May 30, 2023

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Morocco-France-Algeria. The kingdom’s steadfast position in the face of a double whammy from its eastern neighbor and “former first” European ally

2023 is off to a bad start for France; The country is losing ground economically, but especially diplomatically. Territories that he considered effortless conquests in his former colonies have today achieved remarkable political maturity and economic independence, forming strong and diverse diplomatic and commercial ties far and wide.

Last February, French diplomacy received a double snub in two days; Two important cases are involved in North Africa, writes Jeune Afrique in an article published last week. First, Algeria’s decision to recall its ambassador to France for consultation after the return to France of Franco-Algerian activist Amira Bouroui, who was charged in Algeria and banned from leaving the region. Second, to terminate the employment of Morocco’s ambassador to France, Mohamed Benjaboun, without replacing him. Therefore, the two diplomatic chambers that Emmanuel Macron did not see coming, according to the political magazine, explain the failure of the balancing act of Paris between Algiers and Rabat, which is explained by the loss of influence of the economy of Paris.

While relations between Paris and Algiers are generally marked by tension, the war in Ukraine and the crisis it has created have prompted Macron to turn to Algeria, not for his pretty eyes, but to “catch some of his gas”. Madrid’s support for Morocco on the Sahara issue will be followed by a political realignment: starting in May 2022, almost 25% of the volume of gas exported through the Medgas gas pipeline will be cut by Algeria. This gives France a chance to establish itself. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s visit to Algiers in July 2022 shook Italy, which only benefited from this trade restructuring.

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Algeria has also shown predatory pragmatism. It would be naïve to believe that Al Mouradiya would be interested in the process of healing the memories surrounding the war undertaken by the Élysée, fueled by the need for French investments. Abdelmadjid Tebboune is looking for an agreement with TotalEnergies, the only group capable of meeting Algeria’s major investment needs. A demand as large as Algeria has turned a blind eye to the adventures of the Italian company ENI, which has been embroiled in several corruption cases with its Algerian partner, Sonatrac. While waiting to receive a partnership agreement from the French company, “Algeria is benefiting little from the rise in hydrocarbon prices due to the explosion of domestic consumption, lack of investment in production equipment and the drying up of oil and gas fields. Hassi Messoud and Hassi R’Mel”, explains JA. A situation where Algeria is likely to lose its status as a major gas exporter in less than a decade.

However, an alternative remains, which renews the hope of maintaining this offer of shale reserves. However, the country faces a major hurdle: extracting shale gas requires huge investment and the use of hydraulic fracturing in a water-stressed country has proven problematic. A non-trivial factor that forces large suppliers to back off. “The American majors abandoned it because it would require an investment of billions of dollars and would be profitable only after several years, which is the political instability of Algeria,” analyzes Jean Afrique.

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The major move, aimed at Algeria with an ambiguous stance on Morocco’s territorial integrity, fueled an already well-established diplomatic crisis between Morocco and France. The already strained strategic partnership between Rabat and Paris has crumbled under the visa quota issue initiated by the French Interior Ministry. It brought out a rough volume, adding fuel to the fire. “The relationship between the two countries was based on France’s political and diplomatic support for Morocco on the Sahara issue in exchange for privileged economic relations, and the strong presence of French companies in Morocco”, JA continues.

Because of its disrespectful attitude toward its first Arab-African ally, France relied heavily on the kingdom’s historical loyalty. But HM the King had already warned France that the kingdom’s territorial integrity was a red line. After the United States recognized Morocco of the Sahara, the sovereign called on its partners to clarify their position towards the Moroccan Sahara. But the French executive’s stubbornness has cost it its top position on almost all fronts, including trade, diplomacy and culture.

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Morocco’s economic diplomacy is very strong, enabling Moroccan companies, especially in the banking and insurance sectors, to hold their own against French companies in Africa. A diplomacy “has been very effective,” President Emmanuel Macron noted in his speech in Morocco in June 2017, where he called for “unification of these African policies” between France and Morocco.