An outpouring of online and real-world support has pushed historical tensions between Algeria and Morocco aside as government and civil society offer to join global solidarity efforts after the earthquake that hit the neighbouring kingdom late on Friday night.
The countries have had political differences for decades over a number of issues, most notably Western Sahara, where Algeria has supported an independence movement while Morocco has been trying to claim sovereignty over the region.
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On Saturday, the Algerian presidency expressed its readiness to help and opened its airspace to relief planes heading for Morocco after two years of refusing passage for Moroccan flights.
As the death toll of Morocco’s most violent quake in a century surpassed 2,000 and it was clear there would be more fatalities, Algeria proposed an emergency aid plan to Moroccan authorities the next day. The plan includes a team of 80 rescue workers as well as medical and relief supplies.
This is the “logistical and material urgent aid Algeria is ready to send to the Moroccan people, our brothers, to face the aftermath of the violent earthquake”, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement. The offer stands, pending Morocco’s approval.
‘I’m Algerian and I stand with my brothers’
Throughout, messages of solidarity flooded Algerian social media, especially from the western cities where many people had felt the earthquake themselves.
There were no Algerian casualties or damage to those cities, though, according to a statement by the Algerian Civil Protection an hour after the earthquake.
Raouf, a 28-year-old photographer living in Oran – 160km (100 miles) from the border with Morocco – was at home when he felt the ground shaking. He insists that social media is not representative of the reality of the relations between the two populations. “We’re literally on the same boat,” he said.
“I think that if the borders were open, Algerians would send tonnes of help, just as they did during the forest fires [in the Kabylia region in 2021],” he added.
The feelings of solidarity have extended to people’s profile pictures on social media, many of which have been changed to a doodle by Algerian artist and journalist Djamel Alilat that shows the flags of the two countries melting into each other.
Many tweets, especially from around Algiers, also said that the images brought back painful memories of the devastating 2003 earthquake in Boumerdes (50 km or 31 miles to the east of the capital) of the same magnitude that killed more than 2,600 people.
الله يرحم كل من مات إثر #الزلزال_المدمر في #مراكش و #المغرب عموما..
مشاهد صادمة ومفجعة صراحة تذكرني بزلزال #بومرداس سنة 2003 اين عشت مشاهد صادمة أمامي لاتزال عالقة في ذهني ليومنا هذا.
لهذا أنا أحس بما يحس به إخواني في مراكش وفي كل المناطق المتضررة.
ربي يكون في عونكم يا خاوتي.. 🤲 pic.twitter.com/sFHsyO2laY
— Naravas (@Smail_Naravas) September 9, 2023
Translation: May God have mercy on everyone who died as a result of the devastating #earthquake in #Marrakesh and #Morocco … Shocking and horrifying images. They remind me of the 2003 Boumerdes earthquake where I witnessed shocking scenes that are still stuck in my mind. That is why I can understand what brothers in Marrakesh and other areas are feeling. May God help you, my brothers.
It has not all been positive, but on the balance, it seems that Algerians have opened their hearts to their neighbours.
“While I saw some disinformation and hateful or cynical comments, a sense of solidarity seems to be much more dominant”, said Isabelle Werenfels, a Berlin-based Maghreb relations expert.
But beyond compassion on social media, a number of Algerian civil society organisations have initiated campaigns to collect aid and funds to be sent to Morocco.
اللهم ارحم الموتى الشهداء و اشفي الجرحى و صبر الأهالي و أعن الناجين ….ما حدث في المغرب قضاء وقدر …أثبت أننا ضغفاء امام قدرة الله عزو جل و أننا أبناء منطقة واحدة بالأمس في بومرداس و اليوم في الأطلس …جزائري متضامن مع إخوتي و جيراني …عظم الله أجركم . https://t.co/Yl0Yjy99Oo
— العربي بن والي (@BenoualiLarbi) September 9, 2023
Translation: God have mercy on the martyred dead and heal the injured and grant the families patience and support the survivors … What happened in Morocco is predestined … It proves that we are weak in front of God’s will and that we are the children of the same area. Yesterday in Boumerdes, today in the Atlas. I’m Algerian and I stand with my brothers and neighbours. May God reward you.
“We work during crises such as forest fires, floods, etc. It was only natural for us to launch this campaign as soon as we heard about the earthquake in Morocco,” Ahmed Ibrahimi, president of El Baraka, told Al Jazeera.
Established in 2015 in Algeria, El Baraka is an independent, humanitarian non-profit that works in many parts of the world. After the devastating earthquakes that struck Syria and Turkey in February, the organisation sent several aid missions to help there.
Their initiative for Morocco is called The Urgent Brotherhood Campaign and is collecting food, medical supplies and money. At least one other organisation in Algiers, El Irshad Wa El Islah, has launched a similar effort.
“We’re in contact with Moroccan organisations so we can partner with them. We told them we are ready,” Ibrahimi said. But with a closed border and no direct flights, it is not clear how this aid will get to Morocco.
Qu’Allah fasse miséricorde au Maroc, j’oublierais jamais le Séisme de Boumerdes et la trace qu’il a laissé, aux frères et sœurs du Maroc ainsi qu’à ceux de l’ouest de l’Algerie qu’Allah vous protège et qu’il facilite à ceux qui sont dans l’angoisse du manque de nouvelles
— Le Retour de Célibataire à Vie (@Alamexicaine23) September 9, 2023
Translation: May Allah have mercy on Morocco, I will never forget the earthquake in Boumerdes and the mark it left, to the brothers and sisters in Morocco as well as to those in western Algeria, may Allah protect you and may He ease the anguish of those who are waiting for news [of their loved ones].
Ibrahimi hopes the government will help. “We’ll see if we can convince the authorities to provide us with a plane or arrange a transfer through the border,” he said.
On Sunday evening, the Moroccan authorities said they had accepted aid from Qatar, Spain, the Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom based on “the needs on the ground”, adding that Morocco might accept more aid depending on how things evolve.
“There is little chance that Morocco accepts [the Algerian aid proposition], just as Algeria did not accept the Moroccan aid proposition during the forest fires of 2021,” said Adel Ourabah, a PhD researcher on security matters in the Maghreb.
“If Morocco does accept [the Algerian aid], there is a small hope that this humanitarian diplomacy could mark the beginning of a denouement of the contentious relations between the two countries,” he said.
Werenfels noted, “We have seen on other occasions that natural disasters can be an ‘icebreaker’, a chance to show goodwill and ease tensions between countries in diplomatic conflicts.”
Whether this will be the case with Algeria and Morocco remains to be seen.