Tunisia’s former President, Moncef Marzouki, has said that the separatist Polisario Front, backed by Algeria’s government, is the main reason the project of a united Maghreb has not seen the light of day.
Marzouki accused Polisario and its supporters, notably Algeria, of thwarting unity in the Maghreb region.
The president of Tunisia between 2011 and 2014 made the statement in an interview with Arabic-speaking newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi published on Thursday, November 19.
“You know to what extent I am a Maghrebian and I seek to advance this project. But it is clear that there are forces determined to abort it,” Marzouki said.
While the Maghreb Arab Union has existed in name since 1989, its objectives and projects, such as free trade and movement between Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritania, have never materialized.
“Whenever we proceed and find a reasonable solution to the [Western Sahara] problem within the framework of Morocco’s Autonomy Plan and the Maghreb Union, certain forces carry out some kind of terrorist strikes to prevent this,” Marzouki explained.
He stressed that “the people who are responsible for thwarting the Maghreb project are the ones behind the recent Polisario acts.”
Armed members of the separatist group had blocked traffic between Morocco and Mauritania for more than three weeks, between October 21 and November 13.
Morocco launched an operation on November 13 to lift Polisario’s blockade and restore the flow of traffic through the Guerguerat crossing point.
Algeria’s refusal to talk
Recalling his time in office, Marzouki said that he had attempted to bring together all Maghrebian leaders to discuss the Maghreb Union project. The former president planned to suggest the implementation of five freedoms among Maghreb countries: The freedoms of movement, residence, work, ownership, and vote.
However, according to Marzouki, Algeria’s government, led by Abdelaziz Bouteflika at the time, refused to take part in the negotiations. “All rulers accepted, except the rulers of Algeria,” he said.
Marzouki also intended to suggest a Moroccan-Algerian agreement that would allow Algeria to have access to the Atlantic Ocean.
One of Algeria’s main motives for supporting the Polisario Front and its “independence” claims is to have access to the Atlantic and its resources through Western Sahara.
“All these ideas were in good faith and could have moved the [Maghreb] project forward for the benefit of the people and the states, but unfortunately misjudgements and old resentments prevailed,” Marzouki deplored.
Tunisia’s former president, however, expressed optimism about an upcoming change in Algeria.
“I hope that the change that will happen in Algeria, through the Hirak [movement] and democracy, will bring a new generation of rulers who have the courage and patriotism to understand that this policy that has wasted 40 years on us must end,” Marzouki said.
“We cannot sacrifice the future of 100 million Maghrebians for 200,000 Sahrawis, while [Sahrawis] can live with honor and dignity within the Maghreb Union and Morocco’s Autonomy Initiative,” he declared.
Moroccan initiative is only solution
Throughout the interview, Marzouki highlighted that Morocco’s Autonomy Plan for Western Sahara is the only solution to the territorial dispute that would allow the project of a united Maghreb to move forward.
The Moroccan proposal, submitted to the UN in April 2007, suggests turning Western Sahara into a semi-autonomous region. The local population would fully manage its social, economic, and political issues, while Morocco would maintain sovereignty over issues of diplomacy and defense.
The separatist Polisario Front, meanwhile, which Algeria hosts, funds, and arms, wants to establish an “independent” state in Morocco’s southern provinces.
Marzouki condemned the separatist vision, saying “we cannot build a Maghreb Union if Polisario exists and Morocco is divided.”