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
The regional powers’s attempts to co-opt the Syrian tribes will only deepen the war-torn country’s divisions by creating rivalries between them sustains Haian Dukhan of University of Leicester per the following article.
Syria: attempts by Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey to co-opt Arab tribes in Syria will deepen the country’s divisions
Saudi Arabia is putting renewed pressure on its ties with tribal groups in Syria as it continues to support those trying to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
In a visit in late June to Syrian territories controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance fighting against the Assad regime, the Saudi minister for Gulf affairs, Thamer Al-Sabhan, met with representatives of Arab tribes in Deir Ezzor, one of Syria’s most heavily tribal areas. He asked them to help the SDF maintain stability and security in their territories.
Arab tribes represent 20% of Syrian society and are particularly focused in the east of the country. But this area is currently divided: territory east of the Euphrates river is controlled by the SDF, which includes the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, while much of the territory west of the river is governed by the Syrian regime.
Saudi Arabia’s rivals in the region are also trying to use their ties with Syrian tribes for their own ends. Although Iran and Turkey don’t have the same kinship ties that Saudi tribes do with the Syrian tribes, both countries have been working since the beginning of the Syrian conflict to create new ties with them. Their aim is to use the tribes to further their interests in Syria – toppling the Assad regime in the case of Turkey and propping it up in the case of Iran.
But these attempts to co-opt the Syrian tribes will only deepen the war-torn country’s divisions by creating rivalries between them.
In the Syrian context, tribes refer to local groups of people that live geographically close to each other. They are distinct from other segments of Syrian society by having extended kinship ties, tribal customs and tribal leaders, or sheikhs. Some of Syria’s most prominent tribes are Aqaydate, Baggara and Busha’ban.
During the rule of Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, between 1970 and 2000, tribes were part of the rural coalition that enabled the regime to preserve power. But Bashar al-Assad’s neo-liberal policies, such as lifting subsidies on livestock fodder and other agricultural products, accompanied by severe drought in 2003 changed the power dynamic and the tribes revolted against the regime in 2011.
The 2011 uprising in Syria was a golden opportunity for Saudi Arabia to use its links with the Syrian tribes to destroy the Assad regime and so eliminate growing Iranian influence in the country, which it considers its sphere of influence.
Since the uprising, Saudi Arabia has used tribal networks to provide financial and military support to the armed opposition against Assad. It also encouraged tribal sheikhs to defect from the Syrian regime, promising to provide them with refuge and financial aid. This led to the defection of more than 20 Syrian tribal leaders, who took refuge in Saudi Arabia.
Iran tried its own tactics to woo Syria’s Arab tribes. Iranian officials continue to invite Syrian tribal leaders to visit Tehran for talks in an effort to persuade them to remain loyal to Assad. These visits are covered by Iranian and Syrian state media, which portray the visiting sheikhs as important national figures.
Iran has spent large amounts of money and expertise on training militias of the Tay and the Sheitat tribes to fight alongside the Syrian regime forces. Iranian missionary groups have also been working to convert people from the Baggara tribe in Deir Ezzor from the Sunni to the Shia branch of Islam, in order to counterbalance the power of the Sunni Aqaydate tribe that has strong kinship ties to Saudi Arabia.
A counter balance to Turkey and Qatar
The rift between Saudi Arabia and Turkey took place after the Arab Spring and intensified after Turkey decided to back Qatar, offering it economic and military aid to help overcome a blockade by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Since around 2013, the competition between these two regional hegemons moved to Syria.
Turkey aims to use the Arab tribes in Turkey to legitimise its intervention against the SDF, and in particular its Kurdish forces, in the area to east of the Euphrates. Ultimately, it wants to have Arab fighters alongside its own army on Syrian soil. In a February 2018 visit to Urfa, a town close to the Turkish-Syrian border, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, met with Syrian tribal leaders who praised Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch against SDF forces in the Afrin district.
But Saudi Arabia considers the area to the east of the Euphrates river in Syria to be within its sphere of influence and will do whatever is possible to prevent it from falling under Turkish control. The Saudis are using financial aid to stabilise the SDF’s rule and decrease some of the tension between the SDF and Arab tribes.
But these attempts to co-opt the tribes by regional powers will only deepen Syria’s divisions. Many tribes have been split into competing clans that are fighting each other just because they find themselves to the east or west of the Euphrates.
Instead of trying to look for tribes who can serve their interests in Syria, Saudia Arabia, Iran and Turkey should support initiatives that foster a shared national identity for all Syrians.
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.
Whereas Qatar was taken by surprise on June 5th, 2017, the international community was impressed by Qatar’s composed and firm stance in the face of the blockade and continued provocations of the blockading countries. Maturity of the Qatari diplomacy has since gripped global attention, courted international approbation, and most importantly, captured hearts and minds of Qataris into solidarity. A growing reverence for Qatar’s foreign policy and its key figures is unmistakable both domestically and abroad.
A less celebrated side of Qatar’s international role is that of sustainable development. Hundreds of resolutions and decisions are adopted yearly by the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council of the UN, enacting and promoting sustainable development goals. Overall, the tie-ins between international cooperation and sustainable development are growing more reciprocal and symbiotic.
This is evinced by the Millennium Declaration, the Johannesburg Declaration and the thousands of bi/multilateral treaties that have followed on from the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. Since then, sustainability and sustainable development have become the watchwords for international bodies, most prominently the European Commission, the World Bank Group, the G-20 and obviously the UN, so much so they established dedicated offshoot organizations. Continuing to reaffirm commitment to the international community, Qatar has lived up to the (arguably) very ambitious agenda of sustainable development set in 2015.
Largely via Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) and Qatar Fund for Development (QFFD), Qatar has assumed the mantle of financiering, especially for the past several years. Qatar generously funds not-for-profit, philanthropic deeds in development assistance as well as investments in sustainable development.
In one year, 2018, QFFD disbursed more than $500m to hundreds of humanitarian and developmental projects in 70 countries across the world; funding natural disaster relief and recovery in the Caribbean, roadbuilding in the Horn of Africa, microfinancing SMEs in the Muslim World, and rehabilitating healthcare facilities in Arab countries, to name a few.
QIA, on the other hand, ensures sustainable economic prosperity of Qataris for generations to come by investing in sustainable and profitable ventures worldwide. The $10bn pledged for US infrastructure enhancement and the £5bn for British infrastructure are examples of Qatari investments in international sustainable development.
We are yet to see all of these Qatari accomplishments and financial means complemented and popularised byways of active participation and close engagement with international bodies to further promulgate Qatar’s established role in global sustainable development. Young, well-educated Qataris are now more than ever capable of taking part in the sophisticated, pluralistic discourse on climate change, environmental protection, circular economy, wealth equality and social justice; hot sustainability topics that are increasingly gaining steam in international dialogue. In promoting sustainability and sustainable development, Qatari youth have HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser as the role model to follow, especially with the recent designation of Her Highness as UN Sustainable Development Goals Advocate.
Domestically, international agreements have been coordinated with Qatari laws and regulations. This harmonisation process is best exemplified by the synchronization of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Qatar National Vision (QNV) 2030 and the resultant quinquennial National Development Strategies. Qatar facilitated the UN Voluntary National Review of the country’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to acquire international credibility of implementation. Many nations are still lagging in setting and/or implementing sustainable development goals.
Following the onslaught of the blockading countries against Qatar, strong local faculties in sustainable development would call attention to ways the blockade hinders international cooperation intended to foster sustainable development; and they are many.
The mere act of obstructing transportation to/from Qatar by stifling international transit corridors is condemnable as it violates the General Assembly’s Resolution 69/213 propositioned by the Secretary-General’s High-level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport.
Qatar is building educational, governmental and diplomatic capabilities to navigate organizational and intergovernmental synergies of sustainable development. And as sustainable development organizations grow more influential in shaping major international accords, frameworks, standards and policies, Qatari representation is essential to preserve our state’s interest.
Luckily, collective intelligence in Qatar has recognised that reinforcing alliances and partnerships through concerned UN agencies, and other organizations such as IFC and OECD can very much help perpetuate Qatar’s stability amidst the perils of the region.
Whether we are bracing for more seismic shifts in our regional geopolitics, more chasms, or for that matter, expecting rapprochements, sustainable development remains key to continued Qatari prosperity.
Dr Soud Khalifa Al-Thani is Sustainability Director at ASTAD.
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.