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Maghreb News: Libya Inching Closer to National Reconciliation Conference; Labor Unions Threatened by Recent Reforms in Tunisia; Algerian Opposition Proposes Post-Bouteflika Age Roadmap; World Bank Loans $700 million to Morocco to Promote Digital Economy – Jean R. AbiNader

Jean R. AbiNader
March 26, 2019

Jean R. AbiNader, Moroccan American Center

In Libya, recent military advances by strongman General Khalifa Haftar, which put him in control of two-thirds of the country and the majority of its oil production, have brought new urgency to the task of bringing together a credible group of representatives in a national reconciliation conference to develop a plan for writing a constitution and hold elections. He recently met with Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in the UAE to discuss moving forward.

After the meeting, Sarraj announced that the two had agreed to hold elections this year after the conference did its preparatory effort, which would see the transition to a civilian government. Former UK Ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett, commented that “Elections this year must have the necessary security, legislative, and constitutional preparations, and they must guarantee the unification of Libya’s political, economic, and security institutions. This requires careful and detailed preparations.”

He also pointed out that those who oppose the efforts to implement the agreed process by the UN Special Representative Ghassan Salamé, are seeking to preserve their own agendas rather than reflecting the will of the Libyan people as a whole. Observers are concerned that the latest moves by Haftar may not be his last as he may want to take additional territory in the west of the country in order to intimidate the GNA headquartered in Tripoli.

The conference is set for April 14-16 in the Libyan town of Ghadames under the auspices of The United NationsSalamé said that between 120 and 150 delegates are expected following consultations in 57 towns across the country last year. He warned that ““A failure now to advance the political process demonstrates absolutely that the country is totally controlled by force of arms.” The conference is designed to include a timeframe for a new constitution, as well as presidential and parliamentary elections.

 

The Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), the country’s principal labor union, is increasingly at odds with the government and finds itself enmeshed in external conflicts between the president and the prime minister, and internally with divisions among leadership as to how to placate its base of public sector employees who are suffering as the currency loses value and living costs increase. Recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize for their role in the national dialogue that saved Tunisia during the early days of its democracy, the UGTT is now challenged by the need to maintain relevance as it loses traction in defining the country’s economic policy.

Until recently, it maintained almost a veto power over the government with regard to decisions that affect its members and other consumers. However, a loan agreement in 2016 with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which the UGTT agreed to, required a restructuring of the public sector, which put pressure on the UGTT to support reforms such as reining in public sector hiring, cuts in fuel subsidies, and increases in gas and electricity prices. However, to combat the erosion in the purchasing power of its members, “the UGTT had been pushing for higher salaries and an end to the government’s austerity measures.”

 

Opposition forces in Algeria are emerging with a unified agenda to move forward. According to the latest election related news, the opposition parties and unions are calling for a six-month transition period beginning when President Bouteflika’s term ends on April 28. There are three key elements. A “presidential body,” made up of national figures known for their credibility, integrity, and competence,” along with representatives of the demonstrators, would run the country during the transition period. None of the members would be allowed to run in future presidential elections or back any candidates who choose to run. Among those participating in the meeting was Ali Benflis, a former prime minister who has joined the opposition and the main Islamic party, the Movement  of Society for Peace (MSP).

 

The latest project in the World Bank’s program with Morocco, will address the country’s need to build digital capacity to provide services across financial and other sectors of the economy. Today, only 29% of Moroccans have access to a bank account, much lower than the MENA average of 44%.  According to the World Bank’s statement, “A lack of access to such basic financial services – financial exclusion– hinders entrepreneurship and holds back economic growth.” Its reforms will expand the range of broadband internet and scale up the use of electronic transactions.

Djibrilla Issa, financial sector specialist at the World Bank noted that “Digital entrepreneurship is central to the current program,” and that the project’s reforms would “unleash the potential of Morocco’s digital start-ups.” Importantly, an enhanced digital economy will particularly benefit Moroccan women, who often face greater barriers for financial services. The bank will monitor the results of its reforms on the gender gap in the workplace, according to the statement.

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