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Perilous Desert

Perilous Desert: Insecurity in the Sahara

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Perilous Desert
    Book Description:

    The geopolitical significance of the Sahara is becoming painfully clear. Islamist militant groups and transnational criminal networks are operating in the region's most fragile states, exploiting widespread corruption, weak government capacity, crushing poverty, and entrenched social and ethnic tensions. The unrest spills over borders and aggravates protracted regional crises.

    This insecurity raises urgent concerns for the broader Sahara and the West.Perilous Desertdetails the sources of instability and what can be done to minimize the threat of simmering conflicts.

    Leading experts, through comprehensive accounts of the changing landscape, demonstrate how foreign assistance that relies exclusively on counterterrorism will only exacerbate the problems. Solutions require understanding and combatting the roots of the Sahara's many challenges.

    eISBN: 978-0-87003-405-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Marwan Muasher

    While the world’s attention was fixed on the momentous events in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya after the outbreak of the Arab Awakening, the desert states to the south were undergoing their own transformations with major global implications. Long overlooked by policymakers and scholars, the broader Sahara region has always possessed an underappreciated geopolitical significance. And changes should not be ignored.

    At the intersection of the Mediterranean, African, and Arab worlds, the states of the Sahara suffer from a “perfect storm” of afflictions—weak governance, rampant corruption, endemic poverty, ethnic and societal cleavages, and inaccessible terrain—that give room for transnational...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)
    Frederic Wehrey

    Long-forgotten swathes of northern Africa burst into the international spotlight in March 2012 when Malian army officers, outraged at their superiors’ handling of an uprising in the north by members of the Tuareg ethnic group, toppled the country’s democratically elected government. In the ensuing chaos, a coalition of radical Islamists with links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) coopted and later hijacked the Tuareg opposition, carving out an “emirate” in northern Mali.

    Within a matter of weeks, a country once lauded as an oasis of democracy amid the region’s arid authoritarianism became a junta-led failed state and a terrorist...

  5. 01 The Struggle for Security in Eastern Libya
    (pp. 7-33)
    Frederic Wehrey

    Libya held its first parliamentary elections in sixty years on July 7, 2012. Despite sporadic violence, the polling went remarkably smoothly, defying predictions of both an Islamist landslide and a widespread boycott.¹ Contrary to many assumptions, the country is not headed toward a territorial breakup or a descent into widespread communal strife. Rather, it faces endemic instability resulting from a number of localized struggles over identity, power, and resources in the country’s western, southern, and eastern regions. Troublingly, those conflicts are straining the nascent state’s capacity, deterring foreign investment, and possibly stunting the emergence of democratic institutions. These conflicts are...

  6. 02 Borderline Chaos? Stabilizing Libya’s Periphery
    (pp. 35-59)
    Peter Cole

    The fall of the Qaddafi regime created a persistent crisis of governance in Libya’s extensive border areas. Close to a year after the regime’s collapse, large swathes of territory along Libya’s 4,300-kilometer border remain, in many ways, ungoverned and perhaps even ungovernable. Outside population centers, Libya’s armed forces have been unable to control migration and trafficking flowing through the country.

    As Libya’s army and police forces collapsed during the 2011 conflict, large numbers of armed groups, describing themselves as brigades acting in the name of the February 17 revolution, cropped up in their wake.¹ Many had not participated greatly in...

  7. 03 Organized Crime and Conflict in the Sahel-Sahara Region
    (pp. 61-85)
    Wolfram Lacher

    Over the past decade, the United States and Europe have become increasingly focused on security in the Sahel and Sahara region—defined here as Mauritania, Mali, and Niger, as well as adjacent areas in Algeria and Libya—for fear that the territory could become a new safe haven for extremist groups linked to al-Qaeda. These fears appeared to have been borne out by the 2012 insurgency in northern Mali that saw northern cities fall under the control of two groups closely linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)—Ansar Dine and the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West...

  8. 04 The Paranoid Neighbor: Algeria and the Conflict in Mali
    (pp. 87-117)
    Anouar Boukhars

    The collapse of the old order in Mali came faster than anyone expected. Less than three months after the crisis erupted there in January 2012, the Malian army was unceremoniously defeated as it tried to quell an insurrection in the north, driven back south by an assortment of loosely aligned armed groups. A military coup on March 22 sent President Amadou Toumani Touré into hiding.

    The crisis has created a major challenge for Algeria. Given its status as a regional military power and its intimate knowledge of the conflict dynamics in Mali, the country is expected to take the lead...

  9. 05 The Drivers of Insecurity in Mauritania
    (pp. 119-143)
    Anouar Boukhars

    Mauritania is an increasingly fragile state, with rising levels of insecurity conducive to homegrown violent extremism and cross-border criminal and terrorist activity. Internal stresses combine with external spoiler factors to sap the capacity of an already weak state to respond.

    This fragility is not only a concern for Mauritania’s citizens and those seeking to promote development in the country, but it is also a threat to broader efforts to stabilize the Sahel region by preventing conflict and promoting recovery. Specifically, it undermines the counterterrorism efforts that have been a high priority for Western governments and international donors.

    Mauritania is unfortunately...

  10. 06 Mauritania’s Islamists
    (pp. 145-163)
    Alex Thurston

    Kidnappings of Westerners and embassy bombings have made Mauritania, along with the broader Sahel region, a source of concern for American and European governments worried about the potential spread of transnational terrorist movements in Africa. Western policymakers have different perspectives on Mauritania’s problems. Some believe that the army’s willingness to hunt terrorists both domestically and in neighboring Mali makes the country a strong partner for U.S.-led counterterrorism efforts in the region. Others fear that Mauritania’s turbulent politics (the country has suffered two coups in the past decade) make it unstable, and thus fertile ground for Muslim extremist recruitment.

    The strength...

  11. 07 Simmering Discontent in the Western Sahara
    (pp. 165-184)
    Anouar Boukhars

    In discussions of organized criminal activity in the Sahel and the growing reach of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), most regional and Western defense strategists agree that urgent efforts are needed to address the frozen conflict in the Western Sahara because it encourages the emergence of violent entrepreneurs, drug warlords, and other nefarious elements. A Spanish colony since 1884, the Western Sahara did not become independent when Spain withdrew. Instead, Spain ceded the territory to Morocco and Mauritania in 1975, with Mauritania relinquishing its acquisition in 1979.

    Not all inhabitants of the territory accepted the deal, however. The Popular...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 185-196)
    Anouar Boukhars and Frederic Wehrey

    Fragile and failing states pose real threats to international security. They can provide training bases and safe havens for al-Qaeda and its affiliates as well as offer violent extremists an environment suited for generating large profits from smuggling and illicit trafficking. They are ideal locations for radical, violent organizations to recruit disenfranchised and alienated youth. Problems in these states can exacerbate protracted regional crises and reignite violent conflicts. Refugee flows, arms, drugs, and insurgencies regularly spill over the borders of fragile states with devastating consequences for neighbors.

    The fragile states and territories of the Sahara and Sahel—in this case,...

  13. Index
    (pp. 197-210)
  14. About the Authors
    (pp. 211-214)
  15. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
    (pp. 215-217)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 218-218)