The Algerian president justifies his version of a Maghreb bloc without Morocco

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In an interview with Algerian media on Saturday, president Abdelmadjid Tebboune addressed the Algerian-initiated project for a Maghreb grouping excluding Morocco. The Kingdom featured prominently in the passages devoted to this project launched on March 3 in Algiers.

«Our western neighbors wish to join the West African Development Organization (ECOWAS), and they are free to do so», stressed President Tebboune to justify sidelining Rabat.

Indeed, in 2017, Morocco applied to join ECOWAS. Tunisia had followed in the Kingdom's footsteps, seeking other African partners. On July 18, 2018, Tunis was proclaimed the 20th member of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). But the Algerian president made light of that fact.

Tebboune expressed the hope that the bloc launched by his country would be a framework where the countries of the region could «speak with one voice». «This bloc is not directed against any other country, as the door is open to all countries in the region» to join, stressing that it is «unacceptable» to exclude any party.

Tebboune welcomed the «good coordination» with Tunisia and Libya, asserting that the three states had agreed to «create a Maghreb entity that is not directed against any state in the region». The Algerian president explained that his country's initiative was intended to «fill the void» in the functioning of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU). The same version was defended on Tuesday March 26 by Foreign Minister Ahmed Attaf.

The president praised the «good coordination with Mauritania», even though the southern neighbor has so far been reluctant to join Algeria's regional project. Abdelmajid Tebboune was keen to bring back bad memories for the Mauritanians, playing on their patriotic fiber. He recalled the Arab League's support, expressed in 1960, for Morocco's sovereignty over Mauritania. «Algeria is not concerned by this decision. We had not yet gained our independence», he added. 

For the record, former Istiqlal party secretary-general Hamid Chabat's December 2016 remarks on the «Moroccanness of Mauritania» had raised a wave of condemnation in the southern neighbor. To stem the tide of anger, King Mohammed VI sent Abdelilah Benkirane, then-head of government, and Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita to meet then-president Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz in Zouerate, near the border with Algeria, where he was vacationing.

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