The Egyptian strategy in Libya: between diplomacy and military intervention
by Alessia Melcangi, Atlantic Council – University “La Sapienza”
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The latest developments in the Libyan crisis seem to have given new impetus to the Egyptian diplomatic initiative; Cairo’s intention to temporarily abandon the military option in support of dialogue between rival groups comes as a result of the ceasefire announced by the Government of National Accord (GNA) of Tripoli at the end of August 2020. If the diplomatic option would be ineffective or would not guarantee Egypt’s strategic interests in that country, Cairo could go back to the military option, which was never com-pletely set aside
Latest developments in the Libyan crisis and Cairo’s intentions
The latest developments in the Libyan crisis seem to have given new impetus to the Egyptian diplomatic initiative: in fact, on September 23, President al-Sisi hosted a meeting in Cairo between the Libyan National Army’s leader, General Khalifa Haftar, and the spokesman of the Tobruk parliament, Aguila Saleh. The purpose of this talk was to solicit the warring parties to restart the political process under UN supervision with the aim of restoring security and stability in the country (Ahram, 2020).
Cairo’s intention to temporarily abandon the military option in support of dialogue between rival groups comes as a result of the ceasefire announced by the Government of National Accord (GNA) of Tripoli at the end of August 2020. Egypt is not new to this type of strategy which, since the fall of Gaddafi in 2011, has followed two main directions: on the one hand, Cairo uses political mediation as a tool to achieve a diplomatic solution to the conflict; on the other hand, logistically and militarily it supports Haftar’s offensive against Tripoli, together with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia. Recently Egypt went as far as threatening to start a conflict for the defense of its own national security and its interests in Libya (Melcangi, 2020).
As a consequence of Ankara’s intervention in support of the GNA ‒, following the December 2019 agreements signed between Turkey and Libya on maritime border demarcation and military cooperation (Butler, Gumrukcu, 2020) ‒, Egypt decided to abandon the diplomatic option and recalibrate its moves in Libya. Turkey represents not only a geopolitical rival, whose strategic projection, particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean, represents a threat for al-Sisi, but also one of the fiercest supporters of political Islam that Cairo, together with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia always try to obstruct.
The LNA forces’ retreat from the Western front in April 2020, pushed Cairo to resume the diplomatic path, asking for a ceasefire: the motivation behind this move was to avoid the general’s collapse and the loss of Cyrenaica into the hands of Ankara. On June 6, 2020, al-Sisi, supported by Haftar and Aguila Saleh, announced the so-called “Cairo Declaration” (Mezran, Melcangi, 2020), an intra-Libyan resolution for the relaunch of the pacification process. However, the declaration provoked the strong opposition of Ankara and the government of Tripoli. The diplomatic option had therefore turned into a warning of war launched by al-Sisi against the GNA and its supporters, positioned near the so-called red line of Sirte-Al-Jufra, at the gates of the rich and disputed “oil crescent”.
Historically, Libya has been a country of great importance for Egypt from different perspectives: from a domestic security perspective, to avoid the spillover of violence into its territory and penetration of jihadist groups, especially from the porous frontier bordering Cyrenaica; from an economic viewpoint , to deal with the consequences of the drastic decrease in remittances from Egyptian migrants working in Libya, which represent a serious threat to Egypt’s stability and internal security. But also, to reaffirm its image as a geostrategic regional pivot ready to defend its interests in a disputed area as strategic as the Eastern Mediterranean.
Following the latest events, Cairo has decided to abandon its assertive posture and return to a diplomatic strategy: on September 29, 2020 an important talk between the military delegations representing the GNA and the Libyan National Army was held in Hurghada. The principal topic discussed in this meeting was the possible restart of negotiations within the 5+5 Joint Military Committee (JMC). Strongly supported by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), this meeting allowed Egypt to gain international recognition for its commitment to restarting peace dialogue between the various Libyan factions (UNSMIL, 2020).
Analysis, assessment, forecast
Al-Sisi, during his speech at the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, affirmed his support for restarting the political peace process under the aegis of the UN; but, at the same time, President al-Sisi stressed once again that violation of the red-line that goes from Sirte to Jufra, would trigger a strong military reaction by Egypt. So, Egypt seems to want to avoid an expensive military intervention with unpredictable results, but not at any cost. If the diplomatic option would be ineffective or would not guarantee Egypt’s strategic interests in that country, Cairo could go back to the military option, which was never completely set aside. Considering the extreme fluidity of the Libya context, the choice between weapons and diplomacy is far from being obvious (Melcangi, 2020).
Photo: M.T. Elgassier
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Main events in the Maghreb and the Mashreq areas – September
Algeria: The growing importance of Algeria-Turkey relations
Both Algeria and Turkey are keen to build a relationship that is mutually beneficial- but challenges remain. Instability in the broader Middle East, in particular Libya, and a desire to broaden political and economic links, have brought Algeria and Turkey closer. Deepening relations between the two countries is still a relatively recent phenomenon. The “Friendship and Cooperation Agreement” signed in 2006 in Algeria under the current AK Party government, marks one of the first attempts by Ankara to re-calibrate its relations with the West and the global south. Since then, there have been an additional three state visits by Erdogan, the latest in January 2020, following the departure of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika who was pushed out of power and forced to resign in April 2019 (Gjevori, 2020).
Egypt: Egypt cuts interest rates by 50 bps as inflation subsides.
Egypt’s central bank unexpectedly cut its main overnight interest rates by 50 basis points on September 24th, saying exceptionally low inflation gave it room to help boost the economy. The bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) reduced the lending rate to 9.75 percent and the deposit rate to 8.75 percent. Inflation remained well below the central bank’s target range of 6 percent to 12 percent (MPC, 2020).
Israel: a new peace deal with the United Arab Emirates
US President Donald J. Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on September 15th joined the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain at the White House to mark historic normalization agreements between Israel and the two Arab countries. Israel officially established full diplomatic ties with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). On the one hand, the agreement is a sign of Middle East peace, on the other hand it could be considered as the establishment of a new front against Iran and Turkey.
Lebanon: Macron attacks Hizbollah for failure to form Lebanon government
In less than a year, Lebanon has been hit by an economic meltdown, mass protests, financial collapse, a virus outbreak and a huge explosion in August that virtually wiped out the country’s main port, killing more than 190 people and causing up to $4.6bn worth of damage to the capital Beirut.
Recently, French president warns of ‘civil war’ and calls on Beirut’s politicians to compromise: French president Emmanuel Macron blamed the Iran-backed political party and paramilitary group Hizbollah for sabotaging the French-sponsored process to form a Lebanese crisis government and called on Beirut’s political class to try again over the next six weeks. Macron’s speech came after Lebanon’s prime minister-designate resigned on September 26th, saying he was unable to form an emergency government to tackle the overlapping crises which have left Lebanon suffering its most severe turbulence since its 15-year civil war ended in 1990 (Cornish, Abboud, 2020).
Morocco: Moroccan security chief warns of terror ‘time-bomb’ in the region
The Moroccan security chief Abdelhak Khiame, head of the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ), warned that the so-called group Islamic State “has developed in the Sahel-Sahara region, with the conflict in Libya and in countries like Mali which do not control their security”. The Sahel covers western and north-central Africa. “Terrorist cells and terrorism are growing in the region but also organised crime networks, drug trafficking, weapons and human beings”.
About economy, the Minister of Economy, Finance and Administration Reform Mohamed Benchaâboun stated that the national economy is expected to grow by 4.8% in 2021. Given the scenario of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concerning the recovery of the world economy (+5.2%), notably in the euro zone (5.3%), national economic growth should stand at 4.8%». However, this growth could not completely offset the economic contraction of 2020, which is forecast at -5.8%, due to the postponement of the recovery of some sectors such as tourism and related activities, as well as the deterioration of the labor market and corporate investment – the Minister stated.
Syria: Carabinieri arrest Italian ‘ISIS bride’ in Syria
The ROS unit of Italy’s Carabinieri police said September 29th that it has arrested Alice Brignoli, an Italian ‘ISIS bride’, in Syria. Brignoli was the wife of Mohamed Koraichi, an Italian with Moroccan roots who became an ISIS militant. The couple left Italy to join the so-colled Islamic State (IS) in Syria in 2015, taking their three children with them. Koraichi, who is thought to have died, took part in IS military operations while the ROS said that Brugnoli had an “active role in teaching the children the cause of the jihad”. She is accused of criminal association for terrorism. The ROS unit tracked down Brignoli and her four children – she gave birth to her fourth child in Syria – and have brought them back to Italy (ANSA).
UK government probing cyber-attack over Syria propaganda leaks. Hackers have penetrated the computer systems of the UK’s foreign ministry and taken hundreds of files detailing the country’s controversial propaganda programmes in war-torn Syria. In a security breach of enormous proportions, the hackers appear to have deliberately targeted files that set out the financial and operational relationships between the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and a network of private-sector contractors that have been covertly running media platforms in Syria throughout the nine-year civil war (Middle East Eye, 2020)
Tunisia: Tunisia rejects any military solution in Libya
Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi reiterated on September 28th that he rejects any military solution in Libya and intervention in its internal affairs. Addressing heads of Tunisian diplomatic missions, he said combining efforts to push the political settlement forward through an intra-Libyan dialogue under UN supervision. In response to the UAE and Bahrain signs of the US-sponsored agreements to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, Mechichi also stressed on Tunisia’s firm position on supporting the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people based on the 2002 Arab Peace initiative (Thabeti, 2020).
EUNAVFORMED “Irini” operation: constraints and two critical issues
The war in Libya represents the main obstacle to stability in the Mediterranean area. While regional and international actors scramble for influence, the European Union and European states seem unable to revive the diplomatic path launched last January with the Berlin Conference and to prevent a looming humanitarian disaster just beyond the EU’s southern border (ISPI, 2020). As war persists in the North African country, factors such as weapons’ supply, illegal migration, drugs and human trafficking continue to affect the region and the south of Europe -including NATO’s border- and to impact on security in the area. EUNAVFORMED’s “Irini” operation aims at ending arms trafficking in Libya: but such goal is far from being achieved due to a lack of political cohesion and ineffective military capability.
Analysis by Claudio Bertolotti
EUNAVFORMED’s “Irini” operation: constraints and two critical issues
The Berlin Summit as a premise to the “Irini” operation
Participants at the Berlin Conference on Libya, which was held on 19th January 2020, committed specifically to fully respecting and implementing the arms embargo established by the United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1970 (2011), 2292 (2016) and 2473 (2019). On 17th February 2020, the Council agreed to launch a new military operation in the Mediterranean, which would oversee the enactment of the embargo by means of aerial, satellite and maritime assets. In a break-through following months of negotiations, Greece confirmed its willingness to assist irregular migrants saved at sea by EU military ships, who would therefore not -at least formally- be sent over to an already hard-pressed Italy. This issue had previously stalled any tangible progress.
On 31st March 2020 Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy announced an agreement over the creation of operation “Irini” (Greek for “peace”), an Italian-led mission with its operational centre in Rome. As well as supporting the implementation of the UN arms embargo on Libya, and in accordance with Resolution 2292 of the U.N. Security Council, the mission also entails the inspection of vessels navigating the high seas off the coast of Libya, assumed to be carrying weapons (or related material) to, and from, Libya; it also inherits some secondary tasks from its predecessor, EUNAVFORMED’s operation “Sophia”, including the training of the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy, and search-and-rescue duties.
the mission entails the inspection of vessels navigating the high seas off the coast of Libya, assumed to be carrying weapons to and from Libya
But up to now, “Irini” proved unable to achieve its primary goal, due to a fundamental political weakness brought about by the heterogeneous priorities set by EU countries, and to a limited military capability.
“Irini” ’s mission
On 30th March 2020, the European Council officially launched EUNAVFORMED’s “Irini” operation in the Mediterranean. Through the imposition of an arms embargo and a new military operation within the scope of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), the European Union is stepping up its efforts towards peace in Libya.
up to now, “Irini” proved unable to achieve its primary goal, due to a fundamental political weakness brought about by the heterogeneous priorities set by EU countries, and to a limited military capability
The main task assigned to EUNAVFORMED’s “Irini” consists in implementing the embargo by also inspecting vessels to and from Libya, which can be reasonably assumed to be carrying weapons (or related material) for belligerents; as well as gathering extensive and comprehensive information on the trafficking of arms and other military equipment and supplies by sea. As secondary tasks, EUNAVFOR MED “Irini” will also:
- monitor and gather information on illicit exports of petroleum, crude oil and refined petroleum products from Libya
- contribute to the capacity-building and training of the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy in law enforcement tasks at sea
- contribute to the disruption of the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks through information gathering and patrolling by planes
“Irini” ’s mandate will initially last until 31st March 2021 and the operation will be performed under the close scrutiny of EU Member States, who will exercise political control and strategic direction through the Political and Security Committee (PSC) -in its turn under the responsibility of the Council and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy-. Unlike its predecessor “Sophia”, which operated in the Strait of Sicily, “Irini” shifted eastwards to patrol the waters between Egypt and Crete, with special attention payed to Cyrenaica.
A worsening situation: weapons keep reaching Libya
The internationalization of the conflict -its transformation from a civil war into a war by proxy- ensures that technologically-advanced military equipment continue to reach Libya by air, land, and sea. The fact that non-state armed actors in the country are pretty familiar with such weapons systems is a harbinger of danger for bordering countries as well: between 2012 and 2014, terrorists and separatist groups filled their arsenals with weapons belonging to the former Libyan army. These weapons could now cross into bordering countries, a number of which are increasingly struggling with insurgencies fueled by, among others, the so-called and dangerous as ever Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaida.
participants at the Berlin Conference on Libya committed to fully respecting the arms embargo established by the UN Security Council; according to the UN, the latter has since been broken by several participants
Against such background, the optimist attitude displayed at the Berlin Conference now seems unjustified, especially as according to the UN, the arms embargo has since been broken by several Summit participants, with planes landing at airports in both Eastern and Western Libya with their cargos of weapons, armored vehicles, foreign fighters, and military advisors. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL, 2020) reported that “several among those who participated in the Berlin Conference” have been involved in the “ongoing transfer of foreign fighters, weapons, ammunition and advanced systems” and other military equipment (Kaim, Schulz, 2020).
From theory to practice: operational difficulties and political boundaries
“Irini” started its activities at sea on 4th May but, despite some initial confidence, it has since been marred by differences among EU members. Greek and French ships joined the mission at the end of May but Malta, which had pledged specially-trained on-board personnel, withdrew its participation in an apparent attempt at influencing the Libyan GNA and Turkey.
The mission currently operates with the Greek frigate “Spetsai” (Hydra class) and the French frigate “Jean Bart” (Cassard class); a small maritime reconnaissance aircraft made available by Luxembourg and Poland; a German P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft; and (as of July) the Italian ship “San Giorgio”. In August, Germany provided its “Hamburg” vessel -a Sachsen class frigate with a crew of 250 military personnel. Italy further contributes with a drone for surveillance operations and with the logistical bases of Augusta, Pantelleria and Sigonella, while a P72 maritime patrol aircraft, an Air early-warning aircraft (Aew) and a submarine “will occasionally be available in support” (Pioppi, 2020). According to its operational commander, the deployment will “soon be capable of reaching full operational capacity” (Pioppi, 2020): nevertheless, compared to its initial objectives, it suffers from very limited resources and its effectiveness is further undermined by poor political cohesion among the 27 European partners.
Turkey’s challenge to the European Union
On 10th of June 2020 the Greek frigate “Spetsai” (under Italian command) tried to approach Tanzanian-flagged mercantile ship “Cirkin”, which was being suspected of carrying weapons from Turkey to Tripoli. The maneuver was countered in the Gulf of Sirte by direct intervention of a Turkish military unit escorting the mercantile (Hassad, 2020). A second Turkish military unit apparently converged towards the Greek frigate after a Greek navy helicopter overflew the “Cirkin”. As soon as the Greek helicopter approached the “Cirkin”, it received a call from the Turkish frigate explaining that “the Turkish ship is under the protection of the Turkish Republic”. The Turkish official said that the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) had not recognized “Irini”. A laser framing action on the part of the Turks -as a prelude to an escalation- is thought to have put an end to the situation by forcing “Spetsai” into retreat.
The “Cirkin” freighter, which entered the port of Tripoli on 11th of June (a day after the event), had set sail from the Sea of Marmara, south of Istanbul, after docking in a “roll-on roll-off” (RORO) port for a loadful of weapons, equipment and heavy vehicles, including armored vehicles hailing from a nearby military base of the Turkish army. The 4,000 tons, 100 metre’s long Turkish freighter was launched in 1980 and has previously been used by Ankara for shipping armored vehicles and other equipment to the GNA in Tripoli.
Greece denounced the incident -which would later re-occur with the French ship as well- as a blatant violation of the UN embargo; to which Ankara replied by underlining how, since the “Cirkin” enjoyed Turkish protection, the “Irini” intervention could in fact be deemed un-necessary. Turkey undeniably exposed the European operation’s critical issues; it also criticized its unilateral bias in favor of General Khalifa Haftar and further suggested the creation of a new mechanism by the United Nations (Hurriyet Daily News, 2020).
The incident, which did not make headlines outside Greece, testifies to the political -rather than operational- ineffectiveness of the European mission, which is supposed to be enforcing a military embargo on Libya; but as a matter of fact, does not seem to be able to control naval routes and to stop flows of weapons and other equipment from reaching General Haftar’s faction by land, from Egypt, and by air, from Russia.
the fact that the EU mission deals primarily with naval violations of the embargo raises questions about its effectiveness
“Irini” ’s two principal shortcomings
The fact that the EU mission deals primarily with naval violations of the embargo raises questions about its effectiveness. Military supplies reach the opposing Libyan factions from two directions: the western maritime border, used by Turkey to provide the GNA in Tripoli with weapons and fighters; and the eastern border, whereby Egypt and the United Arab Emirates send their support to Haftar’s LNA (al-Jazeera, 2020). As Egypt and the UAE are determined to take advantage of the situation, the Turks are left with no other option than supplying Tripoli with weapons across waters that are now being patrolled by the EU.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently complained that “the EU mission did not do anything to stop other powers’ shipments into Libya”, including what he alleged were “arms being sent by France to Haftar”. France, which denies supporting Haftar but has long been suspected of favoring him, voiced its fury last month after alleging that the French ship “Courbet” was subjected to laser framing by Turkish frigates’, while inspecting a mercantile en route to Libya (al-Jazeera, 2020).
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio addressed the issue as well by specifying that “Irini” “is not a naval blockade. The international regulatory framework includes the naval blockade as a method of war. Therefore, the blockade is a measure that can only be adopted during international armed conflicts. “Irini” envisages measures which must be selective, legitimate and fully respectful of international law, and aimed at promoting the return of peace and security in Libya “(Di Feo, 2020). Di Maio’s statement implicitly upholds the operation’s structural limitations, which clearly emerge in the form of two main criticalities.
the absence of a jurisdictional framework for States to operate in Libya or bordering nations, allows countries wanting to flout the arms embargo, to directly supply weapons to the conflicting parties by land, sea and air
One of the weak points of the arms embargo on Libya consists in its implementation. States’ and EU actions are restricted to enforcing the arms embargo at sea. Initially, the Security Council had only called upon States to inspect all cargos to and from Libya “in their territory, including at seaports and airports”, should they possess information providing reasonable grounds to believe that those cargos contained arms. The absence of a jurisdictional framework or authorization for States to act outside their own territory and to operate in Libya or bordering nations, allows countries wanting to flout the arms embargo, to directly supply weapons to the conflicting parties by land, sea and air.
The second criticality resides in the option of extending monitoring activities to Libya’s land borders, which involves having “boots on the ground” EU military personnel, but only in the event of a request from local authorities. If up to very recently, an agreement on this issue between General Khalifa Haftar in Tobruk and Tripoli government’s chairman Fayez al-Serraj seemed utterly unlikely, the truce which was announced on 21st August 2020 by al-Serraj and Aguila Saleh (spokesperson of the Chamber of Representatives in Tobruk) could open a different scenario (and al-Serraj’s apparent intention of leaving office at the end of October also adds to the picture). Currently though, without any Security Council authorization or consent on the part of the Libyan authorities, the EU cannot conduct any aerial surveillance activities within Libyan airspace, let alone stem the supply of weapons by air or enforce the arms embargo on the ground in Libya. As most of the weapons destined for General Haftar’s forces are being transported by land or air, a stricter enforcement of the arms embargo at sea comes at the expense of the Libyan Government of National Accord, which receives most of its supplies from Turkey via the sea route.
One might question whether the EU operation will be any more than symbolic, as EU member States are not likely prepared to commit all the naval and surveillance assets which are required to effectively enforce the arms embargo.
Analysis, assessment, forecast
Despite the UN arms embargo, Turkey signed a military cooperation deal with the GNA and sent drones, armored vehicles, Syrian mercenaries and military officers to support al-Sarraj against the forces of eastern-based commander, General Khalifa Haftar. Ankara’s support affected the balance on the ground, forcing Haftar’s Libyan National Army to retreat from the west of the country following an unsuccessful attempt at capturing Tripoli; an attempt which turned into an exhausting one-year siege.
It is clear how current rules make it impossible to stop weapons’ shipments from Turkey, while the latter consolidates its position and role in Tripoli. As a sign of this, Ankara was assigned the port of Misurata in a move which saw the simultaneous removal of Italy from the same area.
“Irini” should essentially consist in a deterrent barrier; however, due to its shortcomings in countering embargo violations, such deterrence inevitably fails and Europe cannot but acknowledge, at most, Turkey’s commitment to war, and its success in Libya.
Due to a lack of control on land, sea and air routes, the overall impact of “Irini” is currently marginal. The mission will only be successful in so far as it is inscribed into a broader strategy which needs to be clearly defined and better implemented.
As recently suggested by ECFR (European Council for Foreign Relations), Italy should grab the opportunity offered by the German presidency of the EU Council to initiate a platform from which -together with allies- to enforce international norms on the conflict; broker among international competitors who have an interest in ‘feeding’ a war-by-proxy; enable a new UN conference on Libya. An engagement in this direction would jeopardize Russia’s attempt at protracting the conflict and possibly fill the vacuum generated by Turkey, Egypt and the UAE, who are supporting opposing sides.
due to a lack of control on land, sea and air routes, the overall impact of “Irini” is currently marginal. The mission will only be successful in so far as it is inscribed into a broader strategy
The recent UN Security Council resolution 2473 (2019) in support of operation “Irini” can be seen as a useful stepping-stone towards bolstering a European political vision able to turn into diplomatic and military action and initiative. EU member States should launch a real, impartial and balanced operation based on a shared strategy, which would concretely fulfill the Berlin Conference’s commitments. In order for this to be achieved, the embargo must necessarily be extended to include air and land, rather than being restricted to patrolling sea routes (Varvelli and Megerisi, 2020).
 On 15th September 2020, al-Serraj apparently announced his intention to leave his post at the helm of the GNA by the end of October.
WAR AND PEACE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN: understanding the Turkish escalation between the Chinese expansionism in Africa and the reshaping of Middle Eastern equilibria
by Andrea Molle
The renewed interest in the Mediterranean, too often considered as a secondary theater in the context of International Relations, derives from several medium and long-term processes that are affecting the global geopolitical equilibria. In particular, it is the consequence of an aggressive Chinese trade policy in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has intensified in the last decade and sees many African states, such as Kenya and Congo, for example, reduced to colonies or in a de facto subordination to China’s interests.
This dynamic is echoed by Beijing’s desire to complete its Belt and Road Initiative, affirming itself as a privileged trading partner of the most important powers within the EU to force it in a relationship of strong dependence. This scenario is made possible by the vacuum created with the protectionist and isolationist turn of the USA led by Donald J. Trump, who seems to lack any coherent international strategy. Moreover, it is a consequence of the lack of a coordinated European strategy in foreign affairs, as demonstrated by the recent Italian interest in becoming a closer partner to China independently from its partners’ choices.
The intensifying of migratory fluxes, aggravated by climate change, corruption, and the increased radicalization in Africa, is a symptom of the destabilization resulting from the Chinese expansionist policy that handed control of critical commercial routes and hubs over to Beijing. Faced with a substantial erosion of their economic systems, mostly caused by the quasi-monopolies established by Chinese companies and investors and the consequent social crisis, more and more people leave Africa to seek fortune in Europe, accentuating the demographic crisis of the continent. Paradoxically, such an easing of demographic pressure contributes to the perpetuating of Chinese control over African governments, hence aggravating the crisis and divisions within the European Union.
Moreover, the crisis is exacerbated by the recent Turkish initiatives aimed to gain a hegemonic role in the Maghreb and the Eastern Mediterranean. This pitch invasion is seemingly facilitated by the shared Islamic culture to which Turkey claims the role of Defensor in open competition with other countries such as Saudi Arabia. Once again, this is a consequence of America’s withdrawal and the lack of a single European voice. With the expected resignation of Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of the Government of National Accord (GNA) recognized by the United Nations, the effects on the current Turkish activities in Libya are hard to anticipate. Nevertheless, the intentions of Ankara remain unchanged: to become the privileged Chinese partner by taking advantage of this economic and political conjuncture.
To better understand Ankara’s strategy while not underestimating its chances of success, it is paramount to consider the totality and complexities of the Sino-Turkish relations. We are witnessing several signals. First of all, a softening of visa policies between the two powers has been underway for years. In addition to intensified cultural exchanges, China has recently granted Turkey considerable financial resources to support the industrial and military development plans of the government led by Erdogan. To overcome its structural military inadequacies, Turkey is now rumored to considering the purchase of fifth-generation Shenyang J-31 stealth fighter aircraft. The opening to a partnership with China has been made possible by the exclusion of Turkey from the Lockheed Martin F-35 initiative, wanted by the US. It also represents a further step towards Turkey’s exit from NATO. Should it happen, the loss of the Turkish partner would undoubtedly cause a crisis in the Atlantic Alliance, which is already in a state of suspended animation according to several international observers. A possible weakening of NATO is also a goal of Putin’s Russia, which, despite the current political tension with Turkey, is already providing the country with anti-aircraft systems and is pressing Ankara to purchase its Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighters.
In this context, the normalization of the diplomatic relations between Israel and some of the Middle Eastern powers, such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and the unconfirmed rumors of possible future agreements for developing common military assets, should not be at all surprising. Indeed, this event cannot be just considered due to Trump’s plan to bring stability to the Middle East, which many commentators describe as insufficient if not wholly nonexistent. Instead, it must be understood as evidence that the Arab world, in a perpetual crisis of relevance, is aware of the profound changes in the geopolitical equilibrium of the Eastern Mediterranean and is trying to gain the most advantageous position possible. Finally, what seems to be consolidation now may appear as an anti-Turkish front. However, on a closer look, it is more likely to form an opposing front to Chinese neo-colonial reaches in Africa, or at least contain them while reducing at the same time the dependency from the West.
This game of Risk against the Sleeping Giant will eventually involve all those Persian Gulf countries, which were once sworn enemies of the Jewish state, which today think of Israel more and more as a natural ally. To them, Tel Aviv will represent not only a strong military partner but also an economic and technological hub capable of rivaling Beijing. Such a realignment of alliances and loyalties would probably lead to a solution to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This result, however, will not be due to either the American mediation or the joint efforts of various nations and international organizations. But instead to the emergence of a common enemy at the horizon. If a solution is therefore reached, it will, unfortunately, be at the expense of the Palestinians. Clinging to obsolete rhetoric and increasingly marginalized by their former allies, they do not seem willing to accept the changes and adapt their long-term objectives and strategy accordingly, falling into complete irrelevance.
With tensions with China predictably on the rise and in the face of the recent threats to Greece, the US has recently taken a stand, causing the temporary withdrawal of Turkish exploration vessels in the territorial waters controlled by Athens. However, coming “too late and one dollar short,” the US is not signaling any intent to get involved in the Eastern Mediterranean. On the contrary, responding to the American intervention and following the announcement of military exercises planned by the Greek armed forces in the northern Aegean, Ankara accused again Athens of violating the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which ended the Greek-Turkish war (1919- 1923) by redesigning the new borders between the two countries. It is not the first time that Turkey has accused Greece of violating the Treaty. The first time was in June 1964, following the deployment of a Greek motorized brigade on the island. However, this time Turkey does not seem to rule out a military reaction to the exercises recently announced by Athens.
On the northern shore of mare nostrum, things are not going any better. Although it is clear that the game that is being played in the Mediterranean, and that involves Greece and Cyprus, is an existential threat to European and Western interests, including the survival of the European Union, few nations have fully understood it. Amongst the European capitals, the change in the balance that for years accompanied the Union’s Mediterranean policy seems to be fully appreciated only by Paris. Accused of only aiming to control negligible energy resources, the second powerhouse of the EU has instead always pushed for a more incisive international role for Europe and its military integration. France is left alone while Berlin acts as Germany is still a trading state, interested only in short-term economic gains and not to upset the precarious balance reached with Turkey on the issue of migrants from the Balkan route.
As for Italy, Rome seems to think its best option is to take once again on the very same posture of equidistance and neutrality that has reduced it to a background actor in the international relations system with the addition of a dangerously ambiguous relationship with China. Nevertheless, France, which appears to be the natural candidate to lead the Union’s foreign policy, cannot expect to win this game alone. Geography is not an opinion: without Italy, the second naval power in the EU, Europe stands no chances of being relevant. It will inevitably be doomed in a humiliating position of subjugation.
Main events in the Maghreb and the Mashreq – August
Algeria: beyond the crisis, Algeria allows private banks, airlines, sea transport firms
Algeria will allow its private sector to set up banks as well as air and sea transport companies for goods and passengers to reduce spending, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said on 18th August. The move is part of wider reforms by the OPEC member to cope with financial problems caused by a sharp fall in energy export revenues, the main source of state funding for the North African country. Elected in December 2019, Tebboune wants to encourage private investors and improve the investment climate in an effort to develop the non-energy sector and reduce reliance on oil and gas.
Algeria’s foreign exchange reserves have fallen to $57 billion from $62 billion in January, while energy export revenues are expected to reach $24 billion this year compared with $33 billion in 2019, Tebboune said. Energy earnings currently account for 94% of total exports and the government aims to bring that figure to 80% from next year, while increasing the value of exports of non-energy products to $5 billion from $2 billion now, he added. To achieve that goal, the authorities will allocate $14.84 billion to help finance investment projects for the coming months (MEMO – Middle East Monitor, 2020).
Egypt: Greek deals with Egypt, Italy
The agreement for the partial designation of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) between Greece and Egypt in the eastern Mediterranean was signed on August 6 in Cairo. For Athens, the deal effectively nullified a maritime accord between Turkey and the internationally recognized government of Libya signed last year. This agreement is part of a broader strategy of settling bilateral issues, building alliances with third parties in a way that promotes national interests, based on respect for international law. It is also a balanced agreement that is fully in line with the United Nations Law of the Sea, a piece of international law in which Turkey is one of only 15 countries in the whole world to not sign or ratify. The agreement with Egypt came after Greece signed a deal with Italy on June 9 which effectively extended a 1977 agreement between the two states on continental shelves in the Ionian Sea.
Israele: a new peace deal with the United Arab Emirates
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed had agreed to a peace agreement: Israel it will temporarily “suspend” plans to annex the West Bank, as part of a new peace deal. The deal was announced by US President Donald Trump.
The UAE and Israel plan to exchange embassies and ambassadors, according to the statement. It will be the third Arab country to open relations with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan. Netanyahu formally thanked Egyptian President Adel-Fattah el-Sisi and the governments of Oman and Bahrain for their support to the normalization of relations between Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem.
But Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas trashed the peace agreement as “a betrayal of Jerusalem.” In a statement read out on Palestine TV, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said, “The Palestinian leadership rejects what the United Arab Emirates has done and considers it a betrayal of Jerusalem, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Palestinian cause. This deal is a de facto recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The PA also announced it was immediately withdrawing its Ambassador to the UAE, according to a statement on the Palestinian news agency Wafa. Officials from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) rejected the agreement, as did Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Lebanon: the Beirut explosion a Turning Point for Lebanon?
On the afternoon of 4th August 2020, two explosions occurred at the port of the city of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. The second explosion was extremely powerful, and caused at least 177 deaths, 6,000 injuries, and US$10–15 billion in property damage, leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless. The main blast at Beirut’s port was caused when an estimated 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate had been ignited: ammonium nitrate is a highly combustible material used to make fertilisers and bombs. The appalling negligence that left more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in the port in unsuitable climatic conditions, with no expert oversight, for more than six years demonstrate the endemic corruption and incompetence of a country devasted by decades of settarian conflicts, absence of a governance and cynical political games played by regional States and internal actors. Exacerbated by the pandemic, the chronic corruption and misrule had brought the economy to ruin; because a long term economic and social crisis the State is going to fail, although Lebanon has been a failing state for years.
For months prices have been soaring and the middle class has been sinking into poverty and despair. For weeks, before the explosion, residents of the capital demonstrated against mismanagement and economic uncertainty. Since the day of the explosion, protesters tried to break the police and army cordons; as consequence, Lebanon’s parliament has approved a state of emergency that grants sweeping powers to the army: the state of emergency allows the army to curb free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press, as well as to enter homes and arrest anyone deemed a security threat. But it was not enough to contain the mass protests: the demonstrations prompted Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his cabinet to resign: but the crisis is too deep to be resolved by a change of management.
The impact of the crisis is terrific, especially in the urban areas. People try to leave or survive thanks to economic support from relatives abroad; others are resorting to some support from Hezbollah. Economic sanctions have made Iran less generous, but Hezbollah continues to maintain a widespread patronage network. The main short-term consequence is fragmentation and criminalisation. In the long term, it remains to be seen in which sphere of influence Lebanon ends up. Iran is trying to exploit the deadlock, but cannot alleviate its financial need. Hezbollah is now increasingly looking to China, such as the government that is trying to attract Chinese investment and China itself sees an additional hub in the East Mediterranean (in addition to the bridgeheads it already has in Egypt and Greece), (Holslag, 2020).
Libya: Turkey and Qatar sign military cooperation deal with Libya government
According to Ahval News, Turkey and Qatar have signed a tripartite deal with the Libyan government for military cooperation, in a new development set to enhance the government’s defence against the forces of Khalifa Haftar. The agreement, which was announced by Libya’s Deputy Defence Minister Salam Al-Namroush on 17th August, will establish military facilities and training programmes within the country. This cooperation will include Qatar’s funding of military training centres and the establishment of a trilateral coordination centre and Turkish naval base in the city of Misrata. Consultation will also be provided to Libyan government forces as part of the agreement.
Italy, which has been present in Misrata for years with its own military hospital, has been removed from the area, making the efforts made so far in vain. The same Italian staff will be redeployed near the capital Tripoli.
Syria: U.S. troop levels in Iraq and Syria would most likely shrink in the coming months
The top American military commander in the Middle East said that U.S. troop levels in Iraq and Syria would most likely shrink in the coming months, but that he had not yet received orders to begin withdrawing forces.
Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the Pentagon’s Central Command, said the 5,200 troops in Iraq to help fight remnants of the Islamic State and train Iraqi forces “will be adjusted” after consultations with the government in Baghdad.
General McKenzie said he expected American and other NATO forces to maintain “a long-term presence” in Iraq — both to help fight Islamic extremists and to check Iranian influence in the country. He declined to say how large that presence might be, but other American officials said discussions with Iraqi officials that resume this month could result in a reduction to around 3,500 U.S. troops.
Despite President Trump’s demand last fall for a complete withdrawal of all 1,000 American forces from Syria, the president still has some 500 troops, mostly in the country’s northeast, assisting local Syrian Kurdish allies in combating pockets of ISIS fighters (Schmitt, 2020).
Morocco: Morocco, Portugal Pledge to Fight Against Irregular Migration
Portugal and Morocco have pledged to join efforts to curb irregular migration: Rabat and Lisbon announced the move in a statement following a videoconference between Portugal’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Eduardo Cabrita, and Morocco’s Minister of the Interior, Abdelouafi Laftit. The two officials built the conference’s talking points on the strong cooperation between Morocco and the European Union on security issues. They expressed their governments’ readiness to “intensify” their security cooperation within the broader EU-Morocco agenda of preventing and fighting against “illegal migration and human trafficking.” According to reports, the increasing shift towards Portugal is directly linked to Morocco’s success in curbing migrants’ attempts to reach Europe through Spain, which has long been the traditional route of waves of irregular migrants in recent years (Tamba, 2020).
Tunisia: Tunisia cracks down on migrant departures. Economic crisis worsens
Thousands of migrants disembarked on Lampedusa and Sicily in July and August. The governor of the Sicilian region has called on the federal government to call a state of emergency with hotspots above capacity and a number of migrants testing positive for coronavirus. The majority of the migrants who reportedly disembarked on Lampedusa and Sicily came from Tunisia. Italian authorities reported that in 2020, nearly half of the over 16,000 people who have landed on Italy’s shores departed from Tunisia.
Following pressure from the Italian foreign ministry, Tunisia announced on August 6 that it had made available more means to counter irregular migrant departures from the North African country. Tunisia has announced that it has made available naval units, surveillance devices, and search teams at Mediterranean crossing points to counter irregular migrant departures (ANSA).
Italy’s Interior Ministry has released €11 million ($13 million) to Tunisia’s government for use in efforts to stem the flow of migrants. On 18th August, Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio visited Tunis, accompanied by European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson and European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Oliver Varhelji.
The decision arrived in a critical moment for the country both at economic and political level: the economic situation is worsening and the tourism sector’s revenues down 56% at the end of July to 1.2 billion dinars compared to 2.6 billion in the same period last year (ANSA). Economic crisis is a push factors for Tunisian migrants. At political level, Tunisia’s prime minister-designate Hichem Mechichi said he would form a purely technocratic government following wrangling among political parties over the formation of the country’s next administration. The decision will likely put the prime minister-designate in confrontation with the Islamist Ennahdha Party, the largest political group in parliament, which announced it would oppose the formation of a non-political government. However, the proposal for a government of independent technocrats without political parties will win support from the powerful UGTT trade union and some other parties, including Tahya Tounes and Dustoury el Hor. Protests have erupted in the country’s interior this year over widespread unemployment, lack of development and poor public services in health, electricity and water.
Strategic Analysis 2019: Mashreq, Greater Maghreb, Egypt and Israel
The full report Strategic Analysis 2019: Mashreq, Gran Maghreb, Egypt and Israel by C. Bertolotti is now available
Introduction: factors and challenges in Maghreb and Mashreq areas
The 2011 Arab uprisings’ represents a breaking point announcing the need for a regime overhaul in the region; the consequences of these strong aftershocks still have the potential to undermine the entire Arab state system.
Dramatic changes in the Maghreb and Mashreq area after 2011 underline the need for external actors to forge a new policy approach to address the region’s long-term challenges. In tackling the region’s increasingly intersecting and conflicting politics, aggravated by external interventions, international policy makers should keep their attention on both old and new conflict drivers, or risk fighting symptoms rather than causes, and thus potentially do more harm.
The Arab uprisings underlined the notion that existing conditions in the Maghreb and Mashreq area had become unmaintainable and announced the region-wide expiry of a socioeconomic order that had underwritten relative stability for decades. Today, the grievances that led to the near collapse of the regional order persist, and economic trends paint a bleak picture of further decline. Within the area, political dynamics will continue to feed frustrations among the mass of the population, fueling unrest and outmigration. At the same time, the 2011 uprisings produced a certain momentum for change, and in some places provided new opportunities.
At social level, the countries within the Maghreb and Mashreq area have significant population growth and concentration in a largely challenging environment both physically and in terms of infrastructure and socio-economic development. This means that in many places there is an excess of water food and energy demand over supply. This is particularly the case in areas of extreme population concentration, along rivers and coasts for example, in otherwise dry and climatically challenging environments. Dense populations in a few areas surrounded by vast expanses of virtually uninhabited land create pressures in the concentrated spaces and challenges in governance over the more remote areas.
At economic level, as reported by the World Bank, growth in the Maghreb and Mashreq area is projected to remain subdued, at 1.3 percent. Activity in oil exporters has slowed due to weak oil sector output and the effects of intensified U.S. sanctions on Iran, despite an easing of fiscal stance and positive prospects in non-oil sectors in some countries. Many oil importers continue to benefit from business climate reforms and resilient tourism activity. Regional growth is projected to pick up to around 3 percent a year in 2020-21, supported by capital investment and policy reforms.
Risks to the outlook are tilted to the downside, including geopolitical tensions, reform setbacks, and a further escalation of global trade tensions.
Download the ITA/ENG full report Strategic Analysis 2019: Mashreq, Greater Maghreb, Egypt and Israel, by C. Bertolotti (pdf version)
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Introduction: factors and challenges in Maghreb and Mashreq areas
Algeria. Instabilità politica: tra opposizione e repressione
The political consequences of the mass protests
Who will succeed to Bouteflika?
Analysis, assessments and forecasts
Libya: Turkey’s strategic interest and the military support to Islamists. Russian expansion in Libya
The siege of Tripoli and the activism of the Libyan “Islamic State”
The political front
The military front
Turkish activism in support to Islamists: between financial interests and military aid
Turkey’s activism in Misurata and the bombing of the airport hosting the Italian contingent
Italian military presence in Misrata
As the competition for the Libyan oil assets becomes harsher, the Italian interests are affected
Russian expansion in Libya
Syria. “Peace spring”: the third Turkish military operation in Syria. The weakening of the Kurdish-Syrian YPG and the death of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi
“Peace spring”, October 9-23
Conflict history: the battlefield moves to the border
The US-Turkey and Russia-Turkey agreements. US flexibility and strengthening of the Moscow-Ankara axis
Analysis, assessments and forecasts
Tunisia. A new political balance after Béji Caïd Essebsi?
The legacy of Béji Caïd Essebsi
Analysis, assessment and forecasts
Israel. Political uncertainty and attacks by the “Palestinian Islamic Jihad” group
The terrorist “Palestinian Islamic Jihad” group attacked Israel after the death of one of its leaders
Egypt. Popular protests do not weaken the government
Lebanon. Popular protests force the prime minister to resign
Morocco: new approach to combating terrorism and greater security efforts
The strategic priorities and the pillars
Fighting regional terrorism
Broadening the scope of defense to include security challenges
Morocco wants women, minors held in Iraq, Syria to come home
BCIJ Discovers Hideout of Dismantled, IS-linked Terror Cell
Consequences, risks and opportunities of oil price changes in the Maghreb and Mashreq countries
Impact on major North African oil producers
Impact on Morocco, the major North African fuel importer
Military expenditure in the Maghreb and Mashreq areas: different trends
Download the ITA/ENG full report Strategic Analysis 2019: Mashreq, Gran Maghreb, Egypt and Israel, by C. Bertolotti, (pdf version)
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Tunisia: a new political balance after Béji Caïd Essebsi?
by Claudio Bertolotti
The legacy of Béji Caïd Essebsi
President Béji Caïd Essebsi, the oldest sitting president in the world, died the 25th of July at the age of 92. Essebsi served as Tunisia’s transitional leader after the 2011 popular uprising that drove out long-time ruler Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali, and then was elected president in 2014 elections. He was the only senior politician in Tunisia to hold political office in the new democracy as well as under the previous regime of Habib Bourguiba – who became president after the country gained independence from France and who was among the most important, and most stridently secular, nationalists in the Arabic-speaking world – and Ben Ali, who was ultimately ousted.
Essebsi fought for Tunisian democracy, but also served the regimes of the 1960s and 1980s, and served as a vehicle for the reemergence of the old guard after the country’s 2011 democratic upheaval. He came out of retirement in 2011 to be interim prime minister after the uprising that of Ben Ali. The revolt in Tunisia ignited antigovernment protests across North Africa and the Middle East, starting the turmoil in the entire MENA area known as the Arab Spring. When Ben Ali was overthrown in January 2011 and fled to Saudi Arabia, Essebsi was chosen as interim prime minister because of his government experience and his relatively untainted reputation.
Essebsi helped found a secular political party, Nidaa Tounis (Call for Tunisia), leading a movement to oust the increasingly unpopular Islamist government. In contrast to Egypt, where Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi operated directly against the Muslim Brotherhood – and where the military seized power and cracked down violently on the country’s elected Islamists – Tunisia managed in 2013-2014 a negotiated with Ennahdha in attempting to stabilise the country, fight outbreaks of terrorism, and improve a struggling economy. A national dialogue which reached a compromise with the Islamists and recognized their role as a legitimate political actor. An approach that helped to preserve the Tunisian democratic experiment by forming a coalition with Ennahda after the 2014 elections, despite resistance to such a decision from within the secularist camp.
On the political and social front, Regarding, according to Youssef Cherif, a political analyst at the Columbia Global Center in Tunis, Essebsi “tried to foster education and progressive values, but he also encouraged nepotism through offering his son the leadership of his party and by nominating a lot of people in high positions by their degree of allegiance not their competency”. Today, because 60 years of regimes, Tunisian society remains fractured. Politically, secularists, including local leftists and Arab nationalists, contend with Islamists. Socially, a rich elite lives in the coastal cities at a far remove from the poor, underdeveloped inland regions, where the revolution began and where popular unrest continues.
Tunisia’s president — who is elected by the people for a once-renewable five-year term — mainly has authority over foreign and defence policy, governing alongside a prime minister chosen by parliament who has authority over domestic affairs. The interim, the president of the Parliament, Mohamed Ennaceur (85 years old), took over the position of head of state. According to the country’s constitution, the president of the parliament assumed the presidency for 45 to 90 days while elections are organised: Originally scheduled for November, the elections will take place on September 15, as confirmed by Nabil Baffoun, the head of the Independent Higher Authority for Elections; the campaigns are scheduled to run from September 2 to September 13, with the results announced two days after the polls. A date for the second round of presidential elections has not yet been decided but, according to officials, it would be held no later than November 3. This means that Tunisia may vote in September and November for the early presidential elections and in October for the parliamentary elections.
Nidaa Tounes is splintered and recently collapsed; Essebsi became embroiled in a long-running series of political battles with his own prime minister, Youssef Chahed, and Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist party Ennahda. Essebsi’s passing will likely prompt for influence within the party Nidaa Tounis between his son, Hafedh Caïd Essebsi – who assumed the leadership of the political party – and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, who leads the breakaway faction Tahya Tounis.
Slim Azzabi, secretary-general of the Tahya Tounis party stated that Tunisia’s liberal prime minister, Youssef Chahed, will run for president in an early election, making him one of the likely frontrunners to succeed Beji Caid Essebsi. The Tahaya Tounis party, which split off from Essebsi’s party this year, is now the biggest liberal group in Tunisia’s parliament and governs in coalition with the Islamist Ennahda Party and a smaller liberal group.
Other candidates who have announced their intention to stand include liberal former Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, and Moncef Marzouki, who served as interim president for three years after autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled, until Essebsi was chosen in the first democratic presidential election in 2014.
Ennahda, which has not yet named its candidate for the presidency, in 2016 decided to downplay its origins in political Islam declaring to distance itself from its Islamist origins and recast itself as a political vehicle for Muslim democrats; but the political movement remains a conservative Islamic party. What Ennahda’s carefully orchestrated rebranding demonstrates is just how skillfully its leaders continue to adapt to the changing landscape of Tunisian electoral politics. When the president of Ennahda, Rachid Ghannouchi, announced the move away from traditional Islamism, he also proclaimed a separation of the party’s political and religious activities: a way to allows party leaders to focus on politics in the capital while other members in the provinces – where there is more popular support because there are as many people whose vision of society, whose way of life is more conservative, less liberal, less Western to the party – continue to engage in the civic and religious spheres.
Institutional and economic crisis and jihadist threat: Essebsi’s death occurs in a period of potential destabilization for the North African country.
Tunisia is the only country to have emerged from the so-called Arab Spring with a full-blooded if somewhat wobbly democracy. The country has managed to survive a wave of political assassinations and deadly terrorist attacks targeting its security forces and productive tourism industry amid rising joblessness and inflation. But it remains under a state of emergency.
The Mediterranean haven was beginning to recover from the attacks mainly claimed by the Islamic State terror group (IS) as Western tourists slowly started to file back. Today’s news at the peak of the holiday season will likely put a big damper on that. On the one hand, there is the risk about the country’s low ability to cope with returning IS fighters veterans; between 5000 and 8000 of Tunisians joined the Islamic state group: some are thought to be redeploying to violence-wracked, neighboring Libya, while others have returned home. On the other hand, armed opposition groups operate in mountain areas on the border with Algeria. Both the
Analysis, assessment, forecasts
The departure of Essebsi is important not only because of what he did for democracy, but also with regard to the ambiguous situation through which Tunisia is currently passing. In general, it will not seriously impact Tunisia’s stability, because the country has a clear process in place that’s widely accepted as legitimate .
But regarding the implications for the future, the death of the old president, on the one hand, puts in evidence the absence of a prominent leader and open to a risk of greater divisions and fragmentation within the secularist political front – with all the consequences for how this might affect Tunisia’s consensus-based democracy.
On the other hand, we must consider two main factors: the first is the political disaffection and the distrust in democracy which open to a growing discontent among the people – characterized by numerous protests – often contrasted with repressive security measures; the second factor is the competition among the power-groups, which coincide with the fault line between the political parties Ennahda and Nidaa (and within Nidaa).
Because of the political stalemate and the ideological differences that led to the division of the secular front, Ennahda appears to be the only cohesive and stable party.
In conclusion, the general unstable situation may affect the electoral process, which could shift the votes of a large disappointed electorate in favor of some independent candidates.
Main events in Maghreb and Mashreq – July
by Claudio Bertolotti
original article in “Osservatorio Strategico” – Ce.Mi.S.S.: english version – italian version
Israel and Egypt
Israel will begin exporting natural gas to Egypt in November, with volumes eventually set to reach seven billion cubic metres a year. The supplies will mark the start of a $15bn export agreement between Israel’s Delek Drilling and US-based partner Noble Energy with an Egyptian counterpart in what Israeli officials called the most significant deal to emerge since the neighbours made peace in 1979. The deal signed early last year will bring natural gas from Israeli offshore fields Tamar and Leviathan into the Egyptian gas grid.
Possible dispute between President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri over referring the shooting of two members of the Lebanese Democratic Party in the Druze area of Aley to a senior Judicial Council. The political repercussions of the deadly event have paralyzed government at a critical moment and risk complicating efforts to enact reforms needed to steer the heavily indebted state away from financial crisis.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country is determined to destroy “to pieces” what he called a “terror corridor” in northern Syria – regardless of whether or not Turkey and the United States agree on the establishment of a safe zone. Ankara wants a zone along the border with Syria that would be cleared of the Kurdish fighters. It also says such a zone would be safe for Syrians and allow some of the country’s refugees to return. Turkey has warned of a possible new offensive into Syria if an agreement on a safe zone is not reached, and has recently been sending reinforcements to its border area.
Protesters remain in Algeria’s streets, having forced President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s resignation in April. In this uncertain transition period, important questions face two groups key to Algeria’s political future: protesters and military personnel. According to a new Brookings institute report – titled “Algeria’s uprising: A survey of protesters and the military” – the results show a wide support for change among protesters, while illustrating a divide between the upper and lower ranks of the Algerian military in support for the protest movement. While 80% of the lower ranks support the goals and continuation of the protests, “the senior officers, by contrast, are a bit more hesitant, [as] only 60% are saying that they support the protests”.
In his speech for this year’s Throne Day on 30th of July, Moroccan king Mohammed VI announced new development programs and a government reshuffle for domestic policy. For foreign policy, he called again for dialogue with Algeria and for ”unity among North African populations”. As concerns the Western Sahara, Morocco’s position remains ”firmly anchored to territorial integrity”. To celebrate his 20 years as king, Mohammed VI pardoned 4,764 detainees, including some detainees for terrorism.
Libya’s national oil company has suspended operations at the country’s largest oil field over the “unlawful” closure of a pipeline valve. The National Oil Corporation announced the move without saying who was behind the closure of the pipeline linking the Sharara oilfield to the port of Zawiya, on the Mediterranean coast. The Sharara oil field, which produces around 290,000 barrels a day worth $19 million, is controlled by forces loyal to Khalifa Hifter, head of the so-called Libyan National Army which launched an offensive in April to capture the capital.
President Béji Caïd Essebsi died the 25th of July at the age of 92. The interim, the president of the Parliament, Mohamed Ennaceur (85 years old), took over the position of head of state. The elections will take place on September 15. Institutional and economic crisis and jihadist threat: Essebsi’s death occurs in a period of potential destabilization for the North African country.
Islamic State beyond its territorial component
by Francesca Citossi
Original article available on Ce.Mi.S.S. Osservatorio Strategico 1/2018
We don’t see things as they are. Each of us see things as we are. We are captive of our own particular experience. Therefore, when you deal with people there is not one reality. What seems obvious to you is not obvious to the other party. If you get into the other persons world it makes you so much more effective. You are able to virtually predict their behavior… power is based upon perception.
Herb Cohen in Ep. 33 Negotiations Ninja Podcast May 28, 2018.
The Islamic State has never been a state and this is its strength. Terrorism expands until filling all the room available: it flourishes because the territory is uncontrolled, sometimes uncontrollable, until when the conditions that allowed its surge change the cycle will repeat itself. Military victories are temporary and offhand. The group narrative is based on the 1919 “betrayal” by the western powers that had promised a great Arab state. The world order that was established is then illegitimate and it must be destroyed: this is a long-term objective, which will not be compromised for a mere territory loss. Many states in this area are legitimacy deficient and deeply weak.
Weakened but not defeated, the Caliphate claimed the grounds illegally taken from the Muslims by the Crusaders, it declares itself the unique legitimate government on earth and the believers have the divine duty to live in the reconquered territory.
The community is ideal and idealistic; it shares an even historical ground instead of a real one, myths, an inescapable ancestral memory, a public mass culture that inspires awareness and collective action.
Islamic State: vindication and revenge for the humiliations suffered by the Sykes-Picot agreement and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire
Belonging to this entity goes far beyond the classical and western concepts of a nation-state, it provides to the individuals redemption from the individual’ oblivion, hope for regeneration, salvation from alienation, loneliness and anonymity. It is a source of personal and collective pride, vindication and revenge for the humiliations suffered by the Sykes-Picot agreement and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The narrative is based on the rejection of the nation-state world order invented and imposed by the West. It aims to Muslim dominance in Asia and the Middle East: personal frustrations converge into the universal persecution of all Muslims that must be avenged and rectified in the future permanent, regardless of temporary defeats; it is a mission, which will change and save the world.
Prime Minister at Abadi in December 2017, as well as President Trump in January 2018, had declared the final victory: the group had lost 96% of its territory- but the road between Baghdad and Kirkuk during the summer was impassable because of the attacks. IS is withdrawing towards the Anbar desert – inhiyaz ila al-sahra as spokesman Abu Mohammad al Adnani said- to reorganize: the defeat is only military, the organization is being reshaped to adapt to the context and continue to promote the final goal, the realization of the Caliphate.
In August 2018 in Iraq, the Islamic State resumed attacks, killings, kidnappings, fake check-points to seize materials, sabotaging power lines and pipelines, especially in the areas of Diyala, Kirkuk and Salahuddin, accomplice, or because of, the lack of effective control by the central government which, after the May elections, has yet to complete and to stabilize institutional appointments. The parties are still negotiating to form the new government and are seeking for an agreement on power sharing after the heavy accusations of fraud and the outbreak of anti-government protests in the southern provinces, in particular in Basra.
International reactions to counter violent extremism are usually reactive rather than preventive
The attack on Iran in Ahvaz on 22 September was claimed – although it leaves some doubts – even from IS. The Revolutionary Guard responded on October 1st with a launch of missiles in Syria. As early as June 2017, a group of Iranian Jihadist Kurds attacked the parliament and the Ayatollah Khomeini mausoleum: retaliation followed with a launch of six missiles in Syrian territory and in July 2018 with eight executions. Iran refuses to cooperate with Washington in this area because it believes it is a pretext to intervene in the region. Instead, it preferred to provide support to Iraq since 2014 in an anti-IS function: military advisors in Baghdad and weapons were sent to the Peshmerga, taking care not to polarize the differences with the Sunni minority, to provoke protests by the Iraqis or exacerbate sectarian tensions. It favored a strategy of inclusiveness: both Prime Minister al-Abadi and al-Amiri recognized the importance of Iranian support with a view to uniting the country, until a special agreement was signed.
Saudi Arabia has suffered several attacks on its territory in 2015 (Qatife and Dammam mosques, Asir area and a bomb car in Riyadh). The Saudi response has taken different forms: the training and equipment of fighters in Syria (but it is estimated that about 2,500 Saudis have joined the Islamic State). Riyadh has also produced a television series (“Security for the Kingdom”) to fight the propaganda of the group and is active in the control of funds as co-chair of the CIFG, Counter-ISIL Finance Group, the mechanism of the Coalition to monitor loans to IS. It also cut the group out of the international financial system by applying UNSCRs 2253/2015 and 1267/1999 on individuals and entities associated with ISIL and Al-Qaeda and therefore on the sanctions list. The Saudis have increased their contributions to humanitarian agencies operating in Iraq.
the answer to IS has been mainly of a military-security nature
So far, the answer to IS has been mainly of a military-security nature: the Peshmerga and the forces led by Shiite groups supported by Iran in Iraq have direct experience with the United States and France support.
International reactions to counter violent extremism are usually reactive rather than preventive: these short-term strategies have limited scope because they do not imply ideological eradication.
The current territorial defeat of the group does not affect the potential of this phenomenon, since the assessment only of the physical dimension is limited, insufficient to measure a media revolution, a communicative, religious and social innovation. The map is not the territory; a military defeat is marginal if the idea, a dream of a Caliphate, persists.
Military defeat is only one aspect of the matter, and not even the most important. When instability persists, the soil is fertile. The fighters have not disappeared, and even if so, there would be many ready to replace them. The Caliphate is not defeated because the aspirations and conditions that led to the project formulation persist; they are impermeable and superior to temporary assessments. The complete disappearance is far away, since the organization has simply become clandestine: it is a cyclical process, not a linear one. From the mode of “government” of the territory it has moved to insurgency. There is no direct link between the loss of territory in Syria and Iraq and its ability to continue recruiting followers by cultivating divisions of various kinds among the populations of this area. The territorial collapse has created a diaspora that now escapes any territorial measurement – as happened to Al Qaeda who survived in Iraq, withdrawing and then re-appearing in Syria in 2011.
the Islamic State has evolved into a global clandestine network
According to the latest report presented to the UN Security Council, the Islamic State is still strong of around 30,000 fighters divided between Iraq and Syria, but above all it has evolved, especially on the Iraqi territory, into a global clandestine network. The discipline, finances and security are intact, the coordination office for logistics and immigration work, the exploitation of oil resources continues, the survivors follow the indications of the spokesman Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir and Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi remains at the helm. Command and control have been damaged, many planners and leaders have been killed, the flow of foreign fighters has stopped, but the General of the US Army Paul Funk believes that the conditions for the return of the group persist, they are sharpened indeed: the reduction of terrorist attacks is temporary, a pause for reorganization.
Furthermore, the unresolved issue of the families of the combatants that survive in refugee camps in Syria and Iraq is not to be underestimated. This is a very favorable situation to lead to the creation in a few years of new cells, a generation fueled by the resentment, ostracism and marginalization they are undergoing. They are thousands of women and children rejected by their national states, or stateless, detested by the communities who want to take revenge on them or, simply, they do not want to deal with them, and embassies resist their requests for return.
IS has, since its inception, specifically orchestrated propaganda to attract young people, exploiting the natural search for identity, the recurrent rebellion against families and the frustration among the most disadvantaged social classes. Despite reports and information sent to Baghdad on thousands of families in serious trouble, the central government has not responded, leaving the local authorities to deal with them.
The fight against IS is effective through a better coordination of intelligence between the various systems at national and international level, political stabilization, the fight against extremist ideology and with a clear cut to financial support and supply of arms.
A real political stabilization of Syria and Iraq is necessary, and in particular an agreement with the Sunni populations. The new Iraqi government, dominated by Al Sadr even if he has not obtained a full victory in terms of parliamentary seats, if it does not make progress in the power sharing with respect to Maliki’ sectarian policy will face the same problems. Re-establishing effective security for all populations, beyond sectarian divisions, requires a strong commitment to security while respecting ethnic groups.
The ideological battle can only be victorious if it invests directly in the young generations of extremists, through a long-term educational strategy that attacks the radical ideology at its roots, with programs for recovery and reintegration within the communities: eradicating toxic ideologies in a society can require much time, as the German case proved after the Second World War, but it is the only lasting strategy. The fight against IS is essentially a battle for minds, not a clash of civilizations or a territorial contest.
The current threat and evolution of jihadist groups in the Sahel
by Marco Cochi
The war in the north of Mali has turned into a low-intensity asymmetric conflict while a new, dangerous insurgency has further developed along the Niger-Mali-Burkina Faso border
Instability and insecurity in the border regions of the Sahel are a long-standing phenomenon. They originate from a series of issues, namely the still uncertain consolidation of the security forces belonging to different states of the region; the porosity of borders; ethnic-driven territorial claims and the presence of active Islamist extremist groups. The crisis in this area worsened at the end of 2011 following the fall of Muammar al-Ghaddafi and resulted in a huge, illegal flow of weapons through the Sahel, which has fuelled insurrections and conflicts in the region.
A progression of events, which erupted in April 2012 under the leadership of the National Liberation Movement of Azawad (MNLA) and culminated in the Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali. A few months later, MNLA secured the support of three fearful jihadist groups: al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI), Ansar Eddine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). Later, these jihadist movements came into conflict with MNLA due to strong disagreements between the Tuareg and Islamist radicals, after the latter succeeded in imposing their fundamentalist religious connotation over the armed uprising.
After taking over military operations, the extremists began invading Southern Mali up to the point of threatening its capital Bamako. In January 2013, the revolt spree prompted Operation Serval, which was conducted by a French-led multinational force in accordance to Security Council resolutions 2071 of 12th October and 2085 of 20th December 2012.
This action prevented the former French colony from falling under an Islamist yoke and put an end to the jihadists’ offensive, but failed to eradicate the contagion of violent extremism from the area. With state authority restored in Northern Mali, as of 1st August 2014 Paris entrusted the fight against Sahelian jihadist groups to the Operation Barkhane, comprising Serval and Epervier.
Six and a half years later, the war in the north of Mali has turned into a low-intensity asymmetric conflict and a new, dangerous insurgency has further developed along the Niger-Mali-Burkina Faso border. Some jihadist groups, exploiting the insecurity that characterized it for decades, have made this area their stronghold.
JNIM was established in early March 2017 under the aegis of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), to gather the main groups linked to al-Qaeda under a single umbrella organisation
One of the most dangerous and dynamic Islamist extremist formations in the area is Jama’ah Nusrah al-Islam wal-Muslimin (Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims – JNIM/GSIM). The JNIM was established in early March 2017, under the aegis of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), to gather the main al-Qaida linked groups active in Mali and the Sahel desert areas under a single umbrella organisation. Specifically, the merger involved al-Murabitun, Ansar Eddine and its affiliates from the Macina Brigade, later renamed as Macina Liberation Front.
Al-Qaeda’s Sahelian cell is led by a prominent figure of the Malian jihadist network: Tuareg Iyad Ag Ghaly – nicknamed “the strategist” – who, besides leading Ansar Eddine during the war in the north of Mali, also fought in the ranks of Ghaddafi’s Islamist Legion and in Lebanon alongside PLO militants; in addition to negotiating the release of hostages for the Bamako government and being one of the main actors in the second Tuareg uprising between 1990 and 1995.
The alliance of the main Qaedist groups active throughout the region had been anticipated by some observers; a study carried out by the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) two months prior to the merger testifies to that, as it examines such possibility in detail.
Emir Abdelmalek Droukdel fostered the merger in response to the progressive strengthening of the Islamic State’s influence in the region
After all, AQMI leader Emir Abdelmalek Droukdel had long been pursuing the objective of binding together all militant groups in the Sahel to fulfill his ambitions of increasing AQMI’s then limited influence on the region. But the jihadist leader’s motivation also stemmed from the a need to formalize ties and relations between various armed formations, dating back to the occupation of Northern Mali. Furthermore, it is manifest that Droukdel fostered the merger in response to the progressive strengthening of the Islamic State’s influence in the region which, despite its territorial losses, still remains a pole of attraction for international jihadism.
Download the full article – Ce.Mi.S.S – Military Centre for Strategic Studies
Marco Cochi is a professional journalist, expert in security and development for Sub-Saharian Africa and Lecturer at Link Campus University, Rome.