Dr. Mohammed Cherkaoui
What is alarming are these international interventions. A bad scenario is emerging through the combination of Emirati-France-American strategies to help duplicate the Sisi model in North Africa. The summer of 2019 is a good opportunity to reject all foreign conspiracies.
Proposition 6: North Africa’s New Geostrategic Position
Halford Mackinder (1861 –1947), the so-called father of geopolitics, is often credited with introducing two new terms into the English language: “manpower” and “heartland”.
In 1920s, he perceived the Earth’s land surface as three divided spheres of interconnectedness:
1) the World-Island, comprising the interlinked continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa. This was the largest, most populous, and richest of all possible land combinations;
2) the offshore islands, including the British Isles and the islands of Japan; and
3) the outlying islands, including the continents of North America, South America, and Australia. He presumed “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; who rules the World-Island commands the world.”
He argued then “Whether we think of the physical, economic, military, or political interconnection of things on the surface of the globe, we are now for the first time presented with a closed system.”
Between 1919 and 2019, several political storms have targeted the southern part of the Mediterranean Sea. The recent trend of pacifism in Algeria and growing militarism in Libya and Sudan have triggered new political uncertainties.
The 2019 reality of North Africa, the Middle East and the entire Mediterranean basin, which Mackinder excluded from his conceptualization of the ‘Heartland’, have become the new epicenter of change and geostrategic complexity. He acknowledged “each century has had its own geographical perspective.”
One can update Mackinder’s hypothesis by highlighting the geopolitical significance of the region in various dimensions: East-West, North-South relations and the open-ended challenges of migration, development, trade, extremism, counterterrorism, and other Euro-North African pending hot issues.
The interior of the African continent is no longer perceived as “a blank”; and the Sahara has broken away from the colonial stereotype of, as Mackinder romanticized in 1919, “the most unbroken natural boundary in the world; throughout history it has been a barrier between the white and the black men.”
In their introductory chapter “EU-North Africa Relations at the Age of Turbulence”, Brookings analysts Adel Abdel Ghafar and Anna Jacobs point out that “key EU member states, such as France, Spain, and Italy, maintained enormous influence in the post-colonial period, but the EU as an institution had difficulty developing a comprehensive policy toward the southern Mediterranean region.”
Moreover, The Euro-North African relations have been juxtaposed by three main trends of strategy: control of migration and human trafficking, counterterrorism, and securitization of the Mediterranean basin, more than the promise of free trade and other aspects of positive engagement.
There is a risk of conducing EU-North African relations into these frameworks of fear and skepticism. Instead of positioning North Africa as wall against migration or checking point of security, the EU-North African relations would benefit from a wider scope of cooperation.
To quote Mackinder again, the map habit of thought is “no less pregnant in the sphere of economics than it is in that of strategy.”
Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, has expressed the need for “long-term, sustainable alliances with our key partners — and with Africa in particular.” North Africa has good potential to become an economic hub, and a conduit of development across Africa. It is high time for the EU to reconcile its separate policy tracks vis-a-vis North Africa and Sub-Saharan
Proposition 7: The Leave-North-Africa-Alone Paradigm
According to the World Health Organization, at least 220 individuals were killed and ad more than 1000 other were wounded in the recent fighting on Tripoli’s outskirts as of April 20.
Haftar’s forces have faced robust resistance against the air and ground attacks to capture the capital. As one German Libya observer put it, “Haftar did not want to be part of the solution. He wanted to be the solution.”
A White House statement said: “The President recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system.”
Some critics have cautioned against what could be a misguided move of Trump. For instance, David Andelman, executive director of The RedLines Project, argues “The Trump administration risks putting itself in an untenable situation of backing two horses in the same race — the recognized government of Libya and the rebels knocking at the door of the capital.”
In Europe, French president Emmanuel Macron contributed to the political rise of Haftar when he invited him and Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the internationally-recognized government, to a “peace summit” in Paris July 25, 2017; and bestowed him the official recognition of a “legitimate political actor.”
Alia Brahimi, co-founder of Legatus Global and former research fellow at Oxford University and the London School of Economics (LSE), explains how Haftar has gradually been repositioned from “parochial warlord to counter-terrorism partner to potential power-sharer.
Steadfast external alliances, in particular with Egypt and the UAE – the latter boasting a formidable lobbying capability – combined with diplomatic fatigue on the part of western powers dispirited by political deadlock to give Haftar this status.”
Another injection into Haftar’s muscle was his meeting with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh, March 27, 2019, to receive “assurances of the Kingdom’s keenness for the security and stability of Libya.”
Several sources have revealed Saudi Arabia has pledged millions of dollars as aid for Haftar’s forces. The Wall Street Journal reported, “Haftar accepted the recent Saudi offer of funds, according to the senior Saudi advisers, who said the money was intended for buying the loyalty of tribal leaders, recruiting and paying fighters, and other military purposes.”
UN reports have previously named the UAE and Egypt as being among countries that violated the arms embargo in Libya.
Wolfram Lacher, a Libya expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, explains how Haftar would not be a player today “without the foreign support he has received. The last few months, pretty much everyone jumped on the Haftar train.”
In Sudan, many opposition politicians and protesters have rejected the Saudi and Emirati assistance offer of $500 million to be deposited at the Sudanese central bank.
This offer is part of 3bn dollars’ worth of aid to the Transitional Military Council. The objective, as the Saudi Press Agency wrote, “is to strengthen its [Sudan] financial position, ease the pressure on the Sudanese pound and increase stability in the exchange rate.”
What is alarming are these international interventions, or linkages. Now, a bad scenario is emerging through the combination of Emirati-France-American strategies to help duplicate the Sisi model in North Africa.
While developing his new protracted social conflict [PSC] theory in 1990, Arab-American conflict theorist Edward Azar argued, “Protracted social conflicts occur when communities are deprived of satisfaction of their basic needs on the basis of the communal identity.
However, the deprivation is the result of a complex causal chain involving the role of the state and the pattern of international linkages. Furthermore, initial conditions (colonial legacy, domestic historical setting, and the multi-communal nature of the society) play important roles in shaping the genesis of protracted social conflict.’
Like other post-Uprising Arabs societies, Algeria and Sudan are struggling with the growing tension between militarism, secularism, modernism, and Islamism.
This can be considered a historically liminal period. This liminality captures the quality of ambiguity or disorientation. They are at an interval between a pre-axial and post-axial age in politics, culture, and religion toward an Arab modernity through a potential Axial Age.
An Arab Axial Age can be conceived as an in-between period; a period where old certainties lost their validity and new ones were still not ready.
German psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) describes Achsenzeit (axis time or axial age) as “an interregnum between two ages…, a pause for liberty, a deep breath bringing the most lucid consciousness.”
The repertoire of the new social movement has empowered several micro narratives that echoed throughout the region and embraced shared visions of the future.
They have destabilized several political structures by protesting at public squares and through new media. Subsequently, they have formulated the notion of an Arab civic republicanism in a region deeply-rooted in various systems of sultanism, emirism, militarism, and other forms of absolute power.
Most North Africans agree that the will-to-defy the state, the end of fear and humiliation by the authorities, and glorification of the ruler are among the top accomplishments of the Uprisings.
In light of these shifts and challenges, the future will depend a numbers of factors: internal and external. Algeria, Libya, and Sudan’s fragile equilibrium is now in the hands of the army and the extent of foreign manipulation in favor of solidifying status quo politics.
Despite all political and ideological differences, Sudanese, Libyans, Algerians, like other North Africans can argue, engage in heated debates, and, manage to reconcile their differences.
Should they be left alone to address their own problems, North African cultural tendencies, be tribal, Islamic, moderate, or rational, have often affirmed the wisdom of peaceful agreement and societal responsibility in forging new forms of tolerance and coexistence.
The summer of 2019 is another good opportunity to prove such wisdom and reject all foreign conspiracies.
Dr. Mohammed Cherkaoui – Senior researcher at Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, Professor of Conflict Resolution at George Mason University in Washington D.C. and former member of the United Nations Panel of Experts.
ALJAZEERA CENTRE FOR SYUDIES