Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Algeria: UMA squabbles commence

The next summit of the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) is to take place on 10 October at Tabarka, in Tunisia. Almost as soon as this was announced by the Tunisians in late July, the Algerian foreign affairs ministry disputed it, saying that negotiations were still under way and that the date of the summit will not be officially set until they are completed.

The Moroccans have also poured cold water on the momentum towards greater Maghreb cooperation. In an interview in a Moroccan daily on 26 July, prime minister Abdelilah Benkirane said that the conditions were not right for the high-level meeting to take place: “The Moroccan and Algerian peoples are united by lines of friendship and fraternity, but it is depressing that the Algerian leadership takes another view with regard to the question of our territorial integrity.” The old chestnut of the status of the Western Sahara, claimed by Morocco but also by the Algerian-backed Polisario movement is once again rearing its ugly head.

Earlier in the year, during a flurry of high-level diplomatic visits between Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, hopes for the revival of the UMA, stagnant for some 20 years, were high. On 18 February, the 23rd anniversary of the establishment of the union in Marrakech in 1989, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika told his Maghrebi counterparts that the promotion of economic cooperation was “a vital and pressing need”. Other senior Algerian officials suggested at the time that re-opening the border with Morocco was also on the cards. Officials from both countries announced that the question of the Western Sahara would be put aside, to be resolved through UN channels, as a means of moving forward. However, old ideologies are clearly not easy to bury, and it looks like the path to UMA co-operation will be far from straightforward as a result.

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

© 2012 Menas Associates

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