Efforts by both Algerian and Moroccan citizens towards the reopening of their common land border, closed since 1994, have intensified. By virtue of artistic projects, sports and petitions, thousands of Algerian and Moroccan citizens have rallied for a common cause with a single slogan: Brothers Forever. But is the community of Maghreb people strong enough to undo a separation that has been caused by corrosive Maghreb politics? Some believe in that possibility.
The closing of the Algeria-Morocco land border has not won the unanimous support of their citizens. In fact, those who believe that Moroccans and Algerians will one day move freely from one end of the Maghreb to the other number in their thousands. And the Algeria-Morocco Association, which has been campaigning for more than a year for the reopening of the border, is one of many.
Their approach is simple: Mobilising normal citizens over the internet to find a solution to a subject matter that has been tagged by all and sundry as a “diplomatic failure”. Under the theme “All together for the Algeria-Morocco border,” the association’s chairman, Abdelghani Bensaid, decided to launch a website in April 2009 with a petition that has so far collected over 14,000 signatures.
The association’s petition is accompanied by a solemn appeal for normalisation of ties between the two countries. “We Moroccans and Algerian citizens, Maghrebans, …. are worried about the future of the north African region having realistically and objectively made the sad observation of the economic cultural and social wastefulness caused by so many years of incomprehension, by the separation of families, lifetime brothers, close friends and neighbours, all disconsolate now by this wrench.” Their appeal further calls for a resumption of relations which are mutually beneficial to both cross-border populations as well as all Moroccan and Algerian citizens at large.
The association is also expected to organise a march and an international conference in Rabat under the theme: “A future pledge for the Maghreb people”.
In the Tlemcen region, motorists continue to honk or stop to wave at each other on both sides of the thin strip of land that serves as the Morocco-Algeria border demarcation. Citizens of the two countries are often seen exchanging hand signals, filming each other, or desperately trying to glean news of friends or family members on the other side.
This mix of desire and frustration has been vocalised by Moroccan and Algerian Rai musicians.
A collaboration between FNAÏR, a popular band and Algerian singer Cheb Bilal, saw the birth of the hit song Goulih Gouleh (Tell It – with emphasis on both Moroccan and Algerian accents) in 2009. Goulih Gouleh has come to symbolise the cry for a return to fraternity between the two nations.
“Algeria is my country, open the door for us; Morocco is my country, her land saw me grow,” goes the chorus. “We must end this conflict, these problems. We share the same traditions, many things in common,” argues one of the members of FNAÏR, perched on a border post on on the Moroccan side of the border. “Same land, same stone, same wind, same oxygen,” says another, pointing to Algeria, less than one hundred metres on the other side of the road.
Last November, Moroccans took to the streets as they celebrated Algeria’s qualification for the 2010 World Cup, after they beat their Egyptian counterparts. Moroccan television channels repeatedly showed scenes of excited crowds in Rabat and Marrakech chanting “one, two, three, viva Algeria” and waving Algerian flags.
On the other side of the border, Algerians were first surprised, then amused and finally moved by this spontaneous outburst of sympathy from their neighbours.
The Morocco-Algeria border was opened for the first time in 15 years, in February 2009 in order to allow the passage of a humanitarian aid convoy to Gaza. The border was closed immediately after the passage. “There’ll be no re-opening until there is a joint action in the fight against terrorism, illegal immigration and drug trafficking,” said Abdelaziz Belkhadem, secretary general of FLN.
Despite repeated calls from Morocco, Algerian authorities have remained reluctant to reopen their land borders. In addition to the Western Sahara conflict that has plagued relations between the two countries for more than three decades, Alger has still not come to terms with Rabat’s unilateral decision to close the borders in the aftermath of the 1994 Marrakech terrorist attacks.