A Busy Fall Season
The North Africa Journal, by Arezki Daoud | Although less dramatic than in 2011, the year 2012 for North Africa remains a period of intense struggle. The countries of the region are dealing with multi-faceted crises, hitting their political systems and their economies, and therefore affecting the balance of their basic social fabrics.
In its latest issue [http://www.north-africa.com/premium/issues/230.htm], The North Africa Journal inventories and analyzes a handful of the critical issues affecting region. Starting with the political systems, I give a summary in an opinion piece called “State of the States,” with an update of what is happening in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Libya.
In Tunisia, the power struggle pitting the President and Prime Minister is turning out to a struggle between ideologies, one that appears to put face to face liberal ideas versus conservative positions. In this fight, what’s at stake is more than what the Economist calls a choice between the US model and the UK model. It is not just about whether the President should have more power to counter the Islamists, as the liberal President wants, or less power in favor of the elected parliament, as the Prime Minister’s Ennahda party wants, but more about the philosophical ideas the would govern individual rights, gender equality, freedom of speech, and much more. The Tunisians are dealing with this passionate debate today, as the Salafist ultra-religious groups seek to take greater control of power. While the Tunisian politicians continue to bicker, and naturally deal with key issues of governance, their national economy remains in deep trouble.
In Libya, major steps have been made in stabilizing the nation, and the immediate one is to elect a Prime Minister. Some eight candidates are looking to fill the PM role, and among the most likely winners, we note the presence of individuals who hold US and Canadian citizenships. Although highly qualified, legitimate questions about their ability to put Libya first ought to be raised, in particular since the legislators have pushed for a law banning individuals who carry another citizenship to run.
Meanwhile, events on the ground will take a long time to settle before the Libyans can turn the final chapter of the Gaddafi era and focus on the future. Among the reminders of that dark era is the resumption of the trials of former senior officials that were key to the Gaddafi regime and were part of the repressive machine. One of them, Al-Sanusi was recently extradited from Mauritania to stand trial. On the economic front, the re-construction of Libya is underway, with the Ras Lanuf oil processing site resuming its activities, while the Libyan government estimating its 2012 oil earning to exceed the $50 billion. Still, mountains of issues and problems remain, though having a steady source of income helps reduce tension.
In Algeria, the health of the President came again to the forefront of the news over the weekend when a simple blog in France speculated that he died in a Swiss hospital. The news, denied by the Algerian State news agency, certainly highlights the issue of succession in that country. While it is fair to assume that the Algerian president is ill, steps may have been taken recently to pave the way for what’s coming next. A new Prime Minister (Sellal) was appointed, freeing Ahmed Ouyahia, the man he replaced, and enabling him to refocus more on the upcoming elections and eventually run as a candidate. The sidelining of former PM Abdelaziz Belkhadem should also enable this latter to prepare for a run. But these two men’s parties remain in turmoil as major internal infightings are taking place.
Meanwhile, Sellal’s task will be monumental. The average Algerian believes this appointment will not change the dynamics of the broken economy, but others are less cynical. The leftist movement and labor unions praised Sellal for having been a “friend” as water minister. The international business community and foreign investors are hearing some positive comments on the potential change in the nation’s laws that ban them from owning more than 49% equity in an Algerian business. The private sector is hoping the nation’s reform program should be accelerated and the remaining $130 billion left to be spent by 2014, should be spent to the penny. Regardless, the country’s economy is in turmoil, aside from the oil and gas sector. This summer, citizens have seen a plenty of an economy that has collapsed and a bureaucracy that harms productive initiatives and job creation, as government was nowhere to be found. Water and power shortages over the summer, added to the depressing trends of price increases due to speculators. While jobs are not created, Bouteflika’s pledge to build a mosque is not always well received. This is because not only it is costing billions of dollars, but the construction firm in charge is importing thousands of Chinese workers to build a house of worship as unemployment in the country is in double digits.
In Morocco, things are not necessarily better post constitutional amendments. The economy remains correlated to the performance of the European economies and the Monarchy remains solidly in power despite the new constitution. The recent appointment of 17 men to lead the regions as Walis (super governors) did not go down well with the grassroots Islamists of the PJD party and pro-democracy activists. This is because the elected Prime Minister (from the PJD) had no input in the list of candidates put forward by the Interior Minister, who reports to the King. The rubberstamping of the list by the PM was not well received by his constituents. And they have a good reason to complain. The Walis are at the top of regional governance. They make or break politicians, businesses, and ideas. They can call upon the police and auxiliary forces to crack down on decent without sufficient oversight. Their rules bypass those of the mayors and virtually nullify any perceived power the Administration thinks it has. With such power, King Mohammed’s ideas on regionalization and giving more power to the provinces carry no logic. And that’s only part of the problems with governance in North Africa.
In this issue, we discuss a host of economic issues, including the latest trends in Tunisian real estate, the deluge of counterfeit products invading North Africa, China’s economic push in the continent, and much more.
Visit the home page of issue 230 to read, download or subscribe.