Tunis dreams of Maghreb Pact
Morocco’s King Mohammed VI (R) is flanked by his brother Prince Moulay Rachid (2nd R) and Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki (2nd L) as they review the royal guard at Rabat airport on Feb 8. AP photoTunisia’s new president, Moncef Marzouki, arrived in Morocco Feb. 8 to push for a revival of a dormant project to unify the Maghreb region on his first foreign tour since taking office.
“This year we will work to restore unity with our brothers in Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Mauritania, with the aim of resuscitating the great dream of a Union of the Maghreb which has been frozen for years,” he told the official Moroccan news agency MAP. The five-nation Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) was created in 1989 as a trade agreement meant to eventually achieve deeper political integration.
It has been inactive since 1994, mainly because of the dispute between Morocco and Algeria over Western Sahara, but Tunisia’s newly-installed administration is now offering to host a summit. Marzouki was a prominent opposition figure and human rights campaigner under the 23-year-rule of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was brought down by a popular uprising in January 2011.
‘Tunisia lies where three worlds meet’
He told MAP he envisioned a UMA modeled on the European Union and based on five principles: “freedom of movement, residence, employment, investment and ownership, as well as the right to vote in local polls.” Marzouki was met at the airport by Moroccan King Mohammed VI and then held talks with Morocco’s new moderate Islamist prime minister, Abdelilah Benkirane, at the presidential palace.
The Tunisian president’s six-day tour will also take him to Mauritania and Algeria, where he is to meet President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Agence France-Presse reported. Rabat and Algiers have taken steps to bring about a thaw in bilateral ties and meetings between Maghreb countries have intensified since the Arab Spring turned the region’s political landscape upside down.
Marzouki, who made the headlines this month by recalling Tunis’ ambassador to Syria, said at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa 10 days ago that he was keen to see his country regain its rightful place in world diplomacy. “Tunisia had no diplomatic role, including in Africa where it had completely vanished from the scene,” he said. “Tunisia lies where three worlds meet,” he said, in reference to the Euro-Mediterranean zone, the Maghreb and Arab world, and the African continent. “We intend to live up to this dimension.”
GADHAFI ‘VICTIMS’ TO GET MP SEATS
Libya will reserve two fifths of the seats in its new parliament for political parties, groups that were banned under deposed leader Moammar Gadhafi, according to the final draft of the country’s election law published Feb. 8, Reuters reported. The policy reversed an earlier plan to give all seats to independents - a scheme which angered the country’s nascent parties who said it would allow wealthy and powerful tribal figures to dominate politics. Meanwhile, Libyan Chief of General Staff Yussef al-Mangush has said that Libya aims to establish a partnership with Turkey, both in military exercises and strategic areas, Anatolia news agency reported. Al-Mangush said that they were currently planning to have Libyan soldiers trained by Turkish soldiers, and that the Libyan army would be in communication with the Turkish army in the coming period. He also revealed that 6,000 uniforms and pieces of equipment have already been sent to Libya by Turkey, as well as 30 military vehicles.