Courtesy Reuters

Appointment in Oujda

Until recently, the countries of North Africa have seemed in a state of political equilibrium. Morocco and Tunisia, both regarded as close friends of the United States, reinforced each other as moderate states with similar outlooks; they served as geopolitical balance across the Maghreb to the stable but ideologically more radical Algeria in between. Libya, erratic and unpredictable, was isolated and could expect to encounter the hostility of the other three if it embarked on any adventures against any one of them. That was the situation until the middle of last year.

On August 13, 1984, without notice to the outside world, the monarch of Morocco, Hassan II, and Muammar Qaddafi, the military strongman of Libya, signed an agreement of unity, joining their separate and separated states in an unlikely alliance. A conservative monarch made common cause with the most radical figure in the Arab world, a man who had been attacking him for the better part of 15 years in the crudest and most violent terms, and who was the bête noir of his traditional American and African friends. At a stroke, Qaddafi’s isolation ended; he had acquired an impressive ally and, if the remarks of various Moroccan officials are to be taken seriously, the paper alliance is turning toward a union of some substance.

This alliance has voided a number of long-standing and comfortable assumptions about who is on whose side in North Africa. Can Tunisia, for instance, still count on Moroccan support against Libya? Algeria, engaged in border disputes with both Libya and Morocco but not concerned about their separate military capabilities, must now consider the possibility of the two combining to pose a serious threat. They have the wherewithal to do so, thanks to Qaddafi’s Soviet-supplied arsenal.

The 1963 border war between Algeria and Morocco, the nine-year-old war in the western Sahara, Libyan attempts to start armed uprisings in Tunisia, and Qaddafi’s intrusions into Chad are all indications of North African readiness to use force in pursuit

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