Combined with Ennahda’s misfortunes in Tunisia, where President Kais Saied’s parliamentary suspension has created a serious precedent, the results of the general elections held in Morocco on the 8th of September, seem to confirmthe gradual decline of Political Islam in the Maghreb. The divide between secular and Islamist forces, that has characterised the post-Arab Spring period with frequent outburst at critical junctures (such as the 2013 military coup in Egypt or the 2017 Gulf crisis) seems a paradigm no longer valid to decipher political developments in a region where the Abraham Accords are creating new fault lines.
This trend, ushering in a post-Islamist era in the Maghreb, has been reinforced by the crushing defeat suffered by the Parti de la Justice et du développement (PJD) in Morocco. The Islamist party passed from 125 to just 13 seats in the Chambre des représentants (the lower house of the Moroccan parliament), a result which marked the end of its decade-old rule.
The leader of the Rassemblement Nationale des Indépendantes (RNI) Aziz Akhannouch will form a new government against the backdrop of growing tensions with Algeria, which in late August announced the severing diplomatic relations with Morocco. Among the main points of contention, which included Morocco’s recent statement in support of the self-determination of the restive Kabylia region in Algeria and its alleged links to the separatist Mouvement pour l’autonomie de la Kabylie (MAK, recently classified as a terrorist organisation by Algeria), were Morocco’s warming ties with Israel. Sealed by the high-profile visit of the Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in Rabat on 11 August, Morocco’s decision to join the normalisation front has added a new problem to the troubled bilateral relation with Algeria. A further irritant are the allegations regarding the Pegasus project. Apparently, Moroccan intelligence had penetrated with this spyware cell phones of top Algerian officials.
Building upon the most recent geopolitical shifts, oil politics is also contributing to make these adjustments structural. Following the most recent spat, Algeria immediately casted doubts on the extension of the gas supply to Spain along the Maghreb-Europe Gas (MEG) pipeline through Morocco, whose contract is expected to be renewed by October 2021; while at the same time confirming that it will meet Madrid’s natural gas demand via Medgaz, a partly offshore pipeline directly linking Algeria with Spain.
In the long term, the Algerian national oil company Sonatrach is also considering reviving the Trans-Saharan gas pipeline project from Nigeria, where Morocco’s return to Africa is paying substantial dividends. Following a 2016 agreement between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Moroccan Office National des Hydrocarbures et des Mines (ONHYM), construction works for the Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline (an extension of the existing West African Gas pipeline) began in June this year, further eroding the long-standing axis between Abuja, Algiers and Pretoria.
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Associate Fellow for the Conflict, Security and Development Programme at the IISS and Maghreb Analyst for the NATO Defense College Foundation, he regularly publishes on issues such as political developments, security and terrorism in the North Africa region