Could Morocco’s initiative revive the stalled Arab Maghreb Union?

The policy of open dialogue is the best choice for all parties aiming to secure a peaceful outcome for circumstantial differences.
Friday 23/11/2018
A view of a large structure with flags of five Maghreb countries in the Moroccan city of Oujda. (Wikipedia)
Least integrated region. A view of a large structure with flags of five Maghreb countries in the Moroccan city of Oujda. (Wikipedia)

Political analysts are having a field day debating the significance of Morocco’s invitation for renewed dialogue with Algeria.

In a speech early November, King Mohammed VI called on Algeria to establish a joint Moroccan-Algerian committee to discuss the issues of contention still separating both countries.

“Rabat is ready for direct and frank dialogue with brotherly Algeria to overcome circumstantial and objective differences,” the king said in his speech.

Analysts say Rabat’s call for dialogue with Algeria to tackle controversial issues, including the opening of closed borders, would stir the stagnant waters that have marred the two neighbouring countries’ bilateral relations and could bring about the right conditions for reviving the stalled Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) project.

The current standoff between Morocco and Algeria involves politics, economy, immigration and border issues, but the greatest source of contention is Algeria’s wavering diplomatic positions and the stalemate over the Western Sahara.

Morocco’s recent initiative stems from a conscious and thoughtful understanding of the issues that have been troubling both countries in recent years, mainly the scourge of terrorism and the problem of clandestine immigration across borders.

This crisis is allowing thousands of illegal migrants to pour into Moroccan territory on their way to Europe. It has, therefore, become vital to seek dialogue to prompt action between the two countries.

Morocco’s desire to diversify its partnerships and openly engage with its neighbours also seems to be playing a role. But Rabat’s position needs to be understood first and foremost within the context of its relentless search for a solution to the issue of the Sahara. Morocco has been pursuing this vision in earnest since announcing its economic strategy based on diversifying partners and paying attention to its neighbours.

In January last year, Morocco reintegrated into the African Union following a 33-year absence.  King Mohammed VI has sought to improve ties in the Maghreb region, which he has called “the least integrated on the African continent, if not in the world.”

Similarly, in the Middle East, Morocco maintains extensive partnerships, especially with Gulf states, and continues to renew confidence in its partners. Likewise, Western partners and major industrialised countries are an important part of the kingdom’s strategic vision for development.

This strategy is reflected concretely in Morocco’s impressive progress in the area of economic development and in its focus on broadening the horizons of its development experiences through advanced infrastructure projects and advanced technology projects. The latest example of the kingdom’s technological advance was on display at the inauguration of a high-speed rail line connecting Casablanca to Tangier, a distance of 350km, in the presence of French President Emmanuel Macron. Other mega projects are in the works as Morocco keeps surprising the world.

By contrast, Morocco’s eastern neighbours find themselves swamped by crises coming from all directions. Tunisia is going through a stifling political and economic crisis while Libya faces a dire predicament.

Algeria is going through a suffocating presidential crisis. There is a lot of noise about Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika seeking a fifth term as well as significant tension created by an anti-corruption campaign and the firing of many state officials and political figures from sensitive positions. The political reverberations are still being felt in the country and serve to exacerbate the tension created by the many social crises gripping Algeria that have reached an intolerable limit. The situation in Algeria risks exploding at any moment.

Forging a solution to the stalled AMU can only be achieved through reaching a consensus between all the actors in the Maghreb. Algeria is presently the stumbling block. It is thus necessary to find a satisfactory formula and appropriate channels of communication to engage it in this matter. Morocco, on the other hand, finds itself operating from a comfortable position, which allows it to play the pivotal role.

The policy of open dialogue is the best choice for all parties aiming to secure a peaceful outcome for circumstantial differences that can be overcome with time. If all the hanging issues are discussed frankly and seriously as wished by Morocco, there is no reason that other Maghreb partners dealing with crises will not also benefit from the process.