Tunisia’s new President Moncef Marzouki arrived in Morocco Wednesday 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.
He told MAP he envisioned a UMA modelled on the European Union and based on five principles: “freedom of movement, of residence, of employment, of investment and ownership, as well as the right to vote in local polls.”
Marzouki is due to meet Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and his new moderate Islamist prime minister, Abdelilah Benkirane, before holding talks in Mauritania and wrapping up in Algeria, where he is to meet President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
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.