By Houda Trabelsi
Tunisia is considering allowing citizens from Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania to enter the country without visas or passports. Also under review is the possibility of granting residency, voting rights, and ownership rights to citizens from those three countries.
Though some feel the move may spur economic growth and bolster Maghreb unity, others feel it may be a rushed decision that sacrifices security.
“These measures come under the bilateral agreements concluded [with the Maghreb countries] since the sixties, and the current government felt [the need] to activate them,” Tunisian Secretary of State in charge of Arab and African Affairs Abdullah Triki told TAP.
He explained that the decision was spurred by tourism and economic considerations and would allow citizens of the three countries to enter Tunisia by merely showing an identity card instead of a passport.
Triki noted that Libya was excluded from “implementation of these agreements pending stability of the [security] situation there.”
He promised that “bold decisions” would be announced in pursuit of a strong Maghreb Union at its next summit scheduled in October. The last summit was held in 1996. Journalist Mohamed Bou Oud described the move as politically motivated.
“Enabling Maghreb citizens to register and vote in the coming municipal elections is a serious turn,” especially when the government is “accused of making deals of any kind, provided that it provides liquidity to the country”, Bou Oud told Magharebia.
Triki said it would enable Tunisia to achieve economic recovery, with the availability of half a million people who spend generously their savings.
The five states of the Arab Maghreb Union signed agreements in the sixties to ensure Maghreb citizens four freedoms: mobility, employment, ownership, and investment.
About 20,000 Moroccans have lived in Tunisia for years “and do not have any of the four rights set forth in the bilateral agreements,” Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem said, calling for activation of the agreements.
According to El Khabar, Algerian authorities “rejected the Tunisian government’s decision” based on “security conditions” in the shared area between Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. Algeria expressed that it would not support a common border crossing without requiring a passport as a basic document to enter and leave Algerian territory.
On the news from Tunisia, Algerians reportedly travelled to the border between the two countries in attempts to cross without a passport, but border police and Algerian customs authorities refused, asserting that the normal crossing procedures requiring a passport were still valid and in effect.
The incident garnered sharp reactions from Tunisian nationals who were said to be organising a protest for Sunday (July 8th).
On the street, citizens offered words of caution in regard to the decision.
“In this unilateral decision there’s much haste and humiliation of Tunisian citizens,” Mohamed Hosni told Magharebia. “It is unreasonable for the brothers to enter Tunisia with a national identity card as we enter their lands with a passport.”
In turn, Mostapha Hajji said, “The opening of the borders between the Arab Maghreb countries is a much-awaited decision with economic benefits for all sides – but this manner, by one side, is unacceptable and unreasonable.”
Omaima Hmila said she feared the worst.
“It’s a reckless decision. It is not safe for the region. And Tunisia will become a breeding ground for extremists and criminals,” she said.