Interview by Mouna Sadek
Dr Saidj Mustapha is a well-known Algerian expert in international relations, a professor at the Graduate School of Political Science of Algiers and a consultant for Algerian public television channel ENTV. Magharebia met with him in Algiers to hear his predictions for Algerian terrorism, Sahel security, Morocco-Algeria relations and the end-game in Libya.
Magharebia: This has been an eventful year in Arab countries. What is behind this new momentum towards freedom in the Maghreb and Middle East?
Dr Saidj Mustapha: The ongoing protests, uprisings and revolutions – what the media calls the “Arab Spring” – can be explained by the end of the contemporary era of the authoritarian Arab elite. In most of the countries where people have sought to overthrow the governing regimes, the ruling elites were in power for up to forty years and the age of the rulers was between 70 to 80 plus, an age that does not adapt to the aspirations and ambitions of the Arab youth who represent between 60 and 70% of the population. Moreover, these regimes do not want to leave power.
Corruption has become the only principle upon which these regimes stand, whether by monopolising wealth or by using public money to become enriched.
Tyranny and widespread corruption needed a spark of fire that began with Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia. Khaled Said in Egypt, the victims of Abu Salim prison in Benghazi, the children of Daraa in Syria – all were demanding the fall of the regime.
The young people who launched this revolution do not come from the traditional political institutions, such as political parties or military coup elites. This makes us look forward to a phase of democratic transition from an authoritarian regime to a pluralistic, democratic system.
Magharebia: What do you predict for Libya?
Mustapha: The Libyan crisis could end in three possible scenarios. The first would divide Libya in a way similar to Sudan.
Eastern Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC) has gained the approval of Western and Gulf countries. It represents a model of a state that is independent from western Libya, with its own sovereign symbols, different national flags, security institutions and administrative institutions. Funding from frozen Libyan assets gives it financial independence from the Tripoli regime. This scenario is probable if Kadhafi forces withstand the NATO airstrikes and Libyan rebels fail to move towards Tripoli and the vital oil locations.
The second scenario would be based on the success of the transitional council in overthrowing the Kadhafi regime. This scenario will be difficult in the short and medium term, because the transitional council consists of political and military elites and does not have harmony within.
Kadhafi will bet on internal divisions, as seen in the assassination of (rebel) military leader Abdel Fattah Younes.
The third and final scenario would be similar to the Iraqi model, or, in the worst case, the Somali model, because the fragmentation of Libyan security would give Islamic Jihadist groups the opportunity to benefit from the chaos.
Libya could provide a safe haven for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which is widespread in the African Sahel.
The tribes also constitute a factor that would help split Libyan regions, because they are looking to arm themselves, away from the central state, to achieve security.
Magharebia: What does the Libyan crisis mean for Algeria and Tunisia?
Mustapha: If the third scenario prevails, Libya would pose a serious threat to all of the neighbouring countries, as well as the Euro-Mediterranean region.
Algeria, with about a thousand kilometres of borders, would be faced with various security threats – the influx of refugees, the spread of organised crime (such as arms trafficking and money laundering), and the rise of Islamic Jihadist groups on the Bamako-Tripoli axis and in the Sahel region – that could reach the Horn of Africa.
As for the Euro-Mediterranean countries, they would have to monitor their maritime borders from African illegal immigration, because in the past, the Kadhafi regime played a key role in controlling the territorial waters of Libya.
Magharebia: Speaking of security threats, Algeria is currently under high alert. How would you explain the increase in terrorist activity during Ramadan?
Mustapha: Terrorist groups in Algeria and elsewhere consider the month of Ramadan the month of Jihad, because most of the conquests and victories in Islamic history were achieved in Ramadan. They motivate their members to commit suicide attacks in order to gain some echo in the media.
What is noticeable in Algeria is that these groups are trying to take advantage of what is happening in their geopolitical environment, such as relying on ransoms obtained by Islamic groups in the Sahel to finance and mobilise their members and by acquiring quality weapons that may escape from Libya. These groups will always benefit from distorting Islam to serve their interests.
Magharebia: What does the death of Osama bin Laden mean for AQIM?
Mustapha: As much as Al-Qaeda is linked to the commander and leader, who formed and funded the organisation, it is based on a packaged ideology. It is true that the various branches of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Mesopotamia and the Arab Maghreb are affected by the death of their leader, but they will not disappear as long as their ideology mobilizes individuals.
The chaos in Libya could result in Al-Qaeda’s ability to recruit young people who suffer from marginalisation, unemployment and illiteracy.
Magharebia: Finally, what do you foresee for Algeria and Morocco?
Mustapha: Algerian-Moroccan relations are not governed only by official speeches, because what King Mohammed VI delivered July 30th in his Throne Day address is really a quality speech of change.
He did not directly accuse Algeria, as he has in the past, of disrupting the path of the Arab Maghreb Union or negotiations on the Western Sahara issue. He considered the issue of Western Sahara to be in the hands of the United Nations, but the choice is Moroccan, i.e. dedication to a united autonomous government.
On the pragmatic side, visits between ministers as well as agreements on farming and the supplying natural gas in Morocco are all within the framework of mutual co-operation between the two countries.
The question that remains is: when are the borders between the two countries going to be open?