A Conversation on Moroccan/Algerian Relations

A Conversation on Moroccan/Algerian Relations
Transcribed by Bryan Schaaf

Context: I took an Uber ride with Sam (not real name), who was born in Algeria but has lived in Virginia since 1992. In the half hour ride from Washington DC to Alexandria we had a good conversation about a number of issues including the difficult bilateral relationship between Morocco and Algeria. Morocco and Algeria have long disagreed on several political issues including the status of Western Sahara (in southern Morocco). To this day, the border between the two countries is closed even though opening it would benefit both countries tremendously. As Sam points out, when relations between governments break down, it’s the people who pay the price for it. Below is an excerpt.

Bryan: You said you’ve been driving three weeks?

Sam: I only drive on the weekends…this is just to pay the bills…for this car and I have kids in college. I pick them up even though they are embarrassed. They see me and say “Oh my God, they will see my dad driving Uber!”

Bryan: Don’t be embarrassed. Uber and Lyft have made life a lot easier for commuters. I’m always happy to get into a rideshare because that means I won’t be taking the Metro.

Sam: If I lived in the city, I wouldn’t have a car. Gas and insurance are too expensive. I would just take Uber everywhere. But I live in Virginia and you need a car out there.

Bryan: How long have you been in Virginia?

Sam: Since 1992.

Bryan: And before?

Sam: I am originally from North Africa. Algeria.

Bryan: How are things going in Algeria?

Sam: Things are going well, mainly thanks to oil….oil is cheap now, but because of the oil they were able to pay off their debt and have savings.

Bryan: Morocco and Algeria have some problems, don’t they?

Sam: No, not really. The issue is that there is land (in Morocco) called the Western Sahara. It was occupied by the Spanish. When the Spanish left, Morocco said now this is ours. Algeria said we don’t think so – let these people make their own decisions. That was in 1975. Algeria was trying to help the people living there to get their independence. Sure, it was a good thing to try to help these people…but still, maybe it wasn’t worth it. Now you have two governments that can’t get along. But when you are talking about people, the Moroccans and Algerians, we are the same people. I have so many Moroccan friends. We get along very, very, very well.

About ten years ago there was a terrorist attack in Marrakesh. The Moroccan government put that on Algeria. After that, the Moroccans chased out Algerians and closed the border. After the investigation, it turned out that attackers were Moroccan after all. The Moroccans tried to open the border after that but the Algerian government kept the border closed and it is still closed today. The Moroccans could make billions off of trade if it were open. The bad thing is that the people are suffering. People living near the border need to go to Casablanca to fly to Algeria to visit friends when they could just go across the border if it were open. 

But believe me Moroccans and Algerians get along. Plus, Algeria is helping Morocco deal with its jihadis. Many are trying to get to Libya and Algeria prevents them.

Bryan: Do you have Moroccan friends in the area?

Sam: I have three Moroccan friends here. We love each other so much. We call each other brothers. One of them helped me to get this car…the first time I met him I went to his office, he was selling Hondas at that time, and I saw on his desk he had a Moroccan flag. So I jokingly asked him if he would put an Algerian flag next to his flag, and he said “Bring it! I will put it there!” That’s how we started our friendship. He is a very nice guy. If he didn’t have that flag, I would never have guessed he was Moroccan. He doesn’t look Moroccan. We are still friends today.

Bryan: Is the food similar in Algeria and Morocco?

Sam: Mostly – but they like sweeter food than we do. They mix sweet and sour together in Morocco. In Algeria. the food varies by region. In the east it is more similar to Tunisian food, in the west more like Moroccan food, but in the center of Algeria the food just isn’t that good. It’s different.

Bryan: How about olive oil and harissa?

Sam: Algeria has nice olive oil too but we don’t export it. Many Tunisians get their olive oil from Algeria but sell it as their own. Same thing with dates. We don’t mind. The Harrisa in the exact same as in Tunisia. In the center, they don’t use Harissa at all. Here you have to go to Middle Eastern stores and you can buy Harissa in a can that is very good. Its made in France. It’s called “Cap Bon”. But I use this and I also use the Vietnamese one, Sriracha. It’s similar. I always have that at home.