January 12, 2009
Maghreb Intregration Rubbish.
Other than dodging various wild cat anti Israel demos here and there (which I would have more sympathy for if they were not so bloody repetitive and stereotypical, Perfide Israel just is boring, and yelling about Israeli 'racism' while indulging in essentially identical 'religio-tribalism' I find boring. Understandable I suppose, but boring), I remain immersed in a probably pointless pan Maghreb investment effort. I say probably only insofar as I see a decent chance for myself to earn more bonuses and income, while tilting at wind mills on others accounts - especially Development Banks that seem to have been created to make Quixotic efforts profitable for some actors.
As such, I draw attention to an item I picked on in the actual blog post as a point of reflexion on the Quixotic nature of Maghrebine integration.
To lay my cards on the table, I consider the idea of an independent Western Sahara as mere post-Colonial fetishism, ridiculously as in much of Africa freezing entities that were pure colonial entities (versus colonial take overs of viable states). I have nothing against the theoretical idea of a Western Sahara nor any particular fetishization of Moroccan claims (or others). Rather, I am a pure pragmatist. I consider the late 19th century idea of "national determination" to be a historical fiction, based on 19th century Romantic Ethnolinguistic nationalism that did little but evil, producing E. European evils, and W. European evils.
Nevertheless, "ethno-state entreprenurialism" (what better business for an elite to have than rent extraction via taxes they do not have to share with others?) can take on its own reality, and may not be worth kicking overboard if the "national state" has a running chance at being viable economically (that is able to basically sustain its population w/o natural starvation etc [i exclude pure state driven famine like Ethiopia, but allow Niger). Why economically? Because if the state if not economically viable as such, it will export its problems to the neighbours (see Somalia) and in the long run have to be either a de facto or de jure part of another more viable entity.
Without going on this tangent further, it is my judgement as a semi-potty trained economic analyst and actual real-money equity investor, that Western Sahara is not a viable entity. No proper damned water, one clear natural resource (phosphates) with a bad dream of becoming a Mauretania style oil producer (that is with the ridiculous aspiration to be Dubai, but without any reasonable plan or resource base...) . As such I see no realistic possibility of Western Sahara being anything other than a Pure Rentier State with a corrupt elite living off of natural resource extraction and exporting labour to the more advanced and economically sustainable neighbours (and that is its best aspiration). Western Sahara is a colonial accident, which is only being proposed as a state by the accident the Spanish drew the lines and not the French....
As I have no truck with the intellectually bankrupt and primitive 19th century 'self determination' rubbish that has frozen inappropriate colonial borders in place for no proper reason other than elite winner take all gaming, I have no interest in 'self determination' arguments as such. Only viability and long term stability matters to me (admittedly long term stability must include a socio-ethnic consideration, e.g. in Iraq, the long term Kurd-Arab relationship is not encouraging, but then I wouldn't make an argument for Iraq under this analysis. The sole argument for Iraq presently is that changing Iraqi borders is like pulling the pin on a grenade and hoping one's hand does not tire too soon). As such, in my view Western Sahara should be part of either Algeria, Mauretania or Morocco. As Morocco is the less fucked of the three, and is the incumbent, I am moderately favourable to them, insofar as the inevitable W. Saharan emigration north is eased by being part of Morocco (or Algeria, if it were not such a fundamentally fucked up country). Cold hearted? Perhaps, but I am not a sentimentalist, and having in a misspent youth studied the classical history of the region, I do not see any huge reason to reify the colonial borders if they are not economically sensible (well Mauretania is not economically sensible either, but it seems a bit too aggressive to argue for the rational idea of breaking Mauretania into the Senegal River zone over to Senegal and giving the rest to either Morocco or Algeria).
This leads me back to my Maghreb integration pretext.
Although I mocked the cited post's arguments (and rightly, they were stupid and illiterate - although sadly probably how many of the 60+ leaders think of the issues..., there is a real issue with respect to Maghreb integration and the borders. They are symbolic. No, an open question is, even if the borders were opened, would the kind of economic integration that World Bank and observers such as myself see as possible happen. The lessons of the various free trade and investment agreements that the Maghreb entities have signed is not particularly encouraging, although the real liberalisation of exchanges is so recent and fragile that it is hard to truly judge. Certainly the Morocco-Tunisian example - where there are few real direct political tensions (really in effect none of the nature of Algerian issues with Morocco (and its other neighbours as related to their weight..., odd how military driven governments have 'size' issues in relationships...) - trade exchanges remain problematic.
Some of this has to do with rather superficially accepted trade liberalisation, and a large number of non-tariff adminstrative barriers that try to inhibit 'losing out' (and that given the EU partners have more oomph in protecting their rights, end up falling more heavily on 'the brothers.' Some has to do with the weak entreprenurialism in the region, whiere a rather large percentage of firms remain prisoner to "souq" behaviour, that is waiting for the orders to come to them, rather than prospecting.
That given given everyone would be fundamentally better off with integration is a no brainer, but that misses the losers such as the Juntas and "top of the heap rentiers" who probably would do fine with integration, but are rather more comfortable with having national fiefdoms. This is not going to move until there is fundamental liberalisation in political elites. Morocco seems reasonably close (although with recent backsliding), Tunisia, after being well ahead through the 1990s, has sadly started to fall into a Moubarek type pattern, pissing away its gains of the 1990s for Moubarek style Memalikism. And then there is Algeria, which still is in the hands of elites of a Soviet style education, and remain Soviet trained Mamlouks. The corrupt cretinism of the Algerian regime (despite having some truly talent cadres with open minds ... under age 50 and thusly largely excluded from making changes) really is only exceed by Libya, but then I find Libya to be mostly the entertaining cartoon sideshow of the Maghreb (which is sad for Libyans, but abstracting away from the human element, quite amusing).
Posted by The Lounsbury at January 12, 2009 06:49 PM
Filed Under: Biz - Private in MENA
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Alle's article is a classical case of overanalysis of the region. Strategies, games, etc. If people in power had a brain for such cunning, the Maghreb wouldn't be so screwed. Sometimes, policies in the region are much more basically driven: there are simply none.
Re integration: I came across an interesting article about MENA which was summing up the case for any integration through 1) economic gains through bigger markets and trade efficiencies 2) increased security 3) increased bargaining power relative to extra-regional issues (note: this doesn't exclude the existence of intra-regional issues). In the case of MENA (or any subset), it forms a relatively "natural" unit given language/religion/perceptions, which may provide it with some of the necessary socio-political conditions for cohesiveness and stability. Interestingly, the article didn't advocate taking any direct measure to integrate (not that it opposed it, but given the history of failures, another avenue was suggested). It was making the same point I made before in the context of Israel: focus on building capacity. The rest will follow.
Note that I do believe it is in the interest of the ruling elites of countries like Tunisia and Morocco to open up to each other. E.g. cross-border M&A strategies would give stronger elite controlled companies, both for MENA and external markets. It wouldn't threaten their fiefdoms - to a certain extent, if they do it the 21st century romantic way - not at all if they do it the pragmatic Euro medieval way (e.g. Oueld M6 marries Bent Sergent). But then again, what I said about Alle's article above: no vision, no policies, not even for their own personal interest.
shaheen -- Alle's article is a classical case of overanalysis of the region. Strategies, games, etc. If people in power had a brain for such cunning, the Maghreb wouldn't be so screwed. Sometimes, policies in the region are much more basically driven: there are simply none.
Yes, often true. Esp. on conflicts like W. Sahara (or Alg.-Mar. more generally) where the reality is that nothing ever happens, so people start imagining every tiny sign of movement as the start of momentous historical change. (Me too, often enough.) Same also w/ eg. Palestine, although there is more actual movement on the ground there.
... But: In this particular case, the border squabble, there is clearly politics behind it. Morocco has started raising the issue recently and very persistently, and Algeria is chosing a response out of several. There must be reasons for it, although (as I think I tried to point out in the original post) not necessarily good ones.
Algeria's attitude, in particular, might well be driven by regime inertia, clan interests, and other internal problems that prevent a more active approach than the present one (sulking). But I also think they believe the status quo is to their advantage, whether ultimately true or not.
As for L's argument, very interesting post, but out of time -- will get back to it a.s.a.p.
Posted by: alle at January 14, 2009 05:30 PM
Same also w/ eg. Palestine, although there is more actual movement on the ground there.
I do know an extensive deal from first hand experience as well as personal contacts and connected insiders I know very well in Israel/Palestine. The Palestinian side, hopeless idiots, Maghrebi leaderships are very sophisticated in comparison (not to mention the Pali population whose "entrepreneurial" culture has been skewed towards exploiting their victims status for begging - that and the serious degenerative consanguinity level which I just haven't seen elsewhere). (Jewish) Israeli elite, aside from ethnic fascism inherited from a 1930s european nationalism they had the luxury not to question, are among the most sophisticated I know, everything being relative. French are peasants in comparison.
So to grossly simplify, the safe assumptions on I/P are: what happens on the Palestinian side is the result of pure randomness (put a tribe of monkeys and you get the same result). What happens on the Israeli side, though not always thought out probably has more brain into it than average (which is very low for homo sapiens, so this is not to be taken as an assertion that Israeli Jews are some kind of überhuman planners).
Again in a hurry, but very briefly:
Sh. -- In that sentence, I was referring more to how solidarity activists and analysts (on/of all sides) in the I/P confl. tend to overanalyze and overdramatize developments. But you seem to be about right about this too, although I do wonder what Israeli strategy could conceivably be at this point ... it seems totally reactive, stuck in old tracks.
L -- I consider the late 19th century idea of "national determination" to be a historical fiction, based on 19th century Romantic Ethnolinguistic nationalism...
On that, and the need to create some sort of working basis for a system of states. But I agree. Nevertheless, it's what we've got, and I see many reasons to try to uphold existing international law so far as possible. Even if, sometimes, it doesn't encourage an optimal solution in a particular conflict, the legitimacy of the system itself is worth preserving, for larger reasons of stability and the institutionalization of politics. Without, of course, ideologizing that legitimacy -- it's a legal instrument, a blunt yet necessary one, not the word of God.
As for W. Sahara per se, I agree that in the best of worlds, it (and Mauritania and various other nations) should be part of some larger entity, Aside from that, the best option in 1975 I think would have been a W. Sahara-Mauritania merger, which would at least have had some semblance of ethno-tribal logic to it. But shit happens.
As for an independent W. Sahara's viability, I agree it doesn't look all that great. It will be more or less puppeteered by someone, clearly, although I think Algeria would not be sovereign, rather forced to find a modus vivendi with Spain ... Already now, Madrid is dealing out citizenships to Sahrawis like candy, clearly having decided that they should retain a say in the region, and the Tindouf diaspora is very tightly linked to Spain. Falling under Morocco is not necessarily a stable situation either, though, looking at the present situation, and with Algeria seemingly determined to keep meddling forever; also, should a final solution ever come about, there is the question of what to do with POLISARIO Sahrawis and residual nationalism and/or tribal rebelliousness. So, while a Morocco autonomy solution might be most promising as of right now, it is not nearly as easy as the monarchy tries to portray it, and it also involves serious risks and obstacles (Algerian and POLISARIO resistance being just the first in line).
Got to go again, w/o checking what I just wrote, so I apologize in advance if it's incomprehensible. Btw, some more on Maghreb integration (economical or political) from you two would be great to read.
Posted by: alle at January 15, 2009 05:27 PM
I do wonder what Israeli strategy could conceivably be at this point
Its very interesting theme you have raised here. I agree with author.
Posted by: qwark at January 19, 2009 09:30 PM