8 April 2014

North Africa: Calls Mount for Maghreb Union

Nouakchott — Maghreb integration is the best way to improve security and boost economic opportunities for youth, regional experts agreed last week in Nouakchott.

Terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal immigration threaten security, while the lack of regional integration contributes to unemployment and economic losses, said Didi Ould Salek, the president of the Maghreb Centre for Strategic Studies (CMESMR).

His group hosted the April 5th conference in the Mauritanian capital, along with Tunisia's Maghreb Forum for International Co-operation.

Decision-makers are "are required to think about the need to build a Maghreb Union; otherwise, their countries will continue to face the threat of the Sahel-Sahara region crisis", he said.

Ould Salek called on Maghreb countries to bypass their political differences in order to improve security co-ordination.

Maghreb Forum head Mohamed El Adel looked at the issue from an economic angle.

Integration can be achieved through "economic and cultural development", he said.

"That is why most of our activities consist of stimulating partnerships between businesses and culture," he added.

The region is burdened by the "flight of Maghreb capital to other countries, the brain drain and the inability of local governments to benefit from their ethnic and cultural diversity", El-Adel said.

"When we realise unity at the grassroots level and... activate civil society, we will achieve the most important step," he noted. "We also need to promote the Maghreb idea at the international level."

Omar Bachir Ben Hammou of Algeria's Abou al-Houda Foundation spoke about the role of young people. Having spent twenty years as an official in the Algerian Ministry of Youth and Sports, he offered unique insight.

"It is essential that Maghreb youth contribute to cultural mobility... and gain distance from destructive ideas," he said.

"Maghreb countries have a uniform popular culture, but the cause of youth delinquency is the lack of clear programmes concerned with youth that stimulate their underlying strength," the Algerian expert added.

Nouakchott professor Mohamed Ould Amin blamed political regimes for the failure of Maghreb integration. Political leaders did not formulate unity in "concrete steps", he said - the reason why the process was idle for 20 years.

He called on intellectuals to help enlighten public opinion. He also noted the need to abolish visas and unify educational curricula.

"Just two days ago, about 50 countries signed a treaty of economic partnership. Why can't we do the same?" Forum of Islamic Thought head Ahmed Elfaziqi asked.

"We need to build horizons," he told Magharebia. "We have an opportunity that we must not miss, when we open the door for young people and encourage scientific and technical partnerships."

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