Foreign Policy‘s VOICE on Europe’s Future will be decided in North Africa elaborates on mainly the potential impact of Algeria’s current political instability on not only the region but also on the European Union.
Meanwhile, today July 19, 2019, is the twenty-second Friday of street demonstrations, were it not coincidentally for the Africa Cup of football happening the same day in the evening. Street demonstrations in all towns and villages of Algeria have become by now a sort of run of the mill. They are chasing a fundamental change of regime and not some epidermic exercise.
The United States should stop treating the region
as secondary to the rest of the Middle East.
When I first came to Washington in the
1990s, people who worked on North Africa were few and far between. It was
considered a backwater; no one ever came to Washington to solve the Western
Instead, U.S. foreign-policy strivers
made their way to the Beltway to ensure the security of the Persian Gulf’s
shipping lanes, to write cheesy lines about the appropriateness of Wahhabism’s
austere creed arising from such a harsh landscape, and to chase the whitest of
white whales—peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It is a narrow view of
the region that continues today, which is unfortunate because North Africa is
far more important to U.S. interests than the Middle East obsessions—old and
new—of the policy community.
A long look at the map will tell you
almost everything one needs to know about North Africa and its importance to a
core American interest—the stability and security of Europe. Of course,
the region is important to the millions of people who call it home, but their
neighbors across the Mediterranean Sea have long been and will continue to be a
focus of U.S. foreign policy. There are only 146 miles separating the Tunisian
coast and the Italian coast and 286 miles from Libya to Greece. Algeria’s
beaches are 469 miles from those of France—about the distance from Washington
to Charleston, South Carolina. Morocco and Spain are separated by a mere 9
miles. Proximity and colonial legacies have shaped the region in such a way
that at least the northern rim of the Maghreb seems to share more culturally
with Southern Europe than it does with sub-Saharan Africa. Add to this Europe’s
economic pull, a steady flow of migrants from African countries, a bevy of
extremist groups, and copious energy resources.
It would be an exaggeration to suggest
that as goes North Africa so goes Europe but not by much. The United States
still has a compelling interest in a Europe that, in the words of the late
George H.W. Bush, is “whole and free.” And among policymakers in Washington,
there is increasing concern about Europe’s vulnerability because so much of its
natural gas comes from Russia. But 11 percent comes from Algeria. That might
not sound like a lot, but some individual European countries are more
vulnerable than others. Spain, for example, gets 52 percent of its natural gas
from Algeria. The North African giant is also Italy’s second-largest gas
supplier. If Algeria descended into violence—not out of the realm of
possibility—and its gas supplies were somehow disrupted, Europe would have a
If Algeria descended into violence—not out of the
realm of possibility—and its gas supplies were somehow disrupted, Europe would
have a significant problem.
Could the continent make up the difference
from other sources? Libya has a lot of gas, but it is in the midst of a civil
war. Egypt also has tremendous amounts of gas, but it doesn’t have the capacity
yet to make up any shortfalls that Europe might experience. The Israelis would
love to sell gas to Europe, but the pipeline to Europe they envision may not be
Then there is migration, an issue that
has vexed Europe’s leaders, caught as they are between the European Union’s
liberal cosmopolitanism and a virulent nationalism that a united, democratic,
and prosperous continent was supposed to make irrelevant. Of course, migrants
arriving on European shores via North Africa did not create Europe’s right-wing
nationalist and neo-fascist parties, but they did give them a boost—and the
effect on Europe has been devastating. Setting aside developments in Austria,
Hungary, and Poland, the leaders of the Brexit campaign and the Alternative for
Germany (a far-right party) fed off Europe’s migration crisis in 2015 to
advance their ruinous and dangerous agendas. The destabilization of the United
Kingdom and the prospect of German political polarization are deeply troubling
and a strategic setback for the United States. If Washington has a true partner
in this world, it has been London. Meanwhile, a successful, democratic Germany
is a bedrock of European stability and prosperity.
For almost two decades, Washington’s
focus has been on combating al Qaeda and then the Islamic State in Afghanistan,
Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Extremism in North Africa seems to be an afterthought. It
should not be. Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia all have terrorism problems
that have affected Europe in frightening ways.
Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia all have terrorism
problems that have affected Europe in frightening ways.
In the 1990s, Algerian extremists bombed the
Paris metro and hijacked an Air France flight in an attempt to force the crew
to fly the plane into the Eiffel Tower. More recent terrorist attacks in Europe
have been homegrown affairs, but that does not mean that Europe is safe from
North African extremism. In Tunisia in 2015, extremists killed European
tourists on a beach and in a museum. That is why the French have thrown their
lot in with would-be Libyan strongman Gen. Khalifa Haftar—he promises to kill a
lot of bad guys. President Emmanuel Macron may be wrong in his assessment of
Haftar’s capabilities, and French policy may be making things worse, but his
sense of where the threat comes from is clear. Algeria and Libya are huge
countries that border Chad, Mali, and Niger, which are themselves confronting
extremist violence. The prospect of groups linking up or merging in this region
is a significant security challenge for Europeans.
Finally, it is not just North Africa’s
old colonial powers—France and Italy—that are active there. Russia has a
long-standing defense relationship with Algeria, but it has also become more
active in Libya. It should be clear by now that President Vladimir Putin wants
to weaken and divide Europe. He has already forged an arc of Russian influence
around the Mediterranean, stretching from Ankara in the north, through Damascus
and Cairo, and then heading west from there into Benghazi. The latter is in
Haftar’s territory and the part of Libya where the bulk of the country’s oil
reserves are located. Putin doesn’t need to collect allies at the expense of
the United States per se—he just needs to give Russia a base from which he can
continue to sow discord and confusion in Europe.
Given how energy, migration, extremism,
and Russia’s ambition coincide in North Africa to threaten European stability,
it does not seem wise for U.S. policymakers to continue to treat the region as
an afterthought. Peace between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as democracy
in the Middle East, would be nice, but given the limits of American power, it
makes more sense to devote Washington’s resources to places that matter more to
U.S. interests. And North Africa matters. If you don’t believe me, look at a
Israel’s 12-year blockade of the territory has accelerated this trend of Gaza’s crafts industries fast disappearing at a time when normal life seemed ever more difficult to bring back onto its streets. Decades in the besieged enclave, have somehow allowed stores to be reopened, students to head back to schools, and people generally resuming work. This article of Gulf News dated July 10, illustrates fairly well the particular situation of the strip today.
Gaza City, Gaza Strip: When Gazans think of better economic times, images of clay pottery, colorful glassware, bamboo furniture and ancient frame looms weaving bright rugs and mats all come to mind. For decades, these traditional crafts defined the economy of the coastal Palestinian enclave, employing thousands of people and exporting across the region. Today, the industries are almost non-existent.
While such professions have shrunk worldwide in the face of globalisation and Chinese mass production, Gazan business owners say Israel’s 12-year blockade has accelerated the trend. “We have been economically damaged. We are staying, but things are really difficult,” said Abed Abu Sido, one of Gaza’s last glassmakers, as he flipped through a glossy catalogue of his products.
At his quiet workshop, layers of dust covered the few remaining glass artifacts, requiring him to scrub them to reveal their colours. Cardboard boxes of unfinished products and materials were stacked floor-to-ceiling.
Abu Sido opened his business in the 1980s, selling many of his items to vendors in the popular marketplace of Jerusalem’s Old City. In his heyday, he said he took part in exhibitions in Europe. That changed after 2007, when the Hamas militant group overran Gaza, and Israel and Egypt responded by sealing Gaza’s borders. Abu Sido laid off his 15 workers and ceased operations the following year.
Israel says the blockade is needed to contain Hamas and prevent it from arming. But the closure, repeated rounds of fighting with Israel and a power struggle with the rival Palestinian Authority in the West Bank have hit Gaza hard.
Economic and Governance Risks came as a no surprise assessment of today’s as well the immediate future of the MENA region. The inefficient state of most countries characterizes all of their public management and related corollaries: i.e., internal violence for some and external dependence for most. Even in the favourable assumption of relatively stable of the latter ones’ authorities, these prove powerless to achieve the objectives they have set themselves, because of the inefficiency of their administration and when these manage to achieve their objectives, it is at a high cost. Here is that Economic and Governance Risks to the MENA Region.
Exogenous factors, such as geo-economic division, climate change and technological threats all pose a particular risk to MENA, but so, too, do hazards that are more regional in nature. According to respondents in the Middle East and North Africa to the World Economic Forum’s Executive Opinion Survey, the top two risks across the region for doing business are “energy price shock” and “unemployment or underemployment.” These risks are largely economic in nature and affected by the health of governance in the region. Similarly, the number five risk, (“fiscal crises”), the number seven risk (“unmanageable inflation”) and the number 10 risk (“failure of financial mechanism or institution”) follow the same pattern of being largely economic in nature and potentially governance-driven.
The top risk, “energy price shock”, comes at a time when some countries have taken steps towards diversification, but the region is still largely a hydrocarbon economy, heavily reliant on revenue from this sector. Oil prices increased substantially between 2017 and 2018, from around USD 50 to USD 75. This represents a significant fillip for the fiscal position of the region’s oil producers, with the IMF estimating that each USD 10 increase in oil prices should feed through to an improvement on the fiscal balance of three percentage points of GDP. However, vulnerabilities to swings in oil prices have not disappeared and are particularly pronounced in countries where government spending is rising. This group includes Saudi Arabia, which the IMF estimated in May 2018 had seen its fiscal breakeven price for oil — that is, the price required to balance the national budget — rise to USD 88, 26 percent above the IMF’s October 2017 estimate and also higher than the country’s medium-term oil price target of USD 70 – USD 80.
It is no surprise, then, that Saudi Arabia remains one of five countries in the region that rank “energy price shock” as the top risk to doing business in the survey, along with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar.
The World Economic Forum in partnership with Marsh & McLennan Companies and Zurich Insurance Group released its Middle East and North Africa Risks Landscape Report, which uses data from the Global Risks Report 2019 and the Regional Risks for Doing Business 2018.
Christer Elfverson tells Arab News diversity in the Arab world partly due to population growth and GDP.
Unless tensions are eased the outlook for many young Arabs remained bleak.
LONDON: Wars and turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are having a marked impact on youth unemployment, according to a former top UN official.
And unless tensions are eased the outlook for many young Arabs remained bleak, said international diplomatic adviser, Christer Elfverson. His comments follow figures from the International Labor Organization (ILO), showing that one in five young people under the age of 25 in the region are jobless and have no skills, and in some countries, the issue is becoming more acute.
Elfverson, who spoke at a recent event hosted by Education for Employment (EFE) in collaboration with Citi Foundation, told Arab News that the diversity in the Arab world was partly due to population growth and GDP. But he added that turmoil and wars in the region had also affected unemployment rates, and a lack of initial education in some MENA countries was concerning for future generations. Salvatore Nigro, EFE global VP and CEO, said that the MENA region had the highest percentage of young people, with 65 percent under the age of 25, yet unemployment rates were running at an average of 30 percent. More than 27 million young people will come of working age in the next five years, creating even more pressure and competition in the jobs market. However, MENA countries often face very different problems. In some mountainous regions of Morocco, for example, it is difficult and dangerous for children to undertake daily journeys, whereas Syrian or Palestinian refugees do not have the money for school transport or books. “In some issues, it has gotten better and others it’s worse but at the same time those in the countries that have been able to find jobs then maybe the possibilities are greater now. But it is two different worlds,” said Elfverson, who is an EFE board member.
Abdesselam Aboudrar, the Moroccan ambassador to London, said that the education system in his country was currently being reformed. He added that the illiteracy rate had decreased from just over 40 percent to about 25 percent, which although “still a lot,” had been slashed over the past 10 years. “We are reforming the whole system to make it more effective and more empowering for youth,” the envoy said. Aboudrar told Arab News that Morocco had been working with several NGOs and countries including Japan, China, Russia, Canada and EU nations to develop the maritime, industrial and textile sectors and encourage more young people to take jobs in these fields. The ambassador said vocational training was a very important aspect in preparing young people for current and future jobs. It was also vital to simultaneously train youth in supplying water, maritime and fisheries, developing skills in the automotive, computing, agricultural and tourism industries, to curb poverty, educate women and provide young girls with access to education.
When it came to the MENA region, David Cowan, Citi Africa economist, compared Saudi Arabia with Algeria due to the oil factor. “The level of growth and employment per dollar of government spending is one of the lowest in the world. If the Saudi government spends $10, the amount of jobs and growth that number generates is much lower than, for example, in many other countries. So that is a problem,” he said. Cowan added that Saudi Arabia had a high level of revenue with no constraint but said: “It is how you spend that revenue wisely. Sometimes you need to spend money on lower-profile projects that may generate more employment in the long run.”
Jordan’s EFE chief executive officer, Ghadeer Khuffash, told Arab News that this quarter’s unemployment rate had increased to 19 percent. She said there was “economically active people in Jordan and there are economically inactive people.” The inactive ones were not working or looking for jobs. “In Jordan, 87 percent of females are economically inactive, which means only 14 percent of the women are contributing to the labor market. So, in our work, we don’t only target unemployment or unemployed youth, but we also target those who are economically inactive.” Not only is Jordan suffering from a high unemployment rate, but the country also has to bear the responsibility of millions of refugees or displaced persons and borders states that have endured years of war and unrest.
Refugees often do not have valid permits and are not able to leave camps. Those that do are barely able to move within the camp, let alone leave to go to work.
Regarding the challenges females face in employment, Khuffash said: “All the reports from the World Bank and so on, highlight the lack of public transportation systems and nursery care.” She added that most of the work was predominantly in the capital Amman and the northern city of Irbid. The other governorates had minimal job opportunities. One key factor, however remains consistent: As candidates filter into the market, it has become evident that they are ill-prepared for the workforce, whether coming from a disadvantaged background or a more educated path. The problem cannot be solved by simply modernizing education and labor markets. Speaking to Arab News, Cynthia Muller, board member of EFE-Europe, said the EFE had a measurable, traceable and easily comprehensible mission that did not need a lot of due diligence because “the money goes to where it is supposed to go. And it’s effectively being put to work. “There is a bit of magic when you have humans together with a common mission who have not had the privilege of being attended to on a silver plate. I have been amazed to see people change their life with a very small amount of help by getting that first job,” the hedge fund banker added. For any economy to advance it needs human talent. “Anything that affects the economy and the country, and the well-being of people affects the youth more than the adults,” said Elfverson.
Chatham House Reports of one of its Middle East and North Africa Programme elaborates on the still on-going conflict economies of Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. The excerpts of the published Executive Summary reproduced here below do not include its Recommendations for Western policymakers, etc.
The conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen have killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions. In seeking to explain the violence that has struck the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) over the past two decades, analysis to date has focused predominantly on ideological and identity-based factors. This report expands this discourse by incorporating approaches adopted from the literature on the political economy of war to examine the conflict economies of Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
motivations, at the individual and group level, are key to understanding
the wars in these countries, yet have tended to be overlooked
in the MENA context. (As the wars have progressed and evolved, the
national and local economies in which conflict is embedded have also changed.)
Such motivations can offer an alternative or complementary
explanation for armed group membership and armed group behaviour. While some
groups will fight to promote or defend a particular identity,
others fight for economic survival or enrichment. For many more actors,
these motivations are tied together, and separating out ‘greed’ and ‘grievance’
is a difficult, if not impossible, task. Even
if economic motivations did not spark the wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria and
Yemen initially, it is clear that such factors now play a critical
role in the persistence of open fighting, localized violence and
objectives of this report are twofold. First, it seeks
to develop a framework for comparative analysis of conflict
economies at the local level in the MENA region. Traditionally, the
idea of a conflict economy has been tightly linked to the
funding for arms, ammunition and fighters. Further, most analyses
of conflict economies are conducted at the national level. Even where
research is conducted on a regional basis, discussion
of the impact of conflict is brought back to the national
level. In contrast, we see a broader political economy
of war at work in the region. Our analysis illustrates how
a conflict economy is embedded within a complex local socio-political
system, in which many variables and agendas interact. We deliberately
avoid characterizing conflict economies in terms of ‘black’ and
‘grey’ markets that somehow need to be ‘cleaned up’, as this
erroneously implies that they can eventually be converted into licit
markets like their peacetime counterparts.2 A more
nuanced and multifaceted reading is essential. For the purposes
of this report, we define a conflict economy
as a system of producing, mobilizing and allocating resources
to sustain competitive and embedded violence, both directly and
we show that a ‘political economy of war’ framing offers new
approaches for reducing competitive and embedded violence. ‘Competitive
violence’ can be defined as violence ‘deployed by warring elites
to contest or defend the existing distribution of power’.4 Fighting
between rival armed groups for control over resources and rents, among other
things, usually falls into this category. ‘Embedded violence’,
in contrast, underpins ‘how a political settlement5 works,
as the deals agreed between elites may revolve around who has the “right”
to use violence’.6 In practice,
this could mean that one group is ‘permitted’ to use violence against
another group – and no punishment will be enforced. In the
context of this study, the use of armed force to assert the
status quo to limit the number of ruling elite members is one
example of embedded violence.
of conflict economies has mostly focused on state-level dynamics.7 However,
less attention has been paid to the development of conflict sub-economies that are specific to certain types of
location. This study demonstrates three distinct types of conflict sub-economy:
(1) capital cities; (2) transit areas and borderlands; and (3) oil-rich areas.
Our analysis highlights how each sub-economy creates distinct location-based
patterns of resource production, mobilization and allocation
to sustain competitive and embedded violence. The rents available
in these areas vary. In capital cities, rents focus on control
of the distribution of revenues and assets from the state and private
sector. In transit areas and borderlands, rents centre around taxation and
arbitrage. In oil-rich areas, rents are related to control
of the area itself (and therefore the ability to levy taxes upon
the oil sector), bearing in mind that the level of achievable
taxation depends on the extent to which a given actor controls
the supply chain.
As this report will elaborate, factors specific to each sub-economy type play a role in conditioning the nature of economic activities in each locality, and in determining whether and by which means violence is dispensed. For this reason, national-level generalizations and in-country comparisons of conflict economies are inadequate: for example, the conflict sub-economy of Baghdad has more in common with that of Tripoli than that of al-Qaim, an Iraqi town on the border with Syria. In turn, the conflict economy observed in al-Qaim has more in common with that of al-Mahra in Yemen than al-Mahra does with Sanaa, the Yemeni capital.
Read more on the original document or download its PDF 873 KB.
In Lebanon, around 350,000 Syrian refugees don’t have access to enough safe and nutritious food. To stem the crisis, the World Food Programme (WFP) of the United Nations introduced an electronic voucher system to distribute food aid. People are given debit cards loaded with “e-vouchers” that they can use in certain shops to buy food.
But we found that Syrian refugees living in rural Lebanon often have to make difficult choices when buying essential items at the expense of food. Their e-vouchers can only be used in exchange for food, not other essentials like nappies.
Refugees have to engage in “grey-area transactions” that work around the e-voucher system, by asking shop owners to sell them the nappies and instead record on the system that they bought food. This places refugees in a vulnerable position – shop owners often charge higher prices for scanning non-food items as food, but refugees have no choice but to depend on shop owners to cooperate.
Collective purchasing allows refugees to pool their cash and e-vouchers so that one person can buy non-food items for another and be repaid with food. This allows people a degree of autonomy – they don’t have to rely on shop owners to allow them to buy non-food items using their vouchers. Instead, the community can manage their resources and needs among themselves.
Unfortunately, the e-voucher system prevents refugees from buying goods in bulk. Shop owners are advised by the WFP that purchases by refugees should be typical of buying food for a family. If refugees want to buy enough rice for their community and benefit from a wholesale discount, then the shop owner can refuse the transaction. This makes collective purchasing – something refugees often prefer to do when they have cash available – more difficult.
The WFP is currently piloting blockchain technology to replace this e-voucher system in Jordan and Pakistan. This is an exciting opportunity to alleviate these problems and help to empower both refugees and the shop owners, but only if the refugees themselves are involved.
Food aid designed by refugees
Rather than using a debit card, under this new system refugees would have a digital wallet that is similar to a bank account that you can access online. And instead of it being hosted by a bank, it’s part of the blockchain.
A blockchain is a shared log of transactions, with each user being able to track how much money and goods have been exchanged. This is constantly updated as transactions of food aid and money transfers are agreed between the customer and the shop owner. Each transaction forms a block of new information. The digital ledger is an expanding chain of interconnected blocks of information – hence the name, blockchain.
The WFP is using blockchain technology to cut costs on currency exchange and bank transfers. But the blockchain still allows transactions between refugees and shop owners in the same manner as the e-voucher system. If this new and innovative technology mimics the model that came before, the restrictions on what refugees can do will continue and blockchain will mimic paternalistic aid models that focus on efficiently distributing aid, rather than empowering refugees to leverage their own ways of coping with food insecurity. But if aid is designed with input from refugee communities, the technology could give Syrian people in Lebanon more agency when buying the essentials they need to live.
Blockchain can write smart contracts, which would allow people to buy items together. These are agreements whose terms are automatically enforced by an algorithm. Smart contracts act like a lock box with two keys that can be used to open it, one key is given for each party involved in the contract.
When the smart contract is created, both parties set the conditions that need to be met for them to be able to use the keys to open the lock box. Both keys need to be used for the lock box to open and for the money to transfer to complete the transaction. Before this can happen, both parties must agree that the conditions of the contract have been met. With this, refugee communities can negotiate collective purchases with shop owners and hold them accountable to the agreements they make.
Negotiating the terms of the smart contract means that refugees have more of a say over what they consider to be a fair deal. Once the smart contract is in place, the agreed sum of money for the purchase will be placed in a digital wallet – the lock box – that is bound by the terms of the smart contract. The value of items purchased by refugees is deducted once they’ve verified their identity with a retina scan, but the money will only be released to the shop owner if the refugees verify that they received the items.
We saw how these smart contracts could rebalance the power disparity between refugees and shop owners. Including refugees in the design process of humanitarian technologies and aid models can ensure they incorporate the values and practices of the people they’re supposed to help. Future innovations must be rooted in the daily lives of refugee communities. These technologies can empower people and make a real difference to their lives, but only if they’re allowed to design how they work.