Joy spread throughout Africa and the Arab countries, rejoicing at Morocco’s historic achievements in the World Cup held in Qatar. However, attention turned to Algeria, a neighbor whose relations with the kingdom are experiencing political tension.
Despite the politically charged atmosphere between the two countries, the state of joy seemed to the Algerian fans, who celebrated the Moroccan achievement.
The Atlas Lions became the first African and Arab team to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup after eliminating a number of the highest-ranked European teams.
Algeria and Morocco are brothers, and damn sedition 🇩🇿❤️🇲🇦 pic.twitter.com/6DsSTBMQWH
– JS Kabylie lover (@ Amine17447436) December 3, 2022
Many Algerians cheered the success of their neighbours, “whether in a genuine spirit of solidarity in North Africa or out of the universal instinct of football fans around the world to seek a stake in the sporting glory”, reports Reuters.
Reuters quoted Mehdi Belkassam, a food seller in the Algerian capital, as saying: “I feel that I must support Morocco – neighbors, brothers and Muslims.”
Videos on social media also showed celebrations by Algerian fans near the border between the two countries.
A beautiful song, Algeria and Morocco, brothers and sisters pic.twitter.com/jKSvcArjTF
– Ali allaoui (@ Alialla72198911) December 2, 2022
However, after years of cold relations and a long and difficult history marked by the exchange of accusations, the Algerian government ignored the achievements of Moroccan football, and even television channels censored some praises for the victories of the Moroccan national team.
And at a time when other Arab and African countries offered official congratulations, the Algerian government, which severed its relations with Rabat in 2021 after years of deteriorating relations, remained noticeably silent.
The two countries strongly disagree over the disputed territory of Western Sahara, which Morocco claims as its own, but Algeria supports an armed independence movement.
But there were other disagreements as well, including over Morocco’s normalization of relations with Israel and allegations of espionage. And this year there was controversy over the design of an Algerian soccer jersey.
“If we focus on politics, Morocco is an enemy after choosing Israel as its friend. But football is not about politics. That’s why I supported Morocco in this World Cup,” said Miloud Mohamed, a taxi driver in Algiers.
With Morocco set to face France, the former colonial power that ruled both countries and is home to hundreds of thousands in both countries, the stakes for North African football fans have risen again.
For the Belkassam kebab vendor, the Algerian heritage of many of the leading French players created a dilemma for his choice of support, he said.
“But I will support the Moroccans against France,” he added.
For Abdullah Sheikh, 65, the colonial history meant the choice was more stark. “We are all with Morocco,” he said.
Among the many Algerians and Moroccans who have spent time in France, sharing the experience of life in a foreign land where they are sometimes subjected to racism, there was camaraderie at the idea of a semi-final against “Les Bleus”.
“You can’t find a difference between Moroccans and Algerians in Paris, because it’s a city that mixes Casablanca and Algiers, and it’s a city with about a million people from the Maghreb region,” said Rachid Oufkir, from Morocco, who lived there for 12 years.
And in Rabat, as jubilant Moroccans basked in their team’s victory and congratulated fellow fans across Africa and the Middle East, people were happy to think that football might bring them closer to the Algerians.
“This victory and the spontaneous celebrations that followed strengthened the Moroccan-Algerian brotherhood,” said Omar Eid Taneen, an employee of the museum.
“For us, Algerians and Moroccans are one people,” he said.