The Economist: Western Sahara conflict, a huge economic mess for Algiers and Rabat

Because of the dispute over Western Sahara, the two Maghreb neighbors, Morocco and Algeria, lose each year 2 points of their gross domestic product (GDP), notes the renowned British weekly The Economist.

“Had Algeria and Morocco honoured their agreement back in 1989 to form an economic union, along with Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania, they would be among the Middle East’s largest economies,” writes the weekly.

However, the ambitious project to set up the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) was aborted because of the conflict over Western Sahara, a quasi-desert region of southern Morocco that is claimed by the Algeria-backed Polisario separatist front.

Algeria and Morocco are paying the high price for the closure of their borders since 1994 and incurring an annual loss of 2 points of their GDP because of the freezing of the Maghreb project, the British weekly notes.

The two neighboring countries have plenty of assets. They share a common history, cuisine, architecture, strand of Islam and an Arabic dialect…They are almost homogeneously Sunni, free of the region’s sectarian divides. They have the advantage of cheap labour, and offer Europe a bridge to Africa, the author of the article adds.

In Algeria, the returns of copious oil and gas enabled to develop a programme of mass industrialization. Yet Morocco is catching up fast, thanks to its greater economic openness under King Mohammad VI, the weekly notes, recalling that the kingdom ranks 68th on the World Bank’s measure for ease of doing business—88 places above Algeria.

The situation prevailing throughout the Arab Maghreb region is poisoned by the territorial dispute between Rabat and Algiers over Western Sahara.

Yet Morocco has made great concessions since the outbreak of this conflict in 1975. The Kingdom went as far as submitting in 2007 a plan to grant broad autonomy to the disputed Sahara territory.

The Polisario Front and its Algerian mentors rejected the initiative although it was described as serious and credible by the UN and world powers.

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