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22 Apr, 2024 10:07

North African states to form new regional bloc

Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya have begun talks without Morocco and Mauritania, the other founding members of the former Maghreb union
North African states to form new regional bloc

The leaders of Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya will reportedly discuss the revival of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), a regional political and economic bloc at an upcoming summit. The AMU has been largely dormant for more than a decade due to diplomatic tensions between some member states.

‎Tunisian President Kais Saied announced the move in a statement on X (formerly Twitter) on Saturday, saying he will host his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, and Libya’s Presidential Council leader, Mohamed Younes Menfi, for the first summit of the “three sister countries.”

Local media reported the meeting would take place on Monday in the Tunisian capital, Tunis.

Last month, on the sidelines of a gas-exporting countries summit in Algeria, officials from the three North African countries agreed to hold talks every three months.

The AMU initiative has been criticized for excluding Morocco and Mauritania, which have also been bloc members since its formation in 1989. Moroccan media has accused Algeria of attempting to form a new regional alliance without Rabat, claiming that the move reflects Algiers’ waning influence on the regional or continental front.

Algerian President Tebboune rejected the allegations in an interview with state broadcaster Alg24 News, declaring that the “bloc is not directed against any other state, and the door is open to countries in the region.”

The five-member AMU grouping has faced several setbacks over the years, including a political and diplomatic rift between Algeria and Morocco that has resulted in a boycott of high-level talks since 2008.

Morocco’s relations with neighboring Algeria have been strained as a result of the latter's long-standing support for the independence of Western Sahara, which Rabat claims is part of Moroccan territory.

Algiers severed diplomatic ties with Rabat in 2021 over “hostile actions,” following the normalization of relations between Morocco and Israel. The country also accused terrorist groups allegedly backed by Morocco and Israel of starting devastating wildfires that killed dozens in Algeria that year.

Tunisia’s relations with Morocco have also deteriorated since 2022, when Tunisian President Saied hosted the leader of the Polisario Front, the group seeking independence for Western Sahara. Rabat recalled its ambassador to Tunisia and canceled its participation in a pan-African investment conference, calling Tunisia’s actions “a grave and unprecedented act that deeply hurts the feelings of the Moroccan people.”

The Tunisian government has said it maintains “total neutrality” regarding Morocco’s sovereignty over the sparsely populated former Spanish colony that it annexed nearly five decades ago.