In recent weeks, allegations have surfaced that Italy has been paying armed groups in Libya to cease smuggling migrants into the country. Some estimate that the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean into Italy has reduced by half compared to the same time period last year. At the heart of the issue is a governance vacuum that allows armed groups to control the flow of migrants in and out of Libya, presenting a unique challenge for governments in North and West Africa and EU policymakers.
The low global oil prices being experienced since mid-2014 have had a serious impact on oil-dependent states across the world, many of which have a limited capacity to adjust to the current economic climate. Algeria is considered particularly vulnerable in North Africa, with fears of a return to the instability of the late 1980s and a diminished ability to respond to the region’s fragile security environment.
The steep decline in oil prices has caused budget deficits even in the wealthiest Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia. Yet these states generally have very large foreign currency reserves and sizable sovereign wealth funds that should help them weather the current slump comparatively well. Though not as poorly placed as some sub-Saharan oil-producers such as Nigeria, Algeria lacks such a significant cushion.
Renewed efforts are now underway to overcome the gridlock in Libya’s peace process. The United Nations’ special representative to Libya, Martin Kobler, and neighboring states are in separate talks with the country’s various factions in an attempt to keep the peace process alive and prevent an escalation of tensions. The latest actor to enter the fray is Russian President Vladimir Putin, who could play a major role in getting key players to remain at the negotiating table.
The UN-brokered Libyan Political Agreement, which aimed to unite rival factions, appeared to be on the verge of collapse late last year. Implementation of the agreement, which was signed in Shirkat, Morocco, in December 2015, had come to a virtual standstill. The Government of National Accord (GNA) established under the agreement and led by Fayez al-Serraj still lacks a legitimate mandate to govern.
The United States is reportedly attempting to gather all of Libya’s rival governments to participate in a “reconciliation meeting” in Saudi Arabia in the near future. The initiative responds to the great uncertainty surrounding the United Nations-brokered Libyan Political Agreement, which aimed to unify rival factions in the country’s ongoing civil conflict. The new effort could boost domestic and international support for the agreement, which is critical to avoiding derailment.
The challenge to the 2015 agreement spiked on October 14 this year, when a rump of members of the Tripoli-based parliament during the war, the General National Congress, led by former prime minister Khalifa al-Ghwell and backed by allied militias, seized the premises of the new State Council set up to advise the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).
Al-Ghwell declared his intention to take back executive authority from the GNA and called on Abdullah al-Thinni, former prime minister of the internationally recognized Bayda and Tobruk-based government, to form their own government of national unity. While al-Ghwell’s proposal has thus far been rejected by his former rival al-Thinni, it did demonstrate the GNA’s lack of broad-based domestic support.
Anyone looking at North Africa and the Middle East today would be forgiven for thinking that the Arab Spring has rapidly turned into a bitter winter. The revolutionary road embarked upon by a number of countries looks ever more precarious. Syria is still being torn apart by civil war, in Libya the government is struggling to impose its authority and Egypt appears to be experiencing a reversal of the democratic gains it had made as the ‘deep state’ consolidates its position. Yet, within this overwhelmingly gloomy picture, recent developments in Tunisia are cause for optimism.
Tunisia provided the spark for the Arab uprisings three years ago with the self-immolation of Mohamad Bouazizi in Tunisia’s neglected interior. As the transition got underway, hopes were high for this small North African country. Tunisia’s domestic situation seemed to augur well for the transition process. The country’s largely Arab and Muslim population was well-educated and traditionally orientated towards moderation. Indeed, promising first steps were made toward democratic transition, with free and fair elections, and the establishment of a transitional government tasked with drafting a new constitution. Economically, the country’s lack of natural resources seemed to be compensated by its vibrant tourist industry.