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Tunisia crisis underscores risks of European push for democratization in northern Africa

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While the European Union and the United Nations struggle to keep Libya’s transition to elections on track, the dramatic events unfolding next door in Tunisia have raised the spectre of upheaval and instability in yet another North African member of the European neighbourhood. In a series of moves that leaves the Arab Spring’s only success story at risk of backsliding into authoritarianism, Tunisia’s populist president Kais Saied (pictured) has disbanded the rest of the country’s government and granted himself emergency powers under the terms of the country’s 2014 constitution, writes Louis Auge.

In addition to disbanding Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending the highly fractious national parliament, within which Rachid Ghannouchi’s Islamist Ennahda party represented the largest group, Saied has also shuttered the offices of al-Jazeera and removed multiple top officials, all as Tunisian foreign minister Othman Jerandi seeks to reassure EU counterparts that his country’s democratic transition is still on track.

Fledging Tunisian institutions fall flat on COVID and the economy

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Kais Saied’s power grab has understandably provoked outrage among his Islamist political opponents, but his dismissal of Prime Minister Mechichi and his dissolution of parliament were also the central demands of nationwide protests in Tunisia over the past several days. As Tunisia lurches through Africa’s most lethal COVID epidemic, a growing cross-section of Tunisian society is losing faith in the ability of the country’s deadlocked political institutions to address widespread joblessness, corruption, and endless economic crisis.

Between Tunisia and Libya, the EU finds itself face to face with both the best case and worst-case outcomes of the Arab Spring, each presenting its own challenges for European foreign policy in North Africa and the Sahel. Despite the supposed success of its transition, the number of Tunisians who traversed the Mediterranean to reach European shores increased fivefold as their elected officials brawled on the floor of the Assembly in Tunis last year.

The experience has made European leaders understandably wary of pushing other countries in the region towards overly hasty political transitions, as demonstrated by the French and European handling of the situation in Chad since the battlefield death of President Idriss Déby three months ago. When the tenuous stability of multiple countries could be at play, decision makers in Brussels and the European capitals have proven more patient with transitional African counterparts of late.

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Prioritising stability in Chad

The news of President Déby’s death this past April immediately, if only briefly, threw the future of French and European policy in Africa’s Sahel region into question. Under its former leader, Chad emerged as France’s most active and reliable ally in a region overrun by jihadist groups taking advantage of weak governance in countries like Mali to carve out territory for themselves. Chadian troops have been deployed alongside French forces against jihadists in Mali itself, and have borne the brunt of operations against Boko Haram in the region surrounding Lake Chad.

A breakdown in government authority in N'Djamena along the lines of the collapse seen in Mali would have been catastrophic for European foreign policy and security priorities in the Sahel region. Instead, the country’s immediate stability has been ensured by an acting government headed by the late president’s son Mahamat. In a sign of the country’s importance to European interests, both French president Emmanuel Macron and EU High Representative Josep Borrell attended the late president’s funeral on April 23rd.

Since then, Macron has welcomed Mahamat to Paris in his role as head of Chad’s Transitional Military Council (TMC), both to discuss Chad’s 18-month transitional period to elections and to define the parameters of the two countries’ joint fight against jihadism in the Sahel. While France’s long-running Operation Barkhane is set to wind down between now and the first part of next year, its objectives will shift to the shoulders of the French-led Takuba European task force and to the G5-Sahel – a regional security partnership of which Chad has proven to be the most effective member.

Delicate balancing acts

While the TMC has ensured the continued stability of Chad’s central government in the short term, regional security challenges help explain why neither the EU nor the African Union (AU) are pushing the country’s interim authorities too hard on speedy elections. The transition to civilian rule is already under way, with PM Albert Pahimi Padacké forming a new government this past May. Next steps include the appointment of a national transitional council (NTC), a national dialogue bringing together both opposition and pro-government forces, and a constitutional referendum.

As they navigate the next stages of the transition, actors both within and outside of Chad could look next door to Sudan for lessons on how to move forward. Despite the fact more than two years have already passed since the overthrow of longtime president and alleged war criminal Omar al-Bashir, Sudan will not be holding elections to replace Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok’s transitional government until 2024.

At a major conference held in Paris and hosted by President Macron this past May, Sudan’s European partners and creditors made clear they understood the long time horizon was necessary for Hamdok and other post-revolutionary leaders in Khartoum to focus on the urgent problems facing post-Bashir Sudan. Alongside an economic crisis that makes even basic commodities hard to come by, Sudan is also juggling tens of billions of dollars in external debt and a “deep state” of officials loyal to the deposed president. In an endorsement of the transition’s progress thus far, Hamdok came out of the conference with a pledge from IMF members to clear the arrears Sudan owns them, while Macron also insisted France supported clearing the $5 billion Khartoum owes Paris as well.

If N'Djamena and Khartoum can navigate their perilous transitions to democratic governance in the face of “staggering” challenges, Chad and Sudan could jointly revive hopes for Arab democracy in both European and Middle Eastern capitals – even if the last flame of the original Arab Spring appears to be flickering out in Tunisia.

Libya

Reflections on the failures of Libyan talks at Geneva and beyond

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Libyans must themselves work to restore the long-lost unity of our nation. External solutions will only exacerbate our country’s already precarious state. It is time to end the series of failures that has plagued the collapse of talks and return the Libyan homeland to a state of legitimacy, writes Shukri Al-Sinki.

The demand to return Libya to constitutional legitimacy as it was last enjoyed in the country in 1969 is a genuine right of the nation. It is a plight to recover a stolen system of guaranteed rights and not the battle of an individual to reclaim his throne. Returning to constitutional legitimacy means returning to the state of affairs that Libyans enjoyed before 1969’s coup d’etat. The idea itself is not novel. The desire of Libyans to return to its original constitution and with it, restore the monarchy, was first introduced at a conference in 1992 in London, attended by representatives of the international press as well as several high-profile political personalities.

In line with the wish of the people, Prince Muhammad, the crown prince residing in London, has not publicized himself, nor will he appear as an aspirant to the throne until the conflicting factions of Libyan society agree to a compromise. Only the people can proclaim him a legitimate ruler. This is the legacy of the Senussi family, which Prince Muhammad has pledged to honor. The source of the family’s strength is precisely in the fact that it stands at an equal distance from all parties in Libya, in a neutral position. This is the kind of leadership that Libyans can seek refuge in should conflict intensify.

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“I know, my son, that our Senussi family does not belong to a single tribe, group or party, but to all Libyans. Our family was and will remain a large tent that all men and women in Libya can seek shelter under. If God and your people choose you, then I want you to serve as a king for all the people. You will have to rule with justice and equity, and be of assistance to everyone. You will also have to be the sword of the country when in need, and defend our homeland and the lands of Islam. Respect all local and international covenants.”

The time has come for Libya to recover after a prolonged period of hardship. The real solution to all of our existing divisions, wars and conflicts lies in a nationwide project deriving its legitimacy from the legacy that our founding fathers left behind. Independent from external pressures and internally imposed plans of the few, we must work together to restore legitimacy itself.

We have to come to terms with the fact that warring parties will not give in to each other’s requests out of their own volition, and will likely continue to battle. This threatens the entirety of our homeland’s existence. Perhaps a more easily acceptable and non-partisan leader, who is free of tribal and regional affiliations, could offer the remedy. A person of good standing and moral values who descends from a family chosen by God Himself. A family of both religious and reformist legacy whose forefather, King Idris, achieved one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of Libya: our country’s independence. The Al-Senussi heritage is one of nationalism and fighting for the people.

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We must overcome the ones who meddle with the future of Libya in the hope of putting their hands on our national resources, deriving personal benefit, or hoping to favor foreign agendas and impose authoritarian means of governance. We have to reject the further prolongation of the transitional period lest we risk inviting more opportunities for disputes and bring unwarranted danger back to Libya. We have had enough of wasting the country’s resources as well as the people’s time. We have had enough of taking on additional risks. We have had enough of walking down an unknown path. We have a constitutional heritage within our grasp, which we could call on any time. Let us call on it, let us invite our legitimate leader back, and let us pledge allegiance to a united Libya.

Shukri El-Sunki is a widely published Libya based writer and researcher. He is the author of four books, his most recent being Conscience of a Homeland (Maktaba al-Koun, 2021,) which chronicles the stories of Libyan heroes who faced and resisted the tyranny of the Gadhaffi regime.

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Africa

Rapprochement between Israel and Arab countries set to drive economic growth in MENA

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Over the past year, several Arab countries have normalized relations with Israel, marking a significant geopolitical shift in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. While the details of each normalization deal vary, some of them include trade and tax treaties and cooperation in key sectors such as health and energy. Normalization efforts are set to bring countless benefits to the MENA region, boosting economic growth, writes Anna Schneider. 

In August 2020, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) became the first Gulf Arab nation to normalize relations with Israel, establishing formal diplomatic, commercial, and security ties with the Jewish state. Shortly after, the Kingdom of Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco followed suit. Some experts have suggested that other Arab nations, such as Saudi Arabia, may also consider fostering relations with Israel. The string of normalization efforts is historic, as hitherto, only Egypt and Jordan had established official ties with Israel. The agreements are also a major diplomatic win for the United States, which played a critical role in fostering the deals. 

Historically, Arab nations and Israel have maintained distant relations, as many were staunch supporters of the Palestinian movement. Now, however, with the growing threat of Iran, some GCC nations and other Arab countries are beginning to lean towards Israel. Iran is investing significant resources in expanding its geopolitical presence by way of its proxies, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthis, and others. Indeed, several GCC countries recognize the danger Iran poses to the region’s national security, critical infrastructure, and stability, leading them to side with Israel in an effort to counterbalance Iranian aggression. By normalizing relations with Israel, the GCC can pool resources and coordinate militarily. 

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Furthermore, the trade agreements featured in the normalization deals allow Arab nations to purchase advanced US military equipment, such as the famed F-16 and F-35 fighter jets. Thus far, Morocco has purchased 25 F-16 fighter jets from the U.S. The U.S. has also agreed to sell 50 F-35 jets to the UAE. Although there are some concerns that this influx of weaponry into the already-unstable MENA region could ignite current conflicts. Some experts believe such advanced military technology could also augment efforts to combat Iran's presence. 

Mohammad Fawaz, director of Gulf Policy Research Group, states that “advanced military technology is essential in obstructing Iranian aggression. In today’s military arena, aerial superiority is perhaps the most critical advantage an army can possess. With Iran’s military equipment and weaponry heavily dampened by decades-long sanctions, a formidable airforce will only work to further deter the Iranian regime from escalating provocations.” 

The normalization agreements could also enhance cooperation in the health and energy sectors. For example, during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UAE and Israel developed technology to monitor and combat the coronavirus. The two nations are also exploring collaboration opportunities in the area of pharmaceuticals and medical research. In June, the UAE and Israel also signed a double taxation treaty, citizens to generate income in both nations without paying double tax. Additionally, Bahrain, the UAE, Israel, and the US  have agreed to cooperate on energy issues. In particular, the quartet aims to pursue advancements in petrol, natural gas, electricity, energy efficiency, renewable energies, and R&D. 

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These noteworthy agreements could help boost economic growth and social benefits in the region. Indeed, MENA nations are currently battling with a new outbreak of COVID-19, thanks to the Delta variant, which is severely impacting economies and health industries. In order to improve the region’s critical institutions, such normalization deals are sure to improve the region’s reliance on oil. In fact, the UAE has been working on reducing its own dependence on oil, diversifying its economy to include renewable energy and high tech, such progress is sure to spill over to others in the region. 

The normalization of relations between a handful of Arab nations and Israel will have major benefits on the geopolitical and economic structure of the Middle East and North Africa region. Facilitating cooperation across the Middle East will not only boost economic growth, but it will also foster regional stability. 

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Libya

A Documentary about Libya: Another Bogus Story?

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The British state broadcaster and news agency BBC sent an inquiry to the Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin (pictured) with announcement of its intention to make a documentary about the fate of Libyan citizens. The description of the project states that the film will feature serious human rights violations which were allegedly documented during the fighting in the Tripoli`s vicinity.

The BBC editors wanted to find out from Prigozhin what role Russians play in the life of the North African country. Representatives of the British state media noted that they would probably refer to Prigozhin`s comment in their research.

The press service of the Concord Catering company, headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, published the entrepreneur`s response.

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He reminded foreign journalists that the US authorities plunged the North African republic into civil war when they killed Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and filled the country with extremists and terrorists. The latter are even integrated into the power structures of Libya. Moscow, unlike Washington, helps residents of other countries, according to the businessman.

Prigozhin also suggested that BBC staff should ask for comments from the Russian Anti-Repression Foundation if this media wants to learn more about human rights violations by Washington and its allies.

“I have not heard anything about the violation of human rights in Libya by the Russians and I am sure that this is an absolute lie. But if you want a detailed list of such violations by the United States and its allies around the world, then I recommend that you contact the Anti-Repression Foundation for more detailed comments. Or Maksim Shugaley who was thrown into the Mitiga prison in Libya without trial or investigation, where he survived deprivation and torture and who knows more than anyone else about the violation of human rights in this country. My advice to you is to operate with facts, not your Russophobic sentiments,” the businessman told the BBC journalists.

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According to the press office of the Concord Catering, the company has repeatedly published explanations on a number of submitted issues. In particular, they reported that Yevgeny Prigozhin has nothing to do with those Russian citizens who were allegedly participating in hostilities on the territory of Libya. Among the unfounded accusations, there is also an allegation that the Russian businessman is connected to the Euro-Polis LLC, which, according to rumors, is a company supplying military equipment to Libya. The press office denies all allegations related to connection of Prigozhin with the Libyan conflict stating that catering and the supply of arms are unrelated businesses.

The press service of Concord Catering also mentioned that the BBC is not the first media which sends the same type of questions. Many other international media holdings have been engaged in the replication of rumors.

It is noteworthy that earlier the British Independent Press Standards Organization upheld a complaint by Prigozhin`s against the Daily Telegraph for spreading false information about the situation in Libya.

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