Some Long Thoughts: Algeria Plays Defence

SUMMARY: This post is several posts  originally written in January and February merged together. These posts were put off from being posted for reasons of time, attention deficits and levels of satisfaction. They were all originally experiments in ways of thinking about recent events to do with Algeria’s defensive posture (which has been the subject of so much writing lately). It is concerned with some of the public writing and analysis on Algerian foreign policy, especially with respect to Mali immediately before and during France’s intervention there. The main gist is related to Algeria’s strong attachment to its national sovereignty in foreign policy, its defensive (also called ‘paranoid’) posture overall, and the country’s self-image in world politics and their influence on its behaviour in the world. It is not concerned with evaluating or making a case for how Algeria or other ought to do one or the other such thing in foreign affairs. It is however interested in considering adjusting some common assumptions about Algerian foreign policy in general.

It also includes some thoughts on issues such as the assumptions and expectations seen in some public writing about Algeria’s military capabilities, its ‘success’ in fighting terrorism, the extent and scope of its ambition as a regional ‘hegemon’ mainly in the post-Qadhafi period, opacity in Algerian decision-making and its origins; it also includes some remarks related to the complications of Algeria’s ongoing generational transformation. It is not meant to be definitive or authoritative, just one grain of sand on a long beach. Continue reading

Some Early Algeria Perspectives on the Sahel Situation

SUMMARY: Thus far Algerian press coverage of France’s military intervention in northern Mali (Operation SERVAL), in reaction to additional thrusts south by Mali’s jihadist coalition, is divided. Scepticism that has been prevalent in Algerian media coverage of calls for the internationalisation of the Malian crisis remains a strong thread in opinion and editorial writing nonetheless. While significant strands of elite opinion (especially at the political level) appear to have somewhat rallied to support military intervention in northern Mali. At the same time, the Algerian government’s longstanding position in favour of ‘dialogue’ and a ‘political solution’ to the crisis remain evident in press reports, government statements and scepticism over the prospects the intervention will successfully resolve Mali’s troubles persists. Comments from Algerian intellectuals (depicting the campaign as a ‘proxy war’ of the United States or as destined for failure) and highlights given to the opinions of certain French voices suggest some level of discomfort over France’s intentions and the Algerian government’s role in the crisis; this is to be expected to some extent given the background of distrust between Paris and Algiers over Mali as well as the nature of Franco-Algerian relations in general. Outside of the major dailies, some confusion does appear to exist over Algiers’s position in the ongoing struggle – a result of the government’s stinginess with public comments.

The Algerian government’s decision to allow over flight rights to the French Air Force, along with troop and helicopter movements in southern Algeria suggest Algiers will likely play an enabling role by opening airspace, attempting to block off escape routes, and intelligence sharing (the targets and locations hit by the French suggest Algeria and other countries may be assisting in this manner). The Algerians may also seek to assist in negotiating post-war planning, despite the [apparent] failure of its diplomatic efforts vis-à-vis Ansar Ed-Dine and Bamako; the timing of Malian Prime Minister Diango Cissoko’s two-day visit to Algiers speaks to Algiers’s continuing desire to impact political conditions in Mali. France’s aggressive (speaking descriptively, not legally) moves in Mali appear to have given momentum to international and regional efforts to push forward an intervention in Mali and may be bringing along Algeria at the same time. The messages coming out in certain (especially French-language) Algerian press accounts, via anonymous security officials, is that Algeria decided to abandon dialogue with Ansar Ed-Dine and others in northern Mali in favour of an immediate armed campaign when its leaders renounced non-aggression pacts they signed at Algiers’s egging and participated in attacks in Konna and elsewhere with AQIM. This post only reviews French-language media, Arabic-language media will be covered in a separate post. It looks at perspectives through the beginning of the week of 13 January. Continue reading

New Chart: Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

N° 29 of Journal Officiel  de la Republique Algerienne (04 June 2008) lays out a directive for the organisation of the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’s central administration. Translated into PowerPoint, it should look something more or less like this.

This can be compared with any subsequent re-organisations or changes made since 2008.

View the full PDF document, with charts of the various directorates and sub-directorates, here: Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A Way of Thinking About Algeria and Mali

SUMMARY: This post follows other posts that have looked generally at Algeria’s perception of the Mali crisis and its role in its resolution. It examines the role of the Algerian press and the availability of public sources for analysts trying to make sense of a vexing problem. Pleased by Peter Tinti’s writing on the subject of late (see ‘Understanding Algeria’s Northern Mali Policy,’ Think Africa Press, 05 October 2012; which is great because it is concise which this blog never is), which tracks closely with this blogger’s own view expressed in the past, this blogger has decided to continue to dump thoughts and analysis on the subject in hopes of advancing a better analytic understanding and approach to the situation insofar is this is possible until time allows for more detailed and aggressive treatment elsewhere.

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Index I: El Djeich and the Sahel, Jan.-Sept. 2012

It is well known that in Algeria lines of decision-making and even the broad outlines of specific foreign or military policies are generally opaque to outsiders. Finding and making sense of various official statements and interviews and reports about the activities, orientation and intentions of the Algerian government toward political change and instability in Libya, Tunisia and the collapse of Mali and the domination of its north by the armed Islamist groups is both time consuming and difficult; rumour and conjecture and disinformation from all quarters mingle with, distort and even illuminate the ‘truth’ for those seeking answers. What the state presents and says can hardly be taken entirely at face value but is of as much use as anything sitting in public or in the shadows. For sometime, the Algerian military has used official journals to publicise its ideological, strategic and political intentions for both internal and external audiences; these must of course be taken in context and for what they are and are not, as all sources must.

El Djeich is the premier journal for these purposes, to say nothing of technical and bureaucratic journals and bulletins. El Djeich is also relatively accessible: it is published in print and online (though issues before 2010 are harder to come by than more recent ones); most issues mentioned here can be obtained for free from the Algerian Ministry of National Defence’s (MDN) website. This monthly (published since 1963) provides the official rhetoric of Algeria’s general staff as communicated to an internal audience frequently (it is policy relevant); it also provides information on meetings between the Algerian armed services and foreign military and civilian delegations, military exercises and operations, training regimes and other elements pointing to the personnel and disposition of the moving parts that make up its armed and civilian element. It also provides context for major political decisions (for example, the February 2011 issue includes a long section detailing the rationale and implications of the lifting of the emergency law in place since the 1992 coup d’etat) and frequently provides the text of speeches, letters and messages from senior Algerian officers and diplomatic officials on various issues. It also includes interviews and articles by military and civilian subject matter experts from Algeria and abroad on various technical fields.

The spreadsheet linked below is an index of direct and indirect references to what might can be generally called the ‘Sahel Crisis’ (or crises) brought on by uprisings, rebellions, narco-trafficking and destabilising corruption in the Maghreb and the Sahel during the last two years in the journal of the Algerian armed forces, El Djeich. The first installment of the index includes the January -September 2012 editions of El Djeich, with titles (in French) and subject, section (in French), page and ‘key word’ references; the second installment will include the January December 2011 editions. These are meant to help the reader find articles by category and supplement his research. Several feature stories on criminal-terrorist activities on Algeria’s borders, humanitarian aid operations in Mali and other border regions (including Libya) give insight into the way the Algerian official discourse continues to juxtapose Algeria as a guarantor of stability and a bastion of stability in north-west Africa both to the public at large and to its own personnel; indeed the crisis in the Sahel was the cover story in October 2011, and the subject received heavy attention in the January 2011 issue as well. In the 2012 editions, comments, statements from Abdelkader Messahel, the minister delegate charged with Maghreb and African affairs are frequent and conspicuous, as are meetings between Messahel and foreign military delegates.There is an obvious emphasis on humanitarian operations within Algeria and in its immediate vicinity; at the strategic level emphasis is placed on the African Union, multilateral-regionalist ‘solutions’ and on bilateral military-military activities.

Since El Djeich habitually dedicates a large part of its articles to military sports (both within Algeria and on the continent), this section is ignored; thus in some issues one can find articles about Burkina Faso or Nigeria or some other such country of interest only in this section. These are omitted.  El Djeich is published in French and Arabic (as many official things are in Algeria); this blogger assumes readers will have as easy a time or an easier time with the French version and thus the index refers exclusively to the French language edition.

[2012 El Djeich stories RE%3A Sahel Crises - ED12 (1), PDF]

UPDATESee this sheet for 2012 El Djeich Stories on the Sahel – January – December 2012.

A Response re: Perceptions of northern Mali

Below is a guest post by Thomas Seres, author of ‘The Malian crisis seen from Algeria,’ by Thomas Seres (19 April 2012), focused on views of the conflict in Mali in Algeria’s domestic politics. This blogger wrote a response focused on the piece’s implications for discourses on Algeria’s foreign policy using the piece as a launching pad for discussions of other related issues, especially among Anglophones. This is necessary since this blogger wrote that Seres’s analysis was ‘insufficient’ in getting at Algerian foreign policy on the crisis; he fairly points out that his piece was not about foreign policy even though this blog was eager to use it as a means of discussing that issue. Seres is sharp and points to the flaws in this blogger’s analysis of his as well as points of disagreement and agreement on levels of analysis and the framing of particular problems. The response provides clarifications (especially on certain problems lost in translation, as his English piece was originally in French), rebuttals and arguments which add to the debate on these issuesHis response, in French, is reproduced, unedited below. Continue reading

Notes on an ‘Introductory Algeria Foreign Policy Reading List (I)’

This post is a follow on to the post, ‘Introductory Algeria Foreign Policy Reading List (I),’ which covered books. A second list is still forthcoming. This post is a kind of meditation on the literature on Algerian foreign policy generally as well as some of the features of Algeria’s foreign policy in very general terms. The second part of the list — made up of journal articles, reports, dissertations and the like — is still forthcoming. Continue reading

Introductory Algeria Foreign Policy Reading List (I)

This is a short selection of books focused on or include chapters or sections that focus on Algerian foreign policy for more or less English-speaking analysts. This is intended as an introductory list, not a comprehensive or exhaustive one. A longer list of journal articles, reports and dissertations on the same subject is forthcoming. If readers know of recent dissertations on Algerian foreign policy (in English, French, Arabic, German, Italian or Spanish), they are welcome and encouraged to send them to the email address listed on this blog’s ‘About’ page for inclusion in the ‘Dissertations’ section.  Continue reading

AQIM Link Roundup

A short roundup of links related to al-Qa’idah in the Islamic Maghreb from the last few days. In the main these stories deal with relations between Mali and the Polisario (there were reports of a deterioration in relations and Bamako withdrawing from ties with the Polisario and then that Mali had agreed to allow the Polisario right of pursuit into its territory), the issuance of arrest warrants by the Mauritanians that includes alleged AQIM leaders but also an individual called Mustapha Ould Limam al-Shafe’i who is an important figure in regional politics and an opponent of the Ould Abdel Aziz government,¹ reports on developments within AQIM (leadership changes and divisions on national lines) and the breakaway MOJWA group (‘ ‘ on ethno-national divisions), the relationship between AQIM and Boko Haram and new reports of al-Qa’idah recruitment efforts and emplacement in Libya. As many have said recently, these are interesting times in northwest Africa. Additionally, the rift between Nouakchott and Rabat was a continued point of discussion in Mauritania in particular, where the Foreign Minister told parliament the expulsion of the MAP correspondent (see the last update) had contributed to improving Mauritania’s relations with Morocco. The Algeria angle also got attention in media. Also on the list is a piece this writer wrote for the great blog Al-Wasat (30 December) on the promotion of Gen. Bachir Tartag to head the DSI within the Algerian intelligence service (DRS), looking at the media coverage of the appointment and putting it in political context.

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More Links

Some worthwhile links:

An excellent series from The Atlantic on Libya’s Berbers in the wake of the revolution there. Installment one and two are here and here; a third is due Friday.

A backgrounder on AQIM from Cross the Green Mountain.

Lyes Laribi’s history of the Algerian secret services, Du MALG au DRS (in French).

Marc Lynch on ‘The Big Think Behind the Arab Spring,’ where he argues ‘the Arab peoples’ have returned to regional politics and that the Arab uprisings:

generated a marvelous range of innovative tactics (uploading mobile-camera videos to social media like Facebook and Twitter, seizing and holding public squares), they did not introduce any particularly new ideas. The relentless critique of the status quo, the generational desire for political change, the yearning for democratic freedoms, the intense pan-Arab identification — these had all been in circulation for more than a decade. What changed with the fall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia was the recognition that even the worst tyrants could be toppled. It shattered the wall of fear.

Emily Parker on ‘Tunisia’s Election Results and the Question of Minorities,’ focused on Christians and Jews there.

The minority question is important; both in terms of non-Muslim sects and atheists (who are often neglected in questions of minorities in both predominantly Muslim and Christian society, it should be noted) and non-Sunni Muslim sects — which do exist in North Africa, especially in Tunisia (at Djerba), Libya (in Jebel Nafusa) and in Algeria (in Ghardaia). Most of these are Ibadhites though there are smaller numbers of converts to Shi’ism. This sometimes overlaps with rights for ethnic minorities, as North African Ibadhites are usually also Berbers. It will be interesting to see how minority rights issues are resolved in the countries which have recently had uprisings, especially because religious minorities are generally smaler in the Maghreb than in Egypt and the Levant (where there are very large numbers of Christians of multiple denominations), especially as Islamist parties come to the fore in government (and how secular or other non-Islamist parties treat these questions, too).

Finally there is an El Khabar article from yesterday on recent kidnappings in Mali and the Sahel, citing Algerian security sources as it warns of immanent kidnappings and describes AQIM units responsible for kidnapping foreigners and some of the politics between and within them. Below is a short listing of some of the interesting points: Continue reading

Another Opinion

A reader, by email, on the situation in northern Mali:

Just read your blog post on the Sahel. I think the situation is a lot more critical than the Economist article suggests – particularly in Mali. Probably somewhere around 1000 – 1500 fighters returned from Libya, a significant proportion of them with weaponry and pick-ups. The majority of them appear to have been in the Libyan army for a while, another group was associated with Bahanga’s rebellion, and a third group was recruited spontaneously during February and March, although part of that recruitment also appears to have taken place through Bahanga’s networks. Of course, there are different factions among them, including Imghad who may be easier to integrate into the army through El Hadj Gamou’s offices. But a significant minority among the returnees come from the Ifoghas families that led the rebellion of 2006-09. Idnan and Chamanamas have also returned, and have been joined by deserters from the Malian army. In sum, it is quite possible that a new Tuareg rebellion is imminent; in fact, it may have already begun.

This blogger has no way of verifying the numbers here and has no firm assessment as yet.

Jeune Afrique reports that Nigerien forces ‘intercepted a large column’ of Tuaregs who had faught with Qadhafi and who were affiliated with Ibrahim Ag Bahanga before his death earlier this year. The article reports the men were hoping to join others in Mali. The deaths include thirteen Tuaregs and one from the Nigerien Army. The Nigeriens reportedly found RPGs and machine guns in their vehicles. It also reports the Nigeriens were alerted to the convoy by US satellite intelligence.

UPDATE: Tommy Miles, another well informed reader comments:

I think we should be careful here. Especially as I AM NOT in Mali, I’m very hesitant at drawing conclusions. Sources within northern Mali on all the points above are contradictory, and both Hama Ag SidiAhmed & nationalists in the south are spinning a lot of stuff that appears untrue. I also would not paint direct lines between tewsiten rebel groups/leaders (let alone proclivity to fight Bamako).

Recent statements from the Kidal big men like Alghabass ag Intallah, scion of the Ifoghas’ ruling Kel Afella, are pretty cagey. These guys, regardless of tewsit or tribe, are hip deep in Malian power politics, and don’t seem like they’re sending their cousins out to shoot up the joint. See here.

So just one of several possible points. Several reports claim only a small portion of the Libya returnees broke away to camp with Ag Bahanga’s Chamanamas fraction (to be clear a portion — one of something like 52 — of a not large tribal group) near Tin Zawatten. Most are in cantonment, and interviews suggest they’re not there to fight. They’re tired, hungry, broke, and scared. It was also reported that many of the soldiers, while tied by family to their officers who were born in Mali, have never left Libya, and speak only Arabic, neither French or Tamashaq.

Previous rebellions have been funded, if not by neighboring governments, then by rich sympathizers in neighboring countries. There will not be much cash coming from Libya or Libyans to support this. These folks will likely be destabilizing in many, potentially violent ways, but please be aware that there is a concerted effort being made in some quarters to sell this coming rebellion to outsiders. That alone makes me skeptical, even as it convinces me there is a group — small and marginalized and angry because of their marginalization from northern networks — who are planning an uprising.

So They Say: Algeria and Qatar

TSA Algerie writes about Algeria’s growing displeasure with Qatar’s assertive foreign policy and growing influence in the region. Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is in Doha for the Forum of Gas Exporting Countries and TSA writes ‘the stakes are high’. (It writes that Bouteflika’s presence is notable given how rare his trips abroad have become in recent years.) Qatar has given a boost to a number of Islamist factions recently, notably in Tunisia and Libya and the article reports that Algiers is concerned Doha may be plotting to help revive elements of the external opposition, mentioning the fact that Abbasi Madani, one of the founders of the FIS is a long time resident in Qatar (the article alleges Madani has developed close ties with prominent CNT officials and attributes some of Algeria’s tension with the new Libyan authorities to this) and that Saad Djabbar (a vocal regime critic who appears frequently on Al Jazeera) is reported a personal lawyer for the Emir. It also notes Algiers’s disapproval of Qatar’s aggressive support for the overthrow of Mu’amar al-Qadhafi and its recent measures against Syria in the Arab League. It also writes that Algiers is refraining from publicly criticizing Doha, which it attributes to Qatar playing the US, France and the divided Arab states off one another making it practically ‘immune to pressure’ from the outside, especially because Saudi Arabia, it writes, seems unprepared to push back against it. The article ends by claiming that Bouteflika will probably seek Qatari mediation in outstanding disputes with Libyans and the CNT and describing rumors of Madani wanting to return to Algeria from his exile in the Gulf to live out his years in his homeland and for ‘ulterior’ political motivations at age 80. Continue reading

Exceptions, Agency, Structure

Richard Phelps argues that Algeria has not seen a popular uprising this year on broad structural lines (‘An Algerian Exception?‘ CMEC Blog): ‘the Algerian regime does not have an identifiable leader with whom political power truly lies’.

In Algeria, the incumbent president Abdulaziz Bouteflika is not the ultimate repository of power in the country. Instead, the military and security forces are and always have been. Indeed, the generals have consistently worked to limit his authority and power, and as a result people know that protesting against his rule may uproot him but will not uproot a more shadowy architecture behind him. Municipal elections in 1990 and parliamentary elections in 1991 offered the Algerian people the prospect for a major overhaul, when they voted in the Islamist party the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) across the board, ejecting the long-incumbent National Liberation Front (FLN).  But the military stepped in and took over, banned the FIS, and years of brutal civil war ensued after many took part in an uprising against the regime. The trauma of this experience formally confirmed to Algerians what many had always known – that it is the military that is in charge, not the politicians – and it instructed the regime that popular dissent can be successfully crushed through overwhelming and brutal force.  Thus the overwhelming security presence at the demonstrations seen to date.

For all its dissimilarities with Algeria, Lebanon is also an Arab republic with a long history of brutal political violence, and it too has been relatively unaffected by the Arab spring. In neither case is there a single identifiable leader in charge: one hears not of ‘Bouteflika’s Algeria’ as one does of ‘Asad’s Syria’, ‘Gaddafi’s Libya’, or ‘Mubarak’s Egypt’. In both cases – Algeria and Lebanon – there is widespread recognition that power does not lie with Presidents and prime ministers. In Lebanon, power is devolved along sectarian lines rather than concentrated in central government. There would therefore, be little sense in protesting against the rule of the government or a particular leader’s regime, since ultimate power does not lie with them. Continue reading

More to Read on Algeria, etc.

The always insightful Crossing the Green Mountain provides a fine list of works worth reading by Louis Martinez and Omar Carlier. (Also view their AQIM bibliography, full of terrific readings in English and French and the rest.)

Luis Martinez

Martinez, Luis. “L’enivrement de la violence: “djihad” dans la banlieue d’Alger.” L’Algérie dans la guerre. Sous la dir. de Rémy Leveau (1995): 39-70

Martinez, Luis. “Youth, the street and violence in Algeria.” Alienation or integration of Arab youth: between family, state and street. Ed. Roel Meijer (2000): 83-105

Martinez, Luis. “Le cheminement singulier de la violence islamiste en Algérie. (Abstract: The particular path taken by Islamist violence in Algeria.).” Critique Internationale 20 (2003): 165-177;180

Martinez, Luis. “Why the violence in Algeria?.” Journal of North African Studies 9 ii (2004): 14-27

Martinez, Luis. “Why the violence in Algeria?.” Islam, democracy and the state in Algeria: lessons for the Western Mediterranean and beyond. Ed. Michael Bonner, Megan Reif & Mark Tessler (2005): 14-27

Martinez, Luis. “Autoritarisme et usage de la violence: état d’une recherche.” L’autoritarisme dans le monde arabe. Autour de Michel Camau – Luis Martinez. Coord. A.Boutaleb, J.-N.Ferrié, B.Rey (2005): 82-90

Omar Carlier

Carlier, Omar. “La guerre d’Algérie et ses prolégomènes: notes pour une anthropologie historique de la violence politique.” Naqd 4 (1993): 32-44

Carlier, Omar. Entre nation et jihad. Histoire des radicalismes algériens, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 1995.

Carlier, Omar. “D’une guerre à l’autre, le redéploiement de la violence entre soi.” Confluences Méditerranée 25 (1998): 123-137

Carlier, Omar. “Guerre civile, violence intime, et socialisation culturelle: la violence politique en Algérie (1954-1998).” Guerres civiles: économies de la violence, dimensions de la civilité. Sous la coord. de J.Hannoyer (1999): 69-104

Carlier, Omar. “Civil war, private violence, and cultural socialization: political violence in Algeria (1954-1988).” Algeria in others’ languages. Ed. by Anne-Emmanuelle Berger (2002): 81-106

Carlier, Omar. “Violence(s).” La guerre d’Algérie: 1954-2004, la fin de l’amnésie. [Ed.] Benjamin Stora et Mohammed Harbi (2004): 347-379

‘A Convergence of Civilizations’

Writers often discuss culture and politics and religion and misery in mostly Muslim countries in terms of exceptions and global civilizational or ideological competition with ‘the west’ or ‘secularism’. Such things make world history simple and validate their target audiences’ preconceptions and even religious convictions. They can even help provide as sense of certainty, superiority and identity. Many people have written against such things from various perspective. Many observers struggle to place the recent Arab uprisings in this framework of clashing civilizations and Eurabias. In A Convergence of Civilizations: The Transformation of Muslim Societies Around the World (Columbia, trans. 2011) Youssef Courbage and Emmanuel Todd write: Continue reading

Another take on Algeria’s Libya policy

The elements and consequences of Algeria’s Libya policy during the recent war is a point of continuing interest for this blogger. Le Quotidien Oran ran Abed Cheref’s analysis of Algeria’s Libya policy on 27 October. Cheref begins by lamenting that although Algeria and Egypt ought to have had a ‘leading role’ in managing the Libyan crisis, neither government ventured to do so. He boils their basic interests down to national stability, describes some of the internal dynamics which defined Algeria’s posture  — such as the views of the President, the Army and the security services (DRS) — and then describes the ‘absence of institutional functioning’ in Algerian foreign policy which Cheref writes does not function well under normal circumstances let alone in a time of crisis. This dysfunction comes from excessive centralization of decision-making around the presidency which hinders Algerian diplomats from ‘taking the initiative and adapting’ to changing circumstances without going through President Bouteflika who, as Cheref and virtually everyone else notes, ‘still considers himself the foreign minister.’ Cheref thus chocks up Algeria’s poor showing during the Libya crisis up to ‘the presence of a man like Mr. Bouteflika at the summit of power.’

Not only is his reading of events based on a grid from the middle of the last century, it is at odds with the full reality, and the operations of the centers of power are thereby paralyzed which does not allow the adjustments necessary to defend the best interests of the country.

Cheref argues that had the Algerians recognized the CNT earlier on and shown support for the Libyan rebels Algeria’s regional interests would have been better served by now. He writes that Algeria might have been able to mediate between the rebels and Qadhafi if Algiers had established earlier and firmer contacts with CNT, which could have helped ‘avoid mistakes that led to the irreparable Civil War’ in Libya. The reader is doubtful that after a certain point such mediation would have been useful: rebel forces rejected dialogue with the Qadhafi government rather early in the crisis and after that stage in the struggle accommodation with Qadhafi was totally rejected, even before the military situation turned drastically against the Qadhafites. Cheref views Algeria as more vulnerable after the Libyan crisis. Its borders are more exposed to ‘all kinds of threats’ including great power exploitation. Cheref believes the situation can be ameliorated through greater regional cooperation with Sahel countries and Tunisia and Libya; he points to economic solutions, calling for Algiers to rethink its regional posture, arguing that Algeria’s Libya policy has locked it in place while the rest of the region changes. Cheref concludes by asking ‘Can Algeria have influence on change in the region if she herself does not change?’ Cheref’s concluding question points to the need for political change in Algeria as a way of producing a more dynamic foreign policy. The country’s internal politics are not dynamic and this is reflected in its foreign policy and magnified in times of crisis. He points to Bouteflika as the heart of the problem but understandably offers no alternative. And while Cheref argues for a rethinking of Algeria’s regional posture he does not argue for a total restructuring of the basic principles of Algerian foreign policy. He argues that Algeria should have been pragmatic by taking a keener tone toward the NTC, not that Algiers should support Arab uprisings as a matter of principle, though he does mention Libya’s role in Algeria’s war of independence.

‘Libya is in Africa’

After Michele Bachmann implied Libya was on some continent other than Africa during the Republican primary debate tonight, ‘Libya is in Africa’ has been trending on Twitter. Congresswoman Bachmann probably knows that Libya is in Africa; or at least one hopes she does. The live audience seemed not to notice the comment and as a marginal candidate one can doubt the general relevance of a comment such as this. Congresswoman Bachmann is a legislator with many defects (she also polls badly and can thus get away with saying Iraq should pay reparations to the United States for its ‘liberation’; how someone like her sits on the House Select Committee on Intelligence is beyond your blogger). But Americans are not famous for their geographic intelligence; this blogger would not be surprised if a sizable number of Americans are unsure of which continent Libya sits on. Samia Ben Charqui dug up a screen capture of a CNN broadcast where Tripoli, Lebanon and a map of the Middle East stood in for Tripoli, Libya and a map of North Africa. Congresswoman Bachmann is not the only elite American who cannot place Libya.

Thoughts on Sameness

The Libyan intervention was considerably more controversial than media coverage often let on. The positions of countries aside from the United States and NATO countries were often caricatured or ignored from March through August. Opposition or skepticism of the NATO intervention was often interpreted as ‘support’ for the Qadhafi regime or a cynical attempt to avoid precedent-setting as it might relate to small states with ‘internal issues’ relative to big ones. It is often along these lines that the response of many medium-sized countries to the Libyan crisis (if not the Arab uprisings in general) has been a subject of curiosity for some commentators and observers in Europe and America. Much of this reflects the preconceptions and expectations of liberal writers as far as specific countries are concerned (here one can immediately point to patronizing and moralizing complaints about South Africa’s ‘dithering’ over Libya and the lack of a moral dimension to its foreign policy more generally; or, references to Algeria’s ‘revolutionary credentials’ when wondering about why it was so cool toward the rebel faction during the Libyan crisis). Other times it reflects ideological and political biases — efforts to tar or shame others for their behavior. One ought to step out of the picture and ask, as Imad Mansour does in MERIP: Continue reading

Fast Thoughts

There has been a flurry of commentary and analysis in recent weeks and days focusing on the implications of weapons scattered about the Sahel in the wake of the collapse of the Qadhafi regime in Libya. It ranges from the alarmist to the sensible. There highly technical pieces and more general ones; some have also focused on the out-migration of Nigerien, Malian and Libya Tuareg out of Libya since the conquest of Tripoli and the socio-politics this may lead to in the wider Sahel. These tend to focus on the Tuaregs as (foreign) mercenaries, infrequently mentioning the many Libyan Tuareg who fought on either side of the conflict or  who have been and are being drastically impacted by the conflict’s course. Given the very little attention Tuaregs receive from English speakers in general, one notices many problems in these articles, especially in the middle-brow magazines and newspapers that have recently discovered the Sahel. A more systematic attack on some of the assumptions and assertions guiding these would probably be done by some one like Tommy Miles, with the expertise to give a really strong break down. For sure, the return and/or migration of large numbers of Tuareg former fighters, refugees and others into countries like Niger and Mali, coupled with the political troubles that might to places like Burkina Faso and Chad as a result of the loss of Libya as a strong backer and/or patron will shake things up in the region. Sophisticated weapons in the hands of smugglers, “bandits,” rebel factions, terrorists (read: AQIM) and other criminal elements is a serious threat to everyone in the region; the Mauritanians have favored areal assaults in recent engagements with AQIM. Imagine if the group had surface to air misiles. The recent summit in Algiers was noted for its focus on the conflict in Libya, leaving the conventional conversations about AQIM in its shadow. It was also notable for the criticism offered up by the Nigeriens over the lack of “concrete” action in Algerian-led efforts. Tensions between the new government in Tripoli and Algiers could slow down any effort at successfully managing these problems.

For several years, analysts have looked at the Sahel as a potential “hot spot” for terrorism and other symptoms of weak states and poor/low capacity governance. A recent Time magazine piece reiterated this theme this week. A Twitterized version of this general debate took place this evening between Christopher Boucek and Clint Watts (of Selected Wisdom).

Later posts will look at the Sahel as a “hot spot”; having followed the region for a little while this blogger believes there are two things to consider: (1) that many assumptions and predictions are easily challenged and overturned, quickly; and (2) the traditional areas AQIM has targeted (northern Algeria and Mauritania) and AQIM (as an organization) have evolved in the last two years especially, in governmental approaches and AQIM’s composition and locality. Not having much time, one can argue that the Libyan episode has significantly changed the balance of power and the function of space in the region (though not necessarily fundamentally or in the long term). The region is different this summer than last summer; and last summer AQIM did not look especially threatening in macro-perspective for all sorts of reasons even if it was awash with ransom money and snatching up Europeans. The weapons factor is important and the solvency and levels of political risk facing some countries is higher. AQIM is not a strategic threat to global security. It remains a basically technical threat as opposed to a political one. The Mauritanian government’s approach to AQIM, if imperfect, looks more sensible in 2011 than it did in 2009-2010. The Malians and Nigeriens are somewhat more engaged though the Algerians’ posture seems to have remained constant throughout (which may or may not be in itself productive so far as the Sahel states are concerned; one sees the Algerians’ rigid commitment to principles like national sovereignty and non-intervention playing out in the Sahel as in Libya — such ideas have serious weight among Algerian military and diplomatic officials, more than many outsiders often give them credit, and their reluctance to bring western powers deeper into regional security arrangements are not necessarily evidence of a tangled conspiracy). In any case, the region is likely to get more interesting in coming months.