Let’s not describe the Maghreb with ethnic and religious adjectives. Let’s not call it an “Arab” Maghreb, as closed-minded nationalists do; nor an “Islamic” Maghreb, as does al-Qaeda, nor an “Amazigh” Maghreb, which came as a reaction to previous names.
Once we exclude these, we are left with the “Greater Maghreb”, a geographical name referring to African, Middle Eastern and Euro-Mediterranean connections from which the Maghreb of today emerged.
During their movements throughout history within this space, Maghreb people have been faced with identity questions.
Yet as soon as these questions answered, even partially, more complex ones emerge.
The overlapping dimensions of this geographical cohesion (African-Middle Eastern-Euro Mediterranean) shape the personality of the “Greater Maghreb”, which we can only attempt to define.
The Sahara, which is a natural extension of Africa, occupies the largest geographic area of the Maghreb and represents a huge reservoir of various critical resources.
The economic dimension of this part of Africa thus overshadows its overlapping cultural, religious, ethnic and social aspects.
For example, the beautiful African dance in the Maghreb cannot be dissociated from the prevalent Sufism among Sahrawis. Moreover, the social structure and sense of tribal belonging in these neglected areas of the Greater Maghreb make it difficult for the state to extend its authority there, unless it absorbs what we previously called the “African connection”.
As to the Middle Eastern influence on the Maghreb, there is a long history. Cairo, the former cultural centre, produced a generation of nationalists who sought the “Arabisation” of the Maghreb, even if that meant changing the region’s unique characteristics.
Over the last ten years, the conflict between Eastern and Gulf capitals began casting a shadow over the Greater Maghreb. This raised the ire of non-Arab minorities in the region and gave rise to the so-called Maghreb identity crisis.
Riyadh also took advantage of its religious, sectarian and financial power to emphasise its presence in the Greater Maghreb, through Islamic movements that strip Maghreb society of its unique traits to fit a pre-conceived image.
Regarding the Euro-Mediterranean connection and Andalusia’s ties to the region, a door to Europe opened for Maghreb people.
The Greater Maghreb is now called upon to deepen its African, Middle Eastern and Euro- Mediterranean ties without letting any one of them dominate another.
By taking this inclusive approach, the Maghreb region will improve mutual exchanges and prevent conflict.