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Archives for Politics & Security

Revenge in Timbuktu

The fabled city of Timbuktu, in north-western Mali, was occupied by armed Islamist groups for almost a year. At the end of January, French and Malian soldiers retook control of the city. Since then, its people have been enjoying the taste of freedom again. But the light-skinned Arab and Tuareg communities are accused of complicity with the extremists and have already suffered revenge attacks. France24′s reporters Alexandra Renard, Eve Irvine and Chady Chlela went to Timbuktu.

 

 

 

revenge

Mali & Sahel Crisis

Below are some of the latest analyses, aticles and news items related to the crisis in Mali and beyond:


January 13, 2013
Mali Crisis Expanding: Mass Kidnapping of Westerners in a Saharan Oil Base

The North Africa Journal: The French military intervention against Islamist militants in northern Mali has added greatly to the insecurity in the region. In addition to the casualties of the conflict proper, Western interests, in particular French are being targeted wherever Al-Qaeda affiliated militants are present.

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January 9, 2013
Franco-African Military Offensive Begins in Mali

The North Africa Journal | Aided by West African and French troops, Mali’s government soldiers have began a long-awaited offensive against Islamist rebels in Northern Mali.  …  Full story

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A North Africa Journal AudioCast:  Understanding the Mali Crisis (Youtube)
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The North Africa Journal | By Arezki Daoud |  Algeria’s diplomacy has scored a victory of sort following the statement made by US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns describing Algeria as the “leader” in the Mali crisis. The move provides Algeria with additional breathing room to get some factions in Northern Mali who have been pushing for independence to revert their position without resorting to force. It may also frustrate those who have been seeking to sideline Algeria fearing that in the eyes of the US, the UN and other global players Algeria could be seen as a regional power broker with growing responsibilities and oversight on economic and security issues….  Full story

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The North Africa Journal | Algiers has long been reluctant to participate in a military offensive in neighboring Mali to root out Islamist militants. Some of these militants are either seeking to create a separate state, and/or intend on imposing Sharia law. Already the northern part of Mali has fallen in the hands of a trio of organizations, namely the Mujao, Ansar Eddine and Al-Qaeda North Africa….   Full story

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Egypt under Morsi

Egypt—a transcontinental country, having African-Middle Eastern border, and a deep geo-strategic significance in the Middle East, Africa, Mediterranean Basin and the Muslim world suffered 60 years of dictatorship until an Arab Spring starting in 2011 led to an overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Muhammed Morsi became Egyptian President defeating his rival, ex-Mubarak premier Ahmed Shafiq with 51.7% of votes. The trailblazing elections brought sweet delight and a first of many things for Egypt-he is the first democratically elected President, the first Islamist to rule the nation and the first President who is not from the military.

Although Morsi, member of the once scrutinized Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Freedom and Justice party, was sworn in as Egypt’s first civil President, his victory was anything but a sweeping win and  the revolutionary battle is far from over, as among the earlier challenges that Morsi has to coup up with included, national reconciliation and engagement with liberal opposition, to deal with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) in context to the dissolution of parliament and the SCAF’s constitutional declaration that limited much of his powers, had undercut state budget and granted the military power to arrest protestors and civilians, then drafting a new constitution and election of a new Parliament,the rehabilitation of state economy and defunct security apparatus.

While on the external front, to review Cairo’s relations with Turkey, US, Saudi Arabia and Iran, must convince and reasssure the paranoid Western world, terrfied of an Islamist government and the Shariah Rule that this loyal old Western ally would remain an open and tolerant society, and this new regime does not mark ‘ the beginning of Islamization’ in Egypt. Howere the real concern here was the  impact of the 180 degree change in goverence on the Arab-Isreal issue but the fiercely pro-Palestinian leader has pledged to honour Egypt’s international treaties, which include a 1979 peace treaty with Israel and take control of Sinai after recent attacks at Israeli border. He also paid an official visit to Saudi Arabia, met Hamas leader, khaled Meeshal, and attended African Union Summit to improve his diplomatic relations with foreign countries.

Under the recent developments in Egypt, Morsi not only ordered to reconvene the Parliament, announced the release of political war detainees, many of which are from Islamist groups, and the appointment of a woman and a Christian to a vice president positions in the government but also appointed Hesham Kandil, a religious Muslim- a technocrat rather than a hardliner and not member of Muslim brotherhood as his Prime Minister. His newly elected cabinet comprises figures of the Egyptian financial elite with representatives from the Egyptian military, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (MB), former ministers of the interim government of Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri, and various technocrats.  He made no move to antagonize Egypt’s military and the Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, kept his post.Two of the 35 ministers are women, and only one is a Coptic Christian. All this has raised skepticism about Morsi’s administration which has shown little luck in placating secular and other liberal opponents but the Egypt’s current leader understands well that his country not only needs a political reform but a practical socio-economic uplifting as the future of the democracy and stability in the region depends on what would happen in Egypt. Mr. Morsi put it himself ‘“The revolution goes on, carries on until all the objectives of the revolution are achieved and together we will complete this march.”

With such drastic and unprecedented change in the leadership of Egypt, the world is watching, fingers are crossed that would this middle-eastern power under Morsi actually succeed in achieving the democratic freedom for which it has fought for nearly 17 months, for which it sacrificed nearly 850 lives or would this country relapse and slip back into the hands of the more experienced and established military autocracy?

 The writer, Aymen Ijaz works for the Islamabad Policy Research Institute.

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.

Salafists youth in Tunisia responding to Zawahiri's call for actionAfter labor unions somewhat eased tension following their earlier confrontations with the business sector and the government, now Islamist militants have come to the forefront, making the security issue Tunisia’s number one problem today.

Cases of extremist Salafists spreading fear across Tunisia have accelerated over the past week, courtesy of Al-Zawahiri and his followers. The purpose is essentially to scare the interim government and the administration headed by the moderate Islamist party Ennahda in an effort to imposed Sharia style law.

Confrontations between police and Salafists have taken place this week in the western suburbs of the capital Tunis.  The neighborhoods of Cité Intilaka, M’nihla, and Ennogra were invaded by black flags and large crowds of young Islamist militants taking over local cafes. Similar confrontations took place in areas like Carthage, Kram and La Marsa, where militants attacked the arts house Abdellia Palace. A police station in Carthage Byrsa was also targeted.  In Sousse, the Fine Arts Institute was attacked with a cocktail Molotov. Arts and culture are prime targets for the Salafists, so much so that calls for the killing of politicians who support arts were made and posted on social networks.

The situation has gotten so bad that the military has expanded security around the Presidential palace in Carthage.

In this confrontation between the Salafists and the fragile interim government, criminals are playing a significant role in spreading terror. Indeed police have arrested some 90 perpetrators of attacks against a variety of establishments, including liquor stores, who are confirmed to already have criminal records.

This escalation of events does not bode well for Tunisia in the short and mid term. This is likely to distract the central government from dealing with real structural issues and focus on enforcement.

The Salafist movement is often driven by inexperience and highly emotional youth that are often manipulated by outside forces, including Iran. Their insistence on making unrealistic changes based on the Sharia law in countries like Tunisia where the population has always been liberal, often leads to a protracted period of confrontation with the military, with the silent support of the majority as we have seen that in neighboring Algeria. If such insistence continues, the intervention of the military will be inevitable and Tunisia will become another red dot in Al-Zawahiri’s theater of operations’ map.

How to Secure the Sahel

Thursday night, the northern Mali region of Kidal witnessed the first serious clashes between the Touaregs and so-called Islamist group Ansar Dine, a group under the influence of Al-Qaeda Maghreb. The event is critically important it that it confirms that the two groups, the Touaregs organized under the Touareg 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.

Touareg fighters | (c) MNLA

Touareg fighters | (c) MNLA

As predicted, the Sahel is in a state of chaos and a power vacuum is magnified by lack of leadership on all fronts. The crisis in the Sahel has expanded in particular following the violent toppling of Libya’s Muamar Gaddafi, a man who had a substantial influence in the region. The Sahel has no economy to speak of, although the region undoubtedly abounds of natural resources global corporations cannot wait to grab. That goes from uranium, minerals and oil and gas, to fisheries along the Atlantic coast. But Sahel nations are too bankrupt to improve their economies. On the human level, the situation is no better. Racial tension in almost all nations from Mauritania to Mali and beyond, feed into the religious frenzy pitting Muslims, Christians, Animists and others against one another.

In this sorry state of affairs, it is no surprise that the divisions and crises affecting the Sahel are providing unique openings for all sorts of opportunists. First are the legal ones in form of highly organized and resourceful mining and oil companies, aided by their very own governments. Many Western firms that have been active for a long time in uranium, metals and oil and gas exploration and production have taken advantage of the weaknesses of the regimes in place, often even propelling and protecting them at time, or destroying them some other time based on their “shareholder interests.” This breed of capitalists are finding themselves facing unusual competition, in particular China which has proven to be able to turn a blind eye to the crises in the region and beyond. On the African theater, Capitalist entrepreneurs and Communist China make no difference. They are the two sides of the same coin, a coin used to perpetuate problems albeit with different styles but with the same goals.

Alongside these perfectly legal “economic” operators, value creators and captains of industry, are the shadowy criminal gangs that roam the Sahel. They are gangs because apparently, and on the surface, no government controls them. But they are also involved in less glamorous activities. Human smuggling, drug trafficking, arms dealing, illegal trans-border movement of commodities are among the actions that are making these gangs and their mafia bosses, wherever they are, thrive amid widespread misery. And, by the way, these bosses don’t have to be in the Sahel or anywhere in Africa. In the narcotics business, they are thousands of miles away in places like Colombia and elsewhere. From their headquarters and with their billions, these drug dealers remote-control the movement of their deadly cargos moving north and into Europe. And only occasionally do we hear about them. For example the airplanes full of drugs originating from Colombia that have crashed in the Sahel.

In addition to these criminals, who are in it for the money, there are also ideologically motivated gangs roaming around as well. Al-Qaeda’s North Africa franchise has been on everyone’s mind as the enemy number one to beat these days.  AQIM or Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb as it is known here has become central in furthering the destabilization of an already destabilized Sahel. AQIM is certainly a force to reckon with. Not because they have strong manpower or an effective strategy, but because no one can police the region effectively to neutralize them, therefore allowing them to strike in poorly controlled vast territories. Although AQIM is what the French like to refer to as “la bête noire,” they are not necessarily the biggest threat as a single force. In fact, AQIM is a divided organization with a faction seemingly more ideological than the other, each of which has its own leader. Although all of these factions are said to be reporting to the same man, ultimately what happens in one corner of the vast desert, stays in that corner. Eventually, these gangs have one thing in common and that is to engage in the lucrative kidnapping business.  Many locals and European travelers have particularly suffered on the hands of these groups, often with deadly consequences. The most ideological factions of AQIM seem to enjoy rather brutal endings of their kidnappings, with the killings of their victims publicized in the world media. Others seem to be willing to negotiate the terms of the ransoms, willing to even compromise on the ideological front as long as nations are willing to spend a few millions of dollars to save their citizens.

While it is possible that the AQIM risk is often overblown by the various governments and their intelligence services, the risk is no less real for the Sahel as long as no one has ownership of the security of the region.  And as of now, no one does. So the question we have asked ourselves is what strategy would we recommend as an approach to securing the Sahel?  The answer might surprise you.

The Touareg Card:

The State of Mali is the latest to showcase a series of dramas that originate from its deeply dysfunctional political system. As stated above, problems include poverty, racial tension, religious divisions and an incapable government with the now-deposed President known for cozying up to criminal elements, including an un-publicized peace treaty with AQIM. The country is battling what is clearly a civil war, one that may be the result of a government policy aimed at further impoverishing the country’s Touareg populations based in the north.

The Touareg uprising in Mali, which culminated with the recent takeover by Touareg rebels of towns like Gao and Timbuktu, is not an overnight event. Touareg grievances started decades ago as segregation, economic despair and social misery have been Bamako’s central policy toward them, planned or not. Yet, northern Mali has always been the Touaregs’ home. It is a vast territory that is part of larger territorial expanse that covers at least parts of Algeria, Libya, Niger, Burkina Faso and other nations, and extending further into troubled nations like Chad, Sudan, Mauritania, etc. The Sahel and the Sahara desert have been home to the Touaregs for centuries, so much so that their knowledge of the terrain is unsurpassed. No other ethnic group can match their skills and capabilities when it comes to handling the Sahelian landscape. And because of this fact, pacifying the Sahel, securing it and taking it away from the likes of AQIM and criminal gangs will not happen without the Touaregs’ agreeing and taking an active part to it.

While it is difficult to obtain reliable statistics on the Touareg population, best estimates put them at some 6 million, with most of them concentrated in Algeria, Mali, Niger, Libya and Burkina, or what represents the bulk of the Sahel.  The Touaregs of Niger amounted to nearly 1.8 million strong, based on a 1998 count. The Azawad of Mali were 1.5 million in 1991.  Algeria, which has its own Touaregs, counted them as less than a million but that was back in the late 1980s.  In all, it is conceivable that the Touaregs could exceed the 6 million mark.

With such a population in a vast deserted region, how can one expect to secure the Sahel without an active and direct Touareg involvement? Such as position would be tantamount to lunacy.

The issue is obviously more complex than what we see on the surface. Demand for a Touareg autonomy will not likely to resonate and be accepted easily by the region’s governments. They have shown over and over again that they would resort to armed conflict before they would allow such autonomy. But not all is lost as we look at the long term horizons. In this context, what is happening in Libya with many calling for Federalism, albeit with an uncertain outcome may be worth considering in the case of the Touaregs. After all, Libya itself has nearly 700,000 Touaregs and they are keenly taking part to the debate on autonomy that is taking place post Gaddafi.

In Libya, tribes have been insisting on the establishment of a federation of states that would be linked and unified by a central government but autonomous in many areas, probably including security.  The topic is front and center in the ongoing debate about the political future of Libya. But this very same idea should be applied elsewhere in Africa and certainly in the Sahel. In the case of the Sahel, the AQIM risk and the proliferation of criminal gangs can only be countered by the 6+ million-strong Touareg people in an environment where they feel they are in control and in charge of their own destiny and not by authorities housed in capitals thousands of miles away. By doing so, the Touaregs must feel empowered and incentivized to rid of all elements that could bring trouble to their homeland and people. In the process, one has to anticipate the negative reactions to this idea from the likes of Mali, Niger and probably all North African governments. But without resources and manpower to monitor and secure their own territories, these governments ought to seriously consider decentralizing governance for the sake of inclusiveness and efficiency.

Playing with the Touaregs is a difficult political and security exercise. The world’s powers, in particular the United States and Europe must be very careful not to alienate the Touaregs and so far, despite calls for the territorial integrity of Mali, these powers have refrained from vilifying the Touaregs. Doing so would bring a very dangerous outcome, one that would force the Touaregs to ally themselves with the wrong side. With a handful of men, AQIM managed to wreck havoc in the Sahel. Imagine what they can do if they form a real alliance with the millions of Touaregs.

The Touaregs are a proud people. They must be part of the solution and not considered as the problem. Only with their full participation will we see a secure Sahel. Not less.

Potential Pitfalls in the EU’s “More for More” Approach to Democratization in North Africa

5+5 Nations
President Chirac’s address at the closing of the 5+5 Dialogue Summit in 2003, with disgraced Ben Ali and now defunct Gaddafi there. Will Europe change its views of North Africa?

Since June of last year, the European Union has been touting its new reform plan for its European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), which calls for a complete revamping of the Union’s political and economic relations with the ‘Southern Mediterranean’ countries, most notably North Africa.  Among the central tenets of the new ENP is the “more for more” approach, which stipulates greater rewards in economic assistance and EU market access for partner countries in exchange for substantive and far-reaching political reforms.  While at first this seems to be a welcome change in rhetoric, and hopefully policy, from the EU, questions remain as to whether this really represents a true policy shift that will help strengthen reform and democratization in North Africa, or if such an approach will simply perpetuate a cycle of mismanaged EU-North Africa relations.

One of the glaring failures of the pre-Arab Spring ENP is that despite democratization rhetoric, the policy was largely aimed at promoting stability and the status quo.  The Neighborhood Policy itself was borne out of the European Security Strategy, and was initially intended to build a ‘ring of friends’ around Europe.  Over the years, rather than promoting democratic governance, the ENP simply reinforced “firm” governance.  Part of the failure of the ENP to illicit democratization in countries like Morocco or Tunisia stemmed from miscalculations over incentives.  What the EU was willing to offer the countries of the Maghreb in terms of economic cooperation was not sufficient to move these regimes to make any real changes to their government structure or practices.  However, an equally important part of the ENP’s failure also stems from the EU’s rush to offer the Moroccan and Tunisian governments “Advanced Status” negotiating terms despite little to no progress on the reform front, thus removing remaining incentives for change.  On the whole, for the pre-Arab Spring era, it would appear that the EU greatly overestimated its influence and miscalculated its way into insignificance.

While Tunisia is in the process of a real, if not completely smooth, transition, Morocco’s progress on reforms remains in flux.  The EU recently concluded an agricultural trade deal with Morocco, allowing it access to the EU market.  This is the trade agreement that Morocco has been desperately pursuing for years to little avail.  The deal came on the heels of a Constitutional referendum, changes to the enumerated powers of the Prime Minister, and a parliamentary election where the Islamist PJD won a majority, a first in a country where Islamists have been routinely imprisoned for political activity.  On the surface it would seem like the ‘more for more’ approach is working; substantive political reforms for greater economic benefits from the EU.  Yet, Morocco’s reforms over the last year aren’t nearly as substantive as they appear to be. 

The King still has de-facto full executive power, leaving the Prime Minister extremely weak, with a newly begun judicial reform process still dependent on the King’s executive privilege.  The constitutional reforms have come under scrutiny for the differences between the French and Arabic versions of the texts regarding the King’s title of “Commander of the Faithful,” meaning that it remains a crime to publicly criticize the monarchy or the state, and any of its institutions.  Mouad Belghouat, a 19 year old Moroccan rapper, better known as El Haqed (“the enraged”), knows this well.  He now sits in jail for a protest song “Dogs of the State,” where he blasted the country’s National Security Agency for its corruption and political oppression in subservience to the monarchy.  His defense team at his trial was not allowed to make a closing statement.  Additionally, the makhzen, or royal court, continues to maintain its grip over Morocco’s ‘private sector’ further enriching itself and the monarchy at the economic expense of ordinary Moroccans.  This hardly resembles the rosy facade of Morocco as, “a model for the region,” painted by European officials.

Additional concerns are now emerging over Algeria, with its recent election where the ruling party consolidated its hold on power and increased its share of seats in parliament.  Unlike Morocco, Algeria has an Association Agreement with the EU but not an Action Plan (AP).  Algeria expressed interest in beginning AP negotiations with EU in December 2011 and subsequently invited EU election observers to monitor the May legislative elections.  Beyond this, Algerian progress on reforms has been perfunctory.  Protests in the capital, Algiers, remain banned.  Although the government lifted the emergency law on the rest of the country, Amnesty International notes that protests still require authorization from the government which is routinely denied, amounting to a de facto ban on demonstrations.  Most recently, Algerian artists and intellectual launched a petition calling for true freedom of expression in the country.  The signatories heavily criticized the Ministry of Culture’s stranglehold over artistic expression citing its tendency to threaten and intimidate anyone who does not follow its strict directives and rules regarding cultural expression.

The goal of the Algerian government, based simply on the public rhetoric of its officials, has been to stave off the possibility of large-scale protest movements that would fundamentally challenge the government’s ruling authority.  The government has been fairly successful in preventing a Tunisia/Egypt/ Libya style revolt and even a Moroccan style youth protest movement.  Since it is relatively clear what the government’s intentions are and have been since the beginning of the Arab Spring, the recent election looks more like electoral theater aimed at placating European and Western criticism than substantive reform.  EU electoral monitors and high officials have already declared the election a success and are ready to offer Algeria the Action Plan it desires.  

The prospect of EU officials being naively unaware that these non-democratic governments are attempting to finesse favorable outcomes within the ENP at low political cost to themselves seems rather unlikely.  Behind the laudatory press releases and friendly diplomatic statements, EU diplomatic staff and Brussels bureaucrats must surely be aware of the blatant shortcomings of these countries’ respective reform processes.  Rather, the rush to provide rewards to these regimes for largely cosmetic reforms results from the belief that the EU can lure these governments into more genuine reforms if it can convince them it is offering the new ‘more for more’ approach in good faith.  While the EU has rightly calculated that it does indeed need to offer more, it has yet to recalibrate its tendency to offer too much too soon.  That Morocco has now achieved its long stated goal of an agricultural deal means that the EU has relatively little left to offer that is so highly desired by the government as to elicit further democratic reforms at a level and pace suitable to European sensibilities.  This leaves little optimism that as negotiations with Algeria begin, a new EU-Algeria Action Plan won’t look and feel dismally similar to previous sets of ENP Action Plans that failed to induce democratization and political reform.

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