Russia has a number of geopolitical interests in the Middle East and North Africa. These include: countering Western influence; maintaining a stable authoritarian regional order; containing Sunni violent extremism; reversing regional developments that lead to lower global energy prices; and expanding its exports of weapons and other goods. However, Russian interests sometimes conflict, such as countering Western influence while containing radical Sunni forces, since Europe and the United States share the latter objective with Russia. Furthermore, Russia has limited means to protect its influence in the Middle East, the Arab spring removed or has threatened some key allies, and many regional actors – including those friendly to Russia – thwart Moscow’s geopolitical aims.
Turkey’s once so promising standing in the Middle East and North Africa lies in ruins. This is because the Turkish government – driven by ideology rather than pragmatism – has squandered its regional geopolitical capital since the 2011 Arab uprisings. Ankara lost its gamble on Islamists holding power in transitioning Arab countries and discredited its support for democratisation, which, amongst other things, has dramatically reduced Turkish influence across the region. As a result, regardless of the government’s rhetoric, Turkey will likely reposition itself in the coming years along more traditional lines, closer to its ally the United States while mending relations with key regional powers.
The nature of conflicts across the Sahel and the Sahara has changed. The current conflicts in Libya, Mali and Nigeria show that violence is increasingly cross-border while pre-existing political, ethnic and religious tensions are being reinforced. The lack of regional cooperation, partly because of rivalry between Algeria and Morocco, makes it easy for a mix of jihadist warlords, criminal gangsters and separatist militants to move freely across this vast area. As a result, there is a real prospect of a further deepening of links between militant groups in the region, such as Boko Haram and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. International and regional institutions, including the European Union, have produced a plethora of Sahel strategies, but they should work much more closely together to tackle Sahara-Sahel insecurity.
The Algerian government is under increasing pressure, stemming from political and social turmoil in the south of the country. This comes amidst mounting terrorist threats and economic concerns due to low oil prices. The south holds the majority of the country’s oil and gas reserves and is key for Algeria’s security. The area’s wealth and size (it accounts for more than 80 per cent of the national territory) have contributed enormously to Algeria’s economic standing and geostrategic clout. According to International Monetary Fund 2011 data, hydrocarbons account for over 69 per cent of public revenues and 36 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product.
Fearing instability following the 2011 Arab spring, Israel has focused on risk-adverse, minimalist and pro-status quo policies towards the Middle East region. This is partly because of overwhelming Israeli doubts about the regional potential for democratisation. The Israeli government has avoided playing any role in the Arab transitions, while drawing a clear separation between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and regional developments. However, Israel has tried to maintain working relations with Egypt and Jordan, while sharing similar concerns to Gulf countries over the rise of Islamic State and growing Iranian influence throughout the region. Israelis elect a new parliament this week, but regardless of the result, it is more likely that continuity, rather than change, will define the overall strategy of the next government of Israel towards the Middle East and North Africa.
As violence and instability spreads across the Middle East and North Africa, the European Union recognises its failings in this region. The EU is currently reviewing its strategy towards its neighbours, and there are growing calls for the Union to develop a more geopolitical approach to protecting its strategic interests in the Middle East. A commitment to mould EU policies to the geopolitical complexities of the Middle East would be welcome – and indeed long overdue. But the challenge for European policymakers will be to give EU policies a more strategic edge without excessively focusing on stability over political reform.
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
FRIDE ceased its think tank activities on 31st December 2015 for economic reasons. The Board of Trustees had to take this difficult decision since, despite many efforts to diversify its funding sources, FRIDE cannot sustain its think tank operations with a view to 2016 and beyond.
Established in 1999, FRIDE has made a major contribution to shape debate on Europe’s external activities in an increasingly challenging international environment. It has covered issues ranging from democracy and human rights to sustainable development, new approaches to multilateral cooperation and security affairs. FRIDE’s long-standing focus on the extended neighbourhood of the European Union proves today all the more relevant given widespread turbulence in the region. FRIDE’s emphasis on the importance of the values framing Europe’s external activities is central to current political debates in Europe and beyond. This shows the need for continued engagement in the pursuit of a common European foreign policy that is both effective and informed by the core values of European integration.
The Board wishes to thank Diego Hidalgo, FRIDE’s founder, for his tireless commitment and very generous support for many years. The Board also wishes to thank FRIDE’s dedicated staff, the members of the Board and the Advisory Committee for their contribution in making FRIDE one of the top foreign policy think tanks in Europe. We are very grateful to all those who have supported FRIDE’s work and projects over the years and we thank the many partners from all parts of the world who have worked with FRIDE on joint initiatives. We hope that FRIDE’s extensive input to the debate on Europe in the world will continue to inform thinking and action at a very critical time for Europe’s future.
The President of the Board
FRIDE cesó sus actividades como think tank el 31 de diciembre de 2015 por razones económicas. El Patronato tuvo que adoptar esta difícil decisión dado que, a pesar de los intensos esfuerzos realizados para diversificar sus fuentes de financiación, FRIDE no puede sostener sus operaciones como think tank a partir de 2016.
Establecido en 1999, FRIDE ha realizado una gran contribución al debate sobre las actividades exteriores de Europa en un ambiente internacional cada vez más complejo. Ha trabajado en temas que van desde la democracia y los derechos humanos al desarrollo sostenible, los nuevos enfoques en la cooperación multilateral y las cuestiones de seguridad. La atención prestada por FRIDE a la vecindad extendida de la Unión Europea durante mucho tiempo prueba ser hoy aún más relevante debido a la turbulencia que azota a la región. El énfasis de FRIDE en la importancia de los valores que enmarcan las actividades exteriores europeas es central en los debates en Europa y más allá. Esto muestra la necesidad de un compromiso continuo con la búsqueda de una política exterior europea común que sea eficaz y esté basada en los principios fundamentales de la integración europea.
El Patronato desea agradecer a Diego Hidalgo, fundador de FRIDE, por su incansable compromiso y muy generoso apoyo a lo largo de tantos años. También quiere expresar su gratitud a la dedicada plantilla, a los propios miembros del Patronato y del Comité Asesor por sus contribuciones para hacer de FRIDE uno de los principales think tanks de Europa en cuestiones de política exterior. Estamos muy agradecidos con todos aquellos que han apoyado el trabajo y los proyectos de FRIDE a través de los años y también damos las gracias a los numerosos socios de todas partes del mundo que han colaborado con FRIDE en iniciativas conjuntas. Esperamos que las extensas aportaciones de FRIDE al debate sobre Europa en el mundo continuará informando el pensamiento y la acción en un momento muy crítico para el futuro de Europa.
El Presidente del Patronato