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World Cup 2022: Morocco and Algeria — 'Forever brothers'

Ali Farhat
December 13, 2022

Despite ongoing diplomatic disputes, many Algerians are supporting their Moroccan neighbors in Qatar. The Atlas Lions are representing both Africa and the Arab world, but the identity of their opponents is also key.

Algerian and Moroccan fans posing with an Algerian flag in Souq Waqif in Doha
Algeria aren't even at the 2022 World Cup — but their fans are supporting MoroccoImage: Ali Farhat/DW

"One, two, three! Viva l'Algérie!" goes the chant reverberating around the Souq Waqif in the days leading up to the World Cup semifinal. It's often interspersed with renditions of the Algerian national anthem and traditional rai folk songs sung by fans draped in Algerian flags.

Of course, Algeria aren't at this World Cup. Les Verts last qualified in 2014, losing to eventual winners Germany in extra-time in the last 16.

But that hasn't stopped hundreds of Algerians from turning out in Doha to support their North African neighbors, Morocco, ahead of their historic meeting with France on Wednesday night. And the Moroccans appreciate the support.

"We are all united!" says Yasmine, an Atlas Lions supporter who says she is "happy to see all the Algerians supporting us at this tournament in the same way that we supported them in 2014."

Ahmed from Casablanca agrees, telling DW: "We've met many Algerian fans with whom we've swapped flags. Everyone here feels African, everyone feels Arab, everyone feels Amazigh."

A map of the Western Sahara highlighting territories disputed by Algeria and Morocco
Politics are at play, but less for fans — a map of the Western Sahara highlighting territories disputed by Algeria and Morocco

Fraternity despite diplomatic disputes

The camaraderie appears even more surprising given the current political situation between Algeria and Morocco, who broke off diplomatic relations in August 2021.

Algeria is unhappy with Morocco's recent rapprochement with Israel, while also accusing them of supporting the MAK, the Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie, which is seeking self-determination for the small coastal province from Algeria.

On the other hand, the Moroccans accuse the Algerians of supporting the Polisario Front's campaign for independence for Western Sahara, and also accused the Algerian football association of "cultural appropriation" over a training kit ahead of the World Cup.

Algerian state TV blackout

If the reasons for the dispute are numerous and complex, the consequences are often bizarre, particularly when it comes to the local media in the region.

While the entire world has been captivated by Morocco's epic run at the World Cup, for instance, Algerian state television has largely ignored its existence. When the Atlas Lions defeated Belgium 2-0 in the group stage, one news bulletin simply omitted the game from its results screen for that day.

And when they beat Spain, they informed viewers that La Roja "had a difficult match and been taken to penalties, where they were eliminated" — but didn't mention by whom.

The day after Canal Algerie, the country's main public broadcaster, finally mentioned Morocco and displayed its red flag with green star after their quarterfinal win against Portugal, the director general of the EPTV (Public Establishment of Television), Chabane Lounakel, was fired.

The official reason for his dismissal was not divulged, but fans from Algiers to Rabat to Doha have their suspicions. And while relations between the two governments may have cooled, those between the people are warmer than ever.

"To be honest, it hurts to see that Algerian state TV won't show the results of our Moroccan brothers," laments Ahmed, a Algerian resident in Qatar. "But we, the Algerian people, are with them. Even if the states have their issues, we, the people, will always be brothers."

Flags of Algeria and Morocco painted on cracked wall
Despite diplomatic disputes between Algeria and Morocco, the two countries' football fans are united Image: daniel0Z/Zoonar/picture alliance

Riyad Mahrez: 'I'm delighted for Morocco'

Despite some social media accounts playing the respective governments' games and apportioning blame for the various disputes one way or the other, the internet is awash with videos showing Algerians in cafés across the country watching and celebrating the exploits of the Atlas Lions.

Even the Algerian national team, unable to represent their country after losing to Cameroon on away goals in qualifying, have congratulated their Moroccan rivals. "I am delighted for them," star player Riyad Mahrez told UAE newspaper The National, for example. 

"Ultimately, you're seeing a real difference between the governments and their people," explains Ahmed, who intends to support Morocco "until the very end. Even if political issues do exist, we fans have put them to one side."

Taha from Marrakesh, on the other hand, maintains a firm opinion on the diplomatic crisis, insisting for instance that the Sahara "is and will remain Moroccan." But even that doesn't stop him from stating loud and clear: "We are a fraternal people and nothing in the world can change that."

That fraternity is especially significant, considering Morocco’s semifinal opponents are France, the defending world champions and the former colonial power in North Africa.

This article was originally written in French and adapted by Matt Ford.

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