What The Algeria-Morocco UN Drama Means For Regional Stability And The Fight Against Terrorism
Diplomats at the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization meeting in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines witnessed an unprecedented event last week.
According to a Moroccan official, a heated discussion ended with the director general of the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs hitting the deputy of the Moroccan ambassador to Saint Lucia in his face, reportedly knocking him out and sending him to the hospital.
A couple of sources claim to have seen the medical and police reports that confirm this version. However, Algerian government officials argue the fight was staged.
Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita told the French Press Agency (AFP) that Algeria should "contribute to a solution and assume responsibility in the matter (…) assume the consequences of its actions."
Leaving all questioning about how things went down in this particular meeting aside, the relationship between Morocco and Algeria has been tense for years. This derives from a long-standing dispute over the sovereignty of Western Sahara and, most recently, from Morocco's return to the African Union and its allegations that Algeria was forcing Syrian refugees out of the latter and into the former.
So what does this mean for stability in the Northern African region and for the fight against terrorism on a global scale?
The Rising Temperature
Dr. Magnus Norell, a Senior Fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy (EFD), adjunct scholar of The Washington Institute, and former senior analyst and project leader at the Swedish Defense Research Agency, said this kind of altercation was unprecedented in a U.N. diplomatic setting. However, "[it says] something about the tension between these two countries."
"On a wider scale, the attack reflects the frustration Algeria must be feeling due to the fact that it has lost some traction in the last year, especially when it comes to dealing with the issue of Western Sahara [and the Polisario Front they support, which is opposed to the Moroccan government’s presence in the territory]," said Dr. Norell. "If you want to measure the temperature here, I think that this is a good sign of where things stand."
"I think this also reflects the fact that Morocco has been gaining some traction within the African Union [in detriment of Algeria’s power] and in the E.U. In fact, they recently presented ideas for a diplomatic solution to the Western Sahara issue. This has not made Algeria very happy."
Norell explained why Morocco’s proposed solution to the Western Sahara conflict isn't making Algeria happy.
“In essence, Morocco’s plan would keep Algeria out of Western Sahara, giving the Sahrawi people self-determination," he said. "This would not mean they would be fully independent, although they would be self-ruled, in a sense, while still protected by King Mohammed VI of Morocco. And, of course, that would be detrimental for the Algerian interest, because they would love to have a Polisario presence there, which means that they get an access to the Atlantic Ocean.”
Interestingly, Morocco’s proposal has been gaining traction among African states, especially since the country’s return to the African Union – and also due to the positive influence the Kingdom has had over the region in recent decades, Norell said.
Norell, an expert on international security issues like terrorism and radical Islamic extremism, went into the implications of this conflict for the safety of the Western world.
"In Western Sahara, Morocco has been filling a hole," he said. "Formerly, a lot of bad people, extremists, were coming into Europe through Western Sahara, but that is not the case any longer. Now, these people are getting into Europe through Algeria and Libya. So, Morocco's role in the security of Europe and Northern Africa is seriously important."
"Clearly Morocco is not afraid to take the lead in being the progressive leader in moderate Muslim countries and in combating fanaticism," Norell said, pointing out some examples that back this statement, like Morocco’s recent capture and delivery [to the U.S.] of a couple of fugitive terrorists.
One expert Benzinga spoke with who asked not be named said "Morocco is like the canary in the coal mine," highlighting the efforts of Driss El Yazami, Chairman of Morocco's National Council of Human Rights, to improve the situation in Western Sahara.
A Bet On Stability
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Africa-focused ETFs include:
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