ALGIERS/RABAT Feb 4 After popular uprisings in
Egypt and Tunisia, what about the other three countries in the
turbulent swathe of land along Africa's northern coast?
Analysts are now scrutinising whether Libya, Algeria or
Morocco could be the next domino to fall.
The three have much in common with Egypt and Tunisia: They
are part of the Arab world, they have large populations of
unemployed young people, entrenched leaderships and opposition
movements which say it is time for a transition to democracy.
Uprisings in Algeria and Libya, in particular, could have
far-reaching implications for the world economy because both are
major oil and gas exporters.
But there are also many reasons to believe the unrest will
not spread further through north Africa. Here are some questions
and answers on the prospects of a revolt happening elsewhere:
IS ALGERIA THE NEXT EGYPT?
Probably not. The events unfolding in Tunis and Cairo have
certainly increased pressure on the Algerian government. Civil
society groups, small trade unions and minor political parties
have joined forces to press for a change of ruler -- the first
time this kind of opposition coalition has existed in two
decades. Algeria was rocked by food riots at the start of the
year and there have been small political protests.
"Widespread demonstrations could upset the delicate balance
of the country's political and economic structure," the Eurasia
Group private think tank said. "The main risk in Algeria is the
possibility that unrest would split key sections of the elite."
But there is no sign yet those protests will become
widespread. Algeria's biggest opposition forces -- Islamist
groups which have been banned since the early 1990s but retain
influence, and the secular FFS party -- have not joined the
Algeria's ruling elite has also shown, over nearly a half
century in power, a remarkable capacity to adapt to changing
circumstances. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika demonstrated this
on Thursday when he agreed to opposition demands to lift a
19-year-old state of emergency. [ID:nLDE71228E]
With about $150 billion in foreign currency reserves and oil
selling at around $100 a barrel, the government can use cash to
soothe its citizens' economic grievances.
Ordinary Algerians are wary of any relapse into political
turmoil after a political opening in the early 1990s degenerated
into a brutal conflict between security forces and Islamist
militants that killed an estimated 200,000 people. "Algeria
effectively already had its revolution," said Geoff Porter, an
independent U.S. analyst on North Africa. "Few want to risk
descending into another decade of chaos."
Even if mass unrest breaks out, most analysts believe the
risk of disruption to oil and gas exports is minimal. Nearly all
the energy activity is deep in the Sahara desert and the biggest
oilfield town, Hassi Messaoud, is relatively well-off and
heavily policed. Since the conflict with Islamist rebels
started, there have been no confirmed cases of energy
infrastructure being hit.
IS LIBYA RIPE FOR A REVOLT?
On the face of it, Libya fits the model of a country
vulnerable to an uprising. Muammar Gaddafi has led the country
since 1969, making him the longest-serving ruler on the African
continent. There are stark income inequalities. Political
parties are banned and there is little room for public dissent.
Minor clashes last month, when people waiting for the
government to allocate them new homes seized vacant apartment
buildings, showed the potential for disturbances.
Below the surface, things are more complex. Libya more
closely mirrors an oil-rich Gulf state where an autocratic ruler
operate a system of patronage, sharing out wealth from energy
exports with his subjects.
Many Libyans are jobless, but the lifting of international
sanctions in 2004, the high oil price and state handouts mean
most families are enjoying their highest incomes for decades.
Libyan society and public life is built around family and
tribal ties, so if there is any challenge to Gaddafi's rule, it
is likely to happen behind the scenes and not in the streets.
Gaddafi may not be universally popular -- least of all
around the eastern city of Benghazi -- but many Libyans like his
rhetoric about Western "imperialism" and the stature he gives
them on the international stage."
"Security is being maintained at a high level inside the
country and the regime's overseas opponents are political and
financially very weak," said MENAS Associates, a political risk
consultancy. "The current signs are that the regime will survive
the crisis given the strength of both its security services and
finances," it said.
MOROCCO: THE STRONGEST LINK?
Not necessarily. Youths, who make up the majority of the
country's 32 million population, share many of the concerns of
their Egyptian and Tunisian peers: They feel that significant
efforts to develop the economy over the past 11 years have not
yielded enough opportunities and many, especially in rural
areas, still dream of a better life in Europe.
Rating agencies Standard & Poor's and Fitch have said the
North African country of 32 million people is the least likely
in the region to be affected by the wave of popular unrest.
But the government has not been able to create even half the
250,000 jobs it pledged in 2007 to generate on an annual basis
by 2012, according to official data. Unemployment officially
hovers around 9 percent and affects 173,200 graduates -- 16.7
percent of total graduates. Many independent analysts and
members of parliament say these figures are much higher.
King Mohammed, one of the youngest Arab rulers, has shown a
greater sense of initiative than his late father King Hassan in
trying to address the social and economic qualms of what he
refers to as his "subjects". Official data shows GDP per capita
rose 41 percent between his enthronement in 1999 and 2009.
The economy remains vulnerable to weather vagaries in a
country where agriculture is the top employer.
Morocco is dogged by strikes by both private and public
sector employees and still witnesses sporadic, localised unrest
mainly in remote areas, where citizens feel development efforts
have either not been evenly allocated or have yet to produce
By law, Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected
parliament. But its constitution accords the king wide
prerogatives, from dissolving parliament to the imposition of
the state of emergency, and he has say on the appointments of
key government portfolios including the prime minister.
A once active debate in the late 1990s over a need for
constitutional reform has faded. Priorities for political
parties now centre on holding a maximum number of government
portfolios or defending their turfs from the poaching of their
elected representatives by a newly-created party formed by a
classmate of the king, who also was deputy interior minister.
This has alienated the vast majority of Moroccans: Voter
turnout at the most recent parliamentary elections stood at 37
percent, the lowest in the country's modern history.
Driss Benali, a prominent economics lecturer, said: "Over
the last ten years, the system has killed political parties.
Morocco is less authoritarian than Tunisia but we have not got
the educated of Tunisia neither do we have the active business
elite of Egypt.
"The monarchy has the required legitimacy and the king is
popular but some in his entourage often tarnish his image. This
is a great opportunity for the monarchy to adopt serious
constitutional reforms that empower the government and where the
king reigns without ruling," Benali added.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)