UMA progress demands democracy, Maghreb forum concludes
By Raby Ould Idoumou for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 24/05/12
The Maghreb Centre for Strategic Studies in Nouakchott hosted a seminar on May 12th under the theme "Success of Democratic Transition: Conditions for Maghreb Integration".
Centre director Didi Ould Essalek spoke to Magharebia about what Arab Spring changes might mean for the long-delayed Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) project.
Magharebia: How did the idea of building the Arab Maghreb Union evolve? And, what are the most important obstacles impeding the Maghreb integration?
Didi Ould Essalek: The idea was first devised in 1947 with the opening of the Arab Maghreb office in Cairo which aimed to counter colonisation, demand independence from French occupation and to promote Arab unity. The idea briefly appeared again in Tangier in1958 with the Grand Arab Maghreb Union project. In 1989, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania came together to form the UMA.
The Western Sahara issue has been the leading factor impeding the course of Maghreb Union over the past decades. However, there are other factors, such as economic backwardness, the lack of economic products that can be exchanged, the inability to form a Maghreb economic structure away from dependency on Europe, and the lack of democracy.
Whenever there was a dispute between the ruling regimes, the UMA structure would be stalled regardless of how firmly Maghreb citizens cling to the goals of Maghreb unity.
The political and social shifts now taking place in Arab Maghreb countries after what is now known as the Arab Spring may alleviate the severity of these obstacles.
Magharebia: What are the chances for democratic transition in the Arab Maghreb?
Ould Essalek: The current changes in Arab Maghreb countries may very well open the road for successful democratic transition in this region, with the aid of favourable social conditions and external help. Such factors will restore hope to people about the possibility of reforming decades of political despotism, economic backwardness and social stagnation.
Magharebia: What is the importance of the success of democratic transition in realising Maghreb integration?
Ould Essalek: We have to follow the principle that the success of democratic transition is a prerequisite for Maghreb integration.
Democracy would protect individuals and satisfy their desire to live the way they want, in an open society that respects personal freedom and cultural identity.
A successful democratic transition in the Arab Maghreb countries will help expand popular participation in political decisions and allow for the free movement of persons and properties.
This will help realise the aspirations of Arab Maghreb peoples, starting with opening the borders and ending with the establishment of a common Maghreb market and full economic and political integration.
Real democracy and a culture of transparency and accountability will compel decision-makers to avoid anything that does not serve the interests of their people.
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