Fingers crossed it provides the excuse needed to open the Maroc/Algerian border:
From the Western Sahara info Blog:
Western Sahara Info.
"Algeria's and Morocco's closed border
The Moor Next Door has an interesting post up on the controversy about the closed Algerian-Moroccan border, with some equally interesting comments at the end. (Also see his latest Mauritania monthly.)
For a brief recap, the Algerian-Moroccan border was shut as a consequence of the Sahara war, and remained closed into the eighties. In 1994, the border was shut again, after an shady affair which began with a terrorist strike on a hotel in Marrakech, where two French Algerians were among the perpetrators. Algiers quickly offered condoleances, but Rabat announced that the Algerian secret services had directed the attack. Crisis followed, and visas were imposed, borders shut, and thousands of Algerians tourists expelled manu militari. The expulsions, in particular, sent the Algerian public into a fit of jingoist rage, thus belatedly joining the Moroccans who were already roaring with righteous anger since the hotel attack. So everything was finally back to normal: borders closed, arms rattling, and everyone blaming everyone else. Recently, however, Morocco began publicly asking Algeria to reopen the borders, which Algeria refuses to do, and, indeed, generally avoids to even comment on. Why? Well:
Regarding Morocco's insistence on the border issue, unlike TMND, I think it is less an attempt to escalate the conflict than an attempt to profit from the present status quo. Publicly asking Algeria to open the border is a win-win gamble for Morocco, since:
1. If Algeria agrees to open the border, removed constraints on tourism and trade will boost the Moroccan economy, which is in dire straits. It will also easen one of the most significant costs of the Saharan conflict -- namely the block on trade and Morocco's geographic isolation. A closed Algerian border cuts Morocco off from any plausible land route to the rest of North Africa and the Arab world, so it's not just Algero-Moroccan trade that is at stake. Also, since it comes on Moroccan request, a border opening would score a political point. In that sense, the public and challenging nature of the requests may well make it less likely that Algeria will open the border. The Moroccans realize this, of course; it's part of the gamble.
2. If Algeria refuses to open the border, it comes off as the unreasonable party. That is true both internationally, in the US and Europe, where politicians are exasperated with the petty rivalries of the Maghreb; and in the Arab world, where the Algerian-Moroccan spat has always been seen as one of the most pointless examples of Arab disunity; and in Morocco; and to some extent in Algeria. Many Algerians are angered by Morocco's demands and tone, and want a thorough apology for 1994. But others -- I think a rather significant percentage -- believe that Morocco's proposal to decouple the issues of the Sahara and the border is an excellent idea (and a smaller percentage want to abandon Algerian involvement with POLISARIO altogether). Part of the attraction for Morocco in raising the border issue is, then, that it helps to drive a wedge between Algerians and the Sahara issue, if the Algerian commitment to POLISARIO starts being seen as a detriment to the country's economy -- especially, of course, in the Oran-Tlemcen regions, where trade and family ties with Morocco are strongest.
This perception is not very prevalent yet, for the simple reason that the Sahara question isn't expensive to Algeria. Western Sahara was always a war on the cheap for Algeria, while at the same time costly beyond belief for Morocco -- that was the whole point of it. The only serious Algerian expense was to keep a standing army tough enough to deter Moroccan cross-border responses. Even then, Algerian military spending has always been much smaller than Morocco's, proportionally -- and that includes significant expenses to guard against Qadhafi's antics on the eastern border. As for arming and hosting POLISARIO and the refugees, it was a minor expense even during the war years, and now in oil-flush peacetime it is absolutely negligible, while Morocco remains forced to pour billions into settling Western Sahara and buying off discontent. Even politically, Algeria expends just a fraction of the energy that its rival puts into Western Sahara. For Algeria it's enough do some casual lobbying to keep the issue going and put it on the agenda of international forums, which then forces Moroccan diplomats to rush there to put out the fire. As a result, Morocco has virtually given up on having a foreign policy outside of the Sahara, while Algeria can afford to remain heavily involved in African affairs, and to a lesser extent in Arab and Third Worldist circles.
This imbalance is also the main reason for keeping the border shut. In brief, Algeria's Saharan strategy is to bleed Morocco into submission, or into an acceptable compromise -- whichever happens first. The post-2000 arms race is part of this, which seems more and more to be a sort of a Reagan-style strategy of aggressively outspending your opponent; feasible or not, it fits neatly with the recent price increases and oil shock. Part of the idea is also that if Algeria shows total intransigence, the argument for the US and other nations to side with Morocco is severely weakened (it won't solve the conflict anyhow). Displaying any inclination to compromise, in turn, works against that objective.
Finally, as a wildcard influence on all of this, one sholdn't discount the tendency of corrupt elites to be, well, corrupt. Military-political cliques in both Morocco and Algeria are feeding off of trade and smuggling in various areas, giving them a vested interest in keeping borders shut as a crude instrument of directing trade. In Algeria, for example, today you have lots of tourists and trade going east towards Tunisia. Surely, some people who know people would be upset if half of that suddenly veered west across an opened border. And in Morocco, there is heavy military involvement in smuggling towards Mauritania and even across the Sand Wall that divides Western Sahara, as well as across the Moroccan-Algerian border. (However, it could work the other way as well: watch out for Algerian generals investing in Moroccan hotels...)
Opening the borders, for all these reasons, would be seen in Algiers to undermine a basic pillar of the strategy towards Morocco. However, the burden of keeping it shut grows heavier every day Morocco is on the airwaves asking nicely for it to be opened. Someone, somewhere, is probably making cost-benefit calculations on that as we speak. "