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The Wheel of Misfortune – Russia Takes Advantage of US Lethargy in North Africa

Those who follow US policy in the Middle East and North Africa are increasingly concerned with a lack of a robust or consistent American presence in the region outside of support for Israel and mixed messages on Syria and Iraq. Arab governments initially were pleased that the Trump Administration took a high profile on pursuing a Middle East peace settlement, inserting itself into the Israel-GCC-Iran quagmire, and issuing some soothing words in the Qatar boycott fracas. But the rest of the region, including Egypt and Yemen, are apparent afterthoughts in policy discussions at the State Department and National Security Council, while North Africa may as well be on another planet.

Aside from bewildering our Arab allies and stoking Israel’s anti-Iran fury, it is hard to discern the strategy or results of the Administration’s actions to date. Among the signs of discontent are mutterings about the lack of Ambassadorial appointments to the majority of Arab countries and the opaqueness surrounding the work of the President’s special envoy to the region. As with the Obama Administration, Arab leaders are wondering what can be done to engage the US outside of its seemingly very narrow agenda.

Another consequence of the Administration’s perceived lack of engagement was recently highlighted in an article from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), remarking on the extensive outreach of Russia in North Africa, ostensibly a region of low priority to the US.

In the article, the authors, Sarah Feuer and Anna Borshchevskaya, make a point of the heightened pace of Russia’s dealings with the region in hopes of offsetting traditional US influence and promoting its own “geostrategic, economic, and political interests.”

They point out that, “In Putin’s estimation, Russia’s ascendancy depends on countering the United States and its European allies. Expanded access to the Mediterranean serves this broader goal by establishing a foothold in a European sphere of influence and reducing the U.S. ability to maneuver militarily. In economic terms, North Africa presents an opportunity for Russia to sell arms, forge partnerships in the energy sector, and invest in infrastructure development. Moscow can also claim it is in the region to fight terrorism.”

Although Russia has traditionally had strong relationships with Libya and Algeria, its moves into Tunisia and Morocco should be troubling to the US.

In Libya, Russia is seeking to maintain its foothold by supporting Gen. Khalifa Haftar and positioning itself as a neutral force between the major factions in the country. In addition to its energy resources, Libya offers important access to Egypt and port facilities that expand Russian presence on the Mediterranean.

Russia’s relationship with Algeria is perhaps the longest one it has enjoyed in North Africa, dating from the time of its enormous weapons sales as the Soviet Union. More recently its dealings with Algeria encompass debt forgiveness, more weapons sales, intelligence sharing, and cooperation in the energy sector, despite Algeria being a competitor in natural gas exports. Russia has also signed exploration and development agreements covering oil and gas concessions in the country.

Although Tunisia has long been considered pro-Western, it is benefitting from closer ties to Russia. The article notes: since 2011 the bilateral relationship has focused on counterterrorism, nuclear energy, and tourism… In 2016, roughly 600,000 Russian tourists visited Tunisia, a tenfold increase from the previous year and over 10 percent of the country’s visitors that year. Tunisian retail businesses have welcomed Russians’ presence, and the government has spoken positively of Russia’s assistance in counterterrorism. Officials have also publicly acknowledged Russia’s growing regional sway, including in Syria.”

Morocco-Russia relations are where the hedging of bets by traditional US allies in securing their interests is most apparent. Since his trip to Moscow in 2016, King Mohammed VI has “strengthened economic relations through a renewal of the countries’ free trade agreement and an expansion of Russian access to Moroccan fisheries on the Atlantic coast.” While Morocco-US relations flounder without clear signals from the US side, Russia has continued to build its ties by becoming a major importer of Moroccan agricultural products, providing technical assistance in the energy sector, and supplying liquefied natural gas to the country.

As importantly, “As it does Tunisia, Russia views Morocco as an economic gateway to Africa; it also regards the kingdom as a model to emulate in countering Islamist extremism in its own vicinity.”

Given the stasis that seems to permeate US diplomacy outside of conflict situations, there is much more that the US could do to assert its common interests with the Maghreb countries, starting with appointing competent and active Ambassadors to fill all the empty posts.

Additionally, “In cooperation with its European allies, policymakers should promote greater regional counterterrorism cooperation among the Maghreb states and expand the US Navy’s presence across the Mediterranean. Stationing more vessels out of Rota, Spain, for example, would help constrain Russian actions.”

Despite the cuts to foreign assistance programs, the US must continue to build its cultural, education, and capacity-building programs with North Africa whenever possible, developing regional programs when useful. North African countries could greatly benefit from encouragement to strengthen civil society and protect individual liberties; the U­S can do much more in this regard.

Promoting stronger economic relations can also play a role in enabling local economies, which are in need of resilient and sustainable projects that create valued jobs and include women and youth. Programs that support entrepreneurship and the creation of SMEs should be continued and expanded as an antidote to the growing numbers of restless, unemployed youth susceptible to negative messaging.

North Africa should not be Russia’s for the taking. The US has invested decades of efforts in supporting the development of these societies. Many individuals within these countries’ public and private sector leadership have taken advantage of US exchange and educational programs and have an inclination to support closer ties. Without a commitment to husbanding these ties and building long-term relationships that engage North Africans across sectors and parties, the US is signaling its intentions to become a second-rate friend in the region, and American influence will wane accordingly.

US, UN Laud Morocco’s Role in Promoting Libya Peace Talks

Agreement Provides Framework for Including Absent Tripoli Leadership

The United Nations Special Envoy Bernandino Leon praised Morocco for its support for the negotiations among the various warring parties in Libya to promote the political and military cooperation that has remained elusive since the ouster of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. At the concluding press conference in the Moroccan city of Skhirat, where the talks were held, he said “The Skhirat Agreement was made possible thanks to the contribution of many Libyans who worked within the working groups and other groups, but also thanks to the host country, Morocco, which has played a very important role, which is not only a host role, but also a role of political support.”

Leon was not alone in his praise for Morocco. At the State Department daily press briefing on July 13, Spokesperson John Kirby mentioned that “The United States Government welcomes the July 11th initialing of the final draft political agreement at the UN-led talks in Morocco, which is an important step toward the creation of a government of national accord…We express our deep gratitude to the Kingdom of Morocco for its leadership hosting the UN talks and to all of those participating in this process.”

The Skhirat agreement is the beginning of the next phase of negotiations aimed at restoring order to Libya. This is particularly critical in the face of mounting ISIL threats in the country and its continued economic and humanitarian catastrophes, including the influx of thousands of refugees seeking passage to Europe, creating yet another crisis.

As Envoy Leon pointed out, “This is a very important partnership between Morocco and the UN mission, “and that “during the next step, the parties will work on complex aspects, namely the formation of a national unity government, the negotiation of annexes (of the Agreement) and especially the involvement of armed groups, the Libyan army and the militias.”

Despite the agreement, the future remains in doubt. The General National Congress (GNC), based in Tripoli, and its allied Dawa militia were absent from the talks. However, this does not preclude their eventual inclusion, as Leon made clear that “the door is open to all not present. They have also played a critical role in this text. As I have said many times, there is no text that is entirely satisfactory to all parties and that responds to all their demands… I am confident that in the weeks ahead a clear decision will be made and will address all sides and issues.”

US interlocutors and regional powers, including Morocco, are now pressing ahead to bring the GNC into the deal so that the process of beginning a national unity government, writing a constitution, controlling airports and oil facilities, and integration of rival militias can begin in earnest, within the framework of the agreement. Leon concluded his remarks by continuing his plea for more collaborative talks. “We call on the remaining delegates and all Libyan decision makers to unite now and to join in supporting this agreement, in the interest of their country and people and in Libya’s common future.”

Shared Vision, Shared Objectives

Shared Vision, Shared Objectives

Bottom Line of the Morocco-US Strategic Dialogue

On Thursday, April 9, the US and Morocco issued a joint communiqué at the conclusion of the third Strategic Dialogue between the two countries. The US praised Morocco’s progress on many fronts, Morocco lauded the commitment of the US to stand by its ally and support its economic, social, and democratic reforms. The language of a special partnership resonated throughout the statement.

Building on the priorities established during King Mohammed VI’s visit to President Obama in November 2013 and subsequent senior-level visits, the statement noted that “our strategic partnership and shared vision will promote a secure, stable, democratic, and prosperous Maghreb, Sahel region, Africa, and Middle East.”

Secretary Kerry “reiterated the United States’ appreciation for the action and leadership of His Majesty the King …,” including his “continuing efforts to strengthen further Morocco’s democratic institutions and promote economic prosperity and human development.”

In anticipation of Moroccan local elections coming in September, the Secretary specifically noted “programs designed to strengthen political parties and civil society” as they prepare for the first ever elections under regionalization – Morocco’s program to devolve more power to locally-elected officials. These elections and the training programs are part of a continuing campaign to build local capacity to administer municipalities, determine local priorities and planning, and implement local solutions to address human development needs.

After lauding Morocco’s progress in reforming the military justice system, enabling more organizations to officially participate in civil society, advancing the powers of the National Human Rights Council (CNDH), and implementing immigration reforms enacted since last year’s Dialogue, the Secretary noted that both countries will work together to advance human rights at the UN Human Rights Council.

Business, Africa, Security, and Regional Affairs

On the business front, the major item discussed in the communiqué was the anticipated second Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact, which focuses on education for a skilled workforce, and improving land policies and productivity. The communiqué also noted that both countries had signed an MOU wherein Morocco will share with select countries in Africa its expertise and lessons learned in the MCC relationship.

Secretary Kerry highlighted the leadership of King Mohammed VI in broadening and deepening Morocco’s relations with Africa. This has become a priority in recent years as instability and violence threaten more countries on the continent. The US and Morocco agreed “to work jointly … through a comprehensive and coordinated approach including food security, access to energy, trade promotion, conflict prevention, and the preservation of cultural and religious identity.” With more than 100 agreements already signed between Morocco and African countries, and the King poised for another five-country visit later this month, Morocco is working hard to strengthen its leadership role in south-south cooperation, a role strongly supported by the US.

Reiterating America’s long-standing policy of support for autonomy for the Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty, the communiqué stated, “The United States has made clear that Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, realistic, and credible, and that it represents a potential approach that could satisfy the aspirations of the people of the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity.” Both countries reaffirmed their shared commitment to improving the lives of the people in the Western Sahara and will consider a number of options to move ahead on that objective.

Men and women training as leaders and counselors promoting moderate Islam

Men and women training as leaders and counselors promoting moderate Islam

As expected, security cooperation was a key agenda item. In addition to addressing the various means through which Morocco and the US are working to counter violent extremism, Secretary Kerry thanked Morocco for its participation in efforts such as the Global Counterterrorism Forum and the Initiative on Open Border Security, as well as Morocco’s innovative training center for Imams, Morchidines, and Morchidates – prayer leaders and male and female religious counselors from Morocco, and other countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.

The dialogue included discussions on “Morocco’s reform of its justice sector and promoting the rule of law, and … the launch of new law enforcement and counterterrorism programs, including a trilateral initiative with Moroccan and American trainers working together to train other African partners in border security and crisis management.” The communiqué further highlighted Morocco’s role in promoting dialogue among factions in Libya, working towards a comprehensive solution in Mali that deals with root causes, and a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. In short, the friends were able in a few hours to reiterate their long-standing security commitments based on broadly shared goals and objectives.

“The Minister and the Secretary concluded by noting that the Moroccan–American strategic partnership is based both on shared interests and shared values which provide many avenues for cooperation and collaboration bilaterally, regionally, and globally.” It is a partnership that offers many opportunities to advance the quality of life for the people of Morocco, provides means for enhancing regional security and prosperity, and enables the United States to work effectively in a part of the world where it has an effective and motivated partner.

When Is the Right Time for Maghreb Integration?

Report from private sector offers recommendations

One of my initial reactions to the US-African Leaders Summit was noticing the seeming lack of integration between North and sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) when it came to the initiatives announced by President Obama. At a time when foreign assistance resources are declining globally and the lack of African cross-border trade and investment remains limited, there seems to be space for more emphasis on enabling the private sector to “grow Africa.” This was a primary message from Miriem Bensalah Chaqroun, President of the Moroccan Federation of Businesses (CGEM), who noted that multilateral and regional

Association of Moroccan Businesses

Association of Moroccan Businesses

organizations agree that this can only be achieved if governments heed the advice of the private sector regarding what needs to be done to free up the growth-promotion environment in Africa. Greatly reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers, promoting transnational infrastructure projects linking markets across borders, and business-labor-capital friendly regulations are some of the more obvious elements in a comprehensive growth strategy. These are among the issues targeted by King Mohammed VI as part of his “economic diplomacy” in Africa, echoing his calls for strengthening North-South ties on the continent.

This line of thinking brought me back to a report issued this past spring “Making the Case for Maghreb Business in Times of Change,” which is a background report and action plan for “A private sector strategy for a Maghreb Initiative of Commerce and Investment (IMCI).” The report highlights that the countries of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) – made up of Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia– have very little intra-regional trade, similar to other regions on the continent. In addition, although the AMU countries may have squabbles among the members, as there are in East and Central Africa, the private sectors continue to advance projects for aligning commercial interests across the region.

If it is the common wisdom, documented in multiple studies, that the private sector – formal and informal businesses, labor, and civil society – produces more jobs annually than governments, then there is a compelling logic that the private sector is a central stakeholder in facilitating economic growth.

Enter the Union of Maghreb Employers (UME)

Regardless of political obstacles, employers associations in the AMU have historically been pioneers in promoting inter-Maghreb dialogue for growth. After continued roadblocks due to political conditions, in 2007, CAP (Algeria), LBC (Libya), UNPM (Mauritania), CGEM (Morocco), and UTICA (Tunisia) decided to establish the Maghreb Union of Employers (UME). Its goal is “Creating a predictable and growth-friendly regional business climate that would result in a double benefit: expanding trade and investment inside the Maghreb and promoting stronger economic ties with its neighborhood and global markets.”

Arab Maghreb Union

Arab Maghreb Union

The report, released at its annual meeting in Marrakech, takes into account the impact of the Arab Spring and presents recommendations for strategic steps in meetings the region’s needs for growth, opportunity, and jobs. The report highlights several troubling phenomena: the youth bulge requiring large number of new jobs for entrants into the economy; rapidly growing urbanization that is often unregulated and poorly accommodated; and desertification literally eroding the agricultural sector. These conditions have resulted in a growing informal sector, stagnation in labor productivity, and a mismatch between education and employment opportunities.

Structural Challenges in the Economy

Among the structural issues across the Maghreb, the report notes the “lack of trade complementarity,” in that there is a very low level of intra-regional trade, since most economies of the Maghreb are small markets with limited export diversification. The report also notes that there is “little integration into global production chains limiting the expansion of high value added manufacturing activities.” An associated problem is that trade patterns are largely driven by “proximity.” More that 60 percent of the region’s trade and investment is tied to the EU, and this dependence is a source of economic vulnerability, as was obvious during Europe’s economic downturn. As important when addressing global markets is the “lack of product diversification.” Aside from some progress in Morocco and Tunisia, the Maghreb has not expanded much beyond core commodity exports and some manufacturing of new products to export.

Another area for remediation is the negative impact of tariff and non-tariff barriers, such as excessive delays, paperwork, closures, and customs procedures that raise the cost of business and “limit the competitiveness and quality of products.” These obstacles to the free movement of goods, the lack of free movement of labor and capital, and the lack of cross-border infrastructure to speed shipments and transportation combine to hold back the region’s economic integration, “fragment regional value chains and impedes the diversification of the product base.”

Substantial Recommendations

Tourism driving investment across the region

Tourism driving investment across the region

After presenting a summary of the benefits and rationale for deeper integration, the report breaks out recommendations in three broad areas: connect markets through cross-border private-public partnerships on crucial infrastructure development; dismantle obstacles by identifying a limited number of “pilot sectors” where all five countries can agree on a deeper cooperation agenda; and encourage investment, particularly by ensuring that skilled workers are available to attract foreign and domestic investment. Each area is broken down by timelines and expected results that clearly indicate the intense interest of the private sector in playing a role in furthering economic development in the Maghreb. This report is definitely another tool for the region’s governments by which to develop their national strategies with a “Maghreb dimension.”

A Tale of Two Cities…well, Actually Three Countries

Finding the Middle Path in Politics is Fraught with Challenges yet Better than No Discourse at All­­­­

When Driss El Yazami, the chairman of Morocco’s National Human Rights Council (CNDH) spoke recently in Washington, DC, he was asked about the so-called Arab Spring and its impact on human rights protections. He was quite candid in his response. “The core issue is about identity; it is about dignity. It is the loss of the connection between one’s identity and one’s dignity that is at the heart of today’s unrest.” He believes that human rights protections derive from the value that governments place on their relationship with their people. Human rights protections are a conscious effort by governments to have a social contract that applies to all people in the country.

This is the rationale behind the CNDH’s campaigns for migrant rights, the end of military trials for civilians, enhanced rights for the mentally ill, and eliminating child labor, to list several of their most recent efforts. And Morocco has earned praise for its continuing human rights reforms, largely as a result of the government adopting CNDH’s recommendations and turning them into legislation. Mr. El Yazami contends that this is the characteristic of democracy that goes beyond elections. It is a space where all opinions can be heard and debated without fear and with respect for differing perspectives and the outcomes of the debate.

Keeping Faith with Tunisia

In the past few months, Tunisia has garnered extensive praise from the international community for its “National Dialogue,” which weathered a very difficult drafting of a constitution and installation of a transitional technocrat government leading to presidential and parliamentary elections in late 2014. The contentious constitutional process avoided the poor outcomes that have plagued Egypt and Libya where significant disagreements have produced unsatisfactory conclusions. It should not be taken for granted, however, that the transitional success of the National Dialogue means that there is unity in Tunisia’s political landscape.

Human rights advocates are concerned that political expediency will mar steps needed to genuinely move Tunisia forward. As Yasmine Ryan writes, “…ignoring deep structural inequalities will only lead to further instability. Add to this the desperate need for major reforms to the judiciary, security forces, the education system, and decentralization, among others—and Tunisia’s challenges can sometimes seem insurmountable.” And the questions of national identity and defining with some precision the relationship between the state and religion continue to be unresolved, promising more contentious maneuvering as the elections approach.

Amna Guellali, director of Human Rights Watch for Tunisia and Algeria, remarked in an article in World Policy Journal  that contradictions and vague definitions in the constitution “could have grave consequences for the country.” It is in this gap between the constitution and how the enabling legislation is drafted, finalized, and implemented that human rights protections face their greatest challenges. One compelling example is the potential contradictions in the role of the government as “the guardian of religion” and “protector of the sacred,” while also ensuring “liberty of conscience.” Given that the first article of the new constitution states that Tunisia’s religion is Islam, there are understandable concerns about how this will play out. Without a national independent body akin to CNDH that can shed light on inclusive steps towards real democracy, the task of defenders of human rights is more difficult as the economic and social development needs of Tunisia will dominate the agenda of any incoming leadership.

And In Algeria, the Same may not Hold

It is difficult to have a forward-looking discussion about human rights reforms in a country    with such an opaque political process. John Entelis, writing in Muftah, notes “Riots and protests have been a regular feature of Algerian political life” and mentions that critics have pointed out that there is no timeline for implementing reforms announced since 2011. Some see reforms as a mouse caught “between the president’s office and the military-industrial complex, between executive authority and the country’s powerful intelligence services.”

The run-up to the presidential election this week has seen the withdrawal of candidates, boycott calls from Islamic and leftist parties, and the virtual campaign for Bouteflika’s re-election run by surrogates who are assuring Algerians that reform is his priority – once he is returned to office. “One pro-government politician went so far as to declare, ‘I will vote for him [Bouteflika] dead or alive because he has done so much for the country.’”

How much-needed human and social development challenges will be addressed after the elections has yet to be discussed. “It is a testament to the extreme disconnect between the country’s formal political structure and its civil society that the overwhelming majority of ordinary Algerians have been completely unaffected by the virtual absence of presidential authority…” With the debate yet to begin on a new constitutional amendment providing for the office of Vice-President and the installation of that person, human rights has little visibility within the debate over the new power balance that will emerge with Bouteflika’s departure. As James D. Le Sueur wrote in a monograph for the German Marshall Fund, “Politically, Algeria has managed to weather the storm brought on by the Arab Spring through swift and deliberate police presence meant to suppress real calls for reform.” It is hard to imagine a meaningful national dialogue in Algeria on identity and dignity emerging any time soon.

Unclear Prognosis for Human Rights in the Maghreb

Laudatory as the results of the Tunisian National Dialogue are, its new constitution exemplifies the challenge of closing the space between values and politics. As Tunisians prepare for end-of-year elections, the priority given to human rights may become clearer as candidates address voters concerns about social and economic inequalities. Morocco has its plate full with recommendations from the CNDH as well as judicial reforms, a new civil society framework, and reducing economic disparities to address through the end of this year. In Algeria as well as Libya, where basic rule of law has yet to be established, internal dissensions, power moves among various players, and uncertainty among the populace as to their countries’ future stability will have a major impact on the importance given to human rights under new governments. It will be a long year ahead.

Middle East economic reform requires robust and constructive citizen participation

A great deal of hand wringing goes on as bad news continues to drown out progress in the transitions going on in the Middle East and North Africa. From Egypt and Syria to Libya and Yemen, nay-sayers and pundits readily point out that there are few short-term solutions that don’t require some pain in the process of moving forward. As national identities crumble under the assault of religious and partisan appeals, it is problematic to come up with short-term remedies that don’t have long-term consequences for the political and economic health of the countries.

It seems to me that, aside from Tunisia at the best of times, which is not often enough, there is a failure by governments in transition to sustain effective messaging that people can understand on how the government is going to concretely tackle unemployment and corruption. Blaming the IMF for subsidy reforms is not a credible strategy for laying the groundwork for other steps that must be taken to reduce public debt incurred as a result of inflated bureaucracies, inefficient labor regulations, and insufficient investment capital available for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Even Morocco’s parliament is encountering problems passing needed reforms to reduce expenditures and stimulate sustainable economic growth.

The challenges in the Maghreb are enormous, and yet citizens are rarely being mobilized to take part in economic development. Rather, they are pulled in different directions by political forces more concerned with scoring points and securing power than contributing to a way forward that is balanced, equitable, and contributes to necessary long-term changes.

Considering the options

Outside organizations are working in the MENA to provide mechanisms to bridge the messaging gap between governments and citizens. The George C. Marshall Foundation in cooperation with the Stimson Center and L’Insitut Arabe des Chefs d’Enterprises recently held a conference in Tunis that “brought together business people, academicians, policy planners and other thought leaders for a day and a half discussion on regional economic integration in the Maghreb…” The purpose of the conference was to determine how the action principles behind the success of the Marshall Plan in rebuilding Europe “might best be applied to contemporary situations where economic reconstruction or mass relief is needed.” One of its principal tenets seemed quite relevant to my thinking about the challenge of promoting both top-down and grassroots support for economic reform, “Political leadership and elements of self-sacrifice and determination are essential to the success of aid programs.”

In the US, Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, built around the message “the economy, stupid,” illustrated how critical it is to capture the public’s imagination and involvement in a dialogue about progress that has consequences beyond slogans. Similarly, the pressures of trying to reverse decades of economic and political mismanagement have resulted in a credibility barrier, especially for the transitional governments in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt. As is evident from the competing demonstrations in those countries, evolving a consensus on key solutions without some parties feeling marginalized is an overwhelming challenge at times.

 Reaching the people

A key lesson in “participatory democracy” that seems to have emerged from the trials of the transitional governments is that the process of engaging citizens effectively in participatory and respectful politics is daunting under the best of circumstances. Their previous experiences with the former governments in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt in particular have not given people a sense of national citizenship that transcends more particular allegiances. To help address this “communications gap,” the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) has launched a series of civic engagement programs in the Maghreb to enable youth, civil society, and advocacy organizations to more effectively engage in the political process.

The World Bank Institute (WBI) along with the World Bank Middle East and North Africa (MENA) recently “brought together government officials and civil society practitioners from Morocco, Jordan and Tunisia to discuss how citizen engagement can contribute to more informed policies; how to develop codes of practice for public consultations; and how to use online tools to facilitate consultations.” The program aims to enable governments to “make informed decisions while creating public trust” by ensuring that the voices of those most impacted by the policy have been heard and addressed. Moreover, the program supports an inclusive process to ensure that the right players are involved, recognizing that public consultations can be critical “since the government may not have all the solutions at hand.”

This program complements others in the region such as the National Dialogue on Civil Society in Morocco focusing on how more inclusive and transparent communications between governments and citizens can reduce conflict and promote consensus around key development and governance issues. An essential element is training trainers in both government agencies and NGOs on the principles of public consultations as a tool for civic engagement.

While these efforts may be small steps in terms of bringing governments and citizens together, they are critical for directing “street” energy into advocacy tools using social media and other outreach technology and e-government programs to provide better access for people and greater knowledge and awareness for public officials. For the international donor community, there is a lesson here from the Marshall Foundation’s tenets: “Any successful aid program must be driven by the country and not imposed by outside countries or institutions.” When people speak as part of a respectful dialogue and government listens and acts to credibly engage its citizens, the street will return to being a thoroughfare rather than an avenue of protest and disorder.

"Business as usual" means lost opportunity in Maghreb

“Business as usual” means lost opportunity in Maghreb

We know there’s a deficit in private sector investment the Maghreb. Will the newly launched AMU investment fund make a difference?