Why is Algerian airspace closed to Moroccan planes?

While Algeria had closed its airspace on September 22, 2021 to all Moroccan civil and military aircraft, the Algerian government announced on Saturday that it had open its airspace to flights carrying humanitarian aid and wounded people after the earthquake that struck Morocco overnight from Friday to Saturday.

A significant gesture, as Algiers has closed its airspace to all Moroccan civilian and military aircraft since September 22, 2021, a few weeks after breaking its diplomatic relations with Rabat against the backdrop of a serious diplomatic crisis between the two Maghreb countries. A decision taken “in view of the continuation of provocations and hostile practices on the part of Morocco”, then specified the presidential press release.

Traditionally difficult, relations between the two neighbors have deteriorated in recent years, in particular due to the thorny issue of the Western Sahara, a vast desert territory controlled 80% by Morocco. While Rabat claims its sovereignty over this area, Algeria supports for its part the separatists of the Polisario front, a movement whose objective is the total independence of this former Spanish colony considered as non-autonomous by the UN. Rabat is proposing an autonomy plan under its sovereignty while the independence movement is calling for a self-determination referendum under the aegis of the UN.

“A despicable war against Algeria”

In addition, the normalization of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel, in return for American recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, has reignited tensions with Algeria, support of the Palestinian cause. Ramtane Lamamra, the Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, then accused Morocco of waging “a despicable war against Algeria, its people and its leaders”.

In August 2021, Algiers also accused Morocco of being indirectly at the origin of the fires that had ravaged Kabylie and caused the deaths of several dozen Algerians, claiming that the Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylia (MAK), an independence organization considered terrorist by Algiers, was responsible for the forest fires.

On March 7, 1976, Morocco had already decided to break diplomatic relations with its neighbor after Algiers recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), self-proclaimed by the Polisario Front, a little more than ten years after the end of the War of the Sands, military conflict opposing the two countries.

If the recent death of a Franco-Moroccan and a Moroccan, killed by coastguards for finding themselves in Algerian territorial waters on a jet-ski, has reignited tensions between Rabat and Algiers, some positive signals should be noted. In July 2023, Mohammed VI, had given a speech in which he said he wanted “a return to normal” between the two neighbors. And, after the recent earthquake, the Algerian authorities said to themselves “ fully prepared to provide humanitarian aid and to mobilize all material and human resources in solidarity with the brotherly Moroccan people, in the event of a request from the Kingdom of Morocco,” according to a press release from the presidency.

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