The risk in 2022 of a war between Algeria and Morocco

The unprecedented tension between Algeria and Morocco could escalate in the favor of a poorly controlled incident, even though neither side desires an open conflict.

An Algerian patrol photographed from the Moroccan side of the border in Oujda on November 3 (Fadel Senna, AFP)

In the past, many conflicts have erupted in favor of small-scale incidents, but in the absence of a mechanism for dialogue and a mediation body between two parties who nevertheless wanted neither one nor the other. other, the opening of hostilities. Algeria’s rupture of diplomatic relations with Morocco last August not only deprived the two states of a valuable channel of communication. It was indeed followed by the ban of Algerian airspace to Moroccan flights, while the border between the two countries has been closed since 1994. It has above all led to an escalation of campaigns of reciprocal denigration, amplified by social networks. In such a deleterious climate, a localized dispute is likely to degenerate into a serious crisis, even if neither Algiers nor Rabat want a confrontation that would in many ways be disastrous.


The international community has proved, since 1976, incapable of settling the question of the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara, of which Rabat claims « Moroccanity » and controls 80% of the territory, against the independence guerrillas of the Polisario, supported by Algeria. The post of UN special envoy even remained vacant on this issue for two long years, marked, in November 2020, by the breaking of the ceasefire that had prevailed since 1991 between Morocco and the Polisario. Rabat then obtained from the Trump administration, in December 2020, the recognition of the « Moroccanity » of the Sahara, in return for the normalization of its relations with Israel. The United Arab Emirates, which had just signed a peace treaty « Hot » with Israel, encouraged Morocco’s now offensive posture. While Algeria has so far had the first military budget on the African continent, estimated in 2020 at around ten billion dollars, Morocco could surpass it from 2022 with 12.8 billion dollars.

The visit to Rabat last month by the Israeli Defense Minister was accompanied by the signing of an unprecedented military cooperation agreement. Algeria considers itself directly targeted by such a strategic rapprochement, because of its support both for the Polisario and for the Palestinian cause. The recent  » state visit « In Algiers by the President of the Palestinian Authority was commented in this spirit by the local press: » Algiers strikes back «  in  » rolling out the red carpet in Mahmoud Abbas, while Israel parades in Rabat ”, Morocco being accused of  » to open a window to the Zionist entity, whose ambition is to transpose the conflict in the Middle East to North Africa ”. Algerian leaders also question the complacency of the United States and European countries towards Rabat. This can only push them a little more into the arms of Russia, their first, and by far, military partner, while Putin had already not spared his support for the Algerian generals in the face of the popular protest against the Hirak.


Such geopolitical polarization worsens the gulf which seems to be inexorably widening between the public opinions of the two countries. One day, voices are raised in Morocco for the representative of their country to the Miss Universe contest to desist because of her Algerian grandmother. Another is the Algerian footballers who, after their victory over Morocco in the Arab Cup, fly the Palestinian flag. Beyond these anecdotes, the claim of the « Moroccanity » Sahara is shared by the overwhelming majority of Moroccans, even among opponents of the Throne, while a large part of Algerians, including within the protest, is sincerely concerned about the rapprochement between Morocco and Israel, and even about the support from Rabat to « Self-determination » of Kabylia. The lawsuits exchanged between Algerians and Moroccans sometimes reach a great virulence on social networks, natural amplifiers of such outbursts. It is to be feared that the two regimes can thus count on a dynamic of national unity in the event of conflict with their neighbor.

A limited incident, but where each party accused the other of characterized aggression, could degenerate in such a degraded context. On November 1, the Algerian presidency has already accused  » the Moroccan occupation forces in Western Sahara  » from  » cowardly assassination «  of three Algerians in the  » barbarian bombardment »Of their trucks ensuring the link between Mauritania and southern Algeria. Morocco retorted that these trucks had been hit in a Polisario military transit zone, while specifying  » if Algeria wants war, Morocco does not ”. Restraint had finally prevailed, but without the emergence of this crisis a channel of communication dedicated to avoid repetition. It is this lack of dialogue between Algiers and Rabat that is the heaviest threat. In the absence of direct exchange, any type of mediation would be welcome to avoid an escalation that no one wants between two countries and two peoples who have so much in common.

Hopefully 2022 will see such an initiative put in place as soon as possible.

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