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BRUSSELS - European Parliament gave its green light on Wednesday to the new generation of the pre-accession funding instrument that will help seven countries better prepare to meet the obligations of future EU membership. Worth 14.2 billion euro, the 2021-2027 Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA III) will support the implementation of EU-related reforms in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Turkey.

The general objective of IPA III is to support these countries in adopting and implementing the political, institutional, legal, administrative, social and economic reforms required to comply with Union values and to progressively align with the EU’s rules, standards and policies (the ‘acquis’).


Conditionality and increased role of the Parliament


This fund, the third generation of the IPA, can alter or suspend assistance if the respect of 'fundamental' values – democracy, human rights and rule of law - deteriorates. As a result, receiving funds from the IPA will become conditional upon a country’s respect for these values.

The revised performance-based instrument will pursue goals of climate and environmental protection, human rights and gender equality. Assistance among the donors will be better coordinated, and civil society organisations and local and regional authorities will be more closely involved.

Parliament will ensure increased democratic scrutiny through its involvement in defining some of the instrument’s objectives and thematic priorities. This includes the delegated acts procedure and a regular geopolitical dialogue with the Commission.

Afghanistan Will Not Make Europe a Defence Player

By JUDY DEMPSEY, Carnegie Europe, 07 September 2021

Blaming NATO and the United States for the West’s failure in Afghanistan won’t help Europe establish a credible security and defence policy. Its continued absence leaves the EU’s citizens and neighbourhoods vulnerable

 

The European Union thrives in every crisis.

That’s what European leaders want to believe. Crises, they say, galvanise the bloc. They give a push for more integration. They help the EU develop what it has long lacked: a credible defence and security policy. That, supposedly, is now the lesson of Afghanistan for the Europeans, judging by the meeting of EU foreign ministers in Slovenia on September 2-3.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said Afghanistan had “shown in a striking way that deficiencies in EU capacity to act autonomously comes with a price.”

As if those deficiencies were not well-known: weak capabilities, duplication, the lobbying power of defence industries, and the overriding lack of trust and divisions among member states when it comes to defining security ambitions and threats.

Borrell said the only way forward was “to combine our forces and strengthen not only our capabilities, but also our will to act.”

This means—and here we go with the same refrain—“enhancing our capacity to respond to hybrid challenges, covering key capability gaps, including logistic transport, raising the level of readiness through joint military training and developing new tools like the 5,000 people Initial Entry Force that we are discussing actually.”

Borrell added that such an entry force “would have helped us to provide a security perimeter for the evacuation of European Union citizens in Kabul.” Was it asked in Slovenia why no member state had suggested that in the first place, given the instability of Afghanistan?

As for the idea of a rapid reaction force, EU leaders have been talking about it for over two decades.

At the Saint-Malo summit in 1998 former British prime minister Tony Blair and French president Jacques Chirac announced the “headline goals” for European defence. They wanted Europe to have no less than sixty thousand soldiers at its disposal for peacekeeping and other missions.

This were spurred by the wars in the former Yugoslavia that exposed the EU’s non-military response. It was left up to NATO, or rather, the United States to bomb Serb targets to stop the ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians.

The headline goals were downsized in 2003, at the height of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Nothing came of those plans either. In 2007, a special EU Battlegroup concept was introduced. That plan never got off the ground.

Despite the war in Syria, the highly dangerous conflict in Mali, and other trouble spots that directly affect European security, EU leaders have collectively been unwilling and unable to complement the bloc’s economic clout with military strength.

Why not? It’s not for lack of trying, particularly by France. President Emmanuel Macron has repeatedly proposed the need for a strong European defence capability and if needed a European army, or some coalitions of the willing.

When former U.S. president Donald Trump lambasted NATO for being “obsolete,” Europeans sought refuge in the vague language of “strategic autonomy.” The reality is that the Europeans have only themselves—not NATO or the United States—to blame for not thinking and acting strategically.

Strategy doesn’t come easy for European states, whether they are EU or NATO members—and the majority of European countries are both.

Without the United States, NATO is a strategic pygmy. And with the exception of France—now that Britain has left the bloc—the EU lacks strategic foresight. It cannot defend itself. The United States is its security guarantor, whether the Europeans like it or not.

The European caucus in NATO is no advertisement for the EU pursuing strategic autonomy. If that caucus was more coherent, more politically motivated, and more open in its relationship with the United States, it could be beneficial to NATO, the EU, and the union’s neighbours.

NATO and the EU are trying to work more closely together. But their intrinsically different cultures get in the way of creating genuine trust and cooperation. The EU is obsessed with the woolly concept of crisis management and the belief that a dose of soft power is the panacea for all problems. NATO is anchored in hard power. Even then, it has botched it up, in Libya, in Afghanistan, and even closer to home in Kosovo. It’s hard to believe that since 1999 NATO forces are still deployed in this part of Europe.

So where does this leave Europe’s response to the debacle in Afghanistan?

Apart from the immense difficulties of state-building, if the EU really wants to have a rapid reaction force, the capabilities and command structures are already at its disposal.

The special Berlin Plus arrangements, agreed back in 2002 gave the EU access to NATO’s collective assets and capabilities for the EU’s own military operations. It was aimed at avoiding duplication and competition. Above all, it would have given the EU and NATO a real chance to strengthen the European dimension of the Alliance.

The Biden administration wants the Europeans to take on more responsibility for their defence. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary general, should embrace this idea instead of believing it would be a direct challenge to the Alliance. And if that means, as German defence minister Annegret Kamp-Karrenbauer suggested, Europe establishing coalitions of the willing, why not, provided costs are shared.

This debate has yet to begin, leaving Europe’s citizens and its neighbours in a defence and security limbo. So much for a crisis precipitating a European strategic culture.

 

 

 

Study says China use investments to buy influence in Central, Eastern Europe

By Reid Standish

SOFIA - A new report has found a correlation between the influx of Chinese capital into a country and a negative impact on its environment and the quality of governance.

The study -- published by the Bulgarian-based Center for the Study of Democracy on September 9 -- says Beijing's growing economic footprint in Central and Eastern Europe over the last decade has coincided with a drop in legal and governance standards and raises concerns about the environment and rising debt levels in the region.

The report is the first wide-ranging study of China's expanding presence in Central and Eastern Europe, which has seen Beijing become the region's largest trading partner.

China's influential footprint was made possible by the influx of an estimated $14 billion in grants, loans, mergers, and economic concessions since 2009 and an estimated $50 billion in infrastructure, energy, and telecommunications projects that are either currently under way or awaiting implementation.

The research also shows that the more financially tied to China a nation becomes and the higher the share of its gross domestic product is made up of Chinese investment, "the higher the likelihood" that China has exploited problems with the rule of law to expand "its economic and political influence."

"It's a vicious cycle where authoritarian countries like China take advantage of legal loopholes and corrupt practices to expand their influence on the ground," Martin Vladimirov, one of the report's authors who directs the Center for the Study of Democracy's energy and climate program, told RFE/RL. "These networks allow for more capital to enter, which leads to a greater drop off. The data shows a very strong correlation between the flow of Chinese money and a declining quality of governance."

This connection is measured through the institution's Chinese Economic Power Index, which aims to show the full scope of China's economic influence. Regional growth has been uneven, with the bulk of Beijing's expanded clout focused on the Czech Republic, Hungary, and the Western Balkans -- primarily Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia.

According to the report's findings, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hungary, Montenegro, and Serbia have experienced the most noticeable drops in those categories in connection to increased Chinese investment, with Beijing-backed companies receiving tax exemptions, the ability to bypass local labor laws, and other forms of preferential treatment.

The study adds that especially in the Western Balkans, "local companies with close ties to the governments in the region have been lobbying directly for the implementation of [Chinese] projects," with many of these local businesses holding a strong commercial interest to act "as a bridge between China and the national governments."

"All these activities are technically legal," said Vladimirov. "The overall effect is that government institutions no longer regulate the Chinese companies, and these institutions stop serving the public interest and instead help private ones in the form of politically connected conglomerates or local oligarchs."


'A Very Effective Backdoor'


China's presence in Central and Eastern Europe looms large, particularly in the Balkans, where the country has invested billions in recent years and raised concerns in Western policy circles about the region becoming financially dependent on Beijing.

Serbia, where Belgrade has functioned as an economic and political hub for Beijing to expand across the Western Balkans, is a notable example of this, according to the report, with the country working as a showcase for various Chinese initiatives -- from telecommunications and surveillance technologies to public health amid the coronavirus pandemic -- that can be adopted by neighboring countries.

But many Chinese projects across the region have been pushed into the spotlight recently amid controversy over nontransparent contracts and accusations of corruption during the tender process.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has faced protests and political pressure from Budapest's mayor after it was revealed that his government planned to take out a $1.5 billion loan from a Chinese bank to build a local campus for Shanghai's Fudan University.

A long-delayed $1 billion highway project in Montenegro also made international headlines and was at the center of debate about Chinese influence in Europe after the small Balkan nation revealed it would be unable to pay its debt to the Export-Import Bank of China. In addition to being behind schedule, the highway faced criticism over inflated costs and an overreliance on Chinese workers.

Ultimately, Podgorica received debt assistance from a collection of U.S. and European institutions to help stabilize its finances and meet its loan payments.

"Central and Eastern Europe have been a very effective backdoor for Chinese businesses to expand across Europe and the European Union," said Vladimirov. "It's part of a long-term strategy."


Environmental Concerns


The report also finds that China's economic rise has led to a growing share of coal-fired power used to generate electricity in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as cost-cutting and lowered environmental standards for projects across the region.

In addition to debt concerns, Montenegro's controversial highway has also been in the crosshairs of activists over environmental damage that construction has brought to the UNESCO-protected Tara River.

Similarly, environmental damage caused by a Chinese-owned copper mine near the Serbian city of Bor has led to complaints of and protests over pollution, forcing the company to temporarily halt its operations.

The report cautions that the increased carbon emissions and Chinese investment into coal could also impede the aspirations of Western Balkan countries wanting to join the EU. The bloc has unveiled ambitious plans to phase out coal use over the next decade, as well as targets to reduce carbon emissions for 2030 and 2050.

"China isn't trying to stop countries from joining the EU," said Vladimirov, "but the laws and policies that are being adopted to facilitate Chinese investment indirectly undermine the accession process for many countries."

Russian-origin Muslims in Western Europe

International Crisis Group, 30 July 2021

As migration increases, European nations are fine-tuning their asylum and resettlement policies, including toward the Russian Muslims who have been heading west for decades. These countries should continue enhancing information for migrants and community policing to make sure that stereotypes stay out of their decisions.

 

What’s new? The diverse Russian-origin Muslim communities in Schengen zone countries face increasing pressure from once-welcoming governments, which are now increasingly likely to view them as dangerous and linked to terrorism or crime.

Why does it matter? While real concerns exist in some cases, European authorities risk compounding humanitarian harm if they make refugee, asylum and other decisions about this population on the basis of erroneous or inadequate information.

What should be done? Many Schengen zone countries have already set policies that are sensitive to Russian-origin Muslims’ various needs. Nevertheless, all can do more to prevent the hardening of stereotypes, improve information access, and take care when it comes to extradition and deportation of those at risk.

 

I. Overview


Substantial numbers of Muslim migrants from Russia have been settling in Europe for decades. The biggest recent flows, consisting mostly of people from the North Caucasus, followed the Soviet Union’s collapse and the ensuing wars in Chechnya and neighbouring regions. Warmly welcomed, Russian-origin Muslim communities in Schengen zone countries grew quickly. Those in France, Germany and Austria are now tens of thousands strong, and experts estimate the total number of Russian-origin Muslims in the European Union (EU) at 200,000.

These people have both integrated into host country societies and developed their own political and social institutions. But there are challenges. Vulnerable individuals require protection, including sometimes from violence emanating from within the population. Stigma may lead authorities to deny refuge to newcomers in genuine need. Governments already working to address these problems should focus on ensuring that immigration procedures are fair, that local authorities understand Russian-origin Muslims’ specific needs and that migrants receive the support they need to thrive.

European countries have seen a change in migration trends with respect to Russian-origin Muslims over the past three decades. If flows of the 1990s and early 2000s consisted primarily of Chechen nationalists fleeing war, today’s new migrants represent wide ranges of religious and political belief, and their migration reflects a more varied set of dangers and other motivations. In some cases, schisms within the migrant community, such as those between the more and the less religious, or between those who define their politics in part through opposition to or support for Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, create substantial tension and even strife.

Some community members support militant political action, even if most do not. Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ persons of Russian-origin Muslim ancestry often find themselves unsafe even in Europe, due to sometimes violent pressure from compatriots to conform to gender norms. All these factors make for a dynamic picture that combines isolation and integration, generational divides and mutual support networks.

At the same time, faced with an influx of refugees from around the world, Europe’s 26 Schengen zone countries have adapted their asylum, refugee and law enforcement practices. Russian-origin Muslims are among the communities they now view with some concern, fearing ties to the Islamic State (ISIS) or criminal groups among both newcomers and settled populations. While some migrants are, indeed, linked to violent and/or criminal groups, most are not. The challenge for both communities and authorities, then, is simultaneously to ensure long-term security and prosperity, avoid arbitrary decisions based on stereotyping and ethnic profiling, and protect the rights and interests of the host country, the communities and their individual members.

As European authorities continue to refine their immigration, asylum and law enforcement policies, many are working closely with existing communities, including Muslim migrants from Russia. But stereotypes can continue to creep into policies and practices. Host nations should continue to enhance the security of all residents by emphasising community policing, improved information flows to new and prospective migrants, and diligent review of extradition and deportation requests.

This paper is part of a series that Crisis Group is publishing on the Russian-origin Muslim diaspora. It describes how this population has made new lives in Schengen zone countries, with an emphasis on France, Germany and Austria. It assesses the variety of challenges faced by these communities and recommends measures that authorities can take to improve their own approaches to both migration and interaction with a diverse and complex population.

The series also includes an overview report and entries that focus on the origins, evolution and status of the Russian-origin Muslim populations in Turkey, Georgia and Ukraine. The series draws on well over 100 interviews, virtual and in person, with migrants, authorities, civil society figures and experts in destination and transit countries as well as in Russia. It pairs insights from these interviews with data gleaned from academic literature, media reporting and NGO accounts. It also benefits from Crisis Group’s years of research and analysis in many of the countries concerned, including Russia, Ukraine, Georgia and Turkey.


II. Geography


Among Schengen zone countries, France, Germany and Austria have been the most popular destinations for Russian-origin Muslim migrants since the early 2000s, when these people began leaving Russia in larger numbers.

Most members of Russian-origin Muslim communities, now hundreds of thousands strong, came to the West from Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus, such as Ingushetia and Dagestan. Much smaller numbers came from central Russia and other parts of the country. Russian-origin Muslims have tended to settle in clusters in Western Europe, with concentrations in France around Paris, Strasbourg and Nice; in Germany in Berlin, Brandenburg, Hamburg and Cologne; and in Austria around Vienna, Graz and Linz. Smaller communities also exist in Belgium as well as in Nordic countries, including Norway and Sweden. In recent years, these settlements have grown both because of continuing waves of migration from the North Caucasus and because of natural increase.

It is difficult to find useful data on Russian-origin Muslims in Schengen zone countries, because different countries track immigration differently or not at all, making the numbers hard to compare. One reason they do so is that, as discussed below, migrants from outside Chechnya have at times – particularly during periods of hot conflict – claimed to be Chechens on arrival in a Schengen zone country in the hope of improving their chances of obtaining asylum.

Another reason is that analysts and authorities sometimes conflate North Caucasians of non-Chechen origin, and sometimes all Russian-origin Muslims, with Chechens, and/or count only those they see as Chechens. Against that backdrop, an estimate presented by DOSH magazine and based on unofficial data puts the Chechen diaspora in the EU at roughly 200,000 people – a figure that may include at least some number of Russian-origin Muslim migrants whose ancestry is not Chechen.

To break things down by country for some of the largest populations: in Germany, where most Chechens and other Muslims from Russia live in Berlin and Brandenburg, assessments tend to estimate what they define as the Chechen population at between 50,000 and 60,000 people.
In France, authorities do not collect data on ethnicity, but the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons indicated in 2019 that 16,120 Russians have some form of protected status (mainly asylum) and that most of them are Chechens. Experts, however, believe the number of Chechens in France to be similar to that in Germany or a bit larger, roughly 65,000 to 70,000 people including undocumented migrants.

Austria may have the largest proportion, within the Schengen zone, of North Caucasus refugees as a share of its overall population. Large communities live in Vienna, Graz, Linz, Carinthia, Steiermark and Tyrol. In 2020, the Austrian Information Resource estimated the number of Chechens in Austria at around 35,000 out of a total population of just under 9 million. (By comparison, the populations of Germany and France are just over 83 million and 67 million, respectively.


III. Faith, Ideology and Schisms


Religious and political views among recent Muslim immigrants from Russia in Western Europe vary greatly. Differences align substantially, if imperfectly, with immigrants’ reasons for migration, as well as age, gender and other factors. Nationalists who fled Russia with the demise of the secular Chechen state they had hoped to build tend to remain secular and focused on Chechen independence.

Fundamentalists who fled in part to practice their specific Islamic beliefs are, by definition, more religious, and some are interested in global Islamic political movements. A number of young people born and/or raised in Western, Northern or Central Europe have also embraced fundamentalist Islam, and some of them, too, are interested in global and local political Islam, though others are not. Other young people, by contrast, have little interest in religion or politics tied to it.

The dream of an independent Chechnya, or Ichkeria, led to the first Chechen war (1994-1996). That war ended a self-proclaimed independent state under the leadership of Dzhokhar Dudaev. The second war, which began in 1999, lasted a decade. At its end, strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, aligned with Moscow, was at the helm of the region, and many of those who had fought him had fled the country.

In many Schengen zone countries, these immigrants were viewed as persecuted dissidents, and welcomed warmly by both the authorities and the public. Prominent leaders of the movement formed what they called a “government in exile” in their new homes, led by London-based Akhmet Zakayev, the former prime minister of the self-proclaimed Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Zakayev’s followers view themselves as the successors to the briefly independent Chechen government and the representatives of the global Chechen community.

Because people affiliated with these movements were at the core of migration into Europe, secular Chechen nationalism was for many years the dominant ideological viewpoint among Russian-origin Muslims in EU countries. Today, however, its influence has faded in the face of an increasingly religious community seized with a broader set of political causes.

Community members and scholars agree that religiosity has grown among Russian-origin migrants. Both debate the reasons and the demographic breakdowns. One scholar reports that younger people are generally more religious than their Soviet-raised elders. Other scholars suggest that education may also play a role, such that younger and less educated Chechen women, in Norway, at least, are more attracted by Islamic law and practices than customary ones.

One migrant, however, said women from Chechnya living in Norway are more religious, on average, than those in France, arguing that the former are more likely to choose faith as a form of political expression or rebellion against more secular parents. Another migrant emphasises the fact of migration itself, rather than age, gender or education, hypothesising that people “came to adopt Islam after they migrated to Europe … because of information access”. In Europe, she explained, people can easily find a variety of teachings and viewpoints online and in person, without fear of drawing the authorities’ attention, an increasing risk in Russia.

Some of this religious discovery happens largely within the Russian-origin community. Some does not. In countries such as Germany, Belgium and Austria, where the Russian-origin Muslim populations are large, the migrants run mosques and centres that primarily serve their compatriots. Most Russian-origin Muslim migrants in the Schengen zone, however, attend multi-ethnic mosques.

Increased religiosity has affected how individuals view the struggle in Chechnya and the North Caucasus more broadly, weakening the role of secularism among Chechen nationalists. Many up-and-coming activists in Europe, for example, emphasise an Islamic vision for the region’s future: they want a new Chechen state to be Islamic as well as independent.

At the same time, political organisations that unite secular and religious Russian-origin migrants and emphasise working with host country institutions to forward community interests have become increasingly influential. The Bart Marsho Association, headquartered in France, aims to bring together Chechens living in Europe and to counter what it terms “extremism” in their ranks.
The Assembly of Chechens of Europe, created in Strasbourg in 2019, has similar aims.

The organisers of these groups reject Zakayev’s leadership and express frustration with the self-proclaimed government in exile. In the words of one migrant:

The Zakayevites say only they have a right to represent the Chechens. Their official site published a resolution requiring all associations that represent Chechens in Europe to register with some kind of ministry of justice of theirs [laughs]. We, of course, immediately replied that we would not do this in any way, because, firstly, their ministry has no legal basis, and we will register only where we are – in the countries where we are located. Creating some other kind of legal structure would be a sort of separatism. ... They say: “Come here, you should be with us” ... not alongside us, but under our leadership, subject to our supervision and accountable to us, such that we will check everything you do.

Not everyone is a member of one of these circles. Members and allies of the armed jamaat structure of the anti-Russian insurgency in Chechnya, Dagestan and neighbouring parts of the North Caucasus, and the Caucasus Emirate which replaced it, part ways with both secular Chechen nationalists and host nation-focused political groups.

More than a few fundamentalists, secularists and others who are simply uninterested in politics disagree ideologically with all of the above.

The sharpest divide among migrants in Europe, however, may be between those whose politics and ideological sympathies are limited to the North Caucasus, whether their methods are violent or not, and their compatriots who both take a more global view and support militant groups such as ISIS. Among Russian-origin Muslims, some ISIS affiliates and sympathisers are from the second generation, the one raised in Europe. They discovered fundamentalism and violent political ideologies on the internet or through social networks, both those limited to people with roots in Russia and those that were more international.

Some then travelled to Syria. Ideologically, this group has much in common with people who followed similar paths in Russia (whether they took up arms there or not), but who did not fight in Syria, having instead migrated to Europe. But their opinions also put them at odds with many other Russian-origin Muslims, whose views can be summarised by the words of a man who has long lived in Denmark: “A whole division of Chechens died in someone else’s war in Syria”.

Although numbers are disputed, one migrant from Chechnya believes the numbers of ISIS affiliates born in Schengen zone countries exceed those of natives of Russia. One migrant told Crisis Group:

More people went to Syria from here [Austria, Germany, France, Poland] than from Chechnya and the North Caucasus. I know six people from Poland who died in Syria. I knew them personally. ... They left, they said goodbye to me, they gave their things away [and] gave away their last €100.

Whether or not more fighters came from Europe than from Russia, Russian-origin Muslims do appear to have been overrepresented among foreign fighters coming to Syria from EU countries. According to official estimates, they accounted for roughly 5 to 8 per cent of the foreign fighter contingents in Syria from Germany, Belgium and France, a high number given their small proportion of the overall immigrant population.
Meanwhile, 40 to 50 per cent of foreign fighters from Austria were Russian migrants. One reason may have been that ISIS and other militant recruiters were effective in targeting Russian-origin Muslims in both EU countries and Russia. A migrant in Vienna told Crisis Group: “The propaganda was superbly staged. There were imams and preachers. There were videos in Chechen and in Russian saying: ‘Come’”. Some, he said, also saw the fight in Syria as part and parcel of, or training for, an eventual fight in Chechnya: “They had the will to fight and were not able to go to the Chechen Republic. ... I remember they wanted to go to Syria in order to then go to Chechnya. … Such naive plans”.

Today, with the ISIS caliphate (though not the organisation itself) defeated in Syria, researchers and authorities see less evidence of active recruiting among this community.
But the internet remains a primary means by which people research ideologies and connect with one another, building new networks. “If one preacher says things that do not agree with their passions, their desires or their point of view on some issue, then the youth instantly find another preacher who supports their point of view”, a migrant living in Nice told Crisis Group.

Some community members worry that this “ideology shopping” leads young people, especially, toward more and more extreme views, and perhaps actions, rather than religious study and understanding.
ISIS-affiliated views can still be found on the internet, as can the perspectives of fundamentalists opposed to them, such as that of Abdulla Kostekskii, a Caucasus Emirate leader based in Turkey who has a large following in the Schengen zone and who lauded the murderer of French schoolteacher Samuel Paty. Still, if the internet is a starting point for many, in-person interactions also play a role. Scholars report that government sources identified many Muslim migrants from Russia as active members of what those sources termed extremist circles which met at underground mosques in Berlin (Perleberger Straße), Graz (Taqwa) and other European cities between 2013 and 2016. Chechens also reportedly dominated similar circles in the German city of Bremen.

Another critical dividing line is that between people tied in various ways to Chechnya’s government, led by Ramzan Kadyrov, and those opposed to it, and often to Russia’s national leadership, on political, religious or other grounds. Many in the opposition have faced serious persecution as a result and a substantial number of people left Russia due to pressure from and fear of local or federal authorities. Migrants report that Kadyrov has a large network of loyalists in EU countries who migrated there, sometimes under false pretences, in part to ensure his economic and political influence over compatriots in Europe.
Kadyrov’s people, they say, are particularly active in the German cities of Kiel and Cologne. Indeed, many Chechens and other North Caucasians believe that Kadyrov-linked networks are responsible for a series of assassinations of migrants, especially those critical of Kadyrov, in Austria, Germany, France and Sweden.

Many migrants said they fear Kadyrov-linked networks. Indeed, a few people cited such worries as their reason to decline conversations with Crisis Group.
Community members said, moreover, that they cannot be certain who among them might be linked to Kadyrov and how. Even those who faced oppression often left family and friends behind in Russia, with whom they maintain ties. Like other migrants, those from Russia send money home to support relatives, and some estimate that remittances from abroad may account for a quarter of real estate investment in Chechnya.

Moreover, those whose reasons for leaving had more to do with family reunification, opportunity or other factors unrelated to the government see no reason not to have business and other relationships with people in Russia, including those tied to Kadyrov. As one man told Crisis Group:

Those who are loyal to the Kadyrov regime are more secretive. If they hang out with the Ichkerians somewhere, they will never say that they support Kadyrov. For example, I have never met anyone who would say directly to my face that Kadyrov is a good person. [Meanwhile,] different people go home [to Chechnya], and it is not necessarily true that those who go home are loyal to Kadyrov. People, who are not wanted [on criminal charges] there and so on, they can and do go home. They have families there: father, mother, relatives. [They] build their houses, put their farms in order, then they go back – such a situation exists. It’s a fuzzy line.


IV. Society


In EU countries, government officials and journalists often portray Chechen and other North Caucasus communities as very closed and tightly knit.
But these communities are also extremely diverse. While most members indeed remain close to others from Russia, many, especially those who grew up in host countries, are no less connected to other networks.

But the ties that do exist make it possible for the community to enforce social mores, provide services and organise politically.

Social behaviour correlates with religious and political ideologies and with migration waves and age, although the relationships are imperfect. People who came at the start of the second Chechen war are less insular than those who came later, but more insular, for the most part, than their own children and grandchildren. The very religious may be more likely to stick together – but not always with compatriots from Russia. A variety of factors, including, first and foremost, a culture that emphasises family and community closeness, tie migrants from the North Caucasus to one another.

Shared beliefs, traditions, foods, languages and experiences also play a role. So do similar experiences of trauma experienced in Russia, in the process of leaving Russia and in destination countries. Continued ties with family members and others in Russia, alignment with or fear of the Kadyrov government and its emissaries in Europe, and the benefits of having a business and social network rather than starting from scratch also perpetuate close relationships.

The Soviet-born secular Chechen nationalists who came in the early 2000s tend to maintain close ties with one another. They often share a history of participation in the nationalist and independence movements in the last years of the Soviet Union and during the first Chechen war.

Not all are Chechen: many ethnic Kumyks and other Dagestan natives participated in the first Chechen war and came to Europe alongside the Chechens. Most of those migrants received residency and work permits in EU countries soon after their arrival and have not had particular financial difficulties. They send their children to local schools and, while they encourage them to learn their ancestral languages and visit family still in Russia, they feel that they are raising young Europeans. Longstanding migrants are also likely to have business partners and friends who are not Russian-origin Muslims. Some of their children have married outside the communities.

The most insular Muslim migrants from Russia to the EU tend to be those who left Russia due to real or perceived religious persecution or because they took part in the insurgency in the North Caucasus. For example, many Ingush and Dagestanis came following the violent repression of Salafism in the North Caucasus in the 2010s.

Many fundamentalists were tortured or threatened by security forces, compelling them to seek refuge in Western Europe. Among them, veterans of the Chechen wars and the Caucasus Emirate travelled to Europe to flee Russia’s counter-insurgency campaign. The veterans and witnesses of combat are often traumatised, and some have recurring health problems as a result of conflict and related privation. Some experienced torture. Many also had an incomplete or interrupted education. “The generation born in the 1980s who mainly fought in the second Chechen war never studied at school; it is most difficult for them to adapt”, explained a Vienna-based migrant from Chechnya.

Post-traumatic stress disorder can impede integration into host countries. In Poland, which most Russian-origin Muslims traverse to reach Western Europe, very few mental health resources are available to migrants. Although other European countries offer more, trauma is a consistent factor in many migrants’ lives. Aside from contributing to distrust of government institutions or law enforcement agencies, it can manifest in social and family interactions, crime, domestic violence and self-harm. 

Although the majority of the Russian-origin Muslims in Europe define themselves as religious, more recent migrants are perceived as very religiously observant, either because they were raised as such by religious parents or because they found their way to faith through friends, the internet or other means.
One migrant said: “Here [in France] I began to read, gain knowledge [about Islam]. I noticed that many began to consciously come to Islam after immigration. Access to websites and online sources is not restricted here. ... For example, the [internet forum] that I used, which was called the Sala forum, was closed by law enforcement agencies in Russia. Over there, one cannot get access at all”. Some of these young people are socially affiliated with primarily Russian-origin fundamentalist networks, while others find multi-ethnic communities.

At times, young people’s religious awakening causes tension with secular parents, who fear there may be a path from religious fundamentalism to alignment with ISIS or other militant groups.

Some parents and other community members view such newfound religiosity as rebellious. Said one Paris-based migrant:

Young women are wearing hijab as a form of protest or rebellion. They’re a community of their own. They found one another. They show up for all the events, dancing Chechen dances in their hijab, odd as that is. But they are mentally the same as they were before – they still want to dance. … It has more to do with protest against their parents, who wanted them to be secular but control their lives in other ways.

Secular, comparatively young Muslim migrants from Russia who were either born in EU countries or arrived there as children and people who fled persecution in the North Caucasus or elsewhere in Russia for their sexual orientation are often well integrated in host nation societies. Many have attended schools and colleges in the EU. While people in this category build close ties with a range of others, many also have family ties with compatriots. Some, in effect, live in “two worlds”, adopting traditional cultural practices when with their families and contemporary European youth culture at school, at work and in other social situations.

But if some maintain parallel social circles, others simply avoid their compatriots. Some people, for instance, fear attack or persecution linked to their sexual orientation or gender expression. Secular or not, North Caucasian cultures are traditionally highly patriarchal, with tightly defined gender roles, although of course individual realities vary greatly. This phenomenon manifests also in substantial burdens on women. One academic specialist told Crisis Group: “Women are under huge pressure to perform according to rules and customs of their heritage”.
But regardless of gender, people whose behaviour is out of line with these norms may face rejection, and even physical harm, from relatives who see them as having brought the family dishonour.

Patriarchal attitudes are not limited to older generations. In recent years, self-styled “morality police” have appeared among ethnic Chechens, particularly in France and Germany. These young men try to intimidate other young people, often women, whom they accuse of misconduct.
One man said he received social media threats after posting a comment on his Instagram page denouncing the oppression of women in the Caucasus, and that a friend faced online harassment after posting a photograph of herself with a man wearing an earring. A scholar describes videos posted online by ethnic Chechens in Germany in which they threaten to punish fellow community members, mainly women, for flirting with non-Chechen men or frequenting discotheques. The enforcers tend to target Chechens, rather than Muslims, or even Russian-origin Muslims, in general. But their attacks accentuate the pressure on secular young adults to adjust their behaviour when they are with other community members, to avoid being targeted or endangering their friends.

All these difficulties are especially acute for those identified as lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual, or otherwise queer and/or gender nonconforming. Some community members Crisis Group talked to reject the very notion that there are Russian-origin Muslim LGBTQ+ people.
In Russia, LGBTQ+-identified people can face substantial dangers from local authorities, the communities in which they live and their families. Repression is particularly severe in Chechnya, where an organised 2017-2018 crackdown on gay and bisexual men drew international public attention. Victims told Crisis Group of enduring threats, assaults and torture in which their own families were sometimes complicit.

Russian human rights activists told Crisis Group that young women living in the EU have been kidnapped and sent to Chechnya for “re-education” because family members were unhappy with their behaviour or lifestyle. To track down and capture these women, according to these accounts, relatives leveraged the networks that connect Russian-origin Muslims around the world, including in some cases those linked to Kadyrov. People at risk of such kidnappings have few options, especially as their experiences in Russia lead many to distrust local authorities. Even human rights groups tied to Russian-origin Muslims sometimes prove unfriendly to LGBTQ+ people. The Russian LGBTQ+ rights activists, however, recounted the tales of three cases in which, working with the relevant foreign embassies, they were able to help victims return to their destination countries.

Not surprisingly, LGBTQ+-identified individuals in Europe with roots in Russian-origin Muslim communities generally either hide their LGBTQ+ affiliation from their compatriots, avoid the latter or both. Despite the tolerance of broader European society, individuals who fled oppression and danger tied to their sexual orientation fear that compatriots will recognise them, on the bus or on the street, and subject them to physical or verbal abuse. As one man living in the Netherlands said, while he felt that Dutch authorities harbour anti-gay feelings, the real peril is from other Muslims from his homeland: “There’s no physical danger, not from the Dutch or other nationalities, but if your Chechens find out that you’re a Chechen, then there will be physical danger”. This man also noted that although he is religious, he avoids formal group prayer: “No, I don’t go to the mosque here, because in the mosque there are many Chechens” and, he added ironically, “many Muslims”.

A Russian human rights activist said this man’s behaviour was common:

They [LGBTQ+ Russian-origin Muslim migrants] theoretically understand that they can go to the police in this [a host] country, but this does not mean that they can walk the streets without fear that someone will recognise them. They do not speak the Chechen language; they avoid any common photographs at events – they live a semi-underground life. If they meet someone, for example, in a language class, they never speak Chechen so as not to betray themselves. They dye their hair, dress in the most European way, so that it would not be evident at all that they are tied to the North Caucasus.

Relatedly, the “morality policing” by some ethnic Chechens has led others to cut ties with their community. As one said, after an incident of online harassment: “I’ve lost all desire to connect to anyone or have any kind of contact with Chechens here”.
Some women pretend in public not to be Chechen, but rather from elsewhere in the North Caucasus, to avoid reproach, and one man said he had claimed to be Russian when a stranger he was confident was Chechen asked about his ethnicity in a public place.

Recognising these dangers, some European countries provide special protection for migrants who identify as LGBTQ+. According to a Russian activist, among European countries, the Netherlands has the largest number of LGBTQ+ migrants from Russian-origin Muslim communities. It offers specialised housing and support for LGBTQ+ individuals in general and, for example, for transgender people, in particular, with an eye to ensuring their security.
In Berlin, too, LGBTQ+ migrants have access to dedicated shelters, established to protect them from ostracism and violence, although there have been cases in which individuals have claimed to be LGBTQ+ even though they are not to obtain access.

The closeness of the Russian-origin Muslim community and the language gaps that keep newcomers from access to host nation services have fostered the creation of social organisations. These provide social services, advocate for community members and engage in charity. The Chechen nationalists who have been in EU countries the longest remain active, but the newer organisations, like Bart Marsho and the Assembly of Chechens of Europe, discussed above, are increasingly in the lead. In the same vein is Vayfond, a human rights group that promotes asylum access and tries to prevent deportation of migrants to Russia.
The Assembly, for its part, recently undertook a campaign accusing Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi of incitement to hatred. Estrosi had linked violence in Nice and Dijon to what he termed Chechen community efforts to maintain a monopoly on the drug trade. Estrosi later met with and apologised to community leaders.

Cultural centres, clubs and other such societies across Europe also provide various benefits, protect migrant rights and promote ethnic traditions. In Germany, several cultural centres offer activities, language lessons (Chechen, Russian, Arabic, German), and other programs to meet the needs and wants of different diaspora communities. Some are oriented around specific religious ideologies, drawing adherents to Sufiism to one centre, for example, and those sympathetic to Salafi teachings to another. A migrant who ran a German-Chechen cultural centre from 2008 to 2011 told Crisis Group:

There are many German-Chechen cultural centres here. For example, one Sufi and one following Einheitsislam where all the Sufi traditions are rejected. In both cultural centres, the Chechen language is taught so that children remain connected. They also teach Russian and Arabic. Dance is also offered as a course since it is one of the constitutive elements of Chechen culture. They also play an important role in finding a [life] partner.

Community-based structures provide for other needs as well. Chechen councils of elders offer an alternative to government and law enforcement institutions in resolving disputes within families or between community members.
These councils are dominated by secular nationalists, mainly because of their comparative age. But they also rely on Islam in some cases: “Religion is usually used by the elders’ council to convey certain messages that can help ameliorate social tensions [that is, to advance community conflict resolution]”, an expert told Crisis Group. Nonetheless, more religious migrants are more likely to turn to Islamic courts affiliated with the community.

These institutions make it possible to retain a variety of cultural practices, “a transfer of practice from the village setting in their hometowns”, as one scholar said.

They also make it possible to more directly maintain links to those villages. For instance, fundraising organised through both Chechen and multicultural Turkish-run mosques enables families to send remains of those who have died in Europe to the North Caucasus for traditional burial, something many prefer. To defray the cost, which may run up to €5,000, some purchase a sort of insurance through their mosques, which then raise the necessary money:

Every year your family pays €60, an enrollment fee. Then if a family member dies, the [mosque-affiliated] organisation covers the costs and assists with the logistics. Another organisation works differently: if a person dies, then everyone enrolled in it makes a mandatory contribution. They collect about €30 from each. ... But if a person is not enrolled anywhere ... an announcement is made on social networks. They say: “A person died. You need to send him home. Who can help?” And they immediately collect the money and send it.

Community-based solutions can be more accessible than government services and are crucial for meeting migrant-specific needs. But they can also lead to the denial of rights and safety, particularly for women and/or people who do not adhere to traditional gender roles. A specialist on this topic in Germany told Crisis Group:

When women are in trouble due to domestic violence … it is of course less likely that they will be protected. The view of the elders’ council and the community in general is that women need to concede (nachgeben) when they have conflicts with their husbands. So, the mediation role is very questionable. Others go to a trusted imam. Some who are more emancipated may apply to the government’s youth ministry (Jugendamt).

But in general, the Chechen community does not recognise these state institutions as legitimate. Sometimes, men threaten their wives who divorced them. I have heard of cases of men abducting children to pressure women not to divorce them, as well as in order to reinstate family honour after divorce. Here the German state needs to intervene; otherwise, women will be forced to remain in violent family situations.

In addition to supporting one another, Muslim migrants from Russia raise funds for and donate to charities that support co-religionists around the world. These draw on a broad ideological base. Salsabil, an international humanitarian association headquartered in Strasbourg, was founded in 2013 by Muslims from Russia. Their activities are predominantly connected to Islamic charity, and their organisers and donors are mostly Salafis.

The fundamentalist Abu Umar Sasitlinskii network, based in Turkey, is also active in EU countries. Its charitable fundraising there has helped it build thousands of wells and distribute humanitarian aid in Niger and Bangladesh.


V. Youth, Education and Integration


Mandatory education policies throughout Europe mean that the vast majority of school-age children of migrants attend secular schools. There, most are well integrated and have few problems.

At the same time, like many migrant groups, Russian-origin Muslims are often nervous about European host country educational and child welfare institutions. While many are concerned that such institutions seek to impose foreign values and norms, when they would prefer to raise their children in line with their own traditions, others have encountered real risks. Community members report cases in which the Norwegian child welfare system Barnevernet took Chechen children from their homes and placed them with foster families or in institutions.

In order to preserve traditions, religion and language, Chechens in particular have been able to leverage their substantial numbers to organise pre-school programs. In Austria, some of these kindergartens meet the criteria for state support, which they receive. One network in Vienna operates nine creches serving 160 children. In addition to caring for very small children, these programs offer courses to older students in mathematics and the Chechen language.

It is not always easy, however, to provide training in ancestral languages. According to a migrant now based in Nice:

Here it is a little difficult to open a purely Chechen kindergarten or school. Here they try, of course. There are organisations that are doing this – in Strasbourg, for example, and in other cities. Here there are also such lonely teachers of the Chechen language. Children are registered with them, but still, this is very little. There is no such mass here. It is difficult to open a separate school here.

Older children in Germany can take advantage of the German-Chechen cultural centres discussed above. There, programming targeted at youth includes classes in Russian, Chechen and Arabic language, and in folklore, culture and religion, including the Quran.


VI. Work and Economics


Not surprisingly, kinship and ethnic ties play important economic roles for Russian-origin migrants. As with many communities, members of this diaspora do business with one another, hire one another and start firms together. Over the years, the communal ties have built a substantial economic network across Europe. It includes some large firms, such as Beslan Abdmuslimov’s halal meat production and distribution plant in Daugavpils, Latvia. North Caucasian-origin meat processors in Austria buy from him and distribute halal meat products across Europe.

It also includes small businesses such as bakeries, cafés, sport centres and construction companies.

Though gender roles remain traditional in most communities, and many women are primarily homemakers, it is not rare for women to work outside the home. As with religiosity, age is a factor. One scholar writes that Chechen women in Austria in their late forties and older often became breadwinners and community leaders, perhaps because they had to be when they first arrived. Younger women, however, are now more likely to drop out of school and marry young.

Although some migrants struggle to find employment, many confirm that options exist. Says one:

You can work here. … There is a lot of work. If a person … is not lazy, if he wants to get a job or be trained, there are opportunities. … You can find a job by profession. There are many Chechens here who have opened construction firms. They work very well. In Nice, most of the Chechens are engaged in security and business. The guys work as security guards in different areas: supermarkets, even clubs. … Here Chechens are also engaged in transportation, in the tourism business, as taxi or Uber drivers. … Women mainly work in the hotels. … If you’re not a lazy person, you can get by without any problem.

Despite these successes, accusations of criminal ties seem to plague Russian-origin Muslim businesspeople. Indeed, some were embroiled in crime in Russia and have continued to be after they left.
A relatively small number of community members areengaged in criminal activity, such as protection rackets. “Chechens are involved in criminal activities particularly around markets. Some markets are controlled by Chechens, almost like parallel societies. They extort money, establish protection rackets (krisha). They are influential and violent. Other criminal organisations use them for dirty work”, explained an Austrian citizen who works closely with Chechens.

Most migrants, however, are not involved in such activities. In fact, according to community members, even those among them who committed crimes in Russia generally eschew it in the EU.

According to a specialist on Chechens in Germany, both media and authorities exaggerate the role and influence of criminal groups. Community members, for their part, are likely to speak about petty crime committed by youth, driven more by peer pressure and the desire for social cohesion than other motivations. Meanwhile, Russian-origin Muslims’ distrust of authorities and efforts to settle problems within the community can feed these perceptions. One man told Crisis Group that he landed in prison because another migrant “set me up, but I couldn’t tell the police about it” because community loyalty would not permit him to.

Moreover, even if they are not engaged in criminal acts, many recent migrants work illegally because they are ineligible for legal employment, for example, because they are awaiting a decision in asylum cases or appeal procedures. Most refugees in Germany, for instance, are given a temporary stay permit (a so-called Duldung) without a work visa. Many asylum seekers in Germany are not entitled to either work or social assistance, as full welfare support and benefits follow adjudication of legal status, which can take years. The support they receive in the meantime is reportedly meagre.

A German civil society representative working with Muslims from Russia explained:

They are very capable of integration [as people]: they are ready to work and can go through a lot despite hard living conditions. They lived in the mountains where you have to work really hard to survive. … The biggest problem is that many Chechens do not receive a Duldung [temporary stay permit] before their asylum applications are finalised (which can take years). Some people live in Germany for over a decade waiting for their applications to be processed without the possibility to work. This is absurd. This is the main problem; authorities are very rigid. [The migrants] are very hard-working people with a good mentality – they learn German very quickly.

In France, financial and social assistance is available from refugee reception centres, such as the Centres d’Accueil de Demandeurs d’Asile. The French government funds the centres to support refugees while it is assessing their applications for asylum. This aid can help families, for example, pay for an apartment. But those who receive such social assistance generally find it insufficient. One woman living in Le Mans told Crisis Group: “I have two children – there are three of us – we receive €872 a month. From this I have to pay for an apartment, for electricity, gas, water, then pay insurance for an apartment, for a telephone, for the internet – it all goes away”.

In addition to those expenses, many migrants send money home to family in Russia. A Chechen migrant from France said: “A very large share of the Chechen economy [in Russia] is formed precisely by the refugees who work in the EU here. They send everything home”. Since not all are poor, he continued: “In Chechnya, they are building such expensive houses, investing hundreds of thousands of euros! ... Mostly people build houses in their ancestral villages [rather than Grozny]. … This is not counting the money that is sent to help relatives”.

Asylum seekers in Austria receive a small stipend, accommodations and other benefits as they await a decision. This support package is smaller than those that citizens on welfare receive.

Moreover, if the migrants find work and their salary exceeds certain limits, they lose the state benefits. Some therefore work illegally on construction sites or in other less regulated jobs.


VII. Legal Status and Changing Official Attitudes


Muslim migrants from Russia have long viewed Western Europe as a safe haven. From the time of the Chechen wars, Schengen zone countries tended to offer, albeit to varying degrees, social support, legal aid, protection and asylum. Until about 2008, most Muslim migrants from Russia who arrived in Western European countries could obtain a legal right to remain there. Many did so as formally designated refugees or political asylees under the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Geneva Conventions, which also gave them access to social benefits. The success of those who came early in the century spurred others, particularly Chechens, to follow. According to migrants to whom Crisis Group spoke, prior to 2008, almost everybody coming from Chechnya (or claiming to) received residency and often refugee status.

Statistics support this assessment: during the years of the second Chechen war (1999-2009), France granted asylum to more than 40 or 50 per cent of Muslims of Russian citizenship (mostly Chechens) who applied. In Austria, over 90 per cent got asylum. Rates were lower farther east: under 10 per cent in Poland and Slovakia.

But as time went on, attitudes shifted, and both the media and some officials began to portray Russian-origin Muslims not as a repressed group seeking shelter, but as a population prone to posing security risks, notably of terrorism or crime. As the second Chechen war turned into a broader insurgency in the North Caucasus, the asylum success rate in Europe has plummeted. An expert working intensively on communities in Germany estimated that new arrivals now have at best a 10 per cent success rate with political asylum claims.

Migrants had similar complaints elsewhere, saying it had become nearly impossible to obtain asylum in France and Austria, including in cases where applicants could prove they had suffered atrocities committed by Chechen forces or other local authorities. The new attitudes have also exacerbated the effects of longstanding practices, such as the fact that family members may be considered individually. With higher rejection rates, migrants face an increased risk that one family member may obtain asylum in Western Europe while their spouse and children are rejected or continue to wait for a response

Perhaps as a result, applications have also dropped off in some countries. Between 2011 and 2016, France witnessed an almost 50 per cent decrease in asylum requests from the North Caucasus. In Germany, by contrast, some 20,000-30,000 people arrived starting in 2012, drawn by social media rumours that migrants from the North Caucasus could obtain residency permits and social benefits, as well as enjoy a simplified procedure to purchase land. On arrival, however, they faced a 95 per cent rate of asylum refusal. (Unknown numbers of migrants nonetheless remained in Germany illegally. ) One reason for the lower approval rates was authorities’ increased scepticism of asylum claims. Although human rights violations remain common in the North Caucasus, missing and incomplete information, doubts about the veracity of one or another aspect and similar factors now scuttle refugee and asylum applications, whereas authorities were more lenient in the past.

The war in Syria and the rise of ISIS also affected EU attitudes. The tightening of Austria’s asylum policies, for example, has less to do with Russian-origin Muslims and more with the rising public anti-refugee sentiment that followed a large influx of Syrians and other immigrants in 2015 and 2016. Since 2016, Austria has had one of Europe’s toughest asylum frameworks, allowing even local authorities to reject asylum seekers at the border.
It also lets the government declare an extendable six-month state of emergency, permitting the deportation of unsuccessful asylum claimants, even in contravention of Austria’s non-refoulement obligations, if authorities assess that refugee numbers threaten public order or would overwhelm public institutions.

Host countries have become increasingly worried about infiltration of jihadists hidden among migrants, and here they have focused at least in part on those of Russian, and particularly North Caucasian, origin. Since around 2012, German authorities have expressed concern about possible “jihadist activities” of Chechens in their country and sought to identify connections to Syria.

Politicians and law enforcement agencies in Germany, France and Austria have also called for, and in some cases instituted, a closer watch of both Salafis of all ethnicities and Muslim migrants from Russia regardless of ideological viewpoint. Their fears come from the reality that some Russian-speaking Muslims have travelled to and from Syria; thus, to authorities, it stands to reason that Russian-speaking ISIS members could be posing as peaceful migrants from Russia in order to reach Europe. In 2016, Belarusian authorities arrested at least two Russian citizens, one allegedly involved in ISIS and the other allegedly recruiting for an unnamed violent group, who were trying to cross into Poland.

More and more Muslim migrants and asylum seekers from Russia have faced deportation due to suspected involvement in Islamist militant activities. France, for instance, deported seventeen Chechens to Russia in 2016.

Deportations to Russia often raise refoulement concerns. The online news service Kavkazskii Uzel has documented cases of Chechens unable to obtain political asylum in France and at risk of deportation despite having established that they were tortured or mistreated in Russia and risk the same if they return.
Furthermore, they have identified at least four cases of murder and kidnapping following the deportation of Chechens to Russia. More recently, human rights activists have raised concerns about Magomed Gadayev, a former Chechen separatist active in Bart Marsho and the Assembly of Chechens in Europe, who was arrested by French authorities in late 2020 and deported to Russia in April 2021. Once there, he was transferred into the custody of Chechen security forces.

Gadayev’s arrest came in the wake of the 2020 murder of schoolteacher Samuel Paty by a Russian-origin eighteen-year-old of Chechen ancestry, raised in France. Paty had shown his students caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad as part of a discussion of free speech. After the killing, the French government launched a series of investigations focused on the Chechen diaspora. But while Turkey-based Abdulla Kostekskii, as noted above, described the murder as justified, community leaders feared that it, and statements like Kostekskii’s, would be a prelude to persecution of Russian-origin Muslims in France.
They thus took pains to point out that while the caricatures were in their view “provocations” and not “freedom of speech”, as one migrant from Chechnya told Crisis Group, no Muslim had the right to do what Paty’s killer did.

This migrant added:

Well, I do not think that these statements [about Paty’s murder] by Abdulla Kostekskii [are valid]. Our youth, who are young people or people who are somewhat radicalised about this issue and other issues, they just take his words and that’s it. For them, it’s a concrete argument and that's it. … I think he should have approached this issue more carefully, and not approved it, you know. … But apart from Kostekskii, many preachers (not in Europe, in Turkey and other places) from among the Chechens, they also spoke out, supporting this act, this, one might say, lynching. This is an act of lynching, which is absolutely unacceptable in Sharia.

Community members worry in part because of past accusations, later proven false. The most notable case was in late 2002, when French authorities unravelled a plot to carry out several attacks, including on the Eiffel Tower, ostensibly in retaliation for the raid that killed both hostage takers and hostages in Russia’s Nord-Ost theater in October of that year. Both authorities and journalists described the plot as linked to Chechnya and the North Caucasus. The actual participants, however, were of North African, not Caucasian, origin (their only tie to the Caucasus, north or south, being that some reportedly trained with the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge).

Accusations or assumptions of criminal behaviour by Russian-origin Muslim migrants are another fear for community members. An example is the coverage of events in Nice and Dijon, discussed above, but similar incidents have occurred in Germany (Hamburg, Bielefeld, North Rhine-Westphalia) and Austria.
In July 2020, dozens of Chechens were involved in fights with Germans and Poles in Rheinsberg, Germany. The city’s mayor and the state interior minister declared that the reason for the brawl was failure to integrate the Chechens, whom the media and some officials then leapt to suggest were a clannish community prone to vigilante violence.

Many Russian-origin migrants believe that increased suspicion and higher deportation rates also reflect Russian political influence upon countries like Germany and France. They often believe that host countries are sacrificing their rights for the sake of geopolitical or economic goals.

Indeed, European governments do work with Russia in many matters, and this cooperation may put some Russian-origin migrants at risk. Russia, like other states, uses Interpol to pursue suspected violent criminals, including those it says are linked to Islamist groups. But human rights activists accuse Russia of also using this system to pursue opposition activists and others who are guilty of nothing. A Russian reporter quotes a lawyer representing Chechen refugees in Europe who alleges that Moscow often presents “unreliable evidence to Interpol and national courts when submitting criminal case files that review extradition requests”.

To make matters worse, as people try to fortify their asylum cases in this more suspicious environment, it appears that they have become more, rather than less, prone to falsify information or add new elements during their appeals. Some respondents said they personally knew at least one individual who had falsified claims of torture or political repression in Chechnya to obtain asylum.
One man indicated that Chechen local authorities often provide falsified police reports or other documentation to support such claims. They supply these materials for pay, because they have friendship, familial or other ties to the people asking, or both. Migrants additionally report that Kadyrov loyalists abuse the system to obtain residency for themselves or their informants. As one person said, people tied to Kadyrov “obviously do not deserve refugee status, but German authorities do not take sufficient measures against these individuals”.

Meanwhile, although EU countries have grown more suspicious of migrants from Russia and the North Caucasus as a whole, they have become more welcoming of LGBTQ+ persons facing persecution, particularly those from Chechnya. While LGBTQ+ migrants from the North Caucasus have been coming to EU countries for years, the campaign of repression in Chechnya in 2017, and the resulting press coverage in Russia and globally, noted above, drew attention to the issue. As a result, LGBTQ+ networks in Russia were able to relocate several dozen people to various European countries.
While some countries, such as the Netherlands, had already had welcoming policies, and remained a preferred safe haven, German, Lithuanian and French authorities also granted a number of humanitarian visas to Chechen men who had fled their homeland at this time.

With regard to asylum requests, the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons – in its 2017 report – underlined a rise of cases filed by Chechens mentioning discrimination or persecution linked to sexual orientation as their reason to seek refuge. This rise coincides with the mass persecution in Chechnya. Numbers appear to have stabilised more recently.


VIII. Conclusion and Recommendations


Russian-origin Muslim communities in Schengen zone countries are longstanding, and, in most cases, well interwoven with the social fabric of host nations. Although ideological and social strains exist, none of them is unique to immigrants from Russia or even particularly unusual. Both established community leaders and host country authorities are generally well equipped to respond to new challenges, particularly if they work together. But the problems facing these communities and to some extent those emanating from them are exacerbated by tightening restrictions on immigration and community perceptions that authorities and host country societies as a whole view Muslims from Russia, and particularly the North Caucasus, as prone to criminality, religious violence or both.

While many Schengen zone countries are at the forefront of developing smart policies to prevent and mitigate potential dangers, they can further improve their practices by ensuring that they are adequately applied to Russian-origin Muslims and informed by understanding of the cultures and schisms among them.

In fighting crime, for example, local officials should continue to emphasise community policing and multi-agency integration approaches that have found success in Europe, Canada and the U.S. already. These practices are meant to make sure that measures to ensure public safety do not result in collective distrust of migrant groups, which can easily become counterproductive.

Practices of note include engagement with community leaders and members to improve law enforcement approaches, for instance through liaisons and community recruiting. Again, many of these efforts are already under way, but consciously applying them to Russian-origin Muslims can help ensure their effectiveness, given the risk that suspicion and stereotypes on the authorities’ part can reinforce tendencies toward isolation, particularly on the part of those they most want to reach.

Host countries can also proactively work with media outlets and engage in public education to debunk myths that stigmatise Russian-origin Muslims, for instance by promoting messages from high-profile officials that challenge stereotypes. A regular program of such education will likely be more effective than, for example, similar projects undertaken only responsively, after notorious events or counterproductive comments, such as those by the mayor of Nice, discussed above.

The EU and its member states, as well as other Schengen zone countries and the UK, should cooperate with transit countries and relevant international organisations, such as the International Organization for Migration and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, to disseminate information to migrants from Russia about their human and asylum rights in EU and neighbouring countries. Better awareness of these rights could shrink bureaucratic burdens on both migrants and host countries.

These campaigns should provide information in local languages and Russian that is relevant to migrants as they cross borders and look to establish livelihoods. Topics include the Dublin regulation and its provisions for family reunification, LGBTQ+ rights, domestic violence laws, asylum, refugee status, related procedures for obtaining long-term residence, non-refoulement obligations and so forth. While some countries carry out such campaigns, a more consolidated effort focused on Russian-origin Muslims could alleviate substantial hardships.

In addition, countries that are entry points for Russian-origin migrants, such as Poland and Slovakia, should consider incorporating training on migrant rights and relevant regulations for their border personnel. They, and other EU states that do not offer such training, could also consider ombudsman-type institutes to address complaints by migrants and asylum seekers, in order to provide an alternative to the courts for those who feel their claims were unfairly denied.

Schengen zone countries will need to continue to cooperate with the Russian Federation in law enforcement, including in investigations and prosecutions. But when these cases concern Russian citizens and others from Russia, including those of Muslim ancestry, host nations should be attentive to the increased risks many of these individuals may face if they return to Russia, for instance in response to an extradition request. While Russia is a safe country of origin for most Russian citizens, as the EU assesses, it is not safe for all Russian citizens. People who left explicitly because of pressure due to their religious beliefs, political activities or sexual orientation often face substantial dangers if they return. For this reason, host countries weighing extradition or deportation to Russia may want to carry out additional investigations and take extra care. In cases where migrants committed crimes that fall under the host country’s jurisdiction, they should consider trying, and if the accused is found guilty, imprisoning these people in their own facilities.

Relatedly, host countries may want to improve their due diligence procedures to prevent abuses of the Interpol red (arrest) notice system by countries (including Russia) that target political activists and others living or travelling abroad. One way to curb abuses is to submit information provided by requesting countries accused of such misdeeds to host country intelligence agencies, whether the case in question concerns extradition, asylum, refugee status or something else. The agencies will want to confirm accusations of wrongdoing and assess the validity of provided documents, as both types of fraud have been known to occur. Donors looking to support civil society and watchdog organisations can help provide informed oversight as well.

While many Schengen zone countries are models of policy approaches to LGBTQ+ migrants and others at risk, some continue to lack the capacity and knowledge to provide adequate support. Here, too, cooperation can be crucial to ensure that help reaches vulnerable people who need it, whether these are women and girls who have experienced or risk coerced marriage, or LGBTQ+ persons who may be unsafe with their families and ethnic and national origin communities. Countries can work with neighbours and others to share good practices, including teaching staff providing job and language training to migrants to be sensitive to these concerns in general, and among Russian-origin migrants in particular.

There are few places in the world where Russian-origin Muslims present as much rich diversity and are as established a part of societies as in Schengen zone countries. While challenges will remain, host countries can build on their history of welcome to continue this successful story of migration and resettlement.

Paris/Berlin/Vienna/Brussels, 30 July 2021


For footnotes, visit: https://www.crisisgroup.org/russian-origin-muslims-western-europe

 

 

 

 

Mediterranean

Najib Mikati Has Formed a New Lebanese Government

By MICHAEL YOUNG, Carnegie Middle East, 10 September 2021


What Happened?


After more than a year of waiting, Lebanon has a new government. The new prime minister, Najib Mikati, succeeded where his two predecessors, Mustapha Adib and Saad al-Hariri, failed. President Michel Aoun and Mikati signed the official documents after last-minute efforts to remove the final obstacles that had blocked the process, including who would become economics minister and who would be the two Christian ministers not aligned with Aoun and his son in law Gebran Bassil. This last point was important as it denied the two men a sufficient number of ministers in the cabinet of 24 to hold veto power over the agenda, as well as the latitude to bring it down in the event of a collective resignation of their ministers.


Why is it Important?


While it’s early to speculate what cut the Gordian Knot, the fact that Aoun and Bassil do not appear to have the ability to block decisions in the cabinet, therefore to control its functioning or its life, suggests that Bassil may have been obliged to compromise. Many analysts argued that he had relentlessly sought control over the new government in order to use this as leverage to succeed Aoun, who leaves office next year. Without such power, Bassil’s presidential ambitions may be thwarted. That’s unless he feels he somehow has sway over the two Christian ministers who are seen as independents. This would give him the means to force them to resign and bring the government down, thereby using the ensuing vacuum to blackmail the political class into endorsing him as president.

Media reports in Beirut suggested that one major factor forcing Bassil to back down was the strong pressure exerted on him from Hezbollah and Iran. Both were reportedly displeased with the fact that Bassil’s brinksmanship was causing a deterioration in Lebanon that was provoking a backlash against Hezbollah, particularly within the Shia community. That may be true, but the fact that Bassil’s bloc in parliament will reportedly vote confidence in the government suggests that things may be more complicated than that.

Bassil was caught in a dilemma. Had he blocked a government, this would have pitted him and Aoun against the entire political class, which wants a government, as well as made Aoun the prime target of public anger for the remainder of his term. The worsening economic situation, not to say chaos, would have made it all but impossible for Bassil to make a move on the presidency. Perhaps he reasoned that it was better to try his luck with a government in place, than to try building his presidency on the shifting sands of an impoverished country in which state control is rapidly diminishing.

The cabinet also represents a success for Mikati, who would very much like to remain in office beyond the parliamentary elections scheduled for next spring, if they take place. When Hariri gave up on forming a government weeks ago, he had hoped to use Sunni anger against Aoun as a means of winning support in the elections. But now Mikati has changed the narrative. If he can slow down Lebanon’s collapse and improve the daily lot of citizens, many Lebanese may focus less on an electoral clash and more on the decisions the cabinet will take to make their miserable situation better. If one had to identify a loser in the process, it is probably Hariri, who is not overly pleased to see Mikati take the office he had wanted for himself.

 

What Are the Implications for the Future?

 

The first thing the government will try to do is arrest Lebanon’s perilous economic decline. After the formation was announced, the Lebanese pound gained in value, trading at LP15,750 against the U.S. dollar, after trading at LP18,150 = $1.00 in the morning. This means that the purchasing power of the population, 74 percent of which lives in poverty, will immediately rise. Mikati also announced that subsidies would be brought to an end. While this will lead to inflation, the move will be accompanied by the distribution of ration cards in U.S. dollars to 500,000 of the country’s most vulnerable families. The lifting of subsidies is expected to end the hemorrhaging of Lebanon’s remaining foreign currency reserves. It should also bring an end to the long lines for gasoline and fuel that have plagued Lebanon in recent months, as subsidized fuel, which is held by a cartel of distributors, was deviated to Syria where prices are higher.

Beyond immediate relief, Mikati must begin discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over a bailout package. The prime minister has been in touch with IMF officials in recent weeks, and would like to move quickly on that front. But even before then, the fact that a government is in place will mean that Lebanon will be able to use hundreds of millions of dollars that have been pledged to the country, including $546 million in World Bank loans (of which $246 million have already been approved for an emergency social safety net for the poor) and $370 million in humanitarian aid pledged at an August 4 donor conference in Paris. Lebanon is also expected to receive very soon around $860 million from the IMF, which is the country’s Special Drawing Rights allocation.

Mikati’s priority is to revive the electricity sector, the bleeding wound of the economy. The state now supplies one or two hours of electricity a day, on average, forcing people to rely heavily on private generator owners who charge market prices for fuel, which is excessively expensive for most consumers. The economic opportunity cost is also immense, as countless companies and businesses have closed down or reduced working hours due to shortages in electricity. Most importantly, the availability of fuel will allow Lebanon’s hospitals to function, as many had warned they might close down over the absence of fuel supplies to operate their generators.

Politically, there are many minefields ahead. Gebran Bassil still wants to become president and this may very well affect cohesion in the cabinet if he decides to order the ministers he named to block unpopular government decisions so he can gain favor. Without a sense of common purpose in the cabinet, Mikati’s plans may be derailed, so the prime minister will have to be agile in managing his differences with the president and his son in law to avoid deadlock. But for now, the Lebanese will breathe a sigh of relief. They have received only bad news for two years, and now may see some light, albeit a very pale light, at the end of the tunnel.


Carnegie does not take institutional positions on public policy issues; the views represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Carnegie, its staff, or its trustees.

 

 

How America Can Win the Middle East

By Kim Ghattas, The Atlantic, September 4, 2021


Beijing’s forays in the region present Washington with a test—and an opportunity.

 

Since taking office, President Joe Biden has talked repeatedly about competition with China. To fight off Beijing and other autocracies, he has said, democracies must uphold their values. He has talked much less about the Middle East in that time, and although he has never phrased it in so many words, Biden appears to be trying to deprioritize a region that he believes has consumed too much of America’s attention and resources.

But the competition between the United States and China does not exist in a vacuum, nor is it fenced off within Asia; it is global. In the Middle East, whether it be over China’s infrastructure spending via the Belt and Road Initiative, its thirst for oil, or its cozying up to autocracies and foes of America, the battle between Washington and Beijing is fast playing out. Biden should consider how his foreign-policy priorities—China and democracy—connect in the Middle East, and why pulling too far away from the region could undermine his work on the international stage. This has become even more urgent and difficult in the aftermath of the damaging images of the chaotic American withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the doubts the debacle has cast over the Biden administration’s commitment to values and international engagement.

Headlines about China signing a multibillion-dollar investment-and-trade deal with Iran, or courting Saudi Arabia to maintain access to oil, prompt questions in the Middle East about whether working more with China could benefit the region, and what that would mean for American influence. Yet these discussions remain somewhat superficial—a debate about geopolitics divorced from daily life. Until, that is, sitting in Beirut, one begins to ask how these apparent investments sit alongside stories about Uyghur internment camps in China’s Xinjiang province and the sophisticated surveillance system the Muslim minority group lives under, or why countries that purport to defend the interests of Muslims—Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates—have remained silent about China’s treatment of those Muslims.

China’s growing presence in the Middle East then takes on an ominous immediacy. What surveillance technology is China already selling to autocracies in the region, America’s friends among them, as it has in Iran? Who are the next candidates for a China-style social-credit system? Are some sections of the population in the Middle East the next Uyghurs?

Writing in Foreign Affairs last year, Jake Sullivan, now Biden’s national security adviser, outlined what he described as “America’s opportunity in the Middle East,” arguing that diplomacy could succeed where America’s past military interventions have failed. America’s engagement with the region is typically framed squarely in military or counterterrorism terms and as a binary all-in or all-out choice. Instead, Sullivan suggested an approach relying more on “aggressive diplomacy to produce more sustainable results.” If this is what the Biden administration had envisaged for Afghanistan post-withdrawal, the approach failed at first contact.

In his piece, Sullivan mentioned China only twice, in passing, as a country that was not a credible alternative to America for regional powers such as Saudi Arabia. That may miss the point: It is because of China that America has an opportunity in the Middle East—to win over the region’s people rather than simply dealing with its leaders—as well as a test, proving its commitment to values that China tramples on.

Unlike America’s, China’s dealings with the Middle East are not hampered by a history of enmity with certain countries, such as the troubled relationships the U.S. has with Iran and Syria, nor is China slowed down by a legislative branch that demands accountability for foreign aid and military assistance to allies. For now, Beijing’s approach, focused on economics and devoid of lectures about democracy, has allowed it to benefit from the resources and opportunities on offer in the region, working with countries that abhor one another, such as Israel and Iran, without getting tangled up in the Middle East’s messy politics.

And because Beijing has not yet gotten drawn into political dealmaking in places such as Iraq, or become mired in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it still enjoys favorable ratings in Arab opinion polls. Meanwhile, China benefits greatly from America’s underwriting of regional security. So far, the model has worked: The Middle East is China’s largest source of oil and a strategically important region that feeds its economic growth and ambitions in Asia; in return, Beijing is able to offer ostensibly large amounts of investment.

If America wants to push back against China in the Middle East, it should consider three constituencies, and the opportunities and challenges each offers.

The first group is, from the American perspective, irredeemable: Countries such as Iran and Syria are firmly in the anti-American camp, and there’s no use trying to lure their governments away from China—though Biden should remember that Syrians and Iranians still look to America for courage under repression. Under sanctions and cut off from much of the global economy, Damascus and Tehran see Beijing as a provider of loans and investments, a market for their oil, and more. They bend to Beijing on issues including Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Taiwan, seeing China as a counterweight to the United States. But they (and others) overestimate China’s appetite or capacity for a showdown with America.

Recent efforts by Lebanon’s pro-Iran Shia militant group Hezbollah to appeal to Beijing offer a useful example. Since 2019, Lebanon has been collapsing under the weight of years of mismanagement and corruption, aggravated by smuggling and drug trafficking linked to Hezbollah. The U.S. and Europe have refused to provide aid until political leaders embark on serious reforms. In June 2020, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, claimed to have found the solution: “I have information that is absolutely definite … Chinese companies are ready to bring in money, and without any of the complications that we talk about in Lebanon. We don’t have to give them money, they will bring money into the country.” Yet to this day, little of tangible value has arrived: two small batches of Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccines and a shipment of (apparently spoiled) rice.

Nasrallah’s certainty that Chinese companies would be eager to sink money into losing propositions just to push the U.S. out of the Middle East reflects a deep misunderstanding of China, its political strategy, and how it deploys its money. China would undoubtedly like to see American influence wane in the Middle East, but because the region remains crucial for Beijing’s energy security, stability is key. For now that means avoiding confrontation with Washington. And when it comes to talk of China’s supposedly enormous investments—Beijing signed a comprehensive strategic-partnership deal with Tehran in March—the most telling reaction was the bland reception the memorandum got in Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional nemesis and still China’s top supplier of oil. Riyadh’s lack of angst over the agreement was perhaps the best gauge of its expected impact.

The second group to watch is America’s allies. In the same trip during which Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi signed the bilateral deal with Iran, he also traveled to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE, Bahrain, and Oman—all places where the U.S. has strong political, military, and economic ties. China’s ambassador to Riyadh wrote in an opinion piece that developing relations with Saudi Arabia was “the priority direction of China’s Middle East policy,” and Beijing held discussions on investing or financing megaprojects in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, both of which are attempting to build ambitious new cities from scratch.

Yet most of these projects are too grandiose to improve the daily lives of Egyptians or even many Saudis. While Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman dreams up a $500 billion city in the desert, decrepit infrastructure besets poor areas of Riyadh, and the streets of Jeddah regularly flood after heavy rains. Plans announced 10 years ago to improve road networks and public transportation have yet to be implemented. In Egypt, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s vanity projects are contributing to a failing economy—almost 10 million Egyptians have fallen into poverty in the past five years.

Whereas the U.S. has little chance of winning over the first, anti-American, group, it has more of an opportunity with these countries, its allies, to push back against Beijing. While China looks to feed the egos of autocratic leaders, the U.S. could offer support for projects that actually improve people’s lives. At his first G7 summit, this year, Biden announced his Build Back Better World infrastructure initiative, meant as a rival to China’s BRI. The American-led plan will apparently focus on projects related to “climate, health and health security, digital technology, and gender equity and equality.” Funding will come from private capital and international financial institutions, and the professed goal is to narrow the $40 trillion infrastructure gap in the developing world by 2035. On paper, the guiding principles are laudable: driven by values, committed to good governance, and climate friendly. (The danger is that, just as with BRI, Biden’s push will be more about marketing and less about real progress—more aid that props up corrupt leaders with little accountability.)

Biden’s plan doesn’t yet mention the Middle East, and investing more effort in the region may sound like the exact opposite of what his administration wants to do. But this approach would allow the U.S. to move away from “forever wars” and grandiose nation building and focus on pragmatic, positive impacts through smart investments, innovation, and entrepreneurship in the one region where Washington faces the risk of a coalition of autocracies, including its own allies, coming together, propped up and encouraged by China.

Even autocratic leaders would welcome such an approach by the U.S. if it can help them ward off the simmering anger of their citizens by alleviating deteriorations in living conditions. Across the region, the effects of climate change and water shortages require urgent attention, alongside rising unemployment. In countries such as Iraq and Lebanon, reversing power outages would be a good place for the U.S. to start to make a positive impact, working alongside allies and the private sector.

That brings us to the third constituency: the people of the Middle East. In a region where the U.S. has had such an outsize presence over the past few decades and is hated and loved—sometimes by the same people at the same time—China appears as a lesser threat in contrast. An opinion poll conducted in 2020 by Arab Barometer shows highly favorable views of China (in 60 percent of the population in Algeria, for example) compared with views of the U.S., but those results also correlate closely with negative opinions of Donald Trump. Other surveys show an absence of strong views about China—its influence is neither feared nor desired, and few express a wish to live in China.

But there are risks for China in embracing leaders such as MbS. While the world shunned the Saudi crown prince in the months following the assassination of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Beijing welcomed him without ever raising the issue and then praised the kingdom’s handling of the case in court. Arab journalists, dissidents, and activists took note. And whereas the U.S. has declared China’s treatment of the Uyghur minority group a genocide, Middle Eastern governments, eager to maintain ties with Beijing and worried about political Islamism in their own countries, have largely looked the other way. MbS claimed that “China has the right to take anti-terrorism and de-extremism measures to safeguard national security,” and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE have forcibly deported Uyghurs to China at Beijing’s request. Thus far, protests in the Arab world over treatment of the Uyghurs have been limited, partly because of a lack of awareness but also because people are too busy fighting against repression carried out by their own governments. That may not always remain the case.

America has a rare opportunity to win this constituency over. In Sheikh Jarrah and Baghdad, Aleppo and Beirut—indeed, even in Tehran and Damascus—with every event, every upheaval, the question that people ask themselves is never What will China do? It is still always What will the United States do? Even after the Afghanistan withdrawal, dissidents everywhere will still look to America for courage, if only because there is nowhere else to look. Many in the region, when seeking a place for escape, dream of the U.S.: In an interview with Iranian state television, a Taliban spokesperson tried to explain the crush of people at the Kabul airport by saying that if America offered its planes to take the citizens of any nation to the U.S., people everywhere would get on board. The interviewer interjected, either out of pride or fear of punishment by his superiors, to argue that Iranians would not; the Taliban spokesperson, showing surprising pragmatism, disagreed.

America’s track record is far from pristine, and the damage it has inflicted on its reputation as a result of the way it withdrew from Afghanistan is deep. But the prospect of a league of autocracies in the region, further assisted by China’s oppression toolbox, is a chilling alternative. As Beijing cozies up to authoritarian governments in the Middle East—both friends and foes of the U.S.—Washington has an opportunity to rethink how it engages with the region.

If China offers a model of economic prosperity under autocratic rule, can the U.S. counter with a more positive vision—one that also considers the young generation’s aspirations for justice, rule of law, and governance? Values remain America’s winning argument, but Washington must work even harder now to make this case, especially in the Middle East, where America’s global contest with China should be fought, and can be won.

 

 

 

Reassessing Russian Capabilities in the Levant and North Africa

By Frederic Wehrey and Andrew S. Weiss, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 31 August 2021


Summary


Russia may be back in the Middle East, but is it a truly strategic player? The picture is decidedly mixed. After abandoning most of its presence in the Levant and North Africa during the late 1980s, the Kremlin has alarmed Western policymakers in recent years by filling power vacuums and exploiting the missteps of the United States and the European states. Moscow panders to the insecurities and ambitions of local regimes, trying to enrich itself along the way. While Russian activism is part of a broader push for great power status, most of its policies are rooted more in opportunism than grand strategy.

Yet Russian influence is formidable in many respects. In war-wracked states like Syria and Libya, Moscow has adroitly deployed military forces and engaged with actors that are off-limits to Westerners, thus positioning itself as a significant power broker. In Egypt and Algeria, it has pursued arms deals that are unencumbered by human rights conditions. Russia’s economic footprint is expanding in fields ranging from infrastructure to tourism to energy, contributing, in some instances, to the region’s cronyism and corruption.

At the same time, a closer look at Russian activism reveals that its ability to shape events in the Middle East is far more modest than is commonly assumed. Russia has neither the tools nor the willingness to tackle the region’s deep-seated socioeconomic and governance problems. In Syria, the limits of the Kremlin’s military commitment have been exposed amid clashes with other powerful, outside players and a hardening stalemate on the ground. For now, Moscow is simply not in a position to achieve its desired military or political outcomes absent a significant investment of new resources.

Russian economic penetration is driven mainly by short-term objectives and a search for outsized financial rewards that sometimes fail to materialize or to make Moscow an attractive partner. Russian inroads are further limited by regional factors like fractured politics and capricious local actors, who, despite being plied with Russian attention and support, do not behave as docile proxies. In many instances, Middle Eastern rulers exert far more power in shaping the extent of Russian influence than conventional narratives suggest. Successive leaders of Egypt, for instance, have perfected the game of soliciting Russia’s attention to gain leverage over other patrons, namely the United States.

For their part, Israeli leaders have worked hard to ensure that Russia does not throw major obstacles in the way of Israel’s ongoing campaign against Iranian military encroachment in Syria—yet they surely take note when Moscow does the bare minimum in raising concerns about the situation in Gaza. The limits of Russian influence are similarly noticeable in the heartbreaking economic crisis in Lebanon, where Moscow is little more than a bystander.

With these limitations in mind, Washington should avoid viewing the region through a zero-sum, Cold War lens that sees every development as a net gain or loss for Moscow or minimizes the agency of local actors. In the context of multiple policy challenges across the globe and at home, U.S. decisionmakers need to prioritize the areas of Russian influence that necessitate a response. In so doing, they should avoid playing the arms sales game on Moscow’s terms or letting themselves be instrumentalized by autocratic Middle Eastern rulers who point to Russian overtures to seek leniency and support from Washington.

U.S. and European policymakers have ample tools at their disposal that can frustrate or slow the more malign forms of Moscow’s inroads. Yet the net impact of such pushback on Russian resolve should not be overstated. Instead, Washington should focus its energies on its biggest comparative advantage vis-à-vis Moscow in the region: namely, its abundant sources of influence and leverage in the economic and security spheres, its still-potent soft power, and its leadership of multilateral diplomacy and the rules-based global order.


Introduction


As the sixth anniversary of Moscow’s military intervention in Syria approaches in September 2021, Russia’s return to the power politics of the Middle East and North Africa is hard to ignore. Moscow routinely plays on openings created by U.S. attempts to pull back from the region and on the mistakes of other players.1 Throughout the region, the country is once again seen as an important interlocutor, with local actors soliciting Russian involvement and also circumscribing how far it can actually go. Although the Kremlin revels in being at the center of the action, it has not demonstrated that it has the clout, resources, or desire to address the region’s deeply entrenched sources of dysfunction and instability.

The highly opportunistic nature of Russian activism in the Middle East and North Africa is hardly a new phenomenon. As preeminent analysts like Arnold Horelick frequently pointed out during the 1960s and 1970s, the Kremlin’s mode of operation during the Cold War period was dominated by adapting to or seizing upon the flow of events while trying to manage the behavior of clients that it had less than perfect control over.2 The parallels to today’s realities are hard to overlook. At the same time, the growing focus in Western policy circles on strategic competition with Russia sometimes overshadows awareness of such patterns of behavior, Moscow’s own missteps, and the underlying weaknesses of the Russian policy tool kit.

Of course, Moscow is candid about its inability to address the region’s mounting political and socioeconomic problems.3 But real problem solving has never been central to Russia’s strategic goals. Instead, Russia’s involvement in the Middle East is part of a broader push to be seen as a great power on the global stage.4 After abandoning most of the Middle East and North Africa practically overnight during the late 1980s, the Kremlin has tried to restore, largely on the cheap, the trappings it long enjoyed during the tsarist and Soviet periods.5 But such lofty ambitions are often subordinated to short-term goals such as discrediting the reputation of the United States, filling power vacuums, pandering to the ambitions and insecurities of regional players, and seizing any commercial opportunities that come its way.

Understanding the historical backdrop to Russia’s current involvement in the region remains essential for recognizing longer-term patterns and goals, but that tells only part of the story.6 During the post-2015 period, state and substate actors in the Middle East and North Africa have generally been happy to play along with the Kremlin’s heavily transactional and symbolic approach, treating it at times as a refreshing alternative to the U.S.-led security order. For Israel and other countries, the benefits of engaging with Moscow generally outweigh the costs of taking a more adversarial approach that would put them smack in the middle of East-West tensions. Israel also has been adept at leveraging or instrumentalizing closer ties with Moscow for its leaders’ own purposes. Throughout most of the region, leaders do not count heavily on Moscow and are not overly disillusioned when it doesn’t deliver. And in Syria, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is all too happy to play Russia off of its other patron, Iran.7

These dynamics are especially apparent in North Africa, a region that has witnessed concerted Russian activism on multiple fronts.8 Yet these Russian interventions are more the product of opportunism than any calculated grand strategy. And, on balance, they have yielded only mixed results for Russian interests. To be sure, Moscow has intervened militarily in Libya’s civil war and pursued major arms deals with Algeria and Egypt. Russian and foreign media outlets have often hinted at Russian designs for military bases in Algeria, Egypt, and Libya, but Moscow’s actual footprint comprises a hodgepodge of dealings in the military, infrastructure, energy, agricultural, and tourism sectors. These dealings are meaningful but not necessarily threatening to U.S. interests—nor are they assured stepping-stones for a broad-based and permanent security presence.

Russian inroads are often countered by factors inherent to the region. In North Africa, for example, Moscow’s ability to control events is limited by those countries’ fractured politics and highly personalized and sometimes unpredictable governance. Local rulers often exploit Russian overtures to secure more favorable attention from their long-standing patrons, the United States and Europe. Perhaps most importantly, Russia must also contend with the increasingly assertive presence of other foreign actors seeking arms sales and energy deals, such as France, Germany, Iran, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, whose interests sometimes overlap or clash with those of Moscow.


Syria


Over the course of more than a decade of civil war, Syria has served as the centerpiece of Russia’s claim to regional power status. Starting in 2011, Sino-Russian coordination in the United Nations (UN) Security Council stymied diplomatic efforts led by the United States and the European Union (EU) to put pressure on Assad.9 Amid worries about the imminent collapse of the Assad regime in autumn 2015, the Kremlin launched a major military intervention. That effort ultimately broke the back of Syrian opposition forces supported by Washington and regional players. The Kremlin touted its accomplishments in Syria as putting an end to a wave of U.S.-backed regime change during the 2011 Arab uprisings and their aftermath. It also secured long-term naval and air basing arrangements in Syria and used its military intervention as a showcase for Russian hard power capabilities and arms exports.10

Yet this image of unchecked military success glosses over the fact that the Kremlin accomplished most of its chief war aims by the end of 2017 and that the environment it faces in Syria today is far more challenging. These circumstances cast Russia’s strengths and weaknesses in a somewhat different light. While the costs of the war have certainly been modest for Russia in terms of military casualties and the financial burden, the overall return on investment is less than what the Kremlin expected, even accounting for the fact that Russia’s goals have continued to change. For now, a negotiated political settlement remains out of reach, as does international recognition of the Assad regime—let alone access to lucrative contracts for reconstruction of the country. Moscow has no pathway for reaching its current desired end-state absent a major infusion of additional military, political, or economic resources.

Even though Russian and Iranian military support was crucial for the Assad regime’s reversal of fortune, developments on the ground have often been disappointing, and in some cases even humiliating, for Moscow. Most famously, in February 2018 a battalion-sized group of Russian mercenaries connected to the state-sponsored Wagner Group suffered the loss of more than 200 men during a four-hour battle in which ground-based U.S. air controllers called in devastating air strikes from bombers, fighter-bombers, drones, gunships, and attack helicopters.11 The episode was a brutal reminder to the Kremlin that its 4,000-man Russian contingent is lacking in precision firepower and is thus vulnerable to military pushback from other external powers operating inside Syria.12

These military limitations were further exposed during fighting between Turkish and pro-Assad forces in Idlib Governorate in early 2020.13 Following the deaths of at least thirty-three Turkish soldiers in airstrikes reportedly by Russian and Assad regime jets, Ankara conducted a counterassault using a mix of armed drones, special forces, and artillery.14 Much to Moscow’s surprise, Turkey destroyed large numbers of pro-Assad forces and Russian-supplied Pantsir and Buk-2 air defenses. Russia’s reluctance to retaliate militarily against Turkey or augment its forces in the wake of the fighting in Idlib essentially exposed the upper ceiling of Russia’s military commitment in Syria. Ankara later built upon and refined these tactics during its successful military interventions against both Wagner Group mercenaries deployed in Libya from late 2019 to early 2020 and Russia’s client Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh later in 2020.

Russia’s limited presence in northeast Syria tells a somewhat similar story of how constraints on Russia’s military presence failed both to overcome local complexities and to deny freedom of action to rival outside actors. While the hasty withdrawal of U.S. forces in October 2019 handed Moscow and the Assad regime a propaganda bonanza, the situation has not rebounded to either’s clear advantage. On the contrary, Russian forces and the Assad regime have struggled to create a strong beachhead amid a complex situation involving jockeying by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, Turkey’s widening control over parts of northern Syria, and the residual U.S. military presence.15 Russian harassment of U.S. forces in summer 2020 also backfired, triggering a Pentagon decision to send in Bradley fighting vehicles and Sentinel radar as reinforcements and to increase overflights by U.S. fighter jets.16

Time and again, U.S. policymakers have demonstrated that they can prevent the Kremlin from achieving its core goals with fairly minimal effort.17 Congressionally mandated Caesar Act sanctions, for example, prevent meaningful EU or Gulf reconstruction aid from flowing in, which puts additional pressure on Syria’s devastated economy.18 Moscow has not offered the Assad regime a financial bailout nor has it been able to convince Gulf Arab states to step up, given their worries about potential U.S. secondary sanctions. Full normalization of relations between Assad and U.S. allies in the Gulf as well as Syria’s readmission to the Arab League remain stalled.19

Perhaps the biggest shortcoming in Moscow’s policy is the centrality of an unachievable goal: the reconquest of the rest of Syria by the Assad regime. With a military situation on the ground that has hardened into a fairly durable stalemate, it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine that the Kremlin or the Assad regime will be able to shift that reality based on their existing capabilities, at least for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, Assad, much to the annoyance of Moscow, continues to use Iran to balance Russia, treating the competition between his two patrons as a boost to his own room for maneuver. Yet for all its frustrations with the status quo in Syria, the Kremlin shows no signs of contemplating a fundamental rethink of its overall strategy.


Israel


Israel is another Middle Eastern state where Russia’s increased high-level access to senior decisionmakers is frequently portrayed as part and parcel of a growing convergence of interests. However, the reality is more complex, due to Israel’s domestic politics, security interests, and the centrality of its long-standing ties with the United States.20

Over the past two decades, Moscow has benefited from friendly ties with successive prime ministers, namely Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu, in particular, fostered the impression to domestic and foreign audiences that he was one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest partners and that Russia-Israel relations had taken on strategic importance.21 Part of this was a blatantly political ploy. Netanyahu’s Likud party has long prized support from the million-plus Israelis with roots in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union.

During the summer 2019 election, for example, the Netanyahu campaign blanketed the sides of the Likud party headquarters in downtown Tel Aviv with giant pictures of him shaking hands (separately) with Putin and then U.S. president Donald Trump under a banner reading “In a League of His Own.”22 For his part, Putin used encounters with Netanyahu to send the message that Western attempts to isolate the Russian leader had been unsuccessful.

Netanyahu’s engagement with Moscow also reflected hard-nosed security calculations—specifically, keeping Russia on the sidelines during Israeli military operations in Syria against Iran and its proxies, part of an effort known as the Campaign Between the Wars. These overtures largely succeeded. In a series of conversations that began in September 2015, Netanyahu persuaded Putin that Iran’s military encroachment posed an existential threat, that Israel was determined to roll it back, and that it was not in Moscow’s interest to test Israel’s determination to defend itself.23

Israeli-Russian military deconfliction arrangements helped ensure that Moscow did not throw meaningful obstacles in the way of Israeli operations.24 The hundreds of precision strikes conducted by Israel since late 2015 testify to the quality of its advanced military and intelligence capabilities and, even more importantly, the priority attached to avoiding any risk to Russian forces on the ground.

Yet in other instances, the convergence of Israeli and Russian interests was stymied by Moscow’s inability—or unwillingness—to shape events in Syria to Israel’s liking, specifically Assad’s failure to give up all of his chemical weapons and the failed attempt to push Iranian forces and Iran-backed militia groups away from sensitive regions along the Syrian-Israeli and Syrian-Jordanian borders. A local cease-fire in Daraa Governorate in southwest Syria—which was announced with flourish at Trump’s first two meetings with Putin in 2017and collapsed before too long due to a change of heart by Moscow—illustrates this state of affairs.25

Russian military pressure during this timeframe led to the negotiated surrender of rebel groups in the region and the formal restoration of the Assad regime’s control over the borders with Israel and Jordan. However, Moscow proved unable to deliver a deal to keep Iran’s military presence and heavy weapons away from the Syrian-Israeli border, and conveniently tried to shift blame to Washington’s handling of unrelated issues.26

Ever since then, Russia’s thin military presence in southern Syria, paired with its limited success in creating semi-autonomous military units consisting of former rebels who have pledged not to challenge the Assad regime and the regime’s increased desire to reassert control over Daraa Governorate have created a volatile environment that stirs security worries in Israel and Jordan. The region remains quite vulnerable to penetration by Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah and other actors, underscoring the limits of Moscow’s ability to serve as a reliable security partner for Jerusalem on Syria.27

The situation in the region has been destabilized by a siege of a rebel-controlled section of Daraa city by the Assad regime and Iranian-backed units that began in June 2021 and sluggish efforts by Russian military representatives to broker a solution to the crisis.28

Other hallmarks of constructive Russian influence over security issues of key concern to Israel are somewhat hard to come by—let alone any signs Moscow is on a trajectory toward becoming a strategic partner to Israel. For example, during the May 2021 crisis in Gaza, Moscow’s role in Israel was confined to that of a bystander. Its public statements were largely recycled from previous conflicts between Israel and Hamas in 2006, 2008, 2012, and 2014.29

Russian consultations with representatives from Hamas and the Palestinian Authority generated little in concrete terms, nor did Palestinians appear to bank on Russian support. For all the suggestions that Russia’s intervention in Syria would once again allow it to serve as an important mediator for the region’s many conflicts, the Egyptian and U.S. roles in the 2021 crisis in Gaza showed that Russia is simply not in the same league.30

Russian arms sales to Israel’s adversaries are another point of divergence. For decades, the Kremlin has faced frequent complaints from Israel—and the United States—about the weapons it sells to Iran and other countries. However, external influence over Moscow’s behavior peaked in the mid-1990s when Russia’s leaders were at their most vulnerable.31 The long delay in the delivery of Russian S-300 air defenses to Iran in 2016 was driven by dramatic ups and downs in Russian-Iranian relations caused by revelations of Tehran’s nuclear activities and the protracted negotiation of the Iran nuclear deal.32

More recently, with the expiration of the UN-mandated arms embargo on Tehran in October 2020, there have been reports of Russian-Iranian conversations about purchases of S-400 missiles, Su-30 fighters, Yak-130 trainers, and T-90 battle tanks.33 Still, the main limiting factor in Moscow’s willingness to sell weapons to Iran is not high-level Israeli lobbying, as some members of the Netanyahu team have claimed, but rather Tehran’s inability to pay.34

At the same time, Moscow seems to understand how its arms transfers may contribute to risks beyond its control in a volatile region. Following the deaths of fifteen Russian personnel aboard an Il-20 reconnaissance plane in September 2018 in a Syrian friendly fire incident that Russian military leaders blamed on Israel, the Kremlin provided Damascus with its own S-300 missiles.35 (The Russian contingent in Hmeimim has been protected by an S-400 missile system since the beginning of its intervention.36)

Yet the fact that Syria’s S-300 system has never been fired against Israeli jets gives rise to suspicions that the Russian military, not Assad’s forces, retains firing authority.37 Moscow surely does not want the Syrians to create another dangerous situation that might endanger Russian personnel or provoke an Israeli attack on the S-300. Any successful Israeli attack would surely damage Russia’s ability to market the system elsewhere in the world. The same logic applies to the theoretical risks of Russia’s transferring an S-400 system to Iran, given the possibility of Israeli preemption.

In the Israeli strategic community, there are few illusions about who the country’s true friends are.38 At the same time, any Israeli leader surely would recognize the folly of taking Russia’s support for granted or treating its interests cavalierly. Russia’s military presence right next door and a wealth of sociocultural, economic, and political connections between the two countries give the Kremlin plenty of potential relevance going forward. At the same time, Moscow is not making the kinds of commitments necessary to become a strategic partner for Israel or putting itself in the middle of sticky situations that might draw attention to the limits of its influence.

While it may yet be early days for the coalition government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid, there are few echoes of the hype surrounding Israeli-Russian relations that was commonplace during the Netanyahu era. With the contours of the Russia-Israel relationship well-established—and well-understood—on both sides, one suspects that ongoing interactions are likely to unfold on a more matter-of-fact basis.


Lebanon


Russia has maintained a relatively low profile during Lebanon’s ongoing economic and political meltdown in sharp contrast to the efforts of countries like France and the United States. The latter have tried, for better or worse, to pressure Lebanon’s ruling elite to set aside their internal squabbles and take their governing responsibilities seriously. Russia’s main contribution has been to highlight concerns over the impact of the crisis on the Syrian economy, given the intertwined and swift depreciation of the local currency in both states.39 Otherwise, Russian efforts during the protracted government formation process were largely episodic.

Nor has Russia visibly sought to deal with risks to both regional stability and Israel’s security stemming from the potential unraveling of key institutions like the Lebanese Armed Forces. It has not sought to constrain Hezbollah or Iran from taking advantage of the protracted crisis.40 Some analysts have suggested that Moscow might ultimately be able to help elements of the Syrian government reassert influence over Lebanon’s direction at Iran’s expense, but concrete evidence of such moves is, as yet, hard to come by.41 To the extent Russian officialdom focuses on Lebanon at all, its efforts largely consist of hosting visits by members of different political factions as part of the endless jockeying to form a new government.

Russia’s willingness to grapple with Lebanon’s crisis in practical terms is diminished by an overriding consideration visible in many of its Middle East interventions: money. The search for economic benefits, rather than altruism, is a key driver behind its approach to Lebanon. Russian efforts in the Lebanese energy sector and on-again, off-again discussions over the past decade about arms sales are far from momentous.42

For example, the independent Russian energy producer Novatek is part of a consortium led by the French company TotalEnergies that has been seeking hydrocarbons, so far without success, in an offshore block located in waters claimed by both Lebanon and Israel.43 The Russian state oil company Rosneft controls the operations of an oil refinery in the Lebanese port of Tripoli.44 However, any such activities are basically a sideshow, given the scale of Lebanon’s crippling energy crisis, which is the product of irresponsible government fuel subsidies and the lucrative cross-border smuggling trade with Syria.


Algeria


Algeria has long been an object of considerable attention by Russia and before that the Soviet Union, which was among the first countries to recognize Algeria’s provisional government in 1960 during the war against French colonial rule. Independent Algeria soon became a major purchaser of Soviet weapons. Today, Algeria is the third-largest importer of arms from Moscow and its largest customer on the African continent. Roughly 70 percent of its military hardware originates from Russia.45

In 2001, partly in response to Algeria joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Mediterranean Dialogue, Moscow signed a strategic partnership agreement with Algiers.46 In 2006, during Putin’s first and, so far, only visit to Algiers, Russia forgave $4.7 billion of Algeria’s debt and signed additional bilateral agreements, most notably on arms.47 That same year, the two countries’ state-owned gas companies, Gazprom and Sonatrach, finalized a memorandum of understanding.48 Subsequent years saw additional agreements signed in fields ranging from automobile manufacturing to atomic energy.

For all the hype about these initiatives, the net results for Russian geopolitical interests have been mixed. According to Russian officials and media reports, results from the strategic agreements of the early 2000s were disappointing, often stemming from late arms deliveries.49 On other issues, like hydrocarbons, the terms of the signed documents were vague or nonbinding.50 Gazprom and Sonatrach may collaborate on certain pipeline and exploration projects, but they have strong incentives to compete—especially on the export of gas to Europe.51 The volume of Algerian trade with Europe continues to vastly outweigh potential benefits from any cooperation with Moscow.52

More important, perhaps, is Algiers’ famously prickly reluctance to align itself with either of the superpowers during the Cold War, even as its military ties with the Soviet Union grew more robust. A similar neutrality is seen today in its refusal to actively intervene in the Middle East’s and Africa’s major conflicts and rivalries. Russian officials have tried to spin this ambivalent posture as a convergence with Moscow’s aims in the region—especially the two states’ historic support for status-quo Arab authoritarians, like the late Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi and Syria’s Assad. But Algiers has also taken actions that have irked Moscow, like the 2019 establishment of an Algeria-Ukraine parliamentary friendship committee.53 Similarly, Russian press outlets have noted Algeria’s repeated refusal to grant Moscow permission to build a sought-after naval base at the Algerian port city of Oran.54

Internal Algerian dynamics create additional complications and uncertainty for Russia. Entrenched corruption in Algeria reportedly derailed a possible investment in a Lada automobile manufacturing plant.55 Algeria’s mounting fiscal crisis, related to shrinking exports of gas and oil, has compounded the challenges facing Moscow.56 On the political front, the popular 2019 protests that led to the resignation of the aging president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the possibility of a more liberal, reformist successor are similarly unsettling for Moscow—even though a drastic realignment of Algeria foreign policy is unlikely and military-to-military ties between the two countries remain solid.57

Arms contracts remain the anchor of the bilateral relationship. Algeria is reportedly set to receive advanced Sukhoi-34 fighter-bomber aircraft later in 2021 and has reportedly signed a contract to buy the Su-57 multi-role stealth fighter.58 Yet even on weapons transfers, Moscow’s primacy is not unchallenged: Algeria, as noted in a recent report on the global arms trade, has turned to Germany as an additional supplier of arms.59 Ultimately, Moscow has been unable to convert weapons sales to Algiers into a meaningful strategic partnership or a platform for power projection into the Mediterranean or North Africa.


Libya


Neighboring Libya has similarly been a long-standing site of Russian activism and influence, driven both by geopolitics and by economic interests. At the 1945 Potsdam Conference, then Soviet premier Joseph Stalin unsuccessfully tried to obtain a UN trusteeship over the former Italian-ruled territory of Tripolitania (western Libya).60 In the immediate years following the 1969 Libyan officers’ coup, which toppled the pro-American king Idris al-Senussi and installed then captain (and later colonel) Qadhafi as de facto head of state, Libya pursued a nominally nonaligned foreign policy.

But by the early and mid-1970s, Qadhafi was importing significant quantities of Soviet weaponry, starting a trend of military cooperation that would later expand to the deployment of thousands of Soviet advisers to Libya.61 By the mid-2000s, Russia had forgiven Libya’s substantial debt in return for deals on energy, weapons, and transportation infrastructure.62

Yet Libya’s arms trade with Moscow did not translate into real fraternal relations or transform Libya into a strategic Russian client. Throughout the 1970s, for example, Qadhafi attempted to diversify his sources of arms and increasingly turned to the Soviet Union only after Western governments refused or attached conditions.63 Similarly, the oft-cited example of a Russian naval port in Benghazi was always more aspirational than assured; Qadhafi was cleverly dangling this access as leverage over Russia and the West.64 And in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution, the common narrative of Russian financial losses resulting from the NATO-led regime change was also somewhat misleading. More often than not, Moscow was talking about potential losses resulting from signed or verbally promised deals.

Since then, Russia’s activities in Libya can best be described as opportunistic, flexible, diversified, and scalable. Moscow aims to rekindle and surpass the economic benefits harvested under Qadhafi through the installation of a friendly and preferably authoritarian government. Suggestions that Russia seeks to undermine Europe through release of irregular migrants, especially to Italy and, further afield, Germany, vastly overstate Russia’s degree of control on the ground.65

That said, Russia has opportunistically sought to thwart European diplomacy in Libya through increasingly aggressive initiatives unencumbered by human rights concerns. For example, Moscow has at various points made overtures to a local militia actor on an illegal hydrocarbon deal, cultivated diverse and often divided currents of Qadhafi loyalists, especially the late dictator’s son Saif al-Islam, and backed renegade eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.66

Yet the notion of Haftar serving as “Moscow’s man in Libya” or a reliable Libyan proxy is overblown.67 To be sure, Russian support was critical to the aspiring strongman’s rise in eastern Libya from 2014 to the present—though clandestine military support to Haftar from two U.S. allies, France and the United Arab Emirates, was arguably more consequential and destabilizing.68 Working with the UAE and Egypt, Russia sent weapons, spare parts, and medical care to Haftar, as well as technicians, logisticians, advisers, and intelligence personnel.69

Moscow also printed dinars for the Haftar-aligned, unrecognized Central Bank in eastern Libya, ensuring this parallel administration’s solvency. Russia state media and proxy actors supported Haftar’s rise with a fairly sophisticated information campaign.70 Most significantly, mercenaries from the state-sponsored Wagner Group bolstered the firepower of Haftar’s frontline forces during his assault on Tripoli from late 2019 to mid-2020, improving the precision of his artillery, directing the battlefield maneuvers of his fighters, and degrading morale of the Tripoli forces with fearsomely effective sniping.71

The net result of this injection of Russian support, which was accompanied by Wagner Group human rights abuses like summary executions and the planting of antipersonnel mines in residential areas, was to put Haftar within reach of toppling the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, the Government of National Accord (GNA).72

Despite all of this, Moscow was both suspicious of Haftar, given his long-standing ties to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and contemptuous of his military competence.73 Russia was a reluctant backer of his April 4, 2019, attack on the capital Tripoli.74 And even as it was sending mercenaries to assist his campaign in Tripoli, Moscow kept channels open to his opponent, the GNA—pursuing a gas deal in a GNA-controlled western area, for example—in the hopes of reaching a settlement that would secure its economic interests.75

More importantly, Moscow’s substantial aid to Haftar did not translate into loyalty or responsiveness from the notoriously headstrong Libyan commander. When the Russian Wagner Group deployment on Haftar’s behalf prompted the panicked GNA to turn to Turkish military intervention in the form of drones and Syrian mercenaries, the resulting battlefield stalemate in early 2020 prompted Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to call their own diplomatic summit in Moscow—to which Haftar was invited but ultimately walked out of.76

The blatant snub to Putin only accelerated Moscow’s distancing from Haftar, shown in its outreach in mid-2020 to his eastern political rival, the House of Representatives chair Aguilah Saleh Issa, and Moscow’s decision to halt providing printed dinars to Haftar’s beleaguered eastern administration amid a UN- and U.S.-backed effort to unify Libya’s financial institutions. Similarly, Russia has been backing a UN-brokered road map for elections scheduled for the end of the year and has been engaging the GNA on possible military support.77 In the meantime, the Wagner Group and regular military personnel have expanded their presence in and around air bases and oil facilities in the central and southern regions of Libya.78

Taken in sum, these recent shifts indicate that military force and more malign forms of meddling are chips that Russia plays that can be withdrawn, scaled, or complimented by other types of engagement in response to changing local and international contexts. Depending on the outcome of Libya’s fraught transition to elections, Russia could easily restart a more bellicose policy of military support to Haftar or another Libyan spoiler. Looking ahead, external influencers on Russian moves in either direction are the policies of Turkey, which exerts uncontested sway over western Libya through military forces and basing, and, to a lesser extent, those of the UAE, whose long-standing military intervention in Libya provided the opening for Russian support to Haftar in the first place. Ankara and Abu Dhabi have shifted their rivalry in Libya to the diplomatic sphere—for now.79


Egypt


Russian ties with Egypt are historically rooted and broad-based, comprising a mix of arms sales, media and propaganda support, logistics and basing arrangements, and infrastructure, energy, and tourism agreements. Moscow’s influence in Egypt dates to the aftermath of the 1952 officers’ coup and the ascension to power of former president Gamal Abdel Nasser, which established Egypt as a major leader in the nonaligned, nationalist, and anticolonial sphere.80 Spurned by the United States over the financing of the construction of the Aswan Dam, Nasser turned to Moscow instead.

As part of this deal, the Soviet Union provided both funding for the project and arms, in return for Egyptian cotton and grain. Yet Nasser and successive Egyptian presidents desisted from moving the transactional relationship with Russia to one of enduring fraternalism or a real strategic partnership; instead, they tried to play global powers off against one another. In 1972, for example, then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat ejected Soviet advisers as part of a broader policy of pursuing closer relations with the United States.81 His successors Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi were never close to Moscow.

And the apparent warmth of relations between Moscow and Cairo during the reign of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi since 2013 belies the Egyptian ruler’s view of the United States as his partner of choice. In spite of growing uncertainties about American power in the Middle East, Sisi is still dependent on Washington for security guarantees that he knows Moscow cannot and will not provide.

Today, Egypt is a major customer for Russian arms—Moscow’s second largest on the African continent, after Algeria.82 Some scholars point to human rights concerns and the conditionality to arms deals that the United States imposed after Sisi’s 2013 coup against Morsi, who had been democratically elected, as prompting Cairo’s growing predilection for Russian arms.83 In fact, the diversification in weapons purchases began years before, in response to Cairo’s perception of a U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East.84

From 2009 to 2018, Russian arms comprised roughly 30 percent of Egypt’s inventory, with air defenses and aircraft being the core of the transfers.85 Most significantly, in early 2021, Egypt received delivery of the first batch of advanced Su-35 aircraft, which it had ordered from Moscow after Washington had refused to sell it F-35 planes—and after Cairo declined other alternatives—and which it was determined to acquire even at the risk of U.S. sanctions.86

A Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation agreement that Egypt and Russia had signed in 2018 came into effect in 2021, which delineated military cooperation as well as ties in education, humanitarian assistance, and tourism.87 (Flights of Russian tourists to Red Sea resorts—halted after a bomb launched by the self-proclaimed Islamic State downed a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai Peninsula in October 2015—resumed in August 2021, which could help boost Egypt’s post-pandemic economic recovery.88) Energy has also been another entry point for Moscow: Russia has offered to lend Cairo $25 billion to construct a nuclear power plant that it heralds as a “second Aswan Dam,” though the economic rationale for such a massive endeavor is hardly persuasive.89

In all of these pursuits, Russia has sought to enlist Egypt as a platform for power projection across the Eastern Mediterranean, including into Libya, the Red Sea, and sub-Saharan Africa. Yet as in the other North African countries, the relationship has been buffeted by tensions, suggesting that the net result for Russian interests has been less favorable than the theatrics imply. Cairo has been irked by the Kremlin’s lack of support for Egypt in its dispute with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, as well as its signing of a military cooperation deal with Addis Ababa.90

The Egyptian government occasionally denies Moscow overflight permission and has rebuffed a Russian attempt to sign a long-term air basing agreement—a rejection that possibly resulted from pressure from the U.S. secretary of defense during a 2017 visit to Cairo.91 On the economic front, much-touted plans for Egypt to join a Russian-led economic union and a free-trade zone remain confined to ongoing talks.92 Similarly, the Russian-backed nuclear plant has an ambitious timeline and could collapse under its own economic and technical weight.


Conclusions and Implications


The motives for Russia’s renewed global activism have been well-documented over the course of Carnegie’s ongoing project, the Return of Global Russia.93 The Kremlin’s quest for stature and clout on the world stage is never far removed from its decision making—if anything, these wider ambitions propel its opportunism and attempts to seize upon the self-inflicted mistakes of other powers, especially the United States. At the same time, the Kremlin does not trouble itself with conditionality on its military assistance, respect for human rights, or the protection of delicate regional balances—principles that the U.S. and major European players have long embraced yet not always observed in practice.

Russia’s competitive advantages in the Middle East and North Africa are nontrivial. Its willingness to engage with all parties in the region allows it to maintain ties that are off-limits to U.S. officials, most vividly in Syria where the United States cannot speak directly to most of the key players. Russia’s highly centralized national-level decisionmaking allows it to perform nimbly and adroitly in fast-moving situations. Free of unwelcome scrutiny by an independent parliament or news media, the Kremlin does not have to worry all that much about the domestic blowback of policy failures or setbacks.

At the same time, the Kremlin has rarely, if ever, committed the capabilities or resources to lead the search for first-order problems in the region. It would rather collect a fee (say, in the form of commercial opportunities) for offering its good offices than provide the actual resources that are necessary to broker political deals and to make them stick. Even in Syria, where Russia is the largest outside actor, there is a clear mismatch between how the Kremlin is viewed by local actors (who sometimes have unrealistic expectations about Russian hard power, influence, and other sources of strength) and what it can actually deliver.

In North Africa, the possibility of Russia acquiring a permanent or contingency military base cannot be ruled out. (The most likely candidates are an air base in Libya or a maritime port in Egypt, Libya, or Algeria.) Such facilities could enhance Russian power projection capability into the Mediterranean and serve as the springboard into the African interior. To be sure, Russia’s various contributions to cronyism, corruption, human rights violations, and an already toxic media environment are detrimental to the region’s long-term economic and political health.

Yet U.S. and Western policymakers have ample tools at their disposal to deal with some of these challenges. For example, in Libya, shifting developments on the ground and more active multilateral diplomacy like the UN-brokered election road map have removed opportunities that Russia had hoped to exploit. Increased U.S. diplomatic backstopping to European, especially British and German, diplomatic efforts helped limit both European disunity and French unilateralism. Such moves mattered far more than “exposés” like the release of satellite photos from the U.S. Africa Command about the deployment of Russian mercenaries.94

Targeted pressure tactics (such as the seizure of Russian-printed banknotes bound for Haftar’s eastern administration, stricter multilateral enforcement of oil sales norms and embargos, and the takedown of Russia-backed fake social media accounts) are cost-effective ways to frustrate and stymie Russian meddling, although their net impact on Russian calculations should not be overstated.95

But beyond this, the challenge for Western policymakers is to avoid viewing Russian activism in the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa through an exclusively zero-sum lens. The region’s political disarray, complexities, and especially the agency, obstinacy, and unpredictability of local rulers all present built-in antibodies and buffers to Russian influence—as they do to all external players.

Russia has done itself no favors through a series of ham-fisted interactions with the region. Such moves have fostered views among local elites and the broader public that Moscow is an unreliable and problematic partner, especially compared to Europe and the United States. These reputational shortcomings are likely to have a consequential impact on Russia’s standing for years to come.


Acknowledgments


Preparation of this paper benefited immensely from a series of conversations with current and former policymakers, analysts, and experts from the United States, various European countries, and the Middle East. Without their input, advice, and suggestions, the analysis would have been far poorer. Chris Bort, Michele Dunne, Jalel Harchaoui, Andrew Lebovich, Robert Otto, Eugene Rumer, and Paul Stronski provided very helpful comments on an earlier version, which led to significant improvements along the way.

 

We are deeply grateful for keen research assistance by Grace Kier and Jacqueline Stomski, additional contributions from Aleksandar Vladicic, Ninar Fawal, and Alexa Fults, and editing by Haley Clasen.


Any remaining errors of fact or judgment are solely those of the authors.

 

 

 

 

 

Unfinished Business in Daraa

By ARMENAK TOKMAJYAN, Carnegie Middle East Centre, 25 August 2021


Regime forces are staging a comeback in southern Syria, and this time Russia may be helping matters.

 

On August 24, a group of former rebel fighters left the besieged parts of Daraa city in southern Syria. They departed for Al-Bab in rebel-controlled northern Syria. This was in line with what seems to be a preliminary agreement brokered by Russia and signed by both Damascus and the former rebels. The full extent of the agreement is not yet clear, however, though it is now certain that the regime is insisting on uprooting the resistance networks in the city, composed mainly of former rebel fighters.

The issue of former rebel fighters has long preoccupied the regime. From the start, Damascus was unhappy with an agreement brokered by Russia in 2018 with the rebels. In large part this was because it prevented the regime from dismantling former rebel networks, a situation it has sought to change. One way to achieve this aim was for the regime to gradually encroach on the former rebels’ turf.

The immediate causes of the Daraa crisis go back to June 23, when the Daraa Central Committee, composed of former rebels and the local civilian opposition, rejected a joint proposal by the regime and the Russians that armed elements hand over their light and medium-size weapons in return for the regime’s withdrawal of its militias, which were widely criticized for their abuses. When negotiations broke down, the regime besieged Daraa, leaving open only a single road into and out of the area. About three weeks into the siege, Damascus brought in reinforcements in preparation for a military operation.

Increasingly under pressure, the Daraa Central Committee agreed to a deal on July 24. At its core, the agreement permitted the regime to reenter besieged parts of Daraa city with its security forces and the army. It also stipulated a handover of some weapons by the rebels in exchange for the regime withdrawing its local militias and calling off any military escalation.

Yet the agreement fell through. Some accused the Syrian army’s Fourth Armored Division of trying to undermine the deal by bombarding the city. Others reported that the Daraa Central Committee had not been transparent about its agreement with the regime. When some of the rebels discovered that the committee had agreed to greater regime control than it had initially announced, they refused to abide by this. Some even considered it a “betrayal.”

With the breakdown of negotiations, small armed groups attacked and succeeded in taking over several regime checkpoints, capturing dozens of soldiers in the process. This marked a major escalation. The images and videos that circulated online could easily have been mistaken for those taken before 2018. In response to the former rebels’ actions, the regime expanded its bombardment campaign to include cities other than Daraa, most notably Yadouda, Jasim, and Tafas, and tightened its blockade. In a clear signal that it would not back down, Damascus called in yet more reinforcements and dispatched Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayoub to Daraa to oversee the regime forces’ military readiness.

Interestingly, reports abound that Russia encouraged the regime’s actions, particularly the siege. This was also apparent from the reactions of several Daraa Central Committee members to the situation on the ground. While they had previously accused Russia of inaction in the face of regime violations of the 2018 agreement, this time committee members accused it of outright complicity in the regime’s actions. Instead of serving as guarantor of the 2018 agreement, Russia was now helping the regime against the rebels.

Yet just as a conflagration seemed poised to erupt, Russia donned its mediator’s hat once again. At the end of July, the Russians succeeded in brokering an open-ended ceasefire, which was followed on August 15 by a “road map” that offered a detailed resolution. The road map fulfilled all of the regime’s conditions and gave very little to the opposition. It stipulated the reentry of the regime’s security, military, and civilian institutions, a handover of weapons by the rebels, and an evacuation of those who refused to live under the regime’s writ. This was everything the rebels and the civilian opposition had previously rejected, but were now obliged to accept due to the new balance of forces. From their perspective, the only tangible gain from the agreement was that it averted a major military escalation.

All this raises questions about how Russia views the regime’s increasingly assertive policy in the south. Moscow has generally appeared keen to play the role of mediator, yet seems to have hardened its position on the rebels. Indeed, Russian fluctuation during the Daraa crisis—studied noninterference followed by last-minute mediation—as well as the road map it set out clearly gave the regime the upper hand. Nevertheless, there is a limit to how far Russia will go along with Damascus. The Russians may not be opposed to the regime’s attempts to exercise greater security control in Daraa Governorate. However, they oppose a military escalation that could lead to the collapse of the post-2018 order that Moscow itself put in place, and will step in to avert such an outcome.


Carnegie does not take institutional positions on public policy issues; the views represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Carnegie, its staff, or its trustees.

 

 

 

 

 

North Africa

Menas Associates, Algeria, 31 August 2021

After several weeks of anticipation, Algeria has finally cut diplomatic relations with Morocco because of what Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra described as a proliferation of ‘hostile acts’ by Rabat.

He announced the decision on 24 August but, as Algeria Politics & Security – 31.08.21 explains, it was not taken ‘reluctantly’ and nor was it ‘inevitable’ as Lamamra claimed. On the contrary, there is evidence to suggest it had been taken purposefully and with considerable planning over several months.

This conspiracy, which we explore in some depth, involved: fabricating a completely false alliance between the small and largely irrelevant Mouvement pour l’autodétermination de la Kabylie (MAK) and the Rachad movement which has broad support; falsely designating them as terrorist organisations; and then indicting them, with the alleged support of Morocco, for both the forest fires in Kabylia and the public lynching of Djemal Bensmail.

Besides this, two genuine reasons for Algeria’s anger are: Morocco’ growing alliance with Israel and their joint hostility towards Algiers’ and Rabat’s alleged widespread use of Israel’s Pegasus spyware technology against some of Algeria’s most senior politicians and army officers.

There is also evidence that Algeria’s intelligence chiefs briefed their Western allies over several months about their impending plans to cut ties with Morocco.

It is possible that state agents may have been involved, as many people in Kabylia believe, in starting at least some of the forest fires as a way of punishing the region for its opposition to the regime and its virtual universal boycott of the 12 June elections. The economically hugely damaging fires officially killed 90-100 but there is detailed evidence from the local authorities that estimate the death toll at 192 as of 30 August.

So far, the regime has put forward no evidence for any of its claims. None of the 22-23 alleged arsonists that it claims were caught on the first day of the fires has yet been brought to court. It has not also produced the text messages between the MAK, Rachad and Morocco, that it sys it has obtained, nor any of the other unspecified material evidence that has supposedly been found.

As anticipated, Algeria is also not renewing the Gazoduc Maghreb Europe (GME) pipeline contract to transport gas to Spain and Portugal via Morocco. As we explain. However, the economic and financial damage that the regime claims this will cause Morocco is greatly exaggerated.

There are unverified reports that around 20 directors of Sonatrach’s foreign subsidiary companies have been dismissed as of 31 August. Sonatrach owns the Sonatrach International Holding Corporation (SIHC) holding company which has a portfolio of 34 overseas subsidiaries including the 100% owned Sonatrach Petroleum Corporation (SPC) which, in turn, owns half a dozen others. We do not yet know the reason for this sudden and extraordinary measure but, because most of these companies generate considerable amounts of foreign exchange, we suspect that it has something to do with Algeria’s dwindling supplies of foreign currency.

 

 

Don’t let Tunisia’s democracy slip

By Raed Ben Maaouia, African Arguments, August 30, 2021


President Saied’s sacking of the government may be popular, but what Tunisia needs is to strengthen its democracy, not dismantle it.


On 17 December 2010, 26-year-old fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in the town of Sidi Bouzid after police confiscated his cart. Driven to the edge by economic despair and humiliation at his harassment, he became the spark of Tunisia’s 2010/11 uprising against economic underdevelopment, corruption and dictatorship. These protests led to the ouster of long-time strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and inspired the so-called Arab Spring movements elsewhere in the region.

Following its revolution, Tunisia respected the rules of democracy. It enshrined a progressive new constitution in 2014 and built institutions to safeguard freedoms, albeit imperfectly. In 2015, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a group of four civil society organisations that helped mediate efforts to consolidate pluralism. While Egypt witnessed a slide into fierce authoritarianism in the wake of the Arab Spring, and Syria, Yemen and Libya fell into civil war, Tunisia stood out as an Arab democratic lodestar.

Today, however, Tunisia’s political gains are in peril due to the recent exceptional measures taken by President Kais Saied. On 25 July, he responded to protests against a tattered economy, endemic corruption and inept handling of the pandemic by sacking Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, suspending parliament, stripping parliamentarians of immunity, and assuming judicial authority. Saied thus monopolised the three branches of power: legislative, executive and judicial. In justifying these actions, he appealed to Article 80 of the constitution, which allows the president to take extraordinary measures in the case of “imminent danger”. However, this clause necessitates consultation with the head of government and speaker of parliament, and that the parliament be in continuous session – none of which applied to Saied’s measures.

The reaction of the international community – from the West to the African Union – has so far been tepid. Policymakers and legal experts have been caught up in semantics of whether Saied’s measures constitute a coup, a soft coup or a constitutional coup. In the meantime, the hopes of staying on democratic course in Tunisia are shrinking with every day that passes.


A more authoritarian Tunisia


Over a month on, Tunisia remains in limbo with no checks and balances on President Saied’s power. In fact, he just announced an indefinite extension of the emergency period that was initially in place for 30 days. No new prime minister has been named or cabinet formed, nor has a roadmap or calls for a national dialogue been announced. Saied has repeatedly declared that he will not retract his actions and negotiate with the “corrupt”, but without specifying who falls into this category.

Saied justified his exceptional measures as a response to the demands of the people who called on the government to step down on 25 July, some clashing with security forces and attacking the offices of Ennahda, the party with the largest bloc in parliament. His actions enjoy public support, with local polling suggesting 87% approve of them.

Tunisians had every right and reason to mobilise. The country is suffering one of the worst COVID-19 mortality rates per capita in Africa and the Middle East. Public services remain inadequate and the unemployment rate stands at around 17%. Tourism has suffered due to terrorist attacks in 2015 and the pandemic, and government debt stands at 85% of GDP.

If there is anything the turmoil leading up to 25 July has shown, it is that Tunisia’s young democracy was fragile and one that preserved corruption and kleptocracy. What Tunisia is experiencing now, however, is not a socially accountable democracy. It is a populist version with Saied presenting himself as the voice of the people in their revolt against the corrupt political class. He has launched investigations into political figures and parties suspected of corruption and placed travel bans on them. There is a possibility he might soon target political opponents more selectively.

There is no doubt that systemic reforms against corruption are desperately needed in Tunisia, but the solution is to strengthen, not dismantle, democracy. Political and civil society actors must be unequivocal in their stance: we will not prop up a more authoritarian Tunisia. The country needs to root out corruption, not give absolute power to a single individual. Those suspected of corruption should be subject to due legal process.

Tunisia needs to appoint a new prime minister, but this is not enough. It needs a roadmap out of the crisis through a national political dialogue and institutional continuity. Even if discredited in the public eye, political parties and parliament cannot simply be upended. It is the votes of the Tunisians that should determine which new representatives are entrusted with helping them out of the crisis. A capable government needs to be formed with a broad consensus of political parties and civil society to help bolster the sluggish economy and address the ravages of the pandemic.


Two foreseeable scenarios


There are two foreseeable scenarios for Tunisia right now. One is the creation of a third republic. The first Tunisian republic began in 1959 and ended with the ouster of Ben Ali in January 2011. The second followed and was enshrined by the 2014 constitution. A third republic would require a referendum on a new political system and constitution as well as fresh parliamentary elections. If this occurs, Saied is likely to seek a constitution that enshrines a presidential system. Tunisia’s current parliamentary system is complex and has stalled progress, but it is much harder for a parliamentary system to pave the way to dictatorship than a presidential one.

The second possible scenario would be a return to constitutional legitimacy, namely by reinstating parliament and returning immunity to parliamentarians with the exception of those deemed by law as corrupt. This may also involve the appointment of a caretaker government to help the country out of the crisis and organise early legislative elections. In this scenario, Saied could seek a revised electoral law that makes it harder for smaller parties to win seats. Parties currently need to get at least 3% of the vote to be represented in parliament, but the president could push for this to be amended to 5%. Proponents argue that this would lead to a less fractured parliament and thus make reaching consensus easier. Critics say it would alienate smaller parties and their voters.

Regardless of which scenario plays out, Tunisians need guarantees that their democracy will not be demolished. So far, early signs warrant concern. The day after Saied’s power grab, security forces raided the offices of Al Jazeera, which is seen as sympathetic to Ennahda. A few days later, independent Tunisian MP Yassine Ayari, an outspoken critic of the government and military, was sentenced to two months in jail by a military court. He became the first MP to be prosecuted since Saied lifted parliamentary immunity.

Accountability, human rights, and rule of law must be preserved in Tunisia. These are essential for keeping in check authoritarian drift by the president and overseeing reforms launched by any incoming cabinet. Tunisians need assurances that new elections will take place without intimidation and that there will be no disruptions to the normal procedures of changing the constitution.

Tunisia’s civil society needs to pressure the leadership to return the country to the correct course. If we don’t, we will have been complicit in potentially compromising our fledgling democracy. We will also have been complicit in prolonging the woes of Tunisians because the current impasse will hinder the ability of the authorities to address the country’s dire economic and health troubles.

Let us all not forget the struggle of the Tunisian people towards building a progressive pluralistic society and raising the hopes of democratic aspirants across the Arab world. Civil society must defend public and private rights and freedoms. We must re-align with citizens’ right to self-determination through the ballot box. It is imperative to help Tunisia during this critical juncture before it is too late. Don’t let Tunisia’s democracy slip.

 

 

 

RABAT - Morocco's long-ruling Islamists have suffered a crushing defeat in parliamentary elections to liberal parties seen as close to the palace.

Morocco's long-ruling Islamists have suffered a crushing defeat in parliamentary elections to liberal parties seen as close to the palace, according to provisional results announced early Thursday.

The Justice and Development Party (PJD), which headed the ruling coalition for a decade, saw its support collapse from 125 seats in the outgoing assembly to just 12, Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit said during a press briefing following Wednesday's polls.

It was far behind its main liberal rivals, the National Rally of Independents (RNI) and the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), with 97 and 82, respectively, and the centre-right Istiqlal Party with 78 seats in the 395-seat assembly.

The RNI, which was a junior member of the governing coalition, is headed by billionaire businessman Aziz Akhannouch, described as close to the palace.

And the main opposition PAM was founded by the current royal adviser, Fouad Ali El Himma, in 2008.

The Istiqlal (Independence) party, the oldest in Morocco, made a remarkable comeback, adding 32 seats.

The magnitude of the Islamists' defeat was unexpected as, despite the absence of opinion polls that are banned near election time, the media and analysts had believed the PJD would still take first place.

Swept to power in the wake of the 2011 uprisings around the Middle East and North Africa, the PJD had hoped to secure a third term leading a ruling coalition.

King Mohammed VI will name a prime minister from the party that won the poll to govern the nation of 36 million for the next five years, succeeding Saad-Eddine El Othmani.

The final results should be known on Thursday.

Turnout was 50.35 percent, according to the interior minister, higher than the 43 percent at the previous legislative polls in 2016, but lower than the 53 percent during the 2015 local elections.

But changes to the voting system meant that it was the first time Morocco's 18 million voters cast ballots in both parliamentary and local elections on the same day, in an effort to boost turnout.


Accusations of vote buying


In 2011, the North African kingdom adopted a new constitution devolving many of the monarch's powers to parliament and the government.

However, regardless of who holds elected office, major decisions continue to come from initiatives of King Mohammed VI.

On Wednesday evening, the Islamists alleged "serious irregularities," including "obscene cash handouts" near polling stations and "confusion" on some electoral rolls, with some voters finding they were not listed.

However, the interior minister said voting took place "under normal circumstances" apart from some isolated incidents.

The short, largely lacklustre election campaign, with no big gatherings due to the coronavirus, had already been marred by accusations of vote buying.

The PJD and the RNI also exchanged heated barbs in the final days ahead of the vote.

Former prime minister and PJD leader Abdelilah Benkirane attacked the RNI boss, billionaire businessman and Agriculture Minister Akhannouch, in a fiery Facebook video on Sunday.

"The head of government must be a political personality with integrity who is above suspicion," he said.

Akhannouch retorted in an interview on Monday that the attacks were "an admission of failure" by his opponents.

Following the previous elections in 2016, the RNI leader secured critical ministerial jobs for his party, including the economy and finance and industry portfolios.

For the first time since the first elections were held in Morocco in 1960, parties' shares of seats will be calculated based on registered voters, rather than those who actually cast their ballots, in an amendment seen as favouring smaller parties.

Whatever the result, political parties are expected to adopt a charter for a "new model of development" with a "new generation of reforms and projects" in the coming years, the king announced recently.

All parties are expected to sign up, regardless of who wins the election.

The plan's major aims include reducing the country's wealth gap and doubling per-capita economic output by 2035.

 

Viewpoint: Algerian blame games expose deep political crisis

By Magdi Abdelhadi

BBC North Africa analyst, 02 September 2021

If the official name of a state has the words "democratic" and "popular", it is arguably neither.

Take the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, otherwise known as North Korea, which is a totalitarian one-party state.

Then there's Algeria, whose official name is remarkably similar to that of North Korea - the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria.

Although it is not in the same league as that in Pyongyang, ask any of the thousands who have taken to the streets in Algeria since 2019 and they will concur that their regime is neither democratic nor popular.

They would say that their country has been run by a clique for decades, with the military holding the reins of power behind a civilian façade, and used the country's oil wealth to line their pockets.

Further, the protesters view successive parliamentary and presidential elections as a sham to bestow legitimacy on a regime that otherwise has none.

Another tell-tale sign of a "people's democratic republic" is that in moments of national crisis, the government's first reaction is to blame foreigners or "fifth-columnists".

When Algeria was hit last month by a wave of forest fires that devastated thousands of hectares of trees and green pasture and killed at least 90 people, including some 30 soldiers who had been deployed to put out the fires, the government's first response was to point the finger at arsonists and to vow to hunt them down.

It provided no evidence. Not a word was said about climate change or that similar fires have been raging across the Mediterranean.

It was a similar response when the harrowing details emerged of the lynching and burning of the body of 37-year-old Djamel Ben Ismail, who had gone to the Kabylie region to help fellow Algerians extinguish the fires.

The incident was caught on mobile phones and widely circulated on social media. Algerians were shocked by the savagery of the perpetrators.

Embarrassingly for the government, it unfolded under the watchful eye of the police, who did next to nothing to stop the onslaught.

The government has defended the officers, saying they had come under attack from a violent mob, who snatched Mr Ismail from a police van.

The authorities have rounded up dozens of people - the latest count is about 80 - and accused them of involvement.

Characteristically, they were paraded on state television handcuffed while making confessions that, conveniently for the regime, implicated a local political organisation that the government recently designated a terrorist group.

The organisation, known by the acronym MAK, campaigns for the independence of Kabylie, a predominantly Berber region in northern Algeria, which was worst hit by the fires.

The region is also the birthplace of Hirak - the movement whose protests led to the ending of the two-decade rule of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2019.

Hirak has continued to spook the old Bouteflika allies who have succeeded him.


Murder mystery


Typical also of the "democratic people's republic" is that the people rarely trust what the state media says.

As a result, speculation was rife as to who actually was behind the brutal mutilation of Mr Ismail.

He was an Arab, the killers were Berber youths.

One popular narrative on social media and among Algerian dissidents in exile said the killing must, therefore, have been an attempt by the "deep state" - a reference to the secret services - to ignite ethnic strife, and to deflect public anger from state failures.

Some wondered whether Mr Ismail was a pawn in a bigger power game to destabilise Kabylie and thus justify a crackdown on the regime's opponents.

The government has now announced that it will compensate all those who suffered from the forest fires.

On the issue of Mr Ismail's murder, police say his mobile has been found with "shocking facts concerning the real reasons behind his killing".

However, these revelations will reportedly not be disclosed because of the ongoing investigation.


'Scapegoating Morocco'


Having dealt with the "domestic threat", the regime moved a gear higher by announcing that next-door neighbour, and old regional rival, Morocco had been found guilty of fomenting trouble for Algeria.

It cut diplomatic ties with Rabat and announced it will no longer provide Morocco with Algerian gas, estimated at 800 million cubic metres annually.

Morocco has dismissed the Algerian allegations and expressed the hope that diplomatic ties could be resumed shortly.

It is yet to comment on the likely impact of the decision on its domestic energy needs.

Critics were quick to point out that scapegoating Morocco and domestic opposition groups is an old tactic to divert attention from the regime's spectacular failure in dealing with domestic problems such as the forest fires, the Covid-19 pandemic and the lack of jobs.

Last month, as infections peaked amid a severe shortage of oxygen for seriously ill patients, the government issued directives to the media to play down "the bad news".

It was straight from the textbook of totalitarian states - blame the media for the regime's failures.

Yet, paradoxically, the pandemic gave the regime respite from the protests organised by Hirak. It was a perfect public health pretext to ban gatherings and demonstrations.

But after a lull, the protesters were back on the streets of Kherrata in Kabylie earlier this year to mark the second anniversary of Hirak.


Anger at military


They want a complete dismantling of the old order and reject what they regard as a rearranging of the deck chairs.

That's how they view President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, an insider who was elected in 2019.

Their slogan is: "All of them must resign" - and they have the military in their sight.

They singled out army chief General Saïd Chengriha, believing he is the de facto president.

Their anger has its roots in the failure of the post-independence state to deliver a decent standard of living and political freedoms.

It's a regime that has built its legitimacy on the anti-colonial narrative, which is of little relevance today in a predominantly young society, most of whom were born after independence from France in 1962.

The question now is whether a renewed Hirak can achieve what has so far eluded other protest movements in much of North Africa and the Middle East - freedom and the rule of law.

 

 

Research Papers & Reports

NEW YORK - The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be the greatest shared global challenge since the UN’s founding 75 years ago, according to the annual Report of the Secretary-General on the Work of the Organization, published on Thursday.

“The global health, social, economic and human rights crises triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic have underscored the importance of multilateral cooperation – and tested it to the limit”, said Secretary-General António Guterres.

From safeguarding people and jobs, to assisting Governments in ensuring a sustainable and equitable recovery, the United Nations has played a central role in responding to the pandemic.

It has supported some 160 countries in tackling the health, humanitarian, social and economic impacts of the virus and helped more than 260 million students to access remote learning.

At the same time to debunk COVID-19 misinformation, the UN Verified initiative has published over 1,000 pieces of digital content in at least 50 languages.


Protecting people globally


Because human rights are at the centre of the UN’s work in driving peace and security, social stability, public health and a healthy environment, the Organization has supported 8,594 victims of contemporary forms of slavery in 23 countries, partnered with 89 States to reform discriminatory laws and assisted 40,000 victims of torture in 78 nations.

In the report, UN Political Affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo described the pandemic as “a political stress test”, that “has also confirmed that political will to make and sustain peace can overcome any barrier, especially if there is support from the global community”.

The UN has also assisted 81,000 Stateless individuals in acquiring or confirming their identity and supported 82.5 million people fleeing war, famine and persecution.

UN peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix underscored the importance of “our collective dedication”, saying the people “who depend on us expect no less”.


Ramping up development


The Organization has continued to advance evidence-based policies that support States in recovering from the pandemic while nudging forward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The UN has assisted five million people to obtain work in 28 crisis-affected countries, aided 1.2 million vulnerable people in 13 States with tenure security and helped 24 million people access financial services in 22 nations.

And on the ground, resident coordinators and UN country teams have assisted over 240 million people with essential services, 36 million with critical water and sanitation supplies and 120 million with social protection schemes.

Its swift and integrated support to Africa’s COVID response focussed on health and humanitarian interventions as well as socioeconomic assistance to protect vulnerable populations.

The Organization also provided early policy guidance and launched the Africa knowledge management hub on COVID-19 and the Africa dashboard digital one-stop shops for verified information and data.


Climate crisis


In mobilizing global climate action, from science-based reports to public advocacy and private negotiation, the UN has contributed to creating a growing coalition for net zero emissions by mid-century and increasing awareness in the investment community that fossil fuels are riskier and more expensive than renewable energy.

Moreover, the Climate Ambition Summit of last December, delivered plans and pledges from 75 countries on their intentions to cut global emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 compared with 2010 levels, in accordance with the Paris Agreement.


Countering crime


The pandemic has also magnified the world’s exposure to crime, corruption, drugs and terrorism, with stay at home orders intensifying risks of domestic violence and online sexual exploitation.

Greater inclusion and access to justice became more vital than ever over the past year.

The UN helped to achieve this by contributing to COVID-19 preparedness in detention centres that resulted in improved prison conditions and basic services for detainees and increased its online activities to strengthen support on cybercrime, with an emphasis on online child sexual abuse and exploitation.

 

 

By Aristos Georgiou, first published by Newsweek on 15 September 2021

WASHINGTON - The Mu COVID-19 variant has been garnering increased attention over the past few weeks and was recently designated as a "variant of interest" by the World Health Organization (WHO). But is Mu more dangerous than the Delta variant that is fueling the latest wave of infections in the United States?

The Delta variant has spread to more than 170 countries around the world since first being identified in India in October 2020, becoming dominant in many regions.

In the United States, for example, Delta is now totally dominant, accounting for more than 99 percent of new COVID-19 cases, figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show.

According to the CDC, the Delta variant causes more infections and spreads faster than earlier forms of SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19.

Studies show that Delta is highly contagious—perhaps more than twice as contagious as previous variants.

There is also some evidence to suggest that Delta might cause more severe illness than previous variants in unvaccinated people.

Some research has shown that individuals infected with Delta, which has been listed as a "variant of concern" by the CDC, appear to have viral loads 1,000 times higher than those seen with previous variants.

While COVID-19 vaccines are effective at reducing infections with Delta—as well as severe disease—breakthrough cases can still occur. Fully vaccinated people with breakthrough infections can still spread the virus to others, although they appear to be infectious for a shorter time.

Delta has multiple mutations on the spike protein of the virus. This particular set of mutations make the variant much more effective when it comes to binding and entering human cells, hence why it is so contagious.

Much less is known about the Mu variant, which the WHO added to its "variant of interest" (VOI) list on August 30.

The variant, which was first identified in Colombia in January 2021, has now been confirmed in more than 40 countries around the world and all 50 U.S. states.

The WHO designated Mu as a VOI due to significant outbreaks in South American countries such as Colombia and Ecuador, as well as some parts of Europe.

But in the U.S., Mu accounted for only around 0.1 percent of new infections in the week ending September 11, according to the CDC. And the proportion of new cases caused by the new variant has been falling since July as Delta has become more dominant. The CDC has not yet listed Mu as a VOI.

The Mu variant has several mutations in the spike protein, with initial research indicating that it could be more resistant to vaccines or natural immunity than earlier variants (although the full extent of this is not yet clear).

But WHO officials have said that the Delta variant is a far more pressing concern due to its highly contagious nature.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the agency's technical lead for COVID-19, said during a virtual press conference last Tuesday: "The Delta variant for me is the one that's most concerning because of the increased transmissibility."

"In some countries, the proportion of cases with the Mu variant is increasing," Van Kerkhove said. "But in other countries, the proportion of Mu is decreasing. Where Delta is, Delta takes over really quickly."

Dr. Mike Ryan, head of the WHO's health emergencies program, said at the press conference that any new variant has to compete with the "best of class," which is currently Delta. This variant tends to "outcompete" other variants, he said, even if they are better at evading the protection afforded by vaccines or natural immunity.

Earlier in September, White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, said health authorities in the U.S. were monitoring Mu closely while downplaying the threat posed by the variant.

"We're paying attention to it, we take everything like that seriously, but we don't consider it an immediate threat right now," Fauci said at a press briefing on September 2.

John P. Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College, previously told Newsweek that while Mu has some "troubling mutations," it is not spreading widely in the United States.

"I've seen very few studies on its properties because it's not been widely studied yet. The key thing is, it's just not spreading much."

The fact that Mu isn't spreading as rapidly as Delta could mean that the new variant will gradually disappear, according to Moore.

"One of the things we've learned with Delta is that it squelched out less transmissible variants," Moore said. "It's the most transmissible variants that dominate. And everything else just becomes less and less of an issue. Unless Mu has unique transmissibility properties, and that would be surprising because it's not been seen so far. It's survival of the fittest from the virus perspective."

And even if Mu turns out to be more resistant to vaccines than other strains, experts say the shots that are currently available will likely still be effective at protecting against severe disease.

Jesse Erasmus, PhD, director of Virology at HDT Bio, and acting assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, told WebMD: "A preprint study (not yet peer-reviewed) came out September 7, and indeed demonstrates that Mu is slightly more vaccine resistant than the Beta variant."

"When we talk about vaccine escape, we have to be very careful to specify this is escape from infection, not from serious disease. Even against the most vaccine resistant variant out there, the vaccines still protect against disease."

 

 

GENEVA - Casualties caused by lethal cluster munitions continued to increase in 2020, despite progress in efforts to eliminate these weapons, a UN-backed civil society report said on Wednesday.

The hair-trigger devices have caused at least 360 recorded casualties globally, either by cluster munition attacks (142) or due to remnants of these weapons (218), according to the Cluster Munition Monitor 2021, although it said that the true number is likely much higher.

This represents a continued increase from 317 in 2019, and 277 in 2018. According to the Monitor, civilians remain the primary victims of cluster munitions at the time of the attacks and after the conflict has ended and accounted for all casualties recorded in 2020.

Children represented nearly half (44 per cent) of all casualties where the age was known, and a quarter were women and girls, who in 2020 were less likely to survive an attack.

“In the last year, cluster munition attacks killed and wounded civilians going about their everyday activities, and unexploded submunitions remain an enduring threat,” said Loren Persi, Impact Editor for the Monitor.


‘Prohibition gaining strength’ 


In 2020, victims of cluster munition remnants were recorded in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Iraq, Lao PDR, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, as well as Nagorno-Karabakh. Globally, 26 countries and three other areas remain contaminated by submunition remnants.

Researchers found that the largest number of casualties resulted from cluster munition attacks in Azerbaijan (107). Neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which has 110 States Parties and 13 signatories.

The Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) has urged nonsignatories to take steps to renounce the weapon and join the convention without delay.

“The denials of cluster munition attacks in Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh and their widespread condemnation shows how the prohibition on these weapons is gaining strength,” said Mary Wareham, Ban Policy editor of Cluster Munition Monitor 2021 and Human Rights Watch (HRW) Arms Advocacy director.

“All states should condemn any use of cluster munitions by any actor under any circumstances,” she added.


Indiscriminate bomblets


Cluster munitions are launched either from the ground or dropped from the air from containers that open and disperse hundreds of “bomblets” which scatter indiscriminately over wide areas.

Many fail to detonate, leaving a trail of explosive remnants and submunitions that threaten lives and make farm land off-limits, creating barriers to socio-economic development. The report also documents the progress made in saving lives and livelihoods during the past year, despite additional challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Stockpiles destroyed


Stockpile destruction is one of the convention’s major success stories. To date, a total of 36 States Parties have destroyed 99 per cent of all cluster munitions stocks declared.

In the last year alone, Bulgaria, Peru, and Slovakia destroyed a total of 2,273 cluster munitions and more than 52,000 submunitions. In addition, in 2020, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and Slovakia destroyed their respective stocks of cluster munitions retained for research and training purposes.

Only 10 States Parties now see a need to retain live cluster munitions for such permitted purposes. In 2020, States Parties reported clearance of approximately 63km2 of cluster munition-contaminated land and the destruction of nearly 81,000 submunitions. During the year Croatia and Montenegro also joined the list of 12 countries that have successfully completed clearance of their contaminated areas.


Challenges of pandemic


The report states that risk education remains a fundamental part of the response to the dangers posed by cluster munition remnants.

Due to the pandemic, alternatives such as online messaging, and TV and radio broadcasts, replaced in-person outreach for disseminating life-saving information to affected communities. 

“Despite challenges, progress was reported in the work to clear and return land to communities, to provide focused risk education to those most under threat, and to deliver on the obligation of providing assistance to victims,” Mr. Persi said.

The report comes as States Parties to the convention prepare to gather for the Second Review Conference, on 20–21 September, and where they will adopt a plan of action for the next four years.

 

 

 

Breakthrough in the fight against cancer

Scientific discovery could raise the number of people surviving cancer

LONDON - Scientists have made a discovery that could lead to an increase in the number of people surviving cancer.

A research team at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester found that patients whose tumours attract immune cells – that then clone themselves – respond better to immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy helps the patient’s own body find and destroy cancer cells and has cured some patients with advanced cancer.

The team hopes their discovery could pave the way for treatments that increase the number of immune cells, called T cells, so that immunotherapy works for a much larger group of patients.

At present, it can be difficult to predict which patients will respond to immunotherapy and who will see little or no response.

Consultant oncologist, Dr Sara Valpione, 38, who led the research published in the journal Nature Communications, said that when T cells replicate and are found in tumours, it suggests the T cells have tried to fight the cancer and lost.

But when these patients are given immunotherapy, they respond better.

She told the PA news agency: “If you imagine cancer being like a war zone, there are the evil guys – the cancer cells – and the good fighters, which is our immune system.

“I’m focusing on a particular kind of soldier, which is the T cells.

“Cancer cells are very similar to our own body cells, but they differ because something goes wrong, they have broken pieces, and the immune system can recognise these broken pieces inside the cancer cells.

“The beauty of T cells is that they are very highly specialised to recognise broken things, and each single cell can recognise one specific broken thing.

“So, when one of these soldiers recognises a cancer cell, the first thing they do is to clone themselves, to multiply, to create a small army to recognise the broken piece and kill those cancer cells.

“The question behind this work was – if we see that there are already these squads of identical T cells, does it mean that a fight has already started?

“And we saw that when there are these small squads of identical T cells, the patients have a higher chance of responding to immunotherapy, which is really a breakthrough treatment.

“The problem we have had is that we don’t know which patients have cancer that is going to respond to immunotherapy, and which patients will not respond and are receiving potentially very toxic drugs.”

The study included almost 200 patient samples to see what was going on in cells.

Dr Valpione added: “We found that if you have a squad of T cells inside the tumour, the patient has a higher chance of responding to immunotherapy.

“It is something that a lot of people have been thinking about for a long time but nobody has proved it.

“I think this is an important piece of information that that will help us not only to understand the biology of cancer better but also to help clinicians understand which patients are the ideal candidates for these drugs.”

Asked how the presence of the T cells help immunotherapy to work, Dr Valpione said: “This is just my speculation, but I think that when the fight has already started but was not successful – because cancer cells are very sneaky and can put a sort of sleeping spell on the T cells so they cannot work properly – this creates conditions where immunotherapy works better because immunotherapy wakes up the immune cells.

“It releases the brakes that have been pushed by cancer cells.

“Our observations make perfect sense in this context… it is a working hypothesis.”

The hope is that scientists can identify who will respond to treatments for all types of cancer.

They also want to look in the coming years at how a patient may gain more T cells to respond better to immunotherapy.

Dr Valpione said: “Maybe in five or 10 years we will have another drug or we will be able to perfect therapies where you infuse T cells, you infuse the soldiers, and maybe we will be able to perfect these soldiers.

“That is the dream.”

Dr Valpione has mostly used existing data collected from melanoma patients but the belief is the findings can be used across many other cancers involving immunotherapy.

Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, said: “These results are really encouraging to see.

“Immunotherapies are an incredibly important area of research with the potential to make a real difference to patients.

“While these findings are early research, they add to our growing insight into how to better treat patients with immunotherapies, helping us predict who will respond more to those treatments.”

The Christie research team also included Professor Paul Lorigan, Dr Avinash Gupta and Luca Campana and the team at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute.

 

 

Africa

GENEVA - Africa needs around 470 million doses to accomplish the global of fully vaccinating 40 per cent of its population by the end of the year, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

The international COVAX initiative aimed at guaranteeing global access to the vaccines, recently announced that it was being forced to slash planned deliveries to Africa, by around 150 million doses this year.

The scheme is now expected to deliver 470 million doses through the end of December. These will be enough to protect just 17 per cent of the continent, far below the 40 per cent target.

To reach the end-year target, that 470 million figure needs to double, even if all planned shipments via COVAX and the African Union are delivered.


Export bans, vaccine hoarding


WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said that “export bans and vaccine hoarding have a chokehold on vaccine supplies to Africa.”

“As long as rich countries lock COVAX out of the market, Africa will miss its vaccination goals. The huge gap in vaccine equity is not closing anywhere near fast enough. It is time for vaccine manufacturing countries to open the gates and help protect those facing the greatest risk,” Ms. Moeti said.

Besides export bans, challenges in boosting production and delays in approvals have constrained deliveries. COVAX has called for donor countries to share their supply schedules to give more clarity on deliveries.

The initiative has also called for countries with enough doses, to give up their place in the queue. Manufacturers must deliver in line with their prior commitments, and countries that are well-advanced must expand and accelerate donations.

About 95 million more doses are set to arrive in Africa via COVAX throughout September, which will be the largest shipment the continent has taken on board for any month so far. Just 50 million people, or 3.6 per cent of its population, has been inoculated to date.

Only around 2 per cent of the nearly 6 billion doses administered globally have gone to Africans. The European Union and the United Kingdom have vaccinated over 60 per cent of their populations and high-income countries have administered 48 times more doses per person, than low-income nations.


Variants risk


“The staggering inequity and severe lag in shipments of vaccines threatens to turn areas in Africa with low vaccination rates into breeding grounds for vaccine-resistant variants. This could end up sending the whole world back to square one,” warned Ms. Moeti.

WHO is ramping up support to African countries to identify and address gaps in their COVID-19 vaccine rollouts.

The agency has assisted 15 countries in conducting intra-action reviews and offered recommendations for improvements. The reviews have shown that vaccine supply security and uncertainty around deliveries has been a major impediment.

With over 300 staff in place across Africa supporting the COVID-19 response, WHO is deploying experts and producing support plans in specific areas, including securing staff, financing, strengthening supply chains and logistics and boosting demand for vaccines.


Case summary


As of 14 September, there were 8.06 million COVID-19 cases recorded in Africa and while the third wave wanes, there were nearly 125,000 new cases in the week ending on 12 September.

This represents a 27 per cent drop from the previous week, but weekly new cases are still at about the peak of the first wave, and 19 countries continue to report high or fast-rising case numbers.

Deaths fell by 19 per cent across Africa, to 2,531 reported in the week to September 12th. The highly transmissible Delta variant has been found in 31 African countries.

 

 

Arms transfers, military spending and insurgencies: What we do (and do not) know about Mozambique

By Jordan Smith, SIPRI, 21 June 2021

STOCKHOLM - Earlier this year, the United States-led ‘war on terror’ gained another African front line. In March, the USA added a Mozambican group known as Ansar al-Sunnah to its list of designated foreign terrorist organizations, under the name ‘ISIS-Mozambique’.

Portugal, the USA and others are already preparing to offer Mozambique help with counter-insurgency. If recent experience in the Sahel region is anything to go by, this will include military support, including arms transfers.

But is boosting Mozambique’s armed forces the best approach? Increased flows of major arms to Burkina Faso and Mali, along with military training support, have not helped those countries to quash their own insurgencies and restore stability. Furthermore, important questions remain over governance and transparency in Mozambique.


A growing appetite for military assistance


More than 3000 civilians have been killed and 700 000 people internally displaced since a jihadist insurgency emerged in Cabo Delgado province in October 2017. Much of the violence has been attributed to Ansar al-Sunnah.

The international community has been slow to respond to this emerging threat, possibly due to a perception that the risk of it spilling over into relatively stable neighbouring countries was low. That seems to be changing.

Mozambique has generally been reluctant to accept direct military support in the past, turning to mercenary groups instead, including the South Africa-based Dyck Advisory Group. However, since a large-scale attack in the town of Palma in Cabo Delgado in March this year, Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi appears to be warming to the idea.

Nyusi is in talks with Rwandan President Paul Kagame about possible support from Rwandan forces. He also seems more open to support from the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Nyusi, the current SADC chair, previously dismissed calls to discuss a regional response to the insurgency in the SADC. However, he acquiesced to meetings in April and May this year called for by regional leaders. Although no concrete plan for regional action has yet appeared, Botswana and South Africa are pressing for SADC military action.

Tanzania, an SADC member that shares a border with Cabo Delgado, has stepped up its bilateral cooperation (including joint exercises) with Mozambique since Ansar al-Sunnah carried out a cross-border attack. Incidents like this could add weight to calls for an intervention under the SADC’s collective self-defence agreement, which forms one of several legal bases for the organization to take military action.

The USA has also shown willingness to support the Mozambican armed forces, the Forças Armadas de Defesa de Moçambique (FADM), in counter-insurgency efforts. It carried out a two-month Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) exercise for Mozambican marines, which began five days after ISIS-Mozambique was added to the US terror list.

Portugal, Mozambique’s former colonial power, confirmed that it is sending 60 troops to provide training as part of a new defence cooperation plan lasting until 2026. Portugal also used its position as European Union (EU) Council President during the first half of 2021 to call on EU partners to increase military support for Maputo, a move backed by the USA.


Arms transfers to Mozambique


Some countries experiencing insurgencies like the one in Mozambique received significantly more arms transfers in 2016–20 than in 2011–15. Burkina Faso saw an increase of 83 per cent and Mali 669 per cent. Such increases are, however, yet to be seen in Mozambique.

According to the SIPRI Arms Transfers Database, two deliveries of major conventional arms were made to Mozambique between 2016 and 2020. These were an Mi‑171 transport helicopter from Russia and two Fast Interceptor patrol boats from India. Between 2001 and 2016, Mozambique imported few major arms. Earlier transfers included trainer aircraft supplied by Brazil and Slovakia, light aircraft from Germany, Portugal and Romania, and two transport aircraft from Ukraine. Mozambique also received armoured personnel carriers from China, South Africa and the United Kingdom and one patrol boat from Spain. The majority of these arms were second hand or provided free as aid.

Mozambique also has received relatively low volumes of small arms and light weapons (SALW) shipments since 2001, according to the UN Register of Conventional Arms. They included at least 340 rifles or carbines from Portugal, 390 revolvers and self-loading pistols from Turkey, and 215 assault rifles from the UK.

Despite being party to the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty, Mozambique is yet to provide reports on its imports of major arms and SALW. This means that Mozambique may have received imports of SALW that have not been publicly confirmed.


Military spending


SIPRI’s estimates of Mozambique’s military expenditure as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) have remained relatively consistent since 2001. The insurgency does not seem to have affected spending, and in fact the only significant decrease in total spending in the period 2016–20—of 24 per cent—was recorded between 2019 and 2020 (see figure 1) despite the increasing violence.

But these estimates are based on publicly available government documents and Mozambique has poor institutional transparency.

In 2016 it was revealed that off-budget military spending had been part of a series of secret government loans from 2013 on. Investigations on behalf of Mozambique’s public prosecutor by Kroll (an international company that assesses governance, risk and transparency) alleged that these loans were worth around US$2 billion. They were provided to three companies, Ematum, Mozambique Asset Management (MAM) and Proindicus, all of which are partly owned by the Servico de Informaçãos e Segurança do Estado (SISE), Mozambique’s security services.

Of these off-budget sums, $500 million had reportedly been earmarked for patrol aircraft, boats and radars. Another $200 million was to pay commissions for individuals facilitating those deals. But around two-thirds of the sum, $1.3 billion, remains unaccounted for. The $500 million alone would more than double Mozambique’s military expenditure between 2013 and 2016.


Arms transfers for counter-insurgency: A need for caution


The impact that new access to arms can have in certain contexts should not be underestimated. It remains unclear whether arms supplies provide additional security and ultimately help to stabilize violent conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, or rather provoke and prolong them. Recent experience in Burkina Faso and Mali certainly suggests that increased arms transfers are no easy solution.

One question is whether equipping and expanding the FADM could end up strengthening grievances against the state. The US military training missions followed calls by Amnesty International for more training of the FADM, including in international human rights law. Amnesty has documented human rights violations believed to have been carried out by the FADM and mercenary groups as well as Ansar al-Sunnah. There is surely a risk that greater access to arms will exacerbate these abuses.

Furthermore, allegations of large-scale corruption have likely deepened mistrust of the government. Perceptions of relative deprivation and inequality have been assessed to be stronger motivations for insurgents than jihadist ideology. The start of the insurgency followed quickly after the $2 billion loans scandal broke. This connection demands further attention and research.

With military options being considered by both the EU and the SADC, adding new arms to the conflict in Mozambique risks worsening an already dire situation for local civilians, not ending it. Furthermore, with major concerns around transparency in military procurement and budgeting, suppliers cannot be confident about how and where their arms exports will be used.

Until more is known about the impact that certain weapons supplies may have on Mozambique’s conflict, any external actors should carefully consider the implications of arms transfers as a response to the insurgency. Pursuing such a policy in isolation would act as a treatment for symptoms rather than an effective prevention strategy and is unlikely to bring the conflict to a peaceful resolution.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jordan Smith is an intern in the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.

 

 

 

What Abuja sees in the Taliban’s takeover

Nigeria, Menas Associates, 29 August 2021

Rarely has President Muhammadu Buhari been so quick to explain the impact of a geopolitical shift on Nigeria to the international press. That he chose to release an op-ed, written by his top foreign policy advisers, to the Financial Times just hours after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on 15 August shows the resonance of this development to the government in Abuja.

There are plenty of implications for Abuja but few direct lessons from the US withdrawal after Washington had spent over US$1,000 billion on military aid with a client regime in 20 years. The figures for all Western spending in West Africa – military or ostensibly developmental – are tiny in comparison.

Nigeria’s military is far more nationalistic than Afghanistan’s: it wants weapons, drones, and access to intelligence and satellite surveillance, but not thousands of foreign boots on the ground. That is convenient for all sides as no such boots are on offer.

In west Africa, France is playing the US role but writ very small. At its peak, Opération Barkhane drew in 5,500 French troops and logistical backup after it was launched in 2013. It succeeded and then has won sporadic victories against the jihadists, thanks in great part to the toughness and experience of Chad’s special forces.

French officials — already seeing domestic and west African political support for their mission evaporate — are studying the US–Afghan débâcle closely. Although the Sahelian states enjoy marginally more legitimacy and are more resilient than ousted President Ashraf Ghani’s regime, that could erode fast. All the Sahelian governments struggle to provide public services, security, and economic support.

[For detailed analysis of the implications of the Taliban’s victory for the Sahel please see the August issue of Menas sister publication Sahara Focus.]

Buhari’s reading of Afghanistan’s aftermath was clearly argued and mainly targeted at the US administration which is currently holding up consignments of military helicopters and other equipment to Nigeria. He warned that Africa is the new frontline of global militancy: ‘We Africans face our day of reckoning just as in some sense the West is losing its will for the fight.’

Buhari did not bother to make the case for US boots on the ground: ‘Africa has enough soldiers of our own.’ He is still taking flak for a clumsy conversation with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in which he suggested that Washington should relocate its Africa Command to the continent from its base in Stuttgart.

Instead he asks the US for technical assistance, advanced weaponry, intelligence, and ordinance. This fits with wider military trends, moving away from big military deployments to more networked and expeditionary operations, according to Nigeria’s national security adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno. Using this equipment and tactics, special operations brigades are more quickly sent in, and can be digitally connected with soldiers linked to satellite feeds. That gives them a capacity for night operations the insurgents lack.

Buhari’s other big ask is for investment in infrastructure, transport, and freight lines. He argues that better linking regional centres for trade will boost economies and undercut the insurgency.

Experts on regional insurgencies agree that affiliates of Islamic State (IS) and its rivals in al-Qa’ida have transferred much of their operations from the Middle East to the Sahel and, to a lesser extent Libya and the Lake Chad basin. (See Sahara Focus blog for more on the difference between the two groups in the Sahel)

The al-Qaida and IS franchises in the Sahel are building up their revenue base by taxing artisanal miners in Burkina Faso and Mali. Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) is replicating this process in Nigeria’s Northeast and Northwest which explains some of the extreme violence in Zamfara State where there is heavy competition for mining revenues.

Beyond the material implications of the Taliban takeover are several less tangible results. Security experts agree that the most obvious will be a huge morale boost for jihadist forces everywhere. With a far more media-savvy Taliban, following extensive tutoring in Qatar, the Islamist and Salafist messages will spread via an incumbent although embattled regime.

Far less knowable are the geopolitical implications. For now, it’s hard to gauge how much the return of the Taliban damages the US and supports China, Pakistan, and Russia. At its recent pan-Africa co-operation forum, China argued that Afghanistan had vindicated its stated non-intervention policy, but few African officials really buy that. China’s strength for Africa will continue to be its market and financial muscle, neither of which the US has managed to rival in recent years. And Russia will be emboldened to increase its marketing of mercenary and arms supply operations.

This has already triggered another message from Nigeria, which this month signed a military co-operation agreement with Moscow that includes the supply of weapons and training of troops. Nigeria has long used Russian military equipment and aircraft alongside Western kit. The message this month was that it’s prepared to buy a lot more.

 

 

 

Sahel jihadists: JNIM-EIGS differences are a source of possible optimism

Menas Associates, Sahara, Sahel, 30 August 2021

Unlike the Taliban, the Sahel’s extremist groups — notably Iyad ag Ghali’s Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) and the État islamique dans le Grand Sahara (EIGS) — are not a cohesive force. Nor are the Boko Haram groups in the Lake Chad basin region of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. JNIM and EIGS are a mixture of various militias whose goals sometimes but not always align and increasingly less so with the global ideological contest between Islamic State and al-Qa’ida. Indeed, over the last couple of years, there have been significant outbreaks of fighting between the JNIM and EIGS.

JNIM is affiliated to al-Qa’ida, whose leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, pledged allegiance to Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada in 2016, as did Iyad Ag Ghali at the time of JNIM’s creation in 2017. This month the latter also congratulated the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (i.e. the Taliban) on the agreed withdrawal of American forces and their allies. As for the Islamic State (IS), it is in open warfare against the Taliban, which it considers apostates because of its negotiations with the US in Doha. EIGS has therefore condemned rather than congratulate the Taliban.

Even though the Taliban is not al-Qa’ida, and there are many differences between them, its victory will be seen as a prestige victory by al-Qa’ida affiliated groups, such as JNIM. As one expert, Adib Bencherif, wrote: ‘The Taliban are likely to be seen as models of patience and success in the imagination of the JNIM leadership and members.’

The obvious question is: what kind of parallels can be drawn between the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and the French withdrawal from the Sahel?

The first point to be made is that, whereas the US negotiated with the Taliban, so far France has refused to consider this as an option with the JNIM. However, in the wake of the Taliban victory, Chad’s apparent withdrawal from the Three Borders Region (see below) and President Emmanuel Macron’s difficulties in the run up to the 2022 presidential elections, such an option might yet become a reality. Moreover, negotiating with JNIM would not mean ending the military operation: the two could run parallel.

France’s strong resistance to any negotiations might be mitigated by the fact that, even if it were to entirely withdraw from the region, JNIM’s interest is not in taking over the whole of country but rather just the north and centre of Mali which its’ constitute groups effectively controlled up until the time of the French military intervention in January 2013.

Adib Bencherif raised the possible scenario of a coalition — between Mali’s military troops, the various armed groups that signed the 2015 Algiers Agreement, and members of the JNIM — to fight against EIGS.

Such a joint campaign is conceivable because there are major ideological differences between JNIM and EIGS and especially over the latter’s attacks on civilians, which it tries to justify through an extensive reading of takfir — the excommunication of one Muslim by another — that enable it to defend its crimes against the civilian population. EIGS also refuses to compromise with local authorities in the Liptako-Gourma areas that are under its influence. JNIM’s leaders disprove of these methods and prefer to make compromises with the local population and avoid attacks on civilians.

Even if JNIM were to join such a coalition, it would almost certainly insist on control of northern Mali as a reward for its contribution. Such a fragmentation of the Malian state is currently unacceptable to Bamako but, if the situation were to further deteriorate, they might have little choice but to compromise with JNIM.

Another possible scenario is that, if the Sahel’s al-Qa’ida affiliates see the Taliban victory in Afghanistan as a victory for their movement, it will not only give JNIM renewed momentum but make it more attractive to already radicalised youths who were seeking to join jihadist groups. In this respect, we might well even see members of the IS-affiliated EIGS switching allegiance to JNIM. If this were to happen, and if the coalition forces were to concentrate on the elimination of EIGS, while simultaneously negotiating a deal with JNIM over northern Mali, it is conceivable that the region, albeit with a fragmented or federated Mali, could achieve a greater degree of stability than currently looks likely.

 

 

 

Francais

Le Terrorisme entre motivation idéologique et instrumentalisation politique

Par MUSTAFA AMALI, Follow au Centre de Recherches et d’Études Géostratégiques - Atlantis, Casablanca, Juillet 2021


RÉSUMÉ


Le terrorisme est traditionnellement l’œuvre d’une minorité qui lutte au nom d’un groupe de référence et qui traduit une fascination pour le pouvoir ou une hostilité envers un Etat ou une communauté donnée ; mais il peut être aussi le fait d’un Etat.Des groupes ou des individus imbus de convictions doctrinales font recours à la violence aveugle pour terroriser des populations au nom de leurs idéaux. Si le terrorisme est multiforme et variable dans le temps et dans l’espace, ses revendications sont généralement exprimées en termes sociaux, économiques ou religieux. Doté d’une forte valeur émotionnelle et symbolique, le terrorisme est d’abord une arme de contestation de l’oppression nationale ou sociale. Mais il est aussi l’outil de l’État au nom de la « sécurité ». Le sens commun en fait une forme de violence s’attaquant à des individus innocents, le plus souvent par le biais d’attentats spectaculaires afin de paralyser, d’intimider les autres membres de la société ou de la communauté visée. Cette violence serait barbare, illégitime dans la mesure où elle s’en prendrait à des individus non concernés par le conflit. Le terrorisme, s’il est d’abord action, n’en recouvre pas moins une notion voisine puisque, dépassant souvent le stade de l’initiative ponctuelle pour devenir une véritable stratégie, il postule l’emploi systématique de la violence, pour impressionner soit des individus afin d’en tirer profit, soit, plus généralement, des populations, soumises alors, dans un but politique, à un climat d’insécurité.On note une évolution dans les motivations idéologiques du terrorisme moderne. Tandis que le terrorisme classique est en déclin, notamment sous l’effet de la fin de la guerre froide et du vif recul du terrorisme marxiste révolutionnaire, on constate une progression du terrorisme ethnique, séparatiste et religieux. Depuis la révolution iranienne et l’invasion de l’Afghanistan par l’armée soviétique en 1979, le jihadisme ou salafisme-jihadiste est la forme prédominante du terrorisme. Le terrorisme est souvent instrumentalisé, à des fins politiques, par les terroristes eux-mêmes, mais aussi par les Etats, qui, au mieux, se livrent à une récupération idéologique du phénomène, au pire, s’adonnent à un véritable terrorisme étatique. Au-delà de l’instrumentalisation de la définition du terrorisme, ce phénomène devient un enjeu politique majeur, aussi bien au niveau international qu’à l’intérieur des Etats. De plus, la lutte menée par les grandes puissances contre le terrorisme au nom de l’idéologie libérale se trouve, paradoxalement, en contradiction avec des valeurs libérales fondamentales. Pour leur part, les médias sont impliqués à plus d’un titre dans le fléau planétaire du terrorisme. Quel que soit leur degré d’indépendance affiché, les médias demeurent une composante principale de l’appareil idéologique de l’Etat, et, en tant que telle, constituent un relai de la politique étatique en contribuant à forger l’opinion publique et à véhiculer une image stéréotypée du terroriste. Paradoxalement, les mass médias, en cherchant l’impact maximum sur leur public, assurent, indirectement, une caisse de résonnance à l’action terroriste. Attentifs à l’impact médiatique sur l’opinion publique, les groupes terroristes s’en servent à leur dessein comme outil de propagande.

Pour l’integralise du rapport, visiter: https://atlantis-center.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/RAPPORT-ATLANTIS-SP.pdf


ATLANTIS, centre de recherches et d’études géostratégiques est membre du club de Casablanca

La Turquie en Afrique: Un Positionnement Original

Par JULIEN FRIEDMAN, Research Project Manager, Atlantis Center for Geostrategic Research and Studies

Atlantis, Casablanca, July 2021.


RÉSUMÉ

Au cours des dix dernières années, la Turquie a fait preuve d’un intérêt économique, diplomatique
et social croissant envers l’Afrique, donnant ainsi une présence significative et un impact nonnégligeable aux intérêts turcs sur le Continent. L’augmentation de l’intérêt de la Turquie pour
l’Afrique mérite l’attention des dirigeants africains qui pourraient en tirer parti, à condition d’avoir
une bonne compréhension des priorités turques.

Ce rapport est établi à partir de l’étude de trois cas, mettant en évidence le rôle de la Turquie et ses
objectifs en Afrique durant les dix dernières années:

• Mise en place d’une organisation à but éducatif, la Fondation Maarif
• Installation d’un camp d’entraînement pour l’armée somalienne, TURKSOM
• Intervention militaire en Libye fin 2019

Ces cas de figures permettent de montrer comment la politique étrangère turque en Afrique est
intimement corrélée aux évènements majeurs de la vie politique en Turquie. On pense notamment
à la tentative de coup d’Etat contre le gouvernement Erdoğan en juillet 2016 ainsi qu’à l’élection
présidentielle de 2018 qui a mis en avant les politiques ultranationalistes. Ces évènements
dimensionnants, ont fait passer la politique étrangère de la Turquie envers l’Afrique au second
plan, signe que la politique intérieure reste une préoccupation majeure. On constatera qu’il en est
de même pour ses engagements auprès des institutions continentales africaines comme pour ses
engagements à l’international.

Pour ce qui est du développement de la Fondation Maarif en Afrique, il nous est donné de constater
que cette action dans le domaine éducatif avait aussi pour but d’affaiblir l’organisation politicoreligieuse Hizmet qui est tenue comme principal responsable de la tentative de coup d’état de 2016.
Deuxièmement, la participation de la Turquie au travers de l’installation d’une base militaire en
Somalie (TURKSOM) permet d’atteindre plusieurs objectifs, à savoir le soutien à l’armée somalienne,
une présence militaire turque à proximité du détroit de Bab el Mandeb et par là même, affirmer le
rayonnement de la Turquie dans la partie orientale de l’Afrique.

Pour ce qui est de l’intervention de la Turquie en Libye en 2019, les motivations ultranationalistes
affichées du gouvernement turc étaient de légitimer leur présence en Méditerranée orientale,
mais aussi de recevoir un appui économique à base de devise pour soutenir à l’époque une banque
centrale turque en crise.

La période de 2011 à 2021 a été marquée par une succession de faits marquants et dimensionnants
pour la Turquie, avec en particulier l’instauration d’un régime présidentiel, la gestion d’une crise
économique, un éloignement de ses partenaires de longue date, mais aussi par la tentative de coup
d’état de 2016 et la purge politique qui a suivi.

Il nous semble que la politique turque en Afrique est plus le reflet de ses préoccupations, centrées
sur sa politique intérieure, que sur un développement d’une stratégie économique ou politique sur le
Continent africain.

Il reste cependant clair que le Continent africain présente un intérêt économique important pour la
Turquie, en particulier dans le domaine des grands travaux, mais peut-être aussi par la capacité à
être présente sur un Continent où se côtoient les grandes nations du monde.

Fort de ce constat, structurer et maintenir des relations politico-économiques durables avec une
Turquie égocentrée, parait être une tâche délicate pour les dirigeants africains.

Pour l'integralite du rapport, visier: https://atlantis-center.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Atlantis-Center_Rapport-TURKEY.pdf


La Turquie au Sahel

Par Hannah Armstrong, International Crisis Group, 27 Juillet 2021


Ankara renforce ses liens avec les capitales du Sahel ; elle construit des mosquées et des hôpitaux et ouvre des marchés d’exportation. Le pacte de défense qu’elle a conclu avec Niamey a poussé ses rivaux à s’inquiéter de ses intentions. Ankara, à l’instar d’autres puissances extérieures, devrait tout mettre en œuvre pour éviter d’intensifier la compétition au sein de la région.

 

Depuis qu’elle a consacré l’année 2005 « année de l’Afrique », la Turquie a noué des liens politiques et économiques partout sur le continent africain, par le biais de l’aide humanitaire et du commerce, dans le cadre d’un programme visant à renforcer son rayonnement dans le monde. Fer de lance de cet effort, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, en tant que Premier ministre d’abord, jusqu’en 2014, et ensuite en tant que président, a cultivé des relations avec les dirigeants africains, aidé les entreprises turques à accéder à de nouveaux marchés et financé des projets qui font de la Turquie une garante de la culture islamique dans les pays africains à forte majorité musulmane.

Ankara cherche à étendre sa sphère d’influence en Afrique, mais la Turquie est non seulement en concurrence avec les Etats occidentaux, mais aussi avec des Etats arabes. La rivalité qui oppose l’Egypte, l’Arabie saoudite et les Emirats arabes unis (EAU) d’une part, et la Turquie et le Qatar d’autre part, s’est transposée dans des régions en proie aux conflits, comme la corne de l’Afrique, ce qui y a souvent exacerbé l’instabilité. C’est toutefois l’avancée de la Turquie dans une autre région, le Sahel, qui a récemment inquiété les gouvernements occidentaux et du Golfe. Ceux-ci craignent en effet que la présence de la Turquie ne menace leurs intérêts géopolitiques dans une région perçue par beaucoup comme un enjeu primordial dans la guerre contre les insurgés jihadistes.

L’approche fortement militaire menée par la France au Sahel montre des signes de faiblesse. Comme Crisis Group l’a expliqué précédemment, les violences communautaires, l’insurrection islamiste et la frustration de la population face à des gouvernements qui semblent mal équipés pour étouffer la violence et protéger les citoyens ne cessent de croitre. Le nombre d’attaques jihadistes a quintuplé depuis 2016 et les conflits intercommunautaires s’intensifient.

Les trois Etats du Sahel central – le Mali, le Burkina Faso et le Niger – peinent à ne pas céder de terrain, et encore plus à asseoir l’autorité de l’Etat dans des zones revendiquées par les insurgés. Pendant ce temps, les jihadistes s’implantent, mettent sur pied des insurrections rurales, exploitent les rancunes locales pour recruter des combattants et élargissent leurs opérations. La déception face à l’incapacité à enrayer l’insécurité a alimenté un sentiment anti-français dans les capitales du Sahel. Si la Turquie, dont les relations avec la France sont tendues, renforçait son positionnement en tant que partenaire sécuritaire alternatif, les tensions pourraient s’accentuer.

En novembre 2020, le président français Emmanuel Macron a accusé la Turquie de fragiliser les liens de la France avec l’Afrique de l’Ouest en jouant sur « le ressentiment post-colonial ». (Par ailleurs, en juin 2021, il a annoncé que le nombre de soldats français présents au Sahel, actuellement au nombre de 5 100, devrait être réduit de moitié d’ici 2023.)

En réalité, les incursions de la Turquie au Sahel se sont jusqu’à présent principalement limitées à projeter sa « puissance douce » (soft power). Les activités d’Ankara dans la région sont principalement axées sur l’aide au développement et les liens commerciaux, même si elle a signé un accord de défense avec le Niger. En Somalie, l’aide et le commerce turcs ont aussi mené à un renforcement de l’engagement militaire, mais l’engagement turc en Somalie a davantage œuvré dans le sens de la stabilisation que du conflit avec les objectifs occidentaux.

Les Etats du Sahel et les puissances extérieures feraient mieux de profiter de ce que la Turquie a à offrir plutôt que de la percevoir comme une menace intrinsèque — d’autant plus que Macron et Erdogan, qui se sont entretenus en privé en marge du sommet de l’Organisation du traité de l’Atlantique Nord en juin, semblent œuvrer à une réconciliation. Les récents efforts visant à apaiser les tensions entre la Turquie et l’Egypte et entre les Etats du Golfe en conflit laissent présager qu’un rapprochement plus vaste est possible. Au lieu de se faire concurrence dans le Sahel, les puissances extérieures devraient chercher à coopérer pour le bien de cette région en proie aux troubles.


Puissance douce


Jusqu’à présent, les ambitions turques au Sahel semblent principalement d’ordre économique. En effet, selon Ankara, sa priorité dans la région est d’élargir ses relations commerciales. Toutefois, certains observateurs scrutent les actions de la Turquie en Somalie et, plus largement, dans la corne de l’Afrique, et s’interrogent sur la portée de son engagement au Sahel.

Les rivaux de la Turquie laissent souvent entendre que sa présence dans des pays africains musulmans, comme la Somalie et le Soudan, témoigne de visées idéologiques — avec l’objectif plus précis d’améliorer les perspectives pour les Frères musulmans et autres islamistes — ou de l’envie de renforcer son poids géopolitique. Cette impression n’est pas tout à fait fausse. Le vaste soutien qu’Ankara a apporté aux Somaliens confrontés à une famine dévastatrice en 2011 lui a conféré une grande popularité. Elle a ensuite utilisé cette influence pour renforcer les intérêts des alliés locaux, parfois issus des Frères musulmans.

En 2017, Ankara a ouvert une base militaire à Mogadiscio, laquelle est le plus grand camp d’entraînement de ce genre en dehors de la Turquie. Elle s’est également bien ancrée au port de Mogadiscio, qu’elle considère comme un élément stratégique essentiel pour projeter une puissance militaire autour des points stratégiques de la mer Rouge et de l’océan Indien. La Turquie est désormais l’un des acteurs étrangers les plus influents en Somalie, ce que de nombreux Somaliens voient d’un bon œil. Elle ne coordonne pas les activités qu’elle mène aux côtés des forces de sécurité somaliennes, par exemple, avec les puissances occidentales, sans pour autant entamer ses relations avec ces dernières.

Néanmoins, s’arrêter à ces seules considérations, c’est risquer de passer à côté de ce qui apparait jusqu’à présent comme un aspect essentiel de l’engagement d’Ankara au Sahel : la volonté de tirer parti d’une identité religieuse commune pour promouvoir ses intérêts économiques. Certes, cet engagement pourrait aussi mener à une coopération bilatérale accrue en matière de sécurité, comme ce fut le cas en Somalie, et alimenter ainsi la compétition avec les pays du Golfe persique rivaux de la Turquie. Pour l’heure, toutefois, Ankara semble se concentrer sur des projets et des investissements au Sahel qui ont l’appui de la population, ce qui ouvre les portes d’un nouveau marché aux exportateurs turcs.

Ayant ouvert des ambassades à Bamako (2010), Ouagadougou (2012) et Niamey (2012), Ankara cherche à courtiser les élites religieuses et politiques et à répondre aux besoins de populations en difficulté. Au Mali, par exemple, la Turquie a construit une mosquée dans un quartier huppé de la capitale pour le Haut conseil islamique du Mali, l’association religieuse la plus puissante du pays, et en a rénové une autre dans la ville natale de l’ancien président Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta.

Dans la ville septentrionale d’Agadez, au Niger, elle a restauré la grande mosquée et le palais du sultan de l’Aïr. Ceci lui a permis de mettre en exergue les liens historiques qui unissent la Turquie aux sultans de la région ; d’après la tradition orale, le premier d’entre eux serait en effet né à Istanbul dans les années 1400.

Parallèlement, la Turquie a apporté une aide bienvenue dans les domaines des soins de santé, de l’accès à l’eau et de l’éducation ; elle a construit des hôpitaux à Bamako (terminé en 2018) et à Niamey (en 2019) et a déployé des cliniques mobiles dans des villes de province du Mali, comme Koulikoro et Sikasso. L’Agence turque pour la coopération et le développement international (Tika), des œuvres de charité et des ONG turques sont par ailleurs intervenues pour améliorer l’accès des habitants des zones rurales à l’éducation religieuse et à l’eau.

Comme ce fut le cas dans d’autres parties de l’Afrique, les populations locales ont accueilli favorablement ces projets, ce qui a contribué à ouvrir les marchés aux biens turcs et a dynamisé les efforts fournis par Ankara pour obtenir des contrats pour des entreprises turques des secteurs du bâtiment, de l’énergie et des mines. Si la force commerciale turque au Sahel reste anecdotique comparée aux centaines de millions de dollars générés annuellement par les exportations chinoises et françaises dans la région, elle a tout de même fortement augmenté au cours des dix dernières années.

Les activités commerciales entre le Mali et la Turquie, notamment, ont plus que décuplé, passant de 5 millions de dollars en 2003 à 57 millions de dollars en 2019. L’établissement de vols directs entre Istanbul et Bamako, Niamey et Ouagadougou par Turkish Airlines a donné un véritable coup de fouet au commerce en ouvrant des voies commerciales aux entrepreneurs sahéliens découragés par les politiques frontalières de plus en plus strictes de l’Europe. Par ailleurs, un vol direct de Turkish Airlines reliant Bamako à Djeddah est très prisé par les pèlerins africains en Arabie Saoudite.

Certains projets turcs sont toutefois moins populaires. En 2017, une tentative de coup d’Etat a eu lieu à Ankara. Le gouvernement turc l’a imputée aux adeptes de Fethullah Gülen, un prédicateur turc islamique qui s’est exilé aux Etats-Unis en 1999. Suite à cela, la fondation Maarif de Turquie a signé un accord avec le ministre de l’Education du Mali lui permettant de prendre le contrôle d’un réseau de dix-huit écoles Horizon, affiliées à Gülen, à Bamako. Cette prise en main brutale a refroidi certains anciens élèves et nuit à la réputation des écoles.

Comme ce fut le cas ailleurs en Afrique subsaharienne, les constructions réalisées par la Turquie au Sahel concernent principalement les infrastructures. Au Niger, des entreprises turques ont mené à bien divers projets importants pour que Niamey puisse accueillir le sommet de l’Union africaine en juin 2019, notamment un nouvel aéroport international et un hôtel cinq étoiles. Au Mali, la Turquie a signé un accord temporaire pour un système de métrobus à Bamako.


Puissance dure


Alors qu’Ankara cherche des perspectives commerciales au Sahel, les responsables turcs indiquent qu’à leurs yeux, la puissance militaire est nécessaire pour protéger leurs investissements. Au départ, la Turquie a adopté une approche coopérative de la sécurité dans la région. Celle-ci incluait un appui diplomatique aux efforts multilatéraux tels que l’accord pour la paix et la réconciliation, signé à Alger en 2015 par le gouvernement du Mali, des groupes armés pro-gouvernement et une alliance de groupes rebelles armés.

Ankara a aussi donné 5 millions de dollars à la force G5 du Sahel, une coalition régionale qui a commencé à déployer des troupes issues du Burkina Faso, du Tchad, du Mali, de Mauritanie et du Niger en 2018, principalement pour combattre les insurgés islamistes dans la zone dite des « trois frontières », située entre le Burkina Faso, le Mali et le Niger.

Juillet 2020 a vu apparaitre une forme d’aide militaire plus controversée ; Ankara et Niamey ont alors signé un pacte de défense qui pourrait (le texte demeure secret), à l’avenir, jeter les bases d’un soutien opérationnel direct de la Turquie au Niger. L’accord a été conclu à peine un an après la publication de rapports indiquant que la France allait fermer sa base de Madama, non loin de la frontière libyenne, tout au nord du Niger, et peut-être la laisser aux EAU (aujourd’hui, il n’est plus question d’une reprise par les Emirati).

Le pacte Turquie-Niger a alarmé Paris et Abou Dhabi. Pour les deux capitales, cet accord contenait la possibilité pour la Turquie d’étendre son influence de la Libye voisine au Niger ainsi que d’y établir une base militaire, comme elle l’a fait en Somalie.

L’accord Turquie-Niger a donné lieu à quantité de rumeurs sur l’ingérence régionale turque, lesquelles ont toutes été démenties par Ankara et que plusieurs sources interrogées par Crisis Group estiment sans fondement. Un document d’orientation politique émirati d’août 2020, par exemple, avertissait qu’Ankara était en train d’armer les insurgés au Sahel et en Afrique de l’Ouest pour mettre la main sur les ressources naturelles et propager l’islam politique. Le même mois, le ministre des Affaires étrangères turc, Mevlüt Çavusoglu, est devenu le premier haut responsable étranger à rencontrer les dirigeants et auteurs du coup d’Etat du 18 août au Mali, ce qui donne du grain à moudre à certains observateurs quant au fait que la Turquie aurait été impliquée dans la chute du gouvernement d’Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. Début 2021, après des mois de tensions entre la Turquie et la France en Libye et dans la Méditerranée orientale, des responsables politiques et commentateurs français ont laissé entendre que des jihadistes déployés par la Turquie pourraient être responsable d’une recrudescence des attaques menées contre des soldats français au Mali à l’aide d’engins explosifs improvisés. Selon divers hauts responsables maliens, des groupes armés du nord du Mali et des diplomates occidentaux dans la région, de telles rumeurs reflètent une inquiétude croissante quant à l'ampleur des ambitions régionales d'Ankara. Un responsable turc dans la région se plaignait que les tensions en Méditerranée avaient déjà dissuadé nombre des partenaires européens du Sahel de coopérer avec la Turquie.

L’accord de défense conclu entre la Turquie et le Niger prévoirait que des soldats turcs viennent former et appuyer les forces nigériennes dans leur combat contre les différentes factions issues de l’insurrection de Boko Haram et que la Turquie aide à sécuriser les frontières du pays avec le Mali et le Burkina Faso. Les élections présidentielles qui se sont tenues au Niger dans un contexte tendu – le tout premier transfert de pouvoir démocratique du pays, malgré de violentes manifestations, la répression policière et des irrégularités électorales – semblent avoir retardé la mise en œuvre de ces plans. De hauts responsables militaires de Niamey ont indiqué à Crisis Group que la pleine entrée en vigueur du pacte se ferait à la discrétion du cabinet du président Mohamed Bazoum, après son investiture, en avril 2021.

Au Mali, qui est depuis des années l’épicentre des conflits au Sahel, l’empreinte militaire turque se limite à quelques programmes d’aide sécuritaire dans la capitale. En 2018, Ankara a commencé à accueillir des officiers maliens en Turquie pour les former et à doter l’armée malienne d’armes légères et de munitions. Il semble que les EAU et le Qatar, un proche allié de la Turquie, rivalisent pour renforcer leur influence. Un haut responsable politique a indiqué à Crisis Group qu’un contrat conclu en janvier 2020 avec les EAU pour la vente de 30 véhicules blindés Typhoon au Mali visait à faire échouer un projet d’achat par le Qatar d’hélicoptères français pour l’armée malienne. Une intensification de ce type d’accords avec les Emirati pourrait pousser la Turquie à s’impliquer davantage.


Compétition ou coopération ?


Bien que de nombreux Sahéliens se soient réjouis de l’arrivée rapide d’Ankara dans la région, certains Etats du Golfe et occidentaux sont moins enthousiastes. L’impression qu’Ankara cherche à étendre son influence militaire pourrait devenir une prophétie autoréalisatrice si elle poussait Abou Dhabi à renforcer sa propre présence militaire. Toutefois, pour l’heure, rien n’indique concrètement qu’Ankara se prépare à jouer autre chose qu’un rôle mineur dans les conflits de la région.

Les partenaires occidentaux craignent quant à eux que la Turquie ne devienne une concurrente économique et se méfient de cette nouvelle posture affirmée de la Turquie dans cette région déjà très militarisée. Les diplomates occidentaux ont à la fois tendance à exagérer et à sous-estimer l’influence turque. Un diplomate européen qualifie par exemple les activités de la Turquie au Sahel d’« offensive ». Par ailleurs, ce même diplomate souligne que jusqu’à présent, les interventions d’Ankara étaient plutôt opportunistes et non inscrites dans un plan stratégique plus large.

En réalité, l’aide humanitaire et les investissements turcs ne soutiennent pas la comparaison face aux montants considérables que les puissances occidentales plus riches ont distribués. Alors que l’Union Européenne et ses Etats membres ont injecté plus de 8 milliards de dollars au Sahel central depuis 2014, pour la seule coopération au développement, les données de la Tika indiquent que la Turquie a dépensé seulement 61 millions de dollars entre 2014 et 2019 en aide au développement.

Un autre diplomate occidental soutient pour sa part qu’il est encore trop tôt pour déterminer si le fait que la Turquie construise des écoles et des hôpitaux en échange du développement de ses marchés d’exportation est le signe d’ambitions modestes et principalement économiques ou celui de visées géopolitiques plus vastes — qui pourraient impliquer, à terme, l’envoi de soldats ou de mercenaires ou la promotion de la gouvernance islamiste dans la région.

Les Sahéliens voient, pour leur part, la Turquie sous un jour positif. Nombre d’entre eux ont accueilli la Turquie comme un acteur international de poids, avec lequel ils ont plus en commun que l’Europe, la Russie ou la Chine, et qui peut leur apporter beaucoup. Pour eux, la Turquie est moins arrogante que l’UE ou la France et constitue un partenaire ayant des intérêts similaires.

La Turquie n’est par exemple pas particulièrement attachée à atténuer les flux de migrants comme l’est l’Europe. L’islam représente un lien commun. Beaucoup de décideurs et d’entrepreneurs sahéliens sont irrités par le fait que la région dépende de l’aide européenne et de l’appui militaire français et se disent intéressés par une diversification des alliances.

« Les pays occidentaux sont trop présents dans nos conflits. Nous aimerions que des pays arabes ou musulmans jouent un rôle plus actif dans la résolution de ces conflits », a indiqué un universitaire malien ayant fait ses études en Occident. Pour le Niger, la perspective d’une coopération en matière de défense avec la Turquie génère de l’optimisme. « L’échange de renseignements, le renforcement des capacités et la formation militaire que propose la Turquie dans le cadre de cet accord de défense contribueront largement à améliorer la sécurité », a déclaré un responsable nigérien de la défense à Crisis Group.

Si l’expansion turque au Sahel, vue sa faible ampleur, demeure pour l’instant peu susceptible de bouleverser les dynamiques régionales, il n’en reste pas moins essentiel d’éviter de renforcer la compétition géopolitique dans la région.

Le principal danger est qu’Ankara renforce sa présence, ce qui pourrait pousser des acteurs du Golfe tels que les EAU, dont l’engagement régional est resté jusqu’ici assez limité, à intervenir. Le rapprochement récent survenu entre la Turquie et l’Egypte, et entre les Etats du Golfe en conflit, n’en est qu’à ses débuts.

Il est pour l’instant difficile de savoir dans quelle mesure il permettra d’atténuer la compétition qui oppose ces Etats et qui a souvent contribué à déstabiliser l’Afrique du Nord et la corne de l’Afrique. Les différentes parties doivent éviter de créer un nouveau champ de bataille au Sahel. Idéalement, et d’autant plus que la France devrait réduire sa coopération militaire bilatérale, la Turquie devrait continuer de soutenir les efforts multilatéraux au Sahel et limiter toute coopération militaire bilatérale à la formation des forces de sécurité, ce qui permettrait de dissiper bien des rumeurs quant à ses intentions.

Les partenaires européens devraient quant à eux passer outre leur réticence à collaborer avec la Turquie. Ankara peut contribuer à des projets d’infrastructure et de développement ainsi qu’aux initiatives multilatérales soutenues par l’Europe.

Les ambitions régionales turques ne sont certes pas encore pleinement déployées, et le pacte de défense avec le Niger est, légitimement, perçu — par les rivaux d’Ankara, mais pas seulement — comme une nouvelle forme dangereuse de militarisation régionale. Mais pour l’heure, les capitales européennes devraient tenir compte des éventuels avantages d’une coopération au Sahel avec un pays dont les objectifs dans la région — qui jusqu’à présent impliquent principalement d’apporter de l’aide et de développer des relations commerciales en soutien à des Etats fragiles — s’alignent largement sur ceux de l’Europe.

 

 

International Crisis Group, 02 July 2021

Au cours de sa première année au poste de président du Burundi, Evariste Ndayishimiye a affiché une volonté de réforme et de reprise du dialogue avec les partenaires internationaux. Dans ce Q&A, les experts de Crisis Group cherchent à déterminer si les tenants de la ligne dure du parti au pouvoir empêcheront le pays de prendre un tournant décisif.

 

Il y a un an, Ndayishimiye prenait ses fonctions, à peine quelques jours après le décès inopiné de son prédécesseur, Pierre Nkurunziza. Le nouveau président représente-t-il la continuité ou le changement ?

Élu en mai 2020, le président Evariste Ndayishimiye a pris ses fonctions alors que le pays connaissait des troubles profonds. Il a succédé à feu Pierre Nkurunziza, qui au cours de ses quinze ans au pouvoir avait entraîné le Burundi dans une crise prolongée et est décédé peu après l’élection de Ndayishimiye.

Le pays peine encore à se remettre de la tentative réussie de l’ancien président de rester en poste pour un troisième mandat, en 2015. Pour beaucoup, la manœuvre de Nkurunziza allait à l’encontre des accords d’Arusha signés en 2000, lesquels avaient mis un terme à la violente guerre civile qui opposait la minorité ethnique tutsi, au pouvoir depuis des décennies, et la majorité hutu. En 2015, ces manoeuvres ont donné lieu à des manifestations, un coup d’Etat raté, des mesures de répression et forcé plus de 400 000 personnes à l’exode.

Cette année-là, après avoir gagné des élections entachées d’irrégularités, Nkurunziza a intensifié les mesures de répression dirigées contre les médias, l’opposition et des groupes de la société civile. Par ailleurs, il exigeait toujours plus de démonstrations de dévotion publique : le parti au pouvoir le qualifiait officiellement de « visionnaire » et de « guide suprême du patriotisme ». Les bailleurs de fonds, dont l’Union européenne (EU), ont opéré des coupes dans le soutien financier au budget du Burundi, inquiets de l’augmentation du nombre de violations des droits humains. Alors que la confiance des investisseurs s’émoussait et que le niveau de vie s’effondrait, les Imbonerakure, la milice de jeunes du parti au pouvoir qui est au cœur du système de répression mis en place par Nkurunziza, ont commencé à collecter des contributions financières forcées auprès de citoyens exténués. La relation du Burundi avec le Rwanda voisin a également largement souffert , Nkurunziza et son homologue rwandais, Paul Kagame, s’accusant l’un l’autre de soutenir des groupes armés agissant par procuration contre l’autre.

Si l’arrivée au pouvoir de Ndayishimiye a sonné le glas du culte de la personnalité de Nkurunziza, le nouveau président doit encore rassurer les factions puissantes présentes au sein du Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD) au pouvoir, un groupe rebelle hutu devenu organisation politique en 2003. Le fait que le CNDD-FDD ait choisi Ndayishimiye, qui avait auparavant occupé plusieurs postes gouvernementaux ainsi que le poste de secrétaire général du parti, en dit long sur le véritable centre du pouvoir au sein du parti. Au départ, il semblait que Nkurunziza poussait pour que ce soit son allié, Pascal Nyabenda, l’ancien président de l’Assemblée nationale, qui lui succède. Ndayishimiye, ancien haut-gradé de l’armée, n’a été déclaré candidat qu’après de fortes pressions exercées par des généraux haut placés. Arrivé au pouvoir principalement sur l’ordre des puissants chefs de la sécurité du parti auxquels il doit désormais son poste, il devra désormais s’efforcer de conserver leur soutien.

En effet, après la victoire électorale du CNDD-FDD, qui détient désormais la majorité à l’Assemblée nationale (86 sièges sur 123) et au Sénat (34 sièges sur 39), Ndayishimiye a nommé des généraux et des tenants d’une ligne sécuritaire dure à des postes haut placés. Son cabinet de quinze membres comprend le Premier ministre Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni et le ministre de l’Intérieur Gervais Ndirakobuca, qui font tous deux l’objet de sanctions de la part de l’UE et des Etats-Unis pour le rôle qu’ils ont joué dans la répression déployée lors de la crise de 2015.

Même avec une majorité au parlement, la répression demeure un outil majeur de la gouvernance du Burundi. D’après Human Rights Watch et la Commission d’enquête des Nations unies sur le Burundi, les Imbonerakure et les services de renseignement continuent de commettre des violations des droits humains, d’user de mesures répressives envers les civils et les membres de l’opposition, bien que celles-ci soient moins fréquentes qu’avant les élections. Les institutions étatiques prennent des groupes spécifiques pour cibles de leurs abus, notamment les membres du Congrès national pour la liberté (CNL), un parti d’opposition, les jeunes Tutsi et les membres de la vieille garde de l’armée, principalement tutsi, que le CNDD-FDD perçoit comme une menace sécuritaire. Le gouvernement intensifie également ses efforts visant à retrouver et punir les personnes impliquées dans le coup d’Etat manqué de 2015.


Quelles sont les réformes promues par le nouveau président  ?


Malgré la répression gouvernementale, Ndayishimiye tente de charmer les médias et certains groupes de la société civile. Pour montrer sa bonne foi, il a pris quelques légères mesures visant à réparer les préjudices passés. Tout d’abord, les autorités ont libéré quatre journalistes emprisonnés qui travaillent pour Iwacu, l’un des derniers organes de presse indépendants du Burundi, à la suite d’une grâce présidentielle accordée en décembre 2020. Ils avaient été arrêtés en octobre 2019 alors qu’ils couvraient les affrontements opposant les forces de sécurité et un groupe armé dans la province de Bubanza. Si la libération des journalistes constitue un pas dans la bonne direction, les organisations de défense des droits humains affirment que cela n’est pas suffisant, indiquant que les autorités doivent encore annuler les condamnations injustes prononcées par les tribunaux.

Ensuite, le gouvernement a ouvert un peu plus l’espace médiatique. En janvier, les autorités ont relancé des négociations avec les organes de presses nationaux et internationaux. Elles ont donné leur feu vert à la station de radio Bonesha FM en février 2021, après l’avoir forcée à fermer en 2015. La BBC, dont la licence avait été révoquée en juin 2019, a également pu reprendre ses activités. En avril, le gouvernement a par ailleurs levé les sanctions à l’encontre de Parcem, l’un des derniers groupes de défense des droits humains encore actifs au Burundi avant que ses activités ne soient suspendues en juin 2019.

Depuis lors, Ndayishimiye a tenté de montrer qu’il comptait réellement améliorer la gouvernance et s’attaquer à la corruption, bien que ses résultats soient mitigés. Lorsqu’il a mis en place son nouveau cabinet, il a averti ses ministres qu’il pourrait aisément les remplacer si leurs résultats n’étaient pas à la hauteur et qu’il ne tolérerait pas que des individus « détournent un seul centime du budget destiné à l’amélioration du bien-être des Burundais ». Il a également donné trois semaines aux membres de son gouvernement pour déclarer leurs biens au public. Il s’est toutefois rétracté par la suite, apparemment sous la pression du CNDD-FDD, indiquant que les hauts responsables de l’Etat et les autorités publiques ne seraient pas obligés de se soumettre à cette mesure. L’arrestation en mai de la ministre du Commerce, Immaculée Ndabaneze, pour détournement de fonds présumé a été de courte durée, puisqu’elle a rapidement été libérée.

Après des années de statu quo, le moindre effort de réforme est le bienvenu, même si les diplomates ne s’accordent pas sur la portée des mesures prises par Ndayishimiye. Si un diplomate a déclaré à Crisis Group qu’entre cette administration et la précédente, c’est « le jour et la nuit », d’autres ont quant à eux laissé entendre que les mesures anticorruption pourraient être de la « poudre aux yeux » et qu’elles ne laissent pour l’instant présager d’aucun engagement en faveur d’une réforme globale. Ces sceptiques tendent également à minimiser les arrestations et condamnations d’un petit nombre d’agents de police et de membres d’Imbonerakure pour des faits criminels puisque la répression opérée par les forces de sécurité et la milice ainsi que les violations des droits humains se poursuivent, même si c’est à moindre échelle.

Le président a par ailleurs dévoilé une stratégie nationale pour gérer la flambée de Covid-19, qui, selon Nkurunziza, allait être neutralisée par Dieu. Juste après son arrivée au pouvoir, Ndayishimiye a lancé une campagne nationale de lutte contre la propagation du virus, mettant sur pied un comité ayant pour mission de sensibiliser la population aux mesures préventives, alors que le gouvernement intensifiait sa campagne nationale de dépistage. Le pays a également normalisé ses relations avec l’Organisation mondiale de la Santé (OMS), après en avoir expulsé les représentants en mai 2020. Ceci a permis à l’aide humanitaire d’être à nouveau acheminée au Burundi. Cependant, le Burundi a demandé à ne pas être inclus sur la liste permettant de recevoir des vaccins dans le cadre de l’initiative Covax en attendant la certification définitive de l’OMS, et le gouvernement a indiqué à plusieurs reprises qu’acquérir des doses ne constituait pas une priorité, en raison de leur prix élevé.

Sur le plan de la politique étrangère, Ndayishimiye a pris des dispositions pour renouer le contact avec les partenaires du Burundi. Le nouveau président est attaché à tenir sa promesse électorale de réparer les relations avec les pays voisins et les bailleurs internationaux. Il est particulièrement conscient que l’économie du pays est en ruines et que de meilleures relations commerciales avec les partenaires régionaux et l’appui financier direct de bailleurs influents, comme l’UE, lui seraient bénéfiques. Depuis son entrée en fonction, il s’est rendu dans huit pays du continent. Il a commencé par l’allié régional majeur du Burundi, la Tanzanie, mais il a aussi visité l’Egypte, le Kenya et l’Ouganda. Le ministre des Affaires étrangères, Albert Shingiro, représentant du Burundi auprès des Nations unies et avant cela un défenseur de la politique isolationniste de Nkurunziza, a reçu l’ordre de Ndayishimiye de mener une offensive diplomatique en dehors du continent. Il a également fait une tournée européenne en avril et en mai, se rendant à Bruxelles à l’invitation de l’UE, de la France et de la Suisse.


Comment les partenaires internationaux et régionaux ont-ils réagi à ces évolutions ?


Les politiques nationales et la diplomatie de Ndayishimiye ont porté leurs fruits dans les coulisses des organisations multilatérales. L’Organisation internationale de la francophonie a réintégré le Burundi dans ses rangs en novembre 2020, en tant que membre à part entière, après l’avoir suspendu suite à la crise de 2015. En décembre, le Conseil de sécurité des Nations unies a officiellement retiré le pays de son ordre du jour. En février, les chefs d’Etat de la Communauté d’Afrique de l’Est ont choisi Ndayishimiye comme rapporteur pour le mandat 2021-2022 et comme prochain président pour la période 2022-2023. La fermeture, en mai, de la mission des observateurs des droits de l’homme et des experts militaires de l’Union africaine (UA) ainsi que celle du bureau de l’envoyé spécial du Secrétaire général des Nations unies, tous deux établis pour surveiller la situation dans le pays et trouver un moyen de mettre fin à la violence, envoit un signal encore plus clair. Le bureau de l’envoyé spécial a fermé ses portes à la demande des autorités burundaises, indiquant que « à la lumière des avancées du pays en matière de paix et de sécurité [...] seule la présence des Nations unies à caractère socioéconomique [...] pour accompagner le Burundi dans ses efforts de développement socioéconomique est nécessaire ».

Les bailleurs influents, en particulier l’UE, sont également en train de changer de ton face au Burundi. En décembre 2020, l’ambassadeur de l’UE à Bujumbura a déclaré que « Ndayishimiye et sa politique d’ouverture constituent une base solide pour la reprise d’une bonne coopération ». En juin, après seulement six mois de pourparlers entre les autorités burundaises et l’UE, cette dernière a annoncé qu’elle était prête à révoquer la suspension de l’aide financière, à condition que Bujumbura entreprenne des réformes supplémentaires. Cependant, des diplomates ont indiqué à Crisis Group que si l’UE avait décidé de modifier son approche, c’était aussi parce que la suspension de l’aide budgétaire directe et les sanctions à l’encontre de fonctionnaires burundais sous Nkurunziza n’avaient pas amélioré la situation du pays. En réalité, leurs gouvernements craignaient que ces mesures aient simplement poussé les autorités à se tourner vers d’autres partenaires comme la Chine, la Russie et la Turquie, atténuant ainsi encore davantage l’influence occidentale.

Les relations avec le Rwanda ont également commencé à s’améliorer, ce qui a des implications importantes pour la sécurité régionale. Lorsqu’il était au pouvoir, Nkurunziza avait ouvertement accusé Kigali de soutenir le groupe rebelle burundais RED-Tabara, actif dans l’est de la République démocratique du Congo et qui serait mené par un opposant tutsi au régime burundais majoritairement hutu. Le Rwanda avait nié ces allégations ; il avait au contraire rétorqué que le Burundi appuyait les Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), un vestige de la milice rwandaise hutu impliquée dans le génocide de 1994, lui aussi actif dans l’est du Congo. Les deux présidents ne se sont pas encore rencontrés en personne, mais des réunions de travail entre représentants gouvernementaux des deux pays sont en cours. Une coopération accrue entre les agents du renseignement rwandais et burundais a également permis un apaisement des tensions, malgré des affrontements impliquant des groupes armés à la frontière. Les autorités rwandaises ont arrêté au moins dix-neuf rebelles de RED-Tabara, alors que le gouvernement burundais a promis de combattre le FDLR.

Des tensions persistent cependant autour de la demande du Burundi de lui remettre les responsables de la tentative de coup d’Etat de 2015, qui se sont enfuis au Rwanda. Jusqu’à présent, Kigali a refusé, mais semblait sensible aux demandes de Bujumbura en mars, lorsque trois stations de radio d’opposition du Burundi émettant depuis la capitale rwandaise ont dû suspendre leurs activités.


Quels sont les principaux risques et défis à venir ?


Pour les partenaires, actuels et putatifs, qui cherchent à déterminer si le Burundi prend réellement une nouvelle direction, l’une des principales difficultés est que les capacités de veille internationales ont diminué et cette tendance ne devrait pas s’inverser. Après la fermeture du bureau de l’envoyé spécial des Nations unies et de la mission de l’UA, la Commission d’enquête des Nations unies est le seul organe mandaté à l’échelle internationale encore actif dans le pays pour assurer une veille des violations des droits humains et du risque de conflit. En mars, lorsqu’elle a présenté la situation au Conseil des droits de l’homme des Nations unies, la Commission a indiqué que la situation était encore « trop complexe et incertaine, pour pouvoir parler d’une véritable amélioration ». Toutefois, même si ses analyses restent nécessaires, son mandat a peu de chances d’être renouvelé en septembre. Dès lors, la responsabilité de rester au fait de la situation des droits humains et du contexte sécuritaire dans le pays reviendra aux organisations locales et aux ambassades des pays donateurs, qui auront encore des raisons de faire la lumière sur la situation au Burundi.

S’agissant des risques, bien qu’il semble que Ndayishimiye cherche à se démarquer de l’héritage dévastateur de son prédécesseur, le CNDD-FDD a déjà montré qu’il était susceptible de monopoliser le pouvoir, alors que les tenants de la ligne dure du parti renforcent leur base. En nommant principalement des figures politiques hutu au gouvernement, Ndayishimiye a déjà fait fi des dispositions relatives à la représentation proportionnelle énoncées dans l’accord d’Arusha, qui prévoyait des accords de partage du pouvoir entre les factions politiques hutu et tutsi. En outre, le président a resserré son emprise sur le système juridique en janvier, en approuvant l’amendement d’une loi régissant le Conseil supérieur de la magistrature, une institution officiellement chargée de garantir l’indépendance du pouvoir judiciaire par rapport au pouvoir exécutif, mais qui, dans la pratique, est dirigée par le président. Cette nouvelle loi donne encore plus de pouvoir au président, en l’autorisant surtout à procéder à une vérification qualitative de toutes les décisions de justice. Un observateur international qui travaille sur le Burundi a déclaré à Crisis Group que « tout est en place pour un contrôle plein et entier » du gouvernement par le CNDD-FDD.

Les efforts déployés par Ndayishimiye pour promouvoir un programme réformiste qui démantèlerait le système de répression créé par son prédécesseur pourraient bien se heurter à la résistance des éminences grises du parti au pouvoir, y compris celles qui n’étaient pas nécessairement favorables à sa sélection comme candidat du parti en 2020. Même ceux qui l’ont soutenu pourraient ne pas avoir envie qu’il promeuve certaines politiques. Plusieurs généraux, par exemple, ne sont pas favorables à un rapprochement avec l’UE ni à la conditionnalité qui pourrait accompagner la reprise de l’aide budgétaire, puisqu’ils se sont enrichis pendant les quinze années de règne de Nkurunziza. De même, une incapacité à mener des réformes pourrait exposer le pays à une crise économique encore plus longue et aux tensions politiques qui pourraient en découler.

 

 

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