algeria responded by recalling its ambassador from Madrid in protest and then suspended a two-decades-old friendship treaty with Spain a few months later.

Source: Al Jazeera