What a Start!
The year 2009 was such a dismal year that many people questioned how worst it can get. In asking this question, there was an assumption that things are going to get better as we enter 2010. Three months into the new year and we are already seeing signs of stress everywhere, and North Africa is not spared from this movement.Where to begin? First, let’s talk security. The American administration’s decision to single out Libya and Algeria as countries where terror can originate from has wrecked havoc in diplomatic and security circles. The decision may have been a trivial announcement for the State Department and the White House, essentially to show the public that decisions are being made, but the consequences are likely to be bad with negative effects to last for a long while.
As we demonstrate in this lead analysis in our latest issue, the security environment in the Sahel region has worsened. In northern Mali’s Kidal region alone, local sources say some 1,000 men have pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda. Niger, with its latest coup d’état has also plenty of willing bodies siding with the global insurgency movement. In these cases, pending issues such as the legitimate fate of the Touareg people have been neglected and are creating a momentum in favor of Al Qaeda. What’s worse is the brewing troubles in Nigeria, where Muslims and Christians continue to fight each other on religious grounds but are no doubt manipulated by powerful forces. This disastrous problem is also opening a new front and opportunity to Al Qaeda, which has already used a national from Nigeria to attempt an attack on a US airline in December 2009. The head of Al Qaeda North Africa has recently sent a message to the Nigerian Muslim youth, offering support and training opportunities in sites it controls in the Sahel region and even in the Kabylie Mountains. These are some basic examples of a festering security environment that is being undermined by reckless politics in the West. In this context, there is no doubt that the US and its European allies should have analyzed their views first and should have realized that with their resources and proximity, Algeria and Libya should not have been demonized as such. These countries are front line nations in the fight against terror.
Speaking of allies, European nations have quickly toed the line to the American demands of keeping an eye on North Africans. France jumped on the occasion to further deteriorate its already highly-fragile relations with its former colony Algeria. With policies spearheaded by conservative far right politicians in France, and equally conservative voices in Algeria, the two countries do not see eye-to-eye on a great deal of issues. After French lawmakers passed a law some time ago emphasizing the goodness and “positive contribution” of France during the colonial era, Algerian lawmakers are working on a law of their own to criminalize colonialism. This means that French nationals believed to have been involved in the Franco-Algerian war could be subjected to criminal prosecution. Needless to say, both sides blame each other for lack of progress.
But not all Europeans toed the line to Washington. Britain may be the only European nation that showed independence in views and action. London disagrees with Washington and decided that the Algerians, for example, did not warrant the added scrutiny. Follow this link to read the analysis.
In the region, tension has also been brewing between Algiers and Cairo. The two nations have been at odd since the two countries’ football teams met in Cairo for a Worldcup football qualifier. The violence that took place in Cairo led to an unprecedented war of words, driven by football fanatics on both sides, with the Internet and the media on the forefront. The result was the inevitable involvement of the governments on both sides. For Cairo, the argument has been about the prominence of Egypt as the leading nation in the Arab world. For Algeria it was about reaffirming its independence and capabilities. In this Kafka-style affair, Egypt seems to have lost a few points and Algeria appears to have the upper hand. Algeria has enacted severe trade restrictions affecting several hundred products imported from Egypt. It enacted a ban that meant millions of dollars of lost revenue for Egypt. The Egyptian company Orascom, which operates the Djezzy mobile phone network in Algeria, is also feeling pressure, and is on its way out of Algeria. Algeria has also limited the export of gas to Egypt, creating a shortage of cooking gas that is hurting Egyptian households. All of these events do not help lessen tension, and Egypt may be looking for mediators to help. Follow this link to read our report.
In domestic affairs, the year 2010 started with a quiet front in Tunisia and Morocco. But Libya and Algeria are going through a tumultuous period, with Libya dealing with a set of problems on the succession to power front, and Algeria facing an unprecedented arm wrestling involving the presidency and some corners of the military. This struggle comes in form of a presidential appointment of an independent commission to look at the assassinations of political figures in the 1990s such as the late president Boudiaf. While some in the military seem to target the President’s allies with investigations of high-profile cases of corruption and financial crimes, chief of which is that oil giant Sonatrach. The recent killing of the nation’s police chief, Ali Tounsi, may be linked to another probe into financial corruption. Click here for our analysis.
In this issue we also look at the road to succession in Libya. While no one can predict with a great deal of certainty what will happen in Libya, Muamar Kaddafi is no doubt looking to impose one of his sons as his successor. Kaddafi’s embarrassing defeat in his effort to renew his leadership at the African Union, means that now has all the times he needs to focus on the future of his regime. Looking at the current environment, Seif El-Islam Kaddafi is the best positioned of all his sons to take over. But this is not a done deal for him. Seif has been creating a great deal of stress among the conservatives and the military. While he has the support of the reformists and the West, the old guards and the “system” will not be so keen on letting their privileges go. To counter Seif, the old guards seem to be putting forward an alternative in form of Hannibal, the man who singlehandedly ruined his country’s relations with Switzerland. With support from Cairo, Hannibal is the second potential after Seif, and their battle promises to be dramatic and worth watching. We also look in this issue at the fate of another of Muamar Kaddafi’s sons, Saadi, a man who has been quiet in most fronts, but busy trying to build a name for himself.
We did cover a great deal of topics in this issue and as usual, we welcome your opinions, views and analyses. Please feel free to send us your critics and views at my email at email@example.com.