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Arab Spring faces uncertain future, expert warns

Interview by Mouna Sadek for Magharebia in Algiers – 19/08/11

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Dr Saidj Mustapha is a well-known Algerian expert in international relations, a professor at the Graduate School of Political Science of Algiers and a consultant for Algerian public television channel ENTV. Magharebia met with him in Algiers to hear his predictions for Algerian terrorism, Sahel security, Morocco-Algeria relations and the end-game in Libya.

Magharebia: This has been an eventful year in Arab countries. What is behind this new momentum towards freedom in the Maghreb and Middle East?

Dr Saidj Mustapha: The ongoing protests, uprisings and revolutions – what the media calls the "Arab Spring" – can be explained by the end of the contemporary era of the authoritarian Arab elite. In most of the countries where people have sought to overthrow the governing regimes, the ruling elites were in power for up to forty years and the age of the rulers was between 70 to 80 plus, an age that does not adapt to the aspirations and ambitions of the Arab youth who represent between 60 and 70% of the population. Moreover, these regimes do not want to leave power.

Corruption has become the only principle upon which these regimes stand, whether by monopolising wealth or by using public money to become enriched.

Tyranny and widespread corruption needed a spark of fire that began with Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia. Khaled Said in Egypt, the victims of Abu Salim prison in Benghazi, the children of Daraa in Syria – all were demanding the fall of the regime.

The young people who launched this revolution do not come from the traditional political institutions, such as political parties or military coup elites. This makes us look forward to a phase of democratic transition from an authoritarian regime to a pluralistic, democratic system.

Magharebia: What do you predict for Libya?

Mustapha: The Libyan crisis could end in three possible scenarios. The first would divide Libya in a way similar to Sudan.

Eastern Libya's Transitional National Council (TNC) has gained the approval of Western and Gulf countries. It represents a model of a state that is independent from western Libya, with its own sovereign symbols, different national flags, security institutions and administrative institutions. Funding from frozen Libyan assets gives it financial independence from the Tripoli regime. This scenario is probable if Kadhafi forces withstand the NATO airstrikes and Libyan rebels fail to move towards Tripoli and the vital oil locations.

The second scenario would be based on the success of the transitional council in overthrowing the Kadhafi regime. This scenario will be difficult in the short and medium term, because the transitional council consists of political and military elites and does not have harmony within.

Kadhafi will bet on internal divisions, as seen in the assassination of (rebel) military leader Abdel Fattah Younes.

The third and final scenario would be similar to the Iraqi model, or, in the worst case, the Somali model, because the fragmentation of Libyan security would give Islamic Jihadist groups the opportunity to benefit from the chaos.

Libya could provide a safe haven for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which is widespread in the African Sahel.

The tribes also constitute a factor that would help split Libyan regions, because they are looking to arm themselves, away from the central state, to achieve security.

Magharebia: What does the Libyan crisis mean for Algeria and Tunisia?

Mustapha: If the third scenario prevails, Libya would pose a serious threat to all of the neighbouring countries, as well as the Euro-Mediterranean region.

Algeria, with about a thousand kilometres of borders, would be faced with various security threats – the influx of refugees, the spread of organised crime (such as arms trafficking and money laundering), and the rise of Islamic Jihadist groups on the Bamako-Tripoli axis and in the Sahel region – that could reach the Horn of Africa.

As for the Euro-Mediterranean countries, they would have to monitor their maritime borders from African illegal immigration, because in the past, the Kadhafi regime played a key role in controlling the territorial waters of Libya.

Magharebia: Speaking of security threats, Algeria is currently under high alert. How would you explain the increase in terrorist activity during Ramadan?

Mustapha: Terrorist groups in Algeria and elsewhere consider the month of Ramadan the month of Jihad, because most of the conquests and victories in Islamic history were achieved in Ramadan. They motivate their members to commit suicide attacks in order to gain some echo in the media.

What is noticeable in Algeria is that these groups are trying to take advantage of what is happening in their geopolitical environment, such as relying on ransoms obtained by Islamic groups in the Sahel to finance and mobilise their members and by acquiring quality weapons that may escape from Libya. These groups will always benefit from distorting Islam to serve their interests.

Magharebia: What does the death of Osama bin Laden mean for AQIM?

Mustapha: As much as Al-Qaeda is linked to the commander and leader, who formed and funded the organisation, it is based on a packaged ideology. It is true that the various branches of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Mesopotamia and the Arab Maghreb are affected by the death of their leader, but they will not disappear as long as their ideology mobilizes individuals.

The chaos in Libya could result in Al-Qaeda's ability to recruit young people who suffer from marginalisation, unemployment and illiteracy.

Magharebia: Finally, what do you foresee for Algeria and Morocco?

Mustapha: Algerian-Moroccan relations are not governed only by official speeches, because what King Mohammed VI delivered July 30th in his Throne Day address is really a quality speech of change.

He did not directly accuse Algeria, as he has in the past, of disrupting the path of the Arab Maghreb Union or negotiations on the Western Sahara issue. He considered the issue of Western Sahara to be in the hands of the United Nations, but the choice is Moroccan, i.e. dedication to a united autonomous government.

On the pragmatic side, visits between ministers as well as agreements on farming and the supplying natural gas in Morocco are all within the framework of mutual co-operation between the two countries.

The question that remains is: when are the borders between the two countries going to be open?

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  1. Anonymous thumb

    BEN 2012-8-12

    Libya’s balanced relations toward Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia are contributing to solidifying the ideal of the Maghreb, which has long been mishandled with activities harmful to the rapprochement of these neighbours, who are still not ready to define themselves by moving beyond themselves with a common political system in the face of upheavals, which are occurring before their very eyes, and in the face of a financial crisis, which is ravaging their economy. Others are acting according to their interests in the region. However, we would like to know a little bit about the ones who are governing beyond how long they have been around. Morocco has several times shown via its official channels that it has become aware of the commonality. This is difficult, given its record! But, the merit is to try to change one’s course by proposing to the peoples a new and serious approach by establishing common efforts in order to ensure a better tomorrow on all levels. This is a question of dynamism and survival without big material and human losses in order to take its fate into its own hands given the unstable and ever increasingly precarious situation. This is because the solution is in the United Maghreb.


  2. Anonymous thumb

    Anonymous 2012-4-23

    Okay for building the Maghreb, but the Maghreb of the peoples. We know the Maghreb of the rulers: 20 years of sleepiness, hypocrisy and lies. With regards to the Arab spring, the rulers, the tyrants and the dictators are presenting us with a spectre of chaos and anarchy. None of this is going to happen. On the contrary, this wind will sweep them away, God willing. It is the twilight of the gods.


  3. Anonymous thumb

    Yidir 2011-10-29

    First of all its not an "Arab spring" its a NORTH AFRICAN SPRING. The countries that have seen change are Tunisia, libya and Egypt...Countries like Morocco and Algeria are evaluating in the same direction....what we see in the arab countries like Saudie Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Kuawait, Oman is poeple sleeping and bathing in oil. Syria,Bahrain and Yemen are left to the dogs, no change is coming from there and even if a regim change would come it will be for the worst: Alqaida will take over ...like the Alqaida Saoudi's have crushed the Bahraini's....we forget those things..... Its a bloody scary winter in there. What we see now in the NORTH AFRICAN countries that managed to topple their vempiers is the oil Arabs from the east trying to corrupt and enslave us with their American billions. We see that now in Libya where a lots of dicisions are made in Qatari hotelrooms.In Tunisia where some poeple like Alahmadi who runs "Almoustaqila" TV is being used as a puppet by his Saudi masters to hijack the revolution and reverse its course back to the middel ages....Annahda is welcome to lead and take resposebility. We the cyber generation and the youth of freedom and science fiction have shown them the way to the future and we are not afraid of them traying to make monks and nuns of us and turn our lands to depressed lazy monastries, but they have to know that this change and revolution is a battle to go forwards not backwards...we want to live free and prosperous in this life first and later we will see what the afterlife will be like...so cut about halal this!haram that!...afghanistan this! Gaza that!...and Turkey this!...Dubai that ..get to business and keep it simple....keep it home!!!


  4. Anonymous thumb

    Arabomusulman 2011-9-3

    Poor Arabs that we are! Despite the billions of dollars that we have and that fill the American and other coffers, we are always lagging behind. What is more, we never miss an opportunity to bicker at each other and make our common enemies happy. Building a Maghreb or Arab Union requires sacrifices from all sides and everyone involved (the governed and the governing), and that is where the problem lies. Let us make a block against all those who do not like us, and we know who they are. Tomorrow, God willing, will be better.


  5. Anonymous thumb

    Al Smith 2011-8-27

    A Message to the Arab World: Find a way to define the true will of the Arab people in each of your countries, then do it. When the will of a people has been expressed, it can no longer be repressed. Demand governments designed from inception to define and fulfill the true will of their People. Then, an Arab country will have become the birthplace of real democracy, a shining light for the world to follow and the trigger for a thousand years of peace.


  6. Anonymous thumb

    سمير راعل مغرب الاقصى 2011-8-27

    There is nothing wrong to talk about the Arab Spring. If you want to get rid of it and heal from this disease called flu which spread very quickly among Arab rulers, treatment is simple and doesn’t cost a lot. It just requires freedom of expression with democracy, considering social problems, health at work, proper housing, fighting favoritism, putting the right man in the right place in addition to upgrading public life. The Arab proverb says 'one man's loss is another man's gain'.


  7. Anonymous thumb

    سمير راعل 2011-8-25

    On the occasion of the close Eid Al Fitr, I address the best wishes and prayers to all Maghreb nation with its government people. God is capable of answering prayers. Concerning the border issue between Morocco and Algeria, who is the victim? Our two people who are tied with family and kinship links. They are victims of politicians. I ask God to make this joy two joys on the occasion of this month of forgiveness and repentance. We also talk about the so-called Arab Spring. This infection we call flu, its vaccination is done with democracy and freedom of expression for those who don’t want to be affected by it.


  8. Anonymous thumb

    LARBI 2011-8-25

    The Arab Spring (to each their own understanding of this) will be inevitable according to the real aspirations of the peoples. It has nothing to do with the diabolic manipulations both from within and from outside the country. The experts and other phonies – the parasites! – are the ones that need to be worried.


  9. Anonymous thumb

    anonyme 2011-8-20

    With intellectuals like this Said, Algeria is up the creek without a paddle.


  10. Anonymous thumb

    ابراهيم فضل الله - الليبى 2011-8-20

    I would like to reply to the brother political analyst Saidj Mustapha. First of all, Libya cannot be divided whether at the local level or at the level of western thought. Secondly, the transitional council is a mirror reflecting the Libyan people and it was agreed between all categories of the Libyan people who supports. This is what granted it legitimacy. Thirdly, concerning illegal immigration, Euro-Mediterranean countries will be relieved from that problem as it was said by the analyst because the funder of immigration is Kadhafi. This was confirmed since he had interests in this to make pressure on Europe in order to achieve personal interests. Finally, the Libyan people are against Al Qaeda and similar groups.


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