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Tension continues in Algeria as Army and demonstrators still at odds; Lack of settlement defers needed economic and political reforms; Morocco fine-tuning its diplomatic muscle – Jean R. AbiNader

Jean R. AbiNader
August 17, 2019

While demonstrations and regime reactions in Algeria have remained peaceful for the most part, continued tensions are taking a toll on the demonstrators and the army. The protesters have been unable to form a consensus on negotiators and preconditions acceptable to the Army, which is clearly in charge of the country yet unclear as to how to maintain control and come up with acceptable solutions.

The head of the Army General Ahmed Gaid Salah has made it clear that he will not accept any preconditions for talks to end the country’s political crisis, and is adamant that the country must proceed as soon as possible with elections, which would clearly favor the most organized parties, i.e. those tied to the old regime. “But efforts to move towards new presidential elections have bogged down as protesters have continued to demand the departure of key regime figures and an overhaul of the North African country’s political system,” according to an article in Al Jazeera. They want jailed demonstrators to be freed, a reduced police presence in public areas, and lifting of blockades that impede access by protestors to central Algiers.

A recent Carnegie Middle East Center article noted that as of now, the Army “has failed to reassure protesters about its intention to change the system. At the same time, the protesters themselves have been unable to appoint representatives or mediators who can speak in their name and draft realistic demands.” Without a stable government in place, it will be difficult for Algeria to manage its weakening economy and put in place changes that are needed to resolve both political and economic challenges. As the article pointed out, “Algeria’s future leaders will have to face serious financial challenges in a country that has been energy-dependent for decades, with an economic system that appears increasingly untenable because of an inability to introduce diversification.”

As the economy continues to flounder, the Army’s inability to strengthen the economy will soon add to the demonstrators’ concerns with the lack of true civilian leadership. The issues are well-known. Too much dependence on hydro-carbons from too little economic diversification, a weak growth rate, highly subsidized basic consumer items, falling foreign currency reserves, and extensive under-employment and unemployment of youth, which would be a challenge for any government.

The key factor for the demonstrators is cobbling together a consensus on a negotiating team that represents the issues, particularly for the youth, before “their aversion for their [country’s] leaders may escalate and erode national stability,” the article concluded.

In Morocco-related news, there was a useful review of the regionalization policy of the country that pointed out the commitment of King Mohammed VI to prioritizing its administrative and operational implementation. Although there have been some steps towards full regionalization, such as the appointment of representatives for each region as well as budget allocations for locally-elected regional governance, full implementation has yet to be realized.

With an emphasis on local solutions for local issues, it is vital that the regional governments are as inclusive as possible so that women, youth, and the marginalized are equally represented along with the traditional power brokers. To date, that is not the case and it has been up to Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to promote awareness and solutions for dealing with local issues. Better mechanisms for interface between the regions and the citizens should take advantage of social media to engage policy makers, expand awareness among citizens, and seek consensus for initiatives tied to local and national funding such as the National Initiative for Human Development (INDH), which is already active in the regions and may provide models for engagement.

Finally, a very thoughtful article on Morocco’s foreign policy as a “middle power” was featured in the Journal of International Affairs of the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. It was written by Amine Bennis, a Principal Counsel at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, who knows the country well. Middle Power Diplomacy is practiced by countries that are emerging democracies with evolving economies that play important roles in regional politics, and practice niche diplomacy focused on a specific agenda. He analyzes Morocco’s efforts in each and provides useful insights into the country’s priorities.

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