Like all neighbors Morocco and Algeria have had their good times and bad times. Historic trading partners, the rupture of relations and border restrictions caused by the security situation in Algeria and the conflict over the Sahara has impacted trade and travel between the two countries. As the U.S. Commercial Counselor for Morocco, I had a regional responsibility which included Algeria.
...Charmed and captivated by Morocco, I wasn’t looking forward to my first visit to Algiers. I was pleasantly surprised, and although getting to and from Algiers, whether during the era of private prop charter from Madrid or commercial nonstops, was always a hassle, I grew to appreciate the country and the Algerian people. I soon found that, as there was competition between the two countries in global trade and politics, there also seemed to be a “friendly rivalry” between the Ambassadors to the two countries. There would be meetings between the 3 American Ambassadors in the Maghreb…but always in Tunis. So last week when one of the officers at the Consulate came over to me in my corner at the bar, handed me her cellphone and said, “the U.S. Ambassador to Algeria is coming for dinner, he’s driving himself from the mosque and needs directions,” I was pleasantly surprised, not only that an American Ambassador to Algeria was visiting Morocco, but that he was driving himself! It was a real pleasure to meet Ambassador Richard Erdman and his wife, Sybil and to hear the latest good news from Algiers. I told him, to paraphrase Captain Renault from the film, “A precedent has been broken, you’re the first American Ambassador to Algeria to visit Morocco in decades.” During Issam’s break he asked if he could play a piece on the piano and we enjoyed, “Send in the Clowns.” After dinner we implored him to “Play Again,” and he obliged with “Days of Wine and Roses.” A great visit from someone who’s no doubt a fine diplomat, and as we can also attest, an excellent musician. Always a good idea to have a fallback.