Covid-19, Gulf Geopolitics and the Greater Maghreb

On Terrorism Monitor, the bi-weekly publication of the Jamestown Foundation, I framed the Gulf competition in what I usually define as the “Greater Maghreb Security Complex” (for a more in-depth analysis of what I mean by this, see here) paying special attention to Mauritania.

In the analysis, I stressed that Gulf diplomatic activism “will inevitably be affected by the looming economic crisis set to burden the world over the next several years. The impact of the ongoing global coronavirus crisis is set to be quite significant since the foreign policies of both the UAE and Qatar are directly in service to their economic well-being. In addition, for Gulf countries, the financial crisis will be even more significant given the ongoing price wars that are bringing the global demand for energy, already in freefall because of the coronavirus impact, to a total standstill.

I also explain how the Coronavirus crisis will impact the region and can even create some room for greater diplomatic and geoeconomic engagement. “The economic crisis is also likely to shake the social fabric and economic foundations of Maghrebi countries, whose health systems are weak and socio-economic stability are already undermined by years of financial crisis. In Tunisia, a country whose democratic transition moved ahead despite years of economic troubles, people in historically marginalized areas of the capital, such as Mnihla, have already taken to the streets, and Algeria and Morocco are bracing to cope with the economic sequences of the pandemic…these issues create problems and potential for more engagement. Maghrebi countries will need money to support their economies. Gulf countries might need to reduce their external commitment, however, depending on the extent of the impact, and the length, of the ongoing crisis.”

However, growing social tension can stress existing and emerging cleavages in Maghrebi societies. This social feature is at the core of the evolution of AQIM’s narratives over the past few years, as I was explaining last year. This dimension should not be underestimated once the dust of the COVID-19 settles, as its effects will last for years.

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