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Maghreb Matters: Drum Beats Pounding for Fifth Bouteflika Term; General Haftar Frees Up the Oil Pumps; and the EU and Morocco Renew Fisheries Agreement – Jean R. AbiNader

Jean R. AbiNader
July 26, 2018

Jean R. AbiNader, Moroccan American Center

Jean R. AbiNader, Moroccan American Center

Bouteflika rolling towards fifth term despite constitutional term limits on the office of president. With the election less than 10 months away, maneuvering has already begun in earnest, according to an article on washingtoninstitute.org. Since his fourth terms had already been grandfathered in the current law, there are no real obstacles to his claiming another term, thanks to the maneuvering led by his brother Said and power brokers in the two leading political parties, the media, private sector, and the military-intelligence communities.

The opposition has been calling for other candidates to emerge, but without any political heft to back up their demands, they have been left out of any serious debate about presidential succession. They continue to agitate within a severely limited space in print and social media against the country’s continued economic decline despite a recent uptick in energy revenues, the imposition of even greater constraints on social and political freedoms, and widespread dissatisfaction among youth and marginalized communities in rural and small urban areas.

The article notes that “The government has failed to diversify the economy, which is currently around 95% dependent on oil revenues. In addition, overall public frustration with the government and its economic and social policies has intensified due to the high unemployment rate, widespread crime, and the poor purchasing power of Algerians. To make things worse, as of early 2019, the government plans to abandon its subsidy policy on basic products like fuel and electricity, a step that would unleash public rage with potential consequences for those in power.”

Recalling the national riots that followed the increases in bread prices in 1988 and 2011, analysts have urged the government to go beyond announcing reforms and actually implement serious changes before tensions rise to levels that threaten the regime’s security. The author, Ahmed Marwane, cautions that “The political scene has reached a stifling stalemate, with the government completely disregarding its oppressed opposition’s calls for comprehensive political reform before popular ire takes hold.”

Given that Algeria also faces external security pressures on its borders from terrorist groups and illegal migrants and is slowly losing ground as a leader in the region and in Africa, the gamble that regime elites are making on Bouteflika stamina may fail, cascading into an abrupt disruption of the country’s stability.

In a similar article in the new media source Inside Arabia Online, author Diana Partridge breaks down the endorsements Bouteflika has received from various power centers in the country and recounts the background of various parties of the ruling elite, le pouvoir. She concludes that “While ambiguity remains as to who exactly rules Algeria, it seems evident that it is not Abdelaziz Bouteflika. If, in fact, fierce competition is raging regarding whom will succeed Bouteflika, the endorsements of the president’s fifth presidential bid indicate that the current governing clique has no intentions of ceding power to the opposition, and that it plans to continue its rule behind the façade of the incumbent president as long as possible.”

Libyan strongman General Haftar has reluctantly passed up another opportunity to control Libya’s official presence in the oil trade. Having recently returned from his prematurely-reported death in Europe, his militia managed to upend the temporary takeover of the oil facilities in eastern Libya by rival militia leader Ibrahim Jadhran. Haftar threatened to keep Libya’s oil out of the market unless several demands were met, and quickly handed authority back to the country’s legitimate Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation, even before negotiations were settled.

As the Al-Monitor article noted, the core of the dispute was about shares in the oil revenues pie and control of the Central Bank. On both points, Haftar seems to have prevailed and so all is well for the moment as Libya still struggles to determine how it will organize national elections in December with little infrastructure, few human and technical resources, and no formal deliberations taking place at this time.

EU-Morocco mended their nets about their fishing agreement, and in a joint statement announced
“The two parties agreed on the provisions and improvements made on the texts to optimize the positive impact and benefits for local populations in the concerned zones,” which refers to one of the legal conditions Morocco’s administration of the Western Sahara and its on-and off-shore resources.

Negotiations on the new deal began in April in Rabat and reconvened in June after the decision of the European Court of Justice to exclude Western Sahara waters from the agreement. It is hoped that by including the language about the Sahara, the Fisheries Partnership Agreement (FPA) will be adopted with no further controversy, thus allowing European vessels to fish in the Moroccan maritime area in exchange for an annual European economic contribution of $35.2 million. Currently, there are 120 vessels from 11 EU countries that fish in the demarcated zones.

A related article in the North Africa Post indicates that “According to experts, both the EU and Morocco benefit from the fisheries agreement. Furthermore, over 75% of the socio-economic benefits of the agreement, such as creation of hundreds of new jobs and improvement of working conditions of tens of thousands of people, are enjoyed by people living in Morocco’s Southern provinces. The deal promotes sustainable development of the fisheries sector and helps to create jobs for Moroccan sailors and fishermen via 1000 boarding contracts per year.”

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