Algeria was taken aback by Morocco’s firm stand on the mandate of the MINURSO in Western Sahara, as illustrated by Algiers’ hastiness to drum up local media to bring back the referendum to the headlines, while this idea was shelved long ago and relegated to the waste paper bin after the Morocco-proposed autonomy plan was welcomed by the international community.
Rabat has recently renewed its commitment to the UN-sponsored political process seeking to settle the Western Sahara issue, stressing at the same time the need for the MINURSO to remain impartial. Morocco made it clear that any expansion or modification of the UN mission mandate might call into question its very presence in the territory.
Following Morocco’s firm clarification, Algeria responded hastily by resurrecting the referendum idea, seemingly forgetting that the infeasibility of the consultation led the UN Security Council to opt for the current negotiation process. The goal of this political process, although it is dwindling, is to end the regional conflict over Western Sahara, which is actually opposing not Morocco and the Polisario, but Morocco and Algeria.
Part of its misleading tactics, Algeria systematically ignores the Morocco-proposed autonomy plan, which was clearly supported by the international community. Since the presentation of the plan in 2007, all the Security Council subsequent resolutions have described the plan as “serious and credible.”
The broad international support gained by the autonomy plan is also explained by the regional context of increasing instability. World powers are now aware that the proliferation of jihadist groups and separatist movements is behind the instability prevailing in the MENA and in the vast Sahel-Sahara regions. For these powers, creating another destabilization spot in Western Sahara would throw oil on the fire in an extremely volatile context.
Moreover, only very few capitals take seriously the Algerian project to create a sixth state in the Maghreb. They see this project as a remnant of the old dispute between Algeria and Morocco or as a result of Algeria’s stubbornness to kindle the Western Sahara issue as a thorn in its Moroccan rival’s side.