Why North Africa's Long Cold War Is Immune To Arab Spring

Saharawi troops in Western Sahara
Saharawi troops in Western Sahara
Isabelle Mandraud

CASABLANCA - For a Moroccan tomato to be sold on the Algerian market, it first has to pass through Marseille. This sounds like a joke, but it describes a well-known reality: While in all other continents, countries group themselves in a common market or free trade zone (ASEAN in South-East Asia, Mercosur in Latin America, NAFTA in North America, and of course the European Union), the Maghreb is left behind.

It will soon be 20 years that the border between Algeria and Morocco has been closed, and 38 years since the Saharawi conflict began -- preventing any kind of North African unity. Regardless of the "Arab Spring."

Only two months after becoming Tunisia's first post-revolution president, Moncef Marzouki began a series of visits to the neighboring countries in order to revive the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU). Officially established in February 1989 in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh, the organization includes Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia. But after a few summits, no council to bring together heads of state has been held since 1994.

In the wake of the liberation of his country from dictatorship, Marzouki's dream was to establish the five "freedoms" throughout the Maghreb region: Freedom of movement, residence, work, investment and vote in municipal elections. But he had to quickly abandon his mission, as the meeting of Heads of State of the UMA announced in spring 2012 in Tunis never occurred.

In turn, International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde has tried to encourage North African countries to cooperate in economic matters, praising the model set forth by the "Arab Spring" opening.

"The Arab awakening has also lead to a revival of the private sector," Lagarde said "A Maghreb that ensures the free movement of goods and services offers endless possibilities to a market of 90 million people."

Announced in 2010, the Maghreb Bank for Investment and Foreign Trade (BMICE) has been slow to take root. All the Maghreb countries suffer from the same problems: demographic pressure, housing problems, low levels of direct foreign investment, endemic youth unemployment -- especially for university graduates.

This is forcing countries in the region to negotiate individually with Europe, sometimes in competition with each other. The World Bank has estimated at 8 million the number of jobs that must be created between 2010 and 2020 in order to meet the needs of the new entrants in the labor market. A study published in 2008, carried out by the Moroccan Ministry of Economy, estimated the commerce across borders in North Africa countries at 1.3% of overall trade, "the lowest regional rate in the world." A European study that year calculated that Algeria imported 0.6% of its food products from Morocco, while 40% came from France and Spain. Since then, very little has changed.

Wall in the sand

Western Sahara remains the Gordian knot of a region stuck in a protracted Cold War. A wall of sand of more than 2,700 kilometers physically separates the Saharawi territory, dominated by Morocco, and the one controlled by the Polisario Front, on the Algerian side.

Since 1991, date of the cease-fire between the two belligerents, the UN Mission for the Organization of a Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was created, and has been automatically extended every year. But among the violations registered by MINURSO are the regular constructions by the Moroccan army of twelve new observation posts between 2012 and 2013, bringing the total number up to 326 since 2009. This is the most tangible sign that the tension is clearly not decreasing.

In the Algerian region of Tindouf, thousands of Sahrawis -- their number is not known precisely -- have been crammed since the 1970s in the camps supplied by the United Nations. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that between March 2012 and March 2013 the World Food Program provided 90,000 food rations, and more than 35,000 additional rations to the most vulnerable each month. On the other side of the "wall", in Morocco, schools, hospitals and roads were built, but the Sahrawis have become a minority in comparison to North Moroccans inhabitants.

In October 2010, a tent camp hosting up to 15,000 people demanding jobs and "dignity" had been erected outside of Laayoune, the capital of Western Sahara. The clashes that took place during the dismantling of the camp left 11 dead, including security forces and two Moroccan Sahrawi civilians, one of whom was a child.

American left-wing activist Noam Chomsky once cited the Sahrawis camp clash, which came only a few weeks before the beginning of the uprising in Tunisia, as "the first seed of the Arab spring."

The non-stop conflict taking place in the territory of the former Spanish colony -- annexed by Morocco in 1975 and contested by supporters of self-determination under the banner of the Polisario Front -- still deeply divides the international community. Year after year, however, everyone is eventually satisfied with the status quo. But the situation in northern Mali, the increasing of black market traffic and armed groups have changed the equation and increased the urgency.

The Secretary General of the United Nations is raising the alarm bell in order to find a solution to the Sahara conflict. Frustrated by a situation that is not improving, Ban Ki- moon worries for the young people, as they could easily become recruits "for criminal or terrorist networks," despite the vigilance of the Polisario. But also in terms of security, operational cooperation between the Maghreb, the United States and Europe, including France, does not work bilaterally between Morocco and Algeria, which makes many fear the worst.

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]


Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos


• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.


"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.


$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.


What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️


"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."


An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!

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