“One, two, three! Viva l’Algerie!” this battle cry is often heard in the Souq Waqif, the fan zone in Qatar’s capital Doha, in the days leading up to the semi-finals of the soccer World Cup. In between, the Algerian national anthem and traditional folk songs are often sung. However, Algeria did not even qualify for this World Cup. The team was last there in 2014 and only lost in extra time in the round of 16 against eventual winners Germany. But that hasn’t stopped hundreds of Algerians from showing up in Doha to support their North African neighbors Morocco ahead of their historic semi-final against France. And the Moroccans appreciate the support.
“We are all united,” says Yasmine, a supporter of the “Lions of Atlas”, who is pleased “that all Algerians are supporting us in this tournament as we supported them in 2014.” Ahmed from Casablanca agrees: “We met a lot of Algerian fans with whom we swapped flags. Everyone here feels African, everyone feels Arab, everyone feels great.”
Fraternity despite diplomatic tensions
The status of Western Sahara territory has been a point of contention between Morocco and Algeria for decades
The cohesion seems all the more surprising in view of the currently tense political situation between Algeria and Morocco, which broke off diplomatic relations in August 2021. Algeria is dissatisfied with Morocco’s recent rapprochement with Israel and also accuses the country of supporting the “MAK”, the movement for the autonomy of Kabylia (French: Mouvement pour l’autodetermination de la Kabylie) to support. Kabylia is a region in Algeria in which the majority of the Berber people of the Kabyles live. The “MAK” demands self-determination of the coastal province and independence from Algeria.
On the other hand, the Moroccans accuse the Algerians of supporting the Polisario Front’s campaign for Western Sahara’s independence and accuse the Algerian Football Federation of “cultural appropriation” over a training shirt ahead of the World Cup.
Censorship on Algerian state television
As numerous and complex as the reasons for the dispute are, the consequences are often just as bizarre, especially for the local media in the region. While the world was captivated by Morocco’s World Cup winning streak, Algerian state television largely ignored the event. When the ‘Lions of Atlas’ defeated Belgium 2-0 in the group stage, one news channel simply omitted the game from the day’s results. After also beating Spain in the round of 16, the crowd was told that Spain had had a difficult game and were eliminated on penalties – without mentioning who, though.
Chabane Lounakel, director general of public broadcaster EPTV, which also owns Canal Algerie, was sacked after Algeria’s main broadcaster, Canal Algerie, mentioned Morocco after beating Portugal in the quarter-finals and also waved the flag of the neighboring country. The official reason for his dismissal was not announced, but the suspicion is obvious. And while relations between the governments are strained, sympathies between the people of both countries are growing.
Despite diplomatic tensions between Algeria and Morocco, football fans from both countries are united
“To be honest be, does It hurts that Algerian state television doesn’t show the results of our Moroccan brothers,” laments Ahmed, an Algerian living in Qatar. “But we that algerian people are on your side. Even if the states have their problems, they will we that people always be brothers.” Videos have been circulating online showing Algerians in cafes across the country celebrating Moroccan success at the World Cup. Algerian superstar international Riyad Mahrez, who was unable to represent his country in Qatar after failing to qualify, also congratulated the rivals. “I’m happy for them,” said the Manchester City forward to the United Arab Emirates newspaper The National.
Against the former colonial power
“Ultimately, you see a real difference between the governments and their citizens,” explains Algerian Ahmed, who wants to support Morocco “to the end.” “Even if there are political issues, we fans have pushed them aside.”
Taha from Marrakesh, on the other hand, takes a clear position on the diplomatic crisis and stresses that Western Sahara “is and will remain Moroccan”. But he also says: “We (Moroccans and Algerians, note d. editor) are fraternal people and nothing in the world can change that.” This fraternity is a special one when you consider that Morocco’s World Cup semi-final opponents are France: defending champions and former colonial powers in North Africa – in Algeria and Morocco.
The text has been adapted from English.