North Africa Under Stress: Latest Developments
[The North Africa Journa | By Arezki Daoud and Kouichi Shirayanagi]: Phase one of the North African revolution is now behind us. The fire has been ignited and regime change occurred in Tunisia and Egypt, both going through a tough transition period with a great deal of uncertainty. In other countries, we see rising stress, with governments there working to prevent popular uprisings that toppled Ben Ali and Mubarak. The following is a brief report of the latest developments in North Africa as of February 16, 2011.
- Protests to sustain in Algeria,
- Morocco seeks to contain discontent with more spending on subsidies,
- Tunisia faces transitional hurdles
- Libya see first clashes in Benghazi
- and Egypt makes clean break with Mubarak era
Starting with Algeria, a coalition of NGOs and political parties called Coordination Nationale pour le Changement et la Démocratie (CNCD) has called for a march to be held every Saturday. The previous demonstration held February 12, 2011 was met with a heavy police presence leading to between 300 to 500 arrests. The idea of a repeat of the march came from the head of the Algerian human rights' league (LADDH), 90 year old lawyer Ali Yahia Abdennour. While the members of CNCD agreed on calling for a nationwide strike, no one provided a date on when such strike should occur. There are disagreements among many organizations and a broad consensus on a strategy has not emerged yet except that pressure on the authorities has to continue. In particular, the CNCD remains weak in the labor sector, despite having several independent unions on its side. The opposition FFS party also decided to not take part to the protest. Meeting to assess their Feb 12 march, the CNCD says that thugs were paid by the city of Algiers to break the demonstrations, and a campaign of misinformation was launched by the State TV and government-owned newspapers.
Also among the biggest challenges for pro-Democracy activists is to break the authorities’ dividing tactic of using ethnicity. Indeed, the protest has been largely spearheaded by the opposition RCD party, a party that finds its strength in the eastern provinces of Kabylie. With the Kabyles driving the marches, the authorities have been somewhat successful in discrediting the organizers. Nevertheless, similar events occurred in non Kabylie regions, such as Constantine in the east and Oran in the northwest. The CNCD will have to focus its strategy on countering the ethnic card used by the authorities to minimize its action.
Politically however, the CNCD managed to score a few points following statements made by the US and French governments as to the rights of the Algerian people to hold peaceful demonstrations. While the Algerian government is not likely to listen to foreign statements, pressure will likely continue to mount.
Meanwhile, Algeria is facing a multi-front protest season, above and beyond the CNCD action. Various strikes are taking place that are not connected but collectively could form a formidable challenge to the government. The higher education sector remains largely paralyzed by a strike from students demanding a new status for their degrees. The broad national education sector is also near paralysis. A nationwide strike for March 2 has been called by the sector’s union CNAPEST. Regional feuds pitting the populations with the police remain a constant fixture with boiling point likely to be reached in the midterm. Bad police behavior led to a popular revolt in the municipality of Chorfa in the province of Bouira over the past few days. Nearby at Ath-Lakser an attack by alleged terrorists was recorded during the week. In Boghni, in the province of Tizi Ouzou no less than eight (8) bombs were diffused just this week. This state of terror is largely affecting the Kabylie region, which local politicians blame the government for seeking to destabilize.
The country is also facing weakened authorities. In many towns, the housing crisis has forced thousands of families to invade unfinished apartment units. This was the case last week when some 50 families illegally settled in an unfinished housing complex in the western city of Oran. A dozen houses were destroyed in the town of Bordj Menaiel when the police intervened to dislodge the illegal occupants. Such types of events are recorded in many places, included Sidi Chahmi and El Kerma in Oran, in Al Amria in Ain Temouchent, etc.
This state of disarray is indicative of authorities unable to manage and govern appropriately and we do fear Algeria is headed toward a broader governance crisis with severe implications on security. On Wednesday (today), Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia announced that the lifting of the state of emergency will take place end of February. More details will be made available later.
In Morocco, the situation is calmer but the events that rocked Bahrain these days and Jordan earlier prove that monarchies are not immune from public fury. So-called religious legitimacy no longer apply and challenges to the Moroccan monarchy are likely to take place in progressive steps until at least a more transparent parliamentary system is imposed either bythe monarchy itself or by the Moroccan people. We expect the King will move first instead. While the Internet is being used by pro-democracy Moroccan citizens living abroad and within the country proper, the government of Morocco is paying close attention to events and is working to contain any potential trouble. Morocco’s lobbyists abroad have been working hard to convince the international press that the North African nation is unique and has made significant progress that it would be able withstand the type of crisis facing nearly most Arab countries. However, in our analysis Morocco faces the same social-economic environment as in many troubled Arab nations. Unemployment, poverty and a locked political system, areas that led to the troubles in Tunisia and Egypt, remain serious problems in Morocco as well. The fundamentals of social discontent remain substantial. They may not explode overnight but they will no doubt remain a constant source of demands.
Aware of the problems, the Moroccan government is seeking to remove as many factors of stress as possible. The government has nearly doubled the amount to be spent by the country’s subsidy fund (Caisse de Compensation) overnight. While the previous budget for 2011 called for a MAD 17 billion subsidy pool, the government announced on Tuesday, February 15, 2011 that another MAD 15 billion will be injected into the fund. No additional reasons were provided by the finance ministry, letting analysts speculate that the government is working of a charm offensive targeting the public. This would be a major cost for Morocco but one that would go a long way in helping the most affected through the subsidizing of basic products like cooking gas, sugar and flour.
In Tunisia the transitional government is facing massive challenges, including dealing with illegal migration from Tunisia to Europe. The Italian island of Lampedusa, some 138 km from the Tunisian coast witnessed the arrival of some 5,000 illegal immigrants, mostly Tunisians. Under the old regime of Ben Ali, attempting Illegal migration to Europe was a crime punishable by fines and prison time. The migrants were apparently taking advantage of the change in government and the new lack of patrolling the waters to migrate. Worried about the growing numbers, the Italian Interior Minister, Roberto Meroni (a member of the Anti-Immigrant Liga Nord party) even had the insensitive idea to send a contingent of Italian police officers to Tunisia for enforcement purposes. The comment has angered the Tunisians.
Apparently a compromise has been reached that would allow Italy to send to Tunisia equipment such as radar and speed boats to patrol its coast, in exchange for a proactive role of the Tunisians in keeping refugees from coming. Meanwhile, the Italians appealed to other EU nations to take the refugees that are already there. The Italians also made a 100 million Euro request for assistance in coping with the refugees from the European Union.
This difficult problem is occurring at the same time the Tunisian foreign minister, Ahmed Ounaies handed over his resignation, just about 15 days after his appointment to the job. Ounaies decided to resign after many Tunisians, including foreign ministry employees, expressed their anger over compliments he paid to his French counterpart, Michele Alliot-Marie. Ms. Alliot-Marie has been the target of political attacks ever since she sided with the Ben Ali regime and proposed sharing French anti-riot expertise to assist the Ben Ali regime in quelling demonstrators at the start of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution.
The government also announced the lifting of the curfew but maintained the state of emergency. Both social discontent and the growing demands from the poorest of the population remain substantial problems. Efforts from allies of the Ben Ali regime to derail the transition process are still underway. The transition period has been a difficult one in Tunisia, where as we anticipated, security has been an issue. So much so that the president has been given greater powers on the temporary basis and many army reservists were called to help restore order.
Meanwhile, large scale protests in front of regional governorate buildings took place last week over the interim government’s appointment of 24 new regional governors, many of whom were accused to have been too close to the old RCD ruling party and the former regime of ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. After long negotiations between the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) and the interim government an agreement was reached to reappoint regional governors on the basis of their competence rather than their loyalty to the former regime.
The governorate of Kebili had a fatality in protests against the regional governor appointment of Badreddine Habil when a man died after being hit by a tear gas grenade in clashes between protestors and police.
In Sousse, three days of constant protests surrounding the regional government building forced the governor there, Khemaïes Argoubi to resign before the Interim Government’s announcement. He was led out of the regional government building by the National Army. The number of protestors around his building had dramatically increased over his governorship. He had previously served as the Secretary General of the Governorates of Tataouine and Manouba before his Feb. 3rd nomination to be Governor of Sousse. The same scenario occurred in Beja where constant protests forced the resignation of Governor Hatem Hamzaoui. Beja has also been rocked by large scale protests by students in schools and saw rising theft of agricultural equipment.
The corporate and industrial sectors are also facing their own revolution of sort. A number of companies, in particular state-owned firms, decided to dismiss their senior management teams. The CEOs recently sacked include those of the Real Estate Housing Agency (AFH), Land Registry and Cartography agency (OTC), the Social Housing Promotion Corporation (SPROLS) and the Construction Techniques and Tests Center (CETEC), all affiliated to the Transport and Equipment Ministry. Other institutions with similar issues are the Office of Merchant Marine and Ports and the Tunisian Shipping Company (CTN).
Up until now, Libya has been largely unaffected by the crisis but clashes erupted in the region of Benghazi today Wednesday. Some 40 people are said to have been injured and being treated in a local hospital. The demonstrators were responding to the arrest of human rights activist Fethi Tarbel.
In Egypt, while the Egyptian people continue to enjoy a honeymoon period of sort, the caretaker military government began to dismantle the Mubarak system following his resignation. The parliament has been sacked and the constitution suspended. While most call this a revolution, some worry it could be a military coup. The military is in charge for a period it said could last 6 months, or until the legislative and presidential elections take place. The parliament that was voted in 2010 is said to be the result of massive fraud. Not a single member of the opposition won a seat in the 2010 Parliamentary Elections.
Seeking to appease the growing fear of uncertainty in Israel and in the United States, the Egyptian military stated that Egypt will respect its regional and international treaties. Though not mentioning any specific ones in its communiqué, the message was clearly directed to appease Israel and the US in particular. This comes at the same time Israel’s defense minister Ehud Barak stated that the events in Egypt are not likely to constitute any risk for relations with Israel, a position not so clear in the mind of the hawkish Prime Minister Benyamin Natanyahu.
Within the military leadership, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi is essentially the acting head of state, acting on behalf of the military council, which will govern by decree.
While the fate of former President Mubarak remains unknown, rumors of deteriorating health is circulating. Alessandro Bruno of The North Africa Journal believes such rumors are meant to pave the way for a Mubarak exit out of the country under the cover of medical treatment, most likely to Europe. Regardless, some European officials are calling for a common approach to discovering Mr. Mubarak wealth and assets abroad.
In Cairo, some 500 police officers walked to the interior ministry to demand higher wages, while putting pressure on the military government to punish their former boss, former interior minister Habib El-Adli.
In the aftermath of the riots, antiquities Chief Zahi Hawass says eight (8) pieces of high value have vanished from the Cairo’s Egyptian Museum hear Tahrir Square. That included pieces form the Tutankhamen era.