Tunisia’s Success After the Arab Spring

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Beginning in 2010, the Arab Spring sparked the downfall of four major regimes in the Middle East and North Africa. First to leave power was Tunisia’s longtime dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. He and his wife fled to Saudi Arabia after many of his military and political allies did not back him in face of increasing protests. Shortly thereafter Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, eventually replaced by the first freely elected leader in Egypt, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Ali Abdullah Saleh, the President of Yemen, fled to nearby Saudi Arabia after protestors and gunmen took to the streets in the capitol city of Sana’a. Lastly, rebel forces captured and killed Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi while he was trying to flee from the crumbling capitol of Tripoli. Despite the promising chances for change in the Arab Spring countries, some fared better than others in the aftermath of the revolution.

Egypt faces many challenges ahead in easing the religious-secularist divide and keeping the military out of politics. Libya has descended into a state of lawlessness, the only real security forces being local militias. Yemen has been plagued by deadly terrorist attacks while stagnating in a political transition. It seems as if Tunisia, despite the slow pace of reforms, has the best prospects for prosperity after the Arab Spring. Currently, secularist and Islamic political leaders are engaged in a clear dialogue. In other words, both sides are “sitting at the negotiating table.”

So why has Tunisia succeeded while others have failed? The answer may lie in three main arenas of political activity: the constitution-writing process, the choices of elites, and the role of the military. Tunisian Islamist and secularist political leaders were able to come to a compromise on the wording of some hotly contested sections of the constitution. Among them was the challenge of how to incorporate religion into the founding document. Two years and two assassinations after the initial constitution was written, the Islamist Ennahda party made a few concessions in this crucial section, breaking the stalemate and allowing the constitution-approving process to go forward. As the New York Times reports, the new Tunisian constitution does not set up an Islamic state or suggest Sharia Law. Instead, the bargain-makers agreed to carefully word the document so that it simply keeps Islam as the official religion of Tunisia.

Ali Larayedh, Tunisia’s prime minister and prominent Ennahda party member, resigned in early January, but as the New York Times reports, the resignation was part of a larger political agreement to get to the next level of negotiations. Larayedh’s resignation denotes a shift in political power away from the Islamists and towards the secularists. It is important to note, though, that this agreement came out of a political strategy and not out of a coup, like in neighboring Egypt. The fact that popular support for Islamists is about equal to popular support for secularists is important to note here. This competition forces the two sides to compromise rather than allowing for one side to overpower the other.

Lastly, the Tunisian military took drastically different steps than the Egyptian military in the aftermath of their respective revolutions. Since Nasser’s Egypt, the military has remained a trusted political institution. When something upsets the political equilibrium in Egypt, many look to the military for leadership. Conversely, in Tunisia the military remains largely apolitical after the Arab Spring. The remnants of Ben Ali’s security forces are disabled, and thus there has not been a reactive “crackdown” like we have seen in Egypt.

Tunisia is still far from being in the clear. Many aspects of political, social and economic life have yet to be settled after the Arab Spring. As the negotiation process continues, we can hope that the Tunisians continue down a path to prosperity, possibly providing a new model for nation building in post-revolutionary nations.


Leaving Libya Behind: Two Years after Qaddafi, One Year after Benghazi

According the the U.N.’s Support Mission in Libya, the country has accumulated the largest known stockpile of man-portable defense systems in the world. There are increasing concerns about the looting and likely proliferation of these portable defense systems and the risk to local and regional stability. (Source: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

This past week marked the second anniversary of the death of dictator Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, captured after an eight-month revolt against his four-decade rule in Libya. Since the country’s liberation, its transitional government has struggled with security issues and has exhibited a woeful need for the assistance of external actors that can strike a balance between smothering the nascent state and idly standing back.

The military intervention in Libya was unique in many respects. The United States, with the crucial and historically unforeseen support of the Arab League, orchestrated Operation Unified Protector, a NATO operation carried out by mostly British and French forces that deployed air strikes and imposed a no-fly zone to prevent Qaddafi forces from attacking civilian areas held by rebels. Most notably, international actors did not deploy post-conflict peacekeeping forces after the operation and have continued to maintain this low-profile approach.

Foreign actors had good reason to limit their role in the early post-conflict stages. Under the aegis of NATO and the United States, international actors have refrained from excessive involvement so as to not undermine the fragile legitimacy of the Libyan authorities—cognizant of the mixed record of United States security assistance—as bloated foreign assistance absent of investments in institutions and people that support local entrepreneurship often leads to poor governance and disincentives for exports.

In contrast with the post-conflict situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the immediate post-war situation in Libya was much calmer. The country’s uprising was a byproduct of the neighboring positive political trends in Tunisia and Egypt. Regional, tribal and other cleavages that were instigated by the 40 year authoritarian regime were temporarily put aside as diverse groups fought against Qaddafi. Key infrastructures were mostly left intact through attentive NATO military planning. And most importantly, the country was also relatively wealthy on account of its energy resources ($14,100 GDP per capita in 2010) and, therefore, less desperate for financial assistance. Richard Weitz, senior fellow and director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute surveys the situation likewise:  “There is a bit of a concern in Washington as well as in Libya itself that the government is seen being … too closely attached to the western powers that intervened militarily to overthrow Qaddafi and so it is better if in public, the government … attacks the US for violence and sovereignty, even if in private they are collaborating with the United States.” It is clear that for Libya to be stable and prosperous in the future, concerted and nuanced international engagement is needed.

Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has requested help from Western governments in dealing with a growing number of jihadi groups taking advantage of Libya’s security vacuum, many of whom came in across its porous southern border. David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy visited Libya in 2011. (Source: Reuters)

Libya is devolving into anarchy and observers forecast an oncoming civil war.  Rival factions continue to act autonomously, showing they are the ultimate arbiters in a struggle between rival tribes and radical Islamist leaders. In the past year alone, more than 80 people, many of them high-ranking military and police figures, have been killed in eastern Libya.  Just last week, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was kidnapped  from the Corinthia Hotel. Upon his release, the premier thanked a rival armed group for his rescue in what can be a harbinger of future threats. The tragic attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on September, 11th, 2012, which resulted in the death of 4 Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens, punctuated the abysmal failure to disarm and reign in the revolutionary brigades into a single national force. It now appears that southern Libya has become a new base for al-Qaeda. Can any type of government be built in such a climate? The sine qua non of post-conflict nation building endures: without a security guarantee on the ground, political and economic goals are unachievable.

When President Obama addressed the nation on Libya in 2011, he said, much to the consternation of some observers: “There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and our values are…In such cases, we should not be afraid to act–but the burden of action should not be America’s alone.  As we have in Libya, our task is instead to mobilize the international community for collective action.” Garnering the attention of the international community has been diluted and complicated by the fact that Libya is not pivotal to the geostrategic interests of the United States vis-à-vis Egypt or Afghanistan. On the other hand, Europe’s oil flows are suddenly at risk.

The sine qua non of post-conflict nation building endures: without a security guarantee on the ground, political and economic goals are unachievable.

But this goal is not impossible and now requires imperative action. The Libyan state needs to monopolize the legitimate use of force in order to solidify its sovereignty. Ergo, NATO has recently agreed to a Libyan request to advise it on the strengthening of its security forces, an ancillary engagement that should vitally assist in the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of former combatants via a holistic approach that includes financial, social, and security incentives.  Only then can deliberations on the role of shari’a law and the appropriate balance between centralized power in Tripoli and local authorities occur within a constitutional drafting framework. If Libya’s current challenges are handled adroitly, the state could become a valuable partner against al-Qaeda in an increasingly unstable region and a vindication of a less costly approach to nation building where the United States acts at a low cost to defend human rights by putting allies in the lead.  So far these outcomes are only a chimera as states, intergovernmental organizations, and NGOs alike have left Libya behind.

Doing What? The Impact of State-Led Humanitarian Action

cover for Doing Bad by Doing Good
Christopher Coyne’s new book, Doing Bad by Doing Good, which addresses the failures of state-led humanitarian action

State-led humanitarian aid has long acted as a tool for the United States to engage with foreign countries and the developing world. However, while humanitarian aid has several short term goals, such as disaster relief, it has blended with long term development projects and even counterterrorism strategies.

The global financial crisis has considerably altered American support for foreign aid, as domestic issues consume the political environment. Furthermore, reports of U.S. aid projects abroad have revealed a glaring lack of oversight and the wasteful spending of millions of dollars. While calls for reform have arisen in the past year to reduce inefficiencies, tight budget constraints and special interest groups remain an obstacle to reform. Whether aid fulfills sustainable development goals or even has any meaningful impact remains a constant point of contention. As more careful studies are produced, the results appear grim.

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The Coming “African Boom”

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, the Horn of Africa has emerged as the new base for global terrorism uprooted 12 years ago in Afghanistan.

As American politicians depict a future of peace to their war weary population, European leaders have taken a decidedly more militaristic tone towards extremism in the region. Only one day prior to Obama’s Inaugural address, Britain’s David Cameron, in response to French military intervention in Mali and the subsequent Algerian hostage crisis, described the Africa’s Islamists as a “large and existential threat” that would require a response “that is about years, even decades, rather than months”.

As Western leaders pivot their military might onto a region mired in radicalism and political instability, this blog is largely concerned about the implications for African development and the future of oil security and energy growth in the region. Such instability threatens what many have referred to as the coming “African boom,” economic growth fueled in large part by the rise of oil exports and revenue.

“Each year, in the oil sector alone, a major new discovery is heralded, from Ghana to Uganda and most recently Kenya, pushing Africa’s share of world oil reserves to 10 percent. African oil production growth has already been the fastest in the world over the past 10 years, all of it in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Africa now produces 10m barrels a day, as much as Russia or Saudi Arabia, with the 6m barrels of SSA alone worth $235 billion of oil revenue annually or 20% of 2011 GDP. Renaissance expects volume increases to ensure this tops $300 billion even with no change in oil prices by 2019….Nearly a trillion dollars of oil revenue every three years means unprecedented inflows of foreign exchange to fund imports of investment and consumption goods. Rapid economic growth means growing African demand for resources.”

Will energy companies continue to invest in oil production in the face of instability and security concerns after Mali, Algeria, and the continued deterioration in Libya? The most recent attack on Algerian oil fields and the ensuing hostage crisis was grand in scale, but not unique to the area or oil companies. It is said that where there is oil, there is conflict. In fact, militants have a long history of targeting oil installations because they represent high profile targets symbolic of political and economic might. In 2004, Bin Laden specifically citied oil installations as a legitimate target of war, because their damage would result in both economic pain and higher oil prices to U.S. and European markets.

This tragedy is not unprecedented, as there has always been a bit of high risk/high return for investors in the region. The question is how markets and potential investors will react to the North African upheaval. History and recent indicators suggest acts of terrorism will result in heightened security over key oil installations, rather than a reduction of foreign capital and reduced investment into the region. The promise of African oil provides incentive for companies to safeguard and continue to invest in the region’s future.

The importance of securing energy production in a developing country cannot be overstated in terms of future growth.  Talks regarding Algeria at Davos provided a clear look at how world leaders are looking once again at issues of security and investment in Africa. The World Economic Forum’s focus on sustainable development, energy infrastructure, and security lead European leaders to conclude:

“The energy sector constitutes a relatively modest share of GDP in most countries, except for those in which oil and gas income loom large. However, the energy sector’s impact on the economy is greater than the sum of its parts. Most importantly, almost none of the economy’s goods and services could be provided without it. Thus, stable and reasonable energy prices are needed to reignite, sustain and expand economic growth.”

How energy markets and foreign investors react to the threat posed to economic growth through radicalism will determine the future growth of Africa, and produce either an economic or a literal ‘boom.’ The immediate reaction to the Algerian crisis has produced a wait and see attitude on the part of investors, which has been perceived as a hopeful sign for continued development in the region.  This response suggests companies may not walk away from the region as the perceived risks of investing in future projects fail to outweigh the promise of development and economic growth. How energy markets respond to the challenges of continued economic growth in “an arc of instability” will reverberate across the international development field.

Building BRICS of Foreign Aid: Ushering in Russian Foreign Aid

Russia has finally found its stride again in the international donor community. After having been a massive donor as part of the Soviet Union – providing some 26 billion dollars in 1986 alone – Russia actually received more assistance than it donated through the 1990s. It was not until 2010 that Britain stopped its aid program to Russia (and China), and the US is now no longer a donor either.

Russia is now spending around 500 million dollars a year on foreign aid and has set up an agency for direct aid while also backing the creation of a multi-billion dollar crisis response fund to help its neighbors such as Belarus which is struggling through the economic crisis. Continue reading

Reverse Perestroika: Russian Regulation of NGOs

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Over the course of the weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that unleashed a new wave of regulations on the nation’s 220,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Passed by the upper house of parliament earlier in July, the legislation will force NGOs that engage in “political activity” and receive funding from abroad to register with the government and file detailed reports of the organization’s activities. Failure to comply with the provisions carry fines up to $9,000 or 2 years in prison. The measures have revived the controversy concerning the transparency of the Russian government and its commitment to democratic institutions.

A reaction to some of the largest anti-government protests since the fall of the USSR, the law was intentionally designed to restrict and suppress opposition political activity, a long-term goal of Putin’s United Russia party. The government, marred by allegations of electoral fraud and widespread corruption, intentionally designed the policy to restrict certain avenues of political speech and expression. Like the recent NGO bans and regulations in Egypt, Libya, and Zimbabwe, Russia’s NGO law will weaken dissent and the establishment of viable competition in the political arena. Continue reading

Uncivil Society

The promise of the “Arab Spring” seems to fade day by day.  Most recently, in a series of concerns regarding the fate of the 2011 revolutions, are the civil society crackdowns underway in both Egypt and Libya.

Leaders of the Egyptian transitional government revived Mubarak’s strict stance on civil society, taking extreme measures against NGOs and civil society organizations.  On December 29th, Egyptian security forces raided seven different NGOs based in Cairo, detaining numerous employees.  The organizations targeted in the crackdown focused specifically on issues of democracy and were supposed to monitor Egypt’s upcoming parliamentary elections.  Among the Americans detained by the Egyptian government, was Sam LaHood, son of Ray LaHood, Secretary of Transportation.

Sam (left) and Ray (right) LaHood

The conflict quickly escalated as Egypt proceeded to investigate over 400 unregistered NGOs, accusing them of accepting illegal donations.  In light of these developments, Senator Leahy proposed that U.S. pull its funding from Egypt, an amount totaling to $1.3 billion of military aid.  Egyptian authorities responded, criticizing the U.S. for funding unregistered NGOs, an action that, as a Washington Post article points out, is illegal in all nations. Egyptian authorities also argued that pulling U.S. aid would constitute a breach of the terms of Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, rendering the long-standing agreement invalid. Continue reading