Jean R. AbiNader
May 8, 2018
Iran’s agenda in North Africa is coming under heightened scrutiny after senior Iranian officials visited Algiers leading to increased tensions over Western Sahara and the expulsion from Rabat of the Iranian ambassador. According to an article in Al-Arabiya, “The cut in ties between the two countries came after irrefutable evidence came to light proving that shipments of weapons, which included surface-to-air missiles, comprising of SAM9, SAM22 and Strela shoulder-launched missiles, had been sent to the Algerian-backed Polisario…” It said that the weapons came via Hezbollah and that Polisario members were being trained in the use of the missiles at a base in Tindouf, Algeria.
The article also alleges that Iran is recruiting Shia youth in Algeria to serve in its militias in other war zones, further stating that “With Iran constantly on the lookout for allies in the region, the mullah regime is now desperately trying to get its claws into Africa, and has used its usual method of buying friends, and arming and training Shiite rebel groups in places like Senegal and Nigeria, to allow it to gain a solid foothold in the region.”
The military cooperation is only one dimension of the Iranian strategy to engage Algeria, which is desperate to diversify its economy. To this end, the Iranians have already launched “A production line for Iranian vehicles, plus another for the production of medicines, and with the two countries boosting their cooperation enormously in the private sector, Iran has ensnared Algeria through an ongoing succession of trade deals.”
While the overall presence is limited at this time, there are increasing opportunities for mischief by Iran and its proxies in the region. The article concludes with the concern that “But with Iran and its proxy Hezbollah already seeming to be influencing Algeria, it has also been reaching out to countries such as Tunisia and Mauritania, and with Mali, Niger, Guinea and Senegal already in the sights of the Iranian regime, it has to be a great worry for other countries in the region, who already view Iran’s expansionist policies in the area as becoming out of control.”
Morocco will host World Bank and IMF annual meetings in 2021, according to a joint statement of the IMF website. That year marks the 60th anniversary of Morocco’s membership in the world’s leading financial groups and will be their first gathering in Africa since 1973. “The annual meetings of the two institutions bring together central bankers from across the globe, ministers of finance and development, leading private sector executives, civil society, media and academics to discuss issues of global concern.” To be held in Marrakesh, it offers a great opportunity for Morocco and countries in the region to showcase their economic and financial progress.
Moroccan unemployment rate down due to better job growth and now stands at 10.5%. In the first quarter 2018, the economy created some 116,000 jobs, an increase of 7% over last year’s first quarter.
Services, agriculture, and construction created 50,000, 43,000 and 32,000 jobs respectively, according to the High Commission for Planning, while manufacturing lost 9,000 jobs. The unemployment rate in urban areas was slightly down from 15.7 percent to 15.6 percent, while it significantly decreased from 4.1 percent to 3.5 percent in rural areas due to bountiful rainfall, which boosted agricultural production.
An EU report on the progress report on the state of EU-Algeria relations notes the challenges and opportunities in dealing with that country. In a hopeful assessment, the EU hopes that gradual reforms in the political dynamic in Algeria will in turn enable more economic opportunities to emerge.
According to a statement by the EU’s High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini, “Our relations have been stepped up on both bilateral and regional questions…the reform of the political governance system in Algeria remains at the heart of our partnership and has the support of the EU for its implementation, in particular in the fields of justice and participatory democracy. We are also building a relationship of trust with regard to security, aimed at regional stability and the fight against terrorism, to the benefit of our citizens.”
There are high hopes that economic openings will support greater diversification and growth. European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn added: “The EU is ready to continue support for reforms, in particular those aimed at diversifying the Algerian economy. We are confident that EU support will help to improve the business climate and develop entrepreneurship…We hope that this co-operation, which is aimed at strengthening the Algerian economy, will help us to overcome our trade differences and will pave the way to more European investment that will create jobs in the country.”