North Africa and Globalization
by Salim Mansur
Politics generates as great a passion across North Africa as does soccer. But unlike soccer, politics has to be guarded, for democracy exists here only in the repressed longing of the people to be free.
In Libya, the dictator for life, Muammar Gaddhafi, will mark this summer the fortieth year of his rule. The mention of his name makes most North Africans choke with scorn, yet Gaddhafi represents both the cause and effect of the Arab world's political stagnation.
In Tunisia, one-party rule continues under the strong man Ben Ali.
Morocco is ruled by a somewhat benign yet near-absolute monarch, Mohammed VI.
In Algeria there is a limited Arab democracy with the current leader, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, elected to a third five-year term as president.
The UN-sponsored 2009 report on Arab development, like previous ones, details the malady of Arab politics. What such reports cannot do is provide the cure, since it must come from the people themselves.
Soccer is an apt metaphor for the paradox of North African politics. Just as most promising soccer players aspire to play in the European league, a similar desire for freedom is pushing the skilled and talented of North Africa to seek an exit to Europe and North America.
The reality I am observing while among Algerians is the irreversible process of modernization and how volatile it can be. The certainties of the past, most importantly religion, are under siege, while the future is confusing to many.
Change breeds apprehension, and politically speaking the ready answer has been the elite preference for order.
Gaddhafi is one face of this order. Thee other is offered by political Islam.
The young are alienated by the suffocating nature of such reactionary order. And since the population is young, there is an abundance of repressed youthful energy.
The big question here is how this energy will be constructively harnessed, and how soon.
In the West, globalization is a label used as a catch-all explanation of the huge changes we are witnessing worldwide.
Experiencing globalization from where I am on the African continent, is to grasp the volatility of the explosive demands of the young for all that their counterparts in the West take for granted.
The demand of this young population will have to be met, or the frustration will repeatedly swell over into political upheavals, with their effects felt in Paris as in Montreal.
Africa's volatility is exacerbated by the West's economic crisis. This has opened the continent to a renewed and yet age-old scramble for her resources, with China as the new player on the African scene.
The Chinese, for example, are building a multi-lane highway across Algeria, and recently completed construction of an oil refinery in the Mediterranean port city of Skikda.
However, just when globalization has created the need for a greater presence here of the West, it is ironically in retreat.
The Chinese can help build roads and refineries, but a communist China holds no attraction for the young.
For the West, including Canada, paying attention to the young of North Africa means politically supporting their desire for freedom and democracy as the basis for change. This would also be the morally right thing to do.