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A history of the arab league in north africa and the middle east

The Arab versions of perestroika, or restructuring, while less profound in comparison with those of Czechoslovakia or Poland, reflect certain realignments of political forces. No regimes have toppled -- yet.

Middle East and North Africa - MENA

But from Palestine and Jordan in the Arab east the Mashriq to Algeria in the west the Maghriba phenomenon of intifada, or uprising, is challenging the static politics of repression that have prevailed for many years. Libya and Algeria were central to the campaign of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries OPEC to raise oil prices and nationalize local industries in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Algeria and Morocco, the two largest Maghrib countries in the Arab world only Egypt has more peoplefrequently lead mediating efforts in the region. Hassan of Morocco, for instance, has probably served more often than any other leader as head of the Arab League and at other times of international Islamic gatheringsand Algeria has hosted recent meetings of the Palestine National Council.

Politically, the Maghrib countries reflect major trends in the region. Algeria has served as an exemplar of the radical nationalist mode of Arab rule; its long armed struggle for independence against French colonial rule inspired the emergence of the Palestinian resistance movement in the late 1960s. On the other side of the spectrum, Morocco has defined itself as a constitutional monarchy, though King Hassan, not for nothing, retains the title of Commander of the Faithful. While the Maghrib countries play an a history of the arab league in north africa and the middle east role in Arab politics, they do have a distinctive history and political character.

In the rest of the Middle East, only Palestine experienced a colonial implanting, demographic as well as economic, anything like in the end surpassing that of Algeria and, to a lesser extent, Tunisia and Morocco. The human and social cost of Western colonialism was much higher in the Maghrib, both in the phase of conquest and in the phase of liberation.

Politics in North Africa has involved masses of people more than in the Arab east. Did the harsh impact of settler rule elicit indigenous social defenses and barriers against the state which have carried over into the post-colonial era? The independence movements in the Maghrib in any case involved higher levels of popular mobilization than elsewhere in the Arab world except perhaps Egypt.

They also involved a greater degree of underground armed resistance. Trade unions and other popular bodies had operated for longer and to a greater degree outside of direct state control, though a limited union autonomy persists only in Morocco.

In the monarchist camp, King Hassan, while every bit as avaricious as his shaikhly cohorts on the Arab side of the Persian Gulf, has had to maneuver within a society comprising institutions autonomous from the throne. What other Arab monarch, for instance, has confronted and survived encounters with trade union federations engaging hundreds of thousands of workers? Maghrib Economics The economies of North Africa share with most other states of the Middle East a threefold dependency: What they also share with some states in the area is a dependence on the export of labor and worker remittances as a key component of their foreign exchange earnings.

Nearly 1 million Moroccans live in Europe, two thirds of them in France. Some 850,000 Algerians and half a million Tunisians also live and work in France.

In addition to foreign exchange, this labor force is a source of alternative and generally more democratic political views, a factor of some importance in recent Algerian developments. The key economic vulnerability of the main Maghrib countries is their heavy dependence on mineral extraction and export -- hydrocarbons for Libya and Algeria, phosphates for Morocco, oil and phosphates for Tunisia.

In Algeria, oil accounts for 97 percent of exports; in Libya nearly 100 percent. As producers of primary products, all the Maghrib economies are vulnerable to shifts in world market prices. Phosphate earnings covered 16.

Arab League

The second vulnerability of the Maghrib economies, to Western interest rates, stems from the fact that they are among the Middle East countries most heavily indebted to Western and Gulf Arab banks, governments and official institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund IMF.

The debt service ratio -- interest and principal payments as a percentage of exports of goods and services including labor -- amounts to 23 percent for Tunisia, 29 percent for Morocco and 97 percent for Algeria.

The ratio of total debt to gross national product is 48 percent for Algeria, 70 percent for Tunisia and 106 percent for Morocco. The third vulnerability the region shares with the rest of the Arab world is a narrow base for agriculture and scarcity of water resources. Arable land in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco amounts to 0. The economic fortunes of all three countries are hostage each year to the rains.

In Morocco, agriculture contributes only 11 percent to the gross domestic product GDP but represents the main source of livelihood for 40 percent of the population. Rainfall varies up to 35-40 percent a year, and cereal production accounting for 70 percent of land cultivated fluctuates as much as 60 percent from the long-term average.

One thing that is not fluctuating, in contrast to world raw material prices and yearly rainfall, is the relatively high rate of population growth in the region, between 2. The Maghrib countries now account for nearly 63 million people.

Arab League

At present rates of growth, this number will be 80 million by the year 2000 and 130 million by 2025. Variations in harvests determine how much food these countries have to import, while world markets determine how much they will have to pay for these imports and how much their own exports will earn.

And all these states have other priorities in addition to feeding their citizens -- factories and dams, for instance, and arms. There is an important social dimension to the economic restructuring dictated by the commanding forces in the world market, and this social dimension has its varied political expressions in the Maghrib countries. Algeria, since independence in 1962, has made some remarkable achievements in the social arena, in areas such as health and education.

Population per physician dropped from 8,600 in 1965 to 1,200 today, and per nurse from 11,700 to 300. Life expectancy and infant mortality rates show similar gains.

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Enrollment of primary and secondary school age children, and especially girls, is up sharply. But the high population growth rate of 3. Unemployment is officially 22-23 percent. Living standards, according to World Bank estimates, dropped 8 percent in 1986 and again in 1987, and a further 7 percent in 1988.

  1. The second vulnerability of the Maghrib economies, to Western interest rates, stems from the fact that they are among the Middle East countries most heavily indebted to Western and Gulf Arab banks, governments and official institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund IMF.
  2. The idea of using the international organization as a place to establish and coordinate military efforts is not new. In Morocco, agriculture contributes only 11 percent to the gross domestic product GDP but represents the main source of livelihood for 40 percent of the population.
  3. The ratio of total debt to gross national product is 48 percent for Algeria, 70 percent for Tunisia and 106 percent for Morocco.

Economic declines, just like economic gains, do not affect all sectors of the population equally. In Morocco, for instance, the south of Morocco has a per capita income only 70 percent of the national average. Statistics on income distribution and concentrations of wealth are veritable state secrets in the Maghrib another characteristic those countries share with the rest of the region.

Western creditors have treated Morocco and Tunisia with much more solicitude than they have Algeria. The United States backed the king with arms sales and economic credits, and when the dimensions of the debt crisis emerged, the IMF and the World Bank took on Morocco as a major project.

The privatization campaigns in the Maghrib reflect one side of the economic crisis. Algeria, interestingly, seems to be experiencing a much more widespread and deeper political opening. If President Chadli Benjedid thought that he could simply set his economic reforms on the horse of democracy, the November 1989 congress of the FLN suggests otherwise. For Europe, the region is a source of profits, agricultural produce and inexpensive manufactures as well as labor.

The flow of workers from North Africa to Europe has now largely stopped, as demand a history of the arab league in north africa and the middle east cheap labor has leveled off. Still, there are probably close to 2 million Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians living in France today. North Africans represent for France, and to a lesser extent other European countries as well, what Hispanics represent for many parts of the United States in terms of labor markets, social and ethnic tensions and cultural commingling.

The prospective economic unity of Europe in 1992 will likely have significant consequences for the Maghrib states -- not, for the most part, to their advantage. Many Maghribi products directly compete with those of Spain and Portugal, for instance, which will be favored in the European framework. Given the current excitement about free-market capitalism in Eastern Europe, private capital from the West will likely move east rather than south to take advantage of cheap labor and market opportunities, though France and other states are providing large aid packages with the aim of heading off new waves of labor migration into Europe.

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It is most unlikely that the European states will choose to expand their ranks to include countries like Morocco; even if they did, the immediate consequence would be to open Maghribi markets to European firms, while unde-capitalized local firms would be hard pressed to compete either at home or in Europe.

The unresolved conflict in Western Sahara continues to be a source of tension between Algeria and Morocco. The Arab Maghrib Union is a unity of regimes: In the Maghrib, as elsewhere in the Middle East, such political liberalization as has occurred has opened the field to Islamist forces, many of whose commitment to democratic political practice is uncertain, to say the least.

Developments in the Maghrib in the 1990s are likely to be difficult economically and politically, and there are few signs that the regimes and their allies are up to the challenges ahead.