“I was deputy minister in charge of Maghreb affairs. We still believe in Maghreb integration for historical, cultural, political and economic reasons,” Messahel explained in an interview with Russia Today yesterday.
According to the Algerian diplomat, Algeria has designed and built the basic infrastructure of AMU with a view to better regional integration.
Last week, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika sent a letter to the Maghreb leaders and in particular King Mohammed VI on the occasion of the 29th anniversary of the founding of the UMA where he reiterated the hopes that the union can still remain relevant with the belief in the viability of a United Magreb. “Fraternity and solidarity,” according to Bouteflika, are the elements that unite the Maghrebi peoples. But the view contrasts heavily with King Mohamed’s comments a few months ago that the UMA is “dead”.
The Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) was first established on 17 February 1989 in Marrakesh as a political agreement and economic integration between the five countries of the Maghreb: Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania.
However, the union has been marked by competition between Morocco and Algeria vying for leadership in the region. Rich in hydrocarbons and an ally of the Third World and of the “Non-Aligned Countries”, Algeria has wanted to be the dominant power of the region. Morocco, an ally of France and the United States and Western Europe as a whole, has similar ambitions of dominance.
The conflict in Western Sahara, with the Polisario separatists fighting Morocco and Algeria backing the self-determination of the Saharawis, is also a continued element of political discord between the two main Maghrebi actors. Thirty years on, the UMA has remained stagnant with little economic integration or political union.
For Messahel, Algeria does not see the conflict in Western Sahara as an obstacle to building AMU.
General Secretary of the UMA, Taïeb Baccouche, renewed calls for the strategic integration of the five countries and the development of means of transport between the states. To achieve this, Morocco would have to open its border with Algeria near Oujda which has remained closed since an attack orchestrated by Algerian militants on a hotel in Marrakesh in 1994.
Baccouche defended the free movement of people and goods in the Maghreb, and welcomed the investments that have been made in the Maghreb countries to build roads and other infrastructures that bring the citizens of the five states closer together.