Throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s Algeria was effectively off-limits to all foreign visitors. During the civil war between 1992 and 1998, over 150,000 people were killed in attacks and reprisals by Islamic fundamentalists and the army; foreigners, as well as Algerian intellectuals, journalists and musicians, were particular targets. After elections in 1999 the situation improved somewhat, although there were still occasional skirmishes with militant Islamic extremists. 2007 saw a worrying resurgence of violence, with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) implicated in attacks in Algeria and Morocco that left many dead. The kidnapping of Westerners in southern Algeria, again said to be the work of AQIM, is also on the increase. Three aid workers (two Spaniards and one Italian) were abducted in 2011, from a refugee camp near the border with Morocco‘s disputed Western Sahara region. A year later, the two Spaniards were still being held captive.
Algeria and Morocco have disputed their borders since Algerian independence in 1963. The border was closed in 1975 following Morocco’s “Green March” into Spain’s former colony of Western Sahara – the Algerians supported Polisario, the Saharan independence movement. The border reopened some years later but was closed again in 1994 when Morocco imposed strict visa restrictions on Algerians following a terrorist attack in Marrakesh.
In 2004, in an attempt to improve relations, Morocco lifted all visa entry requirements for Algerians, a move the Algerians then reciprocated, but the borders remained closed. In 2008, Morocco, citing their “common past and shared destiny”, called on Algeria to normalize relations and reopen the border – it is estimated that the border closure costs Morocco $1bn a year in lost trade and tourist revenues. There was then a brief breakthrough in the impasse in February 2009 when the border was opened to allow the passage of an aid convoy heading for the Gaza Strip, and in 2012 both countries’ foreign ministers stated a desire to open the border amid a greater post-Arab Spring plan to revitalize the Arab Maghreb Union (comprising Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia). However, most political commentators believe that the Western Sahara issue will need to be resolved to Algeria’s satisfaction before the border gates open again. It’s possible for non-Moroccans to obtain entry visas for Algeria at the embassy in Rabat, but as the situation currently stands, entry to Algeria from Morocco is still only possible by air, flying out of Casablanca.