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Monday, January 30, 2012

Algeria: Current Issues

Alexis Arieff
Analyst in African Affairs

U.S.-Algerian ties have grown over the past decade as the United States has increasingly viewed Algeria as an important partner in the fight against international terrorism. The Algerian economy is largely based on hydrocarbons, and the country is a significant source of petroleum for the United States and of natural gas for Europe. Congress appropriates and oversees small amounts of bilateral development assistance, and Algerian security forces benefit from U.S. security assistance and participation in bilateral and regional military cooperation programs.

Algeria’s political system is dominated by a strong presidency and security apparatus. The military views itself as the heir to Algeria’s long struggle for independence from France, and has remained the most significant political force since independence in 1962. Following Algeria’s bloody domestic counterinsurgency against Islamist groups in the 1990s, the military backed Abdelaziz Bouteflika for the presidency in 1999. Bouteflika was reelected for a third term in April 2009, after the constitution was altered to remove term limits. He is widely rumored to be in poor health, and has no clear successor.

Algeria’s macroeconomic situation is stable due to high global oil and gas prices, but the pressures of unemployment, high food prices, and housing shortages weigh on many families. These factors, along with longstanding political frustrations and the ripple effects of political change and tumult across the region, have motivated recent demonstrations and labor unrest. At the same time, Algeria’s experience with civil conflict, the fragmented nature of civil society, and the “negative” examples of violence and uncertainty in countries such as Libya, Yemen, and Syria, may dampen enthusiasm for dramatic political change. The government has used the security forces to prevent and break up demonstrations, while also attempting to defuse public demands with limited political and economic concessions. Some hope that reforms initiated in April 2011 might strengthen the relatively weak legislature and judiciary. Yet it is unclear whether the reforms have the potential to alter the deeper balance of power within the opaque politico-military elite network that Algerians refer to as “Le Pouvoir” (the powers-that-be).

Domestic terrorism perpetrated by violent Islamists remains Algeria’s principal security challenge. Algerian terrorists also operate across the southern border in the Sahel and are linked to terrorism abroad. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), is an Algerian-led criminal-terrorist network with roots in the 1990s civil conflict. As the dominant economic and military power in the region, Algeria has attempted to take the lead in developing a regional approach to counterterrorism in the Sahel. President Bouteflika’s tenure has produced an energized foreign policy. Strains in ties with neighboring Morocco continue, due to the unresolved status of the Western Sahara and a rivalry for regional power, although signs of a thaw have emerged in the past year. Relations with former colonial power France remain complex and volatile. The legacy of Algeria’s anti-colonial struggle contributes to Algerian leaders’ desire to prevent direct foreign counterterrorism intervention, their residual skepticism of French intentions, and Algeria’s positions on regional affairs, including a non-interventionist stance toward uprisings in Libya and Syria.

See also CRS Report R41070, Al Qaeda and Affiliates: Historical Perspective, Global Presence, and Implications for U.S. Policy, coordinated by John Rollins; and CRS Report RS20962, Western Sahara, by Alexis Arieff.

Date of Report: January
18, 2012
Number of Pages:
Order Number: RS2
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Horn of Africa Region: The Humanitarian Crisis and International Response

Rhoda Margesson, Coordinator
Specialist in International Humanitarian Policy

Ted Dagne
Specialist in African Affairs

Charles E. Hanrahan
Senior Specialist in Agricultural Policy

Lauren Ploch
Specialist in African Affairs

Dianne E. Rennack
Specialist in Foreign Policy Legislation

Marjorie Ann Browne
Specialist in International Relations

Susan G. Chesser
Information Research Specialist

As a result of the worst drought in 60 years, regional conflicts, and conflict within states, a humanitarian emergency of massive proportion has unfolded over the past year in the Horn of Africa region. Current estimates suggest that more than 13.3 million people are currently affected, 250,000 of whom need food assistance in the near term to avoid death. Somalia has been hardest hit so far, creating population displacement within its borders and a refugee crisis of nearly 1 million people in the region, primarily in Kenya and Ethiopia.

The international community continues to respond with a massive humanitarian operation that reached full strength in mid 2011. Although food security has begun to improve, the situation remains very fragile, particularly in southern Somalia, where conditions are considered among the worst in the world. Humanitarian needs are expected to demand sustained attention well into 2012. While life-saving assistance is the current priority, long-term responses may be needed to break the disaster cycle in the Horn. Though triggered by drought, the humanitarian emergency is complicated by political and security pressures within, between, and among the various countries in the region. The recent deterioration of security conditions along the Kenya-Somali border, security incidents within the Dadaab refugee camp complex in northeast Kenya, and increasing restrictions by Al Shabaab, an Islamist insurgency led by an Al Qaeda affiliate, on humanitarian access in Somalia all have had an impact on the relief effort.

This report provides an overview of the current status of the crisis, summary background on the region, a framework for the international and humanitarian response, and an analysis of some of the operational challenges.

The role of the 112th Congress, which has so far focused on the crisis in hearings, legislation, and congressional correspondence with the Administration, is also examined, particularly with regard to funding questions, including: 

         budget priorities on global humanitarian accounts and food aid; 
         diversion of food aid; 
         donor restrictions on aid; and 
         burdensharing and donor fatigue. 
It is anticipated Congress will continue to follow and respond to events as they unfold in the Horn.

Date of Report: January 6, 2012
Number of Pages: 46
Order Number: R42046
Price: $29.95

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Friday, January 6, 2012

Morocco: Current Issues

Alexis Arieff
Analyst in African Affairs

King Mohammed VI retains supreme political power in Morocco, but has taken some liberalizing steps with uncertain effects. A new wave of reform efforts were announced in March 2011 amid public demonstrations that echoed unrest elsewhere in the region. The king submitted a new constitution to a public referendum in July 2011; it passed with over 98% of the vote. The new text, drafted by a commission appointed by the king, aims to grant greater independence to the Prime Minister, the legislature, and the judiciary. Still, the king retains significant executive powers, such as the ability to fire ministers and dissolve the parliament; he remains commanderin- chief of the military and the country’s preeminent religious authority. Early legislative elections were held in November, in which the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) won a plurality and is therefore set to lead the government for the first time. Protest numbers have dwindled, but activists continue to call for deeper changes to the political system.

The United States government views Morocco as an important ally against terrorism and a free trade partner. Congress appropriates foreign assistance funding for Morocco for counterterrorism and socioeconomic development, including funding in support of a five-year, $697.5 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) aid program agreed to in 2007. Congress also reviews and authorizes Moroccan purchases of U.S. defense articles. U.S. officials have expressed support for Morocco’s political reform efforts while reiterating strong support for the monarchy.

Morocco’s comprehensive approach to countering terrorism involves security measures, economic reforms, control of religious outlets, education, and international cooperation. Morocco experienced devastating terrorist attacks in 2003, and Moroccan nationals have been implicated in attacks and plots overseas. In April 2011, after years without a major domestic attack, a bomb exploded at a tourist cafĂ© in Marrakesh, killing 17 people, mostly Europeans. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), considered the greatest regional threat, has not mounted a successful attack in Morocco and denied responsibility for the April bombing. However, individual Moroccans have joined AQIM outside of the country and the group has reportedly attempted to use Moroccan territory as a transit point for regional smuggling operations.

Morocco’s human rights record is uneven. A number of abuses have been documented along with constraints on freedom of expression. At the same time, the 2004 Family Code is a significant initiative that could improve the socioeconomic rights of women if fully implemented. The king has also sought to provide a public record of abuses perpetrated before he ascended the throne in 1999 and to enhance the rights of ethnic Berbers (Amazigh/Imazighen), the original inhabitants of the region. In 2010, questions about religious freedom arose when foreign Christians were expelled for illegal proselytizing, sparking criticism by some Members of Congress.

Morocco’s foreign policy focuses largely on France, Spain, and the United States. Relations with Algeria are troubled by the unresolved dispute over the Western Sahara, a territory that Morocco largely occupies and views as an integral part of its national territory. Algeria supports the POLISARIO Front in its quest for the region’s self-determination. Relations between Morocco and Israel are strained, though 600,000 Moroccan Jews are citizens of Israel. Morocco severed diplomatic ties with Iran in 2009, and was invited to join the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in May 2011. See also CRS Report RS20962, Western Sahara, by Alexis Arieff.

Date of Report: December 2
0, 2011
Number of Pages:
Order Number: R
Price: $29.95

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Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.