The four countries of North Africa — Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya — form a historic and civilisational island (al-jazira in Arabic) between seas of water and sand at the far end (al-maghrib in Arabic) of the Arab world. Yet they are ‘enemy brothers’, unable to bring their social and economic similarities together into a cooperative ensemble. As a result, open trans-border conflict lurks as a possibility and the welfare of all four countries is impeded.
Removing the single largest issue in the way of security cooperation by resolving the Western Sahara conﬂict would allow Morocco and Algeria to turn coordinated attention to the security problem to their south, permit them to reduce their forces level and halt their arms race and free them to devote more of their budgets to civilian needs.
I William Zartman
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Effects of languishing cross-border cooperation
Historically, the region was never fully integrated as a single political unit except once, in the 11th and 12th centuries under the Moroccan al-Moravid and al-Mohad dynasties. But the countries were united for long periods as neighbouring administrations under the same overlord – Romans for five centuries, Ottomans (except for Morocco) for four centuries, and French (except for Libya) for up to a century. During the anti-colonial struggle, the independence movements in three French areas – Algeria as an ‘integral part’ of France and Tunisia and Morocco as protectorates – cooperated closely, but separate independence dates (1956 for the protectorates, 1962 for Algeria) and different means of attaining independence pulled them apart onto separate paths, distinct identities, and discrete interests.
Potential gains of cross-border cooperation
Economic model analysis by the Peterson Institute of International Economics, Maghreb Regional and Global Integration suggests that a full-fledged free trade area (FTA) among the Maghreb countries would yield a gain in total merchandise trade of some $1 billion. Even this modest figure would almost double the extent of commercial relations within the region and pave the way for a future deepening of ties. FTAs between the EU or the US and the Maghreb would generate even larger gains. Based on gravity model calculations, total Maghreb trade would expand by $4-5 billion (3-4.5 per cent) if the EU or the US separately establish a free trade area with the UMA region, and by nearly $9 billion (nearly 8 per cent) if both establish regional FTAs with the Maghreb. In an EU-US-Maghreb free trade area, total Maghreb inward foreign direct investment (FDI) stocks would increase by $5.8 billion (75 per cent), and total Maghreb outward FDI stocks would rise by $3.9 billion. Both the US and European economies stand to benefit as well from enhanced cooperation with the Maghreb region over horizons of 2-5 years. While these projections are theoretical, they convey the promise in reducing trade and investment barriers for the Maghreb.
Efforts for cross-border cooperation
The decision to turn to greater cross-border cooperation in the region can only come from the highest levels in each country, and in this case that means the very personal attention of the heads of state – Mohammed VI in Morocco, Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algeria, Zine Labadine ben Ali in Tunisia and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. Pressure points in such a situation are difficult to find. However, they exist, at very high and much lower levels.