A forum devoted to current political, economic trends, and news of the Maghreb region.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Sidi Bouzid's Uprising in Tunisia.

As the year winds down, one must wonder again about the state of the Arab street. Past years witnessed quiescence and relative calm. 2010 may stand as an exception as Tunisia is arguably enduring one of its most spontaneous revolt against the despotic regime of Ben 'Ali. For the past few weeks, the oft marginalized town of Sidi Bouzid has been under the brunt of the police assault of the Tunisian authorities. The protests were triggered by the attempted suicide by immolation on December 17 by unemployed 26-year old man Mohamed Bouazizi. The riots that followed are wholesale rejection of the socio-economic plight of millions of Tunisians lingering in poverty, unemployment and bleak future. The demonstrations are also a rejection of the corrupt and clientelistic regime of Ben 'Ali.

Ben 'Ali condemned the rioters and vowed to create more jobs for the thousands of unemployed youths. Ben 'Ali also pledged that "the law will be applied in all firmness" to punish "a minority of extremists and mercenaries who resort to violence and disorder." Mr. Ben 'Ali, what about your own mercenaries and thugs that have assaulted civilians? Ben 'Ali seemingly does not recognize that this is not a minority of Tunisians, but the majority of his own citizens that are reaching the zenith of their frustration with his police state and dictatorial rule. The riots in Sidi Bouzid soon escalated to other towns outside the capital Tunis, including Kairouan and Ben Guerdane.

This blogger is firmly in support of the brave Tunisians that are rioting against arguably one of the most brutal regimes in the Arab world. Stay steadfast in your fight and protests. As the year 2010 comes to a close, Ben 'Ali should carefully ponder his list of new year resolutions. Top priority on that list must be to loosen up the grip of his mukhabarat state on Tunisia. His tyrannical rule can only be sustained for so long without a mass volcanic-like social eruption.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wikileaks and the Western Sahara

As in various regions of the world, the Maghreb has not been immune to Wikileaks. The leaked cables provide some empirical insight into the politics of the region and the interplay of power between different states of the Maghreb. Over the next few blog posts, I will attempt to condense some of these leaks as they pertain to the Maghreb region. Today, I came across an interesting exchange during a February 2008 meeting between Tunisian President Zine al-'Abidine ben 'Ali and US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch about regional and bilateral relations in the Maghreb.

According to the leaked cable from March 2008, Ben 'Ali blamed Algeria for obstructing the resolution of the conflict in the Western Sahara. The Tunisian president also claimed that Algeria has to come to the full realization that there will never be an independent Sahrawi state in the Western Sahara. The conflict, according to Ben 'Ali, is complex and will not be resolved through the UN Security Council. Moreover, the cable also states that Ben 'Ali tried to summon a Maghrebi summit on the Western Sahara, which both Libya and Morocco agreed to, but was met with Algeria's rejection.

The following is the full quote from the leaked cable:
On the Western Sahara, Ben Ali said the Algerians are responsible for the ongoing impasse. Welch agreed, saying the issue was blocking progress in the region. He said the Algerians need to accept that there is not going to be an independent state in the Western Sahara. Ben Ali said the problem is complex, and will take years to resolve. He added it cannot be settled through the UN Security Council. He noted Tunisia had tried to convene a Maghreb meeting on it in Tunis. While Morocco and Libya had agreed to attend, Algeria refused, saying there was nothing to discuss.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Arab Democracy?

A recent article in the Economist on the state of the political progress in the Arab world singles out a few Maghrebi states with much consternation. Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya continue on their path of "cyclical" political reforms, introducing sheepish reforms as a safety valve to deflect mounting social unrest. As the Article states, many explanations are advanced for the democratic deficit in the region. But whether they are religious, structural or cultural, millions of Arabs still live under the yoke of autocratic regimes devoid of free, fair, competitive elections (recent farcical Egyptian elections are a case in point), rule of law, and basic individual and group liberties.

The question that concerns this blogger is how long can the current dictatorial regimes maintain this facade of political reforms? Many have long written obituaries of Arab regimes, republican and monarchical. However, Arab leaders have proven resilient and adept at crafting ingenuous political ways to sustain their rule. Arab Sheikhdoms still gamble on oil rent in exchange of political contestation, while republican regimes have carefully restructured the political sphere in their countries. Libya just recently celebrated the 41st year anniversary of the "Brother Leader's" revolutionary coup. The Economist recently featured an article on the looming succession struggle between Qaddafi's sons Seif al-Islam and al-Mu'tassim Billah.

The panoply of manipulation ranges from electoral engineering, management of the opposition to mere old style coercion. All Arab regimes feature a variation of these strategies. Elections are mere instances to renew the regime's solid control of the political system. Opposition is often barred from contesting electoral races, often prosecuted and jailed on trumped-up charges. More alarming is the shrinking space for political dissent and freedom of the press and expression. In the past few months, several newspapers, journalists and blogs bore the brunt of the state's might and censorship.