The Western Sahara issue dilates Algeria's external position and strengthens Rabat's

Morocco, Algeria and the changing diplomatic game

AFP/FADEL SENNA - El ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de Marruecos, Nasser Bourita (R), recibe a su homólogo ucraniano, Dmytro Kuleba, durante una visita, en Rabat, el 22 de mayo de 2023
AFP/FADEL SENNA - Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita (R) welcomes his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba during a visit in Rabat on 22 May 2023

Algerian diplomacy shifts gears. The Tebboune-Chreringa tandem is urgently seeking to reposition its diplomatic relations in view of the latest moves on the key issue of its foreign policy: Western Sahara. From the presidential palace in Algiers, Tebboune's close circle observes the almost constant visit of the main Western Foreign Ministers who express to Bourita their support for Morocco's 2007 plan on the Saharawi question. El Mouradia is in a hurry to counter the situation. 

"We are undergoing major transformations that are forcing us to adapt", Ahmed Attaf, the new Foreign Minister who has the arduous task of strengthening Algeria's position, acknowledged a few weeks ago. Gone is the hard-nosed Ramtane Lamamra, the architect of the rupture of relations with Morocco, perhaps the only notable work of the Algerian Foreign Ministry in recent years.  

With the exception of Giorgia Meloni's Italy, which has strengthened its ties as a "reliable partner" at the cost of opening the gas tap, Algeria's allies remain the same as in the Bouteflika era. Added to this is the weight of the international isolation suffered by its main and strongest ally: Vladimir Putin's invading Russia. An uncomfortable ally whose "special military operation" in Ukraine is condemning all countries to position themselves on the new geopolitical chessboard that characterises the so-called new Cold War. Either on the side of Russia or Ukraine.

Algerian Presidency via REUTERS - El presidente argelino, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, se reúne con la primera ministra italiana, Giorgia Meloni, en Argel, Argelia, 23 de enero de 2023
Algerian Presidency via REUTERS - Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune meets with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in Algiers, Algeria, 23 January 2023

But Algeria cannot do without the key partner in its arms race. Not only does Tebboune not condemn the invasion, but he is forging closer ties with the Kremlin by leaps and bounds, counting on the long-awaited visit to Putin's offices planned for May that never took place. A point and a continuation of its anchored foreign policy. 

Morocco, on the other side of the chessboard 

Rabat was the first stop on Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba's African tour. The aim of the trip was to seek support for Kiev from a continent that has become key to Russian and Chinese influence, but Morocco has already taken a stand on the invasion by becoming the first African country to send military weapons to the Ukrainian army. 

"For Ukraine, territorial integrity is an absolutely sacred concept. We understand that the resolution of the Saharawi issue is essential for regional security and peace", Kuleba defended Ukraine's sovereignty. Together with his Moroccan counterpart, the Ukrainian minister supported Morocco's plan for Western Sahara. A blow to the detriment of Algeria.

Morocco is now on the Western side of the chessboard, and thus secures the reinforcement of its main and most important partner: the United States, on which it also depends for rearmament against the clock. But in addition to consolidating its key partners, Aziz Akhannouch's government is seeking to strengthen new relations. With the exception of Syria and Mauritania, Rabat has the support of all Arab countries. Israel is also on board. Now there is Europe. 

Portugal, a buffer between Spain and Morocco 

The visit of Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch to Lisbon set off alarm bells in Algeria. Tebboune needs more allies in Europe and could not afford to let Morocco get ahead of him again. A week after the Moroccan chief executive's visit, Tebboune embarked for Lisbon to try to unpick the economic alliances woven by Akhannouch and try to convince António Costa's position on the Sahara. But to no avail

AFP/ CARLOS COSTA - El presidente de Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, da la bienvenida al presidente de Argelia, Abdelmadjid Tebboune
AFP/ CARLOS COSTA - The President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, welcomes the President of Algeria, Abdelmadjid Tebboune

Portugal supported the UN plan for the resolution of the conflict and maintained the agreements signed with Morocco at the 14th summit between the two countries. This was another endorsement of Algeria's political predictions. 

France, the most difficult actor 

The Elysée is starting from a difficult position. At the beginning of February, Algeria recalled its ambassador to Paris for consultations after welcoming the opposition journalist Buraoui. In the same month, Morocco ended the mandate of its ambassador to France without a replacement in sight, following the French campaign on the alleged "lack of press freedom" in Morocco. 

PHOTO/ARCHIVO - El rey Mohamed VI recibe en Rabat al presidente francés, Emmanuel Macron
PHOTO/ARCHIVO - King Mohammed VI receives French President Emmanuel Macron in Rabat

French President Emmanuel Macron wants to put these "polemics" behind him and open a new stage of conciliation with the two countries. "We are going to move forward, the period is not the best, but that will not stop me," the French leader stressed, referring to Morocco. "The king knows this, we have had many discussions," he said. And this is what relations are all about.

"Our position is clear and well known. From the beginning, our position has been clearly favourable to Morocco", acknowledged the French Foreign Minister, Catherine Colonna, during a visit to Rabat. But for Morocco it is not enough. Akhannouch insisted that France cannot be a mere spectator, while "major developments are taking place in the recognition, by the major powers, of Morocco's sovereignty over our Southern Provinces". 

In the case of Algeria, the reluctance is greater, although Tebboune does not dismiss French support. This is where the double currency of gas towards Italy comes into play: help to regain a lost partner.