Although some analysts classify Libya as part of the Maghrib
(see Glossary), only the province of Tripolitania shares a common
history and culture with other Maghribi countries (see Islam and
the Arabs , ch. 1). The lack of a Maghribi heritage, together
with the revolutionary government's predilection for Mashriq affairs,
has caused the Maghribi area to be of secondary interest to Libya
since 1969. In 1970 Libya withdrew from the Permanent Maghrib
Consultative Committee, an organization founded by the Maghribi
states to foster the eventual development of an economic community.
Nonetheless, Libya pursued an active foreign policy toward the
Maghrib, a policy that usually revolved around the issues of Arab
unity and the Western Sahara dispute.
During a December 1972 visit to Tunisia, Qadhafi publicly called
for its merger with Libya. Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba
rejected the idea and chided Qadhafi for his youthful naiveté.
In January 1974, only a few months after the failure of the Libyan-Egyptian
merger, Qadhafi pursued a new unification plan during a meeting
with Bourguiba at Jerba. Bourguiba first accepted the proposed
Arab Islamic Republic, but then reversed his decision. He later
stated that he had agreed only to the concept of eventual Maghribi
unification, not to any specific bilateral union at the time.
Relations subsequently deteriorated and became more strained in
1975, when Tunisia supported the partition of the Western Sahara
territory by Morocco and Mauritania.
In March 1976, Libya began expelling several thousand Tunisian
workers. Later the same month, Tunisian authorities announced
the discovery of a plot aimed at high government officials (perhaps
even Bourguiba) and alleged that Libya was involved, despite Qadhafi's
denials. Tunisia later accused Libya of providing military training
to opponents of the Bourguiba regime. Now and then, Tunisia (as
well as other neighboring countries) has protested against alleged
Libyan subversion attempts. In 1976, for instance, Tunisia charged
Libya with attempting to assassinate Prime Minister Hadi Nouira.
And in February 1980, Libya was accused of instigating the abortive
uprising by Tunisian insurgents in the town of Gafsa in central
Tunisia, a charge that Libya promptly denied. Nevertheless, diplomatic
relations between the two countries were severed.
As Tunisia's economic and political difficulties grew in the
1980s, dissent became more vocal, particularly in the poorer southern
region, paving the way for increasing the links between the Jamahiriya
and the Tunisian dissidents. Two issues caused problems for the
Libyan-Tunisian relationship. The first, concerning maritime boundaries
between the two North African countries, was settled by an International
Court of Justice ruling in favor of Libya in 1982. The Court reaffirmed
its ruling in 1985, at which time it rejected Tunisia's appeal
for reconsideration. The second problem resulted from the expulsion
from Libya in August 1985, of 40,000 Tunisian workers, partly
as a result of the downturn in the Libyan economy as a result
of shrinking oil revenues. The expulsions were also partially
based on political considerations because Qadhafi has considered
expulsions a political weapon with which to threaten uncooperative
governments. In retaliation, Tunisia expelled 300 Libyans, including
In the early months of 1987, there were signs of improvement
in Libyan-Tunisian relations. In March, Major Khuwayldi al Hamadi
spent three days in Tunisia as official guest of the government
and met with President Habib Bourguiba, Prime Minister Rachid
Sjar, and other high-ranking officials.
Libya's closest Maghribi bilateral relationship has been with
neighboring Algeria. Both countries share similar revolutionary
Arab ideologies, state-controlled economic systems, and Organization
of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil policies, and both
have undertaken Third World leadership initiatives. Furthermore,
both countries have comparable relations with the United States
and the Soviet Union. Algeria has concentrated on internal development,
however, whereas Libya has pursued internal development and external
activities almost equally. The two countries' bilateral ties were
strained by Libya's 1974 attempt to merge with Tunisia, Algeria
preferring to have its borders shared by relatively weak states
rather than by states that have been strengthened and enlarged
Although Libya and Algeria have been allies on the Western Sahara
issue, differences in their positions became increasingly pronounced
in late 1978. Both countries originally had pressed for Spanish
evacuation from the area and supported the local independence
group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra
and Rio de Oro (Frente Popular por la Liberacion de Saguia el
Hamra y Rio de Oro--Polisario) toward this end. Algeria wanted
the area to become an independent state. Libya felt Arab unity
would be better served if the area merged with a larger state,
preferably Mauritania, with which it had close relations at the
time (Libya had been the first country to recognize independent
Mauritania; Mauritania was the first country to recognize Libya's
revolutionary regime.) Libya opposed the forceful repression of
Western Saharan nationalism, however, and when Morocco and Mauritania
decided to partition the area by force (Morocco obtaining the
larger share), Libya joined Algeria in supporting Polisario's
struggle against the two partitioning countries. Together with
Algeria and thirty-six other countries, Libya has recognized the
Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), formed in Algeria in
1976. Libya also supported the SADR's bid for membership in the
Organization of African Unity (OAU), along with twenty-five other
Libyan-Moroccan relations have, on the whole, been unfriendly.
A wide gulf separates moderate, monarchist, pro-Western Morocco
from the revolutionary, pro-Soviet Jamahariya. Rabat has often
protested Tripoli's attempts at subversion, for example, during
the 1971 military coup attempt. Morocco's foreign policy goals
have usually been at odds with those of Libya. Qadhafi, for instance,
denounced Moroccan assistance to the government of Zaire when
rebels staged an invasion from neighboring Angola. In an abrupt
about-face, however, Morocco signed the Oujda treaty in August
1984, which called for unity with Libya.
For Morocco's King Hassan II, the union restored the regional
Maghribi balance of power, which had tilted in favor of Algeria,
Morocco's main rival and the primary supporter of the Polisario.
Algeria consistently supported the right of Western Saharan to
self-determination in the SADR. The SADR was proclaimed on February
27, 1976, one day after the Spanish withdrawal. King Hassan put
forward his country's claims over the former Spanish-ruled territory,
led 350,000 of his citizens in 1975 on a peaceful "Green March"
to key areas in the Saharan territory, and subsequently occupied
the former Spanish colony.
In view of their sharp ideological differences, the accord between
Qadhafi and King Hassan was evidently the result of expediency.
The king expected to persuade the Libyan leader to cease supporting
the Polisario and wanted access to Libyan oil. For his part, Qadhafi
regarded Morocco as a source of human resources and support. Apparently,
Qadhafi stopped his support of the Polisario, albeit only temporarily.
Data as of 1987