The Stalemate of the Maghreb Union

The Stalemate of the Maghreb Union

Mohammad el-Ashab |

The Maghreb capitals failed to promote a unified position during the regional conference on border security held in Rabat, under the sponsorship of the Community of Sahel-Saharan States. Although they expressed mounting concerns over the deteriorating security situation on their southern flank, one should note that the rising disputes, especially between Morocco and Algeria, and their partners’ reluctance to go further in the establishment of political, economic and security partnership with the Sahel neighboring states, have cast their shadows over the conference that tackled the security challenges, particularly the mayhem in Libya.


The lack of coordination was not the only factor behind the diverging positions. There was also the handling of the Malian crisis and subsequently that of the situation in the Sahel south of the Sahara, which provoked the surfacing of contradictions that were added to the increasing political disputes. For its part, the Moroccan-Algerian dispute seemed prone to affect all other issues, at a time when the Community of Sahel-Saharan States is eager to earn a strong Maghreb support, capable of attracting the European and American partners to the region combining those Arab and African states, which converged in a geographic spot, constituting a point of transit and openness between the Arab world and the African states.


The lesson was quite eloquent when France placed all its weight in a military intervention to cleanse Northern Mali. Morocco on the other hand, and while it occupied a non-permanent member seat at the Security Council last year, had drawn up the international decision, in coordination with the prominent capitals of the world, knowing that the Security Council needed an African reference coming from the closest Sahel neighboring states. The Americans were not far away from this inclination, as they previously organized military exercises with the Sahel countries, to enhance their military presence in the face of the terrorist threats. At this level, the majority of the African states, including the Maghreb ones, were inclined to support these developments.


But the current stage, which is all about securing democratic transition and strengthening stability in Mali and its surrounding, requires wider cooperation within the context of the Community of Sahel-Saharan States and the Maghreb Union states. Indeed, without regional support featuring the monitoring of the border and the besieging of the extremist organizations, it would be hard to achieve progress in cleansing the Sahel region that had almost turned into another Afghanistan, due to the vastness of the border, the weak monitoring of the states and the spread of economic crises and the customary and sectarian conflicts.


Nevertheless, the stalemate affecting the Maghreb Union is not facilitating the activation of its contributions at this level. The paradox is particularly blatant, when it comes to border security, especially since the two largest countries in the Maghreb space are coexisting with the enforcement of their land border closing. Hence, in light of the continuation of this exceptional situation, it would be hard to imagine seeing a great accomplishment that has to do with border security, not to mention the fact that the monitoring of the border between Tunisia and Libya, or between the latter and Algeria, in the African space, is not proceeding in an encouraging way. Indeed, the lack of internal stability, the non-imposition of the authority of the civil state and the non-prohibition of the spread of weapons are not reassuring in the short run.


The example put forward by Morocco and Algeria, through their inability to normalize their relations in a positive way and build border economies, is casting doubts over all the proposals, in the absence of a political will overcoming bilateral disputes. At this level, no talk about border security will be justified or convincing, if it is not translated into practical measures on the ground. However, the practicing of a minimum level of self-restraint and the appeasement of escalation could allow these states to benefit from successful experiences in the management of the border, linked to comprehensive security, economic and social approaches.


More than one project was obstructed by the wall of Maghreb hindrances. For example, there is the Union for the Mediterranean, which was relied on as a political and economic framework to revive dialogue and the areas of cooperation between the European and Maghreb Unions on the Mediterranean shores. Prior to that there was a suspension of major transportation and infrastructure projects, put forward before the economic conference for North African and Mediterranean states. It is also very unlikely to see the Community of Sahel-Saharan States managing to achieve ambitions that were too difficult to secure by more powerful regional organizations. Yet, one can always benefit from the opportunities presented by Arab-African dialogue, through the activation of the role of the Sahel community, if only the Arab side, represented by the North African states, heads to this dialogue – unlike the case during the conference on border security – with a unified vision. At the end of the day, security is more urgent than any sideline issue and the Maghreb countries cannot be reassured about their border and territorial safety, if the situation in their neighboring states is out of control. Also, the Sahel countries cannot be reassured about the Maghreb contributions, if they use their crucial issues as pressure cards.


Until the perception of the border - linked to global security and the preservation of cooperation, understanding, openness and good neighborly relations - changes, the debates surrounding border security will remain open. Still, such a start is better than waiting for political miracles that will not achieve a breakthrough.