So-called ‘illicit economies’ have existed in North Africa for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It is in this region - perhaps more than anywhere else in the world - that theline between licit and illicit trade is blurred. Many ‘transnational’ smuggling routes predate the very borders they transgress.
2011 was not the end, but the beginning, and maybe it wasn’t even that. Perhaps the deep crisis of the traditional social contract that underpinned most of the MENA region’s ruling regimes since independence had begun even before. The first cracks could be already be heard by sensitive ears in the 2000s, when the liberal reforms introduced by several Arab governments failed to address the increasing needs (and new expectations) of fast-growing populations and the first, scattered protests began to pop-up.
The areas in north and north east Syria, currently referred to as being under “Kurdish" control, are sometimes called Rojava, more officially referred to as the Democratic Self Administration (DSA) area. This administration is lead under strong influences from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of mainly Kurdish, but also some Arab and Assyrian forces that came together, with support from the US-led coalition, to combat ISIS in those areas.
With the economy faltering and discontent rising, the coronavirus pandemic could hardly have been better timed for Lebanon’s embattled Hezbollah.
A public health-mandated lockdown freed the squares of protesters, halting a civil movement that has continued unabated since October and giving the Iran-backed group an opportunity to repair its tarnished image. For a short while, the virus provided the illusion that a newly found common enemy could stir things back towards the post-Civil War sectarian order.
Despite the introduction of some preventive measures, Yemen’s Houthi insurgents are not focused on the fight against the COVID-19 infection, but rather on fighting on multiple Yemeni battlefields.
North Africa and Europe are bound together by history, geography and society. Over the last decade, shakeups around the Mediterranean Sea basin have caused deep transformations in both regions. The European Union was forced to redefine its relations both with North Africa as a region, and with each of the countries that comprise it.
The influence of international players has been a constant feature of North Africa’s history. Looking at the nature and scope of this phenomenon is crucial to understand the current geopolitical landscape of the region. The diplomatic historian Carl Brown once famously described the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as being “the most penetrated international relations sub-system in today’s world”, stressing the recurrent interventions by foreign powers in the political, economic and security realms of many regional states.
Although the MENA region has recorded fewer coronavirus cases than other parts of the world, the pandemic adds further strain on a region racked by instability, conflicts and structural weaknesses.
North Africa has deeply changed over the last decade. After the overall failure of the 2011 Arab uprisings, growing patterns of international meddling have intersected with regional and domestic dynamics.
The coronavirus continues to represent a significant danger to an already fragile Gaza Strip. So far, infection rates remain low – thanks in large part to concerted efforts by local authorities and international organisations. But the biggest challenge may still be to come as the virus threatens to exasperate a manmade socio-economic and humanitarian crisis. For Hamas, this will require it to balance its competing roles as both resistance movement and de facto government of the Strip.