The last month has seen light posting for two reasons: (1) this writer has been ill (due to exhaustion and then a virus) and so blogging has been a lower priority and (2) work and other projects have consumed most of the time time usually reserved for blogging as a result of time lost due to illness. As a result several posts that had been envisioned or planned were not finished, posted or written and their subject matter is now dated. Events are moving so quickly in the region they require more general reflection and analysis as opposed to rapid blog updates on narrow events.
Since becoming ill this writer has focused on taking short notes on the Algerian and Mauritanian protest movements and government responses to them and putting the ones concerned with Algeria into a vaguely organized bulk format which has ended up being too long to be posted here. Readers may solicit a digital version by email if they are so inclined (write to: nourithemoor [@] gmail.com ).
Regular blogging will hopefully resume in the next week. Before that happens, though, here are some issues and questions of interest (for this blogger) related to recent events. These will likely be the main themes of the next several posts:
- The analytical problems facing observers (and participants) in the so-called “Arab Spring” or “revolutions” in assessing their direction, strength and impact regionally. At this stage, recognizing that uprisings and that leadership shifts are still underway in various Arab countries, it may be interesting to explore some of the cognitive, political/ideological biases (especially wishful thinking and “mirror imaging,” tunnel vision as a result of over/hyper-specialization, the lack of access to raw data, source biases, etc.) affecting popular and specialized writing/analyses of the Arab uprisings. This blog has fallen prey to some of these problems at times (and has criticized others for the same; for instance this PDF chart, produced in February for personal, conceptual use significantly understates the level of risk of unrest in countries like Syria): how do these same problems affect others and what can be learned from them in terms of the Arab uprisings and civil unrest? The answers here will help better understand the region’s unrest as it continues evolve. Writers attempting to predict whether the “revolutions” would spread from Tunisia and then from Egypt hotly, rather than cooly, debated the issue; others expected particular countries to erupt as a result of events in others or at the first appearance of demonstrations and those on the other side dismissed such forecasts or despaired at the possibility. A look at some of the big narratives and memes would be of some use. Reviewing and parsing analytical approaches would be useful in assessing core grievances/political closure points and regime management capacities/capabilities, identifying past and potential/future “triggers”/turning points in ongoing protest movements, and so on. An interesting recent perspective on the region’s unrest (thought not exactly on the line discussed in this paragraph) can be seen here; Paul Pillar‘s comments on Egypt and Syria have also been interesting in direct relation to these questions.
- The Algerian posture on the enforcement of UNSC 1973. The Algerians (with the Syrians) abstained from the Arab League vote to endorse a No-Fly Zone in Libya in March and have joined with Russia and others in condemning the implementation of UNSC 1973 by France, the US, the UK and now NATO. The Algerians have made public a variety of political and security rationales for their position, describing Algiers’ view of the situation as “non-Manichean” and focused on the general stability of the region. These have been more or less inflammatory and critical depending on the official or party leader providing comment. Rumors and accusations that Algiers had provided flights for mercenaries or even weapons to Qadhafi have circulated since the early phases of the Libyan crisis. It is unclear whether Algeria has been opposed to the Libyan intervention for mainly security reasons (fear of AQIM using Libyan territory as a safe haven, picking up arms, etc.) or because it fears the legal and security problem presented by the legal and political implications of UNSC 1973 and the NFZ. Algiers’s anxiety and aggressive opposition probably comes from a strong mix of these rather than affinity for Qadhafi per se. With the available evidence, admittedly mostly gleaned from news reports and conversations with others knowledgeable about the issue, the chances are about even that Algeria is actively working (by whatever means) to help undermine the NFZ and help Qadhafi survive the crisis or simply protesting by diplomatic and political means through the AU, Russia, China and other like minded state powers without actually giving material or direct political assistance to Tripoli. One cannot rule out the Algerians providing the Libyans with assistance in propaganda revolving around the AQIM issue, which Algerian news papers have seized on and anonymous officials have relayed to reporters. Immediately interesting in relation to these possibilities are Algerian perceptions of (1) the survivability Qadhafi and his regime in general versus the rebel cause, (2) the diplomatic/political processes leading up the Arab League and UNSC resolutions, (3) the legal framework of UNSC 1973 and its applicability to their own situation (and the Western Sahara or some other areas where they have direct interests, such the pentad border region in the Sahara where AQIM’s tends to operate), (4) the relevance/impact of the Libyan problem on pressures for reform and change inside Algeria, and assorted other variables.
- AQIM’s position, disposition and posture in the region in relation to the Libyan crisis. Reports of uncertain reliability have AQIM taking expeditions into southern Libya, pillaging its arms caches and picking up new and powerful weapons (anti-aircraft weapons/surface to air missiles, for example; Chad’s President Idris Deby spoke to this effect in Jeune Afrique). Additional reports have claimed that AQIM members were killed in NATO bombing raids in Libya and referenced a supposed AQIM communique claiming such deaths. These reports have been interrogated by Lebovich and Zelin (here and here) with convincing skepticism. The Algerian media has been saturated with reports of AQIM activity, the prospect of the proliferation of arms into the Sahel from Libyan stores resulting from the NATO NFZ. While AQIM has generally had a limited presence in Libya the erosion of the country’s borders by means of the NFZ may have possibly given smugglers, AQIM and/or its allies (in reality these “allies” are more like sub-contracters) access to points of entrance into Libyan territory which were previous more difficult to penetrate (this assumes that before the implementation of the NFZ: (1) the porous areas of the southern Libyan border were effectively patrolled by Libyan government forces and the devastation of the Libyan Air Force (and the focus on the internal war) has significantly affected its ability to do so and (2) the enforcement of enforcement of the NFZ and other French patrols over southern Libya have been ineffective in stemming this, especially on the borders with Chad and Niger. These assumptions could be incorrect or inaccurate given recent events and more research is required into France’s (and Algeria’s — Algiers has stepped air and ground patrols on the border since March) activity on these border regions and the general pattern of the NATO NFZ in southern Libya. Readers should clarify if possible.) What does this mean for the Libyan conflict and the relationships between the countries in the region and France and America? To whatever extent that AQIM or AQIM elements are involved in the Libyan conflict one asks: how do these relate to the bulk of the rebels and then also to whatever veteran jihadis (foreign fighters in the Afghanistan/Iraq wars)may be involved in the fighting? (Some of this has been considered well here and here) Are these factors significant in Libya from a security/military perspective at all? Little reliable information is readily available on AQIM’s presence in Libya to begin with, let alone in recent weeks which have seen reports on this politicized by regional governments and their allies. AQIM remains considerably weak and politically isolated even considered minor tactical gains in the last year or so; its role in Libya should not be overstated. (An interesting alternative analysis on Libya in general can be seen here.)
- The impact of the Libyan crisis on Sahel/Maghreb regional politics. This deserve attention given Qadhafi’s relatively strong hand in the regional balance of power, as non-state, conventional political groups and governments in the region have been concerned (such as the Tuareg groups, political parties/leaders in various countries and so on). What kind of power vacuum has the Libyan crisis created or contributed to in the Sahel/northwest Africa, and how significant is it if this is indeed the case? Has the conflict inside Libya has probably changed Tripoli’s regional priorities, as well as the emphasis of its diplomatic and intelligence services, away from helping propping up Qadhafi’s clients and semi-allies (several of whom have also faced domestic uprisings/crises of their own) and toward internal combat activities/repression and enlisting whatever diplomatic support is possible? How do states (and factions) in the region close to Qadhafi assess his regime’s likelihood of survival and how do these states view their relations with Qadhafi in relation to their ties to Europe, America, China and others?