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Maghreb Farmers’ Lifeline Cut Off

The main crossing between Morocco and Algeria is called Zouj Beghal, which translates as “Two Mules”. Legend has it that a pair of mules were harnessed to a yoke in Morocco and ordered to march eastwards until they effectively traced what would end up being the borders that delineate Morocco and Algeria. Naturally, the border that spans nearly 2,000km, has been a source of tension for both countries since independence, starting with the 1963 Sand War over Morocco’s claim to territory in Algeria. The two countries fell out again when Algeria backed the Polisario Front’s campaign for Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco, leading to the 1975-1991 Western Sahara War. Then the border was closed yet again in 1994, ostensibly for security reasons after militant Islamists bombed a hotel in the historic Moroccan city of Marrakesh. In terms of customs, culture and language, western Algerians have much more in common with Moroccans than they do with Algerians on the other side of the country. In March, a community of date farmers from Figuig, Morocco, who cultivated a grove in El Arja, Algeria, were told by the Algerian authorities that they would no longer be able to do so. For many families in Figuig, agriculture is their sole means of subsistence and the closing of the border may ring a death knell for economic prosperity in the region.