Political obstacles to the Maghreb integration project

Prepared by: Mohamed Sidi Mokhtar Bouna – PhD Researcher, Political Sciences – University of Tunis Al-Manar.

  • Arab Democratic Center

Clear international economic system parameters and manifests itself features little by little in the light of contemporary international political and economic changes to keep economic blocs feature and set the most prominent of this change Faced with the weakness of the state of country from confronting various economic and developmental challenges and deficits in many countries of the world to find radical solutions to internal problems on the one hand,
and On the other hand, its inability to cope with the new international order in which there is no place for self-independence imposes itself on states as a strategic choice driven by the national interest and imposed by the constraints of global economic reality.

Like many countries, the Maghreb countries have sought, since independence, to achieve integration, driven by many justifications towards entering into a unified economic bloc, and the fruit of those efforts was the establishment of the 1989 Marrakesh Treaty, which provided a comprehensive and integrated model for a promising Maghreb integration and brought the unitary project out of the stage of thinking and theorizing to an attempt to materialize And implementation through institutions and structures that adopt joint economic projects.
However, the many challenges that faced this project led to its stumbling and possibly “failure”.
Through this article, we shed light on the political and regional challenges of the Maghreb integration project.

The political dimension of the crisis:

If the Moroccan leaders laid the foundation stone for the Maghreb integration project through the 1989 Marrakesh Treaty through political decisions that expressed the will and direction of the Maghreb political elite, then the construction of this integration and its embodiment on the ground has been stalled by political differences and a difference in visions and orientations between the Maghreb countries. The actual obstacle to a Maghreb integration lies in the deepening of political differences on the one hand, and the lack of a suitable ground on which to base the Maghreb unity project,
This raises a fundamental problem regarding the context of the Marrakesh Treaty and the attempts before it in this regard, as we find that the existing political systems at this time in their entirety are not based on the most important components of building economic integration, which are: democracy, as the Maghreb countries have not yet known a stable democratic system; In addition to the weakness of political participation, party pluralism, and the absence of a real role for civil society institutions, and thus the difficulty of meeting this condition, represented by democracy as a pillar of integration.

Also, Maghreb relations experienced severe tension that reached the end of the seventies, with the border dispute over the Sahara and the division of the Maghreb countries from the issue, and the matter did not end at this point, leading to entering as parties to this conflict and the resulting crisis in Maghreb relations, especially the two countries, Morocco and Algeria, where The failure of the Maghreb integration project is due to the lack of political accord between the two countries.

The “fluctuation” of the positions prevailing in the inter-Maghreb relations and the resulting haste in important and fateful decisions constitutes a failure factor in the integration experience in the region. Integrative overnight, and vice versa, such as – such decisions – these projects lose their seriousness, as they were not given their luck from planning and studying to remain random and rigid.

The desert issue and the failure factors!

Perhaps it is self-evident to say that the conflict over the Western Sahara represents a direct failure factor for the path of Maghreb economic integration. Through the developments of this ongoing regional conflict “determining” the levels of integration, from a logical point of view a causal relationship has arisen between these two (the two main variables), as experience – before and after Establishment of the Arab Maghreb Union 1989, – The impact of local challenges on economic integration projects, since the establishment of the permanent advisory committee on September 29, 1964, as the first steps for embodying Maghreb economic integration, adopting joint economic projects by establishing a common Maghreb market and working on transferring capital, goods and services, and moving From sectoral cooperation to total cooperation, before political differences between the two countries: Moroccan and Algerian lead to the project being halted with the development of the conflict in the Sahara 1975,Which put an end to this complementary experiment, and as an alternative to this comprehensive strategic choice that the advisory committee pursued since its inception, some Maghreb countries embarked on accessing “bilateral” experiences, as Tunisia and Algeria signed (the Treaty of Brotherhood and Accord) on March 19, 1983 before Mauritania joined it. December 13 of the same year, and as a reaction to this agreement concluded between the trio, Morocco and Libya concluded August 13, 1984 (the Oujda Agreement) and called this alliance “the Arab African Union.” Algeria, through its alliance with Tunisia and Mauritania, sought to isolate Morocco politically and to attract its former allies while it wanted Morocco, through the Oujda agreement, to put an end to the Libyan military support for the Polisario Front, especially since Article 12 of the agreement signed between the two countries states that any aggression against any of them constitutes aggression against the other side.Algeria, through its alliance with Tunisia and Mauritania, sought to isolate Morocco politically and to attract its former allies, while Morocco wanted, through the Oujda agreement, to put an end to the Libyan military support for the Polisario Front, especially since Article 12 of the agreement signed between the two countries states that any aggression against either of them constitutes aggression against the party. The other ”

It seems clear that this stalemate and regression in the march of integration in the region is a result of the chronic obstruction represented by the spread of the Saharan conflict that accompanied the Maghreb construction in all its stages since the establishment of the “Consultative Committee” in 1964.
The conflict over Western Sahara continued to cast a shadow over most of the Maghreb unitary projects, prompting the Maghreb countries The Arab region towards fragmentation, fragmentation and entry into the furnace of alliances and narrow bilateral polarization, even after the signing of the Marrakesh Treaty on February 17th 1989, the establishment of the Arab Maghreb Union and the attempt to embody the unitary project through the agreements signed between the Maghreb countries and activate the structures and institutions of this union.
This single ambition was not accompanied by the serious political will of the Maghreb countries, in particular the influential parties in the conflict (Morocco and Algeria), to work on settling the Saharan file, and the Western Sahara problem remained a stumbling block in front of the joint economic projects that are being identified within the framework of the Union, Before the Sahara crisis stormed the Maghreb Union project on December 20, 1995, when Morocco submitted a request to Algeria, which was chairing the Maghreb summit, to temporarily freeze the activities of the institutions of the Maghreb Union, and the latter was accused by Morocco of “direct interference” in the Sahara issue, with this. The Moroccan initiative put the adversarial parties over the Sahara to an end to the young process that was defined by the Maghreb integration project under the Maghreb Union.
Returning to the background of this prominent development and the sudden deterioration of Maghreb relations in general and the Maghreb economic and social integration project in particular, after the rapprochement in Moroccan relations at the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties, when the unitary proposition reached its heights. Specifically those related to the development of events in the Western Sahara region. In conjunction with the “UN settlement project” aiming to establish a referendum on self-determination in the Western Sahara region, since the creation of the MINURSO mission on April 29, 1991 by a decision of the Security Council, the most prominent obstacle facing the work of the UN mission was the dispute. On the determination of the voters for the referendum, this disagreement is fueled by intransigence in the Moroccan positions on the one hand and the Polisario and Algeria on the other hand, even with the establishment of the United Nations “Identification Committee” headed by Eric Jensen, Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the NationsThe United Nations was assigned the task of the Sahara file on March 15, 1994, and the committee pledged to hold a referendum in the following year. All the committee’s efforts were unsuccessful in light of the exacerbation of disagreement between the parties concerned about the conditions required for voters. As a result of this dispute, the committee announced at the time that it would freeze its work regarding the determination of voters in December 1995, in light of Morocco’s accusations against Algeria of interfering in determining the fate of the people of the Sahara, and the latter’s accusation against Morocco of preventing the inhabitants of the region from their right to self-determination …

Thus, mutual accusations continued to fuel disagreement between the conflicting parties, increase tension and disharmony, and deepen the gap between the two neighbors (Morocco and Algeria).

Each time the Maghreb integration project is about to go a long way forward, the Saharan file pulls the Maghreb backward, in light of the continued closure of the borders between the West and Algeria, and Algeria continues its approach through its support for the Polisario, demanding a referendum on self-determination, and with Morocco focusing on its traditional discourse on the Sahrawi issue

In sum, it can be said that the Maghreb economic integration project has mainly complained about political obstacles that have a local and internal character. The obstacles with a local dimension are represented: in the turbulent regional context since the Sahara crisis in the mid-seventies, through the Lockerbie case, and the security stakes and the danger of terrorist groups spread across the borders, in light of these External challenges that plague every project for the unit.

The “Lockerbie” crisis of Maghreb integration:

The Lockerbie crisis was the first test and the real challenge to the effectiveness and readiness of the most important executive body for joint Maghreb action, which is the Arab Maghreb Union, since its establishment, pursuant to the first chapter of the Marrakesh Treaty of February 17, 1989, the newly created Maghreb Union faced an exceptional regional circumstance and context, the most important features of which are security and political implications, and what The crash of the American plane on December 21, 1988 in Lockerbie, Scotland, followed the accusations against Libya and the imposition of political and economic sanctions on it.

The Libyan crisis revealed the weakness and fragility of the Maghreb Union through its inability to stand by Libya in the face of international conspiracy and the targeting of a member country of this union. Rather, what “made matters worse” and deepened the gap between the Maghreb countries, the negative attitude and silence of the Maghreb about the siege that Libya was subjected to. , Maghreb countries applied the embargo imposed on Libya.

Although Libya called on the Maghreb countries to stand by and support it, this request is supported by a legal basis and an ethical standpoint, as Article 14 of the 1989 Marrakesh Treaty states that “every attack against a member state is considered an attack on other member states”.

This is also inconsistent with the goals and principles of the treaty, which aims to enhance cooperation and coordination in the security and political field, consolidate brotherhood bonds and strengthen ties between the Maghreb countries, in addition to preventing and pushing against any aggression against these countries, and a commitment not to support any external enemy that targets the safety and security of these countries, As stipulated in Article 15 of the treaty, the second paragraph: “Member States undertake to refrain from joining any military or political alliance or bloc that is directed against the political independence or territorial integrity of other member states”.

The negativity of the position taken by the member states of the Maghreb Union regarding the Lockerbie crisis is reflected in two important parts: the participation of these countries in the embargo on Libya and the failure to break this blockade on their part, in addition to the weak level of political and diplomatic coordination within the Union in order to participate in decoupling the isolation of this country. The Maghreb region is subjected to international punishment and isolation, so that the level of diplomatic action for the countries of the Union remains below expectations.

The Libyan response to the Maghreb position on the crisis came, by threatening to withdraw from the Maghreb Union and freeze the work of the ministry in charge of Maghreb relations, and with the continuation of this fraught atmosphere, Libya continued to deal with reservation with the institutions and structures of the union, so it was absent from the summit of the Maghreb Union on November 10, 1992. Which was held in Nouakchott, then the Maghreb summit held in Tunis on January 10, 1993, and froze all joint Maghreb activities and projects, at the time, due to the crisis.

Thus, the Lockerbie incident represented a pivotal event in the path of Maghreb economic integration, despite the recent modernity of the joint Maghreb institutional work at the time and coinciding with structural crises and difficult regional conditions, this project remained unable to keep pace with this turbulent regional context, in light of the failure to activate the implementation mechanism for this. Structures, lack of coordination and joint action, and the absence of the actual will of the Moroccan leaders to get this structure called “the union” from the stage of stagnation to activation. To confront various crises

There is no doubt that the repercussions of the Lockerbie crisis on the course of the Maghreb integration represented a failure factor for the integration experience in the region, and the subsequent crises during the Libyan transitional path, with the fall of the late Colonel Gaddafi’s regime at the end of 2011 and the country’s entry into a permanent internal conflict. Influential in the course of those events, to stand idly by on the situation, with major parties entering the theater of conflict.

The various internal and local structural factors contributed to a large extent in impeding the unitary project, the nature of the political and social conditions, and the turbulent regional environment. And the security and economic deterioration that accompanied the Maghreb construction. The path of Maghreb integration has largely overshadowed the path of Maghreb integration, which throughout that founding period for this project was known as a difficult political and security travail, as the activation of the path of economic integration in the region coincided with internal crises of these countries, which acquired a security character, and expanded to become of a local and regional character.

The countries that experienced internal crises at the end of the eighties and early nineties were just around the corner to be afflicted with Maghreb entities. The Algerian country, which at the beginning of the year 1992 faced bloody events that lasted for a decade, which was known as the Black Decade against the background of the growing and exacerbation of the danger of Islamic groups, adopting the extremist rhetoric and religious extremism.

This deteriorating security situation and the imminent danger represented by the absence of security and stability in the region, imposed itself on the Maghreb countries, in light of the weakness of the basic components of the Qatari state, which prevented the activation of the mechanisms of Maghreb integration and the implementation of joint inter-projects within the framework of the Maghreb Union.

Parallel to the deep internal challenges manifested in the problems associated with the political system in the Maghreb, the fragility and weakness of the foundations of democracy, the spread of political tyranny, administrative and financial corruption, and the absence of the role of civil society organizations in these countries.


Didi Ould Salek, Arab Maghreb Union: Reasons for faltering and entry points for activation, Maghreb Center for Strategic Studies, Nouakchott, Mauritania.

– Masoud Shaanan “The Western Sahara Conflict and International Legitimacy” PhD thesis of the University of Algeria – Faculty of Law and Political Sciences.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

Articles: 14402

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *