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Algeria-Morocco solidarity stronger than tensions after devastating earthquake

Algiers offers support to 'brotherly Moroccan people' despite decades of tense relations
People gather around the rubble of homes in the mountain village of Imi N'Tala, south of Marrakech, on 10 September 2023 (AFP)

As the extent of the damage caused by the earthquake that struck southwest Morocco became clear on Saturday morning, many Algerians called on their leaders to offer humanitarian aid to their longtime regional rival.

Decades-old tensions between Morocco and Algeria have deteriorated since Algiers broke diplomatic relations with Rabat in August 2021 and closed its airspace to civil and military planes.

On Saturday, however, the Moroccan foreign ministry expressed the “great sadness” and the “deep affliction” with which Algeria was following the consequences of the earthquake, the most powerful to hit Morocco since 1900.

At least 2,497 people have been killed, with thousands more injured and many still missing, according to the latest update by the state news agency.

“In this painful ordeal, Algeria presents its sincere condolences to the families of the victims and the brotherly Moroccan people, assuring them of its deep compassion, and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured,” it said.

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The rift had come against a backdrop of conflict on the issue of the Western Sahara and disagreement over Morocco’s move to normalise ties with Israel in exchange for US recognition of the kingdom’s sovereignty over the disputed territory.

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A few hours after the earthquake, the presidency in turn declared itself  “fully prepared to provide humanitarian aid to Morocco and to mobilise all material and human resources in solidarity with the brotherly Moroccan people, in the event of a request from the Kingdom of Morocco”.

It added that Algeria has opened its airspace to aid and medical flights.

On Sunday, Algiers said it was prepared to send a civil protection intervention team that would include 80 rescuers, a dog team specialised in search operations under rubble, humanitarian aid, and a medical team. 

These statements were well received by Algerians, whose own messages of solidarity have not waned since the earthquake struck.

“I have a message for my Moroccan brothers […] may God have mercy on them, may he ease their pain,” said Algerian kickboxer Nordine Mahieddine, just after his victory against Frenchman Abderrahmane Coulibaly during Glory 88.

During the same international tournament, which was held in Paris on Saturday, Moroccan boxer Badr Hari, affected by the disaster, pulled out of the competition.

"People are fighting to search for bodies in Morocco, I'm not going to fight to entertain," said Hari.

In Algiers, journalist Ghania Mouffok wrote: "When the neighbour trembles, we also tremble, [an earthquake] felt as far as Timimoun [southwestern Algeria], grief and solidarity, that's the least we can do". 

The Rally for Culture and Democracy, a secular political party, meanwhile said in a press release: "Nothing is more important than active solidarity with the brotherly Moroccan people."

The El Moudjahid daily, known for its pro-government line, wrote in an editorial on Sunday that "mutual aid, solidarity and empathy are immutable constants in the relations that Algeria maintains with its neighbours" and that "upheavals in the regional situation therefore do not undermine the feeling of understanding in times of suffering".

In July, when Algeria was fighting deadly forest fires in the north of the country, Morocco expressed its readiness to help and mobilised two Canadairs planes to participate in the operation to extinguish the blazes.

This article was originally published on Middle East Eye’s French page.

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