The execrable relations between Algeria and Morocco experienced a new surge of fever on Wednesday with the announcement of the closure of Algerian airspace to the Moroccan neighbor accused of “provocations and hostile practices”.
The move comes a month after Algeria announced on August 24 that it had broken off diplomatic relations with Morocco, after months of heightened tensions between these two rival Maghreb countries.
In a statement, the Algerian presidency decreed the “immediate” closure of Algerian airspace “to all Moroccan civil and military planes as well as to aircraft bearing a Moroccan registration number”.
The decision was taken during a meeting of the High Security Council chaired by Head of State Abdelmadjid Tebboune, also Minister of Defense.
The closure was decided “in view of the continuation of provocations and hostile practices on the Moroccan side”, on which the presidency has not provided any details.
Algeria’s air borders, closed since March 17 due to the COVID-19 epidemic, only partially reopened on June 1 to seven countries of which Morocco was not part.
According to a source close to the national company Air Algeria, there are no more direct commercial flights between Algeria and Morocco since that date. “Flights between the two countries have not resumed and Algerians going to Morocco pass through Tunis. “
The Algiers decision will primarily affect Moroccan aircraft whose journeys fly over Algerian territory in the short term.
After the announcement of the breakdown of relations, the Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ramtane Lamamra, criticized Rabat for “having never ceased to carry out hostile actions against Algeria”.
“The Moroccan security and propaganda services are waging a despicable war against Algeria, its people and its leaders,” he accused, without giving further details.
Morocco regretted the Algerian decision to sever relations, qualifying it as “completely unjustified”, and rejected “the fallacious, even absurd, pretexts which underlie it”.
Traditionally difficult, relations between Algeria and its western neighbor have deteriorated mainly because of the thorny issue of Western Sahara, a vast desert territory of which nearly 80% is under Moroccan control.
And the normalization of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel – in return for an American recognition of Moroccan “sovereignty” over Western Sahara – has further heightened tensions with Algeria, support for the Palestinian cause, which has denounced “Foreign maneuvers” aimed at destabilizing it.
Algiers further accused Morocco and Israel of supporting the MAK (Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylia), an independentist organization, as well as the Islamo-conservative organization Rachad, two movements classified as “terrorists” by Algeria and who are based abroad.
The question of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, considered as a “non-autonomous territory” by the UN in the absence of a final settlement, has for decades opposed Morocco to the separatists of the Polisario Front, supported by Algeria. .
Rabat proposes an autonomy plan under its sovereignty while the Polisario demands a self-determination referendum under the aegis of the UN.
The severing of relations was a decision that Algeria had to take in order to send the “appropriate message” to Morocco after “acts hostile to the sovereignty and unity of Algeria,” Lamamra said on Tuesday on the CNN International channel.
The move was “a civilized way to end a situation which could not go on without causing damage and which risked leading the two countries down an undesirable path,” he said. It was an “abnormal situation that had to end anyway”.
On Saturday, the King of Morocco Mohammed VI sent a message of “condolences and compassion” to President Tebboune following the death at the age of 84 of former Algerian head of state Abdelaziz Bouteflika, as well as to the family of the deceased.
Diplomatic ties were severed for the first time between the two countries on March 7, 1976, at the initiative of Rabat after Algiers recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), self-proclaimed by the Polisario Front.