Morocco/Algeria : Tensions on the rise after Algerian show mocks the King
In a new media escalation, the Algerian channel Echourouk News - reputed to have ties to the military - depicted Morocco's King Mohammed VI as a puppet in a programme broadcasted on 12 February.
Saâdeddine El Othmani, Aziz Akhannouch, Nizar Baraka… Many Moroccan politicians have expressed their outrage following the broadcast of a caricature of their monarch on the Algerian channel Echourouk News, reputed to have ties to the military.
On the “Weekend story” programme – presenter Bilal Kebache questioned the puppet about Morocco’s normalisation of relations with Israel, as well as former President Donald Trump’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara at the end of his term in office.
The journalist, who implies that the new Biden administration may reconsider this recognition, says “Trump is gone, and the (recognition) tweet disappeared with the dissolution of the ex-president’s Twitter account. What’s the point of all this?” He continues by saying that “there have been large demonstrations in Morocco to denounce these decisions and demand the dissolution of Parliament.”
To which the puppet replies with a sigh: “I, after Donald Trump’s tweet, have won nothing, I have not won the Sahara, nor the consent of the Moroccan people, nor my tranquillity as a king.”
Then followed a series of fanciful soundbites such as “the Sahrawi Republic is recognised by the vast majority of African countries, by Europe and by the whole world.” And by making the puppet say: “Put down what you have in your hand [the book The Predatory King, by journalists Catherine Graciet and Eric Laurent], and I will give you a million euros as I did with the authors of this book.”
For his part, Slimane Saadaoui, deputy in the People’s National Assembly of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN), who was invited to the set refused to kiss the hand of the king – which is customary in Morocco – declaring that “I only prostrate myself before God.” Turning to the puppet representing the monarch, he then said “He’s a sick man, that one”, pointing out what he considers to be the “voluntary servitude” of the Moroccan people.
The programme sparked anger throughout Morocco, both in the political sphere and on social media. Among those angered was Prime Minister Saâdeddine El Othmani who tweeted the following statement: “In view of the continued success of the country on more than one level, and on the Moroccan Sahara issue in particular, the opposing media are waging a war of insults against the constitutional institutions of the country and King Mohammed VI,” which “is rejected and denounced by the Moroccan people.”
Waves of indignation
“These unacceptable and reprehensible actions not only violate the respect due to the president of a neighbouring country, but also violate the most basic laws and customary behaviour,” said Abdellatif Ouahbi (Parti authenticité et modernité [Authenticity and Modernity Party]) on Facebook, describing this behaviour as “childish, irresponsible and alien to our common culture that we can only condemn.”
“The recourse by certain media networks manipulated by Algerian circles frustrated by their recent successive setbacks to unworthy and ridiculous procedures, which undermine the symbol of the Moroccan nation, is the very expression of the loss of all reason and ethics,” said Nabil Benabdallah, secretary-general of the Parti du progrès et du socialisme [Party of Progress and Socialism].
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Nizar Baraka, secretary-general of the Istiqlal Party, questioned the reasons for “this hostility by neighbouring Algeria against Morocco. Has the press in Algeria exhausted all the problems of the brotherly Algerian people who aspire in its democratic springtime to freedom, a dignified life and a fair sharing of wealth or is it unfortunately trying, as usual, to export the crisis and manufacture an imaginary enemy to deceive and divert the Algerian citizen from his real concerns and legitimate demands?”
The hashtags الملك_خط_احمر# and#الملك_محمد_السادس_خط_احمر (“The King is a red line”) have been trending on Moroccan social media.
“The worst thing is that the military media make up for diplomatic, political and economic failures regarding the development of their country with a fictitious victory that makes them the laughing stock of the world. Unfortunately, we are faced with a mad state that is ready to do anything without any consideration,” said Omar Cherkaoui, the professor of constitutional law at the Faculty of Legal and Economic Sciences at Mohammedia.
The Moroccan Federation of Newspaper Publishers (FMEJ) also “rigorously” denounced the “irresponsible” behaviour of the Algerian television channel Echourouk which broadcasted a programme that insulted the monarch.
For its part, the Association nationale des médias et des éditeurs [National Association of Media and Publishers] issued a statement in which it said: “The immoral attacks coming from the official Algerian channel Echourouk”, were a “condemnable act that has nothing to do with the ethics of the journalistic profession.” The National Press Council (CNP) also condemned the Algerian channel’s satirical programme and accused it of inciting a war between the two countries.
The Echourouk programme comes amidst renewed tensions between the two neighbours, caused in particular by the evolution of the situation in the Sahara. After several weeks of blockade led by the Polisario at the El Guerguerate crossing point, the Moroccan army had to intervene militarily to dislodge the dams.
Following this, the Polisario decreed the end of the ceasefire in force since 1991 and claimed to have launched a series of attacks against the Moroccan defence wall. These attacks were systematically reported by Algeria Press Service (APS).
Former President Trump’s recognition of Morrocan sovereignty over Western Sahara on 10 December coupled with the restoration of diplomatic relations between the kingdom and Israel have obviously accentuated the differences between the two “brotherly countries.” Morocco and Algeria are also currently waging a war of diplomatic influence, particularly within the African Union.