Fez- Divided we fall, united we stand! This applies to the five countries of the Maghreb –Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania- which are currently wallowing in and bitterly grappling with various political, social and economic problems, yet tenaciously refusing to stand united.
The five countries share almost everything but the strong political will to unite. They speak the same dialect, they share the same religious beliefs and the same Maliki religious doctrine, they have fairly the same history, they have the same traditions, the same couscous, similar eating and clothing habits, similar celebrations and certainly the same future.
My father, my his soul rest in peace, visited Algeria several times in the 1980s. I was a little child then and hearing of Algeria frequently in the stories and discussions of my father made me feel that Algeria was a part of Morocco or Morocco was a part of Algeria. Somehow, this feeling still haunts me even today, rather it gets increasingly intensified. But what does do us apart? Why are the ‘imagined’ borders closed? Why are we confined in our countries while the rest of the world is open? When shall I drive my car from Fez to Tripoli and discover my Maghreb without restrictions? I’m sure the answers of these questions depend on the peoples of the Maghreb not on the rulers.
The Maghreb regional and global integration is an urgent need today, maybe more than ever before, due to the various lurking political, economic and social challenges. The dream of the Arab Maghreb Union (or the Big Maghreb) is, unfortunately, still facing real problems after nearly a quarter-century of signing the AMU treaty in 1989 in Marrakech, Morocco.
In several of his speeches, King Mohammed VI repeatedly calls on Algeria to re-open the borders closed since 1994 to promote trade, business and the free flow of people. But his calls and similar calls by Moroccan government officials were repeatedly dismissed by Algeria on the grounds that any deal with Morocco should include a solution to the problem of the Sahara.
This antagonistic situation between the ‘enemy bothers’ costs the Maghreb countries two points on the average annual GPD growth. This is not surprising since the intraregional trade among the Maghreb countries is the lowest in the world, a fact which continues to hinder progress in the whole region. While regional integration attempts have succeeded in Europe, the Gulf, Southeast Asia and Central America, those in the Maghreb were thwarted. The last failed attempt was to hold the 2012 Maghreb Summit in Tunisia.
The beginning of 2012 brought hope for a new start of the Maghreb, especially after the drastic political change in Tunisia and Libya. The Tunisian president Monsif El-Marzouqui spoke enthusiastically about the dream of the Maghreb and called the year 2012 “the year of the revival of the Maghreb.” Many government officials from Morocco and Algeria spoke with the same enthusiasm and expressed their will to push the wheel of the Maghreb ahead. Unfortunately, statements expressing goodwill were not translated into facts, unfortunately. The summit was postponed to an unknown date.
One of the major and promising projects that are still at a standstill for years is the Maghreb Bank for Investment and Foreign Trade, which was meant to be a strong institution for the promotion of joint ventures and trade exchanges and also to serve the mobility of goods and capital between the countries of the Maghreb. Other “frozen” projects include the University of the Maghreb, the train of the Maghreb, the Maghreb Academy of Sciences, etc.
It’s really high time for the countries of the Maghreb to put their trivial differences and tensions aside and work together to surmount their common challenges that are increasing day in day out, especially that we have all the potentials to be powerful and self-reliant.
I call on some media in Morocco and Algeria to stop kindling hatred, conflict and antagonism between the two peoples who long for unity and harbor love and respect for each other.
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