In an interview with USIP, our director Daniel Brumberg “considers the potential for al-Qaida’s growth in North Africa, and the challenge this poses to U.S. relationships with the new, post-conflict governments in the region”. Check it out below:
How do you assess the regional implications of the January 16 seizure by radical Islamists of a gas field along the border area of Algeria and Libya—as well as the resulting (and horrific) casualties? And what are the implications for the “Arab Spring” uprisings, which are now in their third season?
Well, let’s take those one at a time. Mokhtar Belmokhtar — the Jihadist whose forces led the attack on the Algerian gas facility — declared that his actions were meant as a rebuke to France for its military intervention in Mali. But Belmokhtar’s assault was surely planned well before Mali’s acting government invited France to intervene. So, this much is clear: in a strategic sense, the attack on the Algerian gas facility represents an effort by a regional off-shoot of al-Qaida to use the northern Mali conflict as a lever to amplify al-Qaida’s violent message throughout the Maghreb.
Would the makeup of the group that led the assault in Algeria illustrate your point?
Yes, for sure. The attackers hailed from the wider region: only three were Algerian, and the rest came from Mali, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Niger, and Mauritania—as well as other countries. Their goal is to exploit the political upheavals to expand and solidify their bases of operations, and in so doing, put the U.S. and its Western allies on notice that regardless of the particular governments that have emerged via the Arab Spring uprisings, the future lies with al-Qaida and its allies. It is very likely that these groups want to derail the transition tracks of democracy, while at the same time signaling that they are ready to revive attacks against the government of Algeria – an autocratic regime that has thus far survived the tremors of political change in the region.
Some experts have argued that the French decision to intervene in Mali needlessly internationalized a conflict. What are your thoughts?
I am not sure I would put it like that. The rise and expanding threat of Jihadist forces in Mali created a dilemma for Western states and those African states that felt threatened by this development. If you failed to act, Mali could become a permanent base for an African/Maghrebi al-Qaida branch. But at the same time, intervention carried the risk that Jihadists would leverage the situation to their advantage by decrying it as an example of Western imperialism. The French decided that the potential cost of waiting outweighed the risks of moving now.
You have asserted that one probable goal of the Algeria attack was to interfere with—even derail—the Arab Spring, or democratic transition efforts. This seems interesting, especially since, in the case of Egypt and Tunisia, elections have put Islamists into power, and/or magnified conflicts between Islamists and secularists, a trend that radical Islamist forces would welcome.
Well, first keep in mind that from the vantage point of al-Qaida affiliates, both in terms of ideology and strategic orientation, the Islamist leaders whose political fortunes have benefited from democratic change are hardly “authentic” representatives of their vision of Islam. The relatively moderate form of Islamism advocated by the Nahda Party in Tunisia, and even the sterner Islamist vision propounded by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, represents –in the eyes of al-Qaida’s allies– a much watered down Islamist agenda.
Moreover, the continued strategic cooperation between Washington, Tunis and even Cairo –despite all the ups and down of the last few months—represents a strategic challenge for al-Qaida, since from its perspective, these governments remain close allies of Washington.
Are you suggesting that al-Qaida plans to take on or even attack these governments?
No, not in a direct or immediate sense. Whatever the ideological and strategic differences with the Islamist leaders who have come to the political fore in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, al-Qaida affiliates have no incentive to directly challenge or attack these new governments, or even more so, their security forces. But, they are probably trying to establish local cells or affiliates where they can, and these cells could certainly be seen, from the perspective of these new Arab governments – or certainly their security forces—as a threat.
Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, al-Qaida affiliates are keen to exploit the capacity of these new and governments to secure control over their vast territories, be it in Egypt’s Sinai, in the southern areas of Algeria, or the border regions of Libya, Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria. Such efforts not only raise the troubling prospect of geographic fragmentation and state weakening, they can deeply embarrass democratically elected governments, whose Islamist leaders control movements, many of whose young adherents find the radical Islamism of al-Qaida in North Africa and that of Mokhtar Belmokhtar deeply alluring.
How have the governments of Tunisia and Egypt reacted? Is this strategy working?
I wouldn’t say that the above strategy is working, but the new governments in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are surely worried. They are seeking to secure their legitimacy in the midst of ongoing political battles between secular and Islamist forces, struggles that have intensified as a result of the growing influence of radical Salafist groups, some of which openly advocate violence. The challenge facing the region’s new governments, especially those that contain and/or are dominated by mainstream Islamist parties, is to distance themselves from the extremists, while maintaining their Islamic or populist credentials. That is something of a balancing act.
For example, Tunisia’s leaders –and interim President Moncef Marzouki in particular –have praised Algeria’s rescue effort. Particularly after the violent attack on the U.S. embassy in October 2012, the Tunisians are keen to demonstrate that they are clamping down on radical Islamists. Moreover the country’s Interior Minister announced on December 21 that the security forces had just discovered and dismantled an al-Qaida outside Tunis. But Nahda, which is the leading political party in the increasingly fragile ruling coalition, would also like to integrate non-violent Islamists into the political process, and thus wants to avoid being seen as simply carrying out the wishes of Washington. This not easy to do when the party finds itself compelled to rely on the very security forces that were once aligned with the previous regime to maintain order.
I assume that Egypt’s leaders are also walking a similarly fine line?
Even more so. Morsi has proclaimed his support for the Algerian government and its assault on the gas compound, but he has also denounced France’s military intervention in Mali. The very idea of Western military intervention in a Muslim or Arab country is something that Morsi and many of his allies in the Muslim Brethren reject on principle. At the same time however, they are striving to rebuild relations with Washington and to reassure the U.S. that Egypt is not rocking the strategic boat.
Your response raises the tricky question of Libya and its role in the wider region.
Indeed. I suppose you can make an argument that full and complete control of one’s national territory is not absolutely required in order to advance a democratic transition. But in the long run, the survival of militias in Libya constitutes a threat to any chances for serious democratic progress. After the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi — and the tragic killing of our ambassador and other Americans — there was some hope that the government could reign in the militias, but this has not happened. Indeed, the continuing activity of radical Islamist groups in Western Libya, aided by access the arms seized after the fall of Qaddafi, has been a huge regional boon to al-Qaida affiliates. This represents, as one of my colleagues put it, the “dark side” of the Arab Spring.
Finally, what of Algeria, a country about which we have heard very little since the Arab Uprisings began in early 2009?
We have to remember that Algeria experienced a long and bloody internal conflict following the military’s intervention which in late 1991 put an end to process of democratic elections that would have put the country “Islamic Salvation Front” into power. In the ensuing eight years, some 200,000 Algerian died. But by 2000, through a mix of repression and cooptation, the regime succeeded in restoring some degree of political stability. Thus when the Arab Spring erupted in 2009, the political class –such as it is—and the wider population evinced little interest in emulating its Tunisian neighbors, since the prospect of democratic reform also seemed to raised the prospect of internal political strife and even violence. The key to this strategy, of course, was not only to keep a lid on radical Islamists, but also to make sure that they did not pose a threat to domestic oil production, which is, quite literally, the life line of the regime.
So it seems that the attacks on the gas installation represented a powerful threat to this strategy, no?
Precisely. Algeria’s leaders have been waging a low intensity conflict with al-Qaida’s affiliates in North Africa, managing to keep them at bay. But the attack on the gas installation represents an assault Algiers’ strategy both regionally and domestically. It not only raises the prospect of instability in its oil producing region, it also raises the prospect that Algerian territory will once again become an organizing ground for radical Islamist assaults throughout the region. This concern helps to account for the determination of the Algeria military to draw a literal and figurative line in the sand by assaulting Belmokhtar’s forces at the gas installation and refusing any negotiated outcome. Algeria’s leaders look at the Arab Spring and see a recipe for regional disorder and violence. Events in Mali, Algeria and Libya will only reinforce their determination to hold on to power, and to resist what they see as a black hole of political upheaval in the region.
A few of our authors and many others interested in contributing to the next edition of Democracy&Society have requested extensions in the deadline for submissions to polish their papers. In the spirit of fairness, we have decided to extend the deadline for all: we will be accepting submissions until next Monday, October 29th (COB). Here is another look at the call for papers:
Center for Democracy and Society
Call for Submissions: Democracy & Society, Volume 10, Issue 1
We are seeking well-written, interesting submissions of 1500-2000 words on the themes below, including summaries and/or excerpts of recently completed research, new publications, and works in progress. Submissions for the issue are due Monday, October 29th, 2012.
Politics of the Economic Crisis
The turbulence created by the economic crisis of 2008 went far beyond the financial sector. The political upheaval that ensued has reignited ideological debates among scholars, policymakers, and civil society over the proper role of government in the economy. The ideological arguments for austerity on the one hand, and expansionism on the other, have resulted in a clash that precipitated the fall of governments all over Europe and contributed to the dramatic polarization and political stalemate in the United States. The consequences of the economic downturn are still unfolding, but its political effects on policymaking, democratic institutions, and national sovereignty are already a reality. In order to better understand these developments, several questions can be addressed, including:
- The boundaries of sovereignty and the future of the Euro Zone - European governments continue to clash over policies of austerity and expansionism. The European Central Bank along with the largest European economies insist on imposing austerity measures on the weakest Euro Zone members, and the loss of decision-making power by national governments is creating new tensions between domestic political demands and international economic realities. What might the European Union look like in the future? Is further integration via fiscal unity a viable option at this point? Or will political dissatisfaction and financial constraints lead to a reconfiguration of the Euro Zone? What are the consequences for democracy in countries such as Greece, Portugal, and Spain, whose governments are under pressure from supranational bodies?
- The Hardening of Ideological Divides – U.S. policymakers responded to the financial crisis by injecting hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy. This approach provoked protests and intensified the ideological debate between left and right over government roles and responsibilities. Did the financial crisis fundamentally change the balance of political power? What does the inability of the United States to conduct meaningful financial sector reform say about dominant political forces in the country? And what does the current political gridlock, along with its ideological undercurrents, mean for the future of American democracy?
- State regulations and interventions – A good part of the discussion of how to prevent future crises has focused on the correct level of state regulation of the economy. Some argue, however, that the issue is not the quantity but rather the quality/content of the regulations and relationship between state and society. Is the paradigm shifting? What lessons are policymakers drawing about this particular relationship? Is the new “State Capitalism” – with governments at the center of stability and growth promotion – a useful model, and are we likely to see more countries adopting it moving forward?
- Reviewing the Washington Consensus – The responses to the crisis have been marked by massive infusions of cash in national markets and an exponential increase in the amount of debt that governments have accrued in an attempt to keep their economies afloat. Once considered nearly extinct, believers in “Keynesian” stimulation via large budget deficits are now mainstream. Is the new flexibility on fiscal discipline, manipulation of interest rates, deregulation, and even nationalization of industries signaling the demise of the Washington Consensus? Or are the expansionary policies of today merely a temporary bitter pill that will be discarded once the threat of recession fades?
- The rise of inequality and the future of the middle class – One of the signatures of the current economic downturn, primarily (but not only) in the U.S., is the rise of inequality in rich countries, with particular losses for the middle class. This trend is not new, but the expanding gap between rich and poor has accelerated recently. Some argue that inequality is right at the center of the financial crisis since it prompted policymakers to expand and ease credit for families. How does the weakening of the middle class impact the future of democratic politics? What does the current level of inequality say about the success of developed democracies, and should less-developed democracies re-think their approach to economic growth?
- Rebalancing world forces –The difference in the pace of growth for areas previously known as “center” and “periphery” since the beginning of the crisis has profoundly impacted the international balance of power. It has become commonplace to say that the G20 has replaced the G8, and institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank face pressure for reform to reflect the new influence of emerging economies. However, old structures resist this reconfiguration of geopolitical power. How did the economic crisis impact international coordination and decision-making? Is global power really shifting? Who are the winners and losers of this emerging scenario?
Please email submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org. For additional information, please visit www.democracyandsociety.com or contact Andrea Murta or Josh Linden at email@example.com.
Back in Liberia after a trip to Japan, president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told government officials to “follow or get out of the way”. By “follow” she meant her lead and the projects she has for developing a country plagued with poverty, divisions and the fresh memories of the the civil war(s).
Nobel laureate Sirleaf faces a tough scenario. Elected and re-elected on high hopes of getting Liberia on a positive path, she has come under attack recently from inside and out. One of the most notorious of those attacks came from long time ally Leymah Gbowee, the peace activist who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the president. Gbowee criticized Sirleaf for not doing enough to curb corruption and nepotism in the government (two of the president’s sons are government officials; another just stepped down). As she came out publicly with her reservations against Sirleaf, the activist resigned as head of the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The move also came after she was accused of mismanaging funds, which she denies.
It is hard to pin down who to side with. Transparency International said in a report this year that Sirleaf “has demonstrated a strong leadership on anti-corruption issues”. Still, Liberia has endemic and wide-spread corruption that does not seem to be waning.
Obviously, no one with a brain could expect her to finish the job in a couple of years. Experts have been studying corruption forever and there is no silver-bullet here. Besides, it doesn’t help that there were two civil wars totaling about 14 years in Liberia since the 90’s; that the country has 85% unemployment, 63.8% of people below or at the national poverty line, a GDP per capita of US$ 500 (ppp) and ranks 182 out of 187 countries at the UN Human Development Index. In other words, it is a deeply problematic place.
While her officials keep being accused of corruption, Sirleaf insists the government is about to begin a series of new projects to speed national development.
Many of those projects will no doubt focus on Liberia’s natural resources. Almost 80% of the economy is based on agriculture, and exports are basically rubber, coffee, palm oil, iron and other commodities. The rest of the world is very mindful of that: Liberia has the highest ratio of foreign direct investment to GDP on the planet. State funds are thus largely tied to the country’s natural resources, and when speaking of corruption and mismanagement we are also talking about this particular type of wealth.
Sirleaf is a big advocate of foreign investment, and has done everything possible to open up the country for them. There has been some positive results. Up to 2011 the government had secured over US$ 19 billion in investments, the majority in the iron ore and palm oil sectors. FDI could amass US$ 2 billion in taxes and royalties in the next decade, according to the IMF, with improvements extending to roads, ports and power plants.
But there are many, many downsides as well. A study completed by Columbia University last year mentions that job creation is low and that government corruption and financial mismanagement “have compromised the good intention of concessionaire-financed Social Development Funds and contributed to a rising mood of distrust and hostility regarding some concessions”. It further states that indigenous communities have been marginalized during the negotiations and implementation of projects, resulting in high tension around several FDI projects, while members of affected communities experience little improvement to living standards as a result of them. Finally, the study concludes that “institutions lack the full ability to effectively monitor compliance of concession agreements and penalize infringements”.
Liberia is also rich in diamonds and gold. It is interesting how at this point one almost cringes at this descriptions… It seems a recipe for disaster under the current rush of undeveloped countries to secure foreign investment, which on many occasions result in lack of transparency, corruption, embezzlement and increased domestic tensions.
Sirleaf’s challenges are far from new or original. But she better rush to get things on the right path again, if she wants to leave power as the symbol of progress and peace that she was on the eve of her first victory.
It is not only our own Democracy&Society journal that is looking for great contributors at the moment: IFES Election Guide is also seeking submissions for its web publication, the ElectionGuide Digest. Check it out:
IFES| Election Guide Digest
Call for Submissions
The foremost source on international elections, IFES Election Guide, seeks submissions for its web publication: ElectionGuide Digest.
ElectionGuide Digest provides news about democracy assistance research, reports, events, as well as expert commentaries. It was launched in 2010 by the Consortium on Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) with generous USAID funding as a service to the democracy assistance research and practitioner communities.
The digest’s Features section seeks analytically rigorous and well-written pieces that address themes relevant to the field of democracy assistance, and the issues practitioners face in the field.
Summaries or excerpts of recently completed research;
Works in progress;
Experiences/lessons learned in the field
Submissions must range from 500- 1000 words in length and are accepted on a rolling basis. To contribute, please email a short abstract or description of the piece to Ayesha Chugh at firstname.lastname@example.org. For additional information please visit digest.electionguide.org .
In its newest jobs report –mentioned previously by my colleague Pablo–, the World Bank dedicates a large section to resource-rich countries, some of which (in) famously struggle to manage the impact of the extractive industries’ revenues on the democratic practices of the state. The section starts with an important warning: investments in extractive industries do not create many jobs, regardless of their often sizable fraction of GDP and potential to foster “spectacular increases in export revenue”.
What does that have to do with democracy? Well it could have quite a lot to do with it, particularly in developing countries. Now, this is a complicated area of study (“resource curse”, anyone?) and I do not want to make a case for a causal link not fully established, but some things are worth noticing, particularly when we use examples.
While nations like Angola and Mozambique boast huge growth rates due mostly to the oil and mineral industries, their populations sink into poverty and find it hard to reap the benefits of living in a resource rich region of the world. Jobs, or their lack thereof, are a big part of that. The World Bank estimates that extractive industries “may not account for more than 1 or 2 percent of total employment in resource rich countries”, even when taking indirect ones into account. The numbers get worse when seen in parallel to investment in mining projects. A liquid natural gas project in Papua New Guinea, for one, had an investment cost of over twice the country’s GDP at the start-up, and while it may lead to double digit growth rates for years to come, it is “unlikely to generate more than 1,000 direct jobs in the longer term”.
Mozambique is also featured in the section as an example of low job creation. The Benga mining project, with an investment of 13,6% of the country’s GDP, currently employs 150 people and will generate 4,500 jobs once in full operation (projected). In one of the interviews I did during my summer in Mozambique, a researcher from Cemo (Center for Mozambican and International Studies) told me their estimate for formal employment in the country was about only 20%.
Obviously there is little development possible when there are no jobs and no income generation activities for the larger population. As we can see from the report, even when there are regulations that require extractive companies to hire most workers from the domestic labor force, their sheer number is not enough to impact even the regional employment rate. Also, the World Bank mentions a tension “between jobs for productivity and jobs for social cohesion”, which “may be even more difficult to avoid in developing countries due to the lack of institutional strength and implementation capacity.” Not to mention a rise in inequality, since there is no doubt a few are profiting from the projects.
I would add that in Mozambique and other resource-rich developing countries, megaprojects are many times set via secret contracts and tax relief policies to international corporations, which contribute to the little redistribution of revenue to the population at large.
What would be the impact on democracy? First, there could be a growing social tension caused by the imbalance created by these industries. Regardless of the growth rates, development is not a given, but conditional on very good policies implemented to deal with the revenues. Besides, countless studies link resource richness with challenges to democracies and democratization. I am far from a resource-curse determinist, but some things are easily noticed. To keep using the example of Mozambique: there was a soft version of Thomas Carothers’ “dominant power systems” present before the extractive boom, but afterwards the opportunities to replicate the “rentier state” effect* grew exponentially. Oil industries in general (gas and coal, in the case of Mozambique) fit well in this pattern due to their little use of labor force and concentration of revenues in the hands of states. And the lack of accountability is problematic.
The World Bank concludes the section affirming that “the main challenge facing resource-rich countries is to spread the wealth in ways that do not undermine productivity growth and social cohesion spillovers.” It is worth taking a further look.
*in very simplistic terms: governments use low taxes and patronage to relieve pressures for accountability while limiting group-formation that might lead to more democratic demands
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