To open or not to open? That is the question swirling around the future of the Algerian- Moroccan borders. Despite appeals from King Mohammed VI of Morocco, several Moroccan civil society groups, and IMF Director General Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the Algerian authorities have refused to open the borders with its neighbor to the west. Granted the borders were closed by Morocco in 1994, the situation surrounding the closure has been resolved and Morocco has a new leadership in place that look at this situation under different light. So, why is Morocco so persistent on opening the borders while Algerian officials are set against it?
The obvious and cliché answer would be: It is the right thing to do. However, the Moroccan Algerian relationship is never this simple. For the Moroccan Monarch, the opening of the borders is a brotherly gesture that only can benefit the two people on a human and economic level. On the other hand, the Algerian side views it from a different window. For many Algerians, Morocco is trying to get on the petro-dollar gravy train that Algeria is riding. I have read on several occasions that Morocco is trying to revive its eastern provinces by opening the borders to Algerian businesses and individuals who are expected to heavily spend while visiting Morocco.
It is true; the Moroccan border city of Oujda thrived during the period of open passage from Algeria. However, since the closure of the borders, the Moroccan government has invested, with mixed results, in several projects in the area to revive the local economy. Against popular believe, today most of the popular markets in Oujda are a bonanza of all products smuggled from Algeria to Morocco. Form gas to tires, you can buy a variety of discounted goods at a good price depriving the Moroccan treasury of much needed tax revenues and hurting the local economy. Also, some of the product crossing the borders are defective, hazardous and represent health risks to the Moroccan public. While some politicians are debating the merits of open borders, smugglers, some with connections to government and military officials, from both sides are flourishing at the expense of the health and well being of the Moroccan and Algerian public. Some of the elements behind these illicit trades have vested interests in keeping it bustling.
Unlike years past, the impact of potential tourists visiting from Algeria, in case the borders open, would be minimal on the Moroccan economy. With major international financial firms investing millions of Dollars in variety of tourism projects, Morocco is mostly dependent on European and American tourists with robust budgets. Among the major ongoing investments is the Mediterrania Saidia resort, few kilometers from the Algerian borders, which is set to become one of the greatest tourist locations in North Africa. Mediterrania Saidia caters to English and northern European tourists. Along the same lines, the Moroccan government is heavily investing in upgrades to the local infrastructure of the Oujda region, including improvement to the Oujda airport and construction of more roads.
The reality is; the current Algerian establishment is dead set against the open borders because of fear that the free movements of goods and people between Morocco and Algeria would soften the position of a good portion of the Algerian public who currently support the Algerian contrarian position of blind support of the Polisario movement. The more Algerians visit Morocco, the less likely they will believe the lies and misinformation implanted in official Algerian news media about Moroccans.
It is simplistic and naive to believe that a hypothetical deluge of Algerian tourists or businesses will bail out an "ailing" Moroccan economy. The average Algerian like his Moroccan counterpart is having hard time making ends meet. With scarce vegetables and fruits, skyrocketing food prices and lack of affordable housing, the Algerians do not have the buying power to impact any economy. It is sad to read articles in the Algerian media insinuating that Moroccans are beggars asking to open the borders so to get Algerian charity.
Morocco's future is the continued close economic relationship with Europe. A relationship based on mutual respect of each other's religion, culture and identity. Moroccans and Algerians can not change geography and consequently will always have shared borders. For now, let each nation play in its backyard. Morocco does not need Algeria and vice versa.