Since mid-February, the Maghreb has been waiting for the first detected case. “Case number one” according to Dr. Samir Abdelmoumen, Tunisian emergency doctor. It was in Algeria, in Blida. Health anxiety and socio-economic concerns ensued. March was combined with the closing of borders, a real domino effect; one after the other, each country decrees a containment in its own way. Schools become virtual, companies stop except those in strategic sectors (food, health, textiles), movements are restricted, homes become a protective vice, under curfew, confinement and other emergency weapons. Small trades are strangled, from the collective taxi driver to the craftsman around the corner. Savings is not a strong point in the region. A World Bank study published on April 9 exhilarates studies carried out in 1918 during the Spanish flu epidemic. American data showed that the more firmly a locality had acted, the faster its economy would restart, the famous V. At this gauge, the health balance is very favorable for Tunisia. By acting very quickly, the only democracy in the region will have recorded “only” 48 deaths for 1,087 cases. Its population bordering the eleven million five hundred thousand inhabitants. For fourteen days, no new internal cases. Business circles are spreading the reassuring message: Tunis seems to have stopped the epidemic.
In Morocco (8,003 cases, 208 deaths for a population of 35 million inhabitants), this is not yet the case. 81 new cases in the last 24 hours. Algeria remains a source of concern for its neighbors with more than one hundred new cases per day, a total of 9,733 cases, 673 deaths, for a population of 44 million individuals. The Covid-19 allowed the belligerents in Libya to speed up the military pace while the rest of the world turned to its own concerns. The World Bank explains that “depending on the future spread of the virus, the health measures taken by the public authorities, the reactions of society and the future development of world oil markets, several plausible scenarios could emerge for all or part of the economies of the region ”. Paradoxically, it is the countries with the least open economies that would do the best.
Read also Covid-19: the Tunisian example
The Moroccan hub weakened, drought in the background
If the textile industry has shown pragmatism, under the royal leadership, succeeding in transforming itself into a manufacturer of masks on a large scale, the economy of the kingdom is very exposed to the countries of the European Union, more than sixty percent of its exports, mainly to France, Italy and Spain. Three countries hit hard by the epidemic. The severe recession that has started in Europe will have repercussions. The only Maghreb country to have turned to Africa, to the point of becoming a north-south hub, Morocco will be affected by the crises of its partner countries. Agriculture, one of the strong points of Rabat, is suffering the aftermath of the other crisis, that of global warming. The winter grain harvest is down 20% from the average. High temperatures and light rains marked the first quarter. On the industry side, some European countries talk about the relocation of some of their factories to the continent. Will the phenomenon affect those who have flourished in the wake of TangerMed, the leading port in North Africa? What about car factories with cheap labor? If TangerMed has proven itself, this is not the case for Radès in Tunisia, “a boil” according to one of its users.
Read also Morocco: “Containment, when you still hold us! “
Tunisia: general mobilization for the tourist season
State, almost co-managed by the UGTT union, the port of Radès (10 km from Tunis) could take the path to the port of Marseille, sunk by the CGT in other times. Under dictatorship as under democracy, the country’s leaders have broken their teeth on the file. In 2014, the head of the technocratic government Mehdi Jomâa carried out a media visit. He took the witness, facing the camera, the customs officers with unfulfilled slips, abandoned equipment, recurring malfunctions. Six years later, a stationary state when the Tunisian economy needs to revive itself, to prove its potential, its efficiency to European countries which no longer want to entrust all their productions to China. When 80% of imports and exports go through Radès, we can define this port as strategic. Tarak Cherif, the country’s leading exporter, and also president of the Conect, sums up the situation: “By truck, if there were no closed border between Algeria and Morocco, my goods would be in two or three days ; by Radès, it’s almost three weeks. Another file, that of tourism. Whatever the nature of the event – revolution in 2011, terrorism in 2014 -, the population immediately thinks of the consequences on tourism. As a national cause. Whether they are political, professional, soft power, they are all on the move to sell the destination. The borders will reopen on June 27. The sector accounts for 10% of GDP (14% according to some). Two million jobs, direct and indirect, are affected. On June 4, cafes, restaurants and hotels reopened successfully. The catalog of barrier gestures is unrolled. Photos of Tunis-Carthage airport (5 million passengers per year) are disseminated, showing it to the new health security standards. Tunisair, which provides the majority of flights, will summon its passengers four hours before boarding so that everything goes smoothly. We have to convince the Europeans, the Russians, the Chinese that they can come back safely. In Algiers, we do not have this kind of concern, the tourist sector is fallow despite the potential for fire, 1,600 kilometers of coastline in particular.
Read also Tunisia: Tourism, rescue operation
Algeria, oil sold out and Hirak’s next return
Despite the Covid-19, the Algerian government seems to have other problems. Listening to public television, reading the dispatches from Algeria Press Service (APS), always fitting with the thought of the country’s leaders, dark plots are being waged against Algiers and the army. The protests that started in February 2019 would be funded by foreign pharmacies. Put in brackets during the epidemic, the Hirak should start all over again as the political and economic situation continues to deteriorate. The regional capital is surrounded by three complications: a barrel of brent at 40 dollars, currency reserves of twelve months (against the double, two years ago) and an economy not very open to the world. Oil and gas are the country’s two resources, contributing more than 70% to government revenues. Suffice to say that 2020 will be a dark year for state finances. For the system in power – army and FLN – for decades, the coming period is likely to be delicate. Euphemism.
Read also The so delicate after-Covid-19 that awaits the Maghreb
Maghreb, a united people, disunited leaders
On paper, the countries (Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia) have been united in the Arab Maghreb Union since 1989. In reality, this is not the case. Hakim Ben Hammouda, former Minister of Finance and Economy in Tunisia in 2014, explained to Point Afrique that “if the Maghreb leaders are unable to agree, to support the Arab Maghreb Union, the populations do it every day. ” One hundred million people share the same culture, the same language and the same history. According to the IMF and the World Bank, the region is the least well integrated in the world. An unnecessary weakness in this period. This explains why there will be no common recovery plan for the Maghreb countries. Between a Europe in recession and an Africa in difficulty, difficult hours. And many projects to finalize.
Read also Maghreb: “May God protect us all! “