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Archives for Libya

Reputational Risk: Troubles when Doing Business with Dictators

If your company has conducted business with Libya during the Muamar Gaddafi era, chances are your senior management and corporate lawyers are probing deep to find out if the company has been involved in anything that Western authorities or international media could question. The bigger the company, the more probing and no one is safe. In neighboring Algeria, there are ongoing probes in the questionnable dealings involving international companies who worked with state-oil giant Sonatrach or took part to the East-West motoway project.

Consider some of the names that are on the radar screens of investigators and legal authorities around the world: Italian and French energy giants ENI and Total, which have also received formal requests from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The American enforcer of securities laws is checking whether these companies have broken any law when they delt with the Gaddafi regime under the U.S. Foreign Corruption Practice Act. Interinstingly, recent Libya’s oil minister Abdurahman Benyezza in the government of Abdurrahim El-Keib, used to be an executive at ENI.  There is no proof of wrongdoing yet, but these companies, like many others are on the defensive, just like Yara International in Norway and SNC Lavalin in Canada, two companies that are facing a major damage to their reputation.

In Algeria, corruption probes are moving at slow pace but pressure from the press and investigations abroad are prompting judges to try to do something. Their hands are often tied because these cases involve very powerful men like ex-oil Minister Chakib Khelil and relatives of former Foreign Minister Mohamed Bedjaoui.  Here’s a sample of cases we’ve been following:

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Algerian Government Ministers Implicated in Corruption Cases: All Eyes on Chakib Khelil and Others

The murky nature of Algerian politics and lack of transparency mean that the country is suffering from a major credibility and accountability deficit that is allowing many of its top leaders to abuse their power. As we approach the Presidential elections, more political and financial scandals are making it to the public, dragging with them names of politicians who used to be seen internationally as credible. Foreign justice systems in countries like Italy, Switzerland, Canada and elsewhere are probing cases of illegal payments made by companies to Algerian officials, investigations that are turning out to be a PR nightmare for the Algerian government. Continue here

 

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ENI-Saipem Hit by Corruption Scandal on Algeria Business 

The North Africa Journal | Italian oil and gas industry contractor Saipem is embroiled in a corruption scandal in its Algeria operation that forced the resignation of its veteran CEO Pietro Franco Tali. The company’s engineering and construction Chief, Pietro Varone was suspended pending the ongoing investigation. Energy giant ENI, which owns 40% of Saipem announced the resignation of its own CFO Alessandro Bernini. …   Continue here

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SNC-Lavalin: Collateral Damage of Dealing with Dictatorships

Damage control and reputational risk are a few things the Canadian engineering giant SNC-Lavalin is currently experiencing firsthand. As the company celebrates one hundred years of business, it is facing unprecedented scrutiny related to its dealings with the Gaddafi family of Libya. Key senior executives have already lost their jobs as the company is going through damage control, and construction contracts in other parts of the world are being questioned. Now, a former Canadian ambassador to Tripoli could be dragged down into this affair, as the press continues to dig deep into corporate dealings that have gone bad like a Hollywood movie plot. The cost of doing business in Libya has suddenly increased rapidly for the company and its troubles may not be over…

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Another Deal Gone Wrong in Libya: Yara in the Limelight

In the immediate aftermath of the end of the Gaddafi regime, scandals of all sorts involving alleged corruption, improper payments and bad business practices have began to surface. One of them involves Yara International, the Norwegian company that owns half of the Libyan Norwegian Fertilizer firm (Lifeco), which has been charged in its home country with “aggravated corruption” in connection with its Libyan joint venture.

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Selling the Good and the Evil: Unit of Bull Supplied Internet Interception System to Gaddafi

 Although SNC-Lavalin’s case of dealing with the Gaddafi regime may be the most troublesome to emerge to date, the Canadian company is not only one being scrutinized for exercising bad judgment. Other companies and Western politicians are beginning to show on the radar screens of the media and independent observers, and we suspect many more to come. Among the latest to deal with the hot topic of the Gaddafi liability is France’s Amesys, which has sold spy technology to the Libyan regime at the heights of its dictatorship.

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Book: The Arab Uprisings: the people want the fall of the regime

By Karen Dabrowska:

Jeremy Bowen focused on his experiences in Libya when he discussed his latest book:  The Arab Uprisings: the people want the fall of the regime,  during a lecture at  the London School of Economics.

Bowen,  who was an undergraduate at the LSE during the late 70s, said that one of the privileges of being a news reporter for the BBC is that at times you find yourself in a place in the world where everybody wants to know what is happening that day.

“I was very conscious of that in February last year when I was in the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli, the five star golden cage where the Gaddafi regime had installed journalists they had let in. Saif Al Islam thought he could manipulate the media. He turned up in fine knit wear and said ‘while you are here you may hear bangs and crashes in the night but let me assure you they are fireworks as people will be celebrating the triumph of my father and his regime. What we have is a local difficulty’.”

Jeremy Bowen's Book The Arab Uprisings: the people want the fall of the regime

Jeremy Bowen's Book The Arab Uprisings: the people want the fall of the regime

Bowen admitted that as a journalist you give up a certain amount of autonomy and freedom for the chance to pull back the curtain and peak inside the dark kingdom. In Libya that involved  quite a bit of sneaking around.  To get up and about in Libya required a rat like cunning to get to places like Tajoura the satellite town of Tripoli, a hot bed of revolutionary activity.

He described his interview with Colonel Gaddafi – like so many things in Gaddafi’s Libya it happened at the last minute. The interview was secured by the son of Libya’s head of intelligence Abdullah Al  Senussi dressed as a designer urban guerrilla.

“One of the strange things about the inside of the Gaddafi regime was that they were very star-conscious. He had on a green combat style designer jacket of beautiful fabric and a black Kashmir hat.”

Bowen recalled wanting to change into a suit but Senussi told him he looked fine.  Surprisingly the interview was held in a  very trendy glass and steel Italian restaurant overlooking Tripoli docks. Gaddafi conformed to  his image  and was dressed in beautiful robes. That was before the call by the Arab League for a no-fly zone and the vote in the United Nations for all necessary measures to be taken against Gaddafi’s Libya to protect civilians.  That phrase is what NATO interpreted as a  charter for regime change.

“At the time the international constellation of forces had not coalesced against Gaddafi and he was self confident. Gaddafi was where he wanted to be – taking on the world. A few years later I was at the UN General Assembly where Gaddafi gave an extraordinary rambling speech, complete with the yellow pad which he held up. During the interview he was very willing to talk. I managed to irritate him enough to switch into English. He said :”My people love me, they will die for me.”  For the Libyans seeing the brother Leader being asked direct questions was a totally new experience. I didn’t think Gaddafi was mad. He was bad. He lived in quite a bubble. He was surrounded by cheering crowds wherever he went. He had spilt a lot of blood, he felt his power was pretty secure. He quite liked being what Ronald Reagan described as the ‘mad dog’ of the Middle East, feeling it is me against the world.”

Bowen also described Mousa Ibrahim, Gaddafi’s spokesman who was humble at first but later became more confident as he got closer to the regime. He asked Bowen to get him on the BBC Hard Talk programme. “I think he was someone who thought he was living the dream.  He said:’ it is incredible, a year ago I was a student in London now I am on hard talk’.”

The BBC correspondent admitted that he was taken by surprise by the Arab  uprisings – but so were Messrs Gaddafi, Assad, Mubarak and Ben Ali. He was in Cairo at the beginning of the protests and believed he would be home for the weekend. There were many fires smouldering . The organiser of one of the protests in Cairo admitted that he was surprised as well.  There was a proud history of protests in Cairo but the protesters chanted and were then in the back of police vans getting a kicking.

“I saw old men, some of them practically dressed in rags throwing themselves against the police. I thought to myself Mubarak has got a big problem. This thing could get a critical mass. I was in Iran after the Green Movement protested about the outcome of the elections but after a week the protesters were down to the people from North Tehran and  students. Against  the thugs the regimes put against them they did not have a chance.”

Bowen pointed out that the aging leaders were grooming their sons to succeed them. That was one of the factors that pushed people towards the edge and made them take the risks that they took. Simple statistics show that 60 percent of the population across the region is under 30. The new generation is one of the strong factors driving the uprising. For their parents generation the share of the cake was enough to have a bit of a social contract. Politics and opposing the regime was not allowed but they had jobs. Now they were struggling to get jobs and get married. Once the Ben Ali regime fell the Egyptians were confident they could rid of Mubarak.

Bowen believes that the social media was an effective organising tool but it was satellite tv that spread the word.  Al Jazeera became a  chief cheer leader for the rebellion. He agrees with an Israeli journalist who accused the Western media of focusing too much on the Arab-Israeli conflict and ignoring Arab politics.

“If this is a five act play we are at the end of the second act. There is a lot more to come. In the beginning a lot of people outside the region thought it would be like 1989 in Europe  - a domino effect. There was a counter revolution. Gaddafi and Assad concluded that it was not an inevitable process but Mubarak and Ben Ali made the mistake of not using enough force. The army in Egypt and Tunisia was prepared to park itself between the regime and the people.

“If you want to track the ways things will go in the next few years it is quite a good idea to track the Sunni Shia divide. The fault line that runs across the region is becoming sharper. This is a force which can be used to manipulate and motivate people. The rebellion in Bahrain has become more sectarian.”

Bowen concluded there is now an engrained habit of protest. People took to the streets to get rid of their leaders and if there are attempts to postpone the elections they will go out onto the streets again. The experience of holding office will certainly change the complexion of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Egyptians feel they need an economy that works rather than religious ideology.

“Voting does not bring democracy but it does bring change and I think that change will  continue.”

Jeremy Bowen has been the BBC’s Middle East correspondent for twelve years and has been on the ground for them as the recent revolutions  swept through the region.  His latest book looks at the world the demonstrators rejected and its Arab dictators. The author examines  brutal police states, tribal loyalty and foreign help. The West’s response and Israel’s  forms part of the narrative. This is an authoritative account of the seismic political changes rocking the Middle East, from one of the foremost reporters of our time.

Rise and Struggles of the Islamist Movements in North Africa

The popular movements that have toppled dictatorial regimes in North Africa have unwillingly paved the way for Islamists and conservative factions to take over governance. With the Islamists front and center, divisions and differences in ideas have emerged among them, dominated by four distinct factions:  those in governments tend to be moderate Islamists. But they are surrounded by factions that are pushing for more conservative policies through constitutional reforms.  Outside of these two groups are the Salafists who have shown willingness to use violent methods to reach their goals. Outside of these three, are the extremists terrorist groups that may be or not coordinated at the regional or international level to inflict greater damage to existing governments and Western interests. In this context, those who took part to the Arab Spring, from students and youth to labor unions and rights organizations, although initially felt sidelined, they continue to work hard to insure that their voices are not drowned.

The following is a series of articles focusing on the rise of the Islamists and the issues they currently face among themselves and in relations to the secular movement

With the Rise of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya and Tunisia, Al Qaeda Starts New Offensive in North Africa

The assassination of American diplomats in Libya has brought to the forefront a new Salafist group with Jihadist tendencies called Ansar al-Sharia. Although the attack against the American consular office was seemingly carried out as a retaliation for an amateur movie insulting to Islam and its Prophet Mohamed, all fingers point to Ansar al-Sharia as being behind the killings for reasons that are not necessarily related to the film in question.

 

The War Within: Salafists vs. Moderates

In the aftermath of the toppling of many Arab dictators, Islamist politicians have come into the forefront of governance and are now seemingly in control. But as they move into halls of power in Tunis, Cairo, Rabat and elsewhere, we discover that Political Islam is not as homogenous as many thought. Philosophical differences and ideological gaps exist between the various stakeholders that are likely to make the transition to a stable region a difficult and bumpy road.

 

 Tunisia and the Salafist Threat

The general security climate in Tunisia has deteriorated and government response has been timid and inefficient. Given the Islamist offensive appears well organized, it is likely part of an effort to destabilize Tunisia and derail its efforts to recover from a disastrous 2011. The recent call made by Al-Qaida leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri for the Tunisian people to rise up against the Ennahda Islamist ruling party was followed immediately by a series of actions that took place in Tunisia, demonstrating that Al-Qaeda and its remaining leaders have the ability to strike. Relaying Al-Zawahiri’s call, young clerics in Tunisia followed up with their own local calls for action. Among them is the extremist figure Abu Ayoub Ettounsi who called on the Tunisians to revolt after the prayer session of June 15, 2012. The same man called for the destruction of the studios of the TV channels Nessma. And so Tunisia may now very well be in the eye of the storm.

How to Secure the Sahel

Thursday night, the northern Mali region of Kidal witnessed the first wave of serious clashes between the Touaregs and so-called Islamist group Ansar Dine, a group under the influence of Al-Qaeda. The event is critically important in that it confirms that the two groups, the Touaregs organized under the independence movement of the MNLA and the Al-Qaeda operatives in the region (Ansar Dine) have different agendas. As their key leaders have often stated, the Touaregs have not pledged allegiance to foreign Jihadist influences and will not do any time soon. That in itself is not only encouraging, but a major opportunity for those fighting the Jihadists and seeking to root them out. A fresh approach to the Sahel is needed and without an active participation of the Touaregs, the Sahel will remain a dangerous zone. Here’s why.

Debt Crisis in the Moroccan Subsidy System: Undesirable Gift for Islamist PM

There is a bumpy road ahead for the new government leader in Rabat. As he enters his offices, both excited and energized by a fresh electoral victory with the prospect of governing a nation, Prime Minister Benkirane has to deal with the country’s accounting books, and what he sees does not please him. The ledger looks dangerous and could force him to chose between making unpopular decisions or maintain a financially unsustainable status quo.

 

 

 

 

 

UN Peacekeepers, Election Postponement Needed in Libya

Since February, over 250 people have been killed in tribal and militia clashes in Libya’s southern and western regions. A fundamental breakdown of law and order has now reached all corners of the country.  These flare-ups are becoming increasingly common and deadlier the closer the scheduled June election nears.  Libya’s internal instability continues to have dire consequence for the region as a whole, most notably in Mali’s continuing crisis.  The latest reports indicate that Somali pirates have now acquired Libyan weapons as well.

The National Transition Council (NTC) remains unable to do much beside send “brigades” to negotiate ceasefires between warring parties.  Dangerously, the NTC is pushing ahead with its planned national assembly elections, regardless of whether the country’s internal security situation seems stable enough to handle it.  An unsuccessful election marred by militia and tribal clashes could lead to a collapse of what remains of the Libyan state, a collapse that would further destabilize the region with increasing outflows of migrants and weapons.

The US and EU have chosen to focus solely on weapons proliferation and migrant flows, rather than attempt to deal with either problem’s root cause,  Libya’s internal instability.  The current stance of Western nations is an unfortunate wait-and-see approach.  Political and economic constraints will continue to restrain the West from robust engagement on internal Libyan political issues, despite the necessity of outside mediators to bring the various armed factions of the emerging Libyan political scene together.  How can Libya can sustain a legitimate political transition under the shadow of armed militias that are increasingly willing to use their weapons for political leverage?

Part of this post-intervention disengagement stems from the NTC’s early refusal to have outside assistance in the form of any peacekeeping or stabilization mission.  At that point in time, the NTC was flying high off of the euphoria of its victory over Qaddafi.  Vocal and robust US and European diplomatic support, most which has now since dissipated drastically, obfuscated the treacherous political path that the NTC now finds itself facing. Today the Council is well aware of its increasingly tenuous position and is desperately seeking more political engagement and support from the US and Europe.  The absence of major diplomatic displays of support for the NTC from Western capitals have left the Council feeling abandoned.

The US and Europe have gained a significant amount of currency with the NTC as a result of the NATO intervention.   Should the diplomatic silence continue, the credibility and influence of Western capitals will eventually evaporate.   Right now, the NTC will listen, but only if the US and Europe are once again willing to pursue aggressive public diplomacy initiatives to support the Council moving forward.  The Obama administration and its European allies should be working to bolster their influence with the NTC,  utilize it effectively, and push the Council toward more responsible and democratic decision making.

The first part of this approach to more responsible decision making is for the NTC to reverse its decision against allowing UN peacekeepers in Libya.  The US and EU should be working to convince the NTC that a greater UN role in helping maintain security would be the best way to ensure a successful election. The current UN presence, UNSMIL (United Nations Support Mission in Libya), has little added value in its present form.  A greater UN role, in the form of peacekeeping, would lift the security burden from the NTC’s shoulders.  A neutral UN presence might also be the catalyst needed to convince the various militias to lay down their weapons.  This would allow the NTC to take bolder action on political and economic reforms that are desperately needed and focus its resources on adequately preparing for what could be Libya’s first legitimate national election.

The second part of this approach would be postponing such elections.  Right now the NTC feels pressured to have elections as soon as possible to cement its flagging democratic legitimacy. But holding elections under a deeply flawed electoral framework, will most likely result in an election marred by claims of fraud and possible militia violence that would only further damage the democratic legitimacy the NTC desperately needs.  Constituent assembly elections were originally delayed in both Tunisia and Egypt for lack of preparedness.  Both transitional governments were able to adequately explain the reasons for delay and both nations went on to host free and fair elections, after proper preparations, for the first time in their respective histories.

The US and Europe should be advancing this argument with the NTC to convince them to allow the current spate of locally planned elections in cities like Benghazi, Darna, and others to take place first and revise and update the electoral framework with participation from the local elected councils.  While undertaking this political process as a practice run toward a national election, the NTC could allow the security situation to settle as a UN force takes on the security burden.  This would create the necessary conditions for Libya to truly begin to stabilize and transition into a functional nation-state.

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Alec Simantov is from the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. He is currently pursuing his Master of Public Policy degree from George Mason University specializing in International Governance and Institutions, with a focus on EU foreign and security policy in the Middle East. He earned his Bachelor’s degrees in History and Linguistics from the University of Maryland with concentrations in Middle Eastern history and Arabic language. Prior to the Atlantic Council, Alec interned at the Heinrich Böll Foundation North America, in the Foreign & Security Policy/Transatlantic program and the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) as a Legislative Assistant. He currently serves as an executive editor for TABLET, the International Affairs Journal of George Mason University and as an editorial assistant for Foreign Policy Bulletin.

Libya and the ICC: In the Pursuit of Justice?

The ongoing post-conflict reconstruction process in Libya is reigniting a crucial debate among transitional justice advocates as to the role the International Criminal Court (ICC) can play in delivering justice and redress to victims of grave crimes. In the midst of the February 2011 revolution, the ICC opened an investigation into crimes allegedly committed in Libya, based on United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1970. The Court has to date issued three arrest warrants for Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, Abdullah Al-Senussi and Muammar Gaddafi. The warrant against Muammar Gaddafi was withdrawn following his death, while Al-Islam Gaddafi is currently detained in Libya and Al-Senussi in Mauritania. Neither has been turned over to the ICC. The Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) has asserted that it wishes to try these men in Libya, while France has declared its intention to purse Al-Senussi’s extradition for earlier alleged crimes. However, the ICC, along with many human rights groups nationally and internationally, question Libya’s capacity to conduct fair trials against these high profile individuals.

Key Justice Concerns in Libya

In my capacity as regional coordinator for the Coalition for the International Criminal Court Middle East and North Africa (MENA), I recently spoke with several Libyan legal and civil society stakeholders who expressed the view that existing Libyan laws do not always conform to human rights standards and need to be repealed or amended. Although the recent adoption by the NTC of a transitional justice law has been a step in the right direction, the capacity of the Libyan legal system to deliver justice remains weak.

In its February 2012 report, the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry on Libya stated that Libya was marred by widespread human rights abuses and brutal repression under Muammar Gaddafi’s decades of autocratic rule. It is against this background of impunity that the call for rule of law and reforms in the justice system needs to be assessed. Members of the legal and judicial sectors played a decisive role in the 17 February revolution, with the independence of the judiciary one of their main demands. Although the law under Gaddafi provided for an independent judiciary, this was not the case in practice. The government used summary judicial proceedings to suppress domestic dissent, interfered in the administration of justice by altering court judgments, replaced judges and manipulated the appeals system. A 2010 United States State Department report on human rights practices in Libya found that the judiciary also failed to incorporate international standards for fair trials, detention and imprisonment. It is therefore unsurprising that the judicial system in Libya collapsed in the aftermath of the 2011 conflict, and continues to suffer from a lack of trust on the part of victims seeking redress as well as the Libyan public at large.

Today, most international human rights organizations seem to acknowledge that the situation in Libya remains generally precarious. Reports of widespread abuse of internally displaced people, especially women and children, as well as violations of the rights of detainees, are particularly worrying to the human rights community. A February 2012 Amnesty International report detailed ongoing arbitrary detention, unauthorized interrogations, coerced confessions and torture. In the same month, the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya similarly declared that “[b]reaches of international human rights law continue to occur in a climate of impunity [...] forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi carried out mass executions and tortured suspected regime opponents, amounting to crimes against humanity.”

Fighting Impunity: Domesticating the Rome Statute?

The process of enforcing justice is a complicated and often contentious one. The new Libyan leadership now faces the challenge of rebuilding a country that is, according to the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya, “devoid of independent institutions, a civil society, and a judiciary able to provide justice and redress.” At this critical juncture, the availability of the ICC— an internationally recognized body—to promulgate principles of global importance is vital to fostering universal justice principles and steering Libya away from victor’s justice. So how can the ICC inspire the criminal justice reform process within Libya?

Continued monitoring by international entities can be a catalyst for reforms of national justice systems, encouraging states to implement best practices from other national systems and ensure the continued capacity of its legal and judicial sectors. It is therefore difficult to negate the role of international justice has to play in accountability efforts in Libya. At a time when the ICC is expanding its important work to end impunity for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, Libya can take advantage of the Rome Statute—the Court’s founding treaty—for its own national legal framework and repeal the special laws in force during the reign of Gaddafi. The Libyan criminal justice system must meet new challenges based on a changed international environment. The police, prosecutors and legal framework must become scrupulous actors in observing evolving standards of human rights and accountability. In addition to the role that the ICC could play in upholding due process in the trial of Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdullah Al-Senussi, once Libya’s new legislature is in place, ratification of international human rights law conventions—including accession to the Rome Statute—would lend legitimacy to the country’s commitment to universal human rights.

Dr. Cherif Bassiouni, an authoritative source on international criminal justice and chief architect of the ICC, stresses that “it is important that any kind of post-conflict justice be owned by the people affected.” The challenge he puts forth is how international criminal law, expanded in the Rome Statute, can be used to carry out effective prosecutions at the national level. In this context, the international community should assist Libya in its efforts to establish transitional justice and in fostering prosecutions within the national system, bearing in mind that some forms of justice mechanisms already exist in Libya.  As the country embarks on legislative reforms, the Rome Statute in particular should be instrumental to incorporating international crimes into the Libyan criminal code and repealing any statutory limitations applying to such crimes. Equally important is the establishment of an independent judiciary and capacity strengthening programs for the judiciary, police and prison service— in particular in the development of specialized investigative and prosecutorial skills, as well as the consideration of the rights of victims in all accountability mechanisms in accordance with ICC norms.

Libyan authorities are slowly responding to their citizens’ demands for accountability and justice and there is a growing interest in supporting human rights and adapting to international human rights law standards. These recent developments bolster the legitimacy of the ICC in its effort to relay a strong message that there can be no impunity for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In the words of a young Libyan human rights activist, Jamila Azar, “Libyans want to cultivate a culture against impunity to end the Gaddafi legacy and prevent a repetition of repressive practices.” Today, the country is one of the many examples of how societies in the MENA region grapple with balancing the ideals of traditional, national and international law with the imperative of making society more just for their people.

France’s New President: Foreign Policy and Where North Africa Stands

President-elect François Hollande of France has his work cut out on the foreign policy front. His predecessor is leaving office with a sense of missed achievements and a series of policies blunders that need urgent fixing. In a five-year period, Sarkozy failed to leverage appropriately and responsibly his country’s global leadership position as a major economic and military power. That started with his failure to impose a more assertive France on the burning issues of the Euro-zone and the serious topic of the future of Europe. Instead, Sarkozy went along with Chancellor Angela Merkel and toed the line to the Germans who insisted on a miserable austerity approach to exorcize the mentality of excessive spending in the EU, not giving economic growth a chance. Hollande is likely to compensate for Sarkozy’s excesses but it remains to be seen how he will be able to convince the Germans to loosen up a bit.

Outside Europe, as Hollande takes office, there is no shortage of crises to dissolve and fires to put out. Problems for the new Hollande administration abound and they are everywhere. They are about reducing France’s involvement in Afghanistan and reclaiming its image in Africa. They are about dealing with the crisis in Syria and the never-ending Israeli-Arab conflict. Relevant to France’s stance in the Maghreb and Sub-Sahara Africa, Hollande will have to work on neutralizing the effects of Sarkozy’s disdain of minorities and immigrants, issues that have reduced France’s image in the southern Mediterranean region. They are about fixing the aggressive negative policies of a divisive President who heightened the divisions among the French people at a time when they needed shared objectives and common purposes. Sarkozy, just like his Italian friend Silvio Berlusconi, will not be missed. Both share common traits, including a complete abandonment of the Mediterranean zone of common interests.

On the foreign policy front, Afghanistan may very well be one of Hollande’s first points of concern, a problem he will have to deal with immediately upon the beginning of his 5-year term. Although the French involvement at first took on the narrative of liberating a people, it has progressively shifted into an unsustainable anti-insurrection campaign, amid a war that most French consider lost anyway. Both Sarkozy and Hollande generally agreed that French troops must be withdrawn; the only difference between them on this issue has been on timing.

François Hollande’s approach to Afghanistan is reminiscent of US President Barak Obama’s own campaign promises of a speedy troop withdrawal from Iraq. Hollande’s campaign position on this issue has been to bring the French troops back before the end of 2012. This may be an aggressive schedule, but one that he plans to inform France’s partners during the upcoming NATO summit schedules to take place in Chicago, on May 21, 2012.

France’s relations with the world’s superpowers will likely evolve on the American front, with Hollande expected to be less accommodating that Sarkozy. And while Holland will certainly use a less aggressive tone than his predecessor vis-a-vis China and Russia, he will likely continue to uphold current French policies vis-à-vis these two nations, in particular on human rights and economic issues.

On the Persian front, while Hollande will keep France in the camps of those who worry about a nuclear Iran, he is expected to lessen the excessive anti-Iranian rhetoric that his predecessor has displayed over the past years. Sarkozy’s pronouncements on Iran made him even more radical than those lobbyists and media commentators who speak of a gloom-and-doom scenario of a nuclear Iran. Hollande is expected to move much closer to the position of most of his European counterparts, acknowledging the Iranian nuclear problem, yet without having to fall victim of the excessive anti-Iranian fear mongering.

On the crisis in Syria, Hollande and Sarkozy generally saw eye to eye on the need to solve the problem within a multilateral context, ruling out the use of force. Getting Russia to pressure the Assad regime is what the two men see as a desirable course of action.

On the Mediterranean front, a unified Mediterranean zone as proposed in his early years by Sarkozy is unlikely to be a priority for Hollande as long as the Israeli-Arab conflict persists. In contrast, Sarkozy’s anti-Islamic and anti-immigration proclamations and policies have degraded France’s stance in the Maghreb and in the countries that France used to exhort enormous influence. Yet, François Hollande is likely to leverage his predecessor’s disastrous record to attempt to recover lost ground, even as Islamists in North Africa gain more political power.

Interestingly, Nicolas Sarkozy’s own shining moment, his contribution to the “liberation” of Libya was a muted topic during the Presidential debate and his own campaigning. This is because Sarkozy’s gung-ho interventionist stance has been perceived by many Europeans as a bullying tactic from a man who was planning his own election campaign. Instead, the Libyan crisis has divided Europe, forcing a state of freeze in the subsequent handling of the Syria crisis today. In Libya itself, a sense of an unfinished business is felt by many observers, a situation essentially caused by the hasty jump to the gun of Sarkozy and his allies, including the British. What should have been a “popular revolution,” in the eyes of many Libyans, it turned into a hasty Western intervention instead and Sarkozy being in the middle of it.

Sarkozy and his foreign policy team have done a poor job understanding African issues in general and failed to anticipate what’s to come. The crisis in Mali, bringing that country of massive French influence into chaos is one example of such mismanagement of French foreign policy in Africa. So much so that French interests are the prime target of Al Qaeda in North and West Africa and the Sahel. Meanwhile, African governments remain suspicious of the French agenda as Sarkozy showed eagerness to intervene quickly as was the case in Libya and Cote d’Ivoire. In their mind, they could be next.

What about North Africa? In Rabat, the Moroccan government showed no significant worries as François Hollande was declared the winner of the Presidential race. However, we picked up some signs of concerns as usually Morocco finds a more open-door policy among France’s right wing leaders and lot less accommodating Socialists. The Moroccans of a certain age remember vividly the cozy and personal relations that existed between the late Hassan II and former rightist President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. Then in 1981, Giscard d’Estaing was swept away from office by Socialist rival François Mitterrand. The Mitterrand tenure was characterized by lack of trust between him and Hassan II, a period which saw France increased its criticism of the Moroccan monarchy over allegations of human rights abuses. With Jacques Chirac replacing Mitterrand, the honeymoon period between Rabat and Paris returned, and went on during the Sarkozy tenure.

Within the French Socialist world, Morocco initially hoped for a Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) victory. DSK was also a good friend of Morocco, even owning a luxury 19th century villa in Marrakech purchased more than a decade ago for a half million Euros. But Morocco’s lobbying efforts had to quickly refocus on other politicians as DSK faced a legal battle of his own.

With the Socialists back into the Élysée Palace, the Moroccans are minimizing any negative impact such political change could bring, supported by positive comments by Martine Aubry, a friend of Morocco and the current Secretary General of the French Socialist Party. A charm offensive was launched early this year by the Moroccans to seduce François Hollande to insure that France does not open up to the pro-Western Sahara independence movement. Seeking to appease the Moroccans, Martine Aubry held a press conference in Rabat during which she welcomed Morocco’s position on a so-called “reinforced autonomy” for the Sahara. But there is no certainty that France’s position on the Western Sahara front will remain rock solid. The Moroccans remember 2007 when the then Presidential Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal made pronouncements that were constantly in opposition to the Moroccan monarchy.

François Hollande will not only have to deal with various leftist currents that supported him and have more affinity to the aspirations of the independence movement, but he is also looking to fix the battered relations between France and Algeria, a country that is critical to France on both the security front and as an energy supplier amid a reduction of the nuclear power source in France. The French diplomacy will have to walk a fine line to keep both of these feuding nations from thinking that France is against them. But Rabat is bracing for a shift in French policy toward them anyway. Indeed, not only Hollande has extremely limited interaction with Morocco, he has been much closer to Algeria, having worked there for 8 months. Also a point of concern for the Moroccans is the people who surround François Hollande, in particular his high-powered political adviser Faouzi Lamdaoui, a native of the eastern Algerian city of Constantine. Read this associated analysis on the “Rise of North Africans in French Politics.”  Another person to watch in the Hollande circles is Kader Arif, a Member of the European Parliament for the south-west of France. He is a member of the Holland’s Socialist Party and sits on the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade. A third source of influence is the young Razzy Hammadi who presided over the Movement of Socialist Youth, before becoming a national secretary of the Socialist Party in November 2008. Former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius is also an “Algerianist” who is likely to direct the new administration in favor of Algeria. The Moroccans are not left without their strong cards too. In addition to leveraging their friendship with Martine Aubry, the Moroccans will count on a bi-national, French Socialist militant Najat Vallaud-Belkacem to play a counter weight to the Algerianists.

With Algeria, as issues abound, the Franco-Algerian relations are expected to undergo some corrective measures from Team Hollande. It is worth noting that the emergence of François Hollande in the Presidential race was not anticipated by the Algerians. As in Rabat, all eyes in Algiers focused on DSK. So much so that during a 2010 trip to Algiers, François Hollande was not even received by President Bouteflika, who was said to have had a light schedule and a free calendar that time. Yet, Algiers tried to play catch up during the most recent campaign, dispatching lobbyists in an effort to meet with the likes of Faouzi Lamdaoui. This last minute effort failed as the Hollande team was required to avoid such contacts for the obvious reasons.

Yet, Algeria wants to be recognized as a key regional player, a position that Sarkozy refused to recognize. But with an Algeria increasingly positioned as a critical player in regional affairs, Hollande will likely reduce the tension that exists between Paris and Algiers under the Sarkozy regime, starting with the possibility of the new French government recognizing, to a limited extent, its colonial past and role during the Algerian war of liberation. Hollande is said to be willing to make a gesture, albeit symbolic toward Algeria, but may not go as far as a full recognition.

In addition, Sarkozy has been lobbying hard to re-negotiate the Franco-Algerian 1968 treaty, creating heightened tension with Algiers. The treaty provided greater rights to Algerians in France compared to other nationals, a situation that Sarkozy insisted on reducing. Under his watch, Hollande is not likely to rush to revisit France’s political and human framework deal with Algeria.

But what France is facing in North Africa in a more dramatic way is the political upheaval that has occurred in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and the security problems extending into Mali, Niger and the rest of the Sahel. This is while there is a certain constancy in France’s relations with Algeria and Morocco. In the Tunisian case, outgoing President Sarkozy failed to anticipate the outcome of the crisis that has led to the ousting of Ben Ali. The same could be said about Egypt and the inability of Sarkozy to project. On Tunisia, some creative strategy has to be adopted with the stabilization of that nation and a bit of touch-and-go process dominating the approach. Hollande’s pronouncements regarding Tunisia and all other countries that had a revolution of sort focus largely on insuring that democracy is the chosen political path. In an interview, Hollande was clear that France’s views and policies will not change because of changes in regimes in the Élysée.

During a visit to Tunis in May 2011, Hollande suggested that the international community should transform Tunisia’s debt into donation so as to not burden Tunisia with financial liabilities. The Tunisians have been ecstatic that Hollande won, in part because Sarkozy was “booted out like his friend Ben Ali,” as commentators there noted.

But some contentions are likely to take place on ideological grounds. As a Westerner, Hollande has been insistent on democracy as the only ideology to adopt in nations that underwent their own popular revolts. While this sort of pronouncement might have been welcomed a while ago by the Islamists, it is possible that they have a different views now that they have a grab over governance in the region. Equally a point of difference between Hollande and the Islamists is the role of women and gender equality as conservative groups in North Africa are pushing for a dangerous reduction in women’s rights. But Hollande remains more conciliatory when he speaks of the right of Muslims in France to live in peace and without any fear of government.

Specific to Libya, Hollande recognizes that he approved of the French intervention to oust Muamar Gaddafi, but he says he regrets the lack of follow up that would have stabilized that nation. He also regretted the impact the Libyan crisis has had on the deterioration of security in the Sahel region, further heightened by a proliferation of weapons and fighters previously active in Libya and spreading into Mali and Niger. There in the Sahel, Hollande believes that stabilization will require foreign support on economic growth. Within the Sahel, Hollande appears to be concerned by an increase targeting of French interests there, in particular with nuclear giant Areva active in Niger.

As France engineered a smooth transition from Sarkozy to Hollande, we should expect also foreign policies to evolve, and hopefully this time, a Hollande pragmatism will supersede provocative Sarkozy rhetoric.

Libya: Not out of the Woods Yet

Libya is not out of the woods yet. And for those who think solutions to its multi-faceted crises are near, they should reconsider their views very carefully. It is certain that for a few multinational companies, the time is right to re-engage. With a country that has so much oil and gas, the time is always right to engage. The country has a multi-billion dollar budget, and although a substantial chunk of it is dedicated to buy peace, that is to pay for wages and compensations of all sorts, a good size of it is dedicated to reconstruction. So if you are a construction firm, an oil and gas company, or involved in general infrastructure and security, Libya could be a good deal for you. This is as long as you are neither Russian nor Chinese, two nations that are facing a less collaborating Libyans.

But apart from these reconstruction and peace-buying efforts, the country looks in pretty bad shape. The transitional authority or NTC seems generally unable to impose itself. Many of its key leaders are unknown entities, including the Prime Minister. And so as the NTC fails to deliver, what many here refer to as the ‘Tribes’ are pushing for federalism as Libya’s best political system to adopt. I happen to agree with that wholeheartedly. I am not naive to believe a transition to Federalism will be a smooth one, but consider for a moment the track record of Arab government in adopting a central government. The whole thing was probably an invention from former colonial powers and the dictators that followed to keep a lid on political demands. Under Arab central governments and across Africa as well, civil, ethnic, political and even religious rights have always been minimized or altogether suppressed, and that’s from the Atlantic Ocean, all the way to nations like Iran to the east. Religious tolerance does not exist in most of the Arab world, otherwise how can, for example, one explain the cracking down of the Shias in Bahrain, a crackdown sponsored and enforced by the Saudis themselves, the defenders of the faith. The Bahraini case is the most visible part of the iceberg as in some countries eating a sandwich in Ramadan, writing a novel involving different views or singing a song critical to the police land you to jail and troubles for the rest of your life. And so as the voices of Federalism are heard louder in Libya, we can and should endorse them because it may become an alternative to excessive central power.

One of the problems that Federalism could solve is the easing of the state of insecurity in Libya. The issue of insecurity in Libya is often overblown, because there are less criminal activities involved than reported. What many consider as heavily armed gangs roaming the streets, including in our own articles admittedly, may sound like a scene from a Mad Max movie when in fact, those gangs are men who may be less willing to believe in the political rhetoric of the new leaders in the new Libyan governance. Should we blame these young men and women for wanting to be part of the solution? Should we blame them for not trusting an obscure professor of engineering in an Alabama university and the men around him, coming to speak on their behalf, after more than 40 years of dictatorship, and a traumatic ending to it? I would say I honestly understand their position, and urge the Libyans to push for Federalism. In this case, those who have political power at the regional level should exercise it and work to influence regional security… not from Tripoli, Benghazi, London, Qatar or Washington. And as long as the regions are not fully empowered to deal with their issues and negotiate peace among one another, the security issue will remain front and center.

And here’s how the central government is good at ruining peace. Today for example, the NTC has failed to secure peace in Kufras in the south of the country, essentially bombing locations there that are inhabited by the Tebus. The official Libyan military is acting irresponsibly by doing exactly the type of things Muamar Gaddafi would have done. The Tebu district of Kufra in the Sahara is said to be off-limits to the Libyan military since February 2012, following the inter-tribe clashes pitting the Tebus to the Zway tribe, resulting in an astonishing 150 deaths. So as one witnesses these acts, one wonders how a solution to this southern Libyan conflict could be solved by a central government’s imposed solution. Only federalism that brings the leaders of these tribes together could reduce tension.

The Libyans are also facing substantial racial tension that further requires some level of federalism to solve due to the specific racial makeup in each of the regions. Human rights organization Amnesty International reported about abuses against the Tawargha community of black Libyans, essentially Touaregs, following the killing of one of them after being tortured in Misrata. Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui of Amnesty International says “this brutal death highlights the continuing dangers facing detainees in the new Libya.”  Amnesty International says it knows of at least a dozen cases to deaths that have occurred in jails in the hands of armed militias since Gaddafi was toppled, the Tawarghas being disproportionately targeted.

Amnesty says “the entire population of the city of Tawargha, some 30,000 people, has suffered abuses at the hands of armed militias in revenge to for their town’s perceived loyalty to the former government, and for crimes some Tawargha are accused of having committed during the siege and shelling of the neighboring city of Misrata by Gaddafi forces. Militias from Misrata drove out the entire population of Tawargha in August 2011, looting and burning down their homes.” Can the NTC and a central government stop these massacres? Probably not.

A Fast Evolving Landscape

We felt rather guilty for releasing to you an 80+ page issue. For a moment we thought we should split it into two installments, but here’s the problem: North Africa is a never ending source of critical matters at this very important junction of its history. The news and fast developing stories keep on pouring at such a speed that they inevitably require large amounts of reporting. Problems abound and political leaders, including their military patrons are unable to find suitable solutions. There are no groundbreaking creative ideas going around in the region. Although we would love to share the occasional good news, we admit that there is a serious shortage of such positive matters.

Within North Africa itself, events are unfolding at a rapid velocity. Most here see them as part of a greater “revolution” that promises equity, better resource distribution, and more rights and civil liberties to the peoples of the region. So far, although revolutions have toppled a few dictators and frightened Kings and Generals, they have paved the way for the conservatives under the banner of the Islamist movement to take over the political agenda. And for the moment, that does not bode well. Their actions so far are rather disappointing and often alarming as they take over governance. As we report in this issue and in the most recent ones, human rights and civil liberties are taking a beating by the conservatives in Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and elsewhere. There is no guarantee that the conservatives will win in the long run, as the moderates and liberals are fighting back, but expect a long process and may be some collateral damage along the way.

Speaking of collateral damage, some companies are facing greater scrutiny about their dealings with the Gaddafi regime. In a previous issue we reported about Canada’s SNC Lavalin. In this one, we look at two other companies that are dealing with the same unwanted media and government scrutiny for their work in Libya. More is likely to emerge over time and companies that have conducted business in Libya are advised to revisit the way their executives dealt with the regime.

As the Islamists and conservatives take over the reign of government, they face very difficult economic conditions. High unemployment, soaring food prices in the international market, weather conditions that are destroying crops, greater political demands from citizens forcing governments to increase their subsidies to consumption are some of the many problems facing non-creative political leaders in the region. With expanding budget deficits and worsening finances, these nations’ governments will meet increasing difficulties in meeting their citizens’ demands and that too spells trouble.

As if the take-over of conservatives is not enough trouble, the region is surrounded by an ocean of regional crises. Europe’s economic crisis is another soar point for North Africa, creating problems on at least two fronts: first is the fact that Europe is a heavy weight as an economic partner to North Africa. And when Europe sneezes, North Africa catches a bad flu. In this case, expect reduced economic activity and trade between the two regions, with the strong likelihood of also reduced European investment in the Maghreb.

The second is on the human front. All these boiling problems are having a spillover effect on human and social policies affecting millions of immigrants living in Europe. The financial crisis hurting Europe affects first the lower wage demographics, among them the North Africans living in the EU, and an anti-Islamic backlash in Europe risks creating more drama and insecurity, expanding the gap between the immigrants and the Europeans. France, which is in the middle of a heated presidential election season is reaching out to Algeria to discuss a reduction by half of Algerian residents in France. Although such reaction may be an expected knee-jerk reaction after the Mohamed Merah saga, it may be unbearable for the millions of African immigrants who selected Europe and France as their new home and shelter.

To the south of North Africa is also the long-lasting multiple crises of the Sahel region. Mali with its coup-d’états and Touareg war in the north, Niger with its famine, Nigeria with its religious divide, Guinea-Bissau with its own political meltdown, let alone the nebulous Al Qaeda and the proliferation of criminal gangs in the region. Sandwiched between a troubled southern Europe and an exploding Sahel, North Africa is itself in the limelight dealing with a multi-front crisis of its own.

Then again, as some say, it is in the middle of a crisis that opportunities knock. Not the best ending for an op-ed but consider the fact that for many companies, it is business as usual despite the crises. Many Tunisian firms, as reported here, announced healthy dividends for fiscal year 2011. That is something good considering the turmoil of 2011. More interesting for the future is the fact that many of these companies are in the process of raising capital. This is because business executives are feeling more optimistic about the future and that bodes well.

The mood in Libya is also improving ever slightly. There is still plenty of drama in that country, but with a big budget and foreign companies willing to come back, the economic machine is slowly recovering, and even in a symbolic gesture, the Tripoli Stock Exchange reopened in March 2011.

In Algeria, oil giant Sonatrach is also looking for a way forward. After many years of a multi-dimensional crisis, financial scandals, and numerous jail sentences, the company, which generates the bulk of Algeria’s foreign currency income, has a new CEO who is focused on bringing hope to the tens of thousands of employees. His role is very critical as Algeria plans to expand the scope of oil and gas in the nation’s economy. Not only to up the rate of household penetration of natural gas, but to help stimulate the rest of the economy with such industries as refining, exploration and production.

In Mauritania, small independent foreign oil companies are not hesitating to invest their resources to explore for oil and gas. And that’s good as well.

As these domestic economies and the business leaders look for bright spots toward the future, foreign investors do not remain neutral in this game. And China and India appear competing against one another in getting Africa’s attention. In this game, as we report in this issue, China is the uncontested player, but do not disregard India. Bollywood is knocking on Africa’s door and may already be in a cinema near you. But China, just like Russia does not always find the doors of new markets wide open. Beijing and Moscow’s siding against the Libyan “revolutionaries” is costing them dearly today. They are simply unable to get the attention of the current Libyan authorities because the bet on the wrong horse.

In contrast, we are now seeing the small Gulf state o f Qatar almost everywhere in North Africa. Flush with billions of dollars, the Qataris are spending money to buy influence, including within France itself to get the hearts and souls of North African immigrants.

As we release this 229th issue of The North Africa Journal, we would like to propose a special focus on the crisis in the Sahel.

- First is our view that the solution to securing the Sahel has to include the Touareg people. In fact, we argue here that they are the only ones who can bring peace and stability in the region.  Read here.

- While we see the Sahel as a  source of trouble, we often forget that there is real economic activity. My colleague Alessandro Bruno reports as to why Mali is important to the mining sector (read here) and predicts that despite a worsening security climate in the Sahel, uranium production in Niger will increase (read here).

- The talented Yasmine Wozniak tackles head on two very difficult topics, which I suspect will get a great deal of feedback. The first is about the bad agricultural policies put in place in Algeria that are hurting people’s budgets [read here], and the second concerns the irrational relations between Algeria and Morocco [follow this link].

- Redouane Benhemdi also tackles explosive topics, starting with his views on the Islamists in power in Morocco and while they are unable to solve Morocco’s economic problems, their focus recently has been on imposing cultural changes for ideological purposes [read here]. Equally difficult for Redouane as his own country, Tunisia, is facing some degress of insecurity, here he focuses on Libya, arguing as I did in favor of federalism. [Read here]

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Thank you.

Arezki Daoud
daoud@north-africa.com