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Economic Growth Not a Religious Discourse

Original Title: Moroccans Would Like to See Economic Growth Not a Religious Discourse

Written by Said Temsamani*

“Islamism is a term that has been used to describe two very different trends,” wrote Maha Azzam, an associate fellow at Chatham House, in a recent paper on the implications of the Arab spring for British foreign policy earlier this year.

“First, [it describes] the non-violent quest for an Islamic-friendly society based on the ‘principles of Islam’, which can involve a more liberal application of Islamic teachings and tradition or a more strict interpretation. Second, Islamism is also associated with violent extremism, most notably that of al-Qaida in the promotion of terrorism.”

For about two centuries now, Moroccans, like the vast majority of Arabs and Muslims, have been searching for a magical formula that would allow them to stay true to their traditions and faith and, at the same time, catch up to the scientific, commercial, and political prowess of Europe and the West.   Delegations were sent to France to check out the wonders of modern French civilization; individuals travelled and lived in European and American capitals; Western products fill the shelves of every Arab and Muslim supermarket, from Dubai to Casablanca; we get dressed in Western-style military uniforms and carry Western weapons; we proudly fly Western-style flags and recite national anthems at sports events; we use the Internet, cell phones, and every Western-made gadget to show that we are as capable as anyone else to live in the modern world; we travel the world in Western-made planes, fuelled by Western-extracted and processed technologies; we seek—no, demand—Western-style democracy and a long list of social and human rights, while condemning the West for its arrogance and gross materialistic culture.

Abdellah Laroui, the great Moroccan historian, noted a long time ago that we are alienated (note that the word in Arabic, taghrib, is, etymologically, tied to the West, as if to be alienated is to be Westernized) between modernity and tradition. It is a fairly safe bet to expect that most of my fellow Moroccans reading this article are major consumers of Western products, but they most probably find refuge in an imagined past of upright ancestors, hazily pictured as ideal and wholesome, thanks to the sermons (khutab) that inundate our streets and souks, and stream through radio waves and the Internet. No Western-made medium exemplifies this schizophrenic state better than Al Jazeera television.  A slick Western-style production, financed by a state that is deeply embedded in the global financial system, is keeping hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims stultified in front of their TV sets—raging at the West, but incapable of finding their way out to the freedom they have long sought.

As much as anything else, what we need in Morocco right now is to be what we choose.  All Moroccans should have the right to live as they please and question and write about any subject that interests them. Moroccan artists and scientists should have absolute license to create and invent; men and women should pursue their dreams and desires however they imagine them; and businesspeople should have ironclad guarantees that their investments are protected by strong laws.  If our model of freedom is France, Britain, or Canada, then we have no option but to enshrine these freedoms, which include the right to any opinion, however offensive it may be to tradition, without being harassed by self-appointed guardians of ancestral ways.

The new mudawwana (family law) and women’s right to share their Moroccan nationality with their children are gifts of secular policies, not religious ones.  But now, we are back to the Middle Ages, when religion ruled supreme in both Europe and the world of Islam. For one of the fundamental tenets of modern political systems is the separation of religion from politics. Technically, as the founders of democracy in ancient Greece knew, gods may be worshipped privately at home or in temples, but they have no place in a political, citizen-based system. Democracy, properly understood, and theology, do not mix well.

We may move, however slowly and frustratingly, toward more political accountability, but we will not make much progress if we don’t open our own selves to inquiry.  Each of us, I am afraid, hosts a little tyrant inside.  We have a hard time accepting differences in our midst. We want our friends and neighbors to share our beliefs; if they don’t, we hammer them with advice and what we call maw`idha. Few Muslim Moroccans have Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or atheist Moroccan friends. We wake up and go to sleep in a vast ocean of sameness. We like the West for the liberties it offers, but we don’t do much to have them at home. This is why political revolutions are far easier to implement than cultural ones. Yet, without a solid cultural foundation that emancipates people from the fear of ghosts and spirits, we will remain mugharrabun, alienated between a future we desire and a past that pulls hard at our coattails and jellabas.

We may need another protest movement after the one known as “February 20th” does its work and recedes into the margins of Morocco’s new future. The democracies that are emerging now of the debris of war and turmoil—Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya—and regimes that seem to be on the verge of collapse— Syria—are lessons for Moroccans to ponder. The non-Muslim people who have lived in Iraq since ancient times—including Jews and Christians—have either left the country for good or are in the process of doing so. Christian Arabs are threatened in most Muslim-majority nations.  If we stay on this path, Arab states will more likely resemble the Iran of the ayatollahs than Spain or Switzerland. Is that what we want for our country?

A society, or nation, reaches its maximum potential when it allows its members to create and prosper without fear from cops or imams. If our political, social, and economic systems were to be well regulated—as the new constitution calls for—Moroccans could potentially unleash their intellectual and economic powers to create and share, invent and sell.  The state could then collect more taxes to finance education, medical care, and major national projects.  Poverty will diminish, prosperity could become more widespread, faith will be genuine, and more people will experience life at its fullest.

This is what freedom is all about.  To me, it is less about what political parties do or don’t do, and more about maximizing the enrichment of human experience on earth. It is about equal opportunity and fulfilling work, whether one is white or black, Muslim or Christian, young or old, man or woman. We could still seek salvation through religion, but that won’t stop our society from developing and join more scientifically advanced nations. Let’s hope we get a taste of this new social order soon.  Moroccans all lucky to have a legitimate religious institution (Commander of the Faithful) that guarantees freedom of worship to all faiths (Muslims, Jews and Christians) with no restriction.   Moroccans would like to see powerful political parties with clear platforms that answer their immediate needs and expectations for a real economic growth and not a religious discourse that unfortunately sometimes becomes extremist.

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Said Temsamani

Said Temsamani

 Said Temsamani is a Moroccan Political analyst and consultant who follows events in his country and across North Africa. He is a former Senior Political Advisor at the US Embassy in Rabat.

More Than Just a Goodwill Tour: The King of Morocco Takes His Vision on the Road

By Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel*

Last week, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI visited Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Kuwait, and the UAE as part of long-term efforts and planning to boost political and economic cooperation among nations that share centuries-old cultural, religious, and linguistic ties.  While the King certainly carried goodwill, he also had in tow an ample supply of Morocco’s most valued national resource: vision.

For nearly two years, Morocco’s neighborhood has seen protests for reforms, some violent, others resulting in regime change and all with varying measures of success.  Following these Arab uprisings, the region, including Morocco, faces significant challenges. The King seeks to share with his country’s regional partners Morocco’s experience of achieving meaningful reform peacefully, through consultation, collaboration, and consensus – while maintaining security and stability.

King Mohamed of Morocco and Kuwait's Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah

King Mohamed of Morocco and Kuwait's Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah

Socioeconomic demands were at the root of the Arab uprisings which means that regional economic cooperation is an indispensable component of any successful plan to provide and sustain broad economic development and empowerment for nearly a half billion people.  Morocco has long understood this and has pursued multi-sector initiatives and partnerships as part of a larger strategic vision to bolster economic cooperation among its neighbors. One such initiative, the Agadir Agreement, signed in 2006, established a free trade zone among Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt, and Palestine and trade has increased more than 45% among those countries. Trade between Morocco and Saudi Arabia went from $1 billion in 2000 to $20 billion in 2011 and the investment of GCC countries for development projects in Morocco, high on the King’s tour agenda, are expected to be $1 billion per year in 2012-2016.

In addition to promoting economic cooperation, Morocco, a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council in 2012-13, has played a critical role alongside the United States and other international partners in addressing the crisis in Syria and will host the upcoming Friends of Syria meeting.  While in Jordan, King Mohammed VI became the first head of state to visit the Zaatari refugee camp, which houses upwards of 200,000 displaced Syrians who depend on donated medical and humanitarian aid and services from the international community, including a clinic provided by Morocco.

The King also carried the message that interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance are hallmarks of the Moroccan approach to peaceful cohabitation.  As Chairman of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Al-Quds Committee, King Mohammed VI continues Morocco’s historic role as a key interlocutor for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reviving the peace process is an area of cooperation the King emphasized with his counterparts.

Morocco’s vision for progress and initiatives with its Gulf neighbors have implications for US foreign policy interests.  In order to promote stability by protecting security in the region, the US must have a partner who shares its values and principles.  Morocco, which maintains the longest unbroken treaty relationship with the US, is that trusted, reliable ally. Just a few weeks ago, Morocco and the US launched their Strategic Dialogue, one of fewer than two dozen such agreements in existence and the first in North Africa.  The Strategic Dialogue builds upon more than a decade of focused, comprehensive leadership and cooperation by King Mohammed VI with three US Administrations and allows the two countries to work towards progress and prosperity for the Middle East and North Africa. 

Recently, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that Morocco, under the King’s leadership, is answering the “call” for democratic reforms, is elevating its role as an international partner and that the US “looks to Morocco to be a leader and a model.”  King Mohamed’s regional tour demonstrates that Morocco takes that call seriously and hopes its neighbors can benefit from its experience and vision.

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Ambassador Edward Gabriel

Ambassador Edward Gabriel

 

* Edward M. Gabriel is former US Ambassador to Morocco, and current advisor to the Kingdom of Morocco.

Amb. Gabriel has an extensive background in international affairs, having convened multilateral policy forums involving national security, environmental, trade, and energy issues. He has been involved in matters of Russian and European nuclear non-proliferation and safety, and he has been active in advising the US Government on Mideast policy matters. From November, 1997-March 2001, he was the US Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco during which time a new US-Morocco strategic relationship was launched on political, military, and economic levels.
Ambassador Gabriel is also active with non-profit organizations. He is a Visiting Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a member of the Global Advisory Board of George Washington University, a founding member and Vice Chairman of the American Task Force for Lebanon, a member of the boards of Amid East, the Keystone Center, the Tangier American Legation Museum, the Casablanca American School, and the American School of Tangier. He holds a B.S. degree (business) from Gannon University.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

The Rise of North Africans in French Politics

New generation of French of North African origin impacting French politics
New generation of French of North African origin impacting French politics

Seeking to discredit his opponent during the Presidential race in France, outgoing President Nicholas Sarkozy stated on April 27, 2012 that François Hollande has received support from 700 Muslim clerics operating in France. Blinded by a bad attitude vis-a-vis North Africans and Sub-Sahara Africans in general, bordering xenophobia, Sarkozy may have lost precisely because he alienated a substantial minority block that is becoming key to French politics, somewhat akin to the Hispanic vote in US elections.

Sarkozy statements on the matter and his dirty politics eventually backfired. Largely because French of North Africans origin have been energized to place a Socialist in the Élysée Palace. Yet, North Africans come in various political persuasions. They can even be on the extreme as was the case of Farid Smahi, a politician of Algerian parents who was a member of the rightist radical extremist party of the National Front. Indeed there are many French of North African origin who are standing against a certain culture in their country of origin that force them to take extreme positions. Arabization, the dangerous rise of conservatism, the prominence of Islamic politics, lack of rights for the Berbers and other minorities, gender inequality and bad governments are among the factors that led to these extreme positions. Many of them also happen to be the children of what is known here as “Harkis,” Algerians who have fought alongside with the French against the independence of Algeria. During his campaign to regain his seat, Sarkozy went on a charm offensive to lure the Harki vote. He stated in many occasions that the Harkis have not been treated fairly for their services to France, a situation that needed to be corrected. It is unclear how the Harkis voted, but they represent a half million votes worth of a charm offensive from the right.

But most French of North African decent tend to support the Socialist Party. This is largely due to the fact that most of them tend to live in working class neighborhoods outside of the big cities that lean to the left. A media commentator suggested that it is the case in particular in the Paris region, the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur in southern France, and in the Rhône-Alpes in the east. These are regions that are heavily invested by labor unions, natural allies of the Socialists. And so over the years, the Socialist Party in France has become a sort of safe heaven for French-North Africans seeking political office or leadership positions in politics. The Moroccan Najet Vallaud-Belkacem has been François Hollande’s spokesperson. The Algerian Malek Boutih is another person to watch. He has held a senior-level position at the Socialist Party making him a key player in the Hollande offensive. Moroccan Mohamed Oussedik is also a rising star, starting as a laborer and now well positioned to lead the formidable CGT labor union.

While Sarkozy continued to divide the French on religious and ethnic grounds, vilifying the North Africans in particular, he worked hard to muddy the water precisely to combat any allegation of racism. His cabinet has a handful of very vocal and media-savvy North Africans including former Justice Minister Rachida Dati, today a member of the European Parliament representing Sarkozy’s party the UMP. Another Sarkozy protégé was Fadela Amara, an Algerian who held the position of State Secretary (Junior Minister) in charge of urban issues. But many in France say that such appointments were simply meant to confuse and shield Sarkozy against accusations of ethnic and religious divisiveness. Such strategy continues even as Sarkozy is defeated. His party is fielding the daughter of an Algerian Harki, Salima Saa as a candidate for the legislative elections of June 2012. Ms. Saa is competing for a seat to represent Roubaix, a region in total control by the Socialists. Ms. Saa was almost hired as Sarkozy’s campaign spokesperson.

As Francois Hollande takes over the reign of power in France, he has surrounded himself with a number of politically aggressive French of North African origin. Generally young, being born in the 1960s and 70s, this group of political operatives are worth watching because they could become what will reignite France’s relations to North Africa. But just like Salima Saa, Rachida Dati, Fadela Amara and the flamboyant Farid Smahi, North Africans in France are given the chance to belong to whatever political persuasion they endorse, and that shows that diversity in France, a country often criticized precisely because of a perceived lack of diversity is on the right track.

Here are some of them:

Influencing Francois Hollande on the Socialist Front

Operatives on the right:

Salaries in the Maghreb: The Land of Equality?

While no one expects their government leaders to earn the same wage as the average guy, North Africa governments tend to pay generous salaries to ministers and the likes. However, compared to corporate executive jobs, or even mid-level managers in the West, the salaries in question are not that great. They generally do not exceed the $150,000 ceiling, but that does not inlcude the perks and bonuses that most of these officials benefit from. That includes allowances for housing, travel, cars, gasoline, etc. If you include all of that and more, government people in North Africa are rich.

In the region, the most humble officials are those of Tunisia. The Prime Minister there does not get more than $48,000 per year, when his Algerian and Moroccan colleagues get almost triple that amount. Interestingly, in the spirit of good governance, the Interim President of Tunisia, who was entitled to a wage equivalent of $240,000 per year, has downgraded his pay to a symbolic $20,000 per year instead. We salute Mr. Marzouki for doing so as the Tunisian people continue to struggle with their evolving Jasmine Revolution.

What do the others make compared to minimum or median wages? Judge by yourself.

Top Algerian Leaders' Salaries

Top Algerian Leaders' Salaries

 

Moroccan Ministers' Wages

Moroccan Ministers' Wages

 

Wages in Tunisia

Wages in Tunisia

Unable to Control the Economic Problems, the Conservatives in Morocco Focus on Cultural Warfare

The Moroccan Islamists in power are facing a difficult economic environment. Because their programs fail to address the fundamental issues crippling the economy, such as corruption and industries heavily controlled by a few untouchables, the Islamists headed by Prime Minister Benkirane are turning their attention to the mundane in an effort to maintain their image among a substantial portion of the population. This includes policies aimed at favoring Arabic and reducing the impact of French and the Tamazight languages, in a trend that could constitute a setback to civil and cultural rights for the Amazigh people.

The first targeted by the conservative ideologues is naturally the media and in this case it is about more religious and Arabic-language programs in the two state-controlled TV channels, Channel 1 and 2M, as well as in radion stations. These two channels have been ordered by the minister of communications and government spokesman Mustapha El Khalfi, a prominent member of the Islamist PJD party to up Arabic-language programming or else! The move came in form of a government reform of the media landscape initiated by the winning PJD party, which won the argument before the nation’s media watchdogs, the Conseil Supérieur de la Communication Audiovisuelle and the Haute Autorité de la Communication Audiovisuelle (HACA), without any public debate. Both have essentially endorsed the wishes of the pro-Arabic language conservatives.

How do these reforms translate in reality? In the case of Channel 1, management is now required to broadcast three news hours exclusively in Arabic and only one bulletin in Amazigh. Even more ironic, the Amazigh bulletin will have to be subtitled in Arabic too. According to Moroccan media watchers and those working at Channel 1, Arabic programs will now account for 80% of programming, while Amazigh will be relegated to a 20% quota. That is ironic in a nation that has a substantial Amazigh population. The same thing applies to 2M, in addition to pushing non-Arabic programs and news late into the evening or early in the morning.

The conservative offensive on culture in Morocco, but also in Tunisia and even in Algeria is deep, widespread and highly alarming. This offensive takes the form of an ideological battle that is not only destructive to the cultural capabilities of the people of the region, but also destructive to the economy, a killer of jobs. Consider the fact that the Islamists in power in Morocco see the advertisement for the Moroccan lottery on TV as a sin and have decided to withdraw the MAD 26 million paid to 2M as part of its lotto program. By withdrawing such support, you can be assured 2M will have to reduce its staff.

And so go the Islamists of North Africa. Unable to think outside of the box, they will neither solve the economies of their nations, nor will they create an environment to stimulate job growth. Instead, they will continue to focus on the wrong things: vilifying anyone who does not think like them and force many more liberal and skilled North Africans to find refuge abroad.

Finally, let me recognize the fact that not all members of this conservative government are the same. It turns out the only woman in the cabinet, Women and Families Minister Bassima Hakkaoui is doing the right thing by endorsing calls to discuss reforming the nation’s laws related to families. These laws written by conservative men have essentially turned women into second-class sub-servant citizens.  The call was sparked by the suicide of a 16 year-old girl who was forced to marry her rapist, an outcome that can be granted by a judge as a way to solve family disputes. So rather than getting the criminal rapist locked up in jail, the justice system in Morocco gives a way out by forcing the victim to remain a victim all their life.

While Bassima Hakkaoui did not make a definite call to abolish the law that allows such a loophole, she stood up somewhat against it, proving that some in the conservative movement, albeit cautious, are capable of rational thinking. And that we salute.

Algeria vs. Morocco: And the Tit-for-Tat Goes On

Moroccans and Algerians love to hate each other. I am not talking about the people, who are exactly the same in identity, ethnicity, religion and customs and have only respect for one another, but about their governments and leaders, who continue to feud and refuse to face up to the geo-strategic realities of the region today. Together, these two nations could perform more good than individually, yet they continue to deny their people the right for common security and shared prosperity. Together, they have the ability to secure the region in more effective ways. And if integrated, their economies could be a real regional powerhouse, serving a population of some 70 million. Instead, they are feuding non-stop over who is the most influential in the region, preventing the rise of a real economic nation.

This month provided yet another opportunity for the two to show how irrational they are when it comes to dealing with one another. The Western Sahara and the fate of its people remain a thorny issue and the Algerians use every occasion to blame the Moroccans of obstructionism.  Last week, the Algerian pro-government media reminded its readers that while the European Parliament gave its support to the Sahraoui people for their “right to exercise self-governance,” Russia’s foreign minister has apparently reminded his Moroccan counterpart, Rabat Saâd Dine El Othmani, in a visit to Moscow of the same. El-Othmani was in Russia to pressure the Kremlin on the Syrian crisis. This sort of media position is a constant fixture in many Algerian newspapers, even the privately-owned ones.

The Moroccans too are over thinking it and acting irrational when Algeria deals with Morocco’s arch-enemies of the Polisario Front. And sometimes, their irrational behavior gets difficult to explain. During the burial of the Algerian first President Ahmed Ben Bella last week, the Moroccan delegation found it important to leave the ceremonies abruptly because there was a Polisario delegation in the event. The event was about the burial of a political figure; instead the very “religious”-leaning Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane ordered his delegation back while the burial ceremony was taking place in the Al-Alia cemetery. The reason, you may ask? The very presence of the Polisario’s Mohamed Abdelaziz annoyed the Moroccans.  Although it is unlikely that the decision was made by Benkirane given that the gesture may contradict some of the very religious teachings he comes to endorse, it is clear that the order came directly from King Mohammed VI. Eager to score a point, the Moroccan pro-government press likes to repeat over and over that “Algeria is sacrificing its relations with Morocco to benefit the Polisario.”

The two countries have not yet resorted to any action that could be seen by the other as confrontational and of a military nature. Such confrontation is not likely to happen, but the two continue to use sneaky ways to undermine each others. Diplomacy is one of them but as we reported in issue 228, they have been on each other’s case using the Internet to damage the other’s Web presence [Read: Algerians and Moroccans Use Cyber Attacks to Settle their Political Scores]. Thank goodness none of them has critical banking, defense or industrial systems modern enough to rely on Internet infrastructure. That would be a disaster if it were the case.

And so goes the Shakespearean drama involving the two enemy-brothers Algeria and Morocco.  When dangers continue to loom high in their own neighborhood, when Europe is looking to reduce its foreign population, mostly North Africans, when both countries have industries that can be complementary to the other, the two spend their times arguing like cats and dogs over secondary issues…and that is to show who the biggest boy in the neighborhood is.  Where is true leadership?

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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http://www.north-africa.com/premium/issues/229.htm

Finally, in our Opinions site [http://www.north-africa.com/premium/opinions/], you will notice on the top right corner a link that says “Submit your Article.” Well, it is exactly what we want and that is to hear from you.

Thank you.

Arezki Daoud
daoud@north-africa.com