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When aid becomes a political chess game: Morocco vs. Algeria

When aid becomes a political chess game: Morocco vs. Algeria

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Politics The Truth

Monday 18 September 202303:12 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

قراءة هادئة في أزمة رفض المغرب للمساعدات الجزائرية

Morocco's recent rejection of Algerian aid has added yet another storm to the ongoing sea of crises between the two nations.

Accusations full of suspicion were soon being thrown around, and insults at other times, and in the midst of it all, the most important question seems to have been lost: What about the rights and interests of the affected people, who often pay little heed to the intricacies of political wrangling and its conflicts?

Disaster diplomacy

On December 8, 1988, following the catastrophic Armenian earthquake which claimed the lives of more than 30,000 people, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev made an unprecedented move in Soviet-Western relations. He reached out to the United States for humanitarian assistance to tackle the devastating aftermath of the quake.

It's essential to note that Moscow's request wasn't due to its inability to aid its own citizens. Instead, it was primarily a political maneuver aimed at improving relations with its longstanding adversary. This pivotal moment paved the way for what would later be recognized as "disaster diplomacy."

While the Russian-American cooperation in response to the Armenian earthquake marked the dawn of disaster diplomacy, it certainly did not signal its conclusion.

Fast forward to March 22, 2021. Greek Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos extended an invitation to Ankara to collaborate with Athens in addressing the earthquake that had struck both nations. This overture set the stage for a gradual improvement in the fraught relations between the two countries. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou even remarked that Athens no longer perceived Turkey as the primary threat it once posed.

However, disaster diplomacy, in all its forms, hasn't always succeeded in significantly improving long-term official relations between adversaries. One of the most prominent examples of this rollercoaster dynamic is the relationship between India and Pakistan.

On January 26, 2001, a devastating earthquake struck India, claiming the lives of approximately 25,000 people and causing extensive damage to villages. In the aftermath, Pakistan offered assistance to New Delhi. This gesture led to the first-ever talks between the leaders of the two countries, followed by a historic meeting on July 14 of the same year.

Yet, the honeymoon period between these two countries was short-lived. New hostilities surfaced after the Indian Parliament was attacked by militants on December 13, leading India to point fingers at Pakistan. This reignited simmering tensions, nearly pushing the two nations to the brink of war.

Did Morocco reject Algerian aid out of national pride or for organizational reasons?

Morocco between rights and politics

It's customary during major natural disasters for friendly nations to rush to offer initial humanitarian aid to the afflicted country. This typically includes medical supplies, food, and, of course, blankets. While this is the usual course of action, it doesn't negate a fundamental diplomatic principle: that the 'request' for aid remains the prerogative and right of the affected state.

But that decision to accept or reject aid, despite its legitimacy, cannot be separated from the political backdrop and the nature of the relationship between the two states. Often, these situations are exploited for political gain by governments and sensationalized by media on both sides. Nevertheless, amidst the noise and sensationalism, the voices of reason advocating for the pure principle must be heard.

Among these voices is Issam Laaroussi, the Director General of Manzourat Center For Geopolitical and Strategic Studies. He offers an organizational interpretation of the event, emphasizing that the decision wasn't fundamentally aimed at any specific country. Instead, it's an organizational decision. He points out that nobody wants a repetition of the tsunami scenario that struck Indonesia in 2004, resulting in a major crisis in coordinating international aid and rescue teams. Therefore, coordinating with a select few teams seems to be a more logistically sound choice at this stage.

Egyptian researcher Abdo el-Barmawi concurs with this viewpoint, adding that Morocco carefully considered the offered cooperation in light of its current priorities. However, the media has spun the story by highlighting disagreements. El-Barmawi believes that Morocco will likely accept this aid soon, given the substantial scale of the disaster.

Moroccan activist Maati Monjib holds a contrasting view, stating, "Morocco's response is misguided. When there's an urgent need for assistance, insisting on what he calls sovereignty and national pride is a mistake. This is not the moment for rejection because aid is essential. Even developed countries accept foreign aid in times of disaster."

In the same context, Hossam El-Sharqawi, the Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, is hesitant to criticize the Moroccan authorities, saying, "In such a challenging time, foreign aid is undoubtedly necessary."

Is there any truth to the claims that Algeria has sought to exploit its assistance to Morocco in the face of the earthquake disaster for political gain?

A different perspective from Algeria

Toufik Bougada, a professor of political science at the University of Algeria, spoke to Raseef22, stating, "Setting aside all the disputes and conflicts, we are facing a tragic humanitarian moment. In my estimation, Algeria's decision to send aid came after positive signals from the Moroccan Minister of Justice. The Consulate General in Casablanca took all the necessary diplomatic steps to facilitate this. All of this suggests that Algeria was not aware of Morocco's final stance, and it continued to insist on contributing to relief efforts. Unfortunately, this request was met with rejection, citing a lack of need."

However, Bougada does not dismiss the possibility of political exploitation of the situation. He adds, "We cannot rule out the suspicion of domestic political exploitation on both sides. In my view, there are intersections between the reality of their strained relations and the internal political maneuvering, where the boundaries often blur between expressing national interests and political bargaining over the dispute between the two countries to cover the political, economic, and human rights realities experienced by the two peoples."

Political activist Abdelkarim Tilish agrees with the latter point, emphasizing that the Algerian regime creates an external enemy to benefit from this internal conflict.

Discussing the political exploitation of Algerian aid to Morocco wasn't the prevalent tone among Algerian politicians, not even among the regime's opponents. Many of those opposing the authorities stood behind the state's decision, denying any suspicions regarding it. One of the prominent opposing voices was political activist Hamza Kharroubi, who told Raseef22, "Algeria fulfilled its humanitarian duty by offering assistance to Morocco. I see no reason to attribute any form of domestic political exploitation to this humanitarian offer."

Amid accusations and escalating rhetoric emerging in the media, and saturating social media platforms, there remain rational voices in both countries capable of providing a contrasting perspective. Nevertheless, the Moroccan-Algerian experience in diplomacy during disasters continues to be a regrettable dark page in their history.

May God protect the people of Morocco and grant mercy and forgiveness to the victims.

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