Abdelmalek Alaoui is a contributor for Forbes and writes about North Africa, the US and International Relations.
Three years have elapsed since a Tunisian fruit vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, triggered the biggest social and political upheaval of modern times in the Arab world by setting himself on fire. This turmoil, which would afterwards be called the “Arab Spring,” brought many promises to the people of the region. However, if it did help score some progress with regard to freedom of speech, it failed to deliver on peace, stability, and most of all on democracy.
The Arab revolutions in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt brought to power Islamists who soon proved that they did not have the same economic DNA as their Turkish cousins of the AKP. Indeed, despite AKP’s recent setbacks and the massive popular protest aiming at the destitution of Recep Tayyip Erdogan , Turkey’s AKP was able, ten years ago, to introduce massive economic reforms and to put the country on the path of emergence .
That has not been the case in North Africa where two major dynamics are now characterizing the new landscape of Maghreb geopolitics.
The first dynamic is the return of the traditional “elites”, composed of the military in Egypt and Libya, and of technocrats in Tunisia, embodied by Mehdi Jomaa.
The military and the technocrats are no new elites in North Africa. For over fifty years, they have been playing key roles in the region. For many analysts, their comeback is fueled by two main factors: the fear of instability and the quest for economic expertise in order to get Arab countries back on track. Yet, the return of North Africa’s old elites was only made possible by the combination of the fail of the Islamists’ experiment in ruling a country, and the support of economic forces that feared for their business in case instability continues.
In Tunisia, Jomaa’s start as head of government is so encouraging that the Islamists of Ennahda are contemplating the possibility to keep him as prime minister, even if they were to win the elections in November .
In short, Tunisian islamists want to win the elections but are ready to let go the executive power, at least temporarily.
Beyond internal transformations, the second major dynamic in North Africa is an external policy shift, especially of the two countries of its western facade, Morocco and Algeria.
There is intense historic rivalry between the two neighbors, fueled by a major dispute over the status of Western Sahara as well as a competition on who’s going to become the region’s dominant power.
Algeria and Morocco, which have both escaped the “Arab spring” unscathed-although for very different reasons- have both embarked on strategy shifts to magnify their leadership.
Morocco is clearly using the economy as its major vector of influence. The North African country is heading southwards, trying to design a new economic partnership with Africa, as clearly evidenced by the Moroccan King’s numerous journeys in West Africa .
For the Moroccan monarch, who’s about to celebrate his fifteenth year in power, a new agenda focused on Africa is clearly in the making, and all economic actors, including Moroccan multinational companies, are expected to follow the trend.
For Algeria, the main concern is to secure its southern borders with the Sahel and at the same time to become the security “power broker” of the region, mainly through cooperation with the US and mediation between rebel groups .
Another major concern for the Algerians is to amend the constitution the soonest possible in order to create the position of Vice President and thus secure the next presidential transition without holding elections. Many experts fear that Abdelaziz Bouteflika- who suffered last year a massive cerebral stroke and is since then on a wheelchair- will not be able to finish his mandate.
Algerians hate uncertainty more than anything else, so the new constitution was put on a fast-track led by Bouteflika’s Chief of staff and former prime minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, who will probably become Algeria’s next VP.
Overall, the new face of North Africa’s geopolitics may well serve individual countries’ agendas, but it is clearly hurting regional integration, which is the key to speeding up global development of the Maghreb.