By Philip Pullella and Mitra Taj
PUERTO MALDONADO, Peru - Pope Francis issued a ringing defense of the people and the environment of the Amazon on Friday, saying big business and “consumerist greed” could not be allowed to destroy a natural habitat vital for the entire planet.
Francis, who has made the environment and climate change a focus of his nearly five-year-old pontificate, made his appeal while visiting a corner of the Amazon in Peru where pristine rainforest and biodiversity is being blighted by mining and logging, much of it illegal.
“The native Amazonian peoples have probably never been so threatened on their own lands as they are at present,” the pope told a crowd of indigenous people from more than 20 groups including the Harakbut, Esse-ejas, Shipibos, Ashaninkas and Juni Kuin.
Thousands of representative of the groups from across Peru walked before him, dressed in traditional regional costumes and feather headdresses and speaking in their native languages, as traditional wind instruments sounded mournfully in a small stadium built to look like a hut in the city of Puerto Maldonado.
Francis decried the “pressure being exerted by big business interests” seeking petroleum, gas, lumber, and gold and plundering “supplies for other countries without concern for its inhabitants.”
The pope, whose speech was punctuated by repeated applause and beating of drums, spoke after listening to rainforest residents decry what they called the rape of their land.
“They enter our territories without consulting us and we will suffer a lot when foreigners drill the earth... and destroy our rivers turning them into black waters of death,” Hector Sueyo, an indigenous Harakbut, told the pope forcefully.
The southeastern region of Peru known as “Madre de Dios,” Spanish for “Mother of God,” has been badly blighted in recent years by unregulated gold mining, with one effect being dangerous levels of mercury in rivers. Illegal loggers and drug traffickers in other parts of the Peruvian Amazon have killed activists and attacked indigenous tribes that shun contact with outsiders.
While more regulated, foreign companies have eagerly eyed the Camisea gas reserves in the neighboring region of Cusco. In northern Peru more than a dozen oil spills from a state-operated pipeline have polluted native lands.
“We cannot use goods meant for all as consumerist greed dictates. Limits have to be set that can help preserve us from all plans for a massive destruction of the habitat that makes us who we are,” the pope said.
On the first papal visit to the Amazon since John Paul II visited the northern Peruvian city of Iquitos in 1985, the Argentine pope said he had heard the “cry of the people.” He promised that he and the Church would offer them “a whole-hearted option for the defense of life, the defense of the earth and the defense of cultures.”
Indigenous chiefs in Peru hope the pope’s visit will persuade the government of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former Wall Street banker, to give native communities titles to ancestral land and help preserving it.
“We’re the ones who have been fighting to protect the Amazon the longest,” Julio Cusurichi, the chief of the indigenous federation FENAMAD in Madre de Dios, said in an interview.
Alberto Fernandez, a 44-year-old flower shop owner in Puerto Maldonado, said he hoped the Pope would help contain the social ills that have accompanied the city’s rapid growth.
“There’s a lot of need here ... every day there are more bars and cantinas, more prostitution, more illegal mining ... 30 years ago Puerto wasn’t like this,” Fernandez said. “There were only a couple paved streets, but we lived in peace.”
The pope urged local authorities and bishops to work to defend young people and women from violence and human trafficking and to improve education and preserve local cultures.
“Special care is demanded of us, lest we allow ourselves to be ensnared by ideological forms of colonialism, disguised as progress, that slowly but surely dissipate cultural identities and establish a uniform, single ... and weak way of thinking,” he said after watching traditional Ashaninka and Shipibo dances.
Isolated tribes that shun contact with outsiders were the most vulnerable and must be defended, he said.
Francis, who has also visited neighboring Chile on his trip to South America, bade goodbye to Puerto Maldonado in the Quechua language, and was presented with a native headdress and tapestry.



Involvement of organised crime groups in sports corruption, Europol report

THE HAGUE, the Netherlands, 06 August 2020 - There is no consensus on the definition of sports corruption in the law enforcement community. The phenomenon may cover a wide array of different corrupt practices and includes bribery, match-fixing, doping, betting fraud, money laundering, influencing the arranging and hosting of international sporting events (and subsequent procurement procedures). All these corrupt practices feature a common element of severely affecting the realm of sports oneway or another. The focus of this report is on match-fixing, paying particular attention to its betting-related dimension as the majority of the cases reported to Europol relate to this phenomenon, says a report published by Europol.

Key findings

Organised crime groups (OCGs) involved in sports corruption are active on a transnational level.

1 /OCGs operate a top-down operational business model and are often poly-criminal.

2 /The global annual criminal proceeds from betting-related match-fixing are estimated at €120 million1.

3 /Online betting is increasingly used by OCGs for betting-related match-fixing.

4 /The use of online technologies for the purpose of sport betting linked to competition manipulation will continue to facilitate these illicit activities.

5 /In match-fixing schemes,the fixing is usually organised separately from the betting. Betting may be placed on the pre-match markets or on the (most predominant) live-betting (or in play-betting) and criminals may engage in fixing the outcome of a match or single sub-sets (spot-fixing).

6 /OCGs predominantly target sporting competitions matching the profile of lower-level competitions across different sports.

7 /Betting-related match-fixing can well serve as a platform to further high-scale money laundering schemes by the same OCGs involved in sports corruption for its own benefit, and/or to serve other OCGs in search of specialised ‘laundering services’.

8 /Money laundering can take place via online betting, by either exploiting regulated betting operators or taking the direct ownership of those operators (‘criminally controlled gambling operators’).

9 /OCGs misuse identities to create betting accounts and e-wallets used to bet on pre-arranged matches.

10 /OCGs maximise their illegal gains by combining the benefits coming from competition manipulation for both sport-related and betting-related purposes.

11 /The actual scale of sport-related match-fixing remains an intelligence gap.

12 /Football remains the most targeted sport by international OCGs.

13 /Detection of match-fixing schemes in tennis has increased. EurasianOCGs are highly involved in tennis match-fixing.


Fraudulent betting and involvement of OCGs in sports corruption are not new developments.

However, the involvement of OCGs in sports corruption is increasing in the European Union (EU) Member States (MS). In 2013, the European Parliament adopted a dedicated Resolution on match-fixing and corruption in sport2calling to adopt a number of actions including the collection, exchange, analysis and dissemination of intelligence on match-fixing, fraud in sports and other forms of corruption in sport.

The need for close cooperation between all stakeholders concerned (e.g. sport organisations, licensing authorities, law enforcement bodies) in EU and beyond was stressed.Also in 2013, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on online gambling in the internal market3, which underlined the risk of betting related match-fixing and money laundering through online gambling.

The international legal framework to fight corruption in sport has been further enhanced, for example by the Convention on the manipulation of sports competitions4 (Macolin Convention, the first international legal instrument) adopted by the Council of Europe in 2014. This convention entered into force in September 2019 following its ratification in seven countries (Greece, Italy, Moldova, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland, and Ukraine), while an additional 31countries have signed it.

Corruption in sport as a serious crime on a global level has been further reflected in specific UN Resolutions, calling upon state parties ‘to enhance their efforts to prevent and fight corruption in sport’; stressing ‘the importance of robust legislative and law enforcement measures’; to ‘improve cooperation, coordination and exchange of information’; and to ‘further coordinate efforts to effectively mitigate the risks of corruption in sport’5.

The need to tackle this crime more effectively on an international level prompted the creation of a dedicated Europol operational projecting 2014 (Analysis Project Sports Corruption) with the aim to support MS investigations. The above-mentioned EuropeanParliament resolution on match-fixing and corruption in sport referred to exceptional operational results of 13 MS and Europol that uncovered an extensive criminal network involved in football match-fixing6.

A number of additional major investigations targeting transnational OCGs operating in the field of sports corruption and which have an impact on the EU have been successfully carried out ever since with the support of Europol.

Sports corruption is often addressed only from the perspective of sports integrity due to the lack of awareness (even among practitioners) on the involvement of organised crime. Europol continues to support investigations to dismantle criminal networks that launder their criminal profits through sports corruption or increase their illegal assets by manipulating sporting events worldwide

Aim and objectives

The main goal of this report is to highlight the link between sports corruption, in particular match-fixing and organised crime and to increase awareness among practitioners and the public. The data received by Europol on this phenomenon is by no means exhaustive, but still enables us to describe relevant modi operandi and links to organised crime and the most active OCGs.

This situation report provides an insight into how the international criminal groups are involved in sports corruption, their characteristics and structure as well as the way criminal networks operate and cooperate. OCG money laundering activities through sports corruption are also described. In addition, the report examines the types of match fixing as the most prominent form of sports corruption monitored by Europol and looks into the Asian betting model. Furthermore, particular insight is provided into the most targeted sports by criminal networks with a focus on football and tennis.

The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation, better known under the name Europol, formerly the European Police Office and Europol Drugs Unit, is the law enforcement agency of the European Union (EU) formed in 1998 to handle criminal intelligence and combat serious international organised crime and terrorism through cooperation between competent authorities of EU member states.

For the full report, visit: file:///Users/alibahaijoub/Downloads/the_involvement_of_organised_crime_groups_in_sports_corruption.pdf



By John Kampfner, RUSI, 29 July 2020

In the third paper in RUSI's series on Russia and China in Europe, John Kampfner examines their interference and influence in Germany.


Germany is on the frontline of Russian and Chinese hybrid actions of interference and influence in Europe. The tactics used by China and Russia vary. Russia’s activities are largely political, attempting to undermine public confidence in democratic institutions. China’s have been focused mainly on economic assets. There are a number of synergies, however. This includes their tendency to go over the head of the federal government to talk directly to the Länder.

Policymakers agree that one of the most urgent tasks facing the soon-to-be-chosen chancellor candidate to replace Angela Merkel will be a reassessment of Germany’s vulnerability towards Russia and China. Merkel has taken a consistently strong position towards Russia since the annexation of Crimea and intervention in Ukraine, pushing sanctions through the EU. This is in spite of the fact that Germany has an emotional, cultural and historical proximity to Russia that other countries struggle to appreciate.

Germany’s export-based economy has become heavily dependent on China. This is now being reappraised by many in business and politics, although some leaders of multinationals continue to be extremely wary of criticising China’s actions.

A number of Chinese takeovers, successful or resisted, of medium-sized Mittelstand companies, the engine room of the German economy, has led to a shift in position and in perceiving China as a strategic competitor.

The poor relations between Donald Trump and Merkel have exacerbated Germany’s sense of vulnerability to potential dangers from China and Russia. Those relations have led to an increased sense of moral equivalence among Germans towards Russia and the US, according to polls. This is particularly apparent in the Länder of the former GDR, where regional leaders of all parties have been pushing for a relaxation or ending of EU sanctions against Russia.

Russia’s alleged cyber attack on the Bundestag in 2015 and subsequent attempts to infiltrate the political system, technologically and through disinformation, have led to a hardening of the German government’s position.

Russia has given strong support to the far-right Alternative für Deutschland and left-wing Die Linke parties. The Green party is one of the strongest voices advocating a hard line against Russia. Its role will be important if it is part of the next ruling coalition.


EU wants to keep its status as one of Africa’s largest trading partners

By Olivier Caslin, The Africa Report, 29 July 2020

Contrary to popular belief, the EU remains Africa’s leading economic partner.

Although the pace of the partnership may not be to the same levels as that with Beijing; Brussels is still comfortably ahead in the race.

And that rhythm is maintained precisely to accelerate the pace and “reverse the narrative”, explains a European official on why the last two Commissions have attempted to fine-tune the financial instruments at their disposal in order to implement the Community’s external action policy.

57% of the EU, compared to 10% of China

In 2018, the EU made available more than 74 billion euros from all mechanisms and all countries combined, representing 57% of the total amount invested in cooperation, compared to just 10% from China. And yet very few know about this discrepancy.

So in an effort to bring about some coherence as requested by the “Committee of the Wise ” in December 2019, and to weave “this new partnership with Africa”, the Commission has taken up the proposal made in June 2018 to group its financial instruments for external cooperation into a single one.

If its principle were to be ratified during the current negotiations on the 2021-2027 Community budgets, this new Neighbourhood, Development Cooperation and International Cooperation Instrument (Ndici) would have a global envelope of €32 billion for sub-Saharan Africa, plus 22 billion euros for the neighbourhood policy, which concerns the north of the continent.

Arm wrestling between the EIB and the EBRD

This possible reorganisation of funds has already rekindled the old institutional quarrel between the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) that some dream about of putting to rest with the creation of a “European super-development bank”, also suggested by the Wise ones.

The arrival of such a financial arm would make it possible to strengthen the external dimension of the ambitious European Investment Plan (EIP), adopted in 2017 by the Juncker Commission, which for the first time, places the private sector at the top of the agenda.

Community guarantee

In addition to helping improve the business climate in the partner countries, the EIP provides the community guarantee for projects supported by the development agencies of the various member countries and by the international financial institutions. With a start-up fund of €4.1 billion as of this year, it should make it possible to mobilise up to €44 billion.

Partnership of equals

October was meant to be the 6th EU-AU summit , intended to confirm a renewed partnership between Europe and Africa. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis has disrupted the schedule, along with relations between Brussels and Addis-Ababa.

True to its agenda, the EU had planned to dedicate 2020 to its diplomatic, political, economic and cultural relations with Africa. The new Commission took office on 1 December 2019 and one week later, its German President, Ursula von der Leyen, visited Addis-Ababa to remind her counterpart in the AU Commission, Moussa Faki, how much “the African continent matters to the EU”.

On 13 March, Josep Borrell, Vice-President of the Commission and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, presented the new European strategy for Africa, intended to rejuvenate the previous strategy dating from 2007.

Just before this communication, some twenty Commissioners had made an unprecedented trip to the Ethiopian capital to enquire about African expectations and proposals. The negotiations promised to last throughout the summer before an agreement emerged in the autumn and a “new partnership of equals” was adopted in October at the 6th EU-AU summit in Brussels.

It was hoped the year would end on a high with the signing of the Africa-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) agreements following more than 10 years of tough negotiations.

The deal was intended to follow on from the Cotonou agreement, signed in 2000 between the EU and 79 countries.

Then along came coronavirus

The COVID-19 crisis inevitably altered the European schedule thereby changing the priorities of both partners.

The epicentre of the health crisis in April, this post-Brexit EU had to deal with its own emergency situation, together with some of its internal principles of solidarity being called into question by certain Member States.

Planned meetings were cancelled one after another, and although the number of video-conferences increased, “discussions are not moving forward”, said one African negotiator, with noted regret. To the point where those at the headquarters of both the EU and the AU must have wondered, “is it really necessary to hold a summit that would have only symbolic value?”

For now, the subject remains taboo in Brussels, where they are still awaiting the African vision to provide content for “the general framework” unveiled in the Belgian capital in March. The Commission is not letting this go: its document has lost none of its relevance, and the five main aspects of its strategy: Green transition; Digital transformation; Sustainable growth and Employment, peace and governance, migration and mobility – remain a priority on the continent.

The circumstances have stalled debate across Africa and reinforced the impression from the 2017 summit in Abidjan of a Europe disconnected from reality. It has also meant the EU has been unable to profit from the unique nature of its relations with the African continent. It has even been outdone by China, which – for a few weeks – appeared to rush to Africa’s aid while Brussels struggled to put together €15bn to meet the most urgent needs.

This ‘battle of narratives’ angered the High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell because it highlights the political limitations of the EU.

Quite rightly, Africa also intends to change its rhetoric and seems ready to take its partner at its word when it suggests moving away from its traditional donor-recipient relationship.

The African camp may not yet have presented its strategy, but it is making its arguments heard, like the creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), “which will give us the power to negotiate with all of the global partners”, believes the leadership of the AU.

Tired of waiting for the balanced partnership that Europe has promised for years, Africa could be tempted to look elsewhere.

“The EU would then risk looking like a financial backer or a security operator”, fears one of its diplomats; an unthinkable outcome to Ursula von der Leyen who will have to persuade the Member States and the Community institution to grant her the means “to do more for Africa”. That is if Europe does not want to see someone else see do it in its place.



BELGRADE -Roma people in Europe face widespread discrimination in many areas of life, including housing and health. In this opinion piece, Francoise Jacob, the UN Resident Coordinator in Serbia, explains how the UN is helping Roma communities, many of which have no access to safe water or electricity, to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first time I met Roma people in the Western Balkan region was in 1999, while I was working in Montenegro. I had just come out of a few hard years in South Sudan and Rwanda, and I was looking forward to coming closer to home.

I was working for an NGO and spent my days in the Roma camp outside of the town of Podgorica, where thousands of people were struggling to make a living. Despite the tensions, past and recent, and the lack of many things, the camp was not a sad place, somehow.

I remember being amazed by the incredible diversity of facial features in that community, feeling sometimes like I was in an international airport with people coming from around the world. I remember thinking the history of these people is on their face. Many families had similar stories and ancestry, but others recalled different paths, India, the Middle East, northern Africa.

I could see the camp as a lake, where different rivers had converged, over the centuries; and the lake was tempted between remaining a lake or turning back into a river.

We used to sit with Roma women, and share stories. After a while, they read my future in the coffee grounds, and of course, it involved love.

We probably were working on needs assessment or something like that, but I just remember the two things that all women kept mentioning to me: they wanted better teeth (their teeth were damaged quickly due to poor nutrition and hygiene conditions), and they wanted nail polish. They were 15, 35, 50-year-old, and in the midst of chaos and despair, they wanted beauty, and love.

This was one of these moments that captured the reality of inequalities: not just a sophisticated macro-economic concept, but something people experience as individuals, something which prevents them from fulfilling their potential and their dreams, in whatever shape and scope.

A year later, I met them again. In Gujarat, India, in the wake of the 2001 devastating earthquake. There, they are called Kuchis, the nomadic tribes of India and Afghanistan. Same faces, same stories, same music. Same extraordinary resilience within different chaos. The first migrants.

Addressing the needs of the most vulnerable Roma communities in Serbia

I meet Roma families now again, in Serbia, in my position of the UN Resident Coordinator in Serbia, in the peak of the COVID-19 crisis. According to the official data, there are at least 150,000 Roma people living in Serbia, though unofficial figures point this number may be significantly higher.

During the first three months of the UN response to COVID-19, our teams, along with government counterparts, identified that tens of thousands of Roma lacked basic access to safe water and electricity, which is a serious health risk in the time of a pandemic, besides being a threat to life and human dignity.

We assessed humanitarian needs in 500 substandard Roma settlements (out of over 760 estimated settlements) and quickly started acting. In close cooperation with the Serbian Red Cross at the local level and many other local stakeholders, the UN has provided assistance packages and tailor-made health messages to thousands of Roma families at risk.

The UN also put in place assistance so that Roma children could attend some form of remote education, in communities where access to the internet and to computer is extremely limited.

Eighty-two Roma health mediators in 70 municipalities switched to telephone consultations. In just a few weeks' they reached 9,260 Roma families, advised over 4,500 persons on preventive measures, and referred over 100 persons to COVID-19 testing centres.

For a long period of time, Roma people in Serbia have been structurally neglected, which resulted in inadequate housing, unequal access to education for Roma children and unequal position in the open labour market. 

Roma communities face multiple risks of discrimination and marginalization: Roma women and girls are traditionally engaged in early marriages, social and family neglect; Roma children consistently work in informal, dangerous labour, and Roma Internally Displaced Person (IDPs) are amongst the most destitute people in the region. In the months and years to come, as a response to COVID-19 threats and beyond, the UN will continue to work with Roma communities and assist the government in adopting national policies that are in line with human rights standards. We will also continue to work on building capacities of Roma civil society for effective advocacy and human rights monitoring.

In the true spirit of Leave No One Behind, it is our duty to ensure that this particular group of people gets a fair deal in the face of COVID-19 and the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and blossom on their own path. I hope that we will succeed!

Who are the Roma?

- “Roma” is used to describe a number of sub-groups, such as Sinti, Kalé, and Gitano, who live in several European countries. Formerly nomadic, the majority are now sedentary.

- Roma have been described as “the world's most populous marginalized community”. They have been persecuted for hundreds of years and, during the Second World War, hundreds of thousands were murdered by the Nazi regime.

- Roma Holocaust Remembrance Day is marked annually on 2 August. This year, Fernand de Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, issued a reminder that, nearly eight decades on, hatred, exclusion and vilification of the Roma still persist today in many parts of the world.




By Alimar Lazkani, Arab Reform Initiative, 04 August 2020

Once a key source of support for the Assad regime, Alawite youth have also been impacted by the conflict and deteriorating living conditions. This paper examines their reality and the evolution of some of their political views through on the ground research and interviews. It notes that an increasing number of Alawite youth have grown disillusioned and some go as far as voicing discontent in private discussions because they see the regime as having failed to provide them with basic living arrangements. However, it is hard to determine the prevalence of such discontent due to research limitations and the entrenched fear of the security apparatus.

The living conditions of the population in areas under the Assad regime control are constantly deteriorating, and their ability to secure daily necessities is becoming increasingly difficult. The regime’s ability to secure energy resources has diminished, as well as its ability to limit the rise of the dollar and foreign exchange rates against the Syrian lira, whose value is falling despite the regime’s “security” and economic measures to prevent its deterioration.

With the US administration continuing its suffocation of the Syrian economy and the regime’s economic activities through the Caesar Act, population groups within regime-controlled zones have effectively turned into disappointed and disillusioned communities that have lost all hope for a bright future and are now merely trying to survive.

In these disastrous conditions, young people are living complex tragedies. In this paper, we try to shed light on a sector of Syrian youth within areas under the regime's control, especially those coming from an Alawite background. We examine their reality and their political positions towards the regime – both in the near and more distant future – in the light of their confusion, their siege by the army, and the fighting that continues to kill them in vain, and the regime’s failure to deliver on its promises to them.

The paper is based on field research and investigation conducted by the author, as well as in-depth secret interviews with many young people from different regions of the coastal area and numerous meetings and discussions with those interested in public affairs. It also draws on relevant public studies, research, articles, and investigations as well as material circulated on social media. It is worth noting that the security blockade imposed by the regime on activists and political actors has been a major constraining factor throughout the preparation of this paper.

Youth and military conscription:

The regime reduced compulsory military service from two years to nine months after the March 2011 popular protests in Syria. Shortly after, it discharged two batches of conscripts in August and October 2011 after just a few months of service. Eventually, the regime stopped discharging recruits and kept them in reserve status for several years, where the recruit, or reserve soldier, receives a volunteer's salary of about USD30. At the beginning of 2012, the regime initiated a major reserve forces call-up, which continued for some time and looked more like a general mobilization.

At the end of 2018, the regime discharged the first batch of reserves, which was a very small percentage of the total number of young soldiers. Alawite families are among the most committed to military recruitment and reserve service compared to others, making them the most affected by the system's conscription and standby policies. In an approximate statistic, A.M., a political activist from the city of Latakia, says:

“The issue of the percentage of young Alawite recruits to young Alawite civilians is one of the most important topics I have worked on, but I have not been able to reach accurate figures because of the loss of a large part of the military records of the regime and its reliance on old methods in this matter, as its military records have not been completely automated. However, I was able to get approximate ratios. The percentage of Alawi young people aged 18 to 30 who serve in the army (conscripts, reserves, volunteers) is now between 65% to 75%, and the percentage of Alawi young people aged 30 to 40 who serve in the army is 35% to 40%.”

In addition to the long period spent by the young Alawis in the army – which may be over seven years for many of them – they face many difficulties with long psychological and physical effects. Indeed, most are on the frontlines of the fighting where they witness the killing and injury of their colleagues, or have themselves been injured, which may cause lasting effects or disabilities.

A large segment of them has also witnessed and carried out arbitrary looting and killing of civilians, making them unfit to return to civil life or properly engage in its civil activities. Moreover, young people often suffer from complex psychological crises throughout their years in the army, so they also lose the best years of their lives – when they’re most energetic and optimistic – to a frustrating and often deadly military life.

Given all this suffering, what then keeps these young men in the army? And why do they not run away and start their lives instead of losing even more years? I will cite here the testimony of a soldier who fled the army three times and was arrested once at a checkpoint, and then sent back to the army after two presidential pardons. Now, he serves as a reserve soldier. He is 30 years old and spent seven years of his life as a soldier or a deserter. Answering our question, he said:

“I tried to escape several times and spent nearly two years at my family’s house in the coastal village. For two years, I could not leave this impoverished little village, hiding from death, from my neighbours, and the police. The years were slipping through my fingers ... What do you think a young man of my age would do if he were confined in his house? My family's home turned into a prison, so I took a risk and left for Tartus to work, love, and live my life, and the result was that I got arrested. At least now I can breathe a sigh of relief during vacations, and I can also wait for news of my discharge.”

Another soldier who has now spent nine years in mandatory service says:

“Nothing stops me from escaping other than the fear of arrest, imprisonment, torture, and ill-treatment. I do not care about winning the war, nor a homeland for the big “crisis” mongers, nor supporting anyone. I only wish for this nightmare to end.”

Economic and financial challenges await discharged soldiers

Owning property and finding a job are critical factors in young people's lives. In a country with a severe economic crisis, the economy’s ability to provide jobs for discharged soldiers and officers cannot be predicted or relied upon. Even if employment opportunities are available, they are in fact unemployment in disguise: public and private workers are now paid below USD25 per month. In the private sector, employees have to work long hours for a wage of no more than USD20.

With the relatively high cost of living, the average Syrian family needs at least USD150 a month to meet their daily needs. The crisis is now a matter of food insecurity, even for those who work. With the lack of jobs, the situation is dire for these discharged young people. Owning a property – a necessary step to start a family – remains a far-fetched dream for young people in the regions under the regime's control. Property prices have also risen along with the dollar, though at a slower rate, and have become very expensive.

Any apartment in a suburban area would cost about USD10,000. Although the regime’s banks are offering mortgage loans, they are still not nearly enough to buy a house, and their long-term premiums seem impossible to pay: a 5m Syrian Lira loan will cost the borrower an additional 90,000 Syrian Lira over 15 years, which seems impossible in a country with a per capita income of not more than 80,000 Lira for all workers in both private and public sectors.

A young man discharged from military service will, therefore, face difficulties in finding a job. If he manages to find one, he will face difficulties to meet the needs of a medium-sized family or secure a property. These are all factors that make the regime think twice before discharging young people, as it would effectively be releasing an army of frustrated people in its cities and villages.

The phenomena imposed by the war on the youth

Militarization does not only ruin the lives of the youth enrolled in the military, but it also acts effectively as a death-trap for young generations, waiting for them to reach 27 years of age (for university students) or 18 (for non-diploma holders). Even after demobilization, the ghost of military service still haunts Syrian youth. Below are some of the most prominent phenomena imposed by militarization and the ongoing war on the young generation of Alawites.


We’re talking here about the migration of the Alawite youth, not mass immigration and forced displacement from which the Syrian people have suffered, and are still suffering, due to the ongoing war in the country. Alawite youth migrate from environments that probably have not been subjected to bombing or famines; they migrate from environments that are still safe from the direct negative impacts of the war. The phenomenon of the Alawite youth migration is mainly a result of two issues: first, the lack of practical and economic perspectives in the country, and second, the need to escape the compulsory military service that represents the greatest concern of the Alawite youth with no solutions in sight. To them, military service seems like an uncertain fate that could ruin their lives or waste long years, in which youth would otherwise spend on building a normal future for themselves.

Drug addiction

The drug addiction has now taken hold among the military and the pro-regime militias fighting in the war as a result of the chaos spread amongst the fighters. This led to the spread of weed consumption among the Alawite fighters and pushed them into the pit of drug abuse. Moreover, occasionally the consumption of pills known as Captagon has also spread among the fighters, and has sometimes been encouraged by security officials. Those pills help the fighters avoid feeling pain, as well as energize and empower them for two whole days, effectively boosting their efficiency on the frontlines.

Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and pro-regime warlords have worked on growing weed and spreading its use amongst fighters, including Alawite youth. We conducted several confidential interviews with some of the drug users, and here we will cite the answer we got from (H.A) who is a former member of the National Defence Militia and fought with Hezbollah militia in Al-Nabek and Qalamun. He said:

“Hezbollah fighters used to listen to “Latmiyat” (a style of the Shite religious songs), drink tea, and smoke weed every time they had a rest. They used to insist that we join them in that ritual, and they protected us in case we were arrested by some security officials or policemen for the possession of weed. They always said that we shouldn’t worry because they would always be there for us and that no security or police officer could bother us if we consumed weed.”

The Alawite youth and the Assad regime

Hafez al-Assad managed to delude the Alawites into thinking that he dedicated the state’s capabilities to serve them and that he worked tirelessly to raise their status. Before Hafez came to power, the Alawites suffered from neglect and at times, threats. Then, they became the beneficiaries of the regime and rose to the status of authority, particularly among the ranks of the army, police, and security forces. This enhanced the value of the al-Assad family among the Alawites and eventually, the name of Hafez al-Assad was generally revered all over the Alawite areas. That is why Bashar al-Assad, as a successor to his father, enjoys a special status among the Alawites. Moreover, Bashar al-Assad’s position was further enhanced among Alawite youth following the relative economic prosperity experienced before the revolution, with Alawite youth rushing to defend the regime and what they gained during the forty years preceding the outbreak of the revolution. However, the course of events did not go as al-Assad had wished, as Alawite youth paid a heavy price for nine years, during which they gained nothing except death, injuries, disorientation, and absolute poverty.

Activists estimate that the death toll of the Alawite youth is close to 100 thousand and 60 thousand injuries. They now face the renewed threats they have historically been subjected to as a minority and are losing trust in the role of the regime to protect them during the next stage. This is especially so after Alawite officers lost their prestige due to the interference of Iranian militias and the Russian forces. With the clear messages sent by the Russians to the Alawites and to the world of how Bashar Al-Assad has become their obedient servant, the Alawites have a strong feeling that the regime is now dependent on the Russians and that the countdown for the days when they enjoyed power and authority has started.

The younger generation of Alawites is trying to earn a living or is counting the days to be discharged from the military service. They do not care about the regime, Bashar al-Assad, or the future of the country, and also remain unconcerned about the next president as long as they maintain the status quo or improve it a little bit.

This is the case for a significant part of Alawite youth. The rest are sons of army officers, senior officials, and tycoons who are still dreaming of the revival of the regime and regaining power. They are an opportunist class who has become increasingly alienated from Alawite society and its general concern.

(F.M.) an anti-regime Alawite political activist and a former prisoner of conscience says:

“At the outbreak of the revolution, Alawite youth rushed to save and defend the Syrian regime. The barriers of self-organized vigilante groups spread at the crossroads of the villages, as large numbers of Alawites volunteered. Many of them had also served in the so-called qualitative reserve forces, where some went to recruitment divisions and handed over their civilian identification cards. According to Alawite communities, it was disgraceful for anyone to dodge conscription or calls to join the reserve forces. Indeed, some Ba'athists even took it upon themselves to draw up blacklists of residents in their neighbourhoods whose loyalty was questionable, so that Syrian Shabiha "militias" could beat them up and force them out of their homes and villages. However, now – and it is a strange paradox – it has become normal for someone in the Alawite community to say that he had made his son flee abroad to dodge conscription, and to have everyone agree with this decision. Moreover, people race to congratulate anyone who was discharged from military service or to cover up for an army deserter. A gradual shift in the viewpoint took place over the past nine years, and for many reasons.”

In another testimony, (D.Kh.), the civil activist and anti-regime Alawite says:

“We used to hear the hail of bullets in the Alawites villages and neighbourhoods when one of them joined the army; friends cheered up and the villages and neighbourhoods were abuzz with joy and pride… mothers got jealous of other women's sons. As years passed, we now hear the hail of bullets upon the death of someone as a martyr. Some congratulate the martyr's family; others find pride in martyrdom. The bullets are joined with the waiting of women, the fears of mothers for their sons on the frontlines, and the worrying of fathers. Now when we escort the martyr to his final resting place, silence and grief loom large, and nothing can console the victim's family. Neither the homeland nor the future is ours – rather, we hear cursing pouring on army officers and Bashar al Assad. Whenever we hear the sound of bullets, we know that someone was discharged from the army: the mothers ululate in joy, their friends hold parties, and the rest dream of the same fate for their sons when they hear “wish you the same.”




A striking development has occurred among pro-regime Syrian youth, particularly Alawites, in their stand towards the regime and the al-Assad family. During the first days of the revolution, they rushed to feverishly defend the regime. Today, the voices of the youth who do not cling to the authority of al-Assad and do not see him as a solution for are increasing. Many young Alawites are prioritizing their living conditions and believe that the regime is corrupt, responsible for all the successive crises that have been affecting Syrians, including youth, and incapable of finding solutions to any of them.

However, it is hard to determine the prevalence of such discontent, due to their entrenched fear of the security apparatus. What is clear is that all the opposition forces must work on a comprehensive national project that puts Syrian youth from different backgrounds on track to employment and a viable life, as well as work to end a war that is severely affecting Syrian youth on both sides of the conflicting parties, as the youth always bear the bigger burden.



International Crisis Group, 7 August 2020

The catastrophic explosion in Beirut’s port is a manifestation of the Lebanese political elite’s predation and dysfunction. Among the country’s long-suffering citizens, shock is quickly yielding to fury. It may be the last chance for those in power to effect long-overdue structural reforms.


From all we know, the blast that destroyed much of the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut in the early evening of 4 August was an accident – but if so, it was an accident only in name. Storing, against repeated warnings, more than 2,750 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate for nearly seven years under unsuitable conditions near a densely populated area amounted to asking for a catastrophe to happen. Blatant, perhaps criminal, negligence and bureaucratic ineptitude were the immediate causes of the explosion that killed over 150, injured more than 5,000, displaced up to 300,000 and caused an estimated $2 billion in damage to the city – and counting.

In that sense, the disaster is only the latest, if most dramatic and devastating, manifestation of the dysfunction that has marked the Lebanese state for three decades. It is the product of a predatory political elite that has held state institutions in its grip and sucked them dry while allowing public services for ordinary citizens to break down to the point of non-existence. The networks of political influence, patronage and corruption they have built have compromised accountability, due process and professional conduct on all levels. Their behaviour has pushed Lebanon over the brink of bankruptcy and beggared much of the population. The headline in The Daily Star, a local newspaper, captured the bottom line particularly well: “Lebanon’s officials are its worst enemies”. Unless these political elites finally accede to the demands for fundamental reform, Lebanon will slide further into economic abyss, and public outrage may well lead to unrest and violence.

The blast will accelerate the Lebanese economy’s tailspin, immiserating a larger and larger part of the 6.8 million-strong population, one in five of whom are Syrian refugees. The Lebanese lira has lost more than 80 percent of its value since October, impoverishing citizens who now struggle to afford basic goods, which are mostly imported. Banks have largely refused to dispense their customers’ savings, as they grapple with their own apparent insolvency. On 6 August, the Lebanese Central Bank announced support for businesses and individuals seeking to repair damage, yet experts remain sceptical that the institution can squeeze enough dollars out of its shrinking foreign reserves to make a real difference. The liquidity crisis, loss of credit and resulting collapse of local demand, which was then deepened by the COVID-19 pandemic, has forced businesses to scale back operations or shut down entirely, shedding or furloughing tens of thousands of employees. State-provided electricity has dwindled to just a few hours per day, as fuel has become scarce.

Lebanese politicians have responded to the country’s political-economic crisis with characteristic lack of seriousness, arguing among themselves over the scale of losses at Lebanon’s politically connected banks, and who should make them whole. Negotiations with the International Monetary Fund over an economic rescue package have deadlocked as a result.

Now Lebanon’s national crisis has been made much worse. With Beirut’s port incapacitated, and smaller facilities along the Lebanese coast likely unable to take much of the load, bringing in sufficient supplies of food and medicine will be a challenge. The blast also destroyed the main grain storage silos and stocks of medical equipment. Enterprises that have weathered the crisis thus far will find it even more difficult to import equipment and materials to keep business going or to export their products. State tax and customs revenue will plummet further, forcing the government to fund its budget through the printing press and thus initiating a new round of hyperinflation.

Even before the latest disaster Lebanon was in need of humanitarian assistance. Now the need has become acute, and the volume of required aid, in particular medical staff and supplies, food to replenish destroyed stocks and building material to fix damaged shelters, has only grown. Thankfully, a number of countries across the Middle East and in Europe are already pitching in. They will have to do more, as the effects of the Beirut port’s destruction and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese set in, compounding the country’s misery. They should provide assistance directly to the affected population and through local and international non-governmental organisations present on the ground.

Lebanon’s political leadership may still have a chance to do the right thing and institute long-overdue reforms, as the Lebanese people have demanded, and on which international donors have conditioned an economic rescue. The corrupt political arrangements that have bankrupted the country and that led ultimately to the 4 August disaster cannot be allowed to continue; they have reached their end. They will not be revived by some miraculous injection of foreign money.

Two months ago, Crisis Group published a report on how to pull Lebanon out of the pit. We emphasised that the political elite that has ruled Lebanon for the past 30 years must carry out structural reforms that prevent corrupt and self-serving cliques from appropriating state resources and public goods in order to win the substantial international support the country needs to emerge from the economic crisis.

Now those elites are again facing the wrath of the country’s citizens, as they did in October 2019, when hundreds of thousands rallied against the politicians in charge. Those protests followed another humiliating episode in which the government was helpless to control wildfires after neglecting for years to pay for maintenance of donated firefighting helicopters.

The latest disaster is a similar failure, but on a monumental, much deadlier scale. It seems likely to unleash a new wave of popular fury. Lebanese are seething on social media. Activist groups that played a prominent role in the October protest movement are starting to mobilise again, raising their popular slogan demanding the removal of the country’s entrenched elites: “‘All of them’ means ‘all of them’”. Already in April and May, sporadic protests against deteriorating living conditions had sparked violent confrontations with the security forces, causing casualties. New demonstrations could spin out of control completely. A major protest has been called for 8 August.

If the Lebanese elites do have a chance to fix what they have broken, it may well be their last. They, along with the politicians whom they elevated and the officials whom they helped appoint, will have to face up to a Lebanese public that, after so many years of abuse and neglect, has now been terrorised by its own government with an entirely preventable explosion of world-historical size and destructive power. The public is justifiably enraged, and it has less and less to lose.


International Crisis Group, 13 July 2020

Sanctions on Syria aim to protect Syrian civilians from the regime but may end up hurting them instead. Washington should further clarify humanitarian exemptions, specify benchmarks related to civilian protection and offer temporary easing of sanctions as long as these are met.


Since early June, the Syrian economy has taken a further dive into an already deep hole. “Famine could very well be knocking on that door”, warned the World Food Program on 12 June. The new U.S. sanctions under the Caesar Civilian Protection Act that kicked in on 17 June will probably push the economy deeper still into the pit, magnifying the misery of ordinary Syrians. At the same time, given the Syrian regime’s track record, it appears unlikely that these sanctions in and of themselves will achieve their stated objective of protecting civilians by “compelling the government of Bashar al-Assad to halt its murderous attacks on the Syrian people and to support a transition to a government in Syria that respects the rule of law”.

It remains uncertain if sanctions could be used as levers toward some other end, such as ensuring unrestricted humanitarian access or consolidating a sustainable ceasefire. At a minimum, the U.S. and its European partners (which have separate sanctions on Syria) should describe the concrete and realistic steps they are asking Damascus and its foreign backers to take, and explicitly lay out the range of partial and reversible sanctions waivers and relief they are prepared to provide in return. The U.S. should also expand the scope of the humanitarian exemptions that it will allow and communicate them proactively to reassure third parties who may otherwise stay away for fear of real or perceived legal penalties, while stepping up its humanitarian assistance to all of Syria to avoid food shortages.

A Self-inflicted Economic Disaster

According to Damascus and some of its foreign supporters, Western sanctions are mostly to blame for immiserating the population, 83 per cent of whom live below the poverty line. Yet Syria’s economic decay cannot be attributed exclusively, or even mainly, to these sanctions, just as the Syrian lira’s depreciation cannot be pinned on foreign interference or currency manipulation. Rather, it is nine years of war, preceded by decades of rampant corruption that prepared the ground for the 2011 popular uprising, that have ravaged Syria’s economy. In the course of the war, the regime and its Russian and Iranian allies have obliterated vital infrastructure and entire city quarters as part of a deliberate strategy for crushing their opponents.

War has also severely depleted the Syrian government’s revenues. One of the biggest blows came in 2014, when it lost access to many of the country’s natural and agricultural resources, in particular oil and gas but also wheat, which is produced in the north east, now controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). So far, talks between the SDF and the regime over the future of these areas and prospective revenue-sharing arrangements have led nowhere.

Elsewhere, the regime has subcontracted areas nominally under its control to paramilitary forces and foreign militias that engage in looting, extortion and smuggling, all of which stand in the way of economic recovery. The implosion of the Lebanese economy and banking system next door has aggravated the crisis. Syrian deposits in Lebanese banks – estimated at up to $40 billion – have become inaccessible; much of that money has likely evaporated. Lebanon also long served as an essential conduit for the Syrian economy to the outside world, allowing it to circumvent sanctions, but the Lebanese financial system’s collapse has shut this channel.

The Syrian government’s response to the crisis has exacerbated the downward trajectory. Remittances from diaspora Syrians to their families back home are one of the country’s few remaining sources of hard currency, but a recent crackdown to curb black-market money transfers and impose a much lower official exchange rate throttled the influx, creating a dollar shortage and robbing thousands of families of the cash infusions on which they rely.

In a 4 May meeting, President Bashar al-Assad announced that the state would intervene more heavily to manage the economy, stoking fears among local businesses of further corruption and driving down the currency’s value yet again. Damascus also interferes in the delivery of humanitarian assistance in regime-held areas, forcing international organisations donating food to go through tightly controlled, regime-affiliated agencies, such as the Syria Trust for Development, launched by Assad’s wife Asma (who is on U.S. and EU sanctions lists), and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Both entities are infamous for exploiting their humanitarian roles for political ends, such as steering assistance away from known opposition areas into loyalist hands. Still, even if Syria’s economic disaster is largely the regime’s fault, Western economic pressure has not helped.

An Ever Expanding Sanctions Regime

The U.S. sanctions that came into force on 17 June significantly broaden existing ones by aiming to deter third parties from doing business with the Syrian regime unless or until the latter meets certain stated conditions. The legislation, named the Caesar Civilian Protection Act after the alias of a Syrian military photographer who smuggled thousands of images documenting torture and extralegal killings out of Syria in 2013, imposes sanctions on non-U.S. persons and entities that knowingly provide “significant financial, material or technological support to”, or engage in a “significant transaction with”, the Syrian government or military forces in Syria acting on behalf of the regime, Russia or Iran.

The law further specifies that the U.S. will apply sanctions to non-U.S. entities providing “significant” goods or services to the regime that help it use aircraft for military purposes or reap the benefits of domestic oil and gas production. The law seeks to further block the flow of funds to Syria that could enable reconstruction by applying sanctions against non-U.S. entities that provide the regime with “significant” construction or engineering services. The deliberate ambiguity of the term “significant” might deter third parties considering deals with Syria, but it also leaves wide discretion for U.S. policymakers to decide on how to prioritise the sanctions’ implementation. The act also gives the U.S. president the right to waive the application of sanctions for up to 180 days on “national security grounds”, which gives flexibility to U.S. negotiators to offer renewable sanctions relief in exchange for more incremental Russian and regime concessions.

These new sanctions applied to non-U.S. entities are in addition to previous U.S. sanctions banning the provision of U.S. products, services and investment to Syria except for humanitarian purposes. Those sanctions specifically ban U.S. entities from importing, trading or engaging in transactions related to Syrian oil, and prohibit them from providing financial services to Syria, a measure with significant impact, given U.S.-based financial institutions’ centrality to the global economy. The U.S. first imposed sanctions on Syria in 1979, when the State Department designated the country a “state sponsor of terrorism”. In adopting the 2003 Syria Accountability Act, Congress added new sanctions, which have gradually expanded since the civil war began in 2011 to include an extensive list of targeted measures against individuals, such as asset freezes and travel bans, including on persons linked to state-owned companies or the Central Bank, and persons who offer material support to the regime.

The EU, for its part, started adopting punitive measures against the Syrian regime and its supporters from 2011 onward. By June 2020, the EU’s Service for Foreign Policy Instruments had put in place travel bans and asset freezes against 273 Syrian and non-Syrian persons and 70 entities, including all government ministers and public and private banks, which the EU considered “responsible for the violent repression against the civilian population in Syria, benefiting from or supporting the regime, and/or being associated with such persons or entities”.

The EU also placed export restrictions on goods and technology that could be used for internal repression, an import ban on crude oil and petroleum products from Syria by European citizens, an export and investment ban on equipment and technology for the oil and gas industry, a ban on investment in companies engaged in building power plants for electricity production, and an export ban on equipment, technology and software for monitoring or intercepting internet and telephone communications.

As with other sanctions across the globe, the measures imposed to penalise the Syrian regime risk missing their purported target. Political elites are typically well placed to avoid the sanctions’ impact or even profit from the scarcity they create, while the real harm hits a broad majority of the population. Crisis Group interviews with local merchants and shop owners across Syria suggest that, although there are a range of views on sanctions, the general perception is that they will seriously hurt the population.

In an attempt to avoid this outcome, U.S. and EU sanctions contain humanitarian aid exemptions, and both Washington and Brussels issued detailed guidance on how coronavirus-related humanitarian aid can be sent to Syria despite sanctions. Yet even before the Caesar Act came into force, the mere expectation of additional restrictions helped accelerate the lira’s devaluation, leading to skyrocketing prices, with an almost 100 per cent increase in the cost of food, and widespread panic. International NGOs may well be deterred from supporting much-needed small-scale rehabilitation projects amid uncertainty as to how U.S. authorities will define “humanitarian aid” or “reconstruction”.

The impact will not be limited to government-controlled areas. While areas in northern Syria, for example, are not supposed to be the target of sanctions, they have still been hit hard by the economic crisis. Damascus has been the prime buyer of oil from the north east via middlemen, some of whom were sanctioned earlier because of their regime affiliations. The U.S. has reassured its Kurdish partners in fighting ISIS that it would not deem the SDF’s commercial transactions with Damascus to be “significant” enough to become new sanctions targets.

Washington also told the SDF that it is looking into ways to increase humanitarian assistance to the north east. But even if the Kurdish-led administration manages to keep dodging secondary sanctions, it would struggle to escape the lira’s freefall. In Idlib, the “salvation government” backed by the jihadist group Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham, as well as the Turkey-backed interim government in northern Aleppo, sought to address their economic predicament by replacing the Syrian currency with the Turkish lira. Such measures may help temporarily mitigate some of the sanctions’ unintended consequences, but as long as these areas have no access to alternative export markets, local authorities cannot keep shielding the population under their control from the fallout.


Leveraging Sanctions to Help the Syrian People


The Caesar Act measures are unlikely to lead to regime change, despite many predictions that the economic meltdown will spell the end of Assad’s rule. Some point to an uptick of anti-government demonstrations in supposedly loyalist areas as a sign of increasing popular discontent. Yet today’s power dynamics do not allow for an uprising that would threaten the regime. Nor is that the law’s apparent intent: Western governments say they dropped regime change as an objective years ago, even if some individual policymakers may still prefer that outcome. Yet when speaking about sanctions relief, Western officials often broadly refer to UN Security Council Resolution 2254 of 2015, which stipulates the establishment of “an inclusive transitional governing body with full executive powers”, leaving the impression that they continue to pursue regime change through other means.

Whether sanctions can get Damascus to move at all is a legitimate question. But with sanctions in place and new ones being implemented, the U.S. and EU ought at a minimum to outline a range of concrete and immediate demands, describe what they are willing to concede if and when the regime starts meeting some of these, and limit the humanitarian costs that sanctions inevitably entail. The Caesar Act stipulates seven conditions that, if met, would trigger the suspension of sanctions. These include the regime halting attacks on civilians; allowing access to besieged areas for international medical and humanitarian assistance; releasing all political prisoners; facilitating the safe return of the displaced; and holding accountable all war criminals. Some of these demands are likely – if unfortunately – unattainable under current circumstances: “release of all forcibly held political prisoners” goes against the regime’s very nature, while “holding war criminals to account” amounts to asking elements of the Syrian leadership to indict themselves.

But others may be within the realm of the attainable: asking Damascus to allow unrestricted humanitarian access, permit displaced persons to go home, stop using some of its most egregious instruments of war and end indiscriminate strikes on populated areas. Given the discretion the law provides to U.S. policymakers in issuing temporary waivers, and in deciding what and who to add to the sanctions lists, there should be room for offering relief to the Syrian government if it meets concrete benchmarks. Washington should aim to coordinate such an approach with its European allies, as a unified Western position could increase the leverage derived from the prospect of sanctions relief.

The same logic applies to the sanctions strategy’s other target, Russia. Bashar al-Assad’s main external enabler may have resigned itself to the likelihood that large investments in Syria’s reconstruction, whether from Europe or the Arab Gulf states, will not materialise any time soon. Yet the Caesar Act also jeopardises investment prospects for Russian companies in Syria, for example in ports, oil and gas, and phosphates, at a time when Moscow seeks to secure benefits from its intervention.

So far, Moscow has been either unwilling or unable to use the influence it enjoys by virtue of the crucial support it provides to Damascus to push the regime to compromise. Some Western officials want to pursue a strict interpretation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 on the strength of the new sanctions, thinking that Moscow will change tack. This is to misread Russian foreign policy priorities; the Kremlin will likely keep backing the regime to the end. But Moscow may yet be interested in a more transactional logic that allows it and businessmen well-connected to its power centres to benefit from dealings in Syria in exchange for regime steps that could minimise further violence and reduce human suffering, without challenging Russia’s strategic outlook for Syria.

In return for such Russian steps, the U.S. and Europe could offer to refrain from imposing additional sanctions and provide waivers for some existing ones, including possibly for secondary sanctions likely to deter potential construction or business investors – whether Russian economic actors or Arab Gulf states. In turn, this would enable investors to come in and speed up the pace of reconstruction. The U.S. and Europe could also offer to expand humanitarian programming in regime-held areas, provided that Damascus respects internationally accepted standards, notably independent verification that aid reaches those in need. Such sanctions relief would be conditioned on Russia and the regime meeting certain benchmarks and it would be reversible if either reneged.

Critics are right to point out that sanctions without achievable policy objectives amount to little more than making a political point at the expense of the most vulnerable. Steps can and should be taken to minimise their harm and maximise the likelihood that they will do some good. That means in particular attaching their removal or waivers to concrete, realistic steps; clarifying the scope of permitted humanitarian exemptions; clearly defining “significant” construction services to avoid third party over-compliance; and flexibly implementing the law to address adverse humanitarian consequences as they emerge. Whether or not sanctions are the appropriate tool, policymakers should at least ensure that those in place are used to accomplish what they purportedly set out to achieve – namely, genuine protection for Syrian civilians.



Lost in the Woods: A Camp David Retrospective

By Aaron David Miller, Carnegie Middle East Center, 13 July 2020

Twenty years after Camp David, a one-time negotiator reflects on what was achieved at the historic presidential summit.


If you take US Route 77 out of Thurmont, Maryland, a small town nestled in the eastern foothills of the Catoctin Mountains, five miles or so up the road you will find yourself very near Camp David. It is not visible from the road and very easy to get lost. It gets dark in a way it does not get in Washington, DC, and the road is winding and narrow. And one cool night in July 2000, travelling to a historic Israeli-Palestinian presidential summit, we had clearly missed a turn somewhere.

We stopped at a park ranger station, only to find it closed. There was a pay phone, so I called the U.S. Department of State’s Operations Center and we finally got both our bearings and good directions. I am not superstitious by nature, but I kidded my colleague, the U.S. lead negotiator Dennis Ross, that if we could not find Camp David, how would we even know what to do once we got there? Indeed, as the State Department’s deputy Middle East coordinator for negotiations, I would later think about our lost-in-the woods experience more than once as we struggled to find a successful U.S. negotiating strategy at the summit.

Twenty years ago this week, former U.S. president Bill Clinton brought then Palestinian Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat and then Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak to Camp David in search of a conflict-ending accord. It was only the second time in forty years of U.S. peacemaking that a U.S. president would take such a risk.

The first summit—former U.S. president Jimmy Carter’s September 1978 meeting with former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and then Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin—laid the groundwork for their historic peace treaty six months later. Yet any optimism would soon fade. Our summit would not only fail but would be followed by a second intifada and a hellish descent into terror and violence far removed from the promise of what we hoped to achieve diplomatically that summer. Indeed, today the so-called peace process lies broken and bloodied, trapped between U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace plan, which is clearly not ready for prime time, and the very real possibility of an Israeli annexation that might bury the peace process for good.

The Camp David summit—ill-conceived and ill-advised—should probably never have taken place. It did only because Barak, fresh from repeated failures in negotiations with Syria, wanted to use the last six months of Clinton’s term either to reach a deal with Arafat or expose him as an unreliable partner. Clinton initially resisted, but in truth, ever since the assassinated Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin had handed him a piece of history with the signing of the Oslo accords, the then-president was determined to redeem Rabin’s legacy and his own. Arafat, who was in no hurry to reach any kind of agreement, had warned us in June that a premature summit might lead to an explosion. But Clinton promised he would not be blamed if things did go kaput. Accompanying U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright to the helipad, the PLO leader looked like he had swallowed the canary. “I am at Camp David,” he said proudly as he rode off on a golf cart, his kafiyyah flapping in the breeze.

The presidential retreat at Camp David was clearly the right place to hold a momentous summit. It was beautiful, secluded (we blocked cell phone use) and informal. Jackie Kennedy had described the rustic cabins’ décor as “early Holiday Inn.” Unlike in the frigid atmosphere of many of the Israel-Syria negotiations, the Israeli and Palestinian delegations ate and socialized together. There were movies—why we showed Gladiator and the World War II submarine movie U-571 at a peace summit I do not know—bowling, ping pong, and wild rides on golf carts. There were comedic moments, such as when Arafat, watching the Major League Baseball All Star Game, asked in the fifth inning when the game would start. And there was even a crisis when Barak nearly choked to death on a peanut and was saved by the youngest member of his delegation.

We had everything we needed at Camp David—except the key ingredients to make the summit succeed. Clinton, who was at this point in his presidency looking for legacy, realized the odds of success were very long. Indeed, during the second briefing before the summit he made clear that whatever the outcome, trying and failing was better than not trying at all. I was moved at the time, though I have since come to realize that failure costs. The old college try mantra is more appropriate for the University of Michigan football team than for the foreign policy of the world’s greatest power.

In preparing Clinton for his Camp David rendezvous, we had spent considerable time focusing on Carter’s earlier attempt. But nobody was really interested in history. Had we taken those lessons of the 1978 summit to heart, we would have seen that our summit had absolutely no chance of success. Carter succeeded for three reasons: he had strong leaders who were in a hurry, a doable agreement, and, as a strong mediator, he ran the summit. We lacked the first two; as for the third, the summit ran us.

First, unlike Begin and Sadat, Barak and Arafat were prisoners, not masters, of their politics. Barak worried that Arafat would pocket any concessions he made. He was constantly looking over his shoulder at the polls in Israel, and he literally saw his government begin to come apart while at the summit. Arafat came to Camp David to survive, not to make a deal. I heard him say several times, referring to his funeral, “you will not walk behind my coffin.” He was suspicious of Barak’s capacity to deliver. Feeling resentful of being ignored for months as Barak pursued a deal with Syria, and wedded to positions he would not concede, he was in no hurry to conclude anything.

Second, the issues at Carter’s earlier Camp David were tough to resolve: withdrawal from the Sinai peninsula, evacuating settlements, and a peace treaty. But the issues at the second Camp David were mission impossibles. Issues like borders, security, refugees, and of course Jerusalem’s ownership were all dealbreakers, and the gaps between the two sides were Grand Canyon–like in scale. Barak went further than any Israeli prime minister had gone before, but his proposals were nowhere close to what Arafat needed, even if the Palestinian leader had been interested in closing a deal. On Jerusalem there was no way Arafat could have made any concessions without Arab state backing. But given Barak’s sensitivity to leaks, we ensured there was no Arab state involvement. Clinton’s short phone calls to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to brief them on U.S. proposals about Jerusalem were hardly serious substitutes.

Third, there was the matter of the U.S. role at the summit. Carter ran his summit while keeping control of a negotiating text that went through more than twenty drafts. Our summit ran us, or more precisely ran over us. We could have managed things better. After all, this was our house, our invitation, our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to score a historic breakthrough. Granted, none was possible given the positions and personae of the two main actors. But our performance would have extinguished any chance, had there been one. We really were lost in the woods.

The mistakes were numerous. We needed a comprehensive package of answers to all the issues to have any chance of making headway. But given our unwillingness to adopt independent bridging proposals, particularly those that departed from Barak’s, we were stuck. Our no-surprise policy with Israel, which in essence meant showing everything first to Israel, and Clinton’s unwillingness, in his words, to “jam” Barak, stripped away any hope of being an effective mediator. By day four—when we gave Barak a paper he forced us to amend—for all practical purposes the summit came to an end.

Without a negotiating text that we controlled, there really was no organizing road map for the summit. It was like bumper cars in an amusement park, as then Clinton special assistant Rob Malley said. Every time we encountered an obstacle, we would go off in another direction. Add to that the fact that the president left for the G8 in Japan in the middle of the summit (thanks to our unrealistic hope of forcing a deadline for decisions), no Arab state support for Palestine on Jerusalem, and totally unrealistic expectations on what the Palestinians needed to close a deal, and you have a prescription for a predictable failure.

In December 2000, shortly before leaving office, Clinton would put on the table a set of negotiating parameters far closer to what might have been a basis for a serious negotiation. Had we done this at the summit, the outcome might have been different. But given where we were in July, Clinton would never have offered such parameters; Barak would never accepted them; and more than likely—as he did that December—Arafat simply would have said no, or nothing at all.

Clinton’s summit was not a complete waste of time. Looking back two decades later, I have come to understand that Camp David was far more than just another failed U.S. effort in the elusive search for Israeli-Palestinian peace. If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is ever resolved—and that is a huge if—the discussions at Camp David and the December 2000 Clinton parameters might well become an integral part of the deal.

And yet, the summit was also a cruel touchstone of sorts that taught lessons about when to convene a presidential summit and, more importantly, when not to; how the US should behave as an effective mediator and what not to do; and perhaps above all, the critical importance of respecting issues such as Jerusalem’s ownership, rather than assuming they could be easily solved through clever U.S. fixes. Far from offering hope that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was ripe for resolution in the hands of a committed U.S. president, the Camp David experience showed precisely why it was not.

The politically inconvenient truth is that the three factors necessary to have any chance of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—strong leaders who are eager to get things done fast, a workable deal, and effective U.S. mediation—have never been present. Not at Camp David, not in the twenty years of subsequent peacemaking, and certainly not now. Indeed, what we have witnessed during the Trump years is a dystopic world where leaders are neither strong, nor interested, nor ready to rise to any occasion other than the keeping of their own seats. It is a parallel universe where a doable deal exists only in the minds of would-be peacemakers who will not abandon their own illusions or who propose other illusions, like one state where everyone has equal rights and lives happily ever after. In this world, the United States’ image as a credible mediator has been hopelessly blackened by an administration whose approach to solving the Israeli-Palestinian problem is tethered to Trump’s reelection and the giving of all the honey to Israel—and nothing but vinegar and ashes to the Palestinians.

The illusions I held about peacemaking are now long gone. But somehow, an illogical, almost irrational hope in the future remains. And even that seems now as fleeting and fragile as the memories of a historic summit twenty years ago.



North Africa

What happens to migrants forcibly returned to Libya?
‘These are people going missing by the hundreds.’

By Mat Nashed, The New Humanitarian, 05 August 2020

Freelance journalist specialising on geo-politics in the Middle East. He has reported from Egypt, Tunis, Turkey, and Lebanon with a focus on human rights, state repression, and migration


The killing last week of three young men after they were intercepted at sea by the EU-funded Libyan Coast Guard has thrown the spotlight on the fate of tens of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers returned to Libya to face detention, abuse and torture by traffickers, or worse.

The three Sudanese nationals aged between 15 and 18 were shot dead on 28 July, reportedly by members of a militia linked to the Coast Guard as they tried to avoid being detained. They are among more than 6,200 men, women, and children intercepted on the central Mediterranean and returned to Libya this year. Since 2017, that figure is around 40,000.

At a glance: Libya’s detention black hole

More than half of the 6,200 people intercepted at sea and returned to Libya this year by the EU-supported Libyan Coast Guard are unaccounted for.
UN agencies are unable to track where people go after they are returned because Libyan authorities do not keep an official database.
Instead of being taken to “official” detention centres, many are likely disappearing into shadowy “unofficial” facilities operated by militias affiliated with the Libyan interior ministry.
UN agencies have no access to “unofficial” detention sites.
People held in detention centres face systematic extortion and abuse.
The system of sea interception and detention is funded and supported by the EU and EU member states.
Over the last three months, The New Humanitarian has spoken to migrants and Libyan officials, as well as to UN agencies and other aid groups and actors involved, to piece together what is happening to the returnees after they are brought back to shore.

It has long been difficult to track the whereabouts of migrants and asylum seekers after they are returned to Libya, and for years there have been reports of people going missing or disappearing into unofficial detention centres after disembarking.

But the UN’s migration agency, IOM, told TNH there has been an uptick in people vanishing off its radar since around December, and it suspects that at least some returnees are being taken to so-called “data-collection and investigation facilities” under the direct control of the Ministry of Interior for the Government of National Accord.

The GNA, the internationally recognised authority in Libya, is based in the capital, Tripoli, and has been fighting eastern forces commanded by general Khalifa Haftar for 16 months in a series of battles that has developed into a regional proxy war.

Unlike official detention centres run by the GNA’s Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM) – also under the Ministry of the Interior – and its affiliated militias, neither IOM nor the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, has access to these data-collection facilities, which are intended for the investigation of smugglers and not for detaining migrants.

“We have been told that migrants are no longer in these [data-collection] facilities and we wonder if they have been transferred,” Safa Msehli, spokesperson for IOM in Libya, told TNH.

“These are people going missing by the hundreds. We have also been told – and are hearing reports from community leaders – that people are going missing,” she said. “We feel the worst has happened, and that these locations [data-collection facilities] are being used to smuggle or traffic people.”

According to IOM, more than half of the over 6,200 people returned to Libya this year – which includes at least 264 women and 202 children – remain unaccounted for after being loaded onto buses and driven away from the disembarkation points on the coast.

Msheli said some people had been released after they are returned, but that their number was “200 maximum”, and that if others had simply escaped she would have expected them to show up at community centres run by IOM and its local partners – which most haven’t.

Masoud Abdal Samad, a commander in the Libyan Coast Guard, denied all accusations of trafficking to TNH, even though the UN has sanctioned individuals in the Coast Guard for their involvement in people smuggling and trafficking. He also said he didn't know where asylum seekers and migrants end up after they are returned to shore. “It’s not my responsibility. It’s DCIM that determines where the migrants go,” he said.

Neither the head of the DCIM, Al Mabrouk Abdel-Hafez, nor the media officer for the interior ministry, Mohammad Abu Abdallah, responded to requests for comment from TNH. But the Libyan government recently told the Wall Street Journal that all asylum seekers and migrants returned by the Coast Guard are taken to official detention centres.

‘I can’t tell you where we take them’

TNH spoke to four migrants – three of whom were returned by the Libyan Coast Guard and placed in detention, one of them twice. All described a system whereby returned migrants and asylum seekers are being routinely extorted and passed between different militias.

Contacted via WhatsApp, Yasser, who only gave his first name for fear of retribution for exposing the abuse he suffered, recounted his ordeal in a series of conversations between May and June.

The final stage of his journey to start a new life in Europe began on a warm September morning in 2019 when he squeezed onto a rubber dinghy along with 120 other people in al-Garabulli, a coastal town near Tripoli. The year before, the 33-year-old Sudanese asylum seeker had escaped from conflict in his village in the Nuba Mountains to search for safety and opportunity.

By nightfall, those on board the small boat spotted a reconnaissance aircraft, likely dispatched as part of an EU or Italian aerial surveillance mission. It appears the aircraft alerted the Libyan Coast Guard, which soon arrived to drag them onto their boat and back to war-torn Libya.

Later that day, as the boat approached the port, Yasser overheard a uniformed member of the Coast Guard speaking on the phone. The man said he had around 100 migrants and was willing to sell each one for 500 Libyan dinars ($83).

“Militias buy and sell us to make a profit in this country,” Yasser told TNH months later, after he escaped. “In their eyes, refugees are just an investment.”

When Yasser stepped off the Coast Guard boat in Tripoli’s port, he saw dozens of people he presumed were aid workers tending to the injured. He tried to tell them that he and the others were going to be sold to a militia, but the scene was frantic and he said they didn’t listen.

Yasser couldn’t recall which organisation the aid workers were from. Whoever was there, they watched Libyan authorities herd Yasser and the other migrants onto a handful of buses and drive them away.

IOM, or UNHCR, or one of their local partners are usually present at disembarkation points when migrants are returned to shore. The two UN agencies, which receive significant EU funding for their operations in Libya and have been criticised for participating in the system of interception and detention, say they tend to the injured and register asylum seekers. They also said they count the number of people returned from sea and jot down their nationalities and gender.

But both agencies told TNH they are unable to track where people go next because Libyan authorities do not keep an official database of asylum seekers and migrants intercepted at sea or held in detention centres.

News footage – and testimonies from migrants and aid workers – shows white buses with DCIM logos frequently pick up those disembarking. TNH also identified a private bus company that DCIM contracts for transportation. The company, called Essahim, imported 130 vehicles from China before beginning operations in September 2019.

On its Facebook page, Essahim only advertises its shuttle bus services to Misrata airport, in northwest Libya. But a high-level employee, who asked TNH not to disclose his name for fear of reprisal from Libyan authorities, confirmed that the company picks up asylum seekers and migrants from disembarkation points on the shore.

He said all of Essahim’s buses are equipped with a GPS tracking system to ensure drivers don’t deviate from their route. He also emphasised that the company takes people to “legitimate centres”, but he refused to disclose the locations.

“You have to ask the government,” he told TNH. “I can’t tell you where we take them. It’s one of the conditions in the contract.”

Off the radar

Since Libya’s 2011 revolution, state security forces – such as the Coast Guard and interior ministry units – have mostly consisted of a collection of militias vying for legitimacy and access to sources of revenue.

Migrant detention centres have been particularly lucrative to control, and even the official ones can be run by whichever local militia or armed group holds sway at a particular time. Those detained are not granted rights or legal processes, and there have been numerous reports of horrific abuse, and deaths from treatable diseases like tuberculosis.

Facts regarding the number of different detention centres and who controls them are sketchy, especially as they often close and re-open or come under new management, and as territory can change hands between the GNA and forces aligned with Haftar. Both sides have a variety of militias fighting alongside them, and there are splits within the alliances.

But IOM’s Msehli told TNH that as of 1 August that there are 11 official detention centres run by DCIM, and that she was aware of returned migrants also being taken to what she believes are four different data-collection and investigation facilities – three in Tripoli and one in Zuwara, a coastal city about 100 kilometres west of the capital. The government has not disclosed how many data-collection centres there are or where they are located.

Beyond the official facilities, there are also numerous makeshift compounds used by smugglers and militias – especially in the south and in the former Muammar Gaddafi stronghold of Bani Walid – for which there is no data, according to a report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GI).

Timeline: The changing trends of Libyan migration

Yasser told TNH he had no idea if he was in an official DCIM-run detention centre or an unofficial site after he was pulled off the bus that took him to a makeshift prison from the port of Tripoli. Unless UN agencies show up, it is hard for detainees to tell the difference. Conditions are dismal and abuses occur in both locations: In unofficial facilities the extortion of detainees is systematic, while in official centres it tends to be carried out by individual staff members, according to the GI report.

Between Yasser’s description and information from an aid group that gained access to the facility – but declined to be identified for fear of jeopardising its work – TNH believes Yasser was taken to an informal centre in Tripoli called Shaaria Zawiya, outside the reach of UN agencies. Msehli said IOM believes it is a data-collection and investigation facility.

During the time Yasser was there, the facility was under the control of a militia commander with a brutal reputation, according to a high-level source from the aid group. The commander was eventually replaced in late 2019, but not before trying to extort hundreds of people, including Yasser.

Several nights after he arrived at the centre, everyone being held there was ordered to pay a 3,000 Libyan dinar ransom – about $500 on the Libyan black market. The militia separated detainees by nationality and tossed each group a cell phone. They gave one to the Eritreans, one to the Somalis, and one to the Sudanese. The detainees were told to call their families and beg, Yasser recalled.

Those who couldn’t pay languished in the centre until they were sold for a lower sum to another militia, which would try to extort them for a smaller ransom to earn a profit. This is a widely reported trend all across Libya: Militias sell migrants they can’t extort to make space for new hostages.

Yasser’s friends and family were too poor to pay for his release, yet he clung to hope that he would somehow escape. He watched as the militia commander beat and intimidated other asylum seekers and migrants in the centre, but he was too scared to intervene. As the weeks passed, he started to believe nobody would find him.

Then, one day, he saw a couple of aid workers. They came to document the situation and treat the wounded. “The migrants who spoke English whispered for help, but [the aid workers] just kept silent and nodded,” Yasser said.

The aid workers were from the same NGO that identified the data-collection facility to TNH. The aid group said it suspects that Libyan authorities are taking migrants to two other locations in Tripoli after disembarkation: a data-collection and investigation facility in a neighbourhood called Hay al-Andulus, and an abandoned tobacco factory in another Tripoli suburb. “I know the factory exists, but I have no idea how many people are inside,” the source said, adding that the aid group had been unable to negotiate access to either location.

Msehli confirmed that IOM believes migrants have been taken to both compounds, neither of which are under DCIM control. She added that more migrants are ending up in what she believes is a fourth data-collection and investigation centre, called Mabani and located in Tripoli’s Ghout al-Chaal neighbourhood.

After languishing for two months, until November, in Shaaria Zawiya, Yasser said he was sold to a militia manning what he thinks was an official detention centre. He assumed the location was official because uniformed UNHCR employees frequently showed up with aid. When UNHCR wasn’t there, the militia still demanded ransoms from the people inside.

“We were treated like animals,” Yasser said. “But at least when UNHCR visited, the militia fed us more food than usual.”

Tariq Argaz, the spokesperson for UNHCR in Libya, defended the agency’s aid provision to official facilities like this one, saying: “We are against the detention of refugees, but we have a humanitarian imperative to assist refugees wherever they are, even if it is a detention centre.”

Growing pressure on EU to change tack


The surge in disappearances raises further concerns about criminality and human rights abuses occurring within a system of interception and detention by Libyan authorities that the EU and EU member states have funded and supported since 2017.

The aim of the support is to crack down on smuggling networks, reduce the number of asylum seekers and migrants arriving in Europe, and improve detention conditions in Libya, but critics say it has resulted in tens of thousands of people being returned to indefinite detention and abuse in Libya. There is even less oversight now that asylum seekers and migrants are ending up in data-collection and investigation facilities, beyond the reach of UN agencies.

The escalating conflict in Libya and the coronavirus crisis have made the humanitarian situation for asylum seekers and migrants in the country “worse than ever”, according to IOM. At the same time, Italy and Malta have further turned their backs on rescuing people at sea. Italy has impounded NGO search and rescue ships, while both countries have repeatedly failed to respond, or responded slowly, to distress calls, and Malta even hired a private fishing vessel to return people rescued at sea to Libya.

“We believe that people shouldn’t be returned to Libya,” Msehli told TNH. “This is due to the lack of any protection mechanism that the Libyan state takes or is able to take.”

There are currently estimated to be at least 625,000 migrants in Libya and 47,859 registered asylum seekers and refugees. Of this number, around 1,760 migrants – including 760 registered asylum seekers and refugees – are in the DCIM-run detention centres, according to data from IOM and UNHCR, although IOM’s data only covers eight out of the 11 DCIM facilities.

The number of detainees in unofficial centres and makeshift compounds is unknown but, based on those unaccounted for and the reported experiences of migrants, could be many times higher. A recent estimate from Liam Kelly, director of the Danish Refugee Council in Libya, suggests as many as 80,000 people have been in them at some point in recent years.

There remains no clear explanation why some people intercepted attempting the sea journey appear to be being taken to data-collection and investigation facilities, while others end up in official centres. But researchers believe migrants are typically taken to facilities that have space to house new detainees, or other militias may strike a deal to purchase a new group to extort them.

In a leaked report from last year, the EU acknowledged that the GNA “has not taken steps to improve the situation in the centres”, and that “the government’s reluctance to address the problems raises questions of its own involvement”.

The UN, human rights groups, researchers, journalists and TNH have noted that there is little distinction between criminal groups, militias, and other entities involved in EU-supported migration control activities under the GNA.

A report released last week by UNHCR and the Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) at the Danish Refugee Council said that migrants being smuggled and trafficked to the Mediterranean coast had identified the primary perpetrators of abuses as state officials and law enforcement.

Pressure on the EU over its proximity to abuses resulting from the interception and detention of asylum seekers and migrants in Libya is mounting. International human rights lawyers have filed lawsuits to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the UN human rights committee, and the European Court of Human Rights to attempt to hold the EU accountable.

Peter Stano, the EU Commission’s official spokesperson for External Affairs, told TNH that the EU doesn’t consider Libya a safe country, but that its priority has always been to stop irregular migration to keep migrants from risking their lives, while protecting the most vulnerable.

“We have repeated again and again, together with our international partners in the UN and African Union, that arbitrary detention of migrants and refugees in Libya must end, including to Libyan authorities,” he said. “The situation in these centres is unacceptable, and arbitrary detention of migrants and refugees upon disembarkation must stop.”

For Yasser, it took a war for him to have the opportunity to escape from detention. In January this year, the facility he was in came under heavy fire during a battle in the war for Tripoli. Dozens of migrants, including Yasser, made a run for it.

He is now living in a crowded house with other Sudanese asylum seekers in the coastal town of Zawiya, and says that returning to the poverty and instability in Sudan is out of the question. With his sights set on Europe, he still intends to cross the Mediterranean, but he’s afraid of being intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard, trafficked, and extorted all over again.

“It’s a business,” said Yasser. “Militias pay for your head and then they force you to pay for your freedom.”

Ghady Kafala contributed reporting from Tunisia.

Mat Nashed is a freelance journalist specialising on geo-politics in the Middle East. He has reported from Egypt, Tunis, Turkey, and Lebanon with a focus on human rights, state repression, and migration.




Averting an Egyptian Military Intervention in Libya

International Crisis Group, 27 July 2020

On 20 July, Egyptian legislators authorised sending combat troops to Libya, where Cairo’s ally Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar is on the defensive. Following Turkey’s intervention on the Tripoli government’s behalf, Egypt’s involvement could escalate the war dramatically. All parties should seek a compromise.


Egypt’s threat to send its army into neighbouring Libya is a predictable and understandable but dangerous response to Turkey’s deepening military involvement that risks embroiling both countries in a costly war. Cairo has warned that it will intervene directly should Turkish-backed forces loyal to the Tripoli-based government try to retake key locations in central Libya and nearby oil installations now under the control of an Egyptian-backed rival coalition led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. As Egypt sees it, a Turkish-backed advance into central Libya would cross a red line, endangering its border and national security. Both Ankara and Cairo should take a step back and seek a settlement on the status of central Libya’s strategic sites, including its prized oil assets. Foreign capitals with close ties to both countries should help them de-escalate tensions and reach such an accommodation. The alternative is to further regionalise what has become an unwinnable war.

The latest tipping point in the six-year Libyan conflict came on the heels of the pro-Tripoli coalition’s successful counteroffensive in western Libya, made possible by support from the Turkish army and the Syrian fighters on its payroll. Ankara’s deployment came in response to a request for help from the government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj in Tripoli in early 2020. The overt nature of its intervention, sanctioned by a Turkish parliamentary vote, enabled Turkey to dispatch military assets more rapidly and with greater freedom than its regional adversaries.

Fresh from its military win, the Tripoli government is now insisting that Haftar’s troops pull back from the former Qadhafist stronghold of Sirte and the Jufra air base in central Libya, both used by Haftar’s foreign backers as operational hubs. In addition, Tripoli wants Haftar’s forces to withdraw from the nearby “oil crescent” as a precondition for a ceasefire. These requests mark a shift from the Serraj government’s previous demand that Haftar move his troops back to their pre-April 2019 positions, before the Tripoli offensive, when both the oil crescent and Jufra were still under his coalition’s control.

The explanation for this change is not hard to discern: Ankara and Tripoli now believe they can not only beat back but defeat Haftar, despite the support he enjoys from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Russia and France. Although Tripoli has nominally laid out its conditions for a ceasefire, it continues to reject political negotiations with the Haftar camp, blaming it for waging a year-long offensive that killed at least 3,000 people, both civilians and combatants. By imposing new ceasefire terms that it knows will be hard for the Haftar camp to accept, Tripoli is hoping to legitimise its refusal to negotiate.

A major driver behind a new flare-up in fighting would be the desire to control oil facilities and revenues. Haftar’s withdrawal from the oil crescent would amount to handing over the country’s main oil facilities to Tripoli. Haftar’s forces imposed a blockade on oil exports in January to protest Tripoli’s alleged misuse of oil revenues, including purportedly to fund Turkish military efforts in Libya. The blockade has almost completely halted oil exports, bringing down daily production from around one million barrels to just 100,000 barrels, and causing revenues (already affected by low international oil prices) to plummet.

For regional actors, Egypt in particular, the stakes transcend Libya and its oil sector. Their main concern is defending their vision of the regional order. Egypt and its Arab allies – Saudi Arabia (which has provided political and financial support), Jordan (under-the-radar military support) and the UAE (financial and military assistance) – oppose the presence of Turkish forces and pro-Ankara Syrian fighters in Libya and see the Syrians, in particular, as militant Islamists. Egypt considers an expanded Turkish military presence in central Libya to be a potential threat to its own national security. It fears that a Turkish-backed offensive could alter the power balance in eastern Libya, allowing pro-Tripoli forces to use this area as a staging ground for attacks inside Egypt. Egypt’s Arab allies share these views, while France is especially concerned with the conflict’s ripple effects in southern Libya, which borders Chad, an important ally.

These preoccupations have pushed Cairo to take the unprecedented step of preparing for an openly declared military intervention, rather than continuing to back Haftar’s forces covertly. Egypt did not consider taking this step even in 2015, when the Islamic State took over Sirte and established a presence in Benghazi. Cairo is now trying to match and counter Ankara, which it sees as a regional sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian government’s mortal enemy.

Egypt is relying on eastern Libya’s parallel governing institutions to provide a veneer of legitimacy for its intervention. On 13 July, the Tobruk-based House of Representatives officially asked Cairo to intervene. A few days later, President Abdelfattah al-Sisi met with a delegation of tribal leaders from eastern Libya in Cairo, who likewise called on Egypt to step in.

Tripoli slammed both appeals as illegal, pointing out that tribal leaders have no official authority and that the east-based parliament, whose active members number no more than 40 of the 200 nominal parliamentarians, held no vote on its request. Regardless, on 20 July, the Egyptian parliament responded by authorising the deployment of Egyptian troops for combat missions outside the country to defend its national security against “criminal armed militias and foreign terrorist elements”. In escalating rhetoric, the Tripoli government condemned this decision as “a hostile act and direct interference, amounting to a declaration of war”.

Military experts believe that Cairo is likely to limit its intervention to securing the border area inside Libya. It could back up such an operation with airstrikes upon pro-Tripoli forces, should they seek to advance. With Sirte located 1,000km from the Egyptian border, deploying troops to central Libya would pose significant logistical challenges for the Egyptian army, lengthening supply lines and promising only inconsistent air cover to ground troops.

A more expansive intervention should not be excluded, however, one that could expose Egyptian troops to a direct confrontation with the Turkish military and affiliated Syrian fighters in central Libya. Private military contractors of the Russian-owned Wagner company are also consolidating a presence in central Libya, reportedly operating fighter jets in Jufra and bringing in reinforcements to Sirte and the oil terminal areas in a bid to bolster the Haftar forces’ positions there.

The repercussions of a resumption of hostilities for the local civilian population would be catastrophic. The growing involvement of conventional armies raises the spectre of intensified violence, particularly in the residential areas of Sirte. Likewise, Egypt’s rumoured plan to transfer weapons to eastern Libyan tribal groups risks unleashing even more local violence and retaliatory measures against civilians. Renewed fighting in the oil crescent could also result in hard-to-reverse damage to hydrocarbon facilities; while secondary to humanitarian concerns, such damage would be worrying, as it could stanch the flow of financing critical for Libya’s long-term economic viability and standing. Finally, with Turkish and Egyptian troops potentially coming into close contact and pro-Russia private military fighters also in the fray, the risk of a wider regional confrontation looms.

All sides ought to take immediate de-escalatory steps to minimise these risks and save civilian lives. Tripoli should freeze its military advance in central Libya and pursue a negotiated agreement on Sirte and Jufra, both now under the control of pro-Haftar forces aided by Wagner fighters. In Sirte, such an accord could entail Haftar and the forces backing him withdrawing from the area, to be replaced by a limited pro-Tripoli military presence that would leave out Turkish-backed forces and hardware; in Jufra, an agreement could allow for a symbolic presence of Haftar-aligned fighters with guarantees that foreign forces currently operating there move out. This would be one step toward a partial demilitarisation of central Libya rather than the full demilitarisation that Berlin and Washington have advocated but which would be difficult to achieve.

At the same time, the sides should come to a resolution to the oil sector standoff. Egypt should seek to convince Haftar and its other regional allies to drop their demand to see profits redistributed between western, eastern and southern Libya (in the absence of a legal framework that would regulate this arrangement), and instead accept a compromise agreement put forward by the U.S., UN and Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC).

This proposal envisages reopening oil production and exports in exchange for placing future oil revenues in a NOC-held account for 120 days rather than in the Tripoli-based central bank, as a means of reassuring Haftar as to how such funds would be used. Supporters of this plan believe that the timeframe would allow for negotiating a new line-up of the central bank’s top management as a possible precursor to reunification of the bank, which split into two parallel and competing institutions after 2014. This deal would also mean that, for now, Haftar-led forces remain in charge of the sites.

Such arrangements would fall short of what each side wants, but they could pave the way for a negotiated way forward. Moreover, acceptance of these arrangements would help build much-needed confidence between the two coalitions and their respective backers. From Cairo’s perspective, conceding on Sirte and Jufra and persuading the Haftar camp to accept an oil deal would also spare Egypt and its Libyan allies from the many unknowns that a military adventure would entail. For Ankara and Tripoli, a symbolic return to Sirte and acceptance of a semi-demilitarised Jufra would guarantee that these sites would not be used for military offensives aimed at taking Tripoli or Misrata, while an oil deal would provide much-needed revenues to sustain public-sector salary payments.

As for Turkey, it should be wary of overreach. Its authorities have made clear that they will not consider Haftar, or anybody else in his camp, as negotiating partners. Instead, they say they want to restore the Tripoli government’s control over all of Libyan territory. Their strategy is wearily familiar: reestablishing their proxy’s military superiority with the aim of going back to the negotiating table from a position of strength. The problem with this approach is that the other side and its foreign backers are unlikely to accept a lopsided negotiation, as the past years of conflict and diplomacy in Libya have shown.

Eventually, a new cycle of violence almost certainly will emerge, as the opposing side tries to level the playing field by counter-escalating. Turkey should avoid falling into this trap and instead push its allies in Tripoli to accept a compromise solution on central Libya’s security arrangements and oil revenues that could lead, at a later stage, to a comprehensive military and political agreement to reunify the country.

With each new intensification of the conflict, the opportunity for compromise seems ever more remote, while the risk of a larger regional war looks ever greater. If there still is a chance to reverse course, regional actors should jointly take it – now – or find themselves mired in an endless regional confrontation.




Tunisia: In Tataouine, Socio-Economic Marginalization Is a Time Bomb

By Alessandra Bajen, Arab Reform Initiative, 24 July 2020

Despite being rich in oil and gas, Tataouine in the south of Tunisia has remained severely underdeveloped and marginalized, pushing its inhabitants, time and again, to protest for reinvestment of its wealth in infrastructure and local jobs. This paper examines the underlying drivers of the ongoing unrest in Tataouine, the heavy-handed response of the security forces, and the successive Tunisian governments’ broken pledges to address the region’s socio-economic marginalization.

After weeks of sit-ins and days of angry protests, a tense calm has returned to Tunisia's southern city of Tataouine. Local youth had resumed their protest movement in June because the government did not fulfil its commitment to implement a 2017 deal to provide jobs in oil companies and invest in infrastructure. For weeks, demonstrators blocked roads around the pumping station in El-Kamour, a town 100 Km from Tataouine, in the desert to prevent tanker trucks from entering the facility, and installed a dozen tents around Tataouine, in front of the governorate and the different delegations buildings, as well as in several districts.

On 22 June, Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh headed a ministerial meeting to look at the situation in the governorate of Tataouine after tensions between security forces and protesters escalated. Four days later, the cabinet held a special working session to tackle the economic and social demands of protesters, and on 1 July announced new measures that it said would be taken to address the situation. The unemployed of Tataouine are still waiting for concrete results, but the latest wave of social unrest is a reminder that tensions can again explode any time if the government keeps failing them.

This paper examines this recent unrest in Tataouine, its underlying drivers, the heavy-handed response of the security forces and the longstanding marginalization of the southern region, and looks at the inaction of successive post-revolution governments to address the socio-economic ills in the south.

Longstanding demands versus government’s broken pledges


The recent street protests are a continuation of the 2017 movement that blockaded the pumping station in the town of El-Kamour calling for development and for the region to benefit from oil and natural gas revenues. Sit-inners requested that 20% of these revenues be re-invested through public spending and infrastructure projects in Tataouine. After three months of pressure, the sit-in ended on 16 June 2017 when an agreement, brokered by the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), was signed between the coordination of the Kamour protests and the government.

Among its main points, the agreement stipulates that the petroleum companies with active exploration or drilling permits within the governorate will be employing 1500 local people, with an additional 1500 to be recruited by the Environment, Plantation and Gardening Company of Tataouine over 2018 and 2019. The deal also included the allocation of 80m Tunisian Dinars per year (approx. USD28m) to a special development and investment fund for the Tataouine region.

To date, residents complain that the only action taken has been the recruitment of 2,500 out of the promised total of 3,000 locals, all within the environmental company. The petroleum companies are yet to honour the agreement as they have so far not recruited anyone from the region.

Without real local economic development in Tunisia’s southernmost governorate, jobless youth are demanding the full implementation of the 2017 agreement’s terms three years later. The protest movement had started again early this year but was forced to suspend its activities in mid-March because of the nationwide lockdown measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Ismail Harabi, an active representative of the Kamour sit-in, underscored that demonstrators had already given the government “a chance” to deliver on its broken promises before the pandemic hit the country, and they retook to the streets with the start of the de-confinement after seeing no action from the executive.1

Since its launch, the Kamour movement has distinguished itself for being a politically independent force, with a decentralized, participatory approach, and concrete demands related to employment and development. The sit-in participants are mostly young men who are essentially asking for jobs. Eight protest leaders coordinate the various delegations across Tataouine governorate, although the group avoids having a hierarchical leadership structure.

The movement’s coordinating member Dhaou El Ghoul said that last month’s popular protests are just the first step in a long process intended to press the relevant authorities to act on the 2017 deal. He noted that the current moment is “decisive” and Kamour activists will not let the matter go and will stay vigilant throughout the full execution of the accord to ensure each of its provisions is carried out.2
Boubaker Souid, mayor of Tataouine, elected in 2018 on Ennahdha’s candidate list for the municipal election, proposed that the state allocates funds to job creation for unemployed youth and put in place flexible instruments to facilitate access to such funds.3 He insisted that the government needs to provide concrete solutions instead of leaving things as they are “until the situation bursts out again”. The local council elected in 2018 played an important role in conveying the protesters' voice by providing them with a platform to hold meetings inside the council’s building and participating in negotiations with the government. This was not enough to prevent another outburst, however.

Ennahdha, like the two other political parties represented at the Tunisian Assembly (Popular Front and Al Jomhury), issued statements late on 22 June to denounce the excessive use of force by the security forces and call on protesters to remain peaceful to avoid what they described as “political manipulation”. The statements also called on the government to fulfil all its 2017 promises.

Violent repression of protests by the police force

The June demonstrations had been largely peaceful until the arrest of Kamour movement’s spokesperson, Tarek Haddad, on the night of 20 June. Protesters rallied the next day to call for his release and said there would be no negotiation with the government until Haddad was freed.

In the early hours of 21 June, security forces intervened en masse to dismantle sit-in tents at the northern entrance of Tataouine city and made extensive use of tear gas against protesters who were allegedly throwing rocks and blocking roads. Ten other activists were also arrested following confrontations with the security forces.

The ministry of interior defended the security forces’ actions in a statement in which it said that a group of protesters “tried to attack the security complex in the region with Molotov cocktails”. The Tataouine governor, Adel Werghi, likewise defended the use of force and criticized the roadblocks and sit-in actions as being “outside the law”.

Between 20 and 22 June, for 72 hours non-stop the streets of Tataouine were the scene of clashes between protesters throwing stones and one group also throwing Molotov’s and the police violently beating protesters and firing large amounts of tear gas canisters against the angry crowds. Local eyewitnesses reported that tear gas spread heavily in the city centre, entered several homes with cases of suffocation being reported at the regional hospital. Such scenes of violence against protesters were unseen for years in Tunisia.

In the days that followed the scuffles, the sight of young men with bandaged arms or legs or bruises on their body became a familiar scene in the city.

The UGTT branch in Tataouine denounced the "excessive and unjustified use of force" against protesters.

Local youths slammed the police for bringing “unprovoked violence” to the Kamour-led protests known to be non-confrontational and aligned with the peaceful nature of the movement’s cause. They were particularly angry by what they considered an arbitrary use of force, given their legitimate demands stemming from a three-year dated agreement which has gone unimplemented until today.

Some activists argued that the use of excessive force by police forces can be seen as an attempt to suppress the protest movement, and quell future unrest, knowing that the central government is “unable” to implement the Kamour accord.4 It was an “unsuccessful attempt” to silence the sit-inners, as Kamour supporter Mourad Abdellatif observed.5
On 22 June, the Association for the Defence of Human Rights, a local association, filed a court case against the prime minister, the interior minister, the governor of Tataouine, the head of the national security district and any other official involved in ordering or committing acts of violence against the “peaceful” protests in the region.

The violent security response generated increased sympathy for the Kamour protests among the local population with more people joining the rallies to show support for the movement and demand the release of all detained demonstrators.

Many protesters sustained injuries from the recent clashes. Activist Harabi was injured to his arm and considers his injury a “price to pay” for his city, saying he is hopeful that the Kamour’s campaign will win its struggle.6
The day Haddad was freed, on 24 June, several thousands of locals gathered around the city to welcome his release.

“Kamour is here to stay”7 was Haddad’s vow when he spoke to the media outside his home reiterating the determination of the sit-inners to achieve their economic and social goals. “Al-rakh la!” (“no surrender”) as the campaign’s motto goes. On 26 June, he anticipated the continuation of peaceful rallies and the resumption of the sit-in if the movement’s demands are once again ignored.

A policy of neglect and procrastination

With above-average unemployment, failing infrastructure and an underdeveloped private sector, Tataouine governorate is one of Tunisia’s most marginalized regions despite being one of the richest in natural resources, notably oil and gas. Among its population (estimated at around 150,000 inhabitants) the unemployment rate stands at 28,7% (almost twice the national average of 15.3%), the highest in the country, with the rate for young people significantly higher. It has also one of the highest percentages of unemployed graduates, which hit 58% in 2017.

Local sources claim that people from Tataouine city make the largest number of Tunisians who migrated abroad. At least one person in every family is pushed to leave due to lack of jobs.

Unlike the coastal areas, schools in the south are neglected and universities in nearby cities offer limited work prospects for young graduates. Moreover, there are less functioning public services than in many other governorates, with a particularly extremely poor healthcare sector. The regional hospital is short of specialist departments and has only 11 specialized doctors, making Tataouine the worst-equipped governorate in Tunisia in terms of health services, according to International Alert Tunisia.

The outlook of the underprivileged governorate starkly contrasts with the wealth generated by its natural resources. The region is rich in hydrocarbons, with its fields contributing to 40% and 20% of Tunisia’s oil and gas production, respectively.

Foreign energy companies whose headquarters are based in Tunis are extracting petroleum resources in Tataouine’s desert with profits going to the capital and rarely reinvested in the region. This is why local inhabitants typically accuse the central government and foreign companies of “stealing” their natural resources.

With such discrepancies between natural wealth and actual deprivation, it is not surprising that the protest movement in the deprived governorate has become chronic over the years just like unemployment has been chronic for many more years.

The marginalization of Tataouine, and Tunisia’s interior and southern regions more generally, has existed for decades and was one of the main sparks for the 2010-2011 revolution. Mourad Ardhaoui, the local coordinator of International Alert’s Tunisia office in Tataouine, stressed that the area has not seen a development plan ever since the days of independence.8 And yet, a decade after the revolution that ended Ben Ali’s autocratic rule, successive governments have failed to redress the development gap between major coastal cities and less developed interior and southern regions. No investments were made locally, and no policies were adopted to make the governorate more attractive to investors. The Tunisian Institute of Competitiveness and Quantitative Economy warned in a 2018 report that Tataouine was the region of the country with the lowest level of economic attractiveness.

Failed promises from different political parties to improve economic conditions have led to increasing distrust vis-à-vis the political elites, and even rage toward the state, among the region’s youth. The repressive security response has exacerbated hatred and distrust towards the authorities.

Tunisian President Kais Saied, who had won overwhelmingly in Tataouine in the second round of the 2019 election (with 96% of voter support), made his remarks on the situation in Tataouine during his 22-23 June official visit to France. He called on demonstrators to present "development projects", and not "wait" for the government to implement projects in the region. He also promised to meet with representatives of the protests at the presidential palace upon his return. So far, no meetings are known to have been taken place. The sit-inners rejected Saied’s invitation to go to Tunis and demanded last week that the head of state travels to Tataouine to meet them. At the time of writing, Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh resigned.

Many youths in Tataouine perceived the president’s response as “mild”. Earlier this year, Saied received a delegation of activists from the southern region to discuss their plight. Yet, they did not see any progress. For decades, the lack of political will has clearly left Tataouine on the margins as the state has been largely absent. A disconnect between the region’s youth and central state officials has further hampered the Kamour’s efforts to obtain any tangible results. As Tataouine’s mayor highlighted, since the sit-in resumed earlier this year, no one in the cabinet has travelled south to meet with the young protesters and discuss their demands.9
The social contract between the state and its southern citizens has been repeatedly broken, and it will be very difficult for the government to regain any of the lost trust if it does not apply the accord it signed in 2017.

A ministerial council meeting on 1 July which addressed the situation of Tataouine decided that 500 people will be recruited before the end of the year, that the government will release additional funds for the benefit of microcredit institutions. The council also approved the holding of an extraordinary regional council for investment at the seat of Tataouine governorate in the coming days.

However, the Kamour’s movement coordination rejected the ministerial meeting outcomes and threatened to block the newly established oil Nawara pumping station within 48 hours if the authorities do not provide specific and concrete measures. The Regional Labour Union (URT) and the coordination of the Kamour sit-in in Tataouine called a general strike on 2 July which went on for more than two weeks. On 21 July, local media reported that activities and services had resumed in the region.

With the resignation of Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh over corruption allegations, Tunisia is cast into uncertainty over its political situation. This will certainly delay any measures to address the Kamour demands, leaving the region and its inhabitants yet again in the hands of a new government still to be established.


1. ↑ Interview with Ismail Harabi, 24 June 2020
2. ↑ Interview with Dhaou El Ghoul, 25 June 2020
3. ↑ Interview with Boubaker Souid, 25 June 2020
4. ↑ Interview with El Ghoul
5. ↑ Interview with Mourad Abdellatif, 24 June 2020
6. ↑ Interview with Ismail Harabi
7. ↑ Statement by Tarek Haddad, 24 June 2020
8. ↑ Interview with Mourad Ardhaoui, 25 June 2020
9. ↑ Interview with Souid



By Kristina Kausch, The Middle East Eye, 26 May 2020

Things are not going well for European diplomacy in the Libyan civil war. The latest initiative, convened by the German government in January, assembled the major foreign supporters of Libya’s warring factions in Berlin, with the aim of having them back off.

Yet, despite an encouraging final communique agreeing to halt weapons deliveries and fighting, the sweeping commitments had been broken within a matter of days from multiple sides.

With Turkish troops now backing the Government of National Accord (GNA), pinned against Russia siding with Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), and an increasingly assertive UAE unwilling to bow to a negotiated settlement, the conflict is set to become much worse.

Vested interests

In many ways, this is Europe’s fault. After the 2011 Nato intervention, there was little appetite for international boots on the ground to help Libyans manage the transition; post-revolutionary authorities were reluctant, as were Nato powers.

From 2015 onwards, the EU supported the GNA and the UN peace process, but did little on the ground. France and Italy, prioritising their respective vested economic and security interests, ultimately helped undermine the UN process by supporting opposing factions, reducing the pressure for compromise and keeping the conflict afloat. France, in particular, has been guilty of foul play by consistently propping up Haftar, despite formally backing the GNA.

Europeans have displayed striking tunnel vision on Libya, largely focused on migration and violent extremism. Unlike in Syria, the EU did not develop a strategy to build local governance structures needed to put Libyan society as a whole back on a more stable footing.

The EU supported the GNA, but did little to help it work by supporting a broader domestic stabilisation process. Following years of EU internal divisions on Libya, Haftar’s April 2019 march on Tripoli made clear how Europeans had lost their capacity to shape events there.

Dwindling influence

Since then, European influence has dwindled by the hour. The escalation of the conflict was followed by the entry of Russian mercenaries on Haftar’s side in September and Syrian militias alongside Turkish troops on behalf of the GNA by January, developments that have effectively eclipsed Europe’s central role in Libya.

During 2019, the GNA had shopped around for tangible international support, but Europe had only lame statements on offer.

In November, the EU was shocked over the signature of a Turkish deal with the GNA on maritime boundaries, which gave controversial offshore drilling rights to Turkey and connects two difficult geopolitical arenas, entangling Libya’s fate with the Eastern Mediterranean gas quagmire and the Cyprus issue.

As a consequence, there was even less unity, as Greece and Cyprus became vocal supporters of Haftar, while Italy adopted a “realpolitik of equidistance” to appease both sides, which only saw Rome lose trust with the GNA.

On top of all this, a Russian-Turkish attempt to negotiate a ceasefire between Haftar and Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in Moscow in January without any European participation underlined how far the Europeans had already been squeezed out.

The Berlin conference hence rushed to bring Europe back into the game and secure the multilateral process - but it was too little, too late. Europe, by division and inertia, made itself redundant.

Europe being geopolitically sidelined by Russia and Turkey in the Mediterranean is becoming a pattern. In Syria, too, the Russian-Turkish tandem overtook the Europeans in geopolitical strategy when the Astana process, involving Russia, Turkey and Iran, started sorting out the Syrian conflict without including the Europeans, or any western power.

Reactive inertia

While there was broad consensus in the EU that it was right to not get directly involved in either Libya or Syria, this allowed Russia and Turkey to undertake actions whose consequences were ultimately borne by Europe. The EU has also paid the price for reneging on its accession promises to Turkey, now more clearly a rival than a partner across this strategic theatre.

The larger problem looming here, however, is Europe’s display of reactive inertia in crises in its neighbourhood, which contrasts with regional powers’ assertiveness. EU member states remain shortsighted and inward-looking.

In Libya, a centrepiece of this theme has been that unlike Russia, Turkey and the UAE, Europe has so far been unwilling to put boots on the ground, sidelining itself as opposed to other regional actors that do have this readiness. EU divisions also make Europe a much less decisive, and more contradictory, partner.

As in Syria, European influence looked increasingly marginal and geared towards superficial conflict containment. Both Libya and Syria have become examples of European disempowerment.

So what now? The Berlin process is obsolete and has shown that an appeasement approach towards Haftar does not yield results. Most military analysts agree that neither side will be able to win the war by military means, but the pressure is not high enough to bring both sides to true compromise, so the fighting goes on, relentlessly.

If and when the newly founded Libya chapter of the Astana process manages to push its proxies to agree to a genuine ceasefire, the demarcation lines could easily be entrenched into a perpetual frozen conflict if it was up to Russia and Turkey to monitor the ceasefire.

Inherent bias

Voices have recently grown louder in Europe - including from EU High Representative Josep Borrell and even German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer - on the possibility of considering the deployment of an EU mission to Libya to monitor a ceasefire, should it come to fruition.

Yet often, these calls appear to be rooted in the desire to boost Europe’s geostrategic profile, rather than an in-depth assessment of what Libya needs or wants. As former UN representative for Libya, Ghassan Salame, has pointed out, Libyans have no appetite for a further foreign military presence.

In March, the European Council launched a mission, Operation Irini, to help implement the (largely ignored) arms embargo against Libya. The mission was widely interpreted as representing a lowest-common-denominator among EU member states, rather than an effective tool to monitor the arms embargo, as it only monitors shippings by sea and air but not by land, where many weapons continue to be delivered.

Moreover, the mission was widely accused of being inherently biased, as Turkey mainly shipped its supplies by sea, but Haftar’s backers did not.

Depending on how the conflict evolves in the coming months, Europe may seriously consider getting its feet wet and putting boots on the ground in Libya, should Libyan authorities request it. If becoming “more geopolitical” would enable Europe to stabilise its neighbourhood in a sustainable way, Libya would be a good place to start.

But make no mistake: Europe must not misuse Libya as a schoolyard for its own geopolitical coming-of-age.


Research Papers & Reports

Hot Issue – Turkish Airpower has a Fifth Generation Aircraft Problem

By Can Kasapoglu, Jamestown Foundation, July 27, 2020

Executive Summary

Major NATO nations have already begun receiving fifth generation aircraft, while some others, such as France and Germany, have preferred temporarily flying with 4.5 generation platforms in order to make a long jump directly into sixth generation airpower in the coming decades. Against this backdrop, Turkey is in serious trouble. Its exclusion from the F-35 consortium has impaired Ankara’s pitch badly.

In addition, engine problems with the indigenous stealth fighter project, Milli Muharip Uçak, will likely deprive the Turkish Air Force of state-of-the-art platforms for at least a decade and perhaps even longer. The fourth generation F-16s will keep forming the backbone of Turkey’s airpower in the 2020s, marking a comparative handicap. Finally, Turkey’s mini-aircraft carrier plans, centered on the forthcoming amphibious assault vessel TCG Anadolu, can remain stillborn in the absence of an additional procurement of the F-35B short take-off/vertical landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. Overall, Turkey’s burgeoning defense sector has worked miracles with unmanned systems, however, the manned aircraft segment is set to suffer from crippled wings before it can take off.



Combat aircraft generational categorization remains a key parameter in airpower and defense strategy assessments. At present, the fifth generation platforms, for example, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, have already introduced a new reality to battle-spaces. The aircraft come with game changing capabilities, such as boosted data fusion in network-centric warfare, stealth features, and advanced multi-spectral sensors.

Overall, these novelties go beyond traditional kinematic calculus and manifest in real battle networks flying high even in hostile airspaces. Apart from the fifth generation, some stopgap options fall under the hybrid 4.5 generation, or 4++, categories, such as the Eurofighter Typhoon, F/A -18 E/F Super Hornet, and JAS-39 Gripen.

These aircraft differ from the legacy fourth generation, for example, the F-16, with their active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, advanced computers suitable for network-centric battle management systems, and low observable aspects (The Royal Australian Air Force, January 2012).

Against this backdrop, Turkey is to face a significant airpower challenge in the 2020s. Following the nation’s exclusion from the F-35 consortium due to the procurement of the S-400 strategic air defense system from Moscow, and given the present timeframe and expected problems with the indigenous fighter aircraft program Milli Muharip Uçak (or MMU, formerly known as the TF-X), the Turkish Air Force will, for at least a decade, not be able to operate any fifth generation platform. Furthermore, amid problematic defense economics plaguing the entire world due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the chances are slim for Turkey to acquire a quick, convenient 4.5 generation stopgap to augment its arsenal.

Overall, the air force will have to rely on the fourth generation F-16s—albeit with certain important modernization features in some advanced blocs—to form the backbone of its doctrinal order of battle. In addition, the Turkish Navy’s plans to operate an air-wing of the F-35Bs, of the short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL) variant, to embark on what was supposed to be a mini-aircraft carrier, TCG Anadolu, might mark a stillborn story.

Ankara’s airpower challenge is waiting for a talismanic touch, if such a way out exists. Many NATO nations are already flying fifth generation aircraft. And those who prefer to skip the fifth generation frenzy, favoring a long jump directly to the sixth generation like the Franco-German Future Combat Air System, have 4.5 generation stopgaps like the Eurofighter Typhoon (Deutsche Welle, February 7, 2019; RUSI, February 11, 2014).

Can Turkey Mitigate the F-35 Loss?

News stories suggest that Ankara could try an eclectic roadmap to compensate for—or minimize, to be more correct—operational shortcomings emanating from its exclusion from the F-35 program. The first measure would be relieving the burden of air-ground roles of the F-16s, which form the backbone of the Turkish airpower deterrent and will commence retirement in the 2030s. To do so, Turkey can opt for buying some time for its F-4 2020 fighter-bombers—around 30 aircraft—by postponing their retirement through a careful maintenance plan. Another idea promoted in the Turkish press is boosting the Akinci heavy drone and Hürkuş-C light attack aircraft into serial production, as they await entry into service, to assume ground-attack roles (Yeni Şafak, July 18, 2019).

Higher operational-class Akinci, produced by Baykar, which also manufactures Turkey’s battle-hardened ‘Pantsir hunter’ Bayraktar TB-2 tactical drone, will have an impressive combat payload of some 1,350 kilograms. Such a capacity will enable the platform to carry some heavy munitions, including the indigenous air-launched cruise missile SOM and smart joint direct attack munitions (JDAM) along with advanced sensors. Combined with its 24 hour-long endurance, Akinci can relieve some of the manned aircraft’s burden in air-ground missions (Baykar). In tandem, Hürkuş-C light-attack aircraft is designed to carry 12.7 and 20mm guns and a variety of air-ground munitions along with some protection such as armored structures and countermeasures against man-portable air defenses (TUSAS). Turkey’s forthcoming light-attack aircraft can provide close air-support in relatively safer airspaces.

In a live, public webinar in May 2020, Turkey’s procurement chief, Professor Ismail Demir, provided some hints as to Turkey’s airpower roadmap. Professor Demir highlighted some critical considerations. First, he ruled out an off-the-shelf 4.5 (or 4++) generation aircraft procurement as a stopgap before Turkey operates its indigenous fifth generation Milli Muharip Uçak (MMU), designed in cooperation with BAE Systems (YouTube, May 29).

This remark was important because, when asked about the prospects of a Russian Su-35 acquisition back in 2019, Demir remarked that the aircraft could only be a stopgap measure (Yeni Safak, September 4, 2019). Interestingly, last year, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu even stated that Ankara could opt for Su-34 Russian tactical bombers—of course, it is likely this was a slip of the tongue and he meant to reference the Su-35 (Anadolu Agency, April 4, 2019).

Second, Demir said that Turkey’s forthcoming fifth generation fighter, the MMU, will enter into service in several different blocs. In doing so, the initial MMU variants will likely be slightly below the fifth generation standards (YouTube, May 29).

Mini-Aircraft Carrier Plans Falling Through?

In fact, Turkey’s original F-35 acquisition plan was centered on 100 platforms of the conventional variant, the F-35A. However, back in November 2018, the Turkish press reported that the navy was preparing to operate the STOVL variant, the F-35B, to embark on the forthcoming amphibious assault vessel, TCG Anadolu. With this capability, Turkey was to operate the flagship as a mini-aircraft carrier (Yeni Şafak, November 9, 2018). Notably, in December 2018, President Erdogan remarked that Turkey had been gearing up to acquire 120 F-35s instead of the planned 100 (Haberturk, December 16, 2018).

Meaningfully, in the IDEF-2019 exhibition, a small-scale make-up of the vessel was showcased with F-35s embarked on its deck (YouTube, May 4). TCG Anadolu, still under construction at the time of writing, already went through certain modifications in accordance with the mini-aircraft carrier goal, including a ski-jump (CNNTurk, February 1).

Based on the Spanish Juan Carlos-1 class, TCG Anadolu will bring an unprecedented blue-water capability to the Turkish Navy. Thanks to its capacity to carry a small air-wing of STOVL aircraft, the Spanish Navy officially considers ‘aircraft carrier substitution’ to be one of the core missions of the Juan Carlos-1 class along with marine operations, power projection, and humanitarian tasks (The Spanish Navy). In tandem, the Turkish Navy’s assessments draw attention to the vessel’s ability to carry an embarked air-wing as a critical feature in close air-support to amphibious assaults as well as anti-air warfare (The Turkish Navy, February 2, 2019).

The F-35B remains the only alternative in serial production to form an air-wing for TCG Anadolu. In the absence of such capability, Turkey will only have an amphibious assault vessel, not a mini-aircraft carrier. The Australians operate their ships in kind, with the Canberra-class based on the Juan Carlos-1, solely as amphibious assets without going for the carrier option (Aksam, November 25, 2019).

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, however, prefers embarking its F-35Bs on its Izumo-class helicopter carriers (Japan Times, May 23, 2019). Therefore, theoretically, both ways are possible for Turkey’s TCG Anadolu. Yet, given the growing expeditionary posture of the Turkish military, an operational mini-aircraft carrier would still mark a significant difference in capabilities over the coming years. The Libyan campaign’s trajectory, for example, could have gone in a drastically different direction had Turkey possessed such a game changing overseas deep-strike capacity.

An idea promoted by Turkish defense planners is to translate the successful ‘dronization’ trend into naval aviation and equip the next Turkish flagship’s future air-wing with new unmanned systems (TRT Haber, June 11). Nevertheless, no known unmanned capability can replace the F-35B.

Tough Years on the Horizon

Turkey’s initial plan was to begin operating the F-35s by now, and in the meantime, develop its own national combat aircraft. While the former fell through, the latter now has to overcome problematic defense economics and a particular technology problem associated with developing the engine for such a sophisticated platform. Overall, the Turkish Air Force now faces the risk of falling short of becoming a fifth generation aircraft operator even by the early 2030s. Although Turkey’s defense technological and industrial base has been working miracles with unmanned systems, the manned aircraft segment is in serious trouble.

The 2020s and even 2030s might prove to be difficult years for Turkish airpower. At present, the Turkish Air Force’s most modern fighters and multirole platforms are the modernized F-16 variants. Last year, ASELSAN, a Turkish defense corporation, kicked-off an ambitious modernization project to equip these aircraft with active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars (Anadolu Agency, March 24, 2019).

But again, Turkey’s current airpower remains a textbook fourth generation one and the situation is unlikely to change soon. Even in optimistic scenarios, Turkey’s indigenous fifth generation fighter will not enter into service until at least the 2030s. Besides, even if the Turkish administration manages to somehow secure a miraculous 4.5 generation stopgap procurement, the F-35’s unmatched information superiority cannot be replaced by any known multirole platform.

Finally, the Turkish defense ecosystem will keep suffering from the inauspicious exodus from a multi-billion-dollar project, broad co-production advantages, and a real breakthrough in technological know-how. Bizarrely enough, Turkey has risked a joint production, fifth generation aircraft project for an off-the-shelf Russian SAM system purchase with no technology transfer or co-production option anywhere in sight.



By John Mukum Mbaku, Brookings, 05 August 2020

Recently, the tensions among Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile have escalated, particularly after Ethiopia announced that it had started filling the GERD’s reservoir, an action contrary to Egypt’s mandate that the dam not be filled without a legally binding agreement over the equitable allocation of the Nile’s waters. Egypt has also escalated its call to the international community to get involved. Already, the United States has threatened to withhold development aid to Ethiopia if the conflict is not resolved and an agreement reached.

The dispute over the GERD is part of a long-standing feud between Egypt and Sudan—the downstream states—on the one hand, and Ethiopia and the upstream riparians on the other over access to the Nile’s waters, which are considered a lifeline for millions of people living in Egypt and Sudan. Despite the intense disagreements, though, Ethiopia continues to move forward with the dam, arguing that the hydroelectric project will significantly improve livelihoods in the region more broadly.

A long history of conflict and a shift in power dynamics

Although conflict over the allocation of the waters of the Nile River has existed for many years, the dispute, especially that between Egypt and Ethiopia, significantly escalated when the latter commenced construction of the dam on the Blue Nile in 2011. Ethiopia, whose highlands supply more than 85 percent of the water that flows into the Nile River, has long argued that it has the right to utilize its natural resources to address widespread poverty and improve the living standards of its people. Although Ethiopia has argued that the hydroelectric GERD will not significantly affect the flow of water into the Nile, Egypt, which depends almost entirely on the Nile waters for household and commercial uses, sees the dam as a major threat to its water security.

Over the years, Egypt has used its extensive diplomatic connections and the colonial-era 1929 and 1959 agreements to successfully prevent the construction of any major infrastructure projects on the tributaries of the Nile. As a consequence, Ethiopia has not been able to make significant use of the river’s waters. However, as a result of the ability and willingness of Ethiopians at home and abroad to invest in the dam project, the government was able to raise a significant portion of the money needed to start the construction of the GERD. Chinese banks provided financing for the purchase of the turbines and electrical equipment for the hydroelectric plants.

The lack of a legal framework for water allocation

Although Egypt has persistently argued that the 1959 agreement between Egypt and Sudan is the legal framework for the allocation of the waters of the Nile, Ethiopia and other upstream riparian states reject that argument. The 1959 agreement allocated all the Nile River’s waters to Egypt and Sudan, leaving 10 billion cubic meters (b.c.m.) for seepage and evaporation, but afforded no water to Ethiopia or other upstream riparian states—the sources of most of the water that flows into the Nile. Perhaps even more consequential is the fact that this agreement granted Egypt veto power over future Nile River projects.

Today’s Nile River issues

Officials in Addis Ababa argue that the GERD will have no major impact on water flow into the Nile, instead arguing that the hydropower dam will provide benefits to countries in the region, including as a source of affordable electric power and as a major mechanism for the management of the Nile, including the mitigation of droughts and water salinity.

Egypt, fearing major disruptions to its access to the Nile’s waters, originally intended to prevent even the start of the GERD’s construction. Indeed, Egypt has called the filling of the dam an existential threat, as it fears the dam will negatively impact the country’s water supplies. At this point, though, the GERD is nearly completed, and so Egypt has shifted its position to trying to secure a political agreement over the timetable for filling the GERD’s reservoir and how the GERD will be managed, particularly during droughts. One question that keeps coming up is: Will Ethiopia be willing to release enough water from the reservoir to help mitigate a drought downstream?

Sudan is caught between the competing interests of Egypt and Ethiopia. Although Khartoum initially opposed the construction of the GERD, it has since warmed up to it, citing its potential to improve prospects for domestic development. Nevertheless, Khartoum continues to fear that the operation of the GERD could threaten the safety of Sudan’s own dams and make it much more difficult for the government to manage its own development projects.

Although talks chaired by President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa on behalf of the African Union have resolved many issues associated with the filling of the GERD’s reservoir, there is still no agreement on the role that the dam will play in mitigating droughts. The three countries have agreed that “when the flow of Nile water to the dam falls below 35-40 b.c.m. per year, that would constitute a drought” and, according to Egypt and Sudan, Ethiopia would have to release some of the water in the dam’s reservoir to deal with the drought. Ethiopia, however, prefers to have the flexibility to make decisions on how to deal with droughts. Afraid that a drought might appear during the filling period, Egypt wants the filling to take place over a much longer period.

Thinking in the long term: Securing an agreement for managing the Nile River

As they consider this controversial issue, all 11 riparian countries should seek to improve relations among themselves beyond their relationship with the Nile, especially in mutually beneficial areas such as trade; educational and cultural exchanges; the management of natural resources, including water; dealing with threats to peace and security, including the suppression and prevention of terrorism and extremism; and confronting major challenges to economic growth and poverty alleviation, such as climate change, widespread illiteracy, and poor infrastructure.

The Nile riparians must understand that the river is a common resource whose effective management must be approached from a basin-wide perspective. Thus, it is only through cooperation that Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, and the other riparians can peacefully resolve conflicts over the Nile and achieve the type of water use that will contribute significantly to regional economic and human development.

Poverty alleviation, which is a major concern for all Nile Basin countries, could form the basis of a cooperative arrangement between all the Nile’s riparians. Given agriculture’s importance to pro-poor economic growth, Egypt, which has significant experience and expertise in irrigation agriculture, can share some of that expertise with other countries in exchange for increased trade with them. Another important area of cooperation is research, especially in areas like climate change, the fight against terrorism and extremism, and human rights.

Although the immediate issue at stake—securing a technical agreement on the filling of the GERD’s reservoir—is among Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan, the broader and longer-term goal should be for all 11 states—including Tanzania, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Eritrea, and South Sudan—to agree on a legal regime for the management of this important watercourse. Such a meaningful resource-sharing agreement should not only resolve the conflict over water-use rights among the riparian states, but it should help define concepts such as equitable and reasonable use and significant harm, which have been used by the downstream states in their criticisms of the GERD.

Given the fact that the conflict between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan over the GERD seems to be among the most pressing issues in the region, it might be advisable for emphasis to be placed on securing a trilateral agreement that secures the peace between these three countries first. The other riparian states can then be brought in, either through the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) or some other regional framework, to secure an agreement that is binding on all the states. Although Egypt and Sudan are likely to resist efforts to include the other upstream riparians in the negotiations or to allow a regional organization, such as the NBI, to serve as an implementing organ, they must understand that the Nile River is a regional watercourse and its management must be approached from a regional perspective.

Recommendations for the negotiations

A regional framework for the management of the Nile already exists—the Nile Basin Initiative mentioned above—which is a partnership among the Nile riparian states that was launched in 1999. It can help the riparian states outline principles, rights, and obligations for cooperative management of the resources of the Nile. These countries should return to the NBI’s Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA), which was concluded in 2010, try to resolve the disagreements that caused Egypt and Sudan to decline to sign the CFA, and use it as a model for a future binding legal regime.

Second, the upstream riparian states must recognize and accept Egypt’s near total dependence on the waters of the Nile River. Such an understanding and appreciation of Egypt’s water vulnerability would help the riparians develop a water management protocol that can significantly enhance equitable and reasonable use while minimizing significant harm to downstream riparians. Nevertheless, Egypt must not use sympathy for its water vulnerability as a weapon to frustrate the efforts of the other riparians to secure an agreement that is balanced, fair, and equitable.

Third, Egypt should abandon continued references to its so-called natural historical rights (i.e., the water rights granted Egypt by the 1929 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty and the 1959 Agreement between Egypt and Sudan). If Egyptian authorities refuse to abandon these anachronistic treaties—which have created untenable water-use rights that benefit only itself and Sudan—all parties will remain at an impasse.

Furthermore, resolving conflicts involving the Nile River is most likely to be more successful through improvements in relations between the riparians and not through external intervention. In that light, Egypt should minimize trips to Washington, D.C., New York, and Brussels, and instead use its diplomatic resources to improve its relations with the other riparian states. Already, on June 19, 2020, Egyptian authorities called upon the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to intervene after tripartite talks had failed to secure an agreement on the filling schedule for the GERD. Egypt had asked the UNSC “to push the three countries to adhere to their obligations in accordance with the rules of international law in order to reach a fair and balanced solution to the issue of the GERD.”

Egypt’s repeated references to the rules of international law is part of an effort to maintain its so-called “natural and historical rights” that were established and reaffirmed by the 1929 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty and 1959 Agreement between Egypt and Sudan, respectively—treaties many of the other involved parties reject as anachronistic and untenable.

Improved relations among Egyptians, Ethiopians, and Sudanese can go a long way in enhancing the ability of their leaders to negotiate and adopt agreements that reflect the interests of citizens, especially regarding economic development and poverty alleviation. For example, Ethiopians and Egyptians are more likely to understand and appreciate the challenges that they face, particularly in the areas of water security, climate change, food production, and poverty alleviation, if they regularly interact with each other and engage in more bottom-up, participatory and inclusive approaches to the resolution of their conflicts. Both citizens and governments should be made part of the solution to the water-related conflicts that now threaten peace and security in the Nile Basin.

The agreement itself

If the relevant parties can agree to these goals, the agreement, in the end, will need to include technical language that ensures equitable sharing of the Nile. Basically, Ethiopia should cooperate with the other riparian states in developing and adopting an effective drought mitigation protocol, one that includes the possibility that GERD managers may have to release water from the reservoir, when necessary, to mitigate droughts. Such a mitigation program can make it much easier for Egyptian and Sudanese authorities to cooperate with Ethiopia and the other riparians in creating and adopting an agreement for management of the Nile.

Similarly, both the final agreement between the riparian states for the allocation of the water and resources of the Nile should include a dispute resolution mechanism. The dispute resolution committee could be made up of the Nile Council of Ministers (Nile-COM), which includes the ministers in charge of water affairs in all member states of the Nile River Basin. The Nile-COM is the highest political and decisionmaking body of the NBI. The decisions that this group renders must be binding on all riparian states.

In the end, all 11 riparian states must understand that the way forward calls for the establishment of a meaningful resource-sharing agreement, one that sees and recognizes the Nile River as a regional watercourse. Success on this endeavor will only occur under a legally binding regime that ensures mutually beneficial rights.

For more on the background and history of these important relationships, see my book with former AGI Director Mwangi S. Kimenyi, “Governing the Nile River Basin: The Search for a New Legal Regime.“



By Yasmina Abouzzohour, Brookings Doha Center, July 29, 2020

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI will celebrate 21 years on the throne in July 2020. Over the last two decades, the king has spearheaded positive civil and political reforms, as well as formidable foreign policy and infrastructural changes. Most recently, the regime took swift and effective measures to control the initial spread of the COVID-19 outbreak. Yet, deeply rooted socioeconomic and political challenges have fueled growing popular disillusionment with the regime and triggered numerous strikes and protests in recent years. Two decades on, regret and missed opportunities are multiplying, as Moroccans look back on the reign of a monarch many had hoped would bring about deep political reform and eradicate social inequality.

This policy briefing closely evaluates the major achievements and challenges that came out of Morocco’s first two decades under King Mohammed VI. First, it overviews the noteworthy foreign policy achievements, large-scale infrastructural developments, important civil reforms, and limited political transformation undertaken by the monarch. Second, it examines the lack of deep political reform and socioeconomic growth that continues to plague the kingdom. Finally, it contends that the regime should preemptively introduce genuine and targeted reforms in order to improve political and socioeconomic conditions and prevent popular discontent from boiling over into violence.


Key Recommendations:


Promote genuine political change: The Moroccan regime should bring about concrete political opening by minimizing interference in government affairs and by effectively dividing tasks between the monarchy and the government.
Reduce social inequality for vulnerable groups: The regime should raise funds (by reforming the taxation system) to improve the living conditions of rural populations and to enhance education and welfare for vulnerable groups.

In 2019, the Arab Barometer found that 70 percent of Moroccans between the ages of 18 and 29 had thought about emigrating,[1] while 49 percent supported rapid political change on the domestic front — the latter percentage being the highest of all Arab countries polled.[2] Such figures — along with chronic protests, a countrywide boycott, critical chants and rap songs, and expressions of discontent on social media — point to an increasing sense of popular disillusionment with the regime. The growing frustration of a wide group of Moroccans comes at an interesting time in the country’s political history. King Mohammed VI will celebrate 21 years on the throne on July 30, 2020 — in the midst of a pandemic that has pushed the country into mandatory lockdown, left many without wages, and led to a reported rise in police violence.[3]

Under Mohammed VI, Morocco has undergone important political and economic reforms while facing considerable challenges. During the first five years of the king’s reign, the regime allowed fairer elections, decreased media censure, acknowledged the human rights violations committed during the reign of the late King Hassan II (1961-1999), and pursued economic development programs. Other achievements include strengthening the country’s foreign policy by diversifying its alliance base and upgrading its infrastructure through large-scale projects. In response to the 2011 uprisings, the regime introduced reforms that marginally limited its powers (i.e., requiring that the prime minister come from the party with the largest share of votes, and reducing the number of diplomatic and high administrative posts that could be nominated directly by the monarch).[4] Furthermore, an Islamist party — the Justice and Development Party (PJD) — entered the government for the first time in the country’s history.

However, despite these achievements, Morocco remains plagued by socioeconomic challenges. The country suffers from high unemployment rates, poverty, social inequality, mediocre healthcare and education, a persistent urban-rural divide, and towering public debt. Furthermore, the economy relies on oil imports and unstable agricultural and tourism sectors. In the last decade, protests triggered by economic hardship have faced increased repression from the regime, which fears rising instability. In fact, since the 2011 uprisings, the regime has faced great security concerns due to the emergence of the Islamic State (IS) in neighboring countries and the Hirak movement in the historically rebellious Rif region. Two decades on, the reform process seems to have collapsed altogether.

Overall, continuous economic hardship and political restrictions will increase popular frustration and fuel further protests. Yet, the king — who remains the most powerful political actor in the country — can still deescalate this volatile situation, as the regime has not yet resorted to brutal violence. To avoid chaos, the regime should focus on: (1) bringing about concrete political opening by limiting interference in government affairs and by effectively dividing tasks between the monarchy and the government; and (2) reducing social inequality by reforming the taxation system, thereby raising funds to improve the living conditions of rural populations and to enhance education and welfare.


Achievements and challenges


Since Mohammed VI succeeded to the throne in 1999, Morocco has undergone noteworthy changes in terms of foreign policy, infrastructural development, and civil reform. However, concrete political reform continues to lag behind past promises, and socioeconomic challenges persist despite minor advances.

Foreign policy re-direction

Morocco has taken significant strides in foreign policy by diversifying its alliance base to pursue economic and diplomatic interests.[5] Under the current king, the country has rejoined the African Union (AU), developed stronger ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), improved relations with Europe, and strengthened its position as an international ally in fighting terrorism and irregular migration.[6]

To maintain trade relations and continue to receive bilateral aid from Europe — Morocco’s largest trading partner and donor — the regime has often had to accept trade restrictions and human rights criticism from the European Union (EU). Indeed, the EU accounted for 59.4 percent of Morocco’s trade in 2017 (i.e., 64.6 percent of its exports and 56.5 percent of its imports).[7]At least 73 percent of Morocco’s inward foreign direct investment (FDI) stocks in 2019 came from European countries.[8]

Under Mohammed VI, there has been a conscious effort to reduce this influence, and Moroccan decision-makers have striven to diversify the country’s support base by strengthening ties with GCC countries and developing new relationships with non-traditional partners, such as China and Russia.[9] Most striking has been the kingdom’s re-direction toward sub-Saharan Africa.

Indeed, Mohammed VI has championed greater presence within the African continent, a move that positions the kingdom as the West’s gateway to Africa, thereby allowing it to enhance its international standing, shore up regional support, and improve its economy. Morocco rejoined the AU in 2017, more than three decades after leaving it.[10] Since then, the regime has demonstrated its interest in joining the Economic Community of West African States,[11] which invited Morocco to a recent summit.[12] The king has personally worked to build ties with sub-Saharan countries; he has made numerous visits to various states and signed nearly 1,000 agreements for economic, political, and security deals.[13]

Through the king’s efforts, Moroccan companies have increased cooperation with sub-Saharan Africa in banking, telecommunications, insurance, and manufacturing. In fact, according to the African Development Bank, 85 percent of the kingdom’s FDI went to sub-Saharan states in 2018.[14] Moroccan-African trade is also growing — it increased by 68 percent between 2008 and 2018 (see Figure 1),[15] while Moroccan exports to western Africa tripled during the same period.[16] Beyond boosting the kingdom’s economy and diversifying its alliance base, Morocco’s ties to sub-Saharan countries will further benefit its relationship with the EU by promoting Morocco-EU-African trade.

Security player

In terms of regional security, instability has grown in North Africa and the Sahel over the last decade, allowing Morocco to rise as a key counterterrorism player. Recent protests in Algeria, Sudan, and Egypt have highlighted Morocco as a zone of stability in an otherwise struggling region and as a safe ally for Western actors. Meanwhile, the kingdom’s willingness to contain terrorist activity in Libya and Mali has strengthened its position as an actor that can help with counterterrorism efforts in the region.

Furthermore, Morocco has faced fewer terrorist attacks than neighboring Tunisia, Algeria, Spain, Italy, and France, a fact that may be attributed to its effective cybersecurity and counterterrorism forces (see Figure 2).[17 ]Indeed, Moroccan authorities maintain a network of close to 50,000 auxiliary agents that are placed in neighborhoods to inform on residents.[18] Counter-terrorist forces are usually able to dismantle cells before terrorist activity or planning takes place. According to the authorities, they foiled 352 attacks and dismantled over 170 cells between 2002 and 2017; [19] many of these were reportedly linked to ISIS.[20] Morocco’s control of terrorist activity within its own borders and in other countries has made the regime an indispensable ally to the EU and United States, thereby balancing out its dependence on their financial support.

In addition to providing the United States and EU with intelligence on terrorist cells, Moroccan counter-terrorist forces have stopped plots before they unfurled on European soil — notably in France in 2015 and Spain in 2017.[22] They also foiled attacks on U.S. and British ships in the Strait of Gibraltar in 2002.[23] The regime has also allowed the United States to carry out military training in Morocco through the annual African Lion exercise.[24] In return, Morocco has received support from both the EU and United States (notably through the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership) to train its forces and target radicalization at the population level.[25] Furthermore, there has been much U.S. and EU support for Morocco’s soft power approach to countering radicalization through programs that train local, African, and European imams.[26] The success of such programs has strengthened Morocco’s international position.

Infrastructural developments and needs

The regime’s infrastructural development plan over the past two decades started with a push for mass electrification [27] before improving the country’s motorway infrastructure. The regime then focused on launching a renewable energy megaproject. These costly developments will attract greater investment and tourism inflow and will eventually reduce Morocco’s reliance on energy imports.

A groundbreaking achievement during Mohammed VI’s reign was the construction of the country’s first mega solar power complex, Noor, which saw investments of around $9 billion.[28] Once complete, the complex will be the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant, [29] able to power a city twice the size of Marrakech at peak capacity.[30] Most of Noor’s phases are already on stream, and construction is underway for the final phase.[31 ] The aim is for 42 percent of Morocco’s electrical power to come from renewable sources by 2020, and 52 percent by 2030.[32] This is feasible given that 35 percent of the country’s electricity came from renewable sources in 2018.[33]

There has also been significant improvement to the country’s motorway network under the current king, with the network’s length having increased from around 400 kilometers in 1999 to 1,831 kilometers in 2016.[34] As a result, 60 percent of the population (mostly in urban areas) now has direct access to the highway network,[35] which connects 18 airports and 37 commercial ports (13 of which are dedicated to foreign trade).[36]

Furthermore, after close to 16 years of planning and construction,[37] Morocco inaugurated Al Boraq, its first high-speed rail service, in November 2018. In its first phase, Al Boraq currently spans close to 350 kilometers, connecting Casablanca and Tangiers and reducing the travel time between them from five hours to two hours. Eventually, the high-speed rail service will extend to 1,500 kilometers throughout the country.[38] The project received significant criticism domestically, with major objections concerning its cost of more than $2 billion.[ 39] Such a budget was deemed exorbitant by certain associations and political figures, given that Morocco has yet to tackle issues of weak welfare provision, healthcare, and education.

Persistent socioeconomic woes

Many macroeconomic and social indicators point to an improved socioeconomic landscape in Morocco. Since Mohammed VI’s ascension to the throne, the country’s per capita income (constant dollars over time) has increased from $1,963 in 1999 to $3,361 in 2018,[40] and exports have tripled.[41] At the social level, the primary school enrollment rate increased by over 27 points between 1999 and 2018,[42] the poverty headcount ratio at the national poverty line decreased from 15.3 percent in 2000 to 4.8 percent in 2013,[43] life expectancy increased by over eight years between 1999 and 2018, [44] and unemployment decreased from 13.9 percent in 1999 to 9 percent in 2019.[45] The economy was boosted by a strong revival of the tourism sector — indeed, the number of tourists visiting the kingdom has tripled over the past 20 years[46]— and it has greatly benefited from the growth of specific industries (such as automotive and aerospace).[47]

However, according to the World Bank, nearly a quarter of Moroccans are poor or at risk of poverty,[48 ]and the gap between the highest and lowest socioeconomic classes is wide, pointing to great inequality. Morocco’s Gini index is 40.9 percent, meaning it has barely improved since 1998.[49] This is the highest number in North Africa (excluding Libya, which is in the throes of civil war), followed by Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt.[50]

Indeed, while poverty has decreased countrywide, it is still prevalent in rural areas. Poverty rates among the rural population were twice as high as at the national level in 2018; in fact, the rural population accounted for 79.4 percent of poor people in the country.[51] In 2014, close to 1.2 million rural inhabitants lived under the poverty line, compared to 225,000 urban inhabitants, while 19.4 percent of the rural population was considered vulnerable compared to 7.9 percent of the urban population, according to official sources.[52] These numbers show a wide center-periphery wealth divide and indicate the state’s failure to close the gap.

Furthermore, Morocco’s economy remains largely dependent on agricultural activity, which makes it vulnerable to poor harvests and environmental shocks. The agricultural sector, which accounted for approximately 39 percent of total employment in 2018,[53] is highly volatile compared to the rest of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.[54] It remains dependent on weather conditions, meaning that any rainfall deficit or excess impacts production.

Moreover, Morocco’s reliance on oil imports hurts its economy every time oil prices peak. The country also has a high level of public debt, which reached $76.8 billion in June 2019.[55] While Morocco’s GDP has improved, its annual growth has been too small to enhance standards of living or meet society’s expectations; at an average annual rate of 4 percent, it is considered low for emerging markets.[56]

Youth unemployment also remains a pressing problem in Morocco, where around 16.6 percent of the population is made up of young people (ages 15 to 24).[57] In 2019, the country had a youth unemployment rate of 22 percent nationally and 40.3 percent in urban areas.[58] Lower unemployment rates in rural areas (in 2018, 178,000 people in rural areas versus 990,000 people in urban areas were unemployed)[59] do not indicate better economic conditions. Rather, they can be attributed to the educated urban population’s reticence to accept undesired positions. Indeed, evidence gathered from field research shows that educated youths in urban areas queue for desired jobs, with many preferring public sector jobs that meet their expectations as university graduates.[60]

Within the urban middle class, even those who are employed face difficulties, as public sector workers struggle to cover basic expenses due to low wages. Overall, Morocco’s lower middle class continues to face significant economic hardship. This is exacerbated by mediocre public healthcare and education, which lead some people to pay high prices in private clinics and schools.

Freedoms and rights

Undeniable progress was made in terms of women’s rights during the first five years of Mohammed VI’s reign. In 2004, the king reformed the family code to raise the minimum marriage age to 18 years and to grant women the right to self-guardianship, child custody, and divorce;[61] these were significant changes, despite some caveats.[62] In addition, polygamy laws were modified to require the approval of the existing wife (or wives).[63] However, further reforms have yet to take place, namely relating to inheritance laws, the legalization of abortion, and the abolishment of the death penalty.

On the political front, the current king’s reign has been marked by far less brutal repression than his predecessor’s. The electoral process is also more transparent than it was 20 years ago, with less evidence of rigged elections and regime interference. The 2011 uprisings resulted in granting some political freedoms, including partial empowerment of the legislative branch and free and fair parliamentary elections. The latter were won by the PJD, allowing them to enter government after having been kept out for decades.

In relative terms, when comparing a non-absolute authoritarian monarchy like Morocco to an absolute monarchy like Saudi Arabia, it is clear that the former is faring better in terms of human rights and political freedoms. However, when comparing Morocco to a constitutional monarchy like Spain, the former does not fare as well (see Figures 3 and 4). The structures and institutions that facilitate political opening exist in Morocco, but the transition remains restricted from the top.

Indeed, over 20 years, the current regime has favored limited liberalization over deep change. Mohammed VI has avoided the very reforms many had hoped he would introduce relating to freedom of expression, censure of the press, and regime interference in government affairs and formation.[64]

Over the past 20 years, the kingdom’s Freedom House rating of “Partly Free” has not changed.[65] In fact, the last episode of significant political opening took place under Hassan II, shortly before his death.[66] Moreover, repression seems to have increased following the 2011 uprisings, including heightened judicial harassment of dissidents.[67] In 2012, one year after the constitutional referendum, the authorities repressed protests organized by the February 20 movement, which had emphasized the wider opposition’s dissatisfaction with what they deemed to be cosmetic reforms.[68]

The 2016-2018 protests, which took place in the historically marginalized Rif region,[69] were also met with repression. These protests, triggered by the death of a fishmonger crushed by a garbage truck, gained countrywide traction.[70] Organizers spoke out against government corruption, economic hardship, and tough living conditions. Around 150 protesters were arrested, and movement organizers were given long prison terms.[71] Following the Rif protests, demonstrations triggered by economic hardship in Errachidia and Jrada were also repressed.[72] In 2019, police forces used water cannons and batons to disperse smaller-scale demonstrations organized by specific groups (teachers, students, etc.).[73]

The period following the 2011 uprisings has also been marked by greater regime interference in government affairs, despite promises to ensure a more robust and independent legislative branch.[74] While the legislative branch is partially more empowered, elected officials do not possess the power to govern the country or implement deep reform without the regime’s permission and cooperation; effective power rests with the monarchy. Indeed, the monarch is the highest political, military, security, and religious authority, appointing key ministers (such as defense and interior), secretaries of state, and governors, among others.

Furthermore, palace-aligned parties — such as the National Rally for Independents (RNI), the Constitutional Union (UC), and the Popular Movement (MP) — interfere in government affairs and formation, as demonstrated in the aftermath of the 2016 legislative elections. The PJD — which had won a historic 125 out of 395 parliamentary seats[75] — needed to enter into a coalition with other parties.[76] However, the RNI (which won 37 seats)[77] formed a bloc with the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), the UC, and the MP (all parties with minor results) to increase its influence in government.[78] While the RNI refused to join the coalition without these parties, then-Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane rejected the USFP’s participation (as it had won only 20 seats).[79] This resulted in a five-month deadlock that led the monarch to ask Benkirane to step down in March 2017 and to appoint current Prime Minister Saâdeddine El Othmani in his place.[80] El Othmani formed a coalition with the palace-aligned parties within a week,[81] thereby diminishing the PJD’s influence in government and creating divisions within the party.

Other promises made during the 2011 uprisings for greater political freedoms (of press, speech, and organization)[82] did not come through. In fact, the regime has refined its tactics of controlling the media and its image. For example, business figures close to the palace control various media outlets, which spread pro-regime propaganda.[83] The regime rewards loyal outlets while taking to court journalists who have been critical (in these cases, courts often rule in the regime’s favor).[84]

Individuals criticizing the regime via social media have also faced repression. Two famous YouTubers were arrested toward the end of 2019 for criticizing the king.[85] That same year, three Moroccan rappers released “Long Live the People,” a viral track criticizing the state and the king, which included the lyrics: “Bullets will not suffice … I’m the hurt one … the Moroccan citizen … who fought for independence but never felt it … Who took our money? … Who was it that took the phosphates?”[86] As the song gained popularity within the country and internationally, one of the rappers, Gnawi, was sentenced to a year in jail for insulting the police on social media.[87]

Outlook and recommendations

As economic hardship persists for marginalized communities and popular frustration grows due to persistent social inequality, discontent will increase and protests will multiply. The revolution in neighboring Algeria,[88] no matter its outcome, will only embolden Moroccans to express dissent. While this piece does not aim to predict the timeline for a tipping point, tensions are bound to boil over if the kingdom’s socioeconomic and political conditions do not improve.


The regime can still deescalate this volatile situation, despite growing expressions of popular discontent and increased protests. Indeed, it has not yet crossed over to brutal repression, and the opposition is too fragmented to mobilize the population. The regime still has time and space to rebuild its social contract with the people. o do so, it must introduce genuine reforms that would: (1) bring about concrete political opening by empowering the legislative branch, and (2) reduce social inequality by improving the living conditions of rural populations and prioritizing education and welfare.

Opening the political sphere

Authoritarian learning [89] goes both ways; as regimes modify their behavior based on what they have learned from opposition events at home and abroad, so do opposition actors. Just as the Moroccan regime has developed a successful pattern of containing opposition through a combination of promised and cosmetic reforms and repression, so have opposition actors and the wider population learned from regime behavior and grown disillusioned with its failure to deliver on a number of promises. These span from as far back as 1956, when King Mohammed V promised various political groups [90] a constitution that he never passed, to as recently as the 2011 uprisings, when the current king promised a new era of reform but implemented little change.

If current grievances were to boil over and fragmented opposition actors were to unify, further pledges from the regime may not suffice to contain an eventual uprising. It is therefore in the best interest of the monarchy to act preemptively, before the tipping point, by introducing genuine reforms and change. A good start would be for the regime to strengthen the legislative branch and grant the prime minister greater powers, thereby paving the way for more individual freedoms. This recommendation would not require the monarchy to step away from power, but rather to be involved in the political sphere in such a way that allows the legislative branch to fulfill its constitutional role.

First, the monarchy should stop palace-aligned parties from interfering in government formation and affairs. Although the RNI-led initiative that resulted in a deadlock in forming the new government in 2016 and the subsequent ousting of Benkirane did not violate the text of any constitutional articles,[91] these actions did not respect the spirit of the constitution.

Second, the monarchy and the government need to agree on an effective division of tasks. There are fields in which the monarchy has been extraordinarily successful and which it should continue to oversee — most notably foreign policy, international business initiatives, and the development of business-oriented infrastructure. However, the legislative branch should take charge of affairs related to domestic politics and the economy and be given more control over public funds, in order to carry out successful socioeconomic and political reforms.

Targeting social inequality

To tackle social inequality, the regime should focus on three key aspects: (1) reducing the gap between rural and urban populations; (2) increasing the literacy rate for affected groups; and (3) raising more funds to make these changes possible.

To address the urban-rural divide in the short term, more funds should be allocated to rural areas that lack infrastructure and electricity, and which have not benefited from the same massive improvements as urban areas. The regime should focus on upgrading and adding to roads in rural areas, as well as building schools and health clinics in remote villages.

For a long-term solution, the regime must work toward reducing illiteracy, especially among the segments of the population most affected (in this case, women and rural inhabitants). To address this issue successfully, the regime must allocate funds to: (1) encourage and enable families to send their children to school and prevent dropout, and (2) allow illiterate adults to access literacy courses. Major obstacles to childhood education include poverty and distance. The regime must reinforce the public school system with more financial and human resources, give poor families cash incentives to keep their children in school, and set up more schools in remote villages. To reduce adult illiteracy, the regime must allocate funding to literacy courses, provide more courses across the kingdom, and encourage private employers to allow illiterate employees to attend such trainings.

To make these costly changes, the regime must raise more funds, especially as high public debt and dependency on oil imports have limited available state funding. There are several ways to do this, including: improving the tax collection system; spending less on megaprojects; reducing subsidies; and reforming the country’s taxation policy. Although the last option may generate significant political pushback from the higher income groups, it is the most straightforward option, given the regime’s propensity to develop large-scale projects, the cuts already made to the subsidy system following the 2011 uprisings, and the economic implications of the ongoing coronavirus crisis. The country’s income taxation policy is currently progressive to 38 percent for six different income groups.[92] People in the highest income group (the sixth one) earn over 180,000 dirhams per month, or close to $18,500. This policy can be reformed to include a seventh income group that would be taxed at a higher percentage. For example, people who earn more than 500,000 dirhams per month (around $55,000) could be taxed at a rate of 44 percent. Higher taxes should also be collected on property and wealth.


King Mohammed VI’s twenty-first year on the throne marks around a decade since the 2011 uprisings reached Morocco, and a decade since the king promised political opening and change that would meet the demands of the protest movement.[93] This symbolic date may explain the growing dissatisfaction with the regime among the media, the opposition, and the population. However, it has not all been bad — far from it. The king has introduced important changes in terms of foreign policy, infrastructure, and women’s rights. In the beginning of the king’s reign, the regime allowed some political opening and committed to increasing economic development. Following the 2011 uprisings, the regime introduced reforms that marginally limited its powers and allowed an Islamist party to lead the government for the first time in the country’s history.

Yet, so much more could and should be done to open the political sphere and address massive inequality. With protests rocking neighboring Algeria, as well as Lebanon and Iraq, and with persistent economic hardship and political restrictions fueling popular frustrations, protests are bound to increase. The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic (due to disrupted trade flows, reduced tourism, a potential European crisis, and increased public spending) will only exacerbate Morocco’s economic hardship.

To keep tensions from boiling over, the regime should focus on: (1) bringing about concrete political opening by minimizing interference in government affairs and by effectively dividing tasks between the monarchy and the government; and (2) reducing social inequality by reforming the taxation system, thereby raising funds to improve the living conditions of rural populations and to enhance education and welfare. Such changes would improve the country’s political and socioeconomic landscapes and would make it, in the monarch’s own words, “a country that accommodates all its sons and daughters; a country in which all citizens — without exception — enjoy the same rights and have the same obligations, in an environment where freedom and human dignity prevail.”[94]


1 Arab Barometer, “Arab Barometer V: Morocco Country Report,” June 2019,
2 “Could Morocco see the next uprising, after Sudan and Algeria?,” BBC News Africa, June 27, 2019,
3 Yasmina Abouzzohour, “ COVID in the Maghreb: Responses and Impacts,” Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS), POMEPS Studies 39, April 2020, 51-55,
4 Constitution of the Kingdom of Morocco 2011, art. 47, 49, and 91.
5 Mohamed Karim Boukhssass, “Yasmina Abouzzohour: al-Maghrib ‘abbara biwuduh ’anahu la yumkin ’an yakuna tahta wisayati ’ahadin wa la yumkin ’ibtizazuhu limawaqifihi,” [Morocco has clearly stated that it cannot be under the guardianship of anyone and cannot be blackmailed for its positions], Al Ayam no. 840 (February 14–20, 2019),
6 Yasmina Abouzzohour and Beatriz Tomé-Alonso, “Moroccan foreign policy after the Arab Spring: a turn for the Islamists or persistence of royal leadership?,” The Journal of North African Studies 24, no. 3 (2019): 444–67,
7 “Morocco Trade Picture,” European Commission, accessed May 21, 2020,
8 Author’s calculations based on data from “Recettes des investissements directs étrangers au Maroc: Repartition par pays et organisme financier” [Receipts from foreign direct investments in Morocco: Breakdown by country and financial institution], Office des Changes, accessed June 26, 2020, The countries included in the author’s calculations are the following: Ireland, France, Denmark, Spain, Luxembourg, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Cyprus, Germany, Malta, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Poland, Austria, Norway, and Sweden.
9 Ibid; “Full Text of Royal Speech on Throne Day,”, accessed May 20, 2020,
10 Nizar Manek, “Morocco Rejoins African Union Three Decades After Withdrawal,” Bloomberg, January 31, 2017,
11 The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is a political and economic bloc made up of 15 West African states.
12 “Morocco Participates in ECOWAS Counterterrorism Summit,” Morocco World News, September 14, 2019,
13 “HM the King Delivers Speech to Nation on 44th Anniversary of Green March,” Agence Marocaine de Presse, accessed May 20, 2020,
14 “Banking on ECOWAS: Why Morocco is cosying up to sub-Saharan Africa,” The Economist, July 19, 2018,
15 “Moroccan-Sub-Saharan Trade Increased by 9.1% in 2016: Foreign Exchange Office,” Morocco World News, July 15, 2017,
16 “Banking on ECOWAS.”
17 Morocco has faced three major terrorist events during the reign of the current king: the 2003 Casablanca bombings, which resulted in 45 deaths; the 2011 Marrakech Argana bombing, which resulted in the death of 17 people, many of whom were tourists; and the 2018 murders of Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Maren Ueland, two tourists decapitated by terrorists near Imlil.
18 Thomas Renard, ed., “Returnees in the Maghreb: Comparing Policies on Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters in Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia,” Egmont Institute, Egmont Paper no. 107, April 2019, 30,
19 Note that it is unclear how Moroccan authorities defined “cell,” and how structured these broken-up cells were.
20 “Plus de 170 cellules terroristes démantelées et plus de 352 projets “destructeurs” déjoués depuis 2002 au Maroc” [More than 170 terrorist cells dismantled and more than 352 “destructive” projects foiled since 2002 in Morocco], Maroc Diplomatique, October 20, 2017,; Mohammed Amine Benabou, “US Embassy in Morocco Upgrades Security Alert for Terror Risk,” Morocco World News, April 3, 2019,
21 The Global Terrorism Index systematically ranks 163 countries based on the impact of terrorism. Specifically, it measures data linked to terrorist activities since 2000. The index scores countries yearly, based on four factors: the total number of terrorist incidents in a given year; the total number of fatalities caused by terrorism in a given year; the total number of injuries caused by terrorism in a given year; and the approximate level of total property damage from terrorist incidents in a given year. See: “Global Terrorism Index 2019: Measuring the impact of terrorism,” Institute for Economics & Peace, 2019,
22 Thierry Oberlé, “Le Maroc a aidé la France à dépister les terroristes de Saint-Denis” [Morocco helped France track terrorists in Saint-Denis], Le Figaro, November 21, 2015,; Victor Fortunato, “Espagne/Maroc : démantèlement d’une «cellule djihadiste» qui préparait des attaques” [Spain/Morocco: The dismantling of a ‘jihadist cell’ that was preparing attacks], Le Parisien, September 6, 2017,
23 Douglas Frantz, “U.S. Enlists Morocco’s Help To Counter Terrorist Plots,” The New York Times, June 24, 2002,
24 “African Lion,” United States Africa Command, accessed January 20, 2020,
25 Clive Williams, “Counterterrorism cooperation in the Maghreb: Morocco looks beyond Marrakech,” The Strategist, December 12, 2018,; Silvia Colombo and Benedetta Voltolini, “‘Business as Usual’ in EU Democracy Promotion Towards Morocco? Assessing the Limits of the EU’s Approach towards the Mediterranean after the Arab Uprisings,” L’Europe en Formation 1, no. 371 (2014): 41–57,; “U.S. Relations with Morocco,” U.S. Department of State Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Bilateral Relations Fact Sheet, October 4, 2019,
26 Salim Hmimnat, “Morocco’s Religious ‘Soft Power’ in Africa As a Strategy Supporting Morocco’s Expansion in Africa,” MIPA, June 2018,; Benjamin Bruce, “Morocco on the Road to European Islam,” Oasis 28, March 27, 2019,; Mohammed El-Katiri, “The institutionalisation of religious affairs: religious reform in Morocco,” The Journal of North African Studies 18, no. 1 (August 14, 2012): 53–69,
27 World Bank Statistical Database, “Access to electricity, rural (% of rural population), Access to electricity, urban (% of urban population),” accessed September 30, 2019,
28 Hamza Hamouchene, “The Ouarzazate solar plant in Morocco: Triumphal ‘Green’ capitalism and the privatization of nature,” Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt, March 25, 2016,; Reuters, “Vast Moroccan Solar Power Plant is Hard Act for Africa to Follow,” Fortune, November 5, 2016,
29 Tarik Bouhal et al., “Technical feasibility of a sustainable Concentrated Solar Power in Morocco through an energy analysis,” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 81, no. 1 (January 2018): 1087–95,
30 “Morocco Reaps Benefits of King’s Energy Farsightedness,” The North Africa Post, July 16, 2019,
31 “Noor Ouarzazate Solar Complex,” Power Technology, accessed April 28, 2020,
32 The World Bank, “Implementation Completion and Results Report on a Loan in the Amount of US$200 Million, Loan Number 80880-MA, and a Clean Technology Fund Loan in the Amount of US$97 Million, Loan Number TF010916, to the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy for the Ouarzazate Concentrated Solar Power Project ( P122028 ),” Report No. ICR00004271, March 31, 2018,
33 Tarek Bazza, “35% of Moroccan Electricity Came from Renewable Sources in 2018,” Morocco World News, January 10, 2019,
34 “Chiffres clés: Dates clés” [Key figures: Key dates], Autoroutes du Maroc, accessed May 20, 2020,
35 Agence France-Presse, “20 ans de règne. L’analyse de 2 conseillers du roi et de 2 anciens ministres” [20 years of reign. Analysis of two king’s advisers and two former ministers], Les Inspirations Éco, July 31, 2019,
36 Ibid; Agence Ecofin, “Maroc : 20 ans de règne de Mohammed VI en 10 chiffres clés” [Morocco: 20 years of Mohammed VI’s reign in 10 key figures], July 28, 2019,
37 The feasibility studies for the high-speed rail began in 2003 and the Tangier-Kenitra route was identified the following year as one of the first that would be constructed. In 2007, the Moroccan National Railways Office (ONCF) signed preliminary agreements to manage the project. Financing was finalized in 2010, and construction began in 2011. The first trainset arrived to Tangier in 2015. Testing of the trains at revenue speeds began in 2017, the same year that track construction was completed. In January 2018, the electrical system was energized, and the control facility came online the following month. Construction of the stations was completed in mid-2018, and the service was inaugurated in November 2018.
38 “La LGV en chiffres” [The high-speed rail in numbers], Libération, November 16, 2018,
39 Ahlam Ben Saga, “Politician Omar Balafrej Says LGV Train is Not a Priority for Morocco,” Morocco World News, November 15, 2018,; David W. Smith, “Morocco’s €1.8 billion TGV project splits opinion,” Construction Shows, October 31, 2011,
40 World Bank Statistical Database, “GDP per capita (constant 2010 US$) - Morocco,” accessed January 4, 2020,
41 World Bank Statistical Database, “Exports of goods and services (constant 2010 US$) - Morocco,” accessed January 4, 2020,
42 World Bank Statistical Database, “Adjusted net enrolment rate, primary (% of primary school age children) - Morocco,” accessed September 25, 2019,
43 World Bank Statistical Database, “Poverty headcount ratio at national poverty lines (% of population) - Morocco,” accessed September 25, 2019,
44 World Bank Statistical Database, “Life expectancy at birth, total (years) - Morocco,” accessed September 25, 2019,
45 World Bank Statistical Database, “Unemployment, total (% of total labor force) (modeled ILO estimate) - Morocco,” accessed September 25, 2019,
46 United Nations Data, “Arrivals of non resident tourists/visitors, departures and tourism expenditure in the country and in other countries,” accessed May 4, 2020,
47 Safaa Kasraoui, “Morocco’s Aeronautics Industry: 10 Years of Growth,” Morocco World News, October 26, 2019,; Said Temsamani, “Morocco Among Top Most Promising Markets For Automotive Industry,” Eurasia Review, October 26, 2018,
48 Marie Anne Chambonnier, “Macro Poverty Outlook: Morocco,” The World Bank, 2019,
49 The Gini index measures the distribution of income across income percentiles in a population. A higher score indicates greater inequality. “Gini Coefficient by Country 2020,” World Population Review, accessed May 20, 2020,; World Bank Statistical Database, “GINI index (World Bank estimate) - Morocco,” accessed May 21, 2020,
50 “Gini Coefficient by Country 2020.”
51 The World Bank, “Morocco Digital and Climate Smart Agriculture Program (P170419): Program Information Document (PID),” Report No. PIDC190843, July 28, 2019,
52 According to the High Commission for Planning, a vulnerable household is one whose expenditure per capita is between the national threshold of relative poverty and 1.5 times this threshold. See Safae El Badi, “Tableau De Bord Social,” Ministry of Economy and Finance, July 2019, 48,
53 Danish Trade Union Development Agency, “Labour Market Profile 2018: Morocco,” Labour Market Profile, January 2018,; “The World Factbook - Morocco,” Central Intelligence Agency, accessed May 5, 2020,
54 “Challenges remain for Morocco's agribusiness despite positive developments,” Bizcommunity, September 28, 2016,
55 “Morocco Government Debt: % of GDP,” CEIC Data, accessed December 16, 2019,
56 World Bank Statistical Database, “GDP Growth (annual %) - Morocco,” accessed September 19, 2019,
57 “The World Factbook - Morocco.”
58 World Bank Statistical Database, “Unemployment, youth total (% of total labor force ages 15-24) (modeled ILO estimate) - Morocco,” accessed September 25, 2019,; Katya Schwenk, “Despite Accelerated Growth, Unemployment Persists in Morocco,” Morocco World News, June 5, 2019,
59 El Badi, “Tableau De Bord Social,” 30.
60 The International Labour Office and International Fund for Agricultural Development, “Morocco: Young women’s employment and empowerment in the rural economy,” Country Brief, April 6, 2018, 3,
61 Family Code (Moudawana) of the Kingdom of Morocco 2004, pmbl. 2, 3, and 6 and art. 171 and 218.
62 There are some caveats to consider. The official age for marriage was set to 18 years, unless a judge decides a minor is mature enough to be married (Family Code 2004, pmbl. 3). Women, in compliance with Islamic law, can retain custody of their children after divorce if they remain unmarried; if they remarry, the children only remain with their mothers until they are seven years old (Family Code 2004, art. 175).
63 Family Code 2004, pmbl. 4.
64 Craig R. Whitney, “Popular New King Has a Goal: A Modern Morocco,” The New York Times, November 12, 1999,
65 “Freedom in the World 2018: Morocco,” Freedom House, accessed September 4, 2019,; “Freedom in the World Comparative and Historical Data: Country and Territory Ratings and Statuses, 1973–2020,” Freedom House, accessed May 21, 2020,
66 This was when King Hassan II invited the long-time socialist opposition actor and human rights lawyer Abderrahmane Youssoufi to form a government — the “Gouvernement d’Alternance,” or Government of Alternance — in which Youssoufi had enough power as prime minister to introduce some reforms.
67 Yasmina Abouzzohour, “Morocco’s sharp turn toward repression,” MIPA, January 8, 2020,
68 Mounia Bennani-Chraïbi and Mohamed Jeghllaly, “The Protest Dynamics of Casablanca’s February 20th Movement,” Revue française de science politique 62, no. 5 (2012): 867–94,
69 The Rif region experienced a tribal rebellion (1958–59) against the regime’s economic and political marginalization, which later developed separatist goals. The rebellion was repressed by the military, as per the orders of then-Crown Prince Hassan II. The region was also home to the 1984 Rif riots, which were triggered by economic hardship and escalated in reaction to the regime’s immediate repression.
70 El Maarouf Moulay Driss and Taieb Belghazi, “The event of death: Reflections on the dynamics of emotions and embodied resistance in the Moroccan contexts of hirak (movement) and la hirak ((non)movement),” Cultural Studies 33, no. 4 (2019): 632–56,
71 “Morocco arrests 150 during Rif protests,” Middle East Monitor, June 29, 2017,; Ahmed Eljechtimi, “Moroccan court upholds prison sentences against Rif protesters,” Reuters, April 6, 2019,
72 Abdelillah Essatte, “Protests of Morocco’s Margins: The Credibility Gap,” MIPA, August 2018,; “Maroc : de violents affrontements à Errachidia, des policiers blessés (vidéo)” [Morocco: Violent clashes in Errachidia, injured policemen (video)],, March 8, 2019,,54708.html; Ilhem Rachidi, “In Morocco, Hotbeds of Protest Are Not Being Extinguished,” Orient XXI, April 17, 2018,,2408.
73 “Morocco: Hundreds of teachers protest in demand for higher wages,” Middle East Monitor, October 7, 2019,; Reuters, “Thousands of Moroccan teachers protest over pay,” France 24, March 24, 2019,; “Moroccan police crack down on protesting teachers,” Al Jazeera, February 20, 2019,
74 “Texte intégral du discours adressé par SM le Roi à la Nation,” [Full text of the speech addressed by His Majesty the King to the Nation],, accessed May 20, 2020,égral-du-discours-adressé-par-sm-le-roi-la-nation.
75 Yasmina Abouzzohour, “The Persistent Rural Failure of Morocco’s Justice and Development Party,” POMEPS, POMEPS Studies 27, September 2017, 12,
76 The PJD had to enter into a coalition with other parties because it needed a majority in parliament to form a government.
77 Abouzzohour, “The Persistent Rural Failure,” 14; Association TAFRA, “Résultats des élections législatives marocaines de 2016, listes locales et nationales" [Results of the 2016 Moroccan legislative elections, local and national lists], 2019,
78 Abouzzohour and Tomé-Alonso, “Moroccan foreign policy after the Arab Spring,” 446–50.
79 Samia Errazzouki, “Months without government puts Moroccan public spending at risk: lawmakers,” Reuters, March 8, 2017,
80 Abouzzohour and Tomé-Alonso, “Moroccan foreign policy after the Arab Spring,” 446–50.
81 Youssef Igrouane, “Saad Eddine Othmani Announces end of Deadlock, Formation of Government,” Morocco World News, March 25, 2017,
82 “Texte intégral du discours adressé par SM le Roi à la Nation.”
83 Abdelfettah Benchenna, Driss Ksikes, and Dominique Marchetti, “The media in Morocco: a highly political economy, the case of the paper and on-line press since the early 1990s,” The Journal of North African Studies 22, no. 3 (2017): 386–410,
84 Reporters Sans Frontières, “Monarchy’s red lines gag Morocco’s independent media,” September 17, 2015,
85 “Le youtubeur « Moul Hanout » écope de trois ans de prison ferme” [YouTuber “Moul Hanout” receives a three-year prison sentence], le Desk, January 9, 2020,; Amine Saadani, “« Vous n’êtes qu’un roi symbolique » : un youtubeur marocain poursuivi pour avoir critiqué Mohammed VI” [‘You are only a symbolic king’: Moroccan YouTuber prosecuted for having criticized Mohammed VI], Middle East Eye, December 5, 2019,
86 “Weld l'Griya 09 ft. LZ3ER , GNAWI – ‘Ash al-sh’ab [Long live the people] (Prod by 88.YounG),” posted by Weld L’Griya 09, October 29, 2019, The referenced lyrics were translated by the author from the original Moroccan Arabic: “Magha yakfikkum m‘ana qartas … Ana al-maqasah … Ana al-muwatin al-Maghribi … Ana li jibt al-’Istiqlal ’u ‘amri bih ma hesit … Shkoum li kla fina al-mal … Shkoun tahen al-fosfat …”
87 Kaothar Oudrhiri, “Condamnation du rappeur Gnawi : la scène rap préfère regarder ailleurs” [Rapper Gnawi condemned: rap scene prefers to look elsewhere], TelQuel, November 27, 2019, See also Michael Safi, “Moroccan rapper jailed for one year over track about corruption,” The Guardian, November 25, 2019,
88 As of the writing of this piece, Algeria’s Hirak movement had paused the protests due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The protests will likely continue once the outbreak is under control.
89 Steven Heydemann and Reinoud Leenders, “Authoritarian Learning and Authoritarian Resilience: Regime Responses to the ‘Arab Awakening,’” Globalizations 8, no. 5 (2011): 647–53,
90 Most notably, the groups that demanded a constitution were the National Union of Popular Forces, the Istiqlal Party, and the Union of Moroccan Workers.
91 Constitution of the Kingdom of Morocco 2011, art. 47.
92 “Taxes: Income Tax,” Moroccan Investment Development Agency, accessed May 21, 2020
93 “Full text of the speech addressed by His Majesty the King to the Nation.”
94 “HM the King Delivers a Speech to the Nation on Occasion of Throne Day (Full Text),”, accessed May 20, 2020,


By Hangwei Li and Jacqueline Muna Musiitwa Esq, RUSI, 03 August 2020

While the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the declining influence of Western countries like Canada, Australia and the UK in Africa, China has intentionally kept Africa high on its agenda. But the perception of China in Africa remains complex and multifaceted.


Part of the complexity is the multiplicity of Chinese players with different agendas. For instance, the Chinese government has a specific agenda to gain global influence, while Chinese state-owned enterprises remain closely aligned with the state but aim to maximise profit.

Entrepreneurs, philanthropists and individual citizens all contribute to different views of China in Africa.


Contextualising China–Africa Relations


China has had a longstanding relationship with Africa. China supported countries during their liberation struggles in the 1960s and 1970s, and helped build much-needed regional infrastructure and technical capacity. However, over the past 50 years, the perception of China’s engagement in Africa became increasingly polarised, with the image of China as an investor and partner on the one hand, and a neo-colonial power on the other.

The reality is that China needs Africa as much as Africa needs China, especially as China tries to increase its soft power globally. China’s slowing economy, decline in value-added manufacturing, industrial overcapacity, rising labour costs and rapidly aging population are some of the key reasons behind China’s increased investment in Africa over the past two decades. China is also dependent on African countries’ support in the international political arena, especially as it faces a hostile external environment. This is evidenced by the support of many African countries for China’s Xinjiang policy in the UN Human Rights Council. Furthermore, China and the US are descending into a new type of cold war, the tensions between China and India are escalating, and China faces mounting international pressure over the security law it imposed on Hong Kong. China will require more political support from African countries.

China uses a multi-pronged engagement strategy as a risk mitigator, as not all of its activities are positively regarded. Its rapid economic growth and reduction of poverty over the past four decades provides African countries with a development model to emulate. According to the World Bank, more than 850 million Chinese people have been lifted out of extreme poverty, accounting for more than 70% of global poverty reduction since the 1980s. Since China’s development challenges were similar to Africa’s, China’s engagement is strongly focused on sharing development lessons and capacity building. However, this strategy alone is not always successful. For instance, an Afrobarometer survey found that while China’s development model was respected in countries such as Tunisia, it was perceived to have less influence than the US or France.

Public perception is based on experience and media reports rather than on rigorous research. Furthermore, Western media is more widespread and influential in Africa than outlets from other continents. However, Western media generally depicts a negative picture of Chinese activities in Africa, often choosing to repeat the narrative of China as a neo-colonial power challenging democracy and exploiting resources in Africa. As Cambridge scholar Emma Mawdsley highlights, Western media has a tendency to refer to the ‘Chinese’ or ‘China’, as if the various Chinese actors all shared the same interest and a decided preference for focusing on China’s negative impacts on the continent. The result has been an oversimplification of the very diverse activities and dimensions of the China–Africa relationship. That is why the African narrative of China’s broad engagement as a source of ‘deep transformation’ is important.

China’s engagement in Africa has not been only positive. There have been isolated incidents of Chinese non-compliance with local laws across the continent that tarnish its image. For instance, with respect to labour laws, there have been cases in different countries of mistreatment of local workers, harsh working conditions, and more. The Chinese have also been accused of discriminating against Africans at Chinese-owned businesses, such as hotels and restaurants. Needless to say, most foreign investors struggle to understand and comply with local laws. Responsibility for such actions should be taken. However, an argument can be made that the Chinese receive higher levels of media attention and political intervention than other foreigners conducting similar activities, because the latter do not get similar reports.

While China is generally viewed as a good ally who furthers Africa’s development agenda, Chinese immigrants are perceived more negatively. For instance, according to scholars, Chinese migrants residing in Africa are commonly viewed unfavourably in Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Zambia. In several countries, there is a perception that Chinese people are taking local jobs, especially in the construction sector. Some Chinese citizens have been accused of engaging in exclusionary behavior, both socially and within business, which also hurts perceptions.

The coronavirus pandemic has also highlighted the fragility of the social contract, revealing the lack of understanding and mistrust between ordinary Chinese and Africans. For instance, many Africans in China reported routine discrimination due to people’s fears that Africans would infect Chinese people. The social and diplomatic backlash was immense, and the impact on long-term relations remains unclear.

The Forces Shaping the Perceptions of China in Africa

Despite these flaws, China continues to use the following to shape the perception of its engagement in Africa:

Skills Development, Training and Scholarships

The Chinese government has spent millions of dollars and countless resources on professional training, skills development and scholarship for Africans. Around 10,000 African officials are trained in China each year at China’s universities, state bureaus and companies. In addition, China plans to offer 12,000 scholarships to African students for the next academic year, more than all Western countries combined. These have developed into a systematic campaign to promote China’s development achievements and the related model, and create opportunities for bilateral cooperation.

Through frequently organised and sophisticated training activities, and by providing scholarships and exchange opportunities for African politicians, journalists, intellectuals, business elites and military attachés, China continues to try to win African hearts and minds and convert them into political and social capital.

High-Level Political Commitments to Friendship and Solidarity

Many African leaders see their relationship with China as crucial. For example, in 2018, twice as many African presidents attended the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation in Beijing as did the UN General Assembly in New York.

Political engagement at the highest level of Chinese government persists. For instance, on 17 June 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping and many African presidents attended the Extraordinary China–Africa Summit On Solidarity Against Covid-19, where Xi was calling for more efforts to mobilise necessary resources and stick together. He also promised to write off some loans to Africa. Although interest-free loans comprise just a fraction of the debt that Africa owes China, such high-level political commitments show that China is willing to continue to support Africa even while dealing with coronavirus itself.

Reshaping Development Finance in Africa

In the past two decades, China has acquired more global financial influence with the highest amount of reserves at $3.1 trillion, the Belt and Road Initiative costing about $1.3 trillion by 2027 and the creation of institutions such as the New Development Bank, in part to finance its ‘going out’ policy. China has also shifted its engagement with Africa from development assistance to development finance through its own domestic institutions (namely, the China Development Bank, China Export–Import Bank and the China–Africa Fund for Industrial Cooperation). The China–Africa Development Fund, for example, has invested more than $4.6 billion in 92 projects in 36 African countries.

China’s funds continue to fill a gap in the need for financing of Africa’s infrastructure, and provide a much-needed alternative to traditional development and commercial financing options.



China’s reputation in Africa generally remains positive. Although there are issues that emerge from time to time that could strain China’s reputation, solutions are expeditiously found. That said, to sustain a positive image, China needs to trickle down positive engagement with more unified intention. Coronavirus has demonstrated that China will continue to weather storms with Africa. However, commentators argue that the pandemic could actually have the opposite effect and end what has been a strong engagement. What is clear is that the bargaining power of African leaders is increasing. They are trying to find more African solutions to African problems.

African countries are seeking to play a greater role in multilateral efforts without becoming a pawn in China–US wrangles. It is therefore important for China to continue to consolidate its engagement strategy while focusing on long-term results.

Hangwei Li is an award-winning journalist and a PhD candidate in Politics and International Studies at SOAS, University of London. She was also a visiting scholar at Harvard Kennedy School and a researcher at the Global Development Policy Center.

Jacqueline Muna Musiitwa Esq is the Founder and Managing Partner at Hoja Law Group, and a researcher on China–Africa relations and African political economy. In 2019, she was appointed to the UN Committee for Development Policy. She is also a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.

The views expressed in this Commentary are the authors, and do not represent those of RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) or any other institution.



Dr Alex Vines, The Daily Telegraph, 22 July 2020

The Sahel is one of Africa’s poorest and most fragile regions, witnessing an escalation in jihadist activity and illegal migration.


The UK has been redeploying diplomatic, defence and development capabilities towards the Sahel since 2018, a strategic pivot intended to deliver development impact, address long term security threats to UK interests and support alliances with international partners.

The Sahel is one of Africa’s poorest and most fragile regions and has witnessed an escalation in jihadist activity, illegal migration and trafficking since a security crisis erupted in Mali in 2012.

The crisis spread to Niger and Burkina Faso and may now spill over into Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Senegal. With Nigeria also facing insurgency in the Lake Chad basin, all major regional security and economic anchors in the region are under threat, including key UK partners.


Reviewing the Sahel Pivot


This pivot has already resulted in the expanding of UK embassies in Senegal, Mauritania and Mali and public commitments to opening new ones in Chad and Niger.

Back in London there has also been a large uplift of staff, including the setting up of a cross-Whitehall Joint Sahel Department in late 2018 and plans for more UK civil servants to have placements with the French government on the Sahel.

Yet in light of looming economic shocks from Brexit and Covid-19, there has been a lively debate in Whitehall on whether this is stretching UK resources too thin in an area of Africa that does not have close ties with the UK.

Ministers are this week reviewing the Sahel pivot and will decide if it continues or grinds to a standstill, including whether full embassies are opened in Niger and Chad.

This debate is not new. The UK has opened and closed its diplomatic missions in the Sahel in fits and starts since the early 1960s. More recently, MI6 pushed the re-opening of the embassy in Bamako in 2010, foreseeing Mali’s fragility before the current crisis started.


Partnering with the French


But though the Sahel is likely to dominate the Africa peace and security agenda for decades to come, the UK’s serious engagement in the region is not just about strategic foresight.

It also fulfils two other objectives, of partnership with two key bilateral allies, particularly France, and authority and leverage in multilateral fora such as the United Nations, African Union and the EU.

Partnering with the French in the Sahel has become even more important due to Brexit and the need to reinforce relationships with key European partners.

In 2012, David Cameron concluded that the rapid French response to stop a jihadist advance on the Malian capital Bamako was "in our interests" and authorised the deployment of 330 UK military personnel, two cargo aircraft and a surveillance plane.

In July 2018, the UK announced further support to French led Opération Barkhane, sending three Royal Air Force Chinook helicopters (supported by almost 100 personnel) which remain in theatre to this day.


UN commitment


Demonstrating UK’s commitment to UN peacekeeping has also resulted in the deployment of 250 troops to join a UN peacekeeping mission to Mali later this year.

Based in Gao, these troops will form a long-range reconnaissance capability, providing threat awareness, contributing to the protection of civilians and helping to prevent conflict from spilling over to neighbouring states.

This represents one of the biggest British peacekeeping deployments since Bosnia and it will be the most dangerous mission for British forces since Afghanistan.

The UK is also one of the largest humanitarian donors to the region and has contributed over £500m in bilateral development and humanitarian assistance since 2015.

With Covid-19 now an additional challenge in the Sahel, a significant part of the UK’s £764m contribution to the global Covid-19 effort will be channelled to the region.

New embassies are "global Britain" strategy pillars

Keeping an eye on the impact of these initiatives requires a meaningful UK diplomatic network on the ground.

New embassies in the Sahel cost a fraction of maintaining three Chinook helicopters in the region, providing the government real time insight in the post-Brexit absence of a regular supply of country analysis from the European External Action Service, and support for the UK’s international relationships.

It also underlines the UK’s commitment to UN peacekeeping and standing as a permanent member of the UN Security Council in light of regular discussions of the Sahel.

The tri-partite ministerial review of the Sahel pivot by the Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs, International Development and Defence that is underway should not penny pinch by reversing the opening of small embassies in Niger and Chad, nor threaten the overall strategic focus on the Sahel, most recently welcomed by the House of Lord’s Select Committee on International Relations and Defence in its July report on UK Africa policy.

Instead, Ministers should focus on better defining what the UK’s specific objectives are in the Sahel, and particularly what the UK plans to do about Burkina Faso – whose rapidly deteriorating security threatens to over-spill into key UK partner Ghana.

Dr Alex Vines is the Africa Director at Chatham House.


By Abel Abate Demissie and Ahmed Soliman, Chatham House, 24 July 2020

Ethiopia is experiencing a turbulent transition. The uncompromising approach of political forces threatens to tear the country apart and reverse the hard-won gains made in recent years.

Burned buildings which were set on fire during the violence after the assassination of Oromo's pop singer Hachalu Hundessa are seen in Shashamene, Ethiopia on 12 July 2020. Photo: Getty Images.

Violent unrest in Addis Ababa and the surrounding Oromia region has led to the loss of over 177 lives, with the detention of thousands and widespread destruction to property. The rise of identity-based conflict and related political tension is the most severe test of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s leadership since he came to power two years ago.

Protests erupted after the assassination on the 29th of June of Hachalu Hundessa, a prominent Oromo singer and activist. They spiralled into widespread rioting, looting and arson which devastated some towns. Targeted attacks and killings, particularly against ethnic minorities in Oromia, have damaged communities’ social fabric and heightened regional tensions.

The motives behind Hachalu’s murder are not fully understood. Suspects linked to a militant faction of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) have been arrested, while the government has blamed the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and certain prominent activist-politicians for inciting ethnic violence and attempting to derail Ethiopia’s fragile political liberalization. With investigations not yet concluded, any exploitation of this tragedy for political gain and without adequate due process is likely to further erode trust in the government and public institutions.

Ethiopia’s progress halting under Abiy Ahmed

The prime minister came to power with a vision of national unity – encapsulated in his ideology of Medemer – and implemented a raft of reforms aimed at strengthening institutions and increasing political space, inclusivity and freedoms. Abiy was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for Ethiopia’s rapprochement with Eritrea, alongside domestic progress. He was lauded for mediating within the region, including in Sudan following the ouster of Omar al-Bashir.

However, Ethiopia’s simmering ethnic and political divisions have deep roots, with structural problems that have been insufficiently addressed under Abiy’s helm. These include conflicting narratives about Ethiopia’s history, an unfinished federal project and tensions over the division of power between the centre and the regions.

There is also the desire for better representation from various ethnic groups, linked to the pursuit of greater autonomy in many places, notably in the ethnically diverse southern region. Reforms have increased expectations among competing constituencies, heightening tensions further.

There are signs that Ethiopia is sliding dangerously backwards, particularly on security and democracy. The country has seen worsening levels of militant ethno-nationalism and inter-communal violence, a dangerous standoff between the federal government and Tigray region, and an increase in politically motivated deaths.

This has been compounded by the government turning to familiar, heavy-handed and securitized responses to law and order challenges, including intimidation and mass arrests of civilians, opposition politicians and journalists, and shutting off the internet. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission called for security forces to refrain from punitive measures and pursue conciliatory approaches in implementing the state of emergency measures brought in to deal with COVID-19.

The country is also facing a triple economic shock caused by the pandemic, renewed instability and devastating desert locust swarms. The IMF recently reduced Ethiopia’s GDP growth projections for 2019/2020 to 3.2 percent down from 6.2 percent and the country has estimated that 1.4 million workers will be affected by the pandemic, particularly in the service and manufacturing sectors.

The impact on agriculture, which accounts for a third of GDP and on which most Ethiopian’s depend for their livelihoods, is expected to be severe. In addition to shaking investor confidence, the likely impact on livelihoods, food security and poverty levels makes it harder for the government to maintain public support and could add to instability.

Political turmoil caused by election delay

The situation has been exacerbated by the indefinite postponement of elections that were due in August 2020, as a result of COVID-19.

Efforts to avoid a crisis of legitimacy for the government caused by the end of parliament’s term in October 2020, led to a decision on the way forward being taken by the Council of Constitutional Inquiry (CCI). This group of legal experts led by the President of the Supreme Court, gave the ruling Prosperity Party (PP) an open-ended extension of their term, rubberstamped by the House of Federation, with no limits set on their powers during the interim period.

This decision sets a dangerous precedent and is a missed opportunity to achieve compromise and advance the democratic process. The lack of inclusion has angered opposition groups, with whom the government has had little genuine dialogue. Many in the opposition had advocated for a transitional or technocratic government during the interim, despite risks of further divisions and a vacuum of authority, and accuse the PP of manipulating institutions to stay in power.

Furthermore, the TPLF, the ruling party in the Tigray region and formerly the dominant national political force, is pushing forward with its intention to hold unilateral regional elections. It formed a new regional electoral commission, in spite of objections from the national electoral board and the government, which has implied it could use force to stop the elections. This rising enmity between the PP and the TPLF is extremely worrying and requires immediate de-escalation.

A pathway to genuine dialogue and reconciliation

Ethiopia’s problems can only be resolved through dialogue, compromise and reconciliation. Escalating tensions, particularly between the federal government, Tigray and Oromo opposition groups risk furthering instability and fragmentation. One way to establish confidence would be for a group of respected Ethiopian personalities (elders and religious leaders) to lead a political dialogue, with actors carefully chosen and vetted to ensure the buy-in of government, opposition parties and the public, and supported by Ethiopia’s regional and international partners.

Once established, an initial goal of such a platform would be to induce elites, populist leaders, activists and influential regional media to stop exploiting division and violence for narrow gain. Priority agenda issues include the election timetable and required institutional and legal reforms, the role of the opposition during the interim period, strengthening reconciliation efforts, and the need to carefully manage autonomous security forces within regional states.

The prime minister can still weather the storm and implement his vision of a unified multinational Ethiopia based on the values of democracy, rule of law and justice, but only if the government and other stakeholders do all they can to reduce tensions and preserve peace at this critical juncture. COVID-19 and the associated economic impacts have deepened the country’s multifaceted problems, which can only be resolved by political actors committing themselves towards inclusive dialogue and reconciliation, as they seek to forge a shared common future.




By Quentin Velluet, The Africa Report, 24 July 2020

In markets where internet penetration is low, Zuckerberg has only one idea in mind for Facebook: ensure the content it broadcasts can be accessed quickly, without interruption or delay.

Over the years, what was once just an online social network has become a “big owner” of internet infrastructure. This is at least the case in Africa, where 24% of the population still does not have a mobile internet subscription and where the Menlo Park giant has invested several hundred million dollars in connectivity projects over five years.

In a study conducted on behalf of the social network and published on Wednesday 22 July, the London-based consulting firm specialising in telecoms and technology, Analysys Mason, lists Facebook’s assets on the continent.

The latest – and most high-profile – is the 2Africa submarine cable. Funded by Facebook with consortium of international telecom operators, it is expected to surround the continent within three to four years and connect 16 African countries to the rest of the world.

On land, Facebook, which has been mapping network needs since 2016, is involved in highly localised projects in partnership with local operators. With an estimate that 45% of the sub-Saharan population lives more than 25 kilometres from a fiber optic node, the company has been installing since 2017, 100 kilometres of cable laid with the operator Vast Network in Diepsloot and Katlehong, two municipalities located on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

A year later in Uganda, 770 kilometres of fibre were laid with the help of the Kenyan provider Bandwidth & Cloud Services Group (BCS) and the operator Airtel.

More recently, in February 2019 in Nigeria, Gafam joined forces with the network operator MainOne to lay approximately 750 kilometres of fibre in rural areas within Edo and Ogun States, as well as in parts of the regional capitals.

“We tested the idea of installing shared infrastructure to see what impact it could have on these markets. Although it is still early to draw all the conclusions, I would say that the first results of this pilot project are interesting but not significant,” concedes Funke Opeke, MainOne’s Managing Director contacted by Jeune Afrique.

Servers in almost every country

The social network is also involved in peripheral infrastructures installed on the continent. Such as the internet exchange points installed in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gabon, Gambia, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda. These allow the networks of several Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to be connected to each other, thereby reducing costs and improving the quality and speed of exchanges.

Facebook also has three points of presence in Johannesburg, Mombasa and Lagos. In other words, it rents server racks in data centres to host data locally and quickly serve ISPs. Elsewhere (44 countries in total), the company has a few servers to host high-demand content for rapid distribution.

While the total amount of these assets remains unknown, Analysys Mason nevertheless estimated that they should make a positive contribution to the continent’s GDP. More than $57 billion in additional wealth is expected to be created over five years. No doubt Facebook will benefit.



International Crisis Group, 06 August 2020

Somalia and Somaliland, which have been locked in a decades-long standoff over Somaliland’s 1991 claim of independence and Mogadishu’s rejection of it, are talking again. Previous efforts at dialogue have repeatedly failed, with both sides fundamentally at odds over Somaliland’s claim to sovereignty. This impasse, in turn, has bled into disputes over territory, the management of resources and security cooperation. Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has worked to cajole Somalia’s President Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo” and Somaliland President Muse Bihi to come back to the table, as have U.S. and EU officials.

In a surprise move, the two leaders convened in the Djiboutian capital on 14 June. While the talks produced no meaningful progress on sovereignty questions, the resumption of dialogue provides a basis to improve cooperation on a number of important technical matters relating to international aid, airspace management and security cooperation. The parties should pursue further work in these areas, recognising that the time to tackle the big issues that divide them will likely not come until after both have held forthcoming elections.

From Deadlock to Dialogue

Relations between Somalia and Somaliland are both influenced by and of significant concern to a wide range of outside parties. Competing Gulf actors have tightened their ties to both sides, increasing tensions, while governments from Addis Ababa to Washington see the bad blood between Mogadishu and Hargeisa as a threat to their interests and to regional stability. Among other things, fraught relations contribute to active militarisation of border areas, imperil regional cooperation in combating Al-Shabaab and complicate collaborative arrangements to address security around the Red Sea.

Against this backdrop, outsiders have played a central role in getting the parties back to talks after a five-year hiatus. It has taken some coaxing. Abiy hosted Farmajo and Bihi for a face-to-face meeting in Addis in February 2020, but Somaliland resisted a proposed follow-up meeting among the three in Hargeisa. Officials from the Somaliland side noted to Crisis Group that they viewed the proposal as precipitous – especially given concerns that Farmajo might use the visit to make claims about Mogadishu’s sovereignty over Somaliland, which would have been negatively received by the public.

Hargeisa also read Abiy’s proposal as a sign that he was not attuned to their sensitivities. In mid-June, however, Somaliland’s president agreed to sit down with his counterpart in Djibouti. One Somaliland diplomat who spoke to Crisis Group suggested that it was not just Abiy’s pressure that did the trick. Hargeisa agreed to take part after a sustained push from the U.S., which together with the EU was also trying to facilitate a return to the table.

The talks are a welcome development. Tensions have been building between Mogadishu and Hargeisa, and delaying a return to the table had the potential to make matters worse. Mogadishu’s relationship with Somaliland, frosty ever since the latter broke away from Somalia in 1991, has suffered in recent years as the federal government sought to curtail Somaliland’s relations with international actors on a number of fronts.

In 2018, Mogadishu rejected the continuation of a special arrangement that permitted international assistance to flow directly to Somaliland instead of via the federal government, and in 2019 Somalia assumed airspace control from the International Civil Aviation Organization, which as a specialised UN agency had previously managed the airspace of both Somalia and Somaliland. This move reversed a previously negotiated plan that would have established a joint regulatory body in Somaliland’s capital, with Hargeisa and Mogadishu sharing the revenues accruing from overflights.

At the same time, there have also been positive developments that may have helped set the stage for the Djibouti meeting. In early 2020, Somalia made significant progress on international debt relief, to the point where in March it cleared its arrears to the World Bank, allowing it access to concessional financing. Insofar as Mogadishu will now have the capacity to seek direct assistance from international financial institutions that can benefit Hargeisa, the latter has a major incentive to improve bilateral working relations to secure its portion.

For Mogadishu’s part, comments to Crisis Group from government officials and diplomats involved in the talks suggest a growing sense that in order for Somalia to make advances on key state-building priorities, such as finalising its still-unratified provisional constitution, it will need to participate in addressing Somaliland’s political status.

There is an important wrinkle, in that the June talks came just as both sides face forthcoming polls. With Farmajo’s term ending in February 2021, Somalia is heading into what is expected to be an intense electoral cycle, with elections anticipated for the end of 2020. Pre-election power games have already contributed to parliament’s 25 July ouster of Prime Minister Ali Khayre, a potential rival to Farmajo. Somaliland is also overdue for parliamentary elections, now planned for 2020 as well. While they are likely to be less dramatic than the leadership contest in Mogadishu, these polls may present a tough challenge for Bihi’s ruling Kulmiye party, particularly given unresolved divisions stemming from its victory in the 2017 presidential race (the results of which were initially contested). The bottom line is that there are limits to what Farmajo and Bihi will be willing to put on the table, as both likely will be preoccupied by political developments at home and hesitant to expend political capital on compromises that could antagonise nationalist constituents.

The Djibouti Talks

The June talks in Djibouti were the first direct discussions the two sides have held since 2014. The last dialogue round before that, hosted by Turkey, broke down in 2015 after Somaliland became upset at the inclusion in Somalia’s negotiating team of individuals who trace their roots to Somaliland. (Hargeisa views such individuals as undermining its independence narrative by choosing to work for Somalia instead of their native Somaliland.) After the dialogue fell apart, the implementation of various technical agreements also stalled, with the Farmajo administration going back on deals reached by its predecessors as noted above. Neither Turkey’s continued outreach nor meetings arranged by private organisations were able to rekindle the dialogue; instead, Ethiopian, U.S. and EU involvement paved the way for resumed contact.

Significant hype preceded the June meeting, with diplomats telling Crisis Group of the possibility of a major breakthrough, including potentially a “grand bargain” that would address questions around Somaliland’s sovereignty. That aim, however, was unrealistic, and it was not surprising that the summit bypassed the core dispute of Somaliland’s political status and focused instead on improving working relations on technical issues as a prelude to building more political trust. The final ministerial communiqué on 22 June called for the creation of three sub-committees on humanitarian assistance and development aid, security, and co-management of Somaliland’s airspace, all aspects of the relationship that had previously been discussed between 2012 and 2014, but on which no lasting agreement had been hashed out.

In this manner, the Djibouti talks ultimately represent more revival than replacement of the previous Turkish-supported approach, albeit with a shift in external patrons. While Western diplomats expressed disappointment to Crisis Group at the lack of discussion aimed at deeper political reconciliation between the sides, the outcomes leave ample room for continued, constructive engagement – although sustained outside pressure is likely going to be necessary to ensure that the talks maintain momentum.

The Facilitators

In recent years, outside governments and groups with an interest in reconciliation between Somalia and Somaliland have wrestled with the question of who might take the lead in trying to bring the sides back to the table. Tensions between Turkey, on one hand, and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, on the other, have meant that certain Gulf actors would likely contest Ankara’s leadership of the process.

The African Union might have been a plausible choice to lead discussions, especially if backed by a “group of friends” that would include both sides’ key external partners, but Addis Ababa tends to pursue peacemaking initiatives in the Horn without a great deal of multilateral involvement. In the end, it was a combination of Ethiopian diplomacy and donor pressure from Washington and Brussels that moved the needle. In each case, there was a clear motivation.

For Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, there is both a political and policy logic to efforts to close the divide between Somalia and Somaliland. At the political level, Abiy is besieged at home by surging factionalism and violence. A visible diplomatic success would burnish his image. The role he played helping broker the recent talks is a reminder of the work he has done to forge peace agreements in the region – notably between Ethiopia and Eritrea – which helped earn him the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

At the policy level, Ethiopia also has specific geopolitical interests in an improved Somalia-Somaliland relationship. At different times it has gravitated to each of Hargeisa and Mogadishu. Although most recently, Addis Ababa has tended to embrace Mogadishu and give it explicit support, Ethiopia maintains strong interests in a smooth relationship with Somaliland. Its Berbera port, in which Ethiopia maintains a 19 per cent stake, could be a key outlet for landlocked Ethiopia in its quest for sea access. But it will be harder for Ethiopia to achieve this objective if Somaliland’s political status remains unresolved and hostility between Hargeisa and Mogadishu continues.

Fostering reconciliation would help ensure that Ethiopia’s economic involvement in Berbera is in step with its overall deepening political relationship with Somalia. More broadly, ending the rift between Hargeisa and Mogadishu would serve Abiy’s goal of expanding economic integration in the Horn of Africa region.

As for the U.S., its ambassador to Somalia, Donald Yamamoto, a veteran diplomat in the Horn, has been a keen supporter of the talks and spearheaded his country’s involvement. U.S. interests revolve around the rising importance of Somaliland’s location near Bab al-Mandab, where the Red Sea empties into the Gulf of Aden, the likelihood that large oil deposits lie off Somalia’s coast, and mushrooming competition with China and Russia in the Horn and elsewhere.

Complementing Washington’s efforts, the European Union also pressed for talks, reflecting the EU’s longstanding interest in the security and stability of the key Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean shipping lanes.

For both Washington and Brussels, Somaliland’s unresolved status represents a loose end. To the extent that it is not tied up, it could allow other external actors to exploit uncertainty about the Somalia-Somaliland relationship to the detriment of a wide range of U.S. and EU interests, while complicating cooperative attempts at regional security.

Hurdles and Challenges

While the talks are a step in the right direction for Somalia-Somaliland relations, they face sizeable obstacles.

One relates to the distractions created by impending elections. Already, follow-up on the items to which the parties agreed in Djibouti has been delayed. The joint sub-committees on humanitarian assistance and development aid, security, and co-management of Somaliland’s airspace were due to meet two weeks from the talks’ conclusion – meaning at the beginning of July. This deadline has passed, and Mogadishu is asking for more time to prepare.

The date for a ministerial meeting that the parties had agreed to hold in Djibouti 45 days after the June talks (so at the beginning of August) for purposes of reviewing progress has consequently also slipped. The delays demonstrate how election-related hurdles in Somalia – most immediately, the selection of a new prime minister and the next round of discussions over election modalities among major Somali election stakeholders in Dhusamareb, scheduled for mid-August – will impede progress.

Another challenge that Mogadishu will have to face is how to accommodate various domestic demands and expectations. In particular, the Djibouti talks triggered tensions between Mogadishu and Puntland, a semi-autonomous federal region of Somalia that shares a border with Somaliland. Puntland’s leaders (whose relations with the Farmajo administration are already strained) feel that Mogadishu is giving short shrift to a long-running dispute over the Sool, Sanaag and Cayn areas at the border between the two regions, parts of which may be rich in untapped oil. A Puntland official also complained to Crisis Group that the delegation to Djibouti did not include a representative from either Puntland or the contested areas, unlike previous dialogues with Somaliland under Somali Presidents Sheikh Sharif and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. Puntland’s president, Said Deni, vowed that his administration would not respect the outcome of any discussions in which it is not involved, and a group of traditional leaders from Sool, Sanaag and Cayn also issued a statement condemning the talks. If their concerns are not addressed in future rounds of talks, they could fester and emerge as major point of contention.

Still, the overarching challenge remains the divergence between Mogadishu’s views of the future and Hargeisa’s, especially when it comes to Somaliland’s sovereignty. Both leaders gave opening speeches in Djibouti that highlighted their starkly opposed positions. Bihi laid out the case for Somaliland’s independence and talked about the legacy of “state-sponsored genocide” perpetrated against the Somaliland people by the Siad Barre government in Somalia – referring to the former Somali dictator’s brutal campaign to repress Somaliland’s dominant Isaaq clan after they rebelled against Somalia in the late 1980s. Farmajo in turn referenced the historic Arta peace process in Djibouti in 2000, which paved the way for the re-establishment of central governance in Somalia, but in which Somaliland conspicuously did not participate – an intimation of Mogadishu’s desire to resurrect its union with Somaliland. More than just public posturing, the speeches reflected how the parties approached the talks, with Somaliland focusing on technical matters and opportunities for greater cooperation, and Somalia wanting to discuss knottier issues relating to unification.

What Happens Now?

Especially given the distractions of forthcoming electoral cycles, leaders in both Somaliland and Somalia will find it difficult to resolve their longstanding differences relating to Somaliland’s status in the short term. Some of these differences will continue to be prominently displayed. Indeed, Somaliland has appeared eager to take advantage of the attention created by the talks and present itself internationally as a sovereign state. Since Djibouti, it has hosted high-level delegations from Kenya, Egypt and Ethiopia, all of which discussed upgrading the status of their relations with Somaliland, and announced that it would exchange representatives with Taiwan.

Still, the momentum generated by the Djibouti talks need not be squandered. Continuing to seek progress on technical areas of cooperation – for example, encouraging the joint technical subcommittees to keep meeting to hammer out details – while holding off on wider political discussions until the spectre of domestic politics no longer overshadows the dialogue, could be a good way forward, at least pending elections. Also key to success is continued international support, which will be needed to keep this newly emerging phase of dialogue on track.

The U.S., EU and Ethiopia should keep up the pressure – potentially in coordination with an expanded range of partners, such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development regional bloc and the African Union. Following the conclusion of elections, those same actors should be prepared to lean on the parties to re-engage with a deeper exploration of political issues in mind.

Ultimately, achieving progress in Somalia-Somaliland talks will require a commitment from Mogadishu, Hargeisa and the international community to address the difficult status issues that have eluded resolution to date. Until the time is riper for those discussions, however, the parties and their external partners should manage expectations, work through the technical issues that are in front of them and keep talking.