Agenda
Towards Med - Regional Meetings
Doha, Qatar
North Africa: New elections, old problems?

BACKGROUND

Since the 2011 uprisings, North Africa has endured a transformational phase characterized by socioeconomic and security challenges that continue to affect the internal and external dynamics of each state. While, for instance, Tunisia has managed to accommodate some of the people’s demands and promote a substantial process of democratization, Libya has instead descended into a spiral of violence and internal political fragmentation. 2019 will likely see important political changes within several countries, as national elections are expected to take place in Algeria, Tunisia and, circumstances permitting, Libya, as well as a constitutional referendum in Egypt. These events fall within a crucial phase of transition which will define the future of the region—both within each country’s domestic politics, as well as their regional relations. Should we expect more continuity or change as a result of this process? Which are the possible scenarios? What repercussions may unfold on the international stage?

THE EVENT

The roundtable aims to reflect on current geopolitical events in North Africa. It will address the potential impact of upcoming elections on the political landscape of countries such as Algeria, Libya and Tunisia, as well as on the volatile security dynamics in the region. Socioeconomic issues will also be discussed to provide a more complete analysis of the current situation. The event will be organized into three panels: The first will focus on the overall regional context to shed light on key transnational trends and challenges; The second and the third panels will analyze specific countries, such as Libya and Algeria, to assess the specific domestic situation and problems such as economic shortcomings, political disorders, and persisting security threats.

SUMMARY

Read the summary here

 

PHOTO GALLERY

 

THE INTERVIEWS

ALGERIA

Dahlia Yazbeck

  1. In light of the recent protests in Algeria and Bouteflika’s decision to relinquish his candidacy for a fifth presidential mandate, do you think the country is really moving towards a political transition? Or will the deep state will prevail again?

I think we are really in a political examination-things have been moving quickly, the departure of president Bouteflika is not to be taken lightly, this is a big victory for the Algerian people. Yesterday, the president of the constitutional council, Tayed Al-Izz, resigned. This is one of the two B’s that already left, the other two are still there meaning Abldeqader bin Saleh and Bedoui. I think and I might be a bit pessimistic yet realistic, I think that the deep state is going to prevail. This is not a one-man show. Behind Bouteflika and behind clan Bouteflika is a complex and opaque system of governance. There are difficult and opaque structures of power. The Algerian regime has been in place since 1962 and it is thanks to this complex party structure that the regime has weathered the 5th 1988 riots- the black decade-, the riots in 2001 in Kabylia, the Arab spring in 2011, the drop in oil prices in 2014, and it will be able to also weather this. This regime is composed of this pyramidal form. At the top are leaders from the military apparatus, and then you have the NLF (National Liberation Front) and then you have business types. All of these groups have different interests and allegiances. What will cement their relationships is their interests, so I think the deep state is going to remain. We might witness a change of the façade, we might witness- and this is what the regime has been doing- it is dispensing more economic and political rights. We might see more opening of the political arena, but I think the deep state is going to remain.

  1. Which actor – or factor – will, in your opinion, play the most important role in this crucial phase? For what reason?

It is one thing for sure that the opposition is not going to play any role in that for several reasons, because first the opposition has been marginalized. It is very divided and been unable to put aside its internal and personal disputes in order to present to the Algerians a new project and society. It has been totally decriminalized and the Algerian people do not trust the opposition and we have seen it lately when members of the opposition such as the FFS leader Saad Saadi who took up to the streets and demonstrations as well and was shouted at by the people telling him “degage” which means get out. It was the same with the Islamists but that is a different topic. But I don’t think they have real credibility in the eyes of their constituency, and in fact, according to the Arab barometer in 2018, only 14% of Algerians believe in political parties and I think today it is less than 14%. So who is going to play a role in this transition? I think civil society, figures and the street are going to play a role in the sense that this is the street, this is the millions of people who took to the street that changed the status quo. So if the street continues to put pressure on the military but also on the regime I think there could be a result. I think also there are some important figures that are emerging today. I am thinking of the Algerian lawyer Mustapha Bouchachi, but for sure not the opposition.

 

Yahia H. Zoubir

  1. In light of the recent protests in Algeria and Bouteflika’s decision to relinquish his candidacy for a fifth presidential mandate, do you think the country is really moving towards a political transition? Or will the deep state will prevail again?

First of all, we have to clarify it was not Bouteflika’s decision. He was forced to resign. He had no choice because of the wide protests throughout the country. This was not a simple protest but a nationwide protest. I think that needs to be emphasized because this is what led the chiefs of staff to put the pressure in fact, on the president to resign under article number 2. In any case, they would have two other articles even three one of which would have been article 28 which would have rested the decision that the regime presents a national security threat which is one of the military’s prerogatives. This is leading in a sense, while the regime was not willing to have a real democratic transition or political transition, to move away from the current system to establish a new one, the pressure coming from the whole population because this is nationwide-this needs to be emphasized repeatedly- and this is what has forced the regime to move into some sort of political transition. Yes there has been some sort of opposition from the deep state which is also called the black box, but this is mostly some individuals who play some important cards behind the scene but I think a relenting pressure from the street is forcing the regime to review its cards, its policies, and I think we are moving towards a political (transition?). In my view, the three B’s that the populations calling for the removal of these three, including the one who was serving as head of state, I think they will be removed soon. I think they will have to allow some sort of transition figures to carry out this transition. I am not sure that this so-called deep state and if there is one, what the head of the chiefs of staff Saleh, what he said today April 17th or yesterday is to say that there are forces- that means the deep state- that are creating problems or seeking to create havoc for their own reasons, to shed blood and so on, so he sent a warning to them. I believe that there will be a political transition, and, in this transition, there is no doubt the military will play a role. The question is whether this role will be an accompaniment, like making sure nothing destabilizes this peaceful transition. I think this is what will happen because it is still the most organized force. It is the force that can protect the population against these obscure individuals hiding behind the scenes. I think there will be a transition and I do not think the deep state will prevail. Of course, the coming Friday will be a determining factor to see if the police is going to shoot at the demonstrators and use violent means to crush the demonstrations.

  1. Which actor – or factor – will, in your opinion, play the most important role in this crucial phase? For what reason?

The population is number one in the sense that its continued demonstrations are the factor that is putting the most pressure on the powers that be including whoever is involved, including the military and onwards. But I think the military will be the most important) because, historically, it has been the backbone of the state. It has always played a role. The main question is again whether the military- the AMP- is going to move towards a system where it will remain professionalized. The generation of new officers is very professionalized. They are nonpoliticized military. If they want to protect the military institution, they will need to find a new formula. Hopefully, it will not be a formula that rejuvenates the old regime. This is what happened in 1988, and one of the last things that the population wants is to see a repeat of that period. Now they have understood, I mean the population is very critical here especially the youth. They understand that they should not allow cosmetic changes to the system in hopes that somehow the system will somehow be back to the picture. We will have to see how serious the military is, because if the military is willing to carry out its threat to go after the corrupt people who dominated Bouteflika’s presidency. There are two dynamics really. The population which keeps putting pressure and the regime which keeps making reforms and changes addressing some of the grievances with the hope that the population would stop. The demonstrators have understood that this would be disastrous for the movement. In the meantime, they have formed committees to come up with some sort of framework to reform the system to change the constitution- of course they have to have a constitutional assembly to organize that. Maybe they will use either the Tunisian model or some other model that is to be seen in the coming few weeks. But what is clear that this dynamic is very clearly going towards a political change and transition because they will not accept anything less than that.

 

LIBYA

Tarek Megerisi

  1. National reconciliation efforts in Libya are constantly threatened by internal political rivalries and security fragmentation. What do you think about the impact of the UN-sponsored process and what are the possible actions to improve the situation?

The U.N. sponsored process could have been a game-changer because it could have changed the framing under which the political process was going on in Libya, which had allowed it to be hijacked by these security and other actors. Unfortunately, I think the U.N. failed to manage the process as it were. It failed to control international players who are coming down on one side or the other and it failed to really communicate its intentions to the Libyan population who are deeply cynical. For those e reasons, the national conference actually played into the war that’s happening today because it was Haftar’s realization that he wouldn’t get his deal done in time for the national conference to rubber stamp it and his fear of political process occurring which he can’t control that drove him to attack Tripoli when he did. So great intentions, great idea, but it could have been executed better.

  1. Has Khalifa Haftar overplayed his hand in the current conflict?

Yes, I think he has done. I think his decision to invade, especially when he did and how he did was a fatal oversight and a fatal misjudgment. There was really no clear way he can have a decisive victory in this current battle. The best he can hope for is to have a prolonged siege and rule over the rubble of Tripoli, which is more conducive to an (ultra rule) of stability. What seems more likely to happen is that the retracted conflict will eventually force all parties to the table and he will have to engage in a political process from the considerably weakened position that he was in before and he will no longer be allowed to make the political process all about him.

 

TUNISIA

Laryssa Chomiak

  1. Tunisia’s political transition, although representing one of the few successful cases in the region, is still uncertain. What should we expect in the months leading to the next Parliamentary and Presidential elections?

The important thing about these next legislative presidential elections is that they will be an important indicator and marker for this state of democratic consolidation or political consolidation. What is going to be really interesting over the next few months is the way in which some of the traditional parties have formed after the revolution are configuring and reconfiguring themselves as well as some of the new political parties that have formed particularly the one of Prime Minister Youssef Chahed and what kind of constituencies they are going to draw, particularly from the regions and particularly  from different “H” groups as well?

  1. How do the critical economic situation, the disparities among Tunisian regions, and the threats to security impact the political scenario?

The economic situation in Tunisia as elsewhere in the world has been front and centre of the various stages, starting from the revolution in 2010 and 2011 and through the various governments since then. It is front and centre of all political party platforms, in part because of the growing social movements and strikes that are calling for radical changes within the economy from political elites. The majority of these movements are originating in the region and have been coalescing nationwide. As I said, they go hand in hand with some of the economic decisions that have been made by political elites and will very much figure in the political platforms leading up to the elections later this year.

 

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