Arab Maghreb Union: A disappointing dream

Sunday 19/02/2017

Anyone examining the reality of the 28-year-old Arab Maghreb Union is going to be hugely disappointed: The union of Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia is at a standstill and signed agreements are not going anywhere.
Moroccan King Mohammed VI correctly and succinctly described the state of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) when he said the Maghreb is the least integrated in Africa, if not the world. He pre­dicted the dissolution of the union because of its perennial inability to respond to the ambitious objectives set by the 1989 Marrakech agree­ment centred on trade.
There are many indications that the union had a stillbirth. Relations among its members have had so many ups and downs that each one created its own set of international relations outside the framework of the union, which has had a summit since 1994.
Instead of working together towards the common objectives of a union, AMU members have opted for separate agreements and pacts among themselves. Tunisia and Libya did it in 1974; Tunisia, Algeria and Mauritania in 1983; Morocco and Libya in 1984. They all failed, of course, and trust among AMU countries is low.
From the start, the main purpose of the union was to create opportu­nities for economic development, in addition to having a common po­litical, security and military front, similar to what is found in Europe or among the Gulf countries.
It is ironic to note, considering the union’s dysfunction, that cer­tain material needs of one member can be satisfied by another. Libya, for example, sits on huge oil re­serves and Algeria has enormous amounts of natural gas. Tunisia and Morocco have large phosphate deposits and Mauritania overflows with minerals.
Studies have pointed out that the lull in economic relations among AMU members represents a loss of 3% yearly in each one’s gross do­mestic product. The United Nations said these relations represent just 5% of each country’s foreign trade, a measly figure when compared to trade ties between the members of the European Union.
The reasons for the Arab Maghreb Union’s lack of success are many. Some relate to political tensions and others are due to dif­ferent economic systems, cultures, ideologies, histories and institu­tions.
The crisis in Libya is in its sixth year and the need for a united front within the Arab Maghreb Union is stronger than ever. Alas, the un­ion’s institutions remain frozen.
Despite Tunisia’s success in its democratic transition amid a stormy regional context, the op­tion for an improved union among Maghreb countries remains far removed. The conflict over the Sahara in Morocco is one of the major impediments. Efforts by regional and international partners to bridge the gap between Algeria and Morocco regarding this issue have failed.
The Marrakech deal stipulated that all decisions must be made by agreement of all members. This makes building the union almost impossible because deep disagreements and differences exist among the members. Add to that the absence of a shared vision of the desired model of economic integration and the union remains stillborn.