Interview with Mohamed El Ouahdoudi: “The Maghreb must go more towards its South”

– Since 2021, the Maghreb has been experiencing a tormented situation, especially after the rupture of diplomatic relations between Algeria and Morocco; the closure by the Libyan government of national unity (GNU) of the land and air borders between Libya and Tunisia, and recently the reception of Brahim Ghali by Tunisia. Where is the Maghreb going?

– Seen as a whole, the Maghreb is in a zone of rising turbulence. But over the long term, it has known worse, such as the sand war in 1963 between Morocco and Algeria, the short-term conflicts between Algeria and Mauritania, Algeria and Tunisia.

The “golden palm” is unfortunately won by Libya, which is reaping the bitter fruits of the adventurism of the Gaddafi regime. More than a week after the act of the President of Tunisia, who hurt his relations with Morocco, by using the Polisario for a purpose that is difficult to understand, we see nothing coming that can clarify this situation became explosive.

Voices have been raised in Tunisia asking its leaders to explain themselves, to send emissaries to Rabat, and instead of a gesture of appeasement, we are heading towards an accumulation of misunderstandings. Basically, everyone knows that the question of the Sahara is settled, on the ground, as with countries with democratic governance. 48 hours after the TICAD hosted by Tunisia, Japan took the lead and confirmed to Morocco the constants of its relationship with the Kingdom.

Tunisia, sooner or later, will have to clarify its position by answering this structuring question in its diplomacy: will the country maintain its positive neutrality in its relations with Algeria and Morocco, or is it of a turn?

-What tensions threaten to inflame the region, given these elements?

-There is, as I have just underlined, this crisis caused by Tunisia with Morocco, as they say in aviation “an incident if it is not well analyzed and treated produces an accident”. This tension is fraught with threats. If we refer to the European continent, with which the Maghreb carries out half of its trade, we are heading towards wars, real ones, which, still according to the European dictionary, will make it possible to start from scratch and rebuild everything. Fortunately, the Maghreb is not Europe, the cultural, human and historical ties that unite the Maghreb countries have their weight. Yet we see war efforts with budgets in the billions of dollars.

To have peace, you have to prepare for war: the Maghreb is in this situation. Let’s hope so. Two forces are at work in the Maghreb: those specific to each country, and those of globalization. Each Maghreb country takes its decisions on all levels without any consultation with the others. Each for himself and Allah for all. Morocco for several years no longer compares itself to its neighbors, it has traced its vertical route: towards the South in Africa, and towards the North as far as England. But like its neighbours, Morocco must manage its relations in globalization.

In this regard, it is a continuation of the legacy of the late Hassan II: a balanced relationship with the great powers regardless of their ideology. The last speech of His Majesty Mohammed VI is a turning point for the Maghreb and beyond. By laying down as a basis for its relations the clarification of the position of each country in relation to the territorial integrity of Morocco, His Majesty has set a course for the coming years, if not the decades to come. This has the merit of clarity and a long-term vision. Is the exit of the President of Tunisia a response, negative, to this rule that the kingdom has set itself? We will know in the next few weeks.

-Don’t you think that the problems of the Arab “Mashrek” are being transposed to the Maghreb?

-Yes it is a great risk, moreover underlined by a former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tunisia. But what issues are we talking about? The signing of the Abraham Accords by Morocco is seen, by other countries that need not be named, as a transposition of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the Maghreb. The Palestinians are the first to welcome all of Morocco’s decisions, which reinforce its role in mediation for the construction of two states. The status quo on this issue has never brought anything, it is the courageous initiatives of the late Hassan II and His Majesty Mohammed VI like those of the late Sadat that have moved the peace process forward.

History also records all the initiatives of the late Bourguiba on this conflict. Tunisia today ignores all that it owes to relations with Israel during the first years of independence, to counter Nasser’s pan-Arabism and to build its tourist industry and its agriculture.

Are we talking about the Iranian problem, which crosses Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon? Yes in this case any intrusion of Iran in the Maghreb can only create chaos as is unfortunately the case in the Machrek. And in this regard, Morocco was also a forerunner, cutting off all relations with this country which has no business being so far from its region, except to sow religious discord. On this, Tunisia will be accountable to history if it plays with Iranian fire, which the Tunisians in their wisdom will not fail to reject with all their might. I find it hard to imagine Tunisian women marrying the Iranian chador.

-Who could help the Maghreb reverse this trend?

– If we judge by the reaction of the Tunisians to the current crisis of their country with Morocco, we can hope that the Maghreb peoples will be the bulwarks against any drift. Morocco spends all its energy on its own construction, it does not host refugees from other Maghreb countries, respects the territorial integrity of all countries. We can hope that Libya will take the path of its own reconstruction, and that Tunisia can protect itself from the demons of discord.

Economic problems must be solved by economic strategies, which country does not have one? I don’t think that France is behind the inter-Maghreb tensions. It is a democratic country, its decisions are taken on the basis of studies and consultations. The six million North Africans who live there constitute a collective conscience for peace and mutual aid. Both France and the European Union have every interest in the construction of a prosperous Maghreb, if this is not clear in the minds of some, it is enough to see the example of Japan in Africa, and in Morocco in particular. .

It is up to us North Africans to mobilize abroad so that our region is free from unnecessary tensions. The recognition of the Moroccan Sahara by Spain, Germany and many other European countries will be reinforced in the future by the adhesion of all of Europe, and this will be a political act of great importance to help the Maghreb live normally without closed or militarized borders.

– The Maghreb countries have proven in the past that they can overcome their differences and engage in the process of common and advanced Maghreb action. Do you think that would still be possible?

-Yes, we must teach in all Maghreb schools what happened in Marrakech in 1989: the creation of the Maghreb Union. However, the context is constantly changing, and it will be necessary to imagine other methods for a peaceful coexistence between these brotherly countries, which are like members of a brotherhood who have grown up. I see five principles for the region to return to the path of shared growth: non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries; the encouragement of meetings between entrepreneurs, who are the real builders of the wealth of countries; mutual respect for each other’s choices, whatever they may be, as long as they do not affect other countries.

This orientation remains different from non-interference, and mainly concerns strategic choices and finally making children love the Maghreb region in school programs by building a common school textbook. Above all, this implies respect for the intellectual property and heritage of each other. All this will only be possible if the leaders accept the idea that each country is free to adopt the political regime that suits it.

– Towards what policy should the Maghreb move?

-Towards a policy of small steps to rediscover good habits of living together. For sixty years the region has been experiencing tensions born of colonialism, from time to time there have been glimmers of hope in finding solutions to the time bombs left by the occupiers. Now that the Maghreb is fully in globalization, that global players are involved, it will be difficult to find a table for five without others wanting to invite themselves. The Maghreb must go further south, as Morocco has been doing for years, to find new balances there by assuming its African identity.

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Interview with Mohamed El Ouahdoudi: “The Maghreb must go more towards its South”