Established in February 1989, the Arab Maghreb Union was a a trade and political agreement signed by five Arab countries in the Maghreb region in northwest Africa—Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia—which later became essentially inoperative after squabbles over the leadership and direction of the union. Now, though, some analysts and diplomats are expressing hope (Arabic link) that the current war against jihadist organizations—specifically the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—might lead to greater unity between these rival countries.
Unity among the Maghreb countries has been limited to two periods in the 20th century. The first was during the 1950’s, which included a series of revolutions in North Africa, from Egypt to Morocco. This period witnessed a spread of pan-Arab unity, as expressed in the 1958 establishment of federal unions between Iraq and Jordan, and between Egypt and Syria. The second period was the end of the 1980’s, when the the Arab Maghreb Union was formed.
Currently, however, there is no unity among the Maghreb countries. There is almost no freedom of movement of people and goods between them, the security coordination is negligible and there is very little economic cooperation.
The borders between the union’s countries are completely closed (for example between Algeria and Morocco) or subjected to strict security measures (such as the situation between Algeria and Libya, or between Libya and Tunisia). In addition, over the years, the countries’ interests have diverged. Some of them have strengthened their diplomatic ties with foreign forces, often at the expense of their neighbors.
In recent years, the Maghreb countries have been subjected to a growing wave of Islamist extremism and attacks by jihadi groups. In addition, Libya and Tunisia experienced revolutions against the oppressive regimes there, and there have been ongoing protests in Algeria and Mauritania. This unrest has allowed ISIS-affiliated terrorist organizations to metastasize.
A number of Algerian, Tunisian and Libyan terrorist groups have pledged allegiance to ISIS. On September 2014, many extremist elements split from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and declared they would be joining ISIS, swearing allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. More recently, the Uqba bin Nafi Brigade in Tunisia has also declared allegiance to ISIS. In Libya, there is a massive presence of ISIS militants, who recently beheaded 21 Coptic Egyptians.
These declarations of allegiance indicate that the ISIS ideology is becoming entrenched across the Maghreb.
Due to the spread of extremist organizations in the Maghreb, and especially in Libya, there are growing calls in this area to revive and intensify the activities of the Arab Maghreb Union. According to the Al-Arab article, the war against terrorism may provide the impetus to lead to a rapprochement and cooperation between these countries.
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