How Algeria’s changes may impact Morocco

The situation in Algeria is rapidly changing. The resignation of former-president Bouteflika was recently announced. The military have taken control of the situation and anti-corruption probes have been launched, placing actors close to Bouteflika into custody. This includes Algeria’s notorious businessman Ali Haddad. But the Algerian people are applying pressure on the military institution as well.

The people want a complete change to the previous regime.

This is a revolution that is different from – but still influenced by – the Arab Spring. In Egypt in 2014, a large segment of the population aligned itself with the military. The military was seen, by many, as protecting the interests of the people. But in Algeria, the military represents a dull, autocratic remnant of Bouteflika’s stagnant bureaucracy.

In contrast to Tunisia and Egypt, there is also a significant population in Algeria who have no desire for Islamist governance. This revolution is paced, timely, mature and well-organised. People are collecting litter, distributing mineral water, ensuring that damage to property does not occur: violence and vandalism will either undermine the cause or result in civil conflict.

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It’s true that Algerian officials would not have responded as swiftly to recent uprisings had they not observed the demise of other Arab leaders who tried to cling on to power several years ago.

Civil society has also learned lessons from the Arab Spring. Civilians have prepared for typical arguments along the lines of ‘if you voice your concerns we risk being in a situation similar to Syria’. There is extra vigilance for tribal sentiments from Amazigh separatists, as well as for any other political groups conveniently hijacking the uprisings and trying to alter the balance of the uprisings from within.

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As someone of Moroccan origin, I am hopeful that the situation in Algeria may also benefit Morocco. Despite Bouteflika’s childhood links with Morocco, the leader’s regime was preoccupied with escalating tensions with Morocco over the postcolonial status of the Western Sahara. Border closures between Morocco and Algeria have separated families and prevented grassroots trade.

Back home, there are loose discussions of a single rail network connecting North African nations; from this perspective, Bouteflika’s departure may prove very timely indeed.

However, activity from Amazigh separatists in Algeria may awaken the Amazigh separatist movement in Morocco, particularly in the Rif region. The situation between those who identify as Arabs and those who identify as Amazigh is more volatile in Morocco, with Moroccan officials recently upholding the long-term prison sentences of Rifi protestors Nabil Ahamjik, Ouassim Boustati, Nasser Zefzafi and Samir Ighid.

Therefore, activity in Algeria may create homogeneity with Morocco, but it may also destabilise internal affairs within Morocco. For some, destabilisation may benefit Morocco. For others, destabilisation is a threat to progress in Morocco. But, with recent news emerging from Algeria, I do think that the border opening with Morocco is a question of “when” and not “if”.

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