United States and Gulf State Interests in the Post-Arab Spring Maghreb

United States and Gulf State Interests in the Post-Arab Spring Maghreb
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Abstract

The 2010-2011 Arab Spring caused upheaval in North Africa’s Maghreb region, which comprises Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. This upheaval elevated the Maghreb’s importance globally, including for the United States and the Gulf Arab states—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar in particular. The Gulf Arab countries’ increased engagement in the Maghreb is the result of shifts within the internal politics of the Arab world. In the Maghreb, U.S. and Gulf state interests overlap to the extent that all players want stability, but each state has its own definition of what stability means. The U.S. and the Gulf states all support the Moroccan and Algerian regimes, but intra-Gulf rivalries are helping destabilize Libya, where different Gulfbacked proxy forces are exacerbating that country’s civil war. Moving forward, the United States and the Gulf states may find areas where their interests converge (e.g., stabilizing Tunisian politics, fighting terrorism, and promoting development) but also areas where they diverge, especially in Libya.

Introduction

The 2010-2011 Arab Spring caused upheaval in North Africa’s Maghreb region, which comprises Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. This upheaval elevated the Maghreb’s importance globally, including for the United States and the Gulf Arab states—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar in particular. The Gulf Arab countries’ increased engagement in the Maghreb is the result of shifts within the internal politics of the Arab world. In the Maghreb, U.S. and Gulf state interests overlap to the extent that all players want stability, but each state has its own definition of what stability means. The U.S. and the Gulf states all support the Moroccan and Algerian regimes, but intra-Gulf rivalries are helping destabilize Libya, where different Gulfbacked proxy forces are exacerbating that country’s civil war. Moving forward, the United States and the Gulf states may find areas where their interests converge (e.g., stabilizing Tunisian politics, fighting terrorism, and promoting development) but also areas where they diverge, especially in Libya.

The 2010-2011 Arab Spring caused upheaval in North Africa’s Maghreb region, which comprises Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. This upheaval elevated the Maghreb’s importance globally, including for the United States and the Gulf Arab states—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar in particular. The Gulf Arab countries’ increased engagement in the Maghreb is the result of shifts within the internal politics of the Arab world. In the Maghreb, U.S. and Gulf state interests overlap to the extent that all players want stability, but each state has its own definition of what stability means. The U.S. and the Gulf states all support the Moroccan and Algerian regimes, but intra-Gulf rivalries are helping destabilize Libya, where different Gulfbacked proxy forces are exacerbating that country’s civil war. Moving forward, the United States and the Gulf states may find areas where their interests converge (e.g., stabilizing Tunisian politics, fighting terrorism, and promoting development) but also areas where they diverge, especially in Libya.

The wave of unrest that swept across the Arab world in 2010-2011, often referred to as the “Arab Spring,” caused significant upheaval in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya—a region of North Africa collectively known as the Maghreb.1 This upheaval and its destabilizing effects elevated the Maghreb’s importance globally. The United States now has a greater focus on the Maghreb as it seeks to promote democracy and restore stability there. North Africa also has newfound prominence in the United States’ global counterterrorism efforts, in part due to the emergence of the Islamic State in Libya. Over the past year, the United States has expanded its military actions against the Islamic State to include North Africa, most notably in the form of airstrikes in Libya to support local forces in their efforts to liberate the Islamic Stateheld city of Sirte.

The United States, however, is not the only country that has taken an increased interest in the Maghreb. A number of European powers who have had long-standing relationships in the region—including France, Italy, and the United Kingdom—have become increasingly engaged in this part of the world. In addition, a number of the Gulf Arab states have also become more active in North Africa, pursuing their own political, economic, and security-related interests.2 The Gulf Arab countries have traditionally stayed focused on the Gulf region itself, or on its immediate borders, in places such as Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, and Jordan. As a result, their increased interest and engagement in the Maghreb, which is outside their immediate neighborhood, is representative of shifts within the internal politics of the Arab world.

In order to understand the Gulf states’ evolving foreign policy interests and to effectively craft the United States’ own policies in the Maghreb, it behooves U.S. decision-makers and planners to understand what actions the Gulf Arab states are pursuing in North Africa, and why. As we will show, Gulf states’ policies have bolstered the Moroccan monarchy, irritated the Algerian regime, influenced Tunisian electoral politics, and exacerbated Libya’s civil war. Accounting for Gulf states’ actions can help the U.S. government identify mutual areas of interest, such as the stability of Morocco and Algeria, and manage areas of competition, such as the vision for Libya’s future.

In addition, the U.S. government and the Gulf Arab states have deep historical ties to each other and foreign policy interests that intersect not only within the Gulf region itself, but also in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Jordan, and Iraq. An understanding of what actions the Gulf states are pursuing in the Maghreb can establish a clearer image of what these states are trying to achieve as their foreign policy interests extend geographically over time. Such an understanding can also help synchronize U.S. policies, since the issue of Gulf states’ actions in the Maghreb crosses numerous bureaucratic lines, to include combatant command boundaries and State Department bureaus.

This occasional paper seeks to bring greater understanding to the issue of Gulf state interests in the Maghreb and the implications of those interests for U.S. goals in the region. It is the result of an initial exploration on this topic, comprising roughly three months’ of research. Therefore, it should be considered a foundational document upon which additional research can be done. 

Notes:

1 Maghreb, which means “where the sun sets, the west” in Arabic, was the name given to North Africa in pre-modern times. The term is commonly used today to refer to the region. Definitions of “the Maghreb” vary. Some include Mauritania, and others expand into Egypt. For the purpose of this analysis, we will focus on the four states named above, which lie to the west of Egypt’s western border. We acknowledge that Egypt is also of significant interest to the Gulf states, but for the purpose of this report, we limit our analysis to just the Maghreb countries.

2 For the purpose of this report, we are focusing on the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which is a political, economic, and security organization that includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, and Bahrain. Our research indicated that Oman and Bahrain have almost no involvement in the Maghreb region, so we will not focus on them here.

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