Algeria Table of Contents

The Maghrib

The Maghrib remains a politically, economically, and strategically important area for Algerian foreign policy objectives. Sharing economic, cultural, linguistic, and religious characteristics, as well as national borders, the Maghrib nations have historically maintained highly integrated diplomatic interests. Before Algerian independence, the other Maghrib nations, former colonies themselves, supported the revolutionaries in their fight against the French, providing supplies, technical training, and political assistance. After independence, relations became strained, especially between Algeria and Morocco, whose conservative ideological orientation conflicted with Algeria's socialist direction, and tensions existed over boundary issues between the two. Accusations of harboring political insurrectionists from each other's countries damaged relations between Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia throughout the 1970s. In the 1980s, however, political and economic liberalization in Algeria drew the countries closer together, and relations improved dramatically. As Algeria's foreign policy orientation has shifted toward regional concerns and away from unsustainable ideological commitments, efforts toward forging a Greater Maghrib have dominated Algerian foreign policy.

The notion of a Greater Maghrib has historical allusions to a more glorious and precolonial past and has provided a unifying objective to which all Maghrib leaders have subscribed. Achieving more concrete steps toward political and economic cooperation, however, has proved much more difficult because political and economic rivalries and strategic regional interests have frequently inhibited amicable relations. In 1964 a Maghrib Permanent Consultative Committee was established to achieve a Maghrib economic community. This committee was plagued with differences, however, and could not reach an agreement on economic union. In the late 1980s, following the historic diplomatic reconciliation between Algeria and Morocco, an accord finally established an economic and political Union of the Arab Maghrib (Union du Maghreb Arabe--UMA).

Morocco in June 1988 acceded to the formation of an inter-Maghrib commission responsible for developing a framework for an Arab Maghrib union. This action broadened the scope of the Treaty of Fraternity and Concord that had originated in 1983 as a bilateral agreement between Tunisia and Algeria. The treaty pledged each nation to respect the other's territorial sovereignty, to refrain from supporting insurrectionist movements in the other country, and to abstain from using force for resolving diplomatic controversies. Prompted by Tunisian diplomatic concerns about Libyan ambitions and Algeria's hope to solidify its regionally predominant position through a solid political confederation, Tunisia and Algeria opened the agreement to all other Maghrib nations, and Mauritania joined later the same year. (Mauritania's accession to the treaty precipitated a bilateral agreement between Libya and Morocco, the Treaty of Oujda, signed in August 1984, declaring political union and establishing a regional dichotomy.)

The UMA treaty--signed in February 1989 in Marrakech, Morocco, by Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia--provided a loose framework for regional cooperation. It established a presidential council composed of the heads of state of each member country; the countries jointly shared a rotating presidency, a consultative council, and a judicial body. Aside from Libya, political inclinations for turning the UMA into a more substantial confederation have been weak. Plans for a common economic market will not come into effect until the year 2000, and bilateral agreements have dominated political negotiations. The greatest significance of the UMA is its symbolism. The North African economic union presents a potential counterpart to the European Community, whose cooperation threatens to undermine the position of Maghrib exports and migrant workers. Political cooperation has presented a means of countering the rise of Islamist radicals, who in the early 1990s were challenging the political regimes in most if not all of the North African nations. Finally, the UMA provides a regional forum for resolving bilateral conflicts, the most notable of which has been the Algerian-Moroccan dispute over the Western Sahara.

Algeria's relations with Morocco, its neighbor to the west and most significant Maghrib rival, have been dominated by the issue of self-determination for the Western Sahara. The national integrity of this former colonial territory has caused a deepseated antagonism and general mistrust between the two nations that has permeated all aspects of Moroccan-Algerian relations. Algeria's interest in the region dates back to the 1960s and 1970s when it joined Morocco in efforts to remove the Spanish from the territory. After Spain announced its intention to abandon the territory in 1975, the united front presented by the two nations quickly disintegrated, as a result of Morocco, and subsequently Mauritania, staking claims to the territory. Algeria, although not asserting any territorial ambitions of its own, was averse to the absorption of the territory by any of its neighbors and called for self-determination for the Saharan people. Before the Spanish evacuation, Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania agreed to divide the territory and transfer the major part to Morocco and the remaining southern portion to Mauritania. This agreement violated a United Nations (UN) resolution that declared all historical claims on the part of Mauritania or Morocco to be insufficient to justify territorial absorption and drew heavy Algerian criticism.

Guerrilla movements inside the Saharan territory, most especially the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Río de Oro (Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguia el Hamra y Río de Oro--Polisario), having fought for Saharan independence since 1973, immediately proclaimed the creation of the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). Algeria recognized this new self-proclaimed state in 1976, and has since pursued a determined diplomatic effort for international recognition of the territory; it has also supplied food, matériel, and training to the guerrillas. In 1979, after many years of extensive and fierce guerrilla warfare, Mauritania ceded its territorial claims and withdrew. Morocco quickly absorbed the vacated territory. Once the SADR gained diplomatic recognition from the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and many other independent states, Morocco came under international pressure. As a result, the Moroccan government finally proposed a national referendum to determine the Saharan territory's sovereignty in 1981. The referendum was to be overseen by the OAU, but the proposal was quickly retracted by the Moroccan king when the OAU could not reach agreement over referendum procedures. In 1987 the Moroccan government again agreed to recognize the Polisario and to meet to "discuss their grievances." Algeria stipulated a solitary precondition for restoration of diplomatic relations--recognition of the Polisario and talks toward a definitive solution to the Western Saharan quagmire. Without a firm commitment from the Moroccan king, Algeria conceded and resumed diplomatic relations with Morocco in 1988. The political stalemate and the guerrilla fighting have continued almost uninterrupted since 1987. As of late 1993, UN efforts to mediate the conflict as prelude to a referendum on the territory seemed to be making modest headway.

Far less troublesome have been Algeria's relations with Tunisia. Smaller and in a more precarious position vis-à-vis Libya, Tunisia has consistently made efforts to align with Algeria. In the 1970s, Tunisia reversed its position on the Western Sahara so as not to antagonize Algerian authorities. Tunisia was the first nation to sign the Treaty of Fraternity and Concord with Algeria, in 1983. Throughout Algeria's independent history, it has joined in a number of economic ventures with Tunisia, including the transnational pipeline running from Algeria through Tunisia to Italy. In 1987 the departure from power in Tunisia of President Habib Bourguiba and his replacement by the more diplomatic Zine el Abidine Ben Ali brought the two nations closer again.

Similarly, relations with Libya have generally been amicable. Libyan support for the Polisario in the Western Sahara facilitated early postindependence Algerian relations with Libya. Libyan inclinations for full-scale political union, however, have obstructed formal political collaboration because Algeria has consistently backed away from such cooperation with its unpredictable neighbor. (A vote by the CCN on June 30, 1987, actually supported union between Libya and Algeria, but the proposal was tabled and later retracted by the FLN Central Committee after the heads of state failed to agree.) The Treaty of Oujda between Libya and Morocco, which represented a response to Algeria's Treaty of Fraternity and Concord with Tunisia, temporarily aggravated Algerian-Libyan relations by establishing a political divide in the region--Libya and Morocco on one side; Algeria, Tunisia, and Mauritania on the other. Finally, in 1988 Libya was invited to participate in the inter-Maghrib commission that was responsible for developing the North African union. The establishment of the UMA in February 1989 marked the first formal political or economic collaboration between the two neighbors.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress