New chapter in the diplomatic conflict between Algeria and Morocco

In an interview with the newspaper L'Opinion, the President of Algeria addressed the question of the Sahara and criticised the construction of military bases on the border separating the two countries
Moroccan and Algerian flags in Saidia, on the border between the two countries

AFP/FADEL SENNA  -   Moroccan and Algerian flags in Saidia, on the border between the two countries

The development of the Moroccan defence industry has poisoned diplomatic relations between the Alaouite kingdom and Algeria. Tension has risen in recent weeks following Algiers' announcement of a new military base near the border separating the two nations. For many analysts, this decision is a response to the large installation that the Kingdom intends to build in the province of Jerada, only 38 kilometres from Algerian territory.   In this complex scenario, the President of Algeria, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, has urged Morocco during an interview with the newspaper L'Opinion to "stop the construction of a military base near the border with his country", claiming that it was "a form of escalation". 

"The construction of military bases on our borders is a form of escalation which must be stopped", the Algerian leader said during this interview, in which he also stressed the absence of tension between the two nations. "As far as we are concerned, we have no problem with Morocco and we are focused on the development of our country", he said before criticising that "the Kingdom does not have this same spirit". 

El presidente argelino Abdelmadjid Tebboune
AFP/ RYAD KRAMDI - Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune

In this interview, the President of Algeria also tackled the question of the Sahara. "It is up to Morocco to start a dialogue with the Polisario". If the Saharawis accept his proposals, we will applaud", pointed out Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who said that Algeria's support for independent movements "is almost dogmatic", according to several local media.  The conflict in Western Sahara has been the stumbling block in relations between Algeria and Morocco since 1975. "Relations with its natural competitor in the region, Morocco, are more than tense [...] because of the opposite point of view that both have on the problem of Western Sahara, a territory that Morocco claims as its own and which it in fact administers, while Algeria gives shelter and support to the Polisario Front in what is still a manoeuvre to weaken and destabilise its opponent", explained at the beginning of June the analyst Lucas Martin in Atalayar.   

Esta foto de archivo tomada el 25 de febrero de 2016 muestra una vista general del campo de refugiados de Smara en la provincia argelina de Tinduf
AFP/FAROUK BATICHE - This archive photo taken on 25 February 2016 shows an overview of the Smara refugee camp in the Algerian province of Tindouf

On 4 July, the President of Algeria stated during another interview with France24 that "any positive initiative on the part of the Kingdom would be welcome" to ease tensions between these two countries.  A day later, on the occasion of the 58th anniversary of Algerian independence, King Mohamed VI sent a message to Abdelmadjid Tebboune, reaffirming "the solidity of the ties of brotherhood which unite the Algerian and Moroccan peoples" according to the MAP news agency. The same week, Morocco appointed a new ambassador to Algeria.  According to an official statement from the Moroccan Royal House, the Alaouite sovereign appointed the diplomat Mohamed Aït Ouali to the post of ambassador of Morocco in his neighbouring country, replacing Mr Lahcen Abdelkhalek.

The web portal of the Armed Forces of the Kingdom of Morocco has published satellite images of what could be Algerian "military bases" erected on the border between the two countries, according to the digital Observ Algerie. According to this information, the photographs were taken by the satellites of Mohammed VI-A and Mohammed VI-B, produced in collaboration with France.   "These images show three infantry barracks with S-300 air defense systems, built only eight kilometers from the border with Morocco, and two other logistics barracks sixteen kilometers from the border," Observ Algerie reports.

These newspapers also accuse Algeria of transforming the city of Tindouf, in the southwest of the country, "into a huge military base" that houses "radars, planes, tanks and artillery". The appearance of these images comes after Morocco announced its intention to create a similar facility in the province of Jerada. 

El rey marroquí Mohammed VI
AFP/FADEL SENNA - The Moroccan King Mohammed VI

At the last Council of Ministers of Morocco - presided over by King Mohamed VI - three bills and a draft decree relating to the defence sector were approved. Thus, these laws would mainly affect the security of information, the legalization of the activities of manufacture and trade of weapons and, finally, the draft law refers to an amendment of the rule that speaks about the reserve army of the Alaoui armed forces. 

"The first project concerns cybersecurity and aims to establish a legal framework to strengthen the security of the information systems of State administrations, local authorities, public establishments and enterprises and any other legal entity under public law, as well as telecommunication operators. The project also provides for special security rules applicable to infrastructures of vital importance", reported the MAP news agency. 

Secondly, the second project deals with defence and security materials and equipment, weapons and ammunition. The main purpose of this measure is "to regulate the activities of manufacture, trade, import, export, transport and transit of these materials and equipment through the establishment of an authorisation system for the practice of these activities and a device for the traceability and control of documents", according to this information. 

Mujeres saharauis en el campamento de refugiados de Smara, en la provincia argelina de Tinduf
AFP/ AFP/FAROUK BATICHE - Saharawi women in the refugee camp of Smara, in the Algerian province of Tindouf

In addition, the third bill amending the Act on the reserve army seeks to include among reserve officers executives of establishments and companies who have received prior training in places under the authority of the FAR. Lastly, the draft decree provides for the reorganization of the Royal Air Force School, the aim of which is "to enable national air transport companies to benefit from the experience of the Royal Armed Forces in the field of aeronautical training". Morocco's ambitions in terms of defence and the struggle for leadership over the Sahara have strained diplomatic relations between the two North African nations, endangering the stability of the region.