As the world becomes increasingly multi-centric and the US pays more attention to the Far East, new options emerge for independent foreign policies and regional solutions to regional problems. For the oil market and the world economy, as for the Middle East itself, it is imperative to replace confrontation by cooperation. However, it is hard to convince governments to move beyond national political paradigms and seek regional win—win solutions.
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Divisive sectarian issues are often used to mobilize support and legitimize policies. European history has shown how revolutions can be followed by restoration of the old order before taking root. While Tunisia has been in the headlines and has gained praise for its democratic transition, Americans are largely blind to the incremental but potentially historic evolution of Morocco to a constitutional state.
The changes underway are partly the result of conscious decisions by the young monarch and partly the result of forces that he does not control but with which he seems to have reached a constructive accommodation.
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The process may seem glacially slow and jerky in worrisome ways, but it is likely to prove more durable than the lunges toward dramatic change that have dominated the headlines about the Arab world over the course of the past four years. The constitutional changes of committed the king to appoint a prime minister from the largest party in the elected parliament, but they left unclear the power of the prime minister and other PJD ministers. Prime Minister Abdelilah Benikrane has maneuvered skillfully to avoid outright confrontations but to establish a degree of independence from the palace.
Unlike most of his predecessors, he has avoided being an automatic scapegoat for government failures or security crackdowns that were not the results of his own decisions. By publicly stating that he would leave office if the experience of power sharing with the palace proved unworkable, he has ensured more accountability for the king.
The PJD and other parties now have political space that they will guard jealously. Morocco is experiencing something akin to the history of the relations between the British crown and the British parliament in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Alawite dynasty of Morocco enjoys a strong sense of legitimacy going back to the seventeenth century. Unlike other potential Arab candidates for constitutional monarchy—Jordan, Kuwait, and Oman come to mind—Morocco is at a geographic remove from the most existential conflicts in the Arab world. At some point in the future, Morocco may be a genuine constitutional monarchy, or it may be a failed experiment in setting limits on an authoritarian and hereditary monarchy.
King Mohammed and the PJD face many of the same accelerators of violent change that other hereditary Arab rulers and the parties with which they share political space must consider. Will the gradual process of political change in Morocco be rapid enough in the age of satellite television and social media? Like Tunisia, stable constitutional development in Morocco faces more daunting obstacles than the purely political ones.
With 51 percent of the population under age 25, Morocco has a high rate of unemployment and slow economic growth rates. Demands for economic and social development are urgent, and the system of subsidies that has bought time is benefitting the middle and upper classes more than the mass of Moroccans at or below the poverty level. The lure of adventure and a salary for young alienated Moroccans makes them prey to the recruiters of terrorist movements. Cracking down with an iron hand on both terrorism and the smoldering embers of popular rebellion, Algerian leaders have been able to rely heavily on the acquiescence of most of the Algerian population.
Algerians are tired of decades of conflict and yearning for a chance to build a normal life.
The bloody Algerian civil war may have cost , lives, and there is little appetite for pushing now for a more liberal political system with room for Islamist parties. A sign of weakness, however, was the inability of this power structure to agree upon a younger or at least healthier and fresher successor to year-old Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The Algerian state also commands a strong revenue stream from oil and gas that feeds the energy markets of nearby Western Europe.
Other authoritarian security states, such as Egypt and Syria, have lacked the readily available capital for economic and social development that Algeria has available. We have seen, however, how the Qaddafi regime in Libya and the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq wasted the opportunity to combine effective use of state revenues with benefits for the population in a way that would maintain social peace.
Whether the Algerian state will find the mix of carrots and sticks to maintain social peace for long is an open question. Finally, Algeria has made progress in dealing with its Berber minority, but that is another problem that is potentially destabilizing. The per capita wealth of Algerians does not approach that of the petro states of the Arabian Peninsula. Moreover, the Algerian state has yet to come to terms with the need to encourage private sector job creating economic activity.
This relatively populous country has high levels of poverty and unemployment, both explosive ingredients. It lacks the means available to some other petro states to smother discontent with a generous social safety net.
Agriculture and Development in the Wake of the Arab Spring
Greater numbers of young Algerians with good education and work experience are returning to their mother country as the European recession lingers and instability in Arab states to the east makes jobs there less tempting. This provides the Algerian state with a challenging opportunity.
Like the rest of the Arab world, the countries of North Africa must deal with both an authoritarian past and present-day demands for change from young populations that can find a radical cyberspace if the political space of representative institutions does not exist. These populations all have far higher levels of education now than when their countries became independent in the middle of the last century.
This can be either a productive human resource or fuel for the fires of discontent. But they are also vulnerable to the forces of terrorism and political extremism. Beyond these general drivers and dynamics applicable across the Maghreb, Georgetown University Professor Michael Hudson has observed that while the Arab Spring spread contagiously from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya and to some extent to Algeria and Morocco, the responses have been quite varied based on national circumstances.
Libya, in contrast, has grappled with a void both regarding bureaucratic competence and legitimacy at the top.
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In sum, the differing circumstances will continue to drive the Maghreb countries on individual national paths. Given the competing priorities for the United States in other parts of the world and the far more immediate impact of developments in these four countries on Western Europe, it might be tempting to neglect both the threats and the opportunities discussed above. This course would be unwise. Tunisia and Morocco, especially, may offer good examples for the rest of the Arab world in terms of political development, but they need extensive economic help from Western governments and international institutions to make success a reality.
At least parts of Libya could become ungoverned spaces, this time on the Mediterranean, with far-reaching potential effects beyond the immediate neighborhood. The Algerian state might turn more and more to repression of discontent if it cannot find a balance of economic and political reforms that would lead to favorable development. The rapprochement between Omar al-Bashir and Saudi Arabia is a political as well as an economic decision.
The movement is getting stronger by the day, and is bolstered by being a part of the Sudanese government. The Salafists, backed by Riyadh, have managed to build schools, roads, mosques and other such elements, gaining the sympathy of the population. Thus, the current political leadership is interested in maintaining good relations without causing internal conflicts. Last but not least, the Saudis host over half a million Sudanese that work in the Kingdom.