President Tebboune Ends Relations with King Mohammed Amidst Hostile Row

  • Tebboune ends diplomatic relations with King Mohammed’s Morocco over ‘hostile actions’. 
  • Tebboune looks to minimize the growing regional influence of King Mohammed’s Morocco. 
  • King Mohammed extends an olive branch to spur Tebboune’s hostility.

Why is Tebboune Hostile with King Mohammed VI?

Answer: Tebboune feels threatened by King Mohammed’s growing diplomatic influence. 

The Foreign Minister of Algeria, Ramdane Lamamra, announced the North African giant’s unilateral ceasing of diplomatic relations with its neighbour, Morocco. The Algerian government said that this action is a measure against what it described as Morocco’s hostile actions” against the Algerian people and government. While relations between Algeria and Morocco worsened in recent months, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s hostility against the Moroccan king, King Mohammed VI did not go unnoticed. 

Amongst the cited ‘hostile actions’ was Morocco’s normalisation with Israel in December 2020, to which President Tebboune responded, “There is a mad rush among [some] Arabs to normalise ties. We will not participate in it. We will not accept it. We will not bless it. The Palestine cause is sacred, and we will not give it up.”  Acknowledging the budding relationship between King Mohammed and Israel, President Tebboune’s verbal repudiation of the two states recently increased tensions between Algeria and the bilateral pair. 

Days before President Tebboune’s cabinet ended relations with Morocco, a forest fire ravaged parts of Algeria that killed about a dozen people and left 90 injured. President Tebboune blamed this tragedy on Morocco and Israel, accusing them of funding the MAK (Movement for the Self-Determination of the Kabylie), whom they claim was behind the fire. Additionally, Tebboune and his Foreign Minister, Lamamra, also entertained allegations that Morocco has spied on 6,000 public officials and citizens using the Israeli-made Pegasus software. 

Morocco and Algeria have been anything but friendly with each other in past years. One particular issue that keeps them apart is the Western Sahara, a territory claimed by Morocco, but home to the separatist Polisario Front, which is also supported by President Tebboune and historically, Algeria. Since Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara was recognised by President Trump, Tebboune realizes Algeria’s regional influence is largely at stake against an expanding Morocco. 

What does King Mohammed VI want?

Answer: Keep Western Sahara, minimize conflict with Tebboune, and to keep prospering.

King Mohammed has seen his country’s influence explode in recent years, and it only makes sense that he wants to protect his increased influence. Understanding his new position in the region, King Mohammed realises that conflict with Algeria would damage Morocco’s position. In the past year, King Mohammed has taken a friendlier approach than President Tebboune, reaching out for more tranquil relations between the two states. 

King Mohammed is especially vocal on peace between the two nations, using many of his official speeches as messages to Tebboune to ensure peace between them. The King even stated during his Throne Day speech, “Morocco and Algeria are more than just two neighboring countries: they are twins,complementing one another”, prior to the recent fallout. 

Reconciliation between Algeria and Morocco, as King Mohammed hopes, would mean that Algeria lay the Western Sahara issue to rest. Better relations between the two would also mean a deeper bilateral economic relationship, crossing out the potential that Algeria economically pressures Morocco. Albeit, King Mohammed would like to see the Western Sahara as Moroccan territory, despite Algeria and President Tebboune’s harsh resistance. 

Algeria’s inability to accept the Western Sahara as part of Morocco, however, is not stopping King Mohammed from making several trips to other African countries attempting to receive their support on the issue. For example, after Morocco’s re-entry into the African Union, King Mohammed convinced Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia and Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria to remain neutral on Western Sahara, which was a setback for the Abuja-Algiers-Pretoria axis that Algeria so heavily relied on for policy support in the African Union. 

In the end, King Mohammed has improved relations with other African states and wants to increase his diplomatic support in the future. It is likely that he will continue his rhetoric of peace with his Algerian neighbors to avoid economic stress due to Algerian oil policy. Though if considerable damage is made to the Moroccan economy by Algerian policy, King Mohammed’s tone will change in regards to the pipeline. 

What does President Tebboune want?

Answer: Distract from domestic troubles and embolden discussion around the Western Sahara. 

As King Mohammed’s regional influence grows in both Africa and abroad, President Tebboune is threatened with every blooming Moroccan relationship. However, Tebboune sees an opportunity in rhetorical battles against King Mohammed to hurt his expanding diplomatic prowess. 

Under Tebboune, Algeria, as of late, has seen incredible economic downfalls such as falling oil prices, crippling state budgets, and drastically increasing food prices. This has pressured Tebboune to find a viable scapegoat for the Algerian public, ensuring that his popularity was hardly affected. Due to the bitter history between Algeria and Morocco, Tebboune’s ability to distract from his country’s current crises by increasing tensions with Morocco and King Mohammed is a thought-out plan to save himself from political backlash. 

Tebboune wants to deepen his support for the Polisario Front. By doing this, any positive advancement by Algeria for the group would represent a win for Tebboune in weakening Morocco. Tebboune has even attempted to raise the alarm on the Western Sahara to the entire African Union. The Algerian Foreign Minister, Sabri Boukadoum, was sent to garner continental support to make the 34th African Union summit the one to finally satisfy Algeria in this issue. Boukadem also tried to involve Spain, claiming the former colonial power has a “historical responsibility” to the disputed territory, something they refuted.

In the end, a stronger Morocco is one of the last things that Tebboune wants or is willing to put up with. In trying to promote the Algerian case in the Western Sahara, Tebboune often calls out King Mohammed for collaborating with the Israeli government, while juxtaposing Israeli apartheid to Morocco’s treatment of the Sahrawi people. He does this to turn African and Arab states, who are outspoken about the Palestinian cause, against Morocco. 

What is Tebboune doing?

Answer: Challenging King Mohammed’s influence and reputation while growing own regional strength. 

As previously mentioned, President Tebboune has intensified his rhetorical stance against Morocco to divert attention from Algeria’s current hardships. The most notable example of this was when President Tebboune ended diplomatic relations with Morocco because of their “hostile actions”. Tebboune, also accusing Morocco for sparking fires in Algeria, claimed Morocco sheltered terrorists against Algeria, sparking a nationalist sentiment against their neighbor. Though King Mohammed offered firefighting services to Algeria amidst the fire, Tebboune rejected their assistance. Assistance from King Mohammed would have improved Morocco’s image regionally and in Algeria; it would have represented a truce between the two leaders, something Tebboune is not willing to do. 

Though as relations between the two countries heat up, the fear of a physical conflict concerns analysts. Addressing these concerns, Tebboune has said, whoever attacks us will regret the day he was born”, which is another example of Tebboune taking a rhetorical hardline stance against Morocco. 

Though the land border has been closed between Algeria and Morocco since 1994, the two countries did allow flights to enter each other’s territories. This changed on September 22, when President Tebboune closed the Algerian airspace for Moroccan civilian and military aircrafts. Closing the Algerian airspace only added tension between Morocco and Algeria, and represented another Tebboune attempt to limit Morocco’s affairs. 

Tebboune also bolstered the Algerian defense arsenal to balance against the growing weapons supply of Morocco. Algeria has been “bulking up” on weapons from both Russia and China. A war between Algeria and Morocco would likely cause incredible instability inside of both countries and would not benefit either to become a regional hegemon. Tebboune understands that with a powerful military arsenal, if needed he could exert his influence across the region by deploying military units in states experiencing war or internal conflict, as with Mali

Lastly, Tebboune wants to hurt Morocco’s gas exports through the expiration of the Maghreb-Europe pipeline. The contract, signed in 1991, which expired on October 31,  was not renewed by President Tebboune, ending their bilateral agreement. The pipeline accounts for 7% of Moroccan gas consumption which is then used to produce around 12% of Morocco’s electricity. Though turning off the tap completely would also disfavor Algeria. They would need to find an alternative solution to their gas exports to Europe—which will be through the Medgaz pipeline or exporting oil by ship. Though it is an inconvenience for Algeria, it is a move Tebboune is willing to make if it means threatening Morocco’s development. 

Who is winning and what about you?

Answer: King Mohammed is winning, though regional stability is heating up. 

Though President Tebboune is trying to undermine King Mohammed, the King is winning in their dispute. One of the most important developments for King Mohammed was from the United States, after the Trump administration declared that the Western Sahara was Moroccan territory. Supported by both the Trump and Biden administrations, King Mohammed realizes that receiving more support in Africa may be possible.

Outside of Africa, King Mohammed increased diplomatic relations with Israel. Israel and Morocco exchanged embassies, representing a new chapter of diplomacy between the two states. President Erdogan of Turkey, who wants to spread his influence throughout North Africa, sees Morocco as a viable partner.

President’s Tebboune’s tactics, nonetheless, are on the offensive as he tries to redeem himself by pressuring Morocco. Although he may pressure Morocco with the politics of the Maghreb-Europe oil pipeline, Morocco seeks to create an alternative pipeline between Nigeria to Morocco. For Spain’s Pedro Sanchez, the dispute potentially puts Spain’s gas supply at risk at a time when Spain sees its electricity prices rising.  With the Maghreb-Europe pipeline contract shot down, Algeria will now supply gas through the Medgaz pipeline and possibly by ship. Worsened instability in Algeria would definitely threaten Spain’s reliable gas supply, which could result in an increase in gas prices. 

For the rest of North Africa, the developments between Algeria and Morocco are concerning. As both countries indulge in a ‘cold war’, the rest of the region is likely concerned about an escalation. This would cause, of course, incredible instability in North Africa, threaten Spain’s gas supply, and likely cause spillover into surrounding neighbors who already have problems such as Northern Mali.