On February 19, Morocco announced it would refuse to host the 27th Arab League Summit, on the same day a letter from the King of Morocco Mohammed VI to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was published by the Algerian newspaper Al-Watan in which the King declared the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) to be an “irreversible strategic option”.
Arab League Summit
The (nominally) annual Arab Summit, which would have been held in Marrakesh on March 29, had already been postponed to April 7 at Saudi Arabia’s request. With this cancellation the Arab League reaches a 50/50 success rate on holding its “annual” meetings, to say nothing of the results of those summits. Founded in 1945, the Arab League held its first annual summit in 1964, in the 52 years since it has only held 26 annual summits and ten emergency summits.
A statement issued by the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation on February 19, 2016 read: “In the wake of the ongoing challenges in the Arab World, the Arab Summit could not be an end in itself” adding “Given the absence of important concrete initiatives which could be submitted to Arab Heads of State, this summit will only be an occasion to take ordinary resolutions and deliver speeches which pretend to give false impression of unity and solidarity between Arab States.”
Nonetheless, the statement concluded that “The common construction of the future of Arab countries is the best guarantee of stability and a bulwark against the resurgence of regional tensions, the rise of extremism, violence and terrorism, which undermine the foundations of the modern State and our ancestral values.”
Arab Maghreb Union
President Bouteflika received a message from the Moroccan monarch, King Mohammed VI on the occasion of the 27th anniversary of the creation of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) in which the King stated that the project was “irreversible strategic option “. Founded by the Treaty of Marrakech on February 17 1989, where the Annual Arab Summit would have been held, in ceremonies attended as a pre M6 heir still being groomed for rule by his father King Hassan II, the AMU has often since been described as stillborn.
King Mohammed VI’s letter, as published by Al-Watan, said “the Moroccan kingdom, considers the Maghreb Union as an irreversible strategic option, [Morocco] will spare no effort to achieve integration among its five member states and the establishment of a new Maghrebin system based on brotherhood, trust, solidarity and good neighborliness, while working to reduce the institutional stagnation which prevents the Union from assuming its role on different levels, to meet the various economic and security challenges facing the countries of the Maghreb and their neighbors in the region and across the world.”
Despite previous attempts at greater Maghreb integration, including in January 1974 when Libya and Tunisia briefly flirted with the idea of uniting into the Arab Islamic Republic, the AMU (comprised of Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Morocco) has never been capable of overcoming regional political disputes. The most important stumbling block has always been the dispute between Algeria and Morocco over the Western Sahara or Sahrawi issue, it is far from the only rift, even the name Arab Maghreb Union, rather than Maghreb Union, is controversial for its nominal exclusion of Berbers.
However dysfunctional the Arab League may be, it appears a model institution when compared to the Arab Maghreb Union.
The King pointed to the Arab Maghreb Union’s singular achievement “We welcome in this regard the creation of the Maghreb Bank for Investment and Foreign Trade, an institution that will contribute to the consolidation of Maghreb economic relations, development of trade and the establishment of project funding rules productive of mutual interest.”
The Maghreb Bank for Investment and Foreign Trade was created by the Ras Lanuf agreement on March 10, 1991, but its draft statute was not approved until March 2006, and it was only was funded twenty four years after its creation on December 22, 2015. On the occasion Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid chaired a reunion, attended by the Ministers of Finance of the five AMU nations, announcing the launch of the Maghreb Bank for Investment and Foreign Trade (BMICE-Banque Maghrébine pour l’Investissement et le Commerce Extérieur). Chaired in Tunis, the Maghreb Bank for Investment and Foreign Trade was launched with an initial capital of only $150 million US, (300 Million Dinars).
It was not the only sign of life, by Arab Maghreb Union standards, in 2015. The need for increased security cooperation in the Maghreb also prompted some activity from the Arab Maghreb Union, after a lapse of nearly twenty years, a supposedly annual Council of Ministers of the Interior met in Nouakchott, on April 30 2015, for only the fifth time since 1989. Security cooperation is in today’s Maghreb an obvious necessity, but the Arab Maghreb Union’s original purpose of greater regional economic integration is of equal importance. It is also, twenty seven years later its greatest failure.
In 2012, the World Bank noted “Trade among the countries of the Maghreb was less than three percent of the region’s total trade in 2008. In contrast, trade within the European Union for the same time period was 63.6 percent of the region’s total trade, 24.6 percent within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and 15 percent within Latin America’s Common Southern Market.”
The bulk of trade conducted in the Maghreb is between individual nations and external markets, particularly the EU, the nations of the Maghreb have actively competed for market share on major exports such as oil, gas and phosphates, signing individual agreements with external trade blocs. Negotiating as a regional economic bloc, the purpose of the AMU, remains a fantasy, but even within the bloc the Maghreb remains the least integrated economic region worldwide, respective governments have essentially delegated the organization of inter-regional Maghreb trade to smugglers.
The recent activity, by the standards of the Arab Maghreb Union a letter, a bank, and a meeting of ministers represents hyperactivity. By the standard of its previous accomplishments the Arab Maghreb Union is in fact as alive as ever, as it has never existed outside of the Marrakech summit which founded it and a few scattered unimplemented agreements, the Maghreb Bank for Investment and Foreign Trade’s being a remarkable, if poorly funded, exception.
The Arab Maghreb Union, true to form, did not publish statements acknowledging the anniversary of its own founding until three days later.