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The Social Science Research Council’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis (MIPA) held a webinar on “The Future of (non)Maghreb Peace ad Integration.” The webinar provided an opportunity to brainstorm the implication of the persistent paralysis in North African integration and its implication for peace and security in the region. Participants included experts and activists, APN fellows and alumni, scholars, and practitioners in the field. The event commenced with welcome remarks by the Director of the SSRC’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa program, Cyril Obi, who chaired and moderated the event. His remarks were followed by presentations by two experts. In his presentation, Hamza Meddeb, a nonresidential scholar at Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center, spoke to the issues underpinning the paralysis in Maghreb integration. He identified the issues as a lack of political will among political elites and leaders of member-states of the Arab Maghreb Union, strained relations between Algeria and Morocco, and the failure of top-down approaches to integration. He pointed out that, while the top-down approach to integration had failed, a lot was happening in terms of people-to-people integration, drawing on successful initiatives in the following areas: education, joint infrastructure development, and renewable energies. Hamza, however, reiterated the importance of reactivating Maghreb integration against the background of its strategic relations with Europe and neighboring African regions and the need to build on cross-border flows and informal integration between Libya and Tunisia. However, in advancing his case for renewing Maghreb integration, the presenter observed that security would be a major factor in determining success or failure. Of note in his view was the obstacle posed by the deadlock in Algeria-Morocco relations, the competition for influence between both countries, the instability in Libya, and the absence of a cohesive regional approach to peacebuilding in Libya. In his presentation, Mohammed Masbah, the director of MIPA and a 2018 APN fellow, identified the competition between Algeria and Morocco as the main driver of the paralysis afflicting the non-Maghreb integration. Drawing on the history of the ruptured relations between both countries, he underlined the centrality of political causes to the rivalry between the two regional giants. Reflecting on MIPA’s 2020 Maghreb Integration Report, Mohammed demonstrated that, despite a low level of integration and the close of the borders between the two countries, there was ample evidence of interest among local people to interact and engage with those on the other side. Noting the serious challenges posed to economic integration in the Maghreb by the political nature of the problem, including the role of political elites, he also pointed out that civil society was constrained in its ability to act. In his view, the situation of non-integration of the Maghreb was a serious one, given the militarization of the region and growing neglect of socio-economic challenges facing the people of the region. He, therefore, argued that a more realistic approach would be to seek to focus on mitigating risk and ameliorating the current situation to avoid escalation and military confrontation. Commenting further on the situation, Hamza identified three critical issues to consider. These included the absence of regional strategic thinking and the lack of drivers and incentives for regional integration. Examining potential areas of growth, he noted complementarities between Libya and Algeria as oil-producing countries, Tunisia and Morocco in the context of an evolving Free Trade framework with Mercosur, and Mauritia’s fisheries industry. He also spoke to the key role of the private sector in the area of such economic activities and relations with Europe.
In the discussions that followed, questions were raised about the implications of overlapping membership of regional organizations, the gaps between competing national and regional interests, the crisis in Libya, the role of China in the Maghreb, and the implications of the Abraham Accord for Algeria-Morocco relations. Participants agreed that, although the formal regional integration in the Maghreb was virtually non-existent and faced complex threats, strategic thinking was required to reactivate the process by carefully designing initiatives to change the mindsets of decision-makers to better connect national to regional interests, beyond this resetting the region’s relations with Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.