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Abu Walaa’s Islamic State Network and Germany’s Counter-Terrorism Prosecutions

By Herbert Maack, Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Monitor Volume: 19 Issue: 9, 07 May 2021

A German court sentenced on February 24 the alleged “Islamic State leader of Germany” to a lengthy prison sentence. The trial against Salafist preacher Ahmad Abdelaziz Abdullah Abdullah, better known as Abu Walaa, lasted three-and-a-half-years and provides insights into radicalization and Islamic State (IS) recruitment in Germany in the years from 2012 to 2016. This article’s insights on Abu Walaa and his network are based on his recent court verdict and the memoirs of “VP-01,” Germany’s top police informant, who successfully spied on Abu Walaa and his network. In addition, this article illustrates how Germany’s security authorities and justice system continue to face challenges in bringing terrorism suspects to justice.

Abu Walaa’s Network from Germany to IS in Syria and Iraq

Born in Iraq and an ethnic Kurd from Kirkuk, Abu Walaa arrived in Germany in 2000 as a refugee and originally settled with his family, including two wives and seven children, in the town of Tönisvorst in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Subsequently, Abu Walaa established himself as one of the most influential Salafists in Germany while preaching as the imam of Deutschsprachige Islamkreis mosque, which was established in 2012 in Hildesheim in the northwestern state of Lower Saxony. The mosque became a hotspot of the Salafist scene in Germany and Abu Walaa was known for his fiery sermons both at his now-banned Deutschsprachige Islamkreis mosque and online, where he was called “the preacher without a face” due to his habit of preaching with his back to the camera, leaving his features hidden from view. Abu Walaa was successful in building a strong social media following that at one point amounted to as many as 25,000 fans on Facebook and included followers from across Europe (, September 26, 2017; Deutsche Welle, December 11, 2018).

The German security authorities kept a close watch on Abu Walaa after it became clear that several jihadists who left Germany to join IS in Syria and Iraq had regularly visited his mosque before their departure. In addition, Abu Walaa’s network was linked to several terrorist plots in Germany, including the bombing of a Sikh-temple in Essen on April 16, 2016, in which three individuals were wounded. The perpetrators, Yusuf T., Mohamed B., and Tolga I., were suspected to have been radicalized by the Abu Walaa and his close associates. [1]

In the summer of 2015, the German police directed one of their key human sources, known only as “VP-01” or his undercover name, “Mustafa Cem”, to attend the mosque. “VP-01” was able to confirm to German authorities that Abu Walaa and his close associates were vetting and recruiting individuals to join IS in Syria and Iraq and that the mosque had become a key meeting point for Salafist-jihadists in Germany. [2]

On July 28, 2016, German police conducted a search of Abu Walaa’s mosque, although no arrests were made at that point. However, Abu Walaa was alarmed by the searches and became aware that he had been spied on and suspected “VP-01” of working for German security authorities. Abu Walaa posted on September 16, 2016 an audio message to his followers to denounce “VP-01” as a spy and called for his “destruction.” This forced “VP-01” to enter a witness protection program. [3] However, as a result of information provided by “VP-01”, on November 8, 2016, Abu Walaa and four other leading individuals of his network, Boban Simeonovic, Hasan Celenk and Mahmoud O, were arrested on suspicion of establishing a terrorist network to recruit fighters for IS within Germany (Generalbundesanwaltschaft Press Release, November 8, 2016).

Authorities believed that Abu Walaa had designated his associates, the German-Serbian national Boban Simeonovic and Turkish national Hasan Celenk, as his regional leaders in the cities of Dortmund and Duisburg in North-Rhine Westphalia, where they taught Arabic and ideologically prepared new recruits to join IS, including by showing them IS propaganda videos. Abu Walaa, for his part, was the final gatekeeper before they joined IS and had the authority to decide which duties were given to individuals when they joined the group. Abu Walaa was, for example, able to direct German foreign fighters to serve in the IS Intelligence units and IS medical service. The fact that Abu Walaa’s influence reached to the IS administration in Syria and Iraq demonstrated how closely connected his network was with the organization (Oberlandesgericht Celle Press Release, February 24).

The investigation into Abu Walaa gained even more attention six weeks after his arrest when Germany suffered its most devastating jihadist attack to date. On December 19, 2016, a Tunisian refugee, Anis Amri, rammed a truck he had hijacked into the Berlin Breitscheidplatz Christmas market, killing 12 and wounding dozens. Amri was able to flee to Italy, where he subsequently died after a firefight with the police. The investigation into his contacts in Germany led the authorities again to Abu Walaa and his network. [4]

The number of people the Abu Walaa network successfully recruited for IS remains unknown. However, it is believed that more than 20 jihadists who traveled to IS in Syria and Iraq from Germany can be traced to his network. These reportedly also include the 24-year-old twins Kevin and Mark Knop, who committed suicide bombings for IS in Iraq in 2015. [5]

Abu Walaa’s Trial

The trial against Abu Walaa and his associates began in 2017. Prosecutors sought sentences ranging from three-and-a-half to 11-and-a-half-years in prison for the men. Key to the prosecution was not only information provided by “VP-01,” but also the testimony of Anil O., who was one of the individuals Abu Walaa recruited and sent to IS. Anil O. and his wife had left Germany in the summer of 2015 and, with the support of Abu Walaa’s network, successfully traveled via Turkey to IS-controlled territory in Syria. However, after only spending a few months in IS territory, Anil O. and his wife attempted to return to Turkey because they realized the “true nature” of IS and allegedly also after he had been offered a 10-year-old sex-slave. [6]

Their escape attempt failed and IS imprisoned Anil O. in Raqqa. However, Abu Walaa intervened on Anil O.’s behalf and he was freed. Another escape attempt in early 2016 succeeded and Anil O. and his wife were able to cross back to Turkey, where Anil O. entered a plea-bargaining deal with German authorities and agreed to testify against Abu Walaa and his network in exchange for a lighter sentence. He testified that Abu Walaa had been the “number one IS leader in Germany” and provided details on the Abu Walaa network’s internal workings (Oberlandesgericht Celle Press Release, February 24). [7]

After a lengthy process lasting 243 days that included more than 120 witnesses and expert hearings, the Oberlandesgericht Celle, which in Germany’s federal system is the province (state)-level Higher Regional Court, sentenced Abu Walaa to a ten-and-a-half-year prison term. His associates were also found guilty and sentenced, including Boban Simeonovic for eight years, Hassan Celenk for six-and-a-half-years, and Mahmoud O. for four years (Oberlandesgericht Celle Press Release, February 24).

Germany’s Criminal Justice System and Terrorism Trends

The court trial of Abu Walaa and his network has shown that Germany’s justice system is able to successfully prosecute complex terrorism cases. However, criticism has been voiced about the fact that it took German security authorities too long for the leaders of Abu Walaa’s network to be arrested because police had to rely on an IS defector to get the necessary proof for arrest warrants. In addition, the court process lasted more than three years before a verdict was reached, and cost German taxpayers around 10 million euros (, November 8, 2020).

While the threat from far-right terrorism has gained significant attention in Germany, jihadist terrorism continues to present a threat to the country as well. Underlining the transnational nature of the jihadist threat, in February 2021, security authorities in Germany and Denmark arrested three Syrian brothers, aged 33, 36 and 40, on suspicion of plotting a terrorist attack. In subsequent searches in Denmark and Germany, police officers found chemicals suitable for building explosives and a picture of an IS flag on one suspect’s mobile phone. However, the potential target of the bomb plot remains unclear (Tagesschau, February 11).

Even after the conclusion of the Abu Walaa network trials, the German justice system continues to face a significant caseload of terrorism offences. Alone in the first three months of 2021, the German state prosecutor opened criminal investigations and prosecutions for nine separate terrorism offences, ranging from membership in a foreign terrorist group, including IS, Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Tabka and Jund al-Sham, to terrorism financing and attack plotting. [8] German authorities have assessed that in total over 1,070 individuals left Germany and travelled to Syria and Iraq in IS’s heyday. However, only for approximately half of these cases do German authorities have actual proof that individuals joined a terrorist group or at least provided support to one (Deutsche Welle, July 27, 2020). Moreover, at least 450 Germans are still abroad and continue to represent a potential counter-terrorism risk for Germany and a legal challenge for the German justice system if they are arrested.


[1] Diehl. Jörg, Lehberger, Roman, Schmid, Fidelius: Undercover. Ein V-Mann packt aus. DVA Spiegel Buchverlag, May 2020. The Book is based on interviews with “VP-01” (also uses the pseudonym “Mustafa Cem”) and his career as a police informant.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] For more on Amri’s relationship with the Abu Walaa network, see George Heil, CTC Sentinel February 2017:

[5] Ibid.

[6] Diehl. Jörg, Lehberger, Roman, Schmid, Fidelius: Undercover. Ein V-Mann packt aus. DVA Spiegel Buchverlag, May 2020. The Book is based on interviews with “VP-01” (also uses the pseudonym “Mustafa Cem”) and his career as a police informant.

[7] Ibid.

[8] See, for example:


Why Europe should stop worrying about 'sportswashing'

By Damien Phillips, First published by EUobserver, 06 May 2021

LONDON - The recent furore in the UK over whether prime minister Boris Johnson intervened in Saudi Arabia's failed bid to buy Newcastle United and the indignance of La Liga's chief Javier Tebas, in the controversy over United Arab Emirates-owned Manchester City and its alleged Financial Fair Play breaches, are just the latest instalments in the never-ending debate over 'sportswashing'.

Authoritarian regimes using prestigious sponsorship and the hosting of events in various sports to distract from their human rights records, or other malign actions, has been going on for decades and has generated thousands of headlines and much hysteria across Europe.

This would be justified if the practice actually worked.

Credited to the 2015 Azerbaijani 'Sports for Rights' campaign, the term is now in vogue as the catch-all for governments looking to boost their international prestige through the unifying power of sport.

Examples stretch right back to the 1935 European Rowing Championships in Nazi Germany, and are as diverse as the 1958 Basque Pelota World Championships and the Bahrain Grand Prix.

New instances crop up all the time.

In March, Saudi Arabia was accused of spending $1.5bn on international sporting events to "obscure a human rights record of brutality, torture and murder", with its aborted $400m takeover of Newcastle United and a $145m deal with the Spanish Football Association in the spotlight.

And yet nothing has been 'washed' at all.

The 'Streisand' Effect

If anything, Saudi Arabia's patronage has attracted more attention to its poor human rights record and ruthless foreign policy than ever before. The Kingdom is never far from the headlines for its crackdown on dissent, the arrest of feminist activists and religious clerics, and its use of air strikes in the war in Yemen which some observers allege have led to the deaths of 8,000 civilians.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, is effectively the owner of Manchester City and the UAE has poured millions into the club as part of a worldwide PR blitzkrieg to shore up the country's false image as the Middle East's most progressive state.

Sheikh Mansour, working under the auspices of the UAE's leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, has embarked on a worldwide football club buying spree, everywhere from Melbourne to New York.

But where has it got them?

The UAE's international reputation is steadily being shredded by its own leadership in moves so blatant that no amount of sporting spin can hide them.

The country has been helping to keep the savage Maduro regime in power in Venezuela by assisting its sales of gold and crude oil, defying US sanctions against a dictatorship which has reportedly butchered 9,000 of its own citizens in 18 months for "resistance to authority".

The US Defence Department's inspector general released a report late last year that showed the US government was well aware that the UAE had been financially aiding the Wagner Group in Libya.

This mercenary force is widely seen as a proxy for Russian premier Vladimir Putin, fighting on behalf of warlords in Libya seeking to overthrow the rightful Tripoli government, who are supported by the EU and the UN.

That such covert support for the West's authoritarian enemies has been so widely-publicised and is freely-known shows how little sportswashing can hide.

No European journalist who has eyes in their head has been hoodwinked into believing either Saudi Arabia or the UAE don't have major issues that they must address simply because they're a prominent sporting patron. By owning clubs in European nations, both nations have brought these issues to the fore and made them tangible to a much broader audience than if they had remained as faraway countries with little impact for the average European citizen.

This capacity for sportswashing to backfire has been seen time and again.

Who can forget Russia's hosting of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014? No doubt Vladimir Putin's regime was hoping for a reputational boost, but the games ended in a PR disaster whose fallout lasted for years.

Global coverage of its parlous, crumbling and unhygienic facilities, boycotts over human rights abuses, protests over Russia's "gay propaganda" laws, and a gigantic Russian state-sponsored doping scandal that saw it become a world leader in cheating, firmly reinforced the Russian government's reputation for both brutality and incompetence.

No doubt the moral panic over sportswashing will arise again in the lead up to next year's Winter Olympics in Beijing as China seeks to rehabilitate its sullied stature in the wake of its cover-up of coronavirus and its ethnic cleansing of the Uyghur Muslims.

Like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Russia, China will discover that sportswashing never works.

As the world drowns in the inevitable coverage of China's failings, turbo-charged by the games themselves, perhaps all these countries will realise that no amount of washing can remove stains that can only be erased through substantive and meaningful change.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

The global dominance of European football is a cultural asset contributing to Europe's 'soft power' by cultivating an international fanbase for top clubs. But European values of free speech get lost in pursuit of pleasing autocratic regimes gatekeeping their markets.



Conservatives' Covid-strategy wins in lockdown-fatigue Madrid

By Elena Sánchez Nicolás, first published by 6 May 2021

BRUSSELS - Madrid's conservative leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso, a fierce critic of Covid-19 lockdowns, secured a major victory in Tuesday's regional election for Spain's capital city - an outcome likely to reshape the country's volatile political landscape.

The Popular Party's (PP) candidate took 65 seats in the 136-seat regional assembly - doubling its result from the previous 2019 election and consolidating her party's powerful position in the capital, where PP has governed for the last 26 years.

However, failing to secure an absolute majority of 69 seats means Ayuso will need the abstention of far-right Vox to form a new government. Vox's leader Santiago Abascal already confirmed that their 13 seats "will be at the disposition of Ayuso to facilitate her investiture".

The two parties together muster 77 deputies, while the leftist bloc could only secure 58 seats between them.

The socialist party (PSOE) of prime minister Pedro Sánchez crashed from 37 seats to 24, registering its worst result ever in Madrid regional elections, while its coalition partner, Unidas Podemos (United We Can), won only 10 seats - prompting his leader and founder Pablo Iglesias to leave Spanish politics.

For its part, the pro-environment and urban Más Madrid party drew level with the socialists, in a historic reversal in the left-wing bloc of the region - securing 24 seats. This relatively new party, formed by Podemos exiles, actually received the second-most votes.

Meanwhile, the centre-right Ciudadanos party (Citizens) disappeared from the political spectrum in Madrid, losing its 26 deputies as its lead candidate Edmundo Bal did not reach the minimum threshold of five percent of support.

Tuesday's election registered a record turnout, influenced by the highly-polarised campaign.


Ayuso has become a political phenomenon mainly because of her success in keeping Madrid open during the worst moments of the pandemic, defying the central government and even regional health experts by keeping bars, restaurants, museums and concert halls open.

Her popularity soared - especially among the hospitality sector, where businesses have come up with menus and even a beer named after her.

However, critics accuse Ayuso of neglecting health and social care services - while only protecting businesses.

According to Miguel Otero, policy analyst for Spanish think tank Elcano Royal Institute, "Ayuso has achieved with her 'Sweden-in-the-South' strategy to get support from many groups that believe their jobs and/or businesses have been saved thanks to that".

Exploiting lockdown fatigue and a year-long battle against the coronavirus, her campaign motto made voters choose between "Freedom" and "Socialism" or "Communism," referring to her left-wing rivals.

However, the Spanish capital, home to nearly seven million people, has seen more than 19 percent of the country's 3.5 million infections and a national confirmed death toll of over 78,000.

Currently, the infection rate stands at 498, well beyond the national average of 214 infections per 100,000 people over a two-weeks period.

'Ready for 2023'

Many consider that the outcome of Madrid's regional election will reshape the national political landscape, while analysts called for caution when using these results as a proxy for the rest of Spain.

"The "libertarian" (for many Trumpian) discourse of Ayuso moves the PP again away from the centre and this benefits Sanchez overall," Otero wrote on Twitter.

However, the regional leader vowed on Wednesday (5 May) to remain a "counter-power" to the left-wing coalition led by prime minister Sánchez, arguing that her victory "is going to be a stimulus and a change of cycle".

"We will continue here being the counterweight and the counter-power that are needed [against Sánchez]," she told Spanish station EsRadio.

That idea was echoed by national PP leader Pablo Casado, who said Ayuso's resounding victory in Madrid signalled that "things are changing" in Spain. "When Sánchez calls elections, we will win," he said.

Fellow PP lawmaker Pablo Montesinos also said Ayuso's success marks "the beginning of the end" for Sanchez's government.

The PP governed Spain under prime minister Mariano Rajoy between 2011 and mid-2018, when the Socialist Party called a confidence vote and took over with a minority government.

Following two inconclusive elections, Sanchez formed a minority coalition government with Unidas Podemos in January 2020.

The next general election is set for late 2023.

Portugal is going through its worst moment since the beginning of the pandemic, but experts have said that the new surge of cases will only peak in mid-February - increasing concerns over the potential collapse of the country's health system.


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The board of trustees of a high-priced literary award from the United Arab Emirates expressed regret on Monday that prominent German philosopher Juergen Habermas had turned down the prize, reversing his earlier decision.

The 91-year-old German, considered his country’s most eminent contemporary philosopher, announced earlier this week that he would not accept the Sheikh Zayed Book Award over its ties “with the existing political system” in the UAE, a hereditarily ruled country long criticized for its suppression of dissent. While describing itself as an “independent” initiative, the prize is administered by Abu Dhabi culture and tourism authorities.

Habermas’ influential writings on human rights, morality and democracy, among other topics, have stirred debate in Germany and beyond.

On its website, the board of the literary award, among the most well-funded in the region, said it “expresses regret” for Habermas’ decision “but respects it.”

The prize, it added, “embodies the values of tolerance, knowledge and creativity while building bridges between cultures, and will continue to fulfill this mission.”

The award had named Habermas the Cultural Personality of the Year, a distinction that carries a cash prize of 1 million dirhams (over $272,000). Winners of other categories receive 750,000 UAE dirhams ($204,200) each.

The award is named after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first president of the UAE when the federation of seven sheikhdoms became a country in 1971.



Lebanon: Their Suicide Pact

By Michael Young, Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East, 12 May 2021

Gebran Bassil and Saad al-Hariri have existential political fears, but their stubbornness could undermine their ambitions.

Lebanon’s destruction by its political leadership continues as the country’s cabinet-formation process, already eight months old, has reached a dead end. At the heart of the deadlock is a paradox involving two major protagonists—Gebran Bassil, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement and son in law of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, and Saad al-Hariri, the prime minister-designate.

Last week France’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, visited Beirut and informed Lebanese politicians that, henceforth, they were on their own. Because the French initiative proposed in September by President Emmanuel Macron to revive Lebanon’s economy had failed (a word Le Drian pointedly avoided using), the country’s political leadership had to face the consequences. There was something almost quaint in such a warning, since one thing that Lebanese leaders have never done is face the consequences of their worst actions.

What we are witnessing today is the rivalry of two individuals who are frightened that they may soon face political elimination. Hariri and Bassil are the ones with existential fears, while Aoun, an aging and inanimate president who has betrayed his constitutional role as the embodiment of national unity, has allowed their ruinous battle to continue. But what is paradoxical is that Bassil and Hariri, by pursuing their feud and making the formation of a cabinet all but impossible, are only helping to guarantee their own political demise.

Hariri’s main problem is that Saudi Arabia does not seem to support his return as prime minister, forcing him to harden his approach to a new cabinet and prove that he truly merits Riyadh’s backing. Recently, the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper—rarely objective, but often accurate on things involving Hariri—quoted an Arab official who visited Saudi Arabia as saying that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had told him, “We have no confidence in Saad Hariri as prime minister; the person who would reassure us and the Americans is Nawaf Salam,” Lebanon’s former ambassador to the United Nations and now a judge in the International Court of Justice.

There have also been reports in Beirut that the Saudis made their sour view of the prime minister-designate clear to the Iranians in their ongoing dialogue in Iraq. Nothing in recent weeks indicates that Saudi attitudes have been misrepresented, quite the contrary. Even the marked change in France’s attitude toward Hariri lately suggests that it has abandoned the prime minister-designate. It could be that Macron, sensing that Lebanon may soon be defined by Saudi-Iranian understandings over the country and realizing that the Saudis won’t back Hariri, has opted to drop him in favor of someone else.

Knowing all this, Hariri has stuck to his demands on the government—no blocking power for any of the parties in it, since whoever controls more than a third of ministers can effectively impose the cabinet agenda; and no handing of the Interior and Justice Ministries to Bassil and Aoun, as they have demanded. Hariri realizes that unless he gets his conditions, he will be unable to manage his government. Such an outcome would only increase Saudi dissatisfaction with him, confirming that they were right in not wanting him as prime minister.

However, Hariri’s stubbornness also makes a cabinet more unlikely, only exacerbating his situation. If he fails to become prime minister, he will have unintentionally satisfied Saudi wishes and shown himself to be incapable of outmaneuvering Bassil and Aoun. That would accelerate his descent into political irrelevance and prevent him from being the savior he suggested he could be when he first announced his candidacy for the prime minister’s position last October.

Bassil would gloat if Hariri failed to form a government, but he is actually in no better a position than the prime minister-designate. For him, the minimal conditions he would accept on the cabinet is for the ministers he names to enjoy blocking power, allowing him to define the agenda and thwart whatever decisions threaten his interests. Bassil, perhaps rightly, senses that without such power, Hariri and his cabinet allies would try to sideline both him and Aoun.

Bassil’s absolute priority is to succeed Aoun as president. That is why being in control of the Interior Ministry would allow his prospective appointee to fiddle with the voting results if required and ensure that Bassil’s candidates win in parliamentary elections scheduled for next year. Unless he enjoys credible representation in parliament, Bassil’s chances of becoming president would be greatly damaged. As for the Justice Ministry, Bassil hopes to open corruption cases against other politicians, which would allow him to portray himself as an anti-corruption crusader. This would be supremely ironical in that many Lebanese believe that he personifies graft and sleaze.

But there too Bassil has to face reality. If he continues to hold tightly to his conditions, no government will be formed and what happens then? Bassil will be unable to shape events in the coming year before Aoun’s departure in October 2022. How, then, would he be able to pave the way for his presidency? Worse, Bassil has been sanctioned by the United States, is opposed by much of the political class, and as things stand today has a limited chance of being elected. So, as with Hariri, his obstinacy may undermine the very goals he seeks to attain.

Bassil’s only way out of this dilemma is to try to force Hariri to abandon the task of forming a cabinet. He seems to think that he can bring in a more pliable replacement, one amenable to his and Aoun’s conditions. The only problem is that such an expectation is ridiculous. Hariri may not enjoy the blessings of Mohammed bin Salman, but Lebanese Sunnis are solidly behind him in rejecting Bassil’s and Aoun’s brinkmanship. Indeed, if Hariri were to withdraw, Sunni parliamentarians could refuse to engage in consultations with Aoun to designate a new prime minister. The absence of communal legitimacy could deter credible Sunnis from taking Hariri’s place.

There are also reports that the parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, will oppose Aoun’s and Bassil’s efforts to bring in a cabinet they favor. Berri may have leaked a story of how he had informed Hezbollah that he would join Hariri, the Druze leader Walid Joumblatt, and the Maronite politician Suleiman Franjieh in boycotting parliament to block this. Such a step would prevent a legislative quorum necessary for a confidence vote in any new government.

It has been a year and a half that the Lebanese currency collapsed, provoking widespread poverty in a country with only a rudimentary social safety net. In that time the political leadership has done nothing to improve the situation, while squabbling incessantly. To force the Lebanese to pay a heavy price for the political ambitions and insecurities of Hariri and Bassil is inadmissible. The good news is that both may be committing political suicide by holding everything up. The bad news is that suicides should never take so long.

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


The old Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is Dead—Long Live the Emerging Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

By Nathan J. Brown, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 05 May 2021

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become deeply ingrained in daily life. Work must begin now to heal deep-seated divisions, which are not likely to be resolved in a burst of diplomacy.


It is time to admit what most observers already know: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that diplomats have been dealing with for half a century is over. It is not that a solution has been found. Just the opposite: all the injustices and insecurities that afflict inhabitants of the region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea are now so deeply ingrained in daily life that no diplomatic framework can address them now. This leaves some people far better off than others, of course—and it leaves many quite satisfied. But even the smug have cause for worry—less about their own lives and livelihood and more about the world to be inhabited by their children and grandchildren. And many others are left stateless, restricted in movement, harshly policed, and pondering how to provide for their family’s needs now rather than for future generations.
Taking a Better Look at Some Bad History

It no longer makes sense to talk about a “peace process” as though it might be fruitful to gather Israeli and Palestinian leaders one more time at Camp David or Taba. Instead, it is more useful to understand that the deep social and political divisions among the people of the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River have metastasized into intractable troubles akin to those of other times and places: the American South as the era of Reconstruction faded and Jim Crow laws were gradually imposed; the Indian subcontinent as the British Empire emerged too weak from World War II to sustain itself, giving way to violent conflicts and some outcomes that remain contentious today; and South Africa in the first half of the twentieth century with its racialized and ethnic divisions very deeply entrenched in law and practice but not yet formally systematized as apartheid.

Is this really the conclusion that most observers have come to? No, it is not a conclusion; instead, it is actually a starting point for most discussions—among Israelis and Palestinians, of course, who live these realities. But increasingly, scholars, analysts, and diplomats also frankly acknowledge the conflict’s transformation, at least behind closed doors. The extent of Israeli settlements in the West Bank is frequently cited as the reason for this change, and indeed, government-sponsored population movements contributed in an essential manner. But the one-state outcome has broad roots in the networks of internal and external control within the territory, the security regime, and the systems of laws and institutions that work in varying ways for different categories of inhabitants. Some of the practices are so deeply entrenched that they seem to be part of the natural landscape rather than political outcomes based on the accretion of decisions and policies, many of which are older than the people they govern.

There are understandable reasons for experts’ reticence to acknowledge that transformation openly. First, if the old diplomacy is dead, what is to be done? And second, does describing a situation as intractable mean accepting it and turning to problems that are more amenable to available diplomatic tools? Today, privileging the second objection has made it impossible to confront the first. It may be time to stop whistling past the graveyard of diplomacy.

Narrowly Averting a 1948 Moment

Former U.S. president Donald Trump’s administration was happy to embrace the conflict’s transformation—and implicitly treat it as a virtue. Trump administration officials flirted with Israeli annexation of the West Bank (encouraging it in practice but stopping short of endorsing formal annexation), dismissed the Palestinian leadership as irrelevant, embraced Israeli settlements, avoided any mention of Palestinian national identity, and even attempted to render international law on the subject illegal. They treated the absence of a negotiated solution as something to perpetuate, not overcome.

Under Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the situation seemed to be nearing a “1948 moment”—referring not to the end of the British Mandate in Palestine but to the victory of the National Party in South Africa and its adoption of apartheid as an ideology and policy—one designed to systematize, deepen, and render into a comprehensive legal form the unequal arrangements that had arisen over time. While Israel drew back from any full formal move, the term “apartheid” is used increasingly seriously as a description for what had only been called occupation.

Back to a More Realistic Future? Or Not?

The new administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has adopted a different stance. Incoming officials openly acknowledge part of the closed-door consensus: a two-state solution is not just one summit away. But they advocate a long-term goal of moving things back in that direction. Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the general approach the day before Biden took office: “The only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state and to give the Palestinians a state to which they are entitled is through the so-called two-state solution. . . . [I]t’s hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward on that. What would be important is to make sure that neither party takes steps that make the already difficult process even more challenging.”

While the Biden approach seems like the only practical one to hardened veterans still hoping for a diplomatic solution to the conflict, it has two significant flaws: it is illegal and impossible. And that is not all; even if it were executed, over the long term it would deliver the precise opposite of what it promises.

The policy’s illegality lies in large part in U.S. legislation written over two generations. Congress has been loquacious and detailed in laying out its objections to aspects of a Palestinian state. Its laws instruct U.S. officials on how to manage terrorism, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the place of international organizations, international assistance, the Palestinian National Authority, Palestinian statehood, Jerusalem, international law, and Hamas. This effectively gives a protective envelope for certain policies and measures, many of them encoded in Israeli legal practices too, while insulating them from international law.

To be sure, some legal obstacles can be circumvented; indeed, that process has already begun. But doing so is routing the Biden team through a labyrinthine world of prohibitions, loopholes, dead ends, waivers, and workarounds. Administration officials may spend more time negotiating with Capitol Hill than with Israelis or Palestinians. The experts who could find their way in the legal thicket would probably fit on a single Zoom screen (if they could be induced to speak to each other at all). Much of this legal effort aimed not only to close diplomatic doors in Palestinians’ faces but also to hamstring U.S. officials. It is working.

The politics is what makes the two-state solution impossible. The domestic environments in Israel, Palestine, and the United States mean moving forward on one element of the approach of reviving the two-state solution will not be possible without tripping on another.

A prospective Israeli leader who really wished to revive rather than undermine a two-state approach would sound to most potential voters as a naïve anachronism at best. Palestinian domestic politics poses its own challenges; the current leadership is weak in part because it is seen as pointlessly striving to jump through every hoop the United States holds up, sullenly ignoring the fact that the current hoop was raised precisely when it prepared to hop through the last one. It is unthinkable that the Biden administration would spend political capital fending off its own domestic adversaries by trying to change the Israeli calculus or drop some U.S. legislative or diplomatic hoops for Palestinians.

It is not merely domestic politics that is a problem for two-state diplomacy. Regional winds have also shifted away from encouraging two-state diplomacy to rendering it irrelevant. A generation ago, some Israeli leaders feared that unrest among Palestinians might ignite a new round of conflict with regional states. The prospect of conflict with an increasingly assertive Iran taking up the Palestinian cause, for example, proved a major impetus to an Israeli effort in the 1990s to negotiate a settlement with the Palestinian national movement as represented by the PLO. The subsequent Oslo Accord agreements gave Jordan the political space to sign a peace treaty with Israel and other states to establish ties of various sorts, whereas in 2020, ties with other Arab states (the Abraham Accords) have progressed with their leaders giving only the most routine and sometimes even vacuous statements of support for the two-state solution or Saudi Arabia’s 2002 Arab Peace initiative. Nor does one hear many Israelis arguing any more that the best way to manage any Iranian challenge is peace with the Palestinians.

These are the realities the Biden team will wrestle with. Practical people pursuing what they see as the only practical path will find something practical to do—and that means coloring within the lines imposed by law and politics without having much salutary long-term effect. Some mechanism will be devised that inefficiently takes advantage of legal gaps to funnel assistance in a manner that obtains Israeli acquiescence and only mildly humiliates Palestinian leaders. Tremendous and sustained diplomatic energy may obtain important improvements—but only in such niche areas as Palestinian cellular telephone networks. Some formal diplomatic relationship with the Palestinian leadership will be set up that does not undercut the status of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, avoids the unspeakable term “State of Palestine,” and complies with the necessary strictures about who diplomats can speak with and how. Perhaps new congressional initiatives, such as those related to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, will be fended off or watered down. But it is difficult to make any serious argument that these steps are milestones along the road to a two-state solution.

When in a Hole, Dig Deeper

And this leads to the real problem. The Biden team’s downgrading of a short-term focus on conflict-ending diplomacy in favor of fostering salutary long-term trends is a laudable shift—but tying the approach to the corpse of the two-state solution and focusing on superficial palliatives will dig the existing hole deeper. Efforts to manage the current situation will involve meeting all sorts of absurd conditions dictated by legal and political constraints with admirable ingenuity, but the Biden administration’s bandwidth for the problem will be narrow. And no wonder: nobody really believes that such steps can advance the two-state solution.

To refer to the solution as a corpse may seem too strong. There may indeed by a possible path to a two-state solution, but U.S. officials treat it as even more unspeakable in public than the death of the peace process. Were the United States to recognize the state of Palestine; support international diplomacy on the application of the Geneva Conventions to the occupied Palestinian territories (a geographic term no current United States official is permitted to use); take firm action to hold accountable those acting in violation; offer to support negotiations between any leaders of Israel and Palestine willing to accept all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions; and condition all economic, diplomatic, and security cooperation with both states to a commitment to those resolutions and to disarming any groups undermining them—well, then it is possible to imagine a revival of two-state diplomacy. But currently, U.S. officials, as much as they tighten their grip on the slogan of the two-state solution, do not merely fail to take such positions; they actively denounce and prevent them, chiefly by obstructing international diplomacy.

The developments that killed the two-state solution—walls, cities, and laws; deep shifts in Israeli domestic politics; the Palestinian political schism and weakness; and profound mistrust—are largely unaddressed under the emerging approach. The United States has long fallen into a pattern of picking an occasional battle while it has lost the war against Israeli annexation. The oft-intoned (though fairly recent) claim by many within the United States foreign policy community that “the two-state solution is the only viable option” is now deployed to invoke a mythical—and likely unattainable—future in order to avoid acknowledging the current one-state reality.

Assessing Policy Ideas

When I first wrote that “The Peace Process Has No Clothes” a decade and a half ago, I was reluctantly entering a room of skeptics bereft of any mainstream policy actors. But now, with honest words increasingly seeping into public discussion, is there any way to avoid despair in policy circles?

There are constructive steps that outside actors can take, but in order to explore them, it is necessary to stop asking “Will this revive the peace process?” and instead ask two new questions about prospective steps. First, “Does this step help ameliorate suffering today or decrease violence today?” And second, “Will this step foster development of institutions and practices that are likely to make a more systematic solution possible at a much later time?”

A number of policies would provide positive answers to these questions. But it will be necessary to be bold. It is not hard to think of ways to clear goods through Gaza’s borders a bit more quickly or promote technology education in Palestinian schools. Such initiatives would be worthwhile—but far more significant would be an economic opening of Gaza or greater political and economic rights for the enormous number of stateless refugees.

Less dramatically, I have argued elsewhere that the generous international assistance programs for Palestinians should be repurposed: they will not aid in producing a two-state solution in the short term, but they can greatly aid in shoring up the resilience of Palestinian society and institutions both at the national and local level, if designed properly.

To address the second question, possible initiatives would be greater international recognition for the State of Palestine—an uncertain entity to be sure, but it is the best starting point for finding an effective and authoritative voice for the Palestinian national community. People-to-people diplomacy, as it has been understood, has led to thoughtful analyses but has lost credibility among most Israelis and become suspect in the eyes of most Palestinians (because deploying postconflict techniques in this way obscures the power imbalances and sources of conflict). More helpful are genuine attempts to listen to broader sets of voices in both societies (but especially the Palestinian one, only because their debates have been less audible in international policy circles)—far broader than the familiar but narrow group of negotiators or public figures generally heard. In that respect, a recent RAND report based on discussions of alternative futures with Israeli and Palestinian focus groups is a welcome step in bringing real debates to the attention of the policy community. A new generation of polling—that goes beyond past questioning on the “peace process” and treats the area as a single entity with a deeply divided population—is also extremely helpful for informing policy analysis.

Beginning a Journey of a Thousand Miles

Most of these proposals would be seen in policy circles in Washington (and perhaps in Europe as well) as both unrealistic and pro-Palestinian, but those are not the most significant problems. They are certainly unrealistic in terms of current U.S. policy discussions, but those discussions have become so divorced from the region’s political realities that it hardly seems a meaningful criticism. And with the status quo so deeply troubling for Palestinians, it is not surprising that efforts to steer things in a different direction might seem to work in their favour.

U.S. policy discussions have become divorced from the region’s political realities

But the real problem with this set of ideas is that each element can pull in a different direction. Any attempt to ameliorate current conditions can provoke suspicions that it will—in effect, perhaps even in intent—become a way of entrenching the present and avoiding any long-term solution. Several generations of Palestinian refugees have lived this dilemma very poignantly.

But there are some paths that can be both ameliorative and conducive to the emergence of long-term alternatives. Talk among Palestinians about shifting to a “rights-based approach”—one that focuses less on statehood and more on securing individual and collective rights regardless of the governing political framework—has grown stronger as the dream of Palestinian statehood has receded. Such talk should be taken seriously by international actors.

The effect would not be to render the conflict soluble but to change the strategic calculus of leaders: to persuade Israelis that there are costs to the one-state reality and to offer Palestinians a path between despair and what they have come to call “armed struggle.”

A good first step would be for the United States to end its conscious and consistent policy for half a century to carve out Palestine as a place where even citing relevant international legal instruments (some of them fostered by United States diplomacy) is provocative. After several decades of attempts, it has become improbable that ripping diplomacy out of any legal framework in a situation of gross power imbalance will lead to a successful outcome.

If introducing talk of rights and law is viewed as partisan, radical, or unrealistic, that may be an indication of how deeply intractable a conflict has become. It is time to take a much longer-range perspective. Deep-seated divisions are not likely to be resolved in a burst of diplomacy or even in a decade of hard work. All the more reason to start now.
End of document


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


Jordan/Syria: Sailors Without a Sea

By Armenak Tokmajyan and Laith Qerbaa, The Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center, 26 April 2021

Jordan’s bahhara have suffered from a closed border with Syria, but efforts to resume informal trade ties continue.


In the past decade, the war in Syria has reshaped not only the country’s own border peripheries, but also those of its neighbors. In few places has the impact been more painfully felt than in the northern Jordanian city of Ramtha, located only 10 kilometers away from the southern Syrian city of Daraa.

Before 2011, Daraa and Ramtha were tied together through trade relations. Daraa supplies goods to Ramtha, which in turn became a hub for the sale of Syrian products in northern Jordan. A decade on the two cities have different stories to tell. Deraa has seen the Syrian war suck all economic life out of the city, while the closed or only partially reopened border with Syria has helped to impoverish Ramtha, which relies heavily on cross-border trade.

Active in the cross-border trade were Jordanian drivers who worked the route between Ramtha and Deraa. These drivers, known as bahhara, or “sailors” in Arabic, embodied the vulnerability of border communities as well as the resilience of cross-border relations. Being a bahhar is a culture unto itself, a profession that involves techniques and attitudes passed on from father to son. These include courage, sharp-wittedness, and a native ability to navigate through border crossings and deal with the border authorities.

The cross-border business of the bahhara was built on the different market, labor, and production conditions in Syria and Jordan. Most goods were cheaper in Syria and in high demand in Jordan. This provided the drivers with an ideal opportunity to profit by buying products in Syria and reselling them in Jordan.

On a normal day, a trip to Daraa and back took a few hours. Soon after passing the Ramtha-Daraa crossing, Jordanian drivers found themselves shopping in Daraa’s numerous rest stations (istirahat), which offered many goods sought by Jordanians. While the bahhara rarely ventured deeper inside Syria, goods did travel from Syria’s interior to Daraa before being transported into Jordan.

As one Jordanian trader explained, “[Before 2011] I used to go to Aleppo to buy goods. After making my selection, I would tell the producer to ship them to Daraa’s rest stations.” In essence, Daraa was not just a market, but a “port” for export to Jordan thanks to the “sailors.” Why ship directly from Aleppo to Jordan when delegating the job to the bahhara meant faster door-to-door service, and most importantly provided a cheaper option?

According to official Jordanian data, just before 2011 there were some 800 cars licensed to work on the Syria route, most of them from Ramtha. They drove legally registered cars but their business was not entirely legal. On paper, their job was to transport passengers from different Jordanian cities to Syria, which they often did. But the real profit was in transporting Syrian goods on their way back. Some played it safe and transported small amounts—sweets, cigarettes, or cleaning agents—toward which the authorities turned a blind eye.

This petty trade became more lucrative when drivers brought in more than the tolerated amounts while paying low or no customs duties. This practice created a major informal economy before 2011. Although it cost the state in import revenues, it was tolerated because it generated economic activity in Ramtha. The bahhara took pride in earning income without relying on Jordan’s bloated public sector, while also bringing cheap goods to the market. Moreover, they made Ramtha a hub for redistributing Syrian goods throughout Jordan. Azraq, a small town near the Jordanian-Saudi border, was one such destination. The rest stations in the town offered Syrian cheese and sweets, among other goods, to those traveling to Saudi Arabia.

Decades of cross-border trade created strong commercial relations that sometimes turned into friendships and were even inherited by young bahhara. Despite the war and destruction of Daraa and closed or restricted Syrian-Jordanian borders, these relations remained resilient and allowed drivers to cope with new circumstances. For example, after traveling to Daraa became risky for the bahhara in 2011, Syrian traders would bring the requested goods into a restricted area within the customs’ premises. In that way, Jordanian drivers could pick up their goods without having to venture into Daraa.

However, resilience and creativity also had its limits. In 2013, it became very difficult, if not impossible, for Jordanians to cross into Syria, beginning a five-year interruption until the border was reopened in late 2018. In the meantime, southern Syria, especially Daraa Governorate, faced considerable physical, economic, and social destruction, as well as the displacement of capital and human resources. Syria was no longer the same place. Nonetheless, when the borders reopened—only the Nassib-Jaber crossing, as the Daraa-Ramtha crossing remained closed—trade resumed and old relations were even revived. One driver noted that “Daraa [city’s] rest stations had moved to Nassib [city]. Yet the first traders who welcomed us there in 2018 were from Daraa. We could even take goods with credit, as in the old days. Over time we made new contacts.”

If some of the old relationships survived, the business environment had radically changed. Goods still came from different parts of Syria, though the quantities were smaller and the delays longer. Entering Syria was not that difficult, coming back, however, became increasingly nightmarish. The Syrian customs were characterized by the absence of the state, as one bahhar put it. This meant that corruption and near lawlessness were rampant, as the crossing was one of the few economically active places in Syria allowing pro-regime militias to make money. As one bahhar described the new situation, “Before [2011] we gave custom officials a tip. Now those controlling the crossing want a share of our income.”

On the Jordanian side, matters were smooth at first, although the Jordanian authorities increasingly took tougher measures. Intentionally or not, this made the bahhara’s trade hardly profitable. Jordan was pressured by the United States not to facilitate trade relations with Syria. The kingdom also faced security challenges such as drug and weapons smuggling, while the customs service was working at a lower capacity. All this forced Jordan to alter its border policies, thereby creating more obstacles for the bahhara.

The consequence of these developments was that economic activity again dried up in Ramtha, eventually leading to unprecedented social unrest in August 2019, less than one year after the reopening of the Nassib crossing. The coronavirus crisis that hit the region in March 2020 compelled Jordan to close the border again, without popular objection. Ever since, the bahhara, and by extension the people of Ramtha, have waited impatiently for the day the border will reopen.

Today, Ramtha’s sailors find themselves without a sea. Yet their story shows how when given the slightest opportunity they are capable of reigniting old ties, creating new ones, and capitalizing on the market differences between Syria and Jordan.


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


Lebanon: Why Beirut Beckons

By Michael Young, Malcolm H. Kerr, Carnegie Middle East Center, 27 April 2021

Might the Arab states hand Lebanon over to Syria as compensation for distancing itself from Iran?


Is there a way that major Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as other Arab states, can restore some of their influence in Lebanon? The question may seem peculiar at a time when the Saudis seem to have given up on the country, regarding it as being solidly held by Iran and its local proxy Hezbollah.

If the Saudis and Emiratis seek to limit Iran’s sway in the region, then simply abandoning Lebanon doesn’t represent a strategy. Nor does it mean taking advantage of regional changes to try to contain Iran’s reach. The mechanisms of Hezbollah’s control are slowly eroding in Lebanon. The party had advanced its local agenda through the Lebanese state and a political class that saw any confrontation with Hezbollah as an invitation to civil conflict and, therefore, a threat to its own existence. Yet today the state is decomposing, the rifts in the country’s political leadership appear to be irreconcilable, and Hezbollah is already preparing to protect its own followers from the oncoming economic catastrophe, a good sign that it has doubts about reconstituting the façade of the state to its advantage.

If Lebanon cracks further, as it surely will, spaces will open up that Hezbollah no longer controls. Wherever Iran has interfered in the Arab world—Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon—the results have been anarchy and disarray. The so-called “resistance axis” is nothing more than an axis of failure and bankruptcy. The temptation of the Saudis and the Emiratis may be to allow the whole rotten edifice to disintegrate. However, that offers no certainty that they can shape the aftermath, and is not how they have approached Syria, a country miles ahead of Lebanon in its descent into the netherworld.

Perhaps that’s because the two countries realize that Iran and its allies are better equipped to survive in chaos than are their enemies. Certainly, the Emirati approach in Yemen has been to fill emerging vacuums with alternative orders to better protect itself—whether by facilitating the creation of an autonomous entity in the south, or by building military bases near, or settling pro-Emirati forces in, the western coastal areas to guard access to the Bab al-Mandeb Strait. Saudi Arabia is following suit. Having seen that it cannot roll back the Houthis, it is now focused on overhauling its southern border.

In recent months, there has been a noticeable shift in the positions of Saudi Arabia and the UAE toward Syria. The Emiratis reopened an embassy in Damascus in 2018, and there have been multiple signs recently of an Arab desire to return Syria to the Arab League. The Saudis have taken a more cautious approach than the UAE, Iraq, or Egypt, but ultimately the kingdom will go along with a consensual decision to resume contacts with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. However, this raises an important question: What price will the Arab states and Syria try to extract for such a resumption?

The Gulf states, feeling that Syria is exceptionally vulnerable—with reconstruction costs estimated in 2019 at anywhere between $200 billion and $400 billion—will most probably demand that Syria downgrade its relationship with Iran. Assad will not want to do so, but his options are limited. Few countries are willing to give money to Syria while Assad remains in power, so he cannot be choosy if he wants to initiate a reconstruction process. Nor will reducing Syria’s ties with Tehran be easy, so extensive is Iranian power in the country, reaching into the regime’s core security and intelligence institutions.

However, Assad does have options if he decides to recalibrate with Iran. He can count on the backing of Russia, which also has extended its influence over Syria’s military and security sectors. Moscow appears keener to stabilize Syria within an Arab consensus than Iran, and has been instrumental in trying to change Arab attitudes toward Damascus. The Syrian president also has an election this year. While its democratic worth will be nil, his manufactured victory will give the Syrian regime new momentum, as well as bogus legitimacy that he will try to build upon. That begs another question: What will Assad demand in return from the Arab states for going at least part of the way in meeting their conditions with respect to Iran?

Here the answer may be worrisome for the Lebanese. What Assad may well ask for is renewed influence in Lebanon. The structures of such influence will be different compared to the pre-2005 period when the Syrian army was deployed in the country. It’s difficult to imagine that Syria’s armed forces will return, even if the over 1 million Syrians currently in Lebanon can be a step in that direction. If Assad is guaranteed of naming a certain number of parliamentary deputies, and the various Arab states compel their local allies to include pro-Syrian politicians in their electoral lists, that may be another. At the same time, if Syria, backed by the Arab states, also has a say in whom becomes president, prime minister, and speaker of parliament, that could further whet Assad’s appetite.

The Syrians could seek to anchor this through heightened collaboration with the Lebanese army and intelligence services. While we may not see Syria soldiers in Lebanon’s streets, what would prevent Syrian intelligence officers from being present in the country alongside their Lebanese counterparts? The Lebanese-Syrian Treaty of Brotherhood, Cooperation, and Coordination of May 1991, like the Lebanese-Syrian Defense and Security Pact of September 1991, could legitimize such arrangements, with far-reaching consequences.

What would the Arab states gain from such a plan? First, they may well consider greater Syrian control over Lebanon as a means of reducing Iran’s footprint in both Syria and Lebanon. If that were to unlock Arab financial assistance for Beirut, the Arab states might assume, it could silence Lebanese resistance to any such scheme. Second, the Arab states could consider Syria’s restoration in Lebanon as a way of stabilizing a chronically dysfunctional country, much as Syria did after the end of the country’s civil war in 1990. And third, by boosting Syria’s Arab bona fides through a heightened role for Damascus, the new situation could facilitate an eventual settlement with Israel, preventing Iran’s return, and alleviate tensions in the Levant while opening the door to wider Arab-Israeli agreements.

Lebanon’s reprehensible abandonment would in no way constitute an obstacle. The country has become such a headache for the Arab world that parking it under the domination of a regional state poses no problems—as long as it’s an Arab state. This would help explain why Hezbollah has been so adamant in its refusal to put pressure on Gebran Bassil in the government-formation process. The party knows the two prime candidates for the presidency next year are the Hezbollah-aligned Bassil and Suleiman Franjieh, a close Assad ally. Weakening Bassil, Hezbollah may feel, would only strengthen Franjieh and the Syrians’ hand in Lebanon, ultimately at the party’s expense. So, while Hezbollah and Syria are allies regionally, they are competitors in Lebanon and the party has no intention of relinquishing what it gained after the Syrian withdrawal in 2005.

What worries Hezbollah and Iran is that the Arab states and Russia appear to be on the same wavelength in Syria and Lebanon. Reconstituting the semblance of an Arab order is desirable for them, as this would bring back some stability to Syria and to a region that has suffered from a decade of volatility and violence. The main driver leading to this situation, the Arabs and Russians might agree, is a revisionist Iran that has exploited and exacerbated sectarian and social divisions in Arab societies to advance its expansionist ambitions. In the process, Tehran has accelerated the region’s ruin.

This explains the emerging fault line between Syria’s and Iran’s allies in Lebanon. In this regard, one former parliamentarian described the tirade against Bassil last week by a prominent Syrian ally, Elie al-Firzli, as a sign of things to come. Likewise, the different paths adopted by the pro-Iranian Hezbollah and the pro-Syrian Amal Movement with regard to President Michel Aoun and Bassil reveal similar strains. Iran is feeling insecure about its stakes in the region. Hezbollah and the Iranians are facing incessant Israeli attacks in Syria, without any Russian support. Moscow is stitching together understandings over Syria with regional powers on opposite sides of the Syrian question—Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt, but also Qatar and Turkey. And the Astana process, which had brought Iran into a tripartite negotiating format with Russia and Turkey to address the Syrian situation, has fallen by the wayside.

The reason why all sides are unable to form a government in Lebanon is that beyond the personal animosity between Bassil and Saad al-Hariri there lies a deeper problem, namely that the nature of any government will have a bearing on the regional balance. Aoun and Bassil are the only partners Hezbollah has in its efforts to push back against Arab backing for a Syrian revival in Lebanon. Therefore, the party will not side with Hariri against the president and his son in law. This stalemate may last, and it appears that Hezbollah is now looking toward the nuclear deal with Iran to consolidate its role at home. Ironically, that is why it does not want Lebanon to fragment.

If this is indeed the thinking among the leading Arab states, then they should be realistic. The Assad regime will almost certainly aim to pocket any advantage it can secure in Lebanon, without surrendering much on Iran. The Syrians prefer to position themselves midway between the Arab states, Russia, and Iran to play all sides off against each other to their own benefit. In the coming months the situation in Lebanon will ripen more as Aoun’s presidency begins to wind down and everyone gets a better sense of where negotiations over the nuclear deal are heading. With elections scheduled in Syria, Iran, and Lebanon in the coming two years, the region is preparing for what could be a transformative period.


North Africa

Algeria: Rearranging the deckchairs while the ship sinks

By Charles Gurdon, managing director of Menas Associates, London, May 5, 2021

State-owned Sonatrach took the decision in April to revoke UK independent Sunny Hill Energy’s interest in the highly prospective Ain Tsila gas field on the grounds that Angelo Moskov — who controversially took over Irish producer Petroceltic in 2015 and changed its name to Sunny Hill — is more interested in a speculative investment than a long-term commitment to Algeria.

The issue of compensation will now be decided in the arbitration courts. Unfortunately, however, this is only the latest self-inflicted damage to Algeria’s hydrocarbons sector and the country as a whole. For decades, Sonatrach has played hardball with IOCs — whether it was long-term take-or-pay gas contracts which became uneconomic or punitive E&P fiscal terms for blocks — which have made Algeria far less attractive than more flexible neighbours such as Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt. Simultaneously, different factions of the so-called ‘le pouvoir’ Algerian political establishment have fought for control of Sonatrach, which is Algeria’s milch-cow.

This instability has resulted in: eight Sonatrach CEOs in the past decade; numerous corruption scandals; unsuccessful licensing rounds; glacially slow and poor decision-making; delayed projects; falling foreign direct investment; numerous arbitration cases; and much more.

Production drop

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic oil production had fallen from nearly 2.0 million b/d in 2015 to less than 1.5 million b/d in 2019, which is similar to the levels of 20 years ago. Algeria continues to export less than its 876,000 b/d OPEC quota.

At the same time, domestic gas consumption is constantly increasing — from 32% of production in 2000 to 62% today — thereby reducing exports and government revenues. When Algeria’s population reaches 50 million by 2030 there is the very real risk that it will be no long be able to export gas.

The disastrous situation in the hydrocarbons sector is mirrored in the country as a whole. It had been hoped that the political and economic paralysis of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s final five years would be replaced by a more dynamic proactive government.

Instead, Abdelmadjid Tebboune was fraudulently installed by the army in late 2019 in yet another election in which the actual turnout was less than 10%. Tebboune is now insisting on holding legislative elections on 12 June despite them almost certainly being boycotted, not only by most of the political parties, but also the vast majority of the population.

These are designed to divert attention away from the vast anti-regime ‘Hirak’ demonstrations which resumed in February after a COVID-19 lockdown. Despite increasing police violence and mass arrests, hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of Algerians protest on the country’s streets each week.

So far, they have done so 115 times on Fridays, and there are also large weekly student demonstrations every Tuesday. The regime’s violence, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, rigged trials and propaganda have failed to stop the Hirak demonstrators, who continue to demand genuine democracy and an end to the incompetent kleptocracy that has ruined post-independence Algeria.

Tebboune, who spent three months in a German hospital, is suffering from long-COVID and is currently physically, and probably mentally, incapable of running the country. He is increasingly seen as a lame-duck president and one faction of the army and intelligence services — who imposed him on the country — are considering replacing him. Another believes that increased repression will re-exert the regime’s control over the Algerian people.

The lethargy in the Presidency is mirrored by total paralysis in Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad’s office, where there are at least 255 economic files currently awaiting attention. There has been no progress on major economic reforms and — because of a combination of the June elections, summer holidays, and autumn local elections — this situation is unlikely to change. It is therefore feared that 2021 will be yet another of the many ‘blank years’ that Algeria has experienced.


Egypt: Adapting to a Region in Flux

By Nael Shama, Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East, 10 May 2021

Former foreign minister Nabil Fahmy discusses the evolving Middle East and Egypt’s role in it.

Nabil Fahmy is a former Egyptian foreign minister, who has spent nearly four decades in public service. He worked in the offices of former president Anwar al-Sadat and his vice president at the time, Hosni Mubarak. He also served at Egypt’s permanent mission to the United Nations, and was Egypt’s ambassador to the United States and Japan. After leaving the office, Fahmy established the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo. He is the author of Egypt’s Diplomacy in War, Peace, and Transition (Palgrave, 2020). Diwan interviewed Fahmy in April to get his perspective on regional affairs, and to talk about the Arabic translation of his book, due out in June.

Nael Shama: The Middle East is going through rapid transformation. What are the main regional challenges Egypt faces today?

Nabil Fahmy: Take into account that Egypt is on two continents, Africa and Asia, borders two waterways, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, and imports most of its foodstuffs and its national security capacity requirements, tries to attract foreign investment, and up to a decade ago also imported its energy needs. With such realities you have to depend strongly on foreign policy. Therefore it is imperative that Egypt be activist in its foreign policy and try to stay ahead of the curve, especially in the Middle East and North Africa.

As the Middle East has changed, Egypt has faced the challenge of how to lead the region and how to be proactive in a regional and global environment that is in flux. The region and Arab world are now being influenced by non-Arab countries in the Middle East. And many of the Arab countries, including Egypt, have gone through domestic transformational periods. So, we need to once again be ahead of the curve and that is a challenge in an unstable period.

Because of rapid population growth we are also more driven now than ever before by asset needs—in contrast to a period in the past when our direction was more visionary and was focused on political objectives. The biggest challenge therefore is to balance needs and aspirations looking forward, all at a time when the future is not clear. However, that is what leadership is all about!

NS: There seems to be a consensus that Egypt’s regional influence has declined in recent years. Do you agree? If so, how can Egypt regain its prominent role?

NF: I would change that a little bit. I think it is more that we don’t continue to have the semi-exclusive leadership role that we had in the past, at least for now. That’s true whether the people like it or not. The region has grown and changed structurally and functionally. To lead it you have to lead it differently. That is the first point. Has our influence decreased? Yes it has, but I still believe that if you want to define leadership it should not be in absolute terms, but relative to others. I believe that Egypt can, more than any other country in the region, have a very strong, even a salient, influence when it comes to defining regional directions on a multitude of issues.

Egypt’s uniqueness or advantage traditionally goes back to its intellectual soft power rather than its hard assets. We have always engaged on a multitude of fronts regionally and globally. We’ve had opinions on North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. We’ve had opinions on the Mashreq (the eastern part of the Arab world), on the Arab-Israeli peace process. We’ve had opinions on the Gulf. And that’s just in terms of politics. We’ve also had opinions on economic issues and on social direction. More than any other country in the Arab region we’ve been ahead of the curve intellectually. I still believe that if we reinvest in creativity and refocus on that, we can regain much of our leadership.

It’s not going to be exclusive leadership, nor do I want it to be so. I am happy to have competition and I am happy to have others striving to lead in certain areas. However, Egypt has the foundation, manpower, and intellectual depth to engage simultaneously on many issues, more than anybody else in our region.

NS: Now that the African Union-led talks between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia in Kinshasa have collapsed over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, what are the options available for Egyptian policymakers to deal with this challenge?

NF: Our leadership role was always about finding where the region was going or where we wanted to take it—setting the agenda looking forward. Frankly, if Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia had looked at the Renaissance Dam issue strategically 30 years ago, we wouldn’t be in the crisis we are today because this is an issue in which we don’t have conflicting interests. Ethiopia wants more development, which is possible. Sudan wants to regulate the flow of the Nile without floods and droughts, which is also possible while providing Ethiopia with development. And Egypt wants more water because we have a rapid increase in population growth. That is also possible, even with Ethiopia getting the electricity it needs for development and Sudan being able to regulate water flows.

So, the problem isn’t that there is insufficient water to address those issues. The problem is that over the years we have dealt with each other in an adversarial way rather than seeking solutions that benefit all. But today the options are very very limited. We’re at a crossroads. Either we will see, between now and the end of summer, the political will to resolve this problem constructively, which would be surprising since it’s so late in the game; or one country or the other will change its position fundamentally, which would also be surprising.

If either of these two alternatives happens, a negotiated settlement is possible. However, if there is no settlement we will be faced with situation in which Ethiopia will be creating facts on the ground and asserting that it and it alone can decide how to manage the water flow. That goes against accepted international practices regarding water flows that cross national boundaries. This will put everyone in front of hard choices. I think a solution is possible, but I don’t expect one over the next two months. A solution will require both wisdom and resolve.

NS: Do you believe military options are on the table?

NF: I never rule anything out. That being said, I always believe in negotiating first, second, and third. Only use force if there are no other options, because it always brings unexpected consequences, tremendous risks, and long-term resentments. My patience with negotiations is almost endless, but there is a point where negotiations become useless. That is why I mentioned wisdom and resolve. You have to have both, but take a decision when one has to be taken.

NS: Let me move to the issue of peace with Israel. In the 1990s, Egypt felt uneasy about the pace of normalization between the Arab states and Israel, feeling it was too quick. Do you think Egypt looks the same way at the recent normalization agreements between Israel and several Arab countries?

NF: No, I don’t actually. Egypt was actually the first to talk about a normalization of relations at the UN General Assembly in 1977, but we projected it as being the result of an end to occupation. Even under those conditions the concept raised eyebrows and discomfort among some circles because it was a novel idea. When we negotiated peace with Israel they insisted on including official normalization between the two countries, which we accepted while pointing out that comprehensive normalization, including with other Arabs, would not be achieved without peace.

In the 1990s, talks about a new Middle East were mostly presented by Israel and as a prelude to peace. We weren’t against a new Middle East, but our problem was that this was supposed to be a consequence of the end of conflict, not take place in lieu of an end of conflict. And that’s really where we felt that we could not forgo Palestinian rights, which are historic and legitimate, in exchange for short-term material gains. My position is consistent with the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. Normalization should happen, not only between Israel and bordering states but between Israel and all Arab countries, provided that the occupation is ended and you establish a Palestinian state. The concept of normalization is more acceptable today, but there still are differences about sequencing before or after the end of conflict.

That being said, governments can and will take sovereign decisions. I have told my Palestinian colleagues that I understand their concerns. However, I also told them that they shouldn’t spend their energy criticizing Arab decisions, which are the prerogatives of these countries. They should try to increase the diplomatic momentum and push the peace process forward, while focusing more on Israel.

NS: You mentioned the influence of non-Arab states on the Arab world. What are your views about rising Iranian influence in places such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen? Do you think a rapprochement between Cairo and Tehran is needed?

NF: The Middle East is suffering from an Arab vacuum, one defined by a lack of engagement and creativity, an overdependence on foreigners, and an imbalance between the national security capacities of Arab states and of non-Arab Middle Eastern states—Turkey, Israel and Iran. All this has fuelled these countries’ ambitions in the region.

Second, I am an internationalist and a realist. Turkey, Israel, and Iran are not going anywhere. They will remain in the region and they will continue to have interests and aspirations. So, the issue is not about having them or not having them, but how we deal with each other. I support engaging all three countries. But engagement is not the goal, it is a tool to better manage the relationship. I don’t think we’re going to have stability in the region except through Turkish-Arab and Iranian-Arab rapprochements. By this I mean through the involvement of Turkey, Egypt, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, as well as Israel when it pursues policies not defined by its right-wing parties alone, but includes centrist parties that can move the peace process forward.

However, to do all this seriously you have to proceed gradually. I don’t want to claim that everything has been resolved, but there has been progress of late in Egyptian–Turkish relations, while Saudi Arabia and Iran are engaged in a dialogue. So, I hope these will lead to concrete steps from the Iranian and Turkish sides, and reciprocal steps after that to build confidence for a more serious diplomatic dialogue. I think the first contacts should be through the security services because interference in the affairs of other countries is above all a security issue.

NS: The map of alliances in the Middle East seems to be changing, as is the security architecture. Do you think that institutions such as the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are now obsolete, or can they be revived?

NF: The Arab League and the GCC are different. The GCC is subregional while the Arab League is regional. The issues of the Middle East are no longer a part of a bipolar Cold War era as in the past, when the prominence of the Arab League was at its peak. Today, we are in a period in which issues are more regional and even subregional, which affects the Arab League.

The Arab countries allowed the Arab League’s political approach—not its approach to social and economic issues—to be focused on dealing with threats rather than opportunities. If you’re looking only at threats, then if some members don’t feel threatened by a particular issue there is a breakdown in collective cohesion. And because of that, except for the Palestinian issue, most of the matters preoccupying the Arab world are now subregional. And therefore, the Arab League has not really been as effective as it should be, or was in the past.

I would add another problem. The Arabs have been great at adopting resolutions announcing they are in full agreement with each other, truthful or not, but they have not done well in dealing with their differences and their separate priorities. States need to understand that the regional composition of the Arab League supports all Arab countries in their interregional competition with non-Arab states. The GCC, which is growing very quickly, has done so because it has tended to deal with short-term, tactical subregional issues rather than long-term, strategic ones.

We are now in an evolving global environment, therefore it is important to invigorate the Arab League by focusing more on opportunities for cooperation while addressing existing threat perceptions. If Arabs do not reestablish a balanced national security capacity with non-Arab regional states—involving the military, security, intelligence, political, and other dimensions—and we’re living in a regional environment rather than a global political one, we will end up being on the wrong side of things because global powers today are fighting different battles. They are simply not as focused on the Middle East as they once were. They will not try to defend Arab interests at the expense of other interests.

NS: Finally, let me ask you about your book. I believe an Arabic edition is coming out soon. Does it include information not available in the English edition?

NF: It is due out in June. The English version that came out last year dealt with Egyptian diplomacy in war and peace and was directed at a foreign audience. That is why a number of Arab and Egyptian anecdotes and details were not included in the book. The Arab version has the same backbone as the English version, but deals with particularly sensitive Arab issues not dealt with in the English version, especially the 2003 invasion of Iraq, for example. It also includes Arab and Egyptian accounts that are more relevant to Arab readers. But I’ll let them buy the book and discover what they are.

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



One Year After the Death of Abdelmalek Droukdel AQIM Falls into Obscurity

By Jacob Zenn, The JamesTown Foundation. Terrorism Monitor,Volume: 19, Issue: 9, 07 May 2021

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has been considered a stalwart affiliate of al-Qaeda since its predecessor organization, the Salafist Group for Preaching Combat (GSPC), pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda in 2006 (Terrorism Monitor, April 5, 2007). The GSPC leader who pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda, and therefore AQIM’s first leader, was Abdelmalek Droukdel. He led AQIM until his death in a U.S.-supported French operation in northern Mali last year (France24, June 25, 2007). Contrary to reports of Droukdel being uninvolved in operations, videos leaked by either the French or Algerian intelligence services showed that he had been meeting with the Sahel’s top jihadists, Iyad ag Ghali and Hamadou Kufa, in the months before his death (, February 2). Indeed, it was because of informants within the Sahelian jihadist ranks that Droukdel’s location was identified and he was subsequently killed.

Months before Droukdel’s death, the top Sahel-based Algerian AQIM member and top Sahel-based Tunisian AQIM shura member, Jemal Oukacha (Abu Yahya al-Hamman) and Seifallah Ben Hassine (Abu Iyad al-Tunisi), were also killed in northern Mali by French forces. AQIM’s leadership in both Algeria and the Sahel have, therefore, been suffering. Nearly one year since Droukdel’s death, which took place on June 3, 2020, the results are in—AQIM has not rebounded with any force from the deaths of these leaders and the group itself is on the road to ineffectiveness.

AQIM has carried out virtually no attacks since Droukdel’s death and its latest statement in March was unimpressive (, March 17). It contended that an AQIM member who was captured by Algerian security forces was interrogated under torture, urged Algerians not to join the security forces, and argued that Islamic law, and not protest movements or democracy, was the answer for Algerian Muslims. The statement nevertheless seemed to recognize that protests were Algerians’ preferred method for changing the political order, and not jihad.

A previous January AQIM statement also asserted AQIM had “paused” the jihad to allow the protest movements to take place, but would once again resume operations (, January 18). That statement was also the first from Abu Ubaida Yusuf al-Annabi, who replaced Droukdel as AQIM leader. A veteran AQIM commander, and former GSPC member, al-Annabi, however, still has little to show for supposedly resuming the jihad. In contrast, AQIM’s Sahelian partner, the Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), which is led by Iyad ag Ghaly and his deputy, Kufa, remains highly active in the Sahel. Thus, AQIM’s apparent disappearance from the jihadist scene along with the demise of jihadism in Algeria has not translated into the same in the Sahel; rather, the Sahelian jihad is becoming even more violent and widespread than it ever was in Algeria.


Menas Associates, London, May 10, 2021

The Government of National Unity’s (GNU) Foreign Minister Najla el-Mangoush has come under fierce criticism after insisting during a press conference with her Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, that Turkish forces should leave the country in line with the October 2020 ceasefire agreement. On 8 May armed groups stormed Tripoli’s Corinthia Hotel — which was previously used by the GNU — in apparent protest about her statement. It has been accompanied by a coordinated smear campaign against el-Mangoush on social media.

Despite her comments, however, there is little or no sign that Turkey intends to remove its forces from Libya anytime soon. Instead, Ankara continues to justify its military presence by pointing out that, unlike the illegal mercenaries who support Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF) its assistance was requested, under the terms of official bilateral agreements, by the former internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). It also appears that neither Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah or senior military commanders in western Libya want the Turks to withdraw before the December 2021 elections.

The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, however, called for the ‘immediate withdrawal of foreign forces’ from Libya during a G7 meeting in London on 4 May. His was only the latest in the chorus of international stakeholders who have been calling for the removal of all foreign forces and, as far as Washington is concerned, particularly the Russian mercenaries from the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group who have been supporting Haftar.

Meanwhile, on 5 May, the House of Representatives’ Speaker, Aguila Saleh, informed UN Special Envoy to Libya Ján Kubiš that the parliament is ready to accept the UN-led Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s (LPDF) decision regarding the necessary constitutional amendments for the planned December 2021 elections. The entire LPDF will now meet after the Eid holiday to approve the proposal but deep divisions remain in the LPDF over whether or not to hold direct elections for an individual president, or party elections in which the winning party’s leader assumes the role. While Haftar and the east want direct elections for an individual, the west is fearful of who would win and, with a much larger population, would prefer a party-based election system.

Prime Minister Dbeibah has submitted a revised budget to the House for its approval. Although some cuts have been made, however, it is still probably too large to be approved by the parliament. Aguila Saleh still has his own political reasons to delay its approval but, simultaneously, his eastern constituents need the budget to be passed quickly so that they can begin to benefit economically.

The country’s Muslim Brotherhood has announced that it is rebranding itself as ‘Revival and Renewal’ (Al-Ihya wa’l-Tajdid) and that it will now operate as an NGO which will prioritise domestic charitable works and cut ties with overseas Muslim Brotherhood organisations. This is widely seen in eastern Libya as a political ploy because a similar election strategy has been undertaken by the Brotherhood in other MENA countries.

The GNU has appointed Hussein Mohamed Khalifa al-Aaeb as the country’s new intelligence chief but he is the latest senior GNU official who has with deep ties to Muammar Qadhafi’s former regime. Revolutionary militias have registered their opposition and the recent storming of the Corinthia Hotel may have been partially linked to this.

On 5 May a Libyan Coast Guard vessel opened fire on an Italian fishing boat and injured its captain. Although Italy has provided significant major financial and operational support to the coast guard — mainly as a financial inducement to prevent migrants reaching the Italian island of Lampedusa — the force has frequently clashed with Italian fishermen in waters that are claimed by Libya.

The latest National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) figures are that, since January 2020 when the pandemic began, there have been a cumulative total of 180,226 COVID-19 cases, with 3,072 deaths, and 10,474 current cases.




Research Papers & Reports

Bringing Assistance to Israel in Line With Rights and U.S. Laws

By Josh Ruebner, Salih Booker and Zaha Hassan, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 12, 2021

Ensuring that Israel, the largest recipient of U.S. security assistance, complies with federal laws and international human rights standards will require closely tracking and monitoring its weapons use.


After many years of increasing U.S. military aid to Israel, members of Congress are beginning to debate the wisdom and morality of writing a blank check for weapons—some of which are used against Palestinians living under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in violation of U.S. laws.

A recent exchange between legislators shows the evolving debate. Congresswoman Betty McCollum introduced a bill on April 15—currently co-sponsored by seventeen representatives—to ensure that U.S. funding is not used for Israel’s ill-treatment of Palestinian children in its military judicial system, forced displacement of Palestinians through home demolitions and evictions, and illegal annexations of Palestinian land. In response, Congressman Ted Deutch produced a letter on April 22, signed by more than 300 representatives, arguing against “reducing funding or adding conditions on security assistance”—which essentially means disregarding Israel’s egregious policies and violations of existing U.S. laws aimed at protecting human rights. The fact that a bill restricting aid to Israel drew seventeen sponsors to date and a letter defending that aid was signed by three-quarters of members—as opposed to all of them—shows that the debate is slowly shifting.

Meanwhile, the emerging policies of President Joe Biden’s administration reflect an uncomfortable paradox. The interim national security strategy calls for the United States to defend and protect human rights in its foreign policy and to lead in restoring multilateralism and rules in the international system. The word “values” appears twenty-five times in the twenty-three-page document. However, the strategy also pledges to maintain an ironclad commitment to Israel’s military aid—despite the apparent contradiction with declared U.S. policy objectives, such as a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and the continuing de facto annexation of the West Bank, home demolitions, evictions, and destruction of entire Palestinian neighborhoods and communities.

Leading progressive Democrats are calling for the Biden administration to center values in its policy toward Israel and Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. And a growing number of voters support initiatives to restrict U.S. aid to Israel due to its human rights violations. Yet, even if there were enough votes in Congress for these initiatives to become law, another challenge looms: establishing transparent weapons transfer practices to ensure the necessary tracking and end-use monitoring. Until then, the administration should enforce existing laws that prohibit the use of U.S. security assistance for illegitimate purposes and specifically restrict aid from further entrenching Israeli occupation.

The Largess of U.S. Assistance to Israel

Through FY2020, the United States has provided Israel with $146 billion in military, economic, and missile defense funding. Adjusted for inflation, this amount is equivalent to $236 billion in 2018 dollars, making Israel the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. assistance since World War II.

Today, almost all U.S. assistance to Israel is in the form of weapons grants. Israel receives $3.3 billion annually in foreign military financing (FMF). It also receives $500 million for joint U.S.-Israeli research, development, and deployment of missile defense systems; however, these anti-missile systems almost wholly benefit Israeli military needs. In FY2021, the administration of former president Donald Trump requested $3.3 billion in FMF for Israel, constituting 59 percent of the requested global FMF budget. Israel receives more FMF than all other countries in the world combined.

Yet Israel is more than capable of purchasing its own weapons. According to the World Bank, it has the twenty-ninth-largest per capita GDP in the world, ahead of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, France, and Japan.

Since 1999, the parameters for U.S. assistance to Israel have been set in memoranda of understanding (MOUs) between the two countries. These ten-year MOUs include promises of presidential budgetary requests for assistance to Israel, but Congress must still appropriate the actual amounts of assistance annually. In practice, Congress adheres to the president’s budgetary requests without changes.

The last MOU was signed in 2016, pledging $33 billion in FMF and $5 billion in missile defense funding for FY2019–2028, the largest totals in the history of these MOUs. However, notably, this MOU phases out an exemption known as offshore procurement (OSP), which allows Israel to use a percentage of FMF on its domestic weapons industry; all other countries receiving FMF are required to spend it solely on U.S. weapons. This is a significant change, as in FY2019, OSP amounted to an $815 million annual subsidization by U.S. taxpayers of Israeli weapons manufacturers. The phaseout reflects that Israel has become one of the world’s leading arms exporters, selling approximately $9 billion in arms in 2017.

Although both countries agreed in the MOU not to seek changes to the specified amounts of FMF and missile defense funds, Congress has made these already unprecedented levels of assistance to Israel a floor rather than a ceiling. In the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress authorized “not less than” $3.3 billion annually in FMF to Israel, giving it the flexibility to appropriate funds beyond those agreed upon in the MOU.

Laws Governing U.S. Assistance

Debate about whether U.S. security assistance to foreign countries should be conditioned upon human rights criteria discounts a simple fact. U.S. law is clear: all countries receiving U.S. aid must meet human rights standards, and countries violating these standards are liable to be sanctioned and ineligible for U.S. funding:

- The Foreign Assistance Act (P.L. 87–195) regulates all forms of U.S. assistance to foreign countries. It states that no assistance may be provided to a country “which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”

- The Arms Export Control Act (P.L. 90–629) regulates U.S. military assistance and sales to foreign countries. It states that the United States can furnish weapons to foreign countries “solely for internal security, for legitimate self-defense,” and for a few other limited purposes. No credits, guarantees, sales, or deliveries of weapons can be given to a country if it is “in substantial violation” of these purposes.

- The Leahy Laws require the Departments of State and Defense to vet individual military units and individuals before they are eligible to receive U.S. equipment or training. The Department of State version of the law states that no form of assistance can be provided “to any unit of the security forces” committing “a gross violation of human rights.” The Department of Defense version states that no training or equipment can be given to a military unit that “has committed a gross violation of human rights.”

Another indisputable fact is that the United States has placed conditions on other countries’ FMF. For example, in the FY2021 budget, $225 million of $1.3 billion in FMF for Egypt is withheld from obligation until the Department of State certifies that Egypt is “taking sustained and effective steps” to strengthen human rights.

However, when it comes to Israel, additional conditions do not apply and general human rights laws are almost never adhered to. Furthermore, weapons flows to Israel are much less transparent than those to other countries, making implementation of these laws more difficult.

Transparency and Oversight

Most countries receive allocations of FMF in quarterly installments, and the money is kept in U.S.-controlled bank accounts until the country wishes to draw down from its allocation to purchase weapons. This arrangement allows the United States greater oversight over weapons purchases and better control over the purse strings to ensure countries’ compliance with U.S. laws.

Israel, however, enjoys preferential status. Since FY1991, Congress has authorized Israel to receive its FMF allocation in one lump sum and early (within thirty days of the budget’s enactment). Moreover, Israel is allowed to hold these FMF funds in a U.S. interest-bearing bank account so that Israel ends up with more than its annual allocation of $3.3 billion.

Israel is also the only country in the world for which the United States does not have tracking mechanisms to determine which weapons go to which military unit. This opacity makes it nearly impossible for the Departments of State and Defense to properly implement Leahy Law vetting requirements. Vetting only occurs for Israeli military personnel applying to U.S. training programs, and this training is a drop in the bucket of Israel’s FMF package—just 0.02 percent of FMF in 2018, leaving the remaining 99.98 percent of FMF untraceable.

Another unique feature of U.S. assistance to Israel that undermines oversight is the provision for OSP. Although this subsidization of Israel’s military weapons manufacturing will be phased out by FY2028, it will still amount to hundreds of millions of dollars per year until then. Prior to 2016, the United States had no mechanism to track how OSP funds were used—it was essentially giving Israel a blank check. The 2016 MOU requires Israel to provide “detailed programmatic information” on OSP to the executive branch but omits any provision for transmitting it to Congress or making it public.

After the U.S.-Israel MOU Ends in 2028

Some U.S. assistance could be justified as fulfilling Israel’s legitimate self-defense needs and be in line with U.S. law—for example, defense against Iran and its regional proxies and against oftentimes indiscriminate rockets fired by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups from the Gaza Strip. But the continued provision of billions of dollars in U.S. assistance to Israel—which helps entrench its military occupation of Palestinian land in violation of U.S. law—is becoming more difficult to justify, particularly given U.S. budgetary constraints and given that Israel, with a per capita GDP rivaling Western European countries, could (and already does) purchase weapons, equipment, and fuel from the United States.

Though some might argue that ending grants to Israel will push it to purchase from other countries and undermine the alliance, U.S.-Israel co-development and research of weapons systems and the need to maintain interoperability make this unlikely. In fact, Congress passed a new program to institutionalize U.S.-Israel co-development in cooperation with defense contractors. Both the executive branch and Congress are committed to fully funding the terms of the MOU through 2028. However, ending FMF after this MOU and ensuring that Israel’s future purchases of U.S. weapons are consonant with U.S. law would make taxpayers less directly complicit in Israel’s human rights abuses of Palestinians.

Others might argue for continuing security assistance despite human rights concerns because of the U.S. national security benefits that derive from sharing defense technologies with Israel. But these technologies are generally purpose-specific and based on Israel’s location, size, and strategy; U.S. dollars would be better spent in funding development that meets U.S. specifications and needs. Foreign weapons grants and sales also create domestic economic dependencies around their continuation, which have little to do with the raison d’être for the security assistance.

Policy Recommendations

The United States is not the world’s police, but it does have obligations under both federal and international law to ensure that it is not furthering human rights abuses. Toward meeting those obligations and preventing further deterioration of the situation on the ground between Israelis and Palestinians, the administration should:

- Enforce U.S. law. No country should be above the law. Israel should be held to the same standards as other recipients of U.S. assistance or purchased weapons. This means that the State Department must robustly vet not only individual Israeli soldiers receiving U.S. training but also Israeli military units receiving U.S. equipment. The flow of weapons to units that commit gross violations of human rights must be cut off as required by the Leahy Laws. The United States should investigate Israel’s potential violations of the Arms Export Control Act and suspend the sale and delivery of weapons used to commit human rights abuses. Finally, the United States must comprehensively review the entirety of Israel’s human rights records in light of the Foreign Assistance Act, which prohibits providing assistance to a country that engages in a systematic pattern of human rights violations.

- Ensure U.S. policy objectives are achieved by further restricting assistance. U.S. assistance to Israel should not take the form of a blank check that Israel can use to entrench its occupation and obstruct U.S. policy goals. First, U.S. weapons should be conditioned on normative behavior, thus requiring a complete and verifiable freezing of settlement growth. Second, the Biden administration should work with Congress to insert language into the budget to withhold a portion of U.S. assistance until Israel makes demonstrable improvements in its human rights record. Such language could be borrowed from conditions currently imposed on U.S. assistance to Egypt. Third, Israel should not be allowed to employ U.S. weapons in occupied territories in prima facie violation of the Arms Export Control Act; language restricting U.S. aid to Israel’s sovereign territory could be lifted from previous conditionality on U.S. loan guarantees.

- Establish transparent mechanisms for weapons transfers to Israel. Under the current MOU, Congress should end special treatments such as lump-sum payments of FMF to an Israeli-controlled, interest-bearing bank account. The State Department should create a tracking mechanism to determine which pieces of equipment go to which Israeli military units. Tracking these transfers is standard for all other countries, and without a mechanism, the United States cannot adequately vet for Leahy Law violations. The United States should make public the annual reports that Israel is required to submit to account for its OSP; the public has a right to know how tax dollars are being spent, and victims of human rights abuses should be able to lodge complaints with the State Department for Leahy Law violations.

- End long-term, massive, taxpayer commitments. Decade-long MOUs on weapons to Israel are antithetical to long-term U.S. interests and make it difficult to ensure weapons are leveraged to achieve these interests. The MOUs also make it harder to ensure that Israel faces consequences for violating U.S. laws. The current MOU lasts through FY2028. Given Israel’s advanced economy and U.S. complicity in Israel’s human rights violations, there is no reason to continue this handout. After the MOU expires, the United States should require Israel to purchase weapons. And selling weapons to Israel should proceed only after vigorous end-use monitoring is put into place to ensure that these weapons are for legitimate self-defense rather than for the perpetuation of Israeli occupation and colonization.


About the Authors

Josh Ruebner is Adjunct Lecturer in Justice and Peace Studies at Georgetown University and author of two books on Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Salih Booker is the president and CEO of the Center for International Policy. Previously, he served as the vice president of external relations at the United States Institute of Peace.

Zaha Hassan is a human rights lawyer and visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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


Tunisia: A Revolution Still Without Monuments

By Malek Lakhal, Arab Reform Initiative, 12 May 2021

Ten years on, Tunisia has yet to decide on how to publicly commemorate its revolution. This paper looks at the monuments of the revolution – or rather their absence – in the capital Tunis and how public spaces remain a deeply political arena torn between those who believe that the revolution was a breaking point in Tunisian national history and those who view it as no more than a small hiccup along the way.

It has been ten years since the resounding cry “Leave!” shook the formidable gates of the Ministry of Interior along the Habib Bourguiba Avenue at the heart of Tunis. Over the past ten years, the “Avenue” has become a labyrinth of barricades and barbed wire. Entire areas have become pedestrian-only due to police barriers, and large sections of sidewalks are no longer accessible to the public. This includes where the Equestrian Statue of Bourguiba has stood since 2016, on top of a marble base several meters high, a small distance away from its original spot, having been moved one year after Ben Ali’s coup d'état. In what was then known as the November 7 Square, Ben Ali erected a first clock tower (where the number seven in “November 7” took the place of “six”) before replacing it with another, 32-meter-high tower in 2000, which still stands to this day. A few days after the revolution, the November 7 Square was dubbed the 14 January 2011 Square. However, if we were to visit the square today, we would have a hard time figuring out its new name. The large sign that should indicate its name reads “Habib Bourguiba Avenue” instead. The main revolution square was not even misnamed; it has simply become non-existent in the grand continuum of the Habib Bourguiba Avenue. This toponymic detail speaks volumes about the progressive elimination of the small marks that the Tunisian Revolution has left on public spaces in Tunis.

The silence of the revolution is in sharp contrast with the almost comical uproar that Ben Ali or Bourguiba stirred to solidify their presence in public spaces. In the case of Ben Ali, this was manifested through giant portraits, the number 7 (in reference to November 7, 1987, the date of the “medical” coup d'état that toppled Bourguiba), purple (his favorite color), and “silent clocks”1 in city centers. As for Bourguiba, he manifested his presence through busts, statues and, of course, “Habib Bourguiba Avenues” in almost all Tunisian cities.

The revolution, by contrast, did not leave much of a mark: A nearly invisible “14 January 2011” square; a “Mohamed Bouazizi Boulevard,” previously called the “7 November 1987 Avenue,” which is referred to today by its administrative name, the “National R21 Road;” and lastly a handful of marble plaques placed by families or neighbors as a tribute to the victims of State violence (referred to as “martyrs” in Tunisia), who died on the streets of some quarters. This article will tackle the official memory of the revolution - or rather the lack of thereof - in the capital. While this absence is attributed “officially” to administrative reasons, it nonetheless remains deeply political in nature. Given that this issue draws a clear fault line between those who believe that the revolution was a breaking point in national history and those who view it as no more than a small hiccup along the way, it also highlights the failure of the revolution’s proponents in transforming the revolutionary moment into a political prospect.

The Non-existent List: A political convenience

Officially, according to the Tunis Municipality, currently headed by Mayor Souad Abderrahim of Ennahda Movement, the construction of monuments was prevented by the lack of an official list of the revolution’s martyrs and wounded.2 This list was finally published in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Tunisia on March 19, 2021.

It took ten whole years of action and advocacy by the families of the wounded and martyrs for this list to finally see the light of day. Over the course of the past decade, at least four institutions have produced lists of martyrs and wounded persons: The Commission of the Martyrs and Wounded of the Revolution, which is a branch of the Higher Committee on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the authority that is officially in charge of producing this list; the Truth and Dignity Commission, which published its own list based on the complaints and testimonies submitted to it; the Ministry of Interior; and finally military tribunals.

While the Commission of the Martyrs and Wounded of the Revolution published a list on October 8 2019 on its website, it did not cross-check its list with those produced by other parties, particularly the Truth and Dignity Commission. Khayem Chemli, in charge of transitional justice at Lawyers Without Borders, says that, “The Commission of the Martyrs and Wounded of the Revolution has long refused to collaborate with the Truth and Dignity Commission, despite the fact that this could have saved considerable time and prevented errors.”3

The president of the Commission Taoufik Bouderbala himself said in December 2020 that it was not certain that the list was free of any errors or omissions. In fact, the list produced by the Commission and published in the Official Gazette includes only 129 deceased and 619 injured. For comparison, the Commission assigned the same task in February 2011, managed by none other than Taoufik Bouderbala, included 338 deceased and 2,147 wounded in its final report. These differences can be attributed in part to the definition adopted by the decree establishing the Commission of the Martyrs and Wounded of the Revolution at the Higher Committee on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

As per Article 6, “martyrs” are defined as “persons who have risked their lives for the revolution, who have died or who have suffered injuries resulting in disability between December 17, 2010 and February 28, 2011.” Moreover, during the Commission’s work, accusations of falsified medical certificates were addressed by Bouderbala against certain wounded persons. After the publication of the list in the Official Gazette, challenges must be brought in the form of complaints before the Administrative Tribunal, which has received more than two thousand appeals since the publication of the list on the Commission’s website in October 2019.

In addition to the confusion surrounding the list, the Prime Ministry delayed its publication in the Official Gazette. Since its publication online by the Commission in 2019, there have been several announcements stating that the list would soon be published in the Official Gazette. On March 19, 2021, the list was finally published, two days after Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi announced it. Khayem Chemli believed that this delay was political:

"Under Béji Caïd Essebsi and Youssef Chahed, the climate was hostile towards transitional justice in general and towards any recognition of the revolution. The work of the Truth and Dignity Commission was obstructed by all ministers [...] Under Kais Saied, the government of Elyes Fakhfekh (February - September 2020) gave priority to transitional justice, which is why the report of the Truth and Dignity Commission was published in the Official Gazette. However, [his successor] Hichem Mechichi is being manipulated by Ennahda and Qalb Tunis, two parties opposed to transitional justice. Politically speaking, the entire political class is responsible for this fiasco."4

From December through January, the families of martyrs and the wounded occupied the headquarters of the General Authority of Resistance Fighters, Martyrs and Wounded of the Revolution and of Terrorist Operations. This took place in the aftermath of the police violence exhibited on December 17, 2020, the anniversary of the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi - and, for many Tunisians, the legitimate date for the commemoration of the revolution - during a protest organized near the Prime Minister’s headquarters. On that day, the wounded and the families of martyrs gathered to demand the publication of the list.

These same families and relatives are the ones who placed the very rare plaques in homage to the martyrs in public spaces in Tunis. These have mostly been private or collective initiatives done without the support of the central government and, barring a few exceptions, without the support of municipalities either. As such, a park at the heart of Tunis was named by local residents after Helmi Manai, the 23-year-old man who was killed by law enforcement on January 13, 2011. In western Kram, in the northern suburb of Tunis, a marble plaque pays tribute to the eight people killed by the police in the neighborhood in January 2011. There is also a plaque to which a roundabout was added in 2019, after being commissioned from an artist by the Municipality.

Local Choices with Political Motivations

The Municipality of Kram is one of the very few municipalities across the country which erected a monument, of its own free will, in homage to the revolution.

Fathi Laayouni, mayor of the Kram Municipality, who was elected during the 2018 municipal elections, is known for his disputes with the central government after establishing a Zakat fund, as well as for his disputes with Kais Saied and for his eccentric roundabouts.5 Since his election, roundabouts all over the city have been adorned with sculptures (a sea turtle, a 1948 map of Palestine with a drone hovering over it, a coronavirus molecule being crushed by a caduceus representing the healthcare sector, etc.) which have become the subject of ridicule on social media and in the press. One of these roundabouts, at the entrance of western Kram (nowadays known as Kram-ville), pays tribute to the eight martyrs who died in January 2011 in this popular neighborhood in Tunis. According to Laayouni, the lack of a list was never an obstacle to the construction of the monument:

“It’s a small town, everyone knows each other. Residents know who the martyrs are. When our municipal council was elected, there was already a marble plaque with the names of the martyrs of Kram. The residents had put it there. We had no interest in the details of the official list. As you can see, they have yet to publish their list, even after ten years. We know our martyrs very well and we took the initiative to soothe the pain and suffering of the families and dedicate a place in the city for it,”6 he said in September 2020.

Now that the list of martyrs and wounded persons has been officially published, it is no surprise that the issue of paying tribute to the martyrs and the revolution in the capital will become more politicized, revealing each party’s position with regard to the legitimacy of what many of the previous regime’s supporters scornfully refer to as “the wheelbarrow revolution,” in reference to the fruit and vegetable cart that the police confiscated from Mohamed Bouazizi.

Speaking on behalf of the Tunis Municipality, Henda Belhaj Ali, municipal councilor and president of the Names and Monuments Commission, argues that one must be rigorous in choosing when to pay tribute “in order not to fall into the trap of populism, which undermines the value of such acts,”7 considering Laayouni to be a prominent example of a populist figure. To illustrate her view, she gives the example of a square in El Khadra quarter in Tunis called “Habib Bourguiba Square” before the revolution but renamed “Martyr X Square”8 (sic) immediately following the revolution. According to her, the martyr in question

“was not a militant and was not taking part in the protests. The young man, may God rest his soul, went out and lit a joint. A sniper stationed far away saw the flame, fired, and killed him [...] Should we dedicate a public square to that? [...] I believe that public squares or streets should be named after people who have offered something valuable to Tunisia. People who have sacrificed something. People who have taken part in protests, who knew the risks they were taking, who were willing to give it all to effect change in Tunisia, who have sacrificed; those are the people who deserve to have a square named after them.”

She adds: “We cannot put the name of a victim on a wall that will stay there for decades. A martyr, however, who took part in protests or who organized a protest, is more worthy of such an honor.”9

Therefore, the councilor is explicitly differentiating between “martyrs” and the victims of State violence. According to her, the “true” martyrs, the militants who take political stances, those have a place in history. As for the victims, they are not worthy of such an honor, as they are nothing more than collateral damage. This distinction can perhaps be attributed to the inability of the Tunisian State, formed after the independence, to recognize the full citizenship of those who have historically been relegated under the pretext of “backwardness” and the lack of certain characteristics: the lack of modernity, the lack of civilization, the lack of education, and, in this case, the lack of political motivation.10

According to Ali’s colleague Ahmed Bouazzi, municipal councilor in Tunis affiliated with the opposition “Democratic Current,” the lack of official monuments dedicated to the revolution is profoundly political. He believes that: “The political and executive powers and the Ministry of Interior are against the revolution and its memory.”11 According to him, two monuments symbolize the re-establishment of the previous regime: The Equestrian Statue of Bourguiba and the headstone in homage to the martyrs of the Ministry of Interior, located a few meters from one another. He explains:

“Placing a statue of Bourguiba right where the revolution took place is an act of revenge against the revolution, against the youth and the martyrs. It is a way of saying: we are back. As for the headstone, it is a statement by the Ministry of Interior, who is telling us, ‘we built this for our martyrs and you are not allowed to touch it or come near it. Whether you like it or not.’ 12 They know that nobody wants that headstone to be there. That’s why it is so inaccessible: they don’t want anyone to touch it.”

The two monuments are in fact inaccessible to the public. The statue of Bourguiba was shortly accessible following its inauguration, but the public was barred from coming near it after tags were sprayed on the base of the statue in 2016. As for the headstone of the Ministry of Interior, it is located within the very large perimeter that the Ministry has closed off for its own security. It has never been accessible to passers-by. Bouazzi goes on to say: “The capital is an area occupied by the Ministry of Interior. They do what they want. They place barriers wherever they want. The Municipality is helpless.”13

What Monuments for the Revolution?

Going beyond the unwillingness to celebrate a revolution that came to deconstruct the political narrative based on a consensual and modernist conception of national unity, Iheb Guermazi, architect and doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), believes that “the revolution has failed to define itself as an ideological project,” and, consequently, to be represented: “The revolution did not evolve from a moment to an idea. How can one represent a moment?” he asks.14

Guermazi believes that there are two interconnected reasons for this failure: On the one hand, narrative structures had been absent from public spaces for twenty-three years under Ben Ali; and on the other, the political establishment in Tunisia has refused to embrace the radical revolutionary moment.

In contrast with the doxa that Ben Ali was right to invest heavily in shaping public spaces to solidify his presence, Guermazi argues that the symbols of the Ben Ali era (the number “7,” the color purple, the clock towers in public squares) were empty shells, devoid of any meaningful narrative: Ben Ali wanted to hide the fact that he had nothing to say or add through an omnipresence of insignificance in public spaces. “The number 7 is merely that - a number [...] The clock towers are nothing more than that [...] All this was to say: ‘I am here, and I am not going anywhere.’ Twenty-five years after this void in representation, it was very unlikely that a sudden resurgence of meaningful representations would take place.”15

The rejection of radicality, the search for compromise and consensus, inherited from Ben Ali’s regime,16 and, more importantly, the inability to reinvent the national narrative to include the men and women who were left out during decades of power monopolization by coastal areas is another reason that Guermazi mentions to explain the revolution’s failure in leaving a mark on public spaces:

“The first three years of the revolution were a radical moment. The dictator was gone. The State of 1956 was in shambles. People wanted radical change. They wanted to feel the change in their own lives, not just at the level of their collective psyche. They wanted their daily lives to change; they wanted to reimagine themselves as individuals. Alas, the only people who could offer such a change in Tunisia were the jihadists.”

The alliance between Ennahda Movement and Nidaa Tounes reinstated the national narrative of Bourguiba, which Ennahda hastened to adopt. This alliance also sealed shut the already small window of opportunity for radical change.

However, this longing for a new life and a new dawn for the country and its people seems to still be present in at least part of the population, and the promise of radical change was in part echoed by Kais Saied. It is no coincidence that his election in November 2019 was quickly followed by a large-scale public space cleaning and embellishment campaign by citizens. In fact, the campaign was entitled « حالة وعي » (State of Consciousness), thereby signaling a reclamation of public space by citizens.

The lack of monuments in honor of the revolution is a sign of the refusal by the powers-that-be to acknowledge that the revolution has become part of the national narrative in its own right. For the moment, the national narrative of 1956 - that of great enlightened men and of modernization - still reigns supreme, despite being heavily contested. Under this narrative, the revolution is nothing more than a small hiccup along the way.

The few tributes to the unknown individuals who lost their lives while expressing their desire for change carry very little weight, even when they are recognized by local authorities. Public space remains a significant political issue which, given the various ways in which it is either confiscated by the State or reclaimed by citizens, reveals the fluctuation between the return to the old regime, where everyone would remain in their place, and the advent of democratization, where marginalized groups and those who have historically been left out of the national narrative can have a say.17


↑1 The term was coined by Iheb Guermazi.
↑2 As confirmed by municipal councilor Henda Belhaj Ali.
↑3 Interview with Khayem Chemli, Tunis. March 2021.
↑4 Interview with Khayem Chemli, Tunis. March 2021.
↑5 The author of this article is preparing a documentary on the roundabouts of Kram.
↑6 Interview with Fathi Laayouni, Kram, September 2020.
↑7 Interview with Henda Belhaj Ali, Tunis, February 2021.
↑8 The square is in fact called “Martyrs’ Square” and pays tribute to two martyrs who died during clashes with the police in January 2011: Elyes Krir (killed on January 16, 2011 while defending the neighborhood at night with other residents. Elyes was killed by an unidentified shooter in a black car according to witnesses) and Alaaeddine El Thairi. According to one of them, Alaaeddine El Thairi is mentioned in the definitive list of the martyrs of the revolution.
↑9 Interview with Henda Belhaj Ali, Tunis, February 2021.
↑10 Lakhal, Malek. The “lack” of citizenship in Tunisia: A critical reading. Masters dissertation. Paris. 2017.
↑11 Interview with Ahmed Bouazzi via telephone. Tunis. February 2021.
↑12 Bouazzi used the Arabic expression “فوق قلوبّكم.”
↑13 Interview with Ahmed Bouazzi via telephone. Tunis. February 2021.
↑14 Interview with Iheb Guermazi. Tunis. March 2021.
↑15 Interview with Iheb Guermazi. Tunis. March 2021.
↑16 Hibou Béatrice. The Force of Obedience: The Political Economy of Repression in Tunisia. Paris: Éditions La Découverte. 2006.
↑17 See: Rancière Jacques, On the Shores of Politics. Paris: Folio Essays. 2004

The views represented in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.


Cut methane emissions to avert global temperature rise, UN-backed study urges

NEW YORK - Methane emissions caused by human activity can be reduced by up to 45 per cent this decade, thus helping to keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change, according to a UN-backed report published on Thursday.

The Global Methane Assessment outlines the benefits of mitigating methane, a key ingredient in smog, which include preventing some 260,000 premature deaths and 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits annually, as well as 25 million tonnes in crop losses.

The study is the work of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), a global partnership of governments and non-State partners, and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

‘Strongest lever’

“Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years and complements necessary efforts to reduce carbon dioxide. The benefits to society, economies, and the environmental are numerous and far outweigh the cost”, said Inger Andersen, the UNEP Executive Director.

Methane is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas, responsible for around 30 per cent of warming since the pre-industrial era.

Most human-caused methane emissions come from three sectors: fossil fuels, such as oil and gas processing; landfills and waste; and agriculture, chiefly related to livestock.

Emissions ever increasing

The report underscores why international action is urgently needed as human-caused methane emissions are increasing faster than at any time since record keeping began in the 1980s.

Even with the COVID-19 pandemic causing an economic slowdown in 2020, which prevented another record year for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, data from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows the amount of methane in the atmosphere reached record levels last year.

The good news

However, unlike CO2, which stays in the atmosphere for centuries, methane breaks down quickly and most is gone after a decade, meaning action can rapidly reduce the rate of global warming in the near-term.

Methane accounts for nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to Rick Duke, Senior Advisor to John Kerry, the US Special Presidential Envoy on Climate Change.

“The United States is committed to driving down methane emissions both at home and globally—through measures like research and development, standards to control fossil and landfill methane, and incentives to address agricultural methane”, he said.

Solutions readily available

The Assessment identifies readily available solutions that would reduce methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, mainly in the fossil fuel sector. Most, or around 60 per cent, are low cost and half have “negative costs”, meaning companies will make money from taking action.

So-called “mitigation potential” varies between countries and regions, according to the report. For example, whereas the largest potential in Europe and India is in the waste sector, in China it is from coal production and livestock, while in Africa it is from livestock followed by oil and gas.

“But targeted measures alone are not enough”, the partners warned. “Additional measures that do not specifically target methane, like a shift to renewable energy, residential and commercial energy efficiency, and a reduction in food loss and waste, can reduce methane emissions by a further 15 per cent by 2030.”

Drew Shindell, a Professor of Climate Science at Duke University in the USA, who chaired the assessment for the CCAC, said urgent steps must be taken to reduce methane emissions this decade.

“To achieve global climate goals, we must reduce methane emissions while also urgently reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” Dr Shindell said. “The good news is that most of the required actions bring not only climate benefits but also health and financial benefits, and all the technology needed is already available.”

New Technologies and Nuclear Disarmament: Outlining a Way Forward

STOCKHOLM - SIPRI has published a new report titled “New Technologies and Nuclear Disarmament: Outlining a Way Forward”.

This report sheds light on the impact of recent military-technological advancements on nuclear deterrence and disarmament. Noting that progress towards multilateral disarmament is hardly possible without prior and significant reductions in the largest nuclear weapon arsenals, the report views the resumption of bilateral arms control between Russia and the United States as the most important step towards disarmament at the present moment. It argues that these two countries should move away from their cold war era nuclear doctrines, which seek an ability to win nuclear wars, towards a policy of ‘minimal nuclear deterrence’, that is focused on deterring a nuclear attack.

In line with doctrinal changes, further cuts in Russian and US nuclear stockpiles could be achieved by removing nuclear weapons from regional conflict dynamics, meaning that they would no longer serve as a deterrent against conventional aggression. Such a change would help to reduce nuclear risks without undermining regional deterrence, as each side already has robust conventional forces comprised of precision-strike weapons and other advanced military systems.

At the same time, the report notes that progress towards nuclear disarmament would be complicated by long-range precision-strike weapons and strategic missile defences, which have raised the bar for credible nuclear deterrence by creating uncertainty about US adversaries’ second-strike capabilities. Lowering that bar and eventually reducing the perceived need for nuclear deterrence will require creative arms control diplomacy, including limits on strategic missile defences; stronger norms against both nuclear and conventional aggression; as well as a clear stigma against nuclear weapons.

For the full report, visit:

About the author

Tytti Erästö (Finland) is a Senior Researcher in the SIPRI Nuclear Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-proliferation Programme.


Is a war between Egypt and Ethiopia brewing on the Nile?


By Olivier Caslin, Hossam Rabie, The Africa Report, 06 May 2021

At the start of April, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi spoke up for the first time using very direct words against any action that would take away any drop if its water resources. In this second part of our series, we examine how likely military action is between the two.

In response to Addis Ababa’s announcement of plans to begin the second phase of filling the reservoir behind the dam under construction on the Blue Nile, Cairo — backed by a growing chorus of countries, including Sudan — said it will not allow a soul to hijack its water resources and is willing to use force to defend them.

Is a war brewing on the Nile? An impasse has set in less than two months before the deadline of what amounts to an ultimatum — issued by Egypt and Sudan — calling on Ethiopia to reverse its plans to move forward with the second phase of filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

The gulf continues to widen between Egypt and Ethiopia in a dispute that dates back to April 2011, when Addis Ababa took the unilateral decision to divert waters from the Blue Nile to fill what is set to become, by the end of 2022, the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa.

Cairo is invoking its historical rights over the waterway, while Addis Ababa views the dam as a matter of national sovereignty. Both positions have become irreconcilable, with the two countries’ assorted leaders doubling down on their stances over the course of the decade-long feud.
Threats of military action

Ethiopia’s response to Egypt’s veto power over Nile projects — a vestige of British colonial rule — that the country continues to believe it enjoys, has been to impose a fait accompli.

As far as their respective populations are concerned, they manipulate symbols to stir up nationalist pride and prey on fears. For instance, Addis Ababa has talked up how the dam will benefit Ethiopia’s economic development by meeting its power needs, among other things.

For the rest of the article, visit:



DR Congo: No Grace Period for the New Government

By Onesphore Sematumba , International Crisis Group, 05 May 2021

After months of political manoeuvring, President Félix Tshisekedi has unshackled himself from his predecessor Joseph Kabila. His new government majority gives him more power to act. In this Q&A, however, Crisis Group expert Onesphore Sematumba explains that Tshisekedi’s troubles are not over.


What is the background to the new government’s formation?

The 26 April investiture of President Félix Tshisekedi’s new parliamentary majority, known as the Sacred Union, marks the end of a long period in which the president remained under the strong influence of his predecessor, Joseph Kabila. Prime Minister Sama Lukonde presented his new team on 12 April and parliament endorsed it almost unanimously (with 410 of the 412 deputies present voting in favour), despite tensions over the division of ministerial posts. The new government gives Tshisekedi the freedom to push ahead with his reform program during the remainder of his five-year term in office.

After the controversial 2018 election that ushered Tshisekedi into power amid allegations of fraud from some observers, including the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo, the new president had little choice but to accept Kabila’s continued control over politics in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Kabila’s coalition, the Front commun pour le Congo (FCC), won the legislative elections, securing 342 of 500 seats in the National Assembly. The FCC also attained overwhelming majorities in almost all provincial government and parliamentary elections. These victories emboldened Kabila to place his own allies in important institutions and state ministries at both the provincial and national levels.

From the outset, disagreements undermined the coalition set up after the 2018 elections between Kabila’s FCC and Tshisekedi’s Cap pour le Changement (CACH); their incessant deadlocks prevented institutions from functioning properly. Although the coalition gave CACH the opportunity to take part in government despite its weak legislative presence, with fewer than 50 deputies, Tshisekedi was, in effect, unable to govern. After Tshisekedi was sworn in as president, on 24 January 2019, it took five months for the two partners to agree on the appointment of Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba as prime minister. Ilunga then formed a 67-member government, with the FCC securing key ministries such as defence, justice and mining.

Faced with this challenge, Tshisekedi started to weaken the former president and to counter the FCC’s influence upon government bodies by pulling Kabila deputies into his own camp. Deputies who remained loyal to the former president have protested that Tshisekedi used undemocratic methods in this manoeuvring. By appointing three new judges to the Constitutional Court in October 2020, the president secured the loyalty of this institution, which was once suspected of being in Kabila’s service. In November, Tshisekedi launched political consultations, including with civil society groups, leading to the coalition’s dissolution one month later. He then looked to form a new majority. The Constitutional Court allowed parliamentarians to leave their former political groups and join new alliances. This decision gave deputies the opportunity to switch political allegiance without the risk of being let go by their original parties and consequently losing their seats. In this way, Tshisekedi persuaded numerous FCC deputies to join the new Sacred Union majority, alongside opposition heavyweights Moïse Katumbi and Jean-Pierre Bemba.

Tshisekedi then secured a series of further victories over Kabila, shifting the balance of power in his own favour. Between December 2020 and January 2021, the new government majority’s deputies toppled via successive motions the presidents of the National Assembly and of the Senate, as well as Prime Minister Ilunga and his government. On 15 February, following negotiations between different Sacred Union factions, Tshisekedi named Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde as the DRC’s new prime minister. Originally from Grand Katanga and former CEO of the country’s largest mining company, Gécamines, the 43-year-old Lukonde belongs to a small political party without a single seat in the National Assembly called Avenir du Congo. Lacking any real political clout and without ambitions for the 2023 elections, the government’s new leader is likely to work in Tshisekedi’s shadow, allowing the president to carry out his policies unhindered during the last two years of his presidency.

Forming a new government was the prime minister’s first test. Upon his appointment, Lukonde pledged to form a solid government team to address the country’s problems. After two months’ horse trading of ministerial posts within the new majority, the 57-member government is hardly less bloated than its predecessor. A full 80 per cent of its ministers are new faces, however, as opposed to the previous government where some ministers had already served under Kabila, under his father and predecessor Laurent, and even under the DRC’s long-time dictator, Joseph Mobutu.

What challenges await this new government?

Controlling the various forces within his new coalition is Tshisekedi’s immediate challenge. The thorny negotiations to form the Sacred Union government show the precariousness of a majority that rallied to displace Kabila but lacks a shared political agenda.

Cracks began to appear in the coalition almost as soon as the government was proclaimed on 12 April. Almost 200 of the deputies who had defected from Kabila’s FCC set up a “coalition of revolutionary deputies” to protest the imbalance in the new government. Some provinces had several ministries; others had none. They accused Lukonde of failing to reward their “shift of allegiance” with a government position. On 14 April, in a memorandum addressed to Tshisekedi, this group threatened to block the investiture of Lukonde’s government unless their demands for change were met. On 26 April, after the prime minister and Tshisekedi met with the deputies, the National Assembly expressed its trust in the new government and endorsed its ambitious program with a decisive majority. At the end of a chaotic plenary session in a hall taken over by militants from the president’s party, the deputies cast their vote of confidence without proper debate.

Another weakness of this team is the plethora of decision-making entities prone to causing deadlocks within the coalition government. First, the appointment of powerful opposition figures to deputy prime minister positions, particularly Eve Bazaiba, secretary general of Bemba’s Mouvement pour la libération du Congo, and Christophe Lutundula, a senior official in Katumbi’s Ensemble pour la République, will severely restrict Tshisekedi’s room for manoeuvre within a Sacred Union where he will not be the only captain aboard ship. The other leaders of political parties belonging to the Sacred Union will also use their positions to ensure that their interests are being catered to. They will constantly be coercing their allies in ministerial posts to steer the governments’ choices. Such a situation could hamper Tshisekedi’s plans to develop a single, non-partisan program of government.

Indeed, the prospect of general elections in December 2023, when the big names in Lukonde’s government are likely to stand as candidates, could soon cause tensions and generate rivalries, destabilising the government. The president should also be alert to potential manoeuvres by the two opposition luminaries, Bemba and Katumbi, as well as by other potential candidates such as Tshisekedi’s former ally and chief of staff, Vital Kamerhe, imprisoned in 2020 for corruption. Kamerhe’s party has secured four ministries, where he has placed members of his inner circle. Although Kamerhe is barred from participating in any election for the next ten years, his party will influence votes in his stronghold, the South Kivu province, where it is running against Bahati Lukwebo’s party, the Senate’s current president. Although Bemba is unelectable after he was found guilty of corruption by the International Criminal Court, a political decision by Tshisekedi could still give him a route back to the political arena. Katumbi, meanwhile, has already begun to prepare his party in the country’s 26 provinces ahead of the forthcoming elections.

Will this government be able to cope with violence in the eastern DRC?

As Tshisekedi said after receiving the deputies on 24 April, the government’s “top priority” is to put an end to violence in eastern DR Congo. Since the beginning of April, the population in the east has been protesting the ineffective presence of UN peacekeepers and the Congolese army amid massacres and other violence by armed groups. In North Kivu, where Uganda’s Allied Democratic Forces are generally believed to be responsible for atrocities, people are increasingly defiant of the central government. In Ituri, after a period of relative calm, supporters of the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo launched a new round of attacks on the civilian population. In South Kivu, local Mai-Mai militia groups and rebels from other countries such as Burundians in the Résistance pour le droit au Burundi (RED-Tabara) are targeting civilians in the high plateau around Uvira. And in Katanga, Gédéon Kyungu’s Bakata-Katanga group and other armed men continue to terrorise locals on the basis of secessionist claims.

Tshisekedi has so far responded to the security challenges in eastern DRC by using force. His announcement of a state of siege in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces on 1 May – imposing martial law – has shown this once again. Yet his army has achieved only limited success on the ground. Both in North Kivu and in Ituri, armed groups have been remarkably quick to reoccupy positions previously lost to the army.

Considering its military campaigns’ poor results, the government should now explore different approaches to deal with armed groups. To this end, it should accelerate implementation of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) program aiming to reintegrate former fighters into the community. This initiative was agreed upon with the main donors in November 2020, but then blocked due to the political stalemate in Kinshasa. Organising a large demobilisation campaign is a major undertaking, however. The government should learn the lessons from previous DDR programs that failed mainly due to lack of political commitment from Congolese authorities and their inability to resolve underlying causes of violence. If the demobilisation campaign falls short of its aims, Tshisekedi and his government would once again have to resort to military force in order to combat militia groups.

Kinshasa’s new political situation should help Tshisekedi in his task; he has a new team in place and no longer faces the distraction of tussles with his predecessor. But he will need to accommodate a government that encompasses a range of disparate interests, as well as individual and group-based rivalries among the parties involved that could carry the seeds of future deadlocks. He must also manage the conditions set out by donors who expect him to turn the page on the Kabila era before releasing their funds.

Tshisekedi needs to tackle the issue of armed groups as a matter of urgency. “There’s no time to lose”, tweeted Katumbi on 26 April, adding that “Sama Lukonde’s new government paves the way to peace in the east”. Tshisekedi should now get to work. Some political leaders are already suspected of having reached agreements with armed actors before the 2023 elections, in order to put political pressure on Kinshasa, or possibly to trigger violence if their demands are not met. Tshisekedi, who now has the necessary institutional scope for action, must do everything in his power to cut the links between armed groups and politicians who, since the 1990s, have used them for their own political or financial ends. This is the only way for the DRC to benefit from his promised reforms.


Violence in Somalia, Déby’s Death and Islamist Militancy in Africa

By Richard Atwood, Interim President, International Crisis Group, 04 May 2021

In his Interim President’s Take on this month’s CrisisWatch, Richard Atwood looks at what Somalia’s political crisis and Chadian President’s Idriss Déby’s death mean for Africa’s struggles against Islamist militancy.


For decades, the centre of gravity of jihadist militancy swung between South Asia and the Middle East


In the early 1990s, Arab volunteers who had been fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan returned home to battle governments they declared un-Islamic. Later that decade, as those rebellions petered out, many fighters retreated to Afghanistan, then under Taliban control. After the 9/11 attacks and the U.S.-backed ouster of the Taliban, foreign militants who weren’t killed or captured mostly hid in the Pakistani tribal areas or scattered. Then came the 2003 U.S. Iraq war, which breathed new life into global jihadism. Thousands of militants travelled to fight U.S. soldiers in the heart of the Arab world. That rebellion was also beaten back, in part by a U.S.-sponsored tribal revolt tapping local anger at jihadists’ brutality. The descent of the 2011 Arab uprisings into chaos created new opportunity for militants, paving the way for the Islamic State’s (ISIS) self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria, its expansion elsewhere and the growth of local al-Qaeda branches.

Since the ISIS caliphate’s collapse in Iraq and Syria, however, it’s sub-Saharan Africa that has suffered some of the fiercest battles against jihadists. 

Weak states across the continent struggle to contain often dogged and nimble militant factions operating over vast hinterlands where central authorities hold little sway. Parts of the Sahel have seen spiralling bloodshed, in large part due to fighting involving jihadists whose reach has extended from northern Mali to the country’s centre, into Niger and across rural Burkina Faso. Boko Haram’s jihadist insurgents have lost the swathes of north-eastern Nigeria they controlled some years ago and the movement has fractured. But its splinter groups still menace areas around Lake Chad. In East Africa, Al-Shabaab’s decade-and-a-half-long rebellion remains potent. Militants control large parts of Somalia’s rural south, operate shadow courts and tax or extort people far beyond those areas, and mount attacks in neighbouring countries. Add to this picture a new front: in northern Mozambique, local insurgents, whom ISIS claims fight under its banner, have escalated attacks on security forces and civilians, forcing nearly a million people to flee their homes.

Two things happened this past month that could play an outsized role in shaping jihadists’ fortunes in Africa.

The first, as this month’s CrisisWatch entry documents, is the nosedive Somali politics have taken.

That owes a great deal to Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo”. When Farmajo came to power in 2017, many welcomed him as a reformer able to tackle the graft and bridge the divides that had long plagued Somali politics. Those expectations lie in tatters. Farmajo’s tenure has been marked by bitter disputes, increasingly along clan lines, pitting his government against rivals in the capital Mogadishu and leaders of some of Somalia’s regions. It’s not all Farmajo’s fault: Gulf Arab powers, in particular, have widened the rifts by picking sides. But the president’s divisive rule bears much of the blame.

The standoff boiled over these past few weeks. After months of stuttering talks over voting procedures, Somalia’s Parliament extended Farmajo’s term in office. His rivals, infuriated by the decision, brought loyal security forces into parts of Mogadishu. Farmajo deployed his own loyalists to take back those areas. Fighting on the capital’s streets was, to many residents, alarmingly reminiscent of the 1990s civil war when rival clans battled street-to-street. Farmajo has since dropped the term extension and violence has ebbed. But the path to credible elections, which are necessary to turn the page, is still fraught.

How’s this relevant to Islamist militancy? Put simply, the crisis plays straight into Al-Shabaab’s hands.

Factions in Somalia’s security forces, including those trained by foreign governments to combat Al-Shabaab, are now facing off against each other. Not just that – units flooding into Mogadishu in support of political leaders have vacated their positions on front lines, leaving room for Al-Shabaab to move in. The infighting shows once again – also to militants themselves – how hard it will be to build a coherent Somali army from units loyal to squabbling factions, especially with clan divisions now rubbed raw. It also shows that for a Somali political elite set on retaining or winning power, fighting Al-Shabaab is at best a second-tier priority.

There are other perils, too. Al-Shabaab tends to exploit local anger, backing marginalised clans or those seeking revenge against rivals. It has traditionally done so locally, rather than in national-level disputes. But the worse those disputes get, the more likely factions are to see benefit in tactical alliances with militants. Moreover, the longer the crisis continues, the less thought anyone gives to peace talks, which at some point will probably be necessary, given the low prospects of defeating Al-Shabaab militarily. Any negotiations already face an uphill battle, given opposition from East African regional heavyweights and scant evidence that militant leaders are themselves interested. But if Al-Shabaab’s Somali enemies are divided, hope for such talks vanishes altogether.

The second thing that happened was the death of Chadian President Idriss Déby, reportedly killed on the front lines amid fighting against (non-jihadist) rebels in the country’s north (see the CrisisWatch entry, plus our Q&A on the topic).

Déby portrayed his army as the linchpin of efforts against militants in the Lake Chad basin and the Sahel. Chadian forces often spearheaded operations against Boko Haram splinters (indeed, in the words of one official involved, the best way to understand the anti-Boko Haram multinational force comprising Lake Chad states is that “it gives Chadian forces permission to fight militants on Nigerian soil”). Chadian troops also do a lot of the fighting with jihadists in the Sahel, whether together with French counter-terrorism forces or as part of the G5 Sahel regional force or the UN mission in Mali.

There have been problems aplenty with the French-led, military-first approach that Chadian forces have often been the sharp end of. Operations frequently see abuses against civilians. They’ve sometimes entailed support for local militias whose struggles with jihadists have, particularly in the Sahel, fuelled rampant inter-ethnic violence, which is arguably as big a danger to the region as jihadism itself. Ideally, Déby’s demise would herald the rethink in Paris that Crisis Group has long called for and which would see military offensives subservient to a strategy rooted more in efforts to resolve local conflicts, including potentially talking to militant leaders.

Still, even were that to happen, force would remain necessary, at least to keep militants at bay. Other leaders in the Sahel are watching apprehensively to see if the new military council in Chad, led by Déby’s son, that has taken over after his death, pulls back Chadian forces from operations abroad to deal with unrest at home.

That unrest is another reason to watch what happens after Déby’s passing. Some years ago, when ISIS was at its peak, Crisis Group put out a paper called “Exploiting Disorder: al-Qaeda and the Islamic State”. As the title suggests, one of the report’s core points was that jihadists tend to do well in conditions of state collapse. They’re rarely able to start wars themselves but grow or move in afterward when things fall apart.

We even cited Chad as an example of how Western leaders miss the forest for the trees. The gravest threat to the country’s stability, we said, emanated not from Islamist militancy but from Déby’s personalised rule and accumulation of power – a trend exacerbated by his tightening alliance with Western powers and the training they gave his forces to fight jihadists elsewhere. Without reform, he risked leaving chaos behind. Today, the dangers are all too apparent: the risk that protests at the military council’s rule meet harsh crackdowns by security forces; the threat posed by Chadian rebels in the country’s north or based in Libya; even potential splits in the army. Paradoxically, jihadists could stand to profit from any crisis, despite not having had an initial hand in it, much as they have done elsewhere.

True, we should be careful today neither to be alarmist nor make what’s happening in Chad or Somalia primarily about Islamist militancy. Many Chadians see Déby’s death as an opportunity to turn the page on decades of military rule, not something that Western leaders should view through the lens of its impact on counter-terrorism. In Somalia, the factional rivalries themselves arguably pose a graver danger even than Al-Shabaab. In some ways, making events in either place predominantly about jihadists would perpetuate exactly the overemphasis on counter-terrorism that has skewed Western policymaking so destructively over the past two decades.

Still, Somalia’s political crisis and the perils after Déby’s death serve as a reminder that jihadists’ fortunes tend to be shaped by geopolitics and by opportunities created more by others than by militants themselves. That’s as true in Africa today as it has been throughout many decades of fighting in Afghanistan, during the 2003 Iraq war and the post-2011 chaos in the Middle East. It’s not that counter-terrorism policy doesn’t matter: done well, good intelligence gathering and policing, careful military operations plus, importantly, knowing when to negotiate, can disrupt attacks and close space for militants. But in the end, the bigger determinant of whether jihadists make further gains in Africa or a post-ISIS revival in the Middle East will probably be whether there is new disorder for them to exploit. The best counter-terrorism policy, in other words, remains one that’s rooted in efforts to avert more wars or upheaval. At the very least, it shouldn’t set the stage for them.


South-western Niger: Preventing a New Insurrection

International Crisis Group, 29 April 2021

In south-western Niger, organised banditry could reinforce mistrust between ethnic groups and foster insurgencies that jihadists could exploit. The Nigerien authorities should take action to remedy the injustices experienced by communities living off livestock, initiate intercommunal dialogues and better supervise fledgling self-defence groups.


What’s new? Under the influence of armed groups operating from Nigeria, organised banditry is spreading to south-western Niger, along a border strip between the towns of Maradi and Dogondoutchi. This phenomenon reinforces mistrust between ethnic groups, paving the way for the emergence of armed insurrection.

Why does it matter? Jihadist groups – which are already present in this border zone – often exploit communal violence to enlist new fighters. As they take root, they could open a new front against the Nigerien state and threaten to encircle Niamey, the capital.

What should be done? Niger’s authorities should complement their current security efforts with preventive measures aimed primarily at: remedying the injustices experienced by communities living off livestock; initiating intercommunal dialogue; and better supervising fledgling self-defence groups.


Executive Summary


Under the influence of gangs operating out of Nigeria, banditry is spreading in south-western Niger. Along a border strip stretching between the Nigerien towns of Maradi and Dogondoutchi (or Doutchi), armed bandits have stolen entire herds and kidnapped hundreds of villagers. Many of the marauders are driven by greed, but others – in particular nomads whose pastoral livelihoods are imperilled by farmland expansion – take up arms to defend their families and property or to avenge injustices. In reaction, sedentary border zone residents have been forming fledgling self-defence groups. The insecurity risks creating the conditions for an insurrection that jihadists could exploit. The Nigerien authorities are mobilising their security apparatus to respond to the new threats. They should also redress grievances of herders impoverished by the pastoral crisis, reducing their incentive to take up arms, while pursuing intercommunal dialogue, monitoring self-defence groups and disarming bandits who pose a particular danger.

Cross-border banditry is not new along the strip linking Maradi to Dogondoutchi. For decades, it has fuelled organised criminal networks that transformed in the early 2010s due to external dynamics, primarily the war in Libya. Since 2011, the Libyan war economy has revolved around trafficking, which has facilitated illicit flows (notably of drugs and fuel) from Nigeria through Niger. Flowing in the opposite direction, weapons from Qaddafi-era stocks are supplying criminals in countries to the south. Concentrated in Nigeria’s northern states in the 2010s, these gangs have become specialised in cattle rustling, kidnapping and targeted killing. Starting in the middle of the decade, they exported their violence to the Nigerien side of the border: to Maradi from 2016, and then to Tahoua in 2019. The bandits have ties to the cross-border trafficking networks, and they recruit from all the ethnic groups in the region (Hausa, Tuareg and Fulani).

The new banditry is giving birth to new forms of violence, as the pastoral crisis hits the regions of Tahoua, Maradi and Dosso. The expansion of agricultural land greatly reduces the space available for livestock to graze, leading to pastoralists’ progressive impoverishment and sparking conflict between them and other land users, especially crop farmers. Many herders have come to see joining the bandits as a way of saving their livelihoods and protecting themselves from cattle rustling, as well as sometimes reaching a position of power. This trend was already significant in Nigeria and is now spreading into Niger. Some bandits remain simple criminals, but others, notably among the Fulani, have become public figures respected as defenders of the community.

The communal aspect of banditry threatens social cohesion in south-western Niger, as it does in north-western Nigeria. Sedentary border zone residents have come to associate banditry with the Fulani, who make up the majority of the area’s nomadic population. To protect themselves from bandits, villagers in the Maradi region are forming self-defence groups that are predominantly Hausa. These groups exclude pastoralists – and especially Fulani – due to prejudice linking them to bandits, even though they may be victims of rustling and kidnapping themselves. The Fulani are thus driven toward bandit groups to seek protection.

An armed insurrection against the state is becoming a real danger amid the communal violence, as the region is increasingly arousing the interest of jihadist groups from the Sahel and north-eastern Nigeria. The close link between jihadists and bandits is already evident elsewhere in the Sahel. The border strip extending from Dogondoutchi to Birni N’Konni (or Konni) is already a supply corridor for the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, which has anchored itself here since 2018, even attempting to collect a protection tax. Jihadists could take shelter in the scattered woods along the border from Maradi to Dogondoutchi, which already serve as a refuge for bandits. Finally, from north-eastern Nigeria, Jama’tu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (JAS), more commonly known as Boko Haram, and Ansaru, a JAS dissident group, are trying to move into Nigeria’s north west and closer to the south west of bordering Niger.

Niger reacted very early to the deteriorating situation along the border strip. The authorities have strengthened security measures, but these remain insufficient. Nigerien forces are deployed on many fronts across the country and are generally stretched thin. The effectiveness of their response to cross-border banditry depends on cooperation with Nigeria, which is longstanding but needs improvement. The two countries have strengthened cooperation amid the recent escalation of violence, but they are still doing too little to stop people from falling into banditry or an insurrection from emerging. Compared to other regions of Niger facing insurgencies, such as Tillabery and Diffa, this border strip has seen little investment from either the state or its partners.

To prevent an insurrection in this zone, it is essential to reduce the injustices experienced by pastoralists and to preserve social cohesion. The new president of Niger should thus make ranching a major policy area. Pastoralists should be better represented in land commissions and have access to more intermediaries to defend their rights. Such measures would encourage them to resort to law rather than force. The state should strictly supervise self-defence groups and establish communal dialogues as it has done elsewhere in Niger. Finally, the state must step up security efforts to prevent an epidemic of violence, in particular by strengthening cooperation with bordering states, though it should not rule out negotiations to demobilise certain bandit groups. For their part, Niger’s partners should take an interest in these areas before they face destabilisation, possibly funding a prevention program that Nigerien authorities would design and run.

Niamey/Brussels, 29 April 2021

For the full report, visit:



République Démocratique du Congo : pas de délai de grâce pour le nouveau gouvernement

Par Onesphore Sematumba , International Crisis Group, 05 Mai 2021

Après des mois de manœuvres politiques, le président Félix Tshisekedi s’est affranchi de son prédécesseur, Joseph Kabila et, à la suite de l’investiture d’un nouveau gouvernement issu de sa nouvelle majorité, il détient désormais l’effectivité du pouvoir. Dans ce Q&A, l’expert de Crisis Group Onesphore Sematumba explique que les difficultés ne semblent pourtant pas écartées.


Dans quel contexte politique s’inscrit ce gouvernement ?

L'investiture le 26 avril du premier gouvernement de l'« Union sacrée », la nouvelle majorité parlementaire du président Félix Tshisekedi, met fin à la période prolongée de domination du système politique par son prédécesseur Joseph Kabila. Suite à la nomination le 12 avril de la nouvelle équipe gouvernementale dirigée par le Premier ministre Sama Lukonde, celui-ci a obtenu le vote de confiance d’une large majorité des députés – 410 votes favorables sur 412 députés présents – malgré les tensions survenues autour de la répartition des postes ministériels. Avec l’investiture de ce gouvernement, Tshisekedi a désormais les coudées plus franches pour mettre en œuvre ses réformes pour le reste de son quinquennat.

Après l'élection controversée de 2018 qui a donné à Tshisekedi la présidence malgré de forts soupçons de fraude en sa faveur émis par certains observateurs, dont ceux de la Conférence épiscopale nationale du Congo, le nouveau président a été forcé d'accepter l'emprise continue de Kabila sur la politique et le pouvoir. Le Front commun pour le Congo (FCC), coalition de Kabila, a gagné les législatives, raflant 342 sièges sur les 500 à l’Assemblée nationale. Dans les provinces, le FCC avait également remporté la quasi-totalité des gouvernements et des parlements provinciaux. Ces résultats ont permis à Kabila de négocier en faveur de ses propres alliés d'importantes institutions et ministères d'Etat aux niveaux national et provincial.

La coalition entre le FCC de Kabila et le Cap pour le Changement (CACH) de Tshisekedi, formée après ces élections, a connu des tensions depuis ses débuts, donnant lieu à une épreuve de force faite de négociations et de blocages interminables qui ont paralysé le fonctionnement des institutions. Cette coalition a permis au CACH de participer au gouvernement en dépit de son maigre score aux législatives – avec moins de 50 députés – mais elle a néanmoins empêché Tshisekedi de gouverner. Alors que ce dernier avait prêté serment le 24 janvier 2019, il fallut cinq mois pour que les deux partenaires conviennent de la nomination de Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba au poste de Premier ministre. Celui-ci a, par la suite, formé un gouvernement de 67 membres au sein duquel le FCC occupait les postes clés tels que la Défense, la Justice et les Mines.

Face à ce défi, Tshisekedi a entrepris de desserrer l’étau du FCC et de briser l’emprise de Kabila sur les institutions en débauchant les députés alliés de Kabila, usant de méthodes que les députés restés fidèles à l’ancien président ont jugées non démocratiques. En nommant trois nouveaux juges à la Cour constitutionnelle en octobre 2020, le président s’est assuré la loyauté de cette institution soupçonnée naguère d’avoir été au service de Kabila. En novembre, Tshisekedi a initié des consultations politiques élargies aux composantes de la société civile qui ont abouti, un mois plus tard, à la proclamation de la dissolution de la coalition. Il a entrepris de recréer une nouvelle majorité. La Cour constitutionnelle, en permettant aux membres du Parlement de sortir de leurs regroupements politiques précédents et d’entrer dans de nouvelles alliances, a offert aux députés l’opportunité de changer de camp sans risquer d’être exclus de leurs partis d’origine et, partant, de perdre leurs sièges de députés. Ainsi, Tshisekedi a convaincu un grand nombre de députés du FCC de rejoindre la nouvelle majorité de l’Union sacrée, aux côtés des partisans des deux poids lourds de l’opposition, Moïse Katumbi et Jean-Pierre Bemba.

Tshisekedi a ensuite enregistré une série d’autres victoires sur Kabila, renversant le rapport de forces en sa faveur. De décembre 2020 à janvier 2021, les députés de la nouvelle majorité ont destitué par motions successives les présidents de l’Assemblée nationale et du Sénat ainsi que le Premier ministre Ilunga et son gouvernement. Le 15 février, suite à des négociations entre les différentes composantes de l’Union sacrée, Tshisekedi a nommé Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde au poste de nouveau Premier ministre. Originaire du Grand Katanga et ancien directeur général de la principale compagnie minière du pays, la Gécamines, le jeune Premier ministre, 43 ans, est issu de l’Avenir du Congo (ACO), un petit parti politique sans assise nationale. Dépourvu d’une réelle stature et sans ambition affichée pour les élections prévues pour 2023, le nouveau chef de gouvernement devrait travailler dans l’ombre du président, ce qui permettrait à ce dernier de mettre en œuvre sa politique pour les deux dernières années du quinquennat.

La formation du gouvernement a été la première épreuve du nouveau Premier ministre. Dès sa nomination, celui-ci a promis de mettre rapidement en place une équipe gouvernementale resserrée et prête à prendre les problèmes du pays à bras-le-corps. Néanmoins, après deux mois de tractations autour des postes ministériels à l’intérieur de la nouvelle majorité, le gouvernement est à peine moins pléthorique que le précédent, avec 57 membres. Mais 80 pour cent de ses ministres sont de nouvelles figures, ce qui marque une certaine rupture par rapport à la précédente équipe gouvernementale, dont certains ministres étaient aux affaires depuis les régimes de Joseph Kabila, de son père et prédécesseur Laurent Kabila, et de l’ancien dictateur Joseph Mobutu.

À quels défis ce nouveau gouvernement est-il confronté ?

Le défi immédiat pour Tshisekedi sera de contrôler toutes les différentes forces au sein de sa nouvelle coalition. Les difficiles négociations qui ont abouti à la formation de ce nouveau gouvernement sont symptomatiques de la fragilité de sa nouvelle majorité, formée autour du consensus pour déboulonner Kabila mais sans projet politique commun à mettre en place.

À peine le gouvernement proclamé le 12 avril, la coalition a déjà commencé à montrer ses premières fissures. Près de 200 députés transfuges du FCC de Kabila se sont constitués en une « coalition des députés révolutionnaires » pour dénoncer les déséquilibres dans le nouveau gouvernement, certaines provinces ayant bénéficié de plusieurs ministères alors que d’autres n’en ont aucun. Ils ont accusé Sama Lukonde de n’avoir pas récompensé leur « traversée » par leur intégration au gouvernement. Le 14 avril, à travers un mémorandum adressé à Tshisekedi, ce groupe a menacé de bloquer l’investiture du gouvernement Sama Lukonde si les ajustements n’étaient pas faits pour répondre à leurs frustrations. Le 26 avril, après que le Premier ministre et Tshisekedi ont rencontré les députés, l’Assemblée nationale a cependant accordé sa confiance au nouveau gouvernement et entériné son ambitieux programme à une majorité écrasante. A l’issue d’une plénière chaotique, dans une salle envahie par les militants du parti présidentiel, les députés ont voté la confiance sans véritable débat.

La pluralité des espaces de décision, susceptible de reproduire les blocages au sein du gouvernement de coalition, constitue l’autre faiblesse de cette équipe. D’abord, la nomination de fortes personnalités issues de l’opposition aux postes de vice-Premiers ministres, notamment Eve Bazaiba, secrétaire générale du Mouvement pour la libération du Congo de Bemba, et Christophe Lutundula, haut cadre d’Ensemble pour la République de Katumbi, va diminuer sensiblement la marge de manœuvre de Tshisekedi au sein d’une Union sacrée dont il ne sera pas tout à fait le seul maître à bord. Les autres dirigeants des partis politiques qui ont intégré l'Union sacrée utiliseront également leurs positions pour faire pression afin que leurs intérêts soient respectés. Ils pousseront en permanence leurs alliés promus ministres à peser sur les choix du gouvernement, ce qui pourrait entraver toute velléité de Tshisekedi de développer un programme gouvernemental unique et non partisan.

En effet, la perspective des élections générales de décembre 2023, auxquelles tout porte à croire que les grands protagonistes du gouvernement Sama Lukonde vont concourir, pourrait bientôt devenir un point de fixation et provoquer des rivalités préjudiciables à la cohésion gouvernementale. Le président devra également tenir compte des manœuvres des deux principaux poids lourds de l'opposition, Bemba et Katumbi, mais aussi d'autres candidats potentiels, comme l'ancien allié et directeur de cabinet de Tshisekedi, Vital Kamerhe, emprisonné depuis 2020 pour actes de corruption. Le parti de Kamerhe a obtenu quatre ministères, où il a placé ses proches. Même si Kamerhe est exclu de toute élection pour les dix prochaines années, son parti va influencer les votes dans son fief du Sud-Kivu, qu'il se dispute avec Bahati Lukwebo, l'actuel président du Sénat. Si Bemba reste inéligible suite à sa condamnation pour corruption par la Cour pénale internationale, son retour dans l’arène à la faveur d’une décision politique de Tshisekedi demeure possible. Quant à Katumbi, il a déjà entrepris la structuration et l’implantation de son parti dans les 26 provinces du pays en prévision des prochains scrutins.

Ce gouvernement sera-t-il en mesure de lutter contre la violence à l'est ?

Comme l’a dit Tshisekedi lors de sa réception des députés le 24 avril, « la priorité des priorités » de ce gouvernement est de mettre fin à la violence à l’est du pays. Depuis le début du mois d’avril, les populations à l’est organisent des manifestations contre l’inefficacité de l’armée congolaise et des Casques bleus des Nations unies face aux tueries et autres exactions des groupes armés. Au Nord-Kivu, qui fait face à des massacres majoritairement imputés au groupe d’origine ougandaise Forces démocratiques alliées, les populations multiplient les actions de défiance envers le pouvoir central. En Ituri, les miliciens de la Coopérative pour le développement du Congo ont, après une relative accalmie, mené de nouvelles attaques contre les civils. Au Sud-Kivu, des groupes armés maï maï locaux et des rebelles d’origine étrangère comme les Burundais de la Résistance pour le droit au Burundi (RED-Tabara) mènent des attaques ciblées contre des civils dans les hauts plateaux d’Uvira. Au Katanga, le groupe sécessionniste Bakata-Katanga de Gédéon Kyungu et d’autres milices continuent à terroriser les populations, sur fond de revendications sécessionnistes.

Jusqu'à présent, Tshisekedi a eu tendance à mettre l’accent sur la réponse militaire aux défis sécuritaires de l’est du pays. Sa proclamation de l’état de siège dans les provinces du Nord-Kivu et de l’Ituri le 1er mai, qui prévoit le remplacement de l’administration civile par l’administration militaire, le prouve à nouveau. Pourtant, son armée n’a engrangé que de très maigres résultats sur le terrain. Au Nord-Kivu comme en Ituri, les groupes armés ont même souvent réoccupé avec une étonnante facilité les quelques positions conquises par l’armée régulière.

Compte tenu des mauvais résultats des campagnes militaires, le gouvernement devrait donc envisager d'autres formes de relations avec les groupes armés. Pour ce faire, il devrait accélérer la mise en œuvre du programme de désarmement, démobilisation et réintégration communautaire des anciens combattants (DDR) convenu avec les principaux bailleurs de fonds depuis novembre dernier et bloqué à cause des querelles politiques à Kinshasa. Organiser une grande campagne de démobilisation sera cependant un grand chantier, le gouvernement devra tirer les leçons de l’échec des programmes de DDR précédents, dû principalement au manque d’engagement politique des autorités congolaises et à leur incapacité à résoudre les questions qui sous-tendent la violence structurelle. Si la campagne de démobilisation ne suffisait pas, Tshisekedi et son gouvernement devraient encore avoir recours à la force militaire pour contrer certains miliciens.

La nouvelle donne politique à Kinshasa devrait faciliter la tâche à Tshisekedi ; il dispose désormais d’une nouvelle équipe en place et il n’est plus distrait par la bataille avec son prédécesseur. Mais il va devoir composer avec un gouvernement qui, de par les intérêts divergents et les rivalités individuelles et partisanes entre les parties prenantes, porte les germes des blocages à venir. Il devra également gérer les conditionnalités des bailleurs qui attendent qu’il tourne la page de l'ère Kabila pour débloquer leurs financements.

Il est donc crucial que Tshisekedi s’attelle à la question des groupes armés. « Il n’y a plus de temps à perdre », écrivait Katumbi sur Twitter le 26 avril, ajoutant que « l’investiture du gouvernement Sama Lukonde ouvre la voie de la paix à l’est ». Tshisekedi doit en effet se mettre au travail. Certains responsables politiques sont déjà soupçonnés de conclure des accords avec différents acteurs armés avant l’élection de 2023, afin d’exercer des pressions politiques à Kinshasa, ou éventuellement de provoquer des violences s'ils n'obtiennent pas ce qu'ils veulent. Tshisekedi, qui a désormais les coudées franches d’un point de vue institutionnel, devrait tout mettre en œuvre pour couper les liens entre les groupes armés et les responsables politiques qui, depuis les années 1990, les instrumentalisent à des fins politiques ou mercantiles. C’est la seule voie pour que le Congo bénéficie enfin des réformes qu’il a annoncées.


Sud-ouest du Niger : prévenir un nouveau front insurrectionnel

International Crisis Group, 29 Avril 2021

Dans le sud-ouest du Niger, le banditisme armé pourrait renforcer la méfiance entre les communautés et favoriser des insurrections susceptibles d’être exploitées par les jihadistes. Les autorités nigériennes devraient agir pour remédier aux injustices subies par les communautés vivant de l’élevage, initier des dialogues intercommunautaires et mieux encadrer les groupes d’autodéfense embryonnaires.


Que se passe-t-il ? Sous l’influence de groupes armés opérant depuis le Nigéria, un banditisme organisé et violent se répand progressivement au sud-ouest du Niger, le long d’une bande frontalière allant des villes de Maradi à Dogondoutchi. Ce phénomène renforce la méfiance entre les communautés, créant un contexte favorable à l’émergence d’insurrections armées.

En quoi est-ce significatif ? Les tensions locales sont souvent exploitées par les groupes jihadistes dont la présence dans cet espace est désormais une réalité. Leur enracinement pourrait ouvrir un nouveau front de violence pour le Niger et menacer d’encerclement Niamey, la capitale du pays.

Comment agir ? Les autorités nigériennes devraient compléter leurs efforts sécuritaires actuels par des mesures préventives visant principalement à remédier aux injustices subies par les communautés vivant de l’élevage, à initier des dialogues intercommunautaires et à mieux encadrer les groupes d’autodéfense embryonnaires.




Sous l’influence de gangs opérant depuis le Nigéria, le banditisme se répand au sud-ouest du Niger. Le long d’une bande frontalière allant des villes nigériennes de Maradi à Dogondoutchi (ou Doutchi), des groupes de bandits armés volent des troupeaux entiers et kidnappent des centaines de villageois. Nombre de leurs membres sont mus par l’appât du gain, mais d’autres – en particulier les nomades victimes de la crise du pastoralisme – prennent les armes pour défendre leurs biens et leurs familles ou se venger d’injustices. En réaction, les autres communautés, notamment sédentaires, constituent des groupes d’autodéfense encore embryonnaires. Ce contexte porte en germe les conditions d’un contexte insurrectionnel que pourraient exploiter les jihadistes. Les autorités nigériennes mobilisent leur appareil sécuritaire pour répondre à ces nouvelles menaces. Elles devraient également agir de façon préventive pour limiter la tentation d’habitants de ces régions, notamment les éleveurs exposés à une crise du pastoralisme qui les appauvrit, de prendre les armes, et envisager des processus de démobilisation des bandits.

Le banditisme transfrontalier n’est pas un phénomène nouveau le long de la bande reliant Maradi à Doutchi. Il a donné naissance depuis plusieurs décennies à des filières criminelles organisées qui se sont transformées au début des années 2010, sous l’effet de dynamiques extérieures. En Libye, depuis la crise de 2011, l’économie de guerre s’articule autour des trafics, ce qui a facilité et amplifié les flux illégaux (carburant de contrebande, drogue) provenant du Nigéria. Dans le sens inverse, un flux d’armes de guerre issues des stocks de l’ère Kadhafi approvisionne, depuis la Libye, les groupes criminels nigériens et nigérians. Ces gangs, concentrés dans les Etats du nord du Nigéria dans les années 2010, ont redoublé de violence et se sont spécialisés dans le vol de troupeaux, les enlèvements et les assassinats ciblés. Cette violence s’est exportée sur le versant nigérien de la frontière, à Maradi à partir de 2016, puis à Tahoua en 2019. Ces bandits armés, liés aux réseaux impliqués dans l’économie criminelle transfrontalière, recrutent parmi toutes les communautés de la région (haoussa, touareg ou peul).

Ce banditisme est en train de se transformer et de donner naissance à de nouvelles formes de violence, notamment sous l’influence d’une crise du pastoralisme qui frappe durement les pasteurs dans les régions de Tahoua, Maradi et Dosso. L’extension des surfaces agricoles y réduit fortement les espaces dédiés à l’élevage, nourrit un phénomène d’appauvrissement progressif des pasteurs et entraine des conflits avec d’autres usagers, en particulier les agriculteurs. Dans ce contexte, rejoindre des groupes de bandits est aussi une manière de faire face à la crise du pastoralisme, de se protéger soi-même contre le vol de bétail et parfois d’accéder à une position de pouvoir. Cette dynamique, déjà forte au Nigéria, s’étend désormais au Niger. Certains bandits restent de simples criminels, mais d’autres, notamment parmi les Peul, se posent en défenseurs de leur communauté et deviennent parfois des notabilités respectées.

La dimension communautaire du banditisme menace la cohésion sociale du sud-ouest du Niger comme elle l’a déjà entamée au nord-ouest du Nigéria. Les populations sédentaires associent progressivement les bandits à la communauté peul, qui constitue la majorité des populations nomades de la zone, de plus en plus stigmatisée. Pour se protéger du banditisme, des groupes d’autodéfense essentiellement haoussa sont en cours de formation dans la région de Maradi. Exclus de ces groupes et suspectés par ces derniers d’être à l’origine des violences armées, les pasteurs – en particulier peul – sont poussés à se rapprocher des groupes de bandits pour y trouver une forme de protection.

Le risque qu’une insurrection, c’est-à-dire une hostilité ouverte et armée contre l’Etat, se développe est d’autant plus important que la région suscite l’intérêt croissant de groupes jihadistes venus du Sahel et du nord-est du Nigéria. La jonction entre jihadistes et bandits locaux a déjà été observée ailleurs au Sahel et pourrait se répéter dans cette zone. La bande frontalière s’étendant de Doutchi à Birni N’Konni (ou Konni) est d’ores et déjà une zone d’approvisionnement de l’Etat islamique au Grand Sahara (EIGS), qui y renforce progressivement son ancrage depuis 2018, et tente même d’y collecter un impôt de protection. De Maradi jusqu’à Doutchi, la frontière est parsemée d’espaces boisés déjà fréquentés par les bandits, mais qui pourraient aussi servir de refuge aux jihadistes. Enfin, depuis le nord-est du Nigéria, le Groupe sunnite pour la prédication et le jihad (Jama'tu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, JAS), plus communément appelé Boko Haram, et Ansarou, groupe dissident du JAS, tentent d’étendre leur action au nord-ouest du Nigéria et se rapprochent donc du sud-ouest du Niger frontalier.

Le Niger a réagi très tôt à la dégradation de la situation dans la bande frontalière. Les autorités ont principalement renforcé le maillage sécuritaire, mais celui-ci reste insuffisant. En effet, les forces nigériennes gèrent simultanément de multiples fronts dans le pays et sont globalement en sous-effectif. Face à la nature transfrontalière de l’insécurité, l’efficacité de la réponse dépend de la coopération avec le voisin nigérian, qui est ancienne mais reste à améliorer. L’aggravation récente des violences a changé la donne et cette coopération s’est renforcée, mais les autorités font encore trop peu pour empêcher le basculement des populations dans le banditisme ou prévenir l’émergence de situations insurrectionnelles. Cette bande frontalière reste sous-investie, tant par l’Etat que par ses partenaires, en comparaison d’autres régions nigériennes confrontées à des insurrections armées comme Tillabéri ou Diffa.

Pour prévenir l’émergence d’insurrections dans cette zone, il est essentiel de réduire les injustices dont souffrent les pasteurs et de préserver la cohésion sociale. Le nouveau président du Niger devrait ainsi faire de l’élevage un domaine d’intervention privilégié. Les pasteurs devraient notamment être mieux représentés au sein des commissions foncières et disposer de plus de relais pour défendre leurs droits. Ils seraient ainsi encouragés à recourir à la loi plutôt qu’à la force. L’Etat devrait encadrer strictement les groupes d’autodéfense et établir des dialogues communautaires tel qu’il a l’habitude de les promouvoir ailleurs au Niger. Enfin, l’Etat doit accentuer les efforts de sécurité pour prévenir la contagion des violences, en particulier en renforçant la coopération avec les Etats frontaliers du Nigéria, sans exclure de négocier la démobilisation de certains groupes de bandits. Les partenaires du Niger doivent, de leur côté, s’intéresser à ces zones avant qu’elles ne soient déstabilisées et pourraient soutenir financièrement un plan de prévention conçu et mis en œuvre par les autorités nigériennes.

Niamey/Bruxelles, 29 avril 2021

Pour l’integralise du rapport, visiter:



Réengager des efforts internationaux au Sahara occidental

International Crisis Group, Briefing No 82, 11 March 2021


Après un cessez-le-feu de 30 ans entre le Maroc et le Front Polisario indépendantiste, des affrontements ont éclaté au Sahara occidental. Sans une aide internationale, les combats pourraient s’intensifier. L’ONU devrait nommer un envoyé spécial, et les Etats-Unis devraient prendre la tête des efforts internationaux de diplomatie.


Que se passe-t-il ? Le conflit latent entre le Maroc et le Front Polisario concernant le territoire disputé du Sahara occidental semble se raviver. Un blocage du Polisario sur une artère principale de la zone tampon sous contrôle onusien a déclenché une réponse militaire du Maroc, le Polisario a lancé de nouvelles attaques, rompant le cessez-le-feu.

En quoi est-ce significatif ? Les affrontements récents laissent présager une nouvelle escalade, d’autant que les efforts internationaux en faveur de l’apaisement et des négociations font défaut. La reconnaissance par l’administration Trump de la souveraineté du Maroc sur le Sahara occidental, sur laquelle le nouveau président des Etats-Unis Joe Biden pourrait ne pas revenir, complique encore la situation.

Comment agir ? Les puissances étrangères devraient prendre deux mesures d’apaisement. Premièrement, l’ONU devrait nommer un nouvel envoyé spécial au Sahara occidental, un poste laissé vacant depuis près de deux ans. Deuxièmement, Washington devrait s’efforcer d’encourager une désescalade et de relancer les pourparlers politiques.

I. Synthèse

Après avoir respecté le cessez-le-feu de 1991 pendant près de 30 ans, le Maroc et le Front Polisario ont rouvert les hostilités au Sahara occidental, un territoire disputé dont le Polisario demande l’indépendance. Le 13 novembre, le Maroc a envoyé des troupes dans la zone tampon sous contrôle de l’ONU pour mettre un terme au blocage de la route stratégique de Guerguerat, entamé trois semaines plus tôt. En réponse, le Polisario s’est retiré du cessez-le-feu et a renouvelé ses attaques contre les unités militaires marocaines. Les réactions internationales à cette escalade des tensions ont été, pour la plupart, favorables au Maroc. Le Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU ne s’est pas exprimé. Le 10 décembre, Rabat a remporté une grande victoire diplomatique, lorsque le président des Etats-Unis, Donald Trump, a reconnu sa souveraineté sur le Sahara occidental. Pour éviter que les tensions ne s’exacerbent, les soutiens internationaux de Rabat devraient l’encourager à accepter la nomination d’un nouvel envoyé spécial de l’ONU – un poste resté vacant depuis mai 2019 – sans condition préalable. L’administration Biden, en étroite collaboration avec la France, la Russie et l’Algérie, les principaux acteurs extérieurs du conflit, devraient inciter les deux parties à accepter une trêve et à reprendre les négociations.

Il y a deux ans à peine, la situation était très différente. La diplomatie semblait faire son chemin, grâce à la nomination en août 2017 de l’ancien président allemand Horst Köhler au poste d’envoyé spécial de l’ONU. En avril 2018, le Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU a réduit le délai de renouvellement du mandat de la Mission des Nations Unies pour l’organisation d’un référendum au Sahara occidental (Minurso) d’un an à six mois ; l’envoyé informait donc plus régulièrement le Conseil de sécurité de la situation, ce qui a renforcé la pression sur les deux parties. Le Maroc, le Front Polisario, l’Algérie et la Mauritanie ont participé à deux réunions au cours desquelles des progrès ont pu être observés. Mais la démission soudaine de Köhler en mai 2019 et le rétablissement par le Conseil de sécurité du renouvellement annuel du mandat de la Minurso ont coupé cet élan. Depuis lors, le Maroc et le Polisario ont tous deux imposé leurs conditions pour la nomination d’un nouvel envoyé chargé de remplacer Köhler et les exigences strictes de Rabat semblent avoir conduit à une impasse.

Les tensions sont apparues dans la zone de Guerguerat, où une route qui relie le Maroc à la Mauritanie traverse la zone tampon sous contrôle de l’ONU qui sépare les troupes marocaines des combattants du Polisario. Tirant parti du vide diplomatique laissé par le départ de Köhler, le Maroc a invité plusieurs gouvernements d’Afrique et du Moyen-Orient à ouvrir des consulats au Sahara occidental. En réponse, les responsables et les militants du Polisario ont rapidement considéré qu’il s’agissait d’un acte hostile. Les partisans civils du Polisario (rejoints par des hommes armés) ont bloqué la route principale de la zone de Guerguerat, y établissant un camp à la fin octobre 2020, ce qui a marqué la reprise des hostilités. Le 13 novembre, le Maroc a envoyé des troupes dans la zone tampon pour mettre un terme au blocage. En réponse, le Polisario a entamé un conflit de faible intensité avec le Maroc, bien que Rabat ait réaffirmé sa volonté d’observer le cessez-le-feu.

La plupart des acteurs internationaux ont prôné un retour au cessez-le-feu ou se sont rangés derrière le Maroc. Parallèlement, le Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU s’est abstenu de commenter cette flambée de violence, empêchant ainsi le Polisario d’obtenir l’attention internationale qu’il recherchait. Pour Rabat, la reconnaissance par les Etats-Unis de la souveraineté marocaine sur le Sahara occidental, le 10 décembre, vient appuyer sa stratégie. Cet acte de l’administration Trump n’a fait que durcir la position des Sahraouis indépendantistes, et en particulier de la jeunesse sahraouie, qui a déjà perdu depuis longtemps l’espoir d’une résolution diplomatique du conflit.

La faible intensité du conflit ne peut pas justifier l’inaction. Le risque d’une escalade militaire progressive, limité mais tangible, déstabiliserait encore davantage l’Afrique du Nord et le Sahel. Les combats pourraient s’intensifier au moindre incident militaire, tel qu’une ingérence algérienne – par exemple, des transferts d’armes plus importants entre Alger et le Polisario – ou un changement de tactique militaire au sein du mouvement indépendantiste. Pour limiter les risques, les partenaires internationaux du Maroc – les Etats-Unis et la France – devraient pousser Rabat à accepter, sans condition préalable, un nouvel envoyé chargé de négocier une désescalade qui pourrait amener les deux parties à négocier une trêve.

Ces mesures n’auraient d’effet que si les Etats-Unis et le Conseil de sécurité adoptaient une approche plus directe. L’administration Biden risque d’être réticente à l’idée de revenir sur la reconnaissance par l’administration Trump de la souveraineté du Maroc sur le Sahara occidental. Malgré cela, elle pourrait envisager d’autres façons de rassurer le Polisario, par exemple en réaffirmant le soutien de Washington au renouvellement semestriel du mandat de la Minurso. Pour éviter de contrarier le Maroc, les résolutions du Conseil de sécurité devraient faire explicitement référence à la nécessité de sécuriser la route de Guerguerat. Ces arbitrages pourraient permettre d’entamer une nouvelle phase diplomatique. L’administration Biden devrait coordonner sa position plus étroitement et de façon plus transparente avec les autres pays pour qui l’issue du conflit représente un enjeu, à savoir la France, la Russie et l’Algérie. Une meilleure coopération à ce niveau pourrait mettre fin aux affrontements et relancer les efforts de paix, actuellement entravés.

II. Un statuquo de plus en plus instable

Le conflit a commencé en 1975, lors du retrait de l’Espagne du Sahara occidental, à l’époque la plus importante des colonies qui lui restaient en Afrique. Le Maroc et la Mauritanie ont aussitôt proclamé leur souveraineté sur ce territoire. Le Front Polisario, créé pour obtenir l’indépendance du territoire, a entamé une lutte armée contre l’Espagne en 1973. Le 7 novembre 1975, le roi Hassan II du Maroc a réuni 350 000 citoyens non armés pour entrer dans les zones sous contrôle espagnol et revendiquer ses droits sur ce territoire. La Marche verte, ainsi nommée par le roi, a forcé la main de l’Espagne – et plutôt que d’ordonner à ses soldats de tirer sur les manifestants, Madrid s’est résolue à quitter le territoire.

Les accords de Madrid de novembre 1975 ont officiellement mis un terme à la souveraineté de l’Espagne sur le Sahara occidental et ont partagé le territoire – les deux tiers revenant au Maroc et le dernier tiers à la Mauritanie. Le Front Polisario indépendantiste et l’Algérie ont rejeté cet accord. La guerre qui s’est ensuivie a permis au Polisario de remporter de rapides victoires militaires, forçant la Mauritanie à se retirer en 1979, même si des milliers de Sahraouis se sont réfugiés près de Tindouf, en Algérie. Au cours des années qui ont suivi, néanmoins, le Maroc a renforcé son contrôle sur le Sahara occidental, notamment grâce à la construction de murs de protection, le « mur de sable ».

En 1991, alors que l’on pensait être dans une impasse militaire, les deux parties ont accepté un plan de règlement sous l’égide de l’ONU. Cette initiative a introduit un cessez-le-feu qui a divisé le territoire le long du mur de sable et a créé une zone tampon et une zone restreinte pour séparer les deux parties.

Ce plan visait également une résolution du conflit qui passerait par un référendum d’autodétermination, qui serait organisé par la Minurso. Néanmoins, à la suite de manœuvres politiques du Maroc et des interprétations divergentes du plan par les deux parties, le référendum n’a jamais eu lieu. De nombreux envoyés de l’ONU ont tenté en vain de ressusciter le référendum, après quoi le Maroc a fait, en 2006, une proposition de compromis sous la forme d’un plan d’autonomie. Selon le Polisario, ce plan d’autonomie bafoue le droit à l’autodétermination de la population sahraouie. Aucun des nombreux cycles de négociation entre Rabat et le Polisario n’a permis de débloquer la situation.

A. En perte de vitesse

La nomination en août 2017 de l’ancien président allemand Horst Köhler en tant qu’envoyé spécial de l’ONU au Sahara occidental avait donné un nouvel élan aux efforts diplomatiques. Köhler a mené une série de réunions préliminaires entre fin 2017 et début 2018. Il a ensuite bénéficié de la décision du Conseil de sécurité d’avril 2018 de renouveler le mandat de la Minurso tous les six mois au lieu de tous les ans, comme c’est généralement le cas.
Les Etats-Unis, et en particulier John Bolton, alors conseiller national à la sécurité des Etats-Unis et personnellement investi dans la résolution du conflit, ont joué un rôle clé au sein du Conseil.

La décision de réduire le délai de renouvellement du mandat visait à renforcer la pression sur les parties, en demandant à l’envoyé spécial de dresser un état des lieux plus régulier auprès du Conseil.

L’empressement des Etats-Unis s’expliquerait par le fait qu’ils s’agaçaient de la lenteur des progrès et du mandat à durée indéterminée de la Minurso, et souhaitaient, plus globalement, opérer des coupes dans le budget de maintien de la paix de l’ONU.

Selon un diplomate américain : « Il est temps d’avancer vers une résolution politique et, après 27 ans, d’arrêter de prolonger le statuquo ». Malgré la résistance d’autres membres du Groupe des amis pour le Sahara occidental, à savoir la France et la Russie, le renouvellement semestriel du mandat s’est poursuivi jusqu’en octobre 2019, en vue de soutenir les efforts de médiation.

Si le Polisario a salué cette nouvelle approche comme une occasion de rouvrir des négociations, le Maroc s’est montré plus réticent à modifier le statuquo diplomatique.

Pour rassurer Rabat, les Etats-Unis et la France ont introduit des formulations reflétant ces réticences dans la résolution du Conseil de sécurité d’avril 2018 ainsi que dans les suivantes. Le texte affirme « qu’il convient de faire des progrès dans la recherche d’une solution politique réaliste, pragmatique et durable à la question du Sahara occidental », ce que le Polisario, à l’instar d’autres observateurs, ont interprété comme une approbation implicite du plan d’autonomie du Maroc de 2006. Cette même résolution comprenait deux paragraphes distincts visant la violation, par le Polisario, de l’accord de cessez-le-feu dans la zone de Guerguerat et sa volonté de déplacer des fonctions administratives de la République arabe sahraouie démocratique à Bir Lahlou, au sein du Sahara occidental.

Néanmoins, les négociations semblaient s’accélérer. Köhler en a organisé un premier cycle à Genève en décembre 2018. Un ancien conseiller de Köhler a décrit une atmosphère positive, et des discussions « agréables et amicales ».
Le Maroc et le Polisario n’avaient pas mené de pourparlers sous l’égide de l’ONU depuis six ans. Le Maroc a obtenu une concession majeure : le format de la réunion était une table ronde, à laquelle participaient l’Algérie et la Mauritanie. Rabat considère que le Sahara occidental est une question régionale et que le Polisario est un intermédiaire de l’Algérie ; le Maroc voulait réunir l’Algérie et la Mauritanie puisqu’ils avaient précédemment refusé de participer aux négociations, affirmant qu’il s’agissait d’un conflit bilatéral entre le Maroc et le Polisario portant sur des questions de décolonisation. Une deuxième réunion s’est tenue en mars 2019, également à Genève, mais l’atmosphère était nettement moins cordiale. Aucune de ces deux réunions n’a abouti à une sortie de crise, mais elles ont permis de maintenir la communication, comme l’a souligné le communiqué conjoint publié au terme de la deuxième réunion. Cette dynamique encourageante a brutalement pris fin lorsque Köhler a démissionné, le 22 mai 2019, invoquant des raisons de santé.

Après le départ de Köhler, le Maroc et le Polisario se sont empressés de fixer leurs conditions pour la nomination d’un nouvel envoyé de l’ONU. Selon un diplomate du Polisario, le mouvement n’exigeait qu’une personne « hautement qualifiée, déterminée et neutre ».

Officiellement, le Maroc exigeait juste que ce poste revienne à une personnalité reconnue. Selon de nombreuses sources pro-Polisario ou non partisanes, néanmoins, Rabat aurait posé des conditions plus spécifiques, et plus strictes. Le Maroc aurait refusé qu’il s’agisse d’un ou une diplomate issue d’un pays scandinave (du fait d’une prétendue sympathie qu’ils auraient pour la cause sahraouie), d’Allemagne (car Rabat a découvert avec Köhler qu’il était difficile de contrer Berlin) ou d’un Etat membre permanent du Conseil de sécurité (pour éviter que des pressions politiques illégitimes puissent être exercées sur les négociations).

Ces conditions ont rendu difficile la tâche du secrétaire général de l’ONU, António Guterres, chargé de remplacer Köhler.
Les exigences du Maroc ont réduit le vivier de candidats potentiels de façon significative. En outre, la réputation du conflit au Sahara occidental, perçu comme obscur et inextricable, a contribué à dissuader les diplomates internationaux d’accepter le poste. Comme l’a dit un ancien ministre des Affaires étrangères qui avait été approché pour le poste : « Personne ne veut être associé à un échec diplomatique ».

Parallèlement, le scepticisme croissant concernant la possibilité de résoudre ce conflit a poussé le Conseil de sécurité à revenir à un renouvellement annuel du mandat de la Minurso. Bolton a quitté l’administration Trump en septembre 2019 et, le mois suivant, Washington, désabusé par cette situation, a abandonné l’idée d’un renouvellement semestriel et accepté les demandes répétées de la France de ne renouveler le mandat que tous les ans.

Malgré les doléances du Polisario, de la Russie et de l’Afrique du Sud, la formulation évoquant une « solution politique réaliste, pragmatique et durable », rédigée pour rassurer le Maroc par rapport aux mandats plus courts de la Minurso, a été maintenue dans les résolutions d’octobre 2019 et d’octobre 2020 visant à renouveler le mandat de la mission.

B. Évolutions de la situation sur le terrain

En parallèle de la démission de Köhler et du retour de l’approche diplomatique habituelle du Conseil de sécurité des Nations unies, le Maroc a accéléré sa politique du fait accompli. La stratégie principale de Rabat était d’inviter des Etats amis d’Afrique et du Moyen-Orient à ouvrir des consulats au Sahara occidental. Le premier pays à le faire fut la Côte d’Ivoire ; elle a inaugural son consulat honoraire à Laâyoune en juin 2019, après quoi les Comores y ont ouvert, en décembre 2019, le premier consulat général étranger. Dans les mois qui ont suivi, une ribambelle de gouvernements africains ont marché dans leurs traces. Le 4 novembre 2020, les Emirats arabes unis sont devenus le premier pays arabe à ouvrir un consulat au Sahara occidental. Pour Rabat, ces représentations diplomatiques sont autant d’éléments qui appuient sa revendication de souveraineté sur le territoire. Le secrétaire général du Polisario, Brahim Ghali, s’est indigné contre l’ouverture des consulats, les qualifiant de « violation du droit international et [...] [d’] atteinte au statut juridique du Sahara occidental en tant que territoire non autonome ».

L’ouverture des consulats résulte d’une stratégie marocaine ambitieuse visant à renforcer les liens politiques et économiques avec l’Afrique subsaharienne. Ces dernières années, Rabat a fortement intensifié ses investissements et ses relations commerciales avec le reste du continent, surtout avec l’Afrique de l’Ouest.

En 2017, le Maroc a rejoint l’Union africaine (UA). En 1984, le pays avait claqué la porte de l’Organisation de l’unité africaine, prédécesseur de l’UA, après l’admission en son sein de la République arabe sahraouie démocratique, nom que donne le Polisario à son Etat de facto, situé à l’est du mur de sable. Lors de son admission à l’UA, le Maroc a juré d’œuvrer à l’expulsion du proto-Etat du Polisario de l’organisation. Rabat a profité de ses nouvelles relations pour plaider auprès de certains gouvernements africains afin qu’ils reviennent sur leur reconnaissance de la République arabe sahraouie démocratique de facto.

Parallèlement à son offensive diplomatique, le Maroc a adopté, en janvier 2020, deux lois délimitant ses eaux territoriales et une zone économique exclusive au large du littoral du Sahara occidental. Le ministre des Affaires étrangères marocain, Nasser Bourita, a indiqué que ces lois avaient notamment pour objectif de réaffirmer la souveraineté du Maroc sur « ses frontières effectives, territoriales et maritimes ».
Le Polisario a rejeté cette manœuvre.

Le Front Polisario, confronté à une impasse à l’ONU et en réponse aux actions prises par le Maroc dans le cadre de sa politique du fait accompli, a dès lors réévalué ses options. Mohamed Wali Akeik, Premier ministre de la République arabe sahraouie démocratique à l’époque et critique notoire de l’impasse diplomatique, a dénoncé à plusieurs reprises le manque d’intérêt de la communauté internationale à l’égard du conflit et a appelé le mouvement à reprendre les hostilités avec le Maroc.
Il a également fustigé le cessez-le-feu, suggérant que des négociations devraient se tenir en parallèle des combats.

De nombreux Sahraouis, en particulier les femmes (administratrices de camps et enseignantes) et les jeunes qui habitent les camps, sont frustrés de l’impasse diplomatique ; ils ne croient plus aux négociations et estiment que la direction du mouvement ne se renouvelle pas assez.
Le manque de perspectives professionnelles auquel sont confrontés des jeunes souvent très qualifiés a encore accentué leur déception. La direction du Polisario, qui prend de l’âge, s’est donc sentie contrainte de reprendre les combats.

Le quinzième congrès du Front Polisario, qui s’est déroulé en décembre 2019 à Tifariti, au cœur du Sahara occidental, a été un moment clé. Pendant plusieurs jours, les débats sur la manière de réagir à la détérioration de la situation politique ont opposé les partisans de l’action militaire aux tenants de la diplomatie. Les premiers insistaient pour arrêter immédiatement une date pour la reprise des hostilités, alors que les seconds affirmaient que le front n’avait pas les moyens de mener une offensive militaire.
Le secrétaire général Ghali, réélu lors du congrès, s’est montré habile ; il a réaffirmé l’engagement du mouvement en faveur de la diplomatie, tout en menaçant de « revoir son engagement dans le processus de paix ».

III. Le retour de la guerre

A. Fin du cessez-le-feu à Guerguerat

Les tensions opposant le Front Polisario à Rabat et celles qui secouent le mouvement lui-même ont finalement trouvé un exutoire dans les escarmouches concernant la route de Guerguerat, qui relie le Maroc à la Mauritanie en traversant une zone tampon sous contrôle des Nations unies. Rabat a construit cette route dans le désert en 2016 (et déployé des gendarmes au sein de la zone tampon, ce qui constitue une violation du cessez-le-feu), et depuis lors, celle-ci semble être le point le plus sensible de la guerre d’usure entre les deux camps, car des incidents y sont désormais déplorés chaque année. Suite au renforcement des liens commerciaux qui unissent le Maroc à la Mauritanie et à d’autres régions d’Afrique de l’Ouest, cette route a gagné en importance et est donc devenue cruciale pour Rabat. De son côté, le Polisario condamne ce qu’il considère être un amendement unilatéral au cessez-le-feu, puisque la route ouvre une brèche dans la zone tampon, qui ne faisait pas partie de l’accord de 1991. D’après la Minurso, entre octobre 2019 et mai 2020, le nombre de manifestations rassemblant des civils pro-Polisario et le nombre d’incursions militaires dans cette zone ont augmenté, ce dont le Maroc s’est régulièrement plaint auprès des Nations unies.

Le 21 octobre 2021, la situation a atteint un point de non-retour lorsqu’un groupe de civils pro-Polisario a établi un campement sur la route de Guerguerat, bloquant ainsi la circulation. Quelques combattants du Polisario, dont la présence constituait une violation du cessez-le-feu, les ont rejoints.

Contrairement aux incidents précédents, les manifestants ont refusé les tentatives de conciliation de la Minurso, arguant que l’ONU se désintéressait du conflit. Pendant deux semaines, le Maroc a déposé des plaintes auprès du secrétaire général de l’ONU et de la Minurso concernant ce blocage. Ensuite, après le discours du roi Mohamed VI prononcé à l’occasion du 45e anniversaire de la Marche verte, le Maroc a commencé à mobiliser des soldats au sein de la zone réglementée de 30 kilomètres de large, violant donc également le cessez-le-feu. Le 13 novembre, après l’échec d’une tentative de médiation de dernière minute émanant du secrétaire général de l’ONU, les troupes sont entrées dans la zone tampon pour rouvrir la route. Bien que les deux camps aient recouru à de l’artillerie lourde, aucune victime n’a été déplorée, les civils et les combattants du Polisario ayant battu en retraite quasi immédiatement. Le 14 novembre, le Polisario a déclaré la fin du cessez-le-feu et annoncé la reprise des hostilités avec le Maroc.

Au cours des semaines qui ont suivi, le bras armé du Polisario, l’Armée de libération du peuple sahraoui, a attaqué à plusieurs reprises les postes défensifs du Maroc situés le long du mur de sable, généralement depuis une certaine distance et avec des effets limités.

La réponse de l’armée marocaine est restée mesurée ; elle n’a pas, jusqu’à présent, cherché à pourchasser les unités ennemies ou à mener une grande opération. Si le Maroc nie avoir essuyé des pertes, des sources onusiennes indiquent que deux soldats, au moins, ont perdu la vie au cours de la première semaine de combats.

La retenue relative dont fait preuve le Maroc dénote par rapport à la forte mobilisation sahraouie, tant dans les camps de réfugiés qu’à l’étranger. La stratégie de Rabat a été d’exprimer son soutien continu au cessez-le-feu de 1991 et de minimiser l’importance des affrontements militaires, ce qui correspond à une approche du « circulez, il n’y a rien à voir ».

Le retour de la guerre a toutefois galvanisé la jeunesse sahraouie dans les camps comme à l’étranger, et le Polisario a réactivé ses réseaux de solidarité internationale pour attirer l’attention sur ce conflit. Un militant sahraoui a déclaré que les jeunes vivant dans le Sahara occidental contrôlé par le Maroc avaient essayé de descendre dans les rues pour afficher leur solidarité avec le Polisario, mais que les forces de sécurité marocaines avaient rapidement réprimé ces tentatives.

B. Silence sur le front international

Malgré la mobilisation du Polisario, pour la plupart, les réactions internationales aux évènements survenus dans le Sahara occidental étaient favorables au retour rapide du cessez-le-feu, ou s’alignaient sur la position du Maroc. Le ministre français des Affaires étrangères a exprimé sa préoccupation concernant la situation, tout en saluant « l’attachement du Maroc au cessez-le-feu ».
L’Espagne et la Russie ont appelé les deux parties à respecter le cessez-le-feu, alors que les Etats-Unis sont restés muets jusqu’à ce que le secrétaire d’Etat américain de l’époque, Mike Pompeo, déclare le 8 décembre que « le conflit ne devrait pas être résolu par des moyens militaires, mais bien par une série de conversations ».

Les réactions des pays voisins étaient, elles aussi, empreintes de prudence afin d’éviter d’alimenter les tensions. L'Algérie qui, par le soutien qu'elle apporte au Polisario, joue un rôle déterminant dans le conflit, a sagement appelé les deux camps à faire preuve de retenue.

Des diplomates algériens indiquent que cette approche s’inscrit dans une volonté d’éviter une escalade militaire qui pourrait déstabiliser encore plus la région. De même, la Mauritanie a appelé les deux parties à la retenue et au respect du cessez-le-feu.

Pour sa part, le Conseil de sécurité des Nations unies n’a pris aucune mesure concernant la situation militaire au Sahara occidental. Il n’a convoqué qu’une réunion consultative à huis clos le 21 décembre, soit plus d’un mois après la reprise des hostilités.

Si cette inaction a arrangé le Maroc, elle a fâché les responsables du Polisario, car elle n’a pas permis de braquer les projecteurs sur leur cause. Un responsable français a déclaré que l’inertie du Conseil de sécurité s’expliquait par la faible intensité des affrontements, puisque jusqu’à présent les combats n’ont compromis ni la paix ni la sécurité régionales. Même l’Afrique du Sud, soutien du Polisario et présidente du Conseil de sécurité depuis décembre, a indiqué qu’elle n’avait pas l’intention de porter l’affaire devant le Conseil, car ses diplomates estiment que l’issue serait probablement favorable au Maroc.

C. La reconnaissance de la souveraineté marocaine sur le Sahara occidental par les Etats-Unis

Alors que l’environnement international lui est déjà favorable, Rabat a remporté une importante victoire diplomatique le 10 décembre, lorsque le président Donald Trump a annoncé sur Twitter que les Etats-Unis reconnaissaient officiellement la souveraineté du Maroc sur le Sahara occidental.

En contrepartie de cette reconnaissance, le Maroc a accepté de renouer des relations diplomatiques avec Israël, en commençant par rouvrir leurs bureaux de liaison respectifs, et peut-être, à terme, une représentation diplomatique à part entière. Les Etats-Unis ont, en outre, proposé de vendre pour un milliard de dollars de drones et d’armes guidées avec précision au Maroc. La reconnaissance américaine étant liée à la normalisation diplomatique avec Israël, et bien que des représentants des deux partis appellent à renoncer à cette mesure, l’administration Biden aura probablement du mal à revenir sur la reconnaissance par les Etats-Unis de la souveraineté marocaine sans mettre en péril la relation entre Rabat et Israël.

Plusieurs gouvernements ont réprouvé la déclaration de Trump. La Russie l’a condamnée, estimant qu’elle violait le droit international.

L’Espagne a réitéré son soutien aux « principes et résolutions de l’ONU » concernant ce différend. Le Premier ministre algérien, Abdelaziz Djerad, a condamné la normalisation des relations avec Israël et rejeté la reconnaissance par les Etats-Unis de la souveraineté marocaine sur le Sahara occidental, appelant à l’application du droit international et défendant les actions militaires du Polisario, les qualifiant de « légitime défense ».

La France a quant à elle adopté une position plus nuancée. Un responsable français et un ancien diplomate ont déclaré que l’annonce de Trump était un problème pour Paris, car la reconnaissance par les Etats-Unis de la souveraineté marocaine sur le Sahara occidental contrevient en effet au droit international et aux résolutions du Conseil de sécurité. Ils craignent par ailleurs que cette reconnaissance pousse le Maroc à faire pression sur la France afin qu’elle prononce une déclaration similaire. Cependant, selon eux, Paris pourrait profiter de cette annonce pour relancer le Plan d’autonomie marocain, lequel servirait de base à une résolution permanente du conflit.

Les responsables du Polisario ont rejeté l’annonce de Trump, estimant qu’elle constituait une violation inacceptable du droit international.
Un militant d’une ONG sahraouie située au Sahara occidental contrôlé par le Maroc a déclaré que la population locale avait perdu toute confiance en la communauté internationale et évoqué les risques croissants de troubles violents. Toutefois, si l’annonce américaine s’apparentait à un revers pour le mouvement, il a saisi cette occasion pour attirer une nouvelle fois l’attention des médias internationaux sur ce conflit oublié. En outre, avec l’arrivée de l’administration Biden aux Etats-Unis, les diplomates du Polisario ont manifesté un optimisme prudent quant à la possibilité que la décision soit revue et que l’ONU joue un rôle de médiateur afin de mettre un terme au conflit.

Peu après l’annonce américaine, le Maroc a décidé de conserver des troupes à Guerguerat, indéfiniment, balayant toute possibilité de négocier un retrait ultérieur. Rabat a communiqué cette nouvelle position à toutes les parties concernées, y compris dans une lettre officielle adressée au secrétaire général des Nations unies.

La présence militaire marocaine vise à protéger les biens qui transitent par la frontière avec la Mauritanie, mais elle constitue une violation de l’accord de cessez-le-feu, qui interdit aux forces armées des deux parties d’entrer dans la zone réglementée. Ceci va donc à l’encontre de la position officielle de Rabat, selon laquelle le Maroc respecte l’accord. Dès lors, le Polisario a clairement indiqué que, dans ces conditions, il refuserait de participer à tout nouvel effort de négociation d’un cessez-le-feu. En effet, le 24 janvier 2021, pour la première fois depuis la fin du cessez-le-feu, des forces pro-Polisario ont bombardé la zone de Guerguerat et menacé d’intensifier le conflit en élargissant leurs opérations.

IV. Le moment de se réengager

La faible intensité du conflit au Sahara occidental ne devrait pas justifier l’inaction. Le risque d’une forte escalade militaire entre le Maroc et le Front Polisario reste limité, mais il n’est pas négligeable pour autant. La stratégie adoptée par le Polisario – bombarder à distance – pourrait donner lieu à une frappe non maîtrisée qui ferait plus de victimes marocaines qu’escompté et déclencherait alors une offensive vengeresse visant les bases arrière du Polisario. Il serait erroné de penser que l’Algérie restera neutre. L’Algérie soutient la stratégie militaire d’usure du Polisario.
Bien qu’aucun nouveau transfert d’armes en provenance d’Algérie pouvant améliorer les capacités de l’Armée de libération du peuple sahraoui n’ait été constaté, Alger pourrait envisager ce type de transferts si une flambée de violence tuait un grand nombre de combattants du Polisario, par exemple.

Ceci aurait des implications pour toute la région.

Le désintérêt de la communauté internationale pour ce conflit pourrait également avoir des conséquences à long terme pour la stabilité régionale. Sans solution diplomatique, les Sahraouis désabusés, surtout les jeunes, pourraient contraindre le Front Polisario à changer de tactique. Celui-ci pourrait procéder à des frappes visant les installations militaires dans le Sahara occidental contrôlé par le Maroc ou au Maroc même, au lieu de se limiter à des cibles situées le long du mur du sable, comme il l’a presque exclusivement fait jusqu’à présent.

Une telle escalade déstabiliserait l’Afrique du Nord et le Sahel, et pourrait avoir des conséquences imprévisibles pour les intérêts américains et européens.

Nommer un envoyé spécial de l’ONU au Sahara occidental est un premier pas nécessaire. Si le Maroc a imposé des préconditions à cette nomination, les Etats-Unis et la France doivent pousser Rabat à y renoncer. Le nouvel envoyé spécial ne pourra pas mettre fin aux combats seul. Les responsables du Polisario ont clairement indiqué qu’ils voulaient réinitialiser les conditions du processus de paix avant d’envisager un nouveau cessez-le-feu.

Bien qu’une réinitialisation complète soit peu probable, si l’ONU se réengage, un envoyé pourrait parvenir à négocier une désescalade temporaire qui pourrait permettre la négociation d’une trêve. Cette trêve pourrait alors favoriser la reprise des pourparlers entre le Maroc et le Polisario (avec la participation de l’Algérie et de la Mauritanie) quant au statut de l’intégralité du territoire disputé.

Cette approche ne pourra se concrétiser que si les Etats-Unis et le Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU intensifient réellement leurs efforts en vue d’une résolution du conflit. Bien que des voix s’élèvent au sein des deux partis pour que cette décision soit annulée, il est possible que l’administration Biden estime trop complexe, d’un point de vue politique, de revenir sur la reconnaissance annoncée par Trump. Elle pourrait néanmoins chercher à rassurer le Polisario sur la possibilité d’une résolution et à convaincre les responsables qui refusent la trêve et veulent négocier en continuant les combats en parallèle.

Les Etats-Unis pourraient, par exemple, renouveler leur soutien d’antan à des mandats de six mois reconductibles pour la Minurso et modifier, dans les prochaines résolutions du Conseil de sécurité, la formulation portant sur « une solution politique réaliste, pragmatique et durable », qui, pour le Polisario, s’assimile à l’approbation du Plan d’autonomie marocain de 2006, et ce en vue de gagner l’adhésion du Polisario. Pour éviter de braquer le Maroc, ces changements pourraient s’accompagner de références explicites à la nécessité d’assurer la sécurité sur la route de Guerguerat.

Une trêve, appuyée par une nouvelle approche du conflit au niveau du Conseil de sécurité, pourrait inaugurer une nouvelle ère. Le mandat de Köhler, l’envoyé de l’ONU, bien qu’abrégé, rappelle qu’exercer une pression internationale constante sur les deux camps peut faire bouger les choses. Pour que cela puisse se renouveler, l’administration Biden devra se coordonner de manière plus étroite et plus transparente avec les autres membres du Groupe des amis pour le Sahara occidental, à savoir la France, la Russie et l’Algérie. Seule une pression internationale conjointe peut pousser le Maroc et le Front Polisario à revenir à la table des négociations.

V. Conclusion

Le désintérêt de la communauté internationale pour le Sahara occidental, exacerbé par le manque d’intérêt des médias étrangers, risque d’aviver des tensions militaires restées jusqu’à présent contenues. Le manque de considération des puissances mondiales pour ce conflit, gelé depuis longtemps, les a menées à sous-estimer la possibilité d’une escalade et a créé les conditions parfaites pour que ce face-à-face instable dégénère en une guerre de faible intensité. Le Conseil de sécurité doit agir maintenant. Il est difficile de déterminer ce qu’il coûterait d’attendre avant d’agir, mais la situation est explosive et pourrait rapidement se dégrader.

Rabat/Alger/Bruxelles, 11 mars 2021

Huit priorités pour l’Union africaine en 2021

International Grisis Group, 03 fevrier 2021

En 2021, l’Union africaine poursuivra sa lutte contre la pandémie de Covid-19 et ses répercussions économiques. Notre revue annuelle identifie huit autres situations dans lesquelles l'intervention de l'organisation pourrait contribuer à résoudre, circonscrire ou éviter un conflit.


Que se passe-t-il ? Début février 2021, se tiendra le sommet annuel des chefs d’Etat de l’Union africaine – en ligne, du fait de la pandémie de Covid-19. La crise sanitaire sera certainement au cœur des discussions, tout comme les élections de la Commission de l’UA, qui ont lieu tous les quatre ans.

En quoi est-ce significatif ? Ces élections constituent une étape importante du renouveau institutionnel, dans un contexte de réformes globales de l’UA. Une transition en douceur vers une nouvelle direction sera essentielle pour assurer la continuité des travaux de la commission sur la paix et la sécurité.

Comment agir ? Après la tenue des élections, l’UA devrait tirer parti de ce sommet pour faire face aux crises les plus urgentes, y compris les récentes violences en République centrafricaine, la guerre au Tigré (Ethiopie), la Libye, le Sahel, le Soudan et le changement climatique. Ce briefing définit huit priorités de l’UA pour 2021.


Au cours de la première semaine de février 2021 se tiendra le sommet annuel des chefs d’Etat de l’Union africaine (UA), mais cette année, il se déroulera sans le faste habituel. En raison des précautions sanitaires dues à la pandémie de Covid-19, les chefs d’Etat et de gouvernement et les ministres des Affaires étrangères se réuniront virtuellement. Lors de ce sommet, le président de la République démocratique du Congo, Félix Tshisekedi, prendra la présidence de l’UA, assurée en 2020 par le président de l’Afrique du Sud, Cyril Ramaphosa. Comme tous les quatre ans, l’UA doit également élire les candidates ou candidats à la présidence, à la vice-présidence et les six commissaires de la Commission de l’UA, qui est le secrétariat de l’organisation.

En 2020, l’UA s’est bien entendu concentrée sur la pandémie. Sous la direction de Cyril Ramaphosa, l’UA a joué un rôle central dans la gestion des efforts déployés sur le continent pour circonscrire l’impact sanitaire et économique de la Covid-19, en mettant sur pied le Groupe de travail africain sur le coronavirus, qui a, en coordination avec l’Organisation mondiale de la santé et les Centres africains de contrôle et de prévention des maladies, aidé les Etats membres à renforcer le dépistage et les tests et à garantir l’approvisionnement en vaccins sur l’ensemble du continent. Cette nécessité de contenir la pandémie a toutefois fait dévier l’UA de son objectif de « faire taire les armes » – un projet ambitieux d’éradication des conflits en Afrique avant 2020. L’organisation a fixé la nouvelle échéance dans dix ans.

Sur le plan diplomatique, les résultats de l’UA sont mitigés. L’organisation a rapidement réagi au coup d’Etat survenu en août au Mali en suspendant l’adhésion du pays pour une durée de trois mois après l’éviction de l’ancien président Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. Aujourd’hui, l’organisation participe à un comité de suivi qui observe la transition du pays vers un régime totalement civil. En revanche, au Soudan, l’UA est plus discrète dans le processus visant à garantir l’arrivée d’un gouvernement civil inclusif, alors qu’elle a joué un rôle essentiel dans les négociations pour assurer la transition politique après la destitution militaire du président Omar el-Béchir. Au Soudan du Sud, l’UA a été peu active pour lutter contre les divisions qui morcellent l’Autorité intergouvernementale pour le développement(Igad), l’organe régional de la Corne de l’Afrique. Ces divisions ont participé à la stagnation du processus de paix dans le pays. Le Conseil de paix et de sécurité de l’UA n’a pas encore mis à son ordre du jour les attaques de plus en plus dangereuses des insurgés islamistes dans la province septentrionale mozambicaine de Cabo Delgado ou la crise anglophone au Cameroun, qui couve depuis 2017.

Concernant les évolutions institutionnelles, l’année 2020 a vu l’élargissement du rôle du Bureau de l’UA, un groupe de cinq dirigeants (issus de chacune des régions géographiques de l’UA) dont les missions étaient administratives et se limitaient principalement à l’organisation du sommet de l’UA. Sous la direction de Ramaphosa, les tâches du bureau ont pris un caractère plus politique. En convoquant régulièrement le bureau pour gérer la pandémie, Ramaphosa a conféré un rôle d’encadrement au groupe à l’échelle du continent. Le groupe a établi sa légitimité à intervenir sur des questions de paix et de sécurité lorsqu’il a arbitré, en juin, un conflit tendu entre l’Egypte, l’Ethiopie et le Soudan concernant le Grand barrage de la renaissance éthiopienne (Gerd). Il reste à voir si pendant son mandat à venir à la tête de l’organisation, Félix Tshisekedi conservera et consolidera ce nouveau rôle du bureau en faveur de la paix et de la sécurité.

L’année 2021 sera tout aussi importante que 2020 pour le continent, puisque la pandémie continue de faire rage. Les responsables espèrent que l’apparition de la zone de libre-échange continentale africaine, devenue effective le 1er janvier 2021, contribuera à stimuler le commerce africain et à contrebalancer l’impact économique majeur de la Covid-19. La pandémie et les élections de la commission seront certainement au cœur des préoccupations lors de ce sommet et sont, bien évidemment, des questions essentielles pour l’UA. Cependant, l’UA devrait dégager du temps pour aborder une série de points urgents en matière de paix et de sécurité. Alors que de nouveaux dirigeants reprennent le flambeau, les huit priorités pour 2021 sont les suivantes :

1. Veiller au succès de l’élection de la Commission de l’UA ;

2. Limiter les dégâts du chaos électoral en République centrafricaine ;

3. Gérer les répercussions du conflit au Tigré en Ethiopie ;

4. Saisir une occasion de s’impliquer en Libye ;

5. Redonner la priorité aux stratégies politiques au Sahel ;

6. Soutenir la Somalie pendant ses élections et au-delà ;

7. Se réengager pour soutenir la transition au Soudan ; et

8. Attirer l’attention sur les risques sécuritaires inhérents au changement climatique.

Cette liste n’est pas exhaustive, mais elle met en exergue les situations dans lesquelles le rôle de l’UA peut se révéler déterminant cette année. Le continent est confronté à d’énormes défis, d’autant plus avec la Covid-19 qui a détourné l’attention des conflits les plus urgents et perturbé les cycles de financement en faveur des initiatives de développement et de sécurité. Dans la mesure où elle recevra probablement moins de financements de la part des Etats membres comme des partenaires internationaux, la capacité de l’UA à faire face à certaines des crises, en particulier par la voie politique, sera plus importante que jamais.

I. Veiller au succès de l’élection de la Commission de l’UA

En 2021, la Commission de l’UA élira les candidates ou candidats à la présidence, à la vice-présidence et les six commissaires. Il s’agira des premières élections organisées après des réformes institutionnelles qui ont fait passer le nombre de commissaires de huit à six, alors que quatre départements ont fusionné pour ne plus en former que deux ; les départements Affaires politiques et Paix et sécurité ne font plus qu’un, tout comme les départements Affaires économiques et Infrastructure et énergie. Pour éviter que les travaux de la commission ne soient interrompus, en particulier en matière de paix et de sécurité, cette transition devra absolument s’opérer en douceur.

Le vote est habituellement à bulletin secret mais, cette année, étant donné les mesures sanitaires liées à la Covid-19, ces élections se tiendront en ligne. Néanmoins, certains Etats ne sont pas à l’aise avec ce procédé inhabituel et remettent en question la fiabilité d’un bulletin secret électronique. Si les élections n’avaient pas lieu, pour quelque raison que ce soit, elles seraient reportées en juin 2021, à l’occasion de la réunion de coordination des organismes régionaux, ou même au prochain sommet des chefs d’Etat au début de 2022. Un tel délai risque de maintenir l’attention sur la campagne électorale et de faire perdre de vue les travaux de paix et de sécurité essentiels pour lesquels la commission est mandatée.

Le président sortant, Moussa Faki Mahamat, est le seul candidat à sa propre succession. S’il est réélu, il sera le premier président à obtenir un second, et dernier, mandat. Au cours de sa présidence, Moussa Faki s’est résolument attaché à la prévention et la résolution de conflits et a renforcé les relations de l’UA avec des partenaires multilatéraux – l’ONU et l’Union européenne (UE). Il a en outre coordonné la réponse africaine à la pandémie de manière proactive. A l’avenir, toutes ces questions seront des points importants à l’ordre du jour de la commission.

Si les élections ont lieu, le résultat pourrait encore être retardé, dépendant du résultat de l’élection à la présidence. Il est possible que Faki n’obtienne pas la majorité des deux tiers requise pour se voir confier un second mandat. Certains Etats membres sont préoccupés par les accusations qui font état d’une culture de harcèlement sexuel, de corruption et d’intimidation au sein de la commission, pendant sa présidence. Faki a formé un comité spécial en 2018 pour enquêter sur les allégations de harcèlement au sein de la commission, et a fermement rejeté les plaintes portées contre lui pour népotisme et corruption. Il a également rencontré, dans certains cas, des difficultés à combler le fossé entre les groupes anglophone et francophone de l’UA, qui s’était creusé pendant le mandat de son prédécesseur. Les Etats du sud de l’Afrique sont particulièrement méfiants à l’égard de sa relation avec la France, qu’ils estiment étroite. Le règlement actuellement en vigueur stipule que si suffisamment d’Etats s’abstiennent et que Faki n’obtient pas le nombre de voix nécessaire, la commission devra reporter les élections jusqu’au prochain sommet, ce qui implique une période d’incertitude pouvant aller jusqu’à douze mois. Si les élections sont suspendues, l’UA devrait éviter un report tardif et s’arranger pour organiser des nouvelles élections le plus tôt possible.

Dans le cadre des réformes internes, la commission a déjà sélectionné des candidats pour les élections, conformément au nouveau règlement. Un panel d’éminents Africains a ébauché la liste des compétences requises pour chaque poste et a sélectionné des candidats, lesquels sont tous nommés par les Etats membres, sur la base de critères convenus. Toutefois, étant donné que moins d’un tiers des candidats nommés pour les six postes de commissaires étaient des femmes, seules huit des 25 personnes sélectionnées sont des femmes, ce qui signifie que pour un poste, il n’y a pas de candidate et pour deux autres, il n’y en a qu’une. La prochaine fois, les Etats membres de l’UA devraient s’assurer qu’ils nomment des candidates solides dans le cadre de ce processus.

Quelle que soit la personne choisie pour occuper le poste de commissaire pour le nouveau département des Affaires politiques et de la Paix et de la sécurité, elle devra être particulièrement attentive à la gestion de la fusion entre les deux anciens départements. Ce processus, qui concernera probablement de nombreux membres du personnel et impliquera des coupes budgétaires, risque de prendre plusieurs années et pourrait miner le moral des effectifs. Celui ou celle qui sera élue commissaire devrait s’assurer que les recrutements sont réalisés en toute ouverture et transparence, en particulier pour les postes de direction, et que les réductions de personnel et les coupes budgétaires sont communiquées clairement et gérées avec la rigueur et la sensibilité requises. Si le commissaire investit rapidement dans des cadres et processus clairs pour chaque département, cela améliorera l’environnement de travail et permettra au nouveau département de déployer tout son potentiel.

II. Limiter les dégâts du chaos électoral en République centrafricaine

A quelques jours des scrutins présidentiel et législatif du 27 décembre 2020, des combats opposant le gouvernement à six principaux groupes armés ont éclaté en République centrafricaine (RCA). Ces violences ont porté un coup dur à l’accord de paix de 2019 parrainé par l’UA que le gouvernement a conclu avec quatorze groupes armés, parmi lesquels figuraient les six groupes qui participent actuellement aux hostilités. Le 4 janvier, en plein conflit, l’organe électoral national a déclaré que le président sortant, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, avait remporté les élections. La Cour constitutionnelle a confirmé sa victoire le 18 janvier. L’opposition politique a plaidé pour une annulation du vote, arguant que la recrudescence des combats avait entravé la campagne électorale et empêché plus de la moitié des électeurs inscrits sur les listes de voter. L’UA et la Communauté économique des Etats de l’Afrique centrale (Ceeac), qui ont toutes deux reconnu la victoire de Touadéra, sont les garantes de l’accord de 2019. Elles doivent faire en sorte que l’accord de paix ne soit pas davantage fragilisé, en cherchant un consensus entre le gouvernement et l’opposition et en ramenant les belligérants autour de la table des négociations.

Depuis des décennies, la RCA est en proie à l’instabilité. En 2013, une prise de pouvoir violente a déclenché une crise qui s’est prolongée jusqu’à aujourd’hui. En mars 2013, la Séléka, une coalition de groupes armés insurgés, a évincé François Bozizé, qui était alors président et a ensuite contribué à créer des milices locales « anti-balaka » pour combattre les rebelles. Après la fin de la guerre, en 2014, la Séléka et les milices anti-balaka ont éclaté en plusieurs factions poursuivant leurs propres intérêts. En 2019, après une série d’accords infructueux, l’UA a dégagé un accord qui suscité de nouveaux espoirs de paix. Malgré cela, la violence a persisté alors que les groupes armés et le gouvernement marchandaient concernant la mise en œuvre de l’accord, notamment sur l’établissement lent d’unités mixtes de sécurité que le gouvernement et l’ONU voient comme une première étape vers le désarmement.

Les tensions entre le gouvernement et l’opposition politique, devenue de plus en plus hostile au président Touadéra au cours de l’année écoulée, ont conduit à une nouvelle flambée de violences. Le 3 décembre 2020, la Cour constitutionnelle a rejeté la candidature présidentielle de Bozizé, ce qui a déclenché une spirale d’évènements qui ont finalement tourné au conflit armé. Lorsque la cour a statué, Bozizé faisait partie de la principale alliance d’opposition et n’appelait pas à la violence. Mais au fil du mois, il est apparu clairement qu’il était associé à une nouvelle coalition composée de six des plus grands groupes armés (comprenant des groupes de l’ex-Séléka qui avaient auparavant lutté contre Bozizé et d’anciens groupes anti-balaka), laquelle a manifesté son intention de perturber le scrutin. Les combats se sont étendus, et les groupes armés ont gagné du terrain alors qu’ils avançaient vers Bangui, la capitale. Les troupes russes et rwandaises sont intervenues aux côtés de l’armée nationale et des Casques bleus pour chasser les rebelles des villes de province et repousser plusieurs attaques sur Bangui, la capitale. Néanmoins, le gouvernement et ses alliés restent à la merci d’un ennemi insaisissable qui bloque les routes d’approvisionnement menant à Bangui, provoquant des pénuries alimentaires dans la capitale.

Il est essentiel de faire revenir le gouvernement et les groupes armés à la table des négociations, mais l’expansion des combats ne facilite pas les choses. Le chaos qui a entouré les élections fait vaciller l’espoir du gouvernement d’asseoir sa légitimité. Néanmoins le soutien extérieur qu’il a reçu et sa capacité à obtenir des financements constitue probablement une source de satisfaction pour le président Touadéra. Les groupes armés ne sont pas parvenus à suspendre complètement les élections, mais ils ont prouvé qu’ils pouvaient être des éléments perturbateurs en paralysant le vote dans les provinces et en se rapprochant de la capitale. En résumé : les deux camps peuvent se targuer d’une certaine victoire. A court terme, il est dès lors peu probable que des négociations semblables à celles de 2019 se renouvellent.

L’UA et la Ceeac doivent être prêtes à faciliter les négociations entre des groupes armés et les responsables gouvernementaux. Elles devraient établir des contacts avec les chefs de chaque groupe armé séparément afin d’appréhender leurs intentions et intérêts propres, notamment quant à la manière dont le gouvernement pourrait encore les intégrer dans les unités mixtes de sécurité, les arracher à la sphère d’influence de Bozizé et aider à pacifier des zones instables à temps pour le deuxième tour des élections législatives, prévu dans les semaines à venir.

S’appuyant sur ses relations avec les chefs des groupes armés et sur son expérience de médiation en RCA, acquise au cours de ces deux dernières années, l’UA devrait demander une aide technique et logistique auprès d’autres partenaires comme l’ONU et l’UE pour appuyer ses efforts. L’UA devrait par ailleurs essayer de faciliter des pourparlers pour que Bozizé et Touadéra s’entretiennent, même à distance, car l’hostilité qu’ils nourrissent l’un pour l’autre alimente les tensions entre leurs groupes ethniques respectifs. Par la suite, l’UA pourrait convoquer une réunion des signataires de l’accord de 2019 afin d’en réaffirmer les principales dispositions. Pour l’heure, toutefois, la priorité pour les partenaires africains de la RCA est de limiter les dégâts du chaos électoral.

III. Gérer les répercussions du conflit au Tigré en Ethiopie

L’UA, dont le siège se trouve à Addis-Abeba, n’a que rarement émis des commentaires sur la politique intérieure de l’Ethiopie, car ce pays connait une stabilité relative depuis une trentaine d’années. Aujourd’hui, à la suite d’une montée des tensions liées à des divisions à la fois ethniques et fédérales qui ont conduit à l’éclatement d’un conflit début novembre dans la région septentrionale du Tigré, l’UA commence à donner de la voix. A mesure que la communauté internationale prend connaissance des détails de la guerre au Tigré, l’UA se voit contrainte de s’impliquer davantage en Ethiopie.

Le conflit au Tigré est probablement l’un des conflits majeurs du continent. D’après un rapport de l’ONU, des milliers de personnes sont mortes dans les combats, et quelque 4,5 millions de Tigréens ont désormais besoin d’une aide humanitaire, selon un rapport de l’ONU. Depuis avril 2018, la tension montait entre Addis-Abeba et Mekele, la capitale du Tigré. A l’époque, le Premier ministre Abiy Ahmed était arrivé au pouvoir à la faveur de contestations populaires, ce qui a mis fin à la prédominance du Front populaire de libération du Tigré (FPLT), le parti qui gouvernait la région du Tigré, au sein de la coalition au pouvoir depuis 1991. L’élément déclencheur de la guerre au Tigré fut le rapt, par les forces tigréennes, d’unités militaires fédérales dans la région, après un litige constitutionnel sur le droit du Tigré à organiser des élections de manière autonome. Le 3 novembre, Abiy a ordonné à l’armée nationale d’évincer le FPLT du pouvoir dans le Tigré.

Bien que des troupes fédérales se soient emparées de Mekele fin novembre et qu’elles contrôlent désormais la plupart des grandes villes, les combats se poursuivent dans certaines zones de la région, et la plupart des dirigeants tigréens recherchés sont en fuite. L’accès au Tigré reste strictement limité, et Addis-Abeba n’a accepté de laisser passer l’aide humanitaire que dans les zones contrôlées par le gouvernement fédéral, alors que l’administration temporaire en place dans le Tigré fait état d’au moins deux millions de personnes déplacées dans la région. On pourrait assister à une catastrophe humanitaire si l’aide alimentaire essentielle reste bloquée.

Les hauts responsables de l’UA ont exhorté Abiy à envisager le dialogue. Le président de la Commission de l’UA, Moussa Faki, a publié un communiqué peu de temps après l’intervention fédérale dans le Tigré, faisant part de son inquiétude et appelant les parties à entamer des pourparlers. Toujours en novembre, le président de l’UA, Cyril Ramaphosa, a dépêché trois envoyés de haut niveau – les anciens présidents Joaquim Chissano du Mozambique, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf du Libéria et Kgalema Motlanthe d’Afrique du Sud – à Addis-Abeba, où ils ont rencontré des hauts responsables fédéraux en vue d’apaiser les tensions. Le gouvernement fédéral n’a toutefois pas autorisé l’accès au Tigré à ces émissaires de l’UA. Au cours d’une réunion, Abiy a rejeté leurs requêtes de pourparlers avec le FPLT, critiquant l’ingérence internationale dans ce qu’il décrit comme une « opération de maintien de l’ordre ». Par ailleurs, la crise au Tigré ne figure pas encore à l’ordre du jour du Conseil de paix et de sécurité de l’UA. Il est peu probable qu’elle apparaisse parmi les points à aborder tant que l’Ethiopie y siègera, c’est-à-dire jusqu’en 2022.

Malgré les difficultés rencontrées, le déploiement d’envoyés de l’UA est une initiative utile. Un domaine dans lequel les envoyés pourraient jouer un rôle positif est l’urgence humanitaire au Tigré. Ils devraient, en effet, soutenir l’ONU et l’UE dans leurs efforts pour obtenir un accès humanitaire sans entrave à l’ensemble de la région, et dissiper ainsi la crainte que l’aide ne parvienne pas à des millions de personnes. L’UA devrait appuyer l’appel de l’UE en faveur d’un accès immédiat, inconditionnel et sans restriction au Tigré pour les travailleurs humanitaires. Par ailleurs, les envoyés devraient se préoccuper de la situation des droits humains dans la région. Malgré le signalement de graves violations commises par différentes parties, le gouvernement éthiopien rejette les demandes d’enquêtes indépendantes. Les envoyés devraient, en partenariat avec l’UE, exhorter Addis-Abeba à autoriser ces enquêtes.

Au-delà de l’urgence de la situation dans le Tigré, l’UA devrait inciter le gouvernement fédéral à adopter des mesures de conciliation envers les opposants des autres régions afin d’y atténuer les crises, en particulier à Oromia, la région la plus peuplée d’Ethiopie. La Commission de l’UA soutient déjà le ministère de la Paix éthiopien pour initier le dialogue à petite échelle et résoudre les conflits locaux dans le pays, mais elle devrait agir davantage à un niveau supérieur. Elle pourrait par exemple faire pression sur Addis-Abeba afin qu’elle amnistie les chefs d’opposition emprisonnés. De manière générale, un dialogue national global et inclusif reste la meilleure piste pour résoudre des conflits destructeurs et interconnectés, dont certains sont liés à un système ethno-fédéral qui délègue le pouvoir à des régions administratives définies sur des bases ethniques. L’UA, d’autres dirigeants africains et les partenaires internationaux devraient faire tout ce qui est en leur pouvoir pour encourager le Premier ministre Abiy à emprunter la voie du dialogue.

IV. Saisir une occasion de s’impliquer en Libye

Le cessez-le-feu libyen, résultat d’un accord signé par les belligérants le 23 octobre 2020 à Genève, est fragile. Il tient, mais la mise en œuvre élargie de l’accord se fait attendre. Les négociations facilitées par l’ONU se poursuivent sur des questions politiques et économiques importantes, mais les tensions restent vives et sans consensus sur ces points, le cessez-le-feu pourrait être compromis. L’UA estime à juste titre que la Libye est un pays essentiel à la stabilité de l’Afrique du Nord, mais aussi à celle du Sahara, du Sahel, et d’autres régions. Elle s’est longtemps plainte d’être tenue à l’écart des efforts visant à mettre un terme au conflit libyen. Cette tentative récente de mener des négociations nationales marque une nouvelle étape dans le processus de paix libyen. Pour l’UA, il s’agit d’une opportunité à saisir pour jouer un rôle.

Pour beaucoup de responsables de l’UA et de diplomates africains, la Libye est source de contentieux depuis qu’une résolution du Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU adoptée en 2011, tout en prenant acte des appels de l’UA à privilégier le dialogue politique, a finalement approuvé une intervention militaire. Quasi immédiatement après l’adoption de la résolution, trois membres permanents du Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU – la France, les Etats-Unis et le Royaume-Uni – ont abandonné l’option diplomatique promue par l’UA. En lieu et place de celle-ci, ils ont lancé une opération militaire sous conduite de l’Otan, qui a outrepassé son mandat de protection des civils en évinçant du pouvoir le dirigeant libyen de l’époque, Mouammar Kadhafi. Les trois membres africains du Conseil de sécurité d’alors (l’Afrique du Sud, le Gabon et le Nigéria) ne sont pas parvenus à faire front commun, en raison des attitudes divergentes des Etats membres de l’UA à l’égard de Kadhafi, ce qui a contribué à affaiblir les appels de l’UA en faveur de négociations politiques.

Depuis lors, l’UA a été écartée du processus de paix libyen pour plusieurs raisons. En premier lieu, le continent est divisé quant à la faction à soutenir dans la guerre interne qui a éclaté en 2014, qui est elle-même liée à la politique et aux rivalités régionales. En outre, l’ONU joue un rôle de chef de file. L’organisation mondiale dirige une mission politique spéciale intégrée, la Mission d’appui des Nations unies en Libye (Manul), et le Conseil de sécurité a mandaté une série d’envoyés spéciaux du Secrétaire général pour piloter des efforts de rétablissement de la paix. En 2020, le conseil a rejeté les propositions visant à nommer un envoyé conjoint ONU-UA.

Aujourd’hui, l’UA a l’occasion de soutenir plus activement le processus politique délicat piloté par l’ONU et peut-être aussi la réalisation des conditions du cessez-le-feu. La nomination récente du diplomate zimbabwéen respecté Raisedon Zenenga à la coordination de la Manul est un bon point de départ pour l’UA. Néanmoins, l’UA sera confrontée à un certain nombre de défis alors qu’elle se prépare à renforcer son soutien au processus de paix en Libye.

Tout d’abord, l’UA doit déterminer en quoi sa contribution au processus libyen peut changer la donne. Sur le plan politique, elle pourrait appuyer les négociations menées actuellement par l’ONU en tirant parti de son influence pour amener des Libyens à la table des négociations, en particulier ceux qui disposent de contacts haut placés dans les capitales africaines. Cette option serait préférable à l’organisation par l’UA d’une conférence de réconciliation séparée, une idée évoquée depuis longtemps, mais qui ne fait pas l’unanimité.

Par ailleurs, l’UA devrait porter son attention sur les élections prévues le 24 décembre 2021. Si la médiation suit son cours, l’ONU jouera un rôle clé pour contribuer à organiser le scrutin, et l’UA devrait observer les élections. S’agissant de la mise en œuvre du cessez-le-feu, l’UA devrait proposer d’envoyer des observateurs, même s’ils sont peu nombreux, pour composer ce qui sera probablement une petite équipe d’observation opérant sous l’égide de l’ONU. L’accord de cessez-le-feu envisage aussi le retrait des combattants étrangers de Libye, notamment divers groupes armés du Soudan et du Tchad qui sont employés par les coalitions militaires rivales. Les observateurs africains du cessez-le-feu devraient, en coordination avec l’ONU, se préparer dès à présent à la démobilisation de ces groupes afin de s’assurer qu’ils ne deviennent pas mercenaires dans d’autres conflits proches ou qu’ils ne sèment pas le trouble dans leur pays d’origine.

L’UA doit rationaliser ses activités opérationnelles concernant la Libye. En effet, une multitude d’organes de l’UA s’occupent du dossier libyen, notamment un Comité ad hoc de haut niveau, une envoyée spéciale du président de la Commission de l’UA, un bureau de liaison et un groupe de contact international créé lors du sommet de février 2020. Bien que chacun de ces organes apportent une pierre importante à l’édifice, ils risquent également de dupliquer les efforts puisque certains mandats se chevauchent. L’UA doit clarifier la répartition du travail entre ses différentes émanations, et coordonner étroitement ses efforts avec les membres africains du Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU.

Enfin, l’UA devrait s’assurer qu’elle dispose de capacités suffisantes pour suivre l’évolution de la situation et s’impliquer pleinement. Lors de son sommet de février 2020, l’Assemblée de l’UA a décidé de transformer son bureau de liaison en mission en Libye et de la doter des capacités politiques, diplomatiques et militaires nécessaires. L’UA devrait mettre sa décision en œuvre rapidement. Elle devrait également fournir des canaux de communication clairs et efficaces vers son siège d’Addis-Abeba afin de le tenir informé de l’évolution de la situation.

V. Redonner la priorité aux stratégies politiques au Sahel

Alors que les violences persistent dans une grande partie du Sahel, il est urgent de repenser la stabilisation de cette région. L’année 2020 y a été l’année la plus meurtrière depuis des décennies. Elle a été marquée par une montée en flèche des violences intercommunautaires dont les jihadistes et les milices ont profité pour générer encore davantage d’insécurité. Le coup d’Etat d’août 2020 au Mali, survenu à la suite de manifestations populaires contre la corruption et l’insécurité, illustre la profonde colère des populations vis-à-vis de leurs gouvernements. Bien que la question de la gouvernance soit une source croissante de préoccupation, la réponse de l’UA, à l’instar de celle des puissances occidentales, s’est récemment orientée vers une action militaire. L’UA prévoit d’envoyer une force au Sahel en appui à la force conjointe du G5 Sahel, une coalition ad hoc composée du Burkina Faso, du Mali, de la Mauritanie, du Niger et du Tchad.

Le 27 février 2020, le commissaire à la Paix et à la Sécurité de l’UA, Smaïl Chergui, a annoncé que l’UA déploierait 3 000 soldats au Sahel. Des sources internes à l’UA indiquent que ceux-ci seront affectés à la zone des trois frontières (Mali, Niger et Burkina Faso) du Liptako-Gourma, où les opérations jihadistes sont les plus intenses. Les détails relatifs au fonctionnement de la force, notamment ses mécanismes de financement et les pays qui fourniront des contingents, ne sont pas encore arrêtés. Le concept d’opérations est encore en cours d’élaboration.

Trouver une source de financement pour une telle force sera probablement difficile. Les contributions des Etats africains au Fonds pour la paix de l’UA arrivant bien plus lentement qu’espéré, l’UA a décidé de reporter la date butoir pour atteindre l’objectif de 400 millions de dollars pour la période 2021-2023. Elle ne puisera probablement pas dans ce fonds avant que ce montant soit atteint. La Communauté économique des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (Cedeao) pourrait apporter un financement, étant donné son engagement pris en 2019 d’affecter 1 milliard de dollars à la lutte contre le terrorisme au Sahel, mais il est peu probable que ces fonds soient alloués rapidement, puisque la Cedeao doit encore les rassembler. Le Nigéria et le Ghana ont déjà critiqué ce qu’ils estiment être un manque de coordination entre la Cedeao et l’UA concernant l’élaboration de cette force. Les éventuels bailleurs en dehors du continent sont également sceptiques.

Même si la force de l’UA était finalement déployée, elle ne permettrait sans doute pas d’améliorer la sécurité dans une région déjà saturée d’opérations militaires qui n’ont, jusqu’à présent, pas pu apporter de paix durable. La plus-value de l’envoi de soldats supplémentaires au Sahel est loin d’être garantie. En réalité, cela pourrait même avoir l’effet inverse. Les exactions commises par les forces de sécurité nationales, qui se sont souvent alliées à des groupes d’autodéfense locaux et des milices ethniques, ont déclenché des conflits entre communautés opposées qui sont aujourd’hui plus meurtriers que toute autre forme de violence au Sahel.

Au lieu de renforcer « l’embouteillage » sécuritaire dans la région, l’UA devrait élaborer une stratégie politique pour le Sahel, pilotée par l’Afrique, et qui se concentrerait sur les causes profondes de l’insécurité. Elle devrait finaliser le plan de stabilisation de la région et entreprendre une navette diplomatique renforcée avec les gouvernements du G5 pour qu’ils contribuent au document. Cette nouvelle stratégie devrait mettre l’accent sur la nécessité, pour les Etats sahéliens, de restaurer leur crédibilité auprès des communautés rurales, notamment par le biais d’efforts visant à résoudre les conflits locaux, apaiser les tensions locales et mieux réglementer l’accès aux ressources locales. Les Etats du Sahel devraient en outre s’ouvrir à l’idée de dialoguer avec les communautés hostiles aux autorités, y compris celles qui sont soupçonnées d’abriter des jihadistes. Les Etats sont contraints d’avoir recours à la force pour lutter contre les groupes jihadistes, mais les opérations militaires devraient s’inscrire dans un plan de stabilisation et ne pas constituer une fin en soi.

Parallèlement, les efforts pour maintenir sur la bonne voie la transition post-coup d’État au Mali seront essentiels à la stabilité régionale. L’UA devrait utiliser son siège au Groupe de suivi et de soutien à la transition au Mali (GST-Mali), établi par la Cedeao, pour coordonner l’appui international fourni pour les dix-huit mois de transition du pays vers un régime démocratique. En collaboration étroite avec la Cedeao et les Nations unies, l’UA devrait faire pression sur les autorités de Bamako pour s’assurer qu’au cours de cette période, le Mali atteint les objectifs fixés. L’UA et ses partenaires devraient plus particulièrement s’assurer que les autorités tiennent leurs promesses de lutter contre la corruption, de distribuer les postes gouvernementaux de manière équitable, sans consolider le pouvoir de l’armée, et d’avancer dans les préparatifs électoraux selon le calendrier établi.

L’UA devrait également tirer parti de son envoyé spécial pour la région, une fois qu’il sera nommé, pour intensifier le dialogue avec les différents groupes politiques maliens et les partis politiques naissants qui souhaitent prendre part aux élections. Le poste d’envoyé spécial pour le Mali et le Sahel est vacant depuis la démission, en novembre 2020, de Pierre Buyoya (décédé depuis) et ne sera probablement pas pourvu avant que le nouveau président de l’UA ait été élu. En tout premier lieu, le président entrant devrait nommer un nouvel envoyé doté de l’assise suffisante pour collaborer avec Bamako et les partenaires internationaux, et son équipe devrait être élargie en conséquence. Si possible, l’envoyé devrait être basé au Mali.

VI. Soutenir la Somalie pendant ses élections et au-delà

Une élection présidentielle controversée doit se tenir en Somalie le 8 février prochain, à peine un jour après la fin du sommet de l’UA, mais les craintes que la violence éclate pendant la campagne électorale rendent ce scrutin de plus en plus incertain. Le pays est sur des charbons ardents depuis décembre. A l’époque, les élections législatives qui auraient dû lancer le cycle électoral ont été reportées à la dernière minute. Les relations entre le gouvernement fédéral somalien et certaines régions du pays, ou Etats membres fédérés, qui s’étaient dégradées ces dernières années en raison de désaccords sur le partage du pouvoir, se sont encore envenimées suite à des différends sur l’organisation des élections. Le groupe insurgé islamiste al-Shabaab, qui a renforcé ses attaques en Somalie au cours des derniers mois, et l’Etat islamique en Somalie, pourraient tous deux exploiter les troubles liés aux élections. Si des combats éclatent, l’UA et sa mission militaire, l’Amisom, seront appelées pour apaiser la situation.

L’Amisom s’attelle déjà à renforcer la coopération avec les forces armées locales pour contribuer à sécuriser des zones déterminées dans lesquelles des notables de clans et des délégués électoraux iront voter. L’UA devrait jouer un rôle de médiation en cas de violence. Elle devrait s’associer à la Mission d’assistance des Nations Unies en Somalie (Manusom) pour coordonner toutes les initiatives de dialogue et ainsi s’assurer qu’elle complète les efforts de l’ONU, sans les dédoubler.

Cette année, l’UA devra par ailleurs préparer l’avenir de l’Amisom. Cette mission, déployée sur le terrain depuis 2007, subit une pression financière croissante à l’approche du renouvellement de son mandat, le 28 février 2021. Le financement de l’Amisom par l’Union européenne, sans lequel la mission ne peut pas fonctionner, doit arriver à son terme en juillet. Actuellement, Bruxelles met la dernière main à ses nouveaux mécanismes de financement en faveur des opérations de paix et de sécurité dans le monde, et les Européens ne sont pas encore en mesure d’indiquer si un renouvellement du financement sera possible.

Le contingent de l’Amisom a déjà été réduit de 3 000 hommes depuis 2017 – ce qui ramène le nombre de soldats déployés autorisés à 19 626 – en prévision de son retrait prévu en 2021, en faveur des forces de sécurité nationales, conformément au plan de transition de la Somalie. L’UA craint, à juste titre, que les forces nationales ne disposent pas encore des capacités nécessaires pour prendre le relais et que le départ prématuré de l’Amisom anéantisse les avancées durement réalisées dans la lutte contre al-Shabaab. La plupart des partenaires internationaux partagent l’inquiétude de l’UA concernant les forces somaliennes, mais rechignent à continuer de financer les opérations de l’Amisom, dont le coût est estimé à 1,2 milliard de dollars par an.

Lors du renouvellement de son mandat, l’Amisom pourrait voir son financement ou ses effectifs réduits. Dans ce contexte, l’UA et ses partenaires devraient faire pression sur Mogadiscio et les Etats membres fédérés pour qu’ils établissent un calendrier cohérent et harmonisé pour la mise en œuvre du plan de transition de la Somalie et le développement des forces de sécurité nationales, en mettant notamment davantage l’accent sur leur capacité à sécuriser les centres urbains. Cela permettrait à l’Amison de se consacrer plus activement à la lutte contre les insurgés d’al-Shabaab. Cette tâche devra probablement attendre la fin des élections car, quelle que soit la nouvelle administration, elle voudra apposer sa marque sur le plan de transition, que le Conseil de paix et de sécurité de l’UA a adopté en avril 2018.

Il est important que l’UA défende fermement ses recommandations politiques auprès du Secrétariat et du Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU avant le renouvellement de mandat de l’Amisom. A tout le moins, l’UA devrait chercher à persuader ses partenaires de demander au Conseil de sécurité d’élargir le rôle de l’Amisom dans l’accompagnement de l’armée nationale, pour développer encore les capacités locales et autonomiser la Somalie dans la sécurisation des centres urbains.

Toutefois, même si l’armée nationale obtenait un soutien supplémentaire de l’Amisom, il est peu probable qu’elle parvienne à prendre le relais de l’opération de soutien à la paix d’ici fin 2021. Dès lors, les partenaires internationaux de la Somalie doivent se préparer à prolonger le mandat et le financement de l’Amisom après 2021. L’UA devrait quant à elle impliquer les partenaires, y compris l’UE, pour définir le nouveau mandat de l’Amisom, et évoquer notamment la possibilité d’une mission allégée davantage axée sur la lutte contre le terrorisme et la planification d’un transfert des responsabilités sécuritaires aux forces locales.

VII. Se réengager pour soutenir la transition au Soudan

Après les mois de contestation qui ont débouché sur l’éviction de l’ancien président Omar el-Béchir, l’UA a joué un rôle central dans les négociations menées pour former le gouvernement intérimaire du Soudan, composé de civils et de militaires. Elle était également témoin signataire de l’accord de paix de Juba, conclu en octobre 2020 entre Khartoum et les mouvements rebelles du Darfour et des régions du Kordofan du Sud et du Nil bleu. Cet accord vise à mettre un terme à des années de conflit civil dans lequel des centaines de milliers de personnes ont péri et que des millions d’autres ont fui. Pour consolider ces avancées, l’UA doit revenir sur son désengagement récent et reprendre son rôle de garante et d’observatrice de la transition, tout en contribuant à négocier l’entrée dans le gouvernement de transition de groupes rebelles qui n’ont pas signé l’accord de Juba.

L’avenir de la révolution soudanaise est en jeu. L’économie approche du point de rupture, ce qui déstabilise l’arrangement fragile entre les civils et les militaires nommés au Conseil souverain créé en août 2019 et qui gouverne le pays. Le cabinet civil pourrait en effet perdre la confiance d’une population très éprouvée par les décennies de gouvernement Béchir et qui attend de lui des résultats sur les plans économique et démocratique. Si les manifestants redescendent dans la rue pour se plaindre de l’absence d’avancées, les acteurs militaires pourraient exploiter l’instabilité ambiante pour élargir leur pouvoir. De fortes pressions s’exercent sur le Premier ministre, Abdallah Hamdok, pour qu’il augmente les dépenses au profit des citoyens ordinaires. Le gouvernement doit faire preuve d’habileté ; il doit libérer des fonds actuellement alloués à des services de sécurité congestionnés ou à des projets inefficaces qui profitent à des personnalités influentes liées à l’ancien régime. Cependant, un excès de réformes pourrait provoquer le mécontentement de ces mêmes personnalités et mettre le cabinet civil en difficulté.

En outre, d’importants groupes rebelles restent en dehors du processus de paix. Le groupe le plus puissant des régions du Kordofan du Sud et du Nil bleu, dirigé par Abdel Aziz Al-Hilu, a refusé de signer l’accord de Juba. C’est également le cas du chef rebelle du Darfour, Abdul Wahid Al-Nour. Abdel Aziz exige des droits à l’autodétermination plus étendus pour les deux régions et une moindre influence de l’armée. Selon Abdul Wahid, l’accord n’est qu’un nouvel exemple de cooptation politique par les autorités centrales qui n’ont pas réussi à régler les causes profondes du conflit au Darfour.

Bien que l’UA ait contribué à dégager l’accord de Juba, elle a refusé de jouer un rôle direct dans les efforts plus larges visant à stabiliser le pays. Etant donné la gravité de la situation au Soudan et la réussite de l’UA à mener le pays à l’accord d’août 2019, l’organisation devrait reprendre un rôle plus proéminent. Elle devrait nommer un envoyé au Soudan, basé au bureau de liaison de l’UA à Khartoum, dont la mission serait d’arbitrer les tensions entre les membres du nouveau gouvernement de transition élargi au Soudan et de les encourager ensuite à respecter les dispositions en suspens des accords de transition et de l’accord de Juba. Celles-ci comprennent les réformes du secteur de la sécurité et de l’économie ainsi que les préparatifs électoraux. L’envoyé pourrait rapporter les sujets de préoccupation au Conseil de paix et de sécurité de l’UA et ouvrir des pourparlers pour faciliter l’entrée d’Abdel Aziz et Abdul Wahid dans la transition.

Le retrait en cours de l’opération hybride Union africaine-Nations unies au Darfour (Minuad), qui laissera probablement un vide sécuritaire dans une zone fragile du pays, est une bonne raison pour l’UA d’intensifier sa médiation politique. Le Darfour est de plus en plus en proie aux conflits communautaires locaux pour l’accès aux ressources, que certains acteurs pourraient exploiter pour pousser les groupes locaux à gagner du pouvoir et de l’influence à Khartoum.

VIII. Attirer l’attention sur les risques sécuritaires inhérents au changement climatique

La crise climatique attire de plus en plus l’attention internationale en amont de la 26e Conférence de l’ONU sur les changements climatiques (COP26), désormais prévue pour novembre 2021, et grâce au retour bienvenu de Washington dans l’accord de Paris. Tirant parti de cette prise de conscience mondiale accrue, les Etats membres de l’UA savent depuis des années que le changement climatique menace les populations de tout le continent. Ils devraient profiter de la conférence pour mettre en évidence les risques de conflits liés à la crise du climat et élaborer des politiques d’adaptation visant à les réduire.

L’avenir climatique de l’Afrique est préoccupant. Comme l’ont montré des scientifiques de l’ONU, des millions d’Africains ont déjà connu des vagues de chaleur sans précédent, des épisodes de précipitations extrêmes et la montée du niveau des océans – des changements qui ont une incidence sur les moyens de subsistance, exacerbent l’insécurité alimentaire, intensifient la compétition pour les ressources, raréfient les réserves d’eau et accélèrent la migration. Selon les prévisions de la Banque mondiale, des dizaines de millions d’Africains devront bientôt quitter leurs foyers en raison du changement climatique, mettant sous pression les villes et les pays qu’ils traverseront pour aller tenter leur chance ailleurs. Des réponses politiques créatives sont donc nécessaires. Alors que la démographie explose, l’eau destinée à l’usage domestique et à l’irrigation deviendra un bien encore plus précieux. Sur le Nil, l’Egypte et l’Ethiopie ont déjà échangé des menaces d’action militaire concernant le Grand barrage de la renaissance éthiopienne. Pour Le Caire, ces menaces représentent un risque vital pour la stabilité et la prospérité du pays, que le changement climatique ne fera qu’accroitre.

Les effets du climat sur les conflits ne sont cependant ni simples ni linéaires, et dépendent fortement de la manière dont les Etats sont gouvernés. Les répercussions des changements climatiques sur les conflits peuvent être très différentes selon la réponse politique apportée. Dans certains cas, l’augmentation des températures et les précipitations inégales génèrent en effet la rareté des ressources et donc des conflits. Comme l’a montré Crisis Group, les sécheresses survenues dans le nord-ouest du Nigéria ont intensifié la compétition de longue date entre éleveurs et agriculteurs pour des ressources qui se tarissent peu à peu. Dans d’autres situations, c’est la réponse gouvernementale au changement climatique qui a accéléré le conflit. Dans le Sahel central, par exemple, les efforts d’adaptation comme les puits creusés et les programmes agricoles déployés sans planification suffisante ont attiré des agriculteurs non autochtones, ce qui a créé des tensions avec les éleveurs nomades locaux et les agriculteurs autochtones. L’UA devrait attirer l’attention sur les risques sécuritaires induits par le changement climatique et lever des fonds pour financer les initiatives d’atténuation, tout en disant clairement que le lien entre le changement climatique et les conflits n’est pas direct et que les gouvernements du continent jouent un rôle essentiel pour minimiser les risques.

L’UA a la lourde tâche de rassembler suffisamment de fonds pour financer les efforts d’adaptation climatique sur le continent. Les gouvernements occidentaux et les entreprises qui s’étaient engagés à générer 100 milliards de dollars par an, à partir de 2020, en faveur de l’atténuation et l’adaptation au changement climatique dans les pays en développement n’ont pas tenu leurs promesses. Les pays riches susceptibles de faire des dons sont plus préoccupés par la réduction des émissions de carbone à long terme que par des efforts plus immédiats d’adaptation climatique pouvant aider les Africains. A cette fin, l’UA doit intensifier sa campagne mondiale pour obtenir de l’aide. En mai 2018, le Conseil de paix et de sécurité de l’UA a demandé que le président de la Commission de l’UA nomme un envoyé spécial en charge du changement climatique et de la sécurité. Ce poste n’est pas encore pourvu. La nomination de l’ancien secrétaire d’Etat américain, John Kerry, au poste d’envoyé des Etats-Unis pour le climat et le plaidoyer des nations européennes en faveur de la désignation d’un représentant spécial de l’ONU pour le climat et la sécurité montrent que l’Afrique a l’attention dont elle a besoin pour présenter ses propres idées et priorités.

Le président de la Commission de l’UA devrait immédiatement nommer un envoyé doté de suffisamment de poids politique pour faire pression sur les acteurs internationaux et soutenir la prévention de conflits liée au climat. L’envoyé travaillerait à promouvoir les intérêts du continent, en particulier dans la préparation d’une position africaine commune en amont de la COP26. Elle ou il pourrait également élaborer des normes contribuant à éviter d’exacerber les conflits locaux à l’heure de financer les mécanismes d’adaptation climatique.

Addis-Abeba/Nairobi/Dakar/Bruxelles, 3 février 2021