Saturday, December 22, 2012

How is Morocco shedding away foreign Investments

As I landed a couple fo hours ago in Casablanca coming from Dubai, I couldn't help but have some reflexions on the horrid customer service provided in the Moroccan airport. Coming across an exasperated businessman from Bangladesh, I realized that such lack of consideration for the customer is not only a failure to comply with the rules of decency every airport ought to implement, but also a grave attack on potential foreign investments that are a crucial component for recovery in the current shaky economic conditions...

How is Morocco shedding away foreign Investments

In these times of financial and economic uncertainties, the world is striving to power boost growth and encourage investments in order to cut loose the ongoing nightmares of the ailing banking system and its repercussions on the world finance. Yet, as these efforts to encourage a quick recovery are spreading, and indeed populating most of world leaders speeches and TV apparitions, one country is lacking behind: Morocco.

Although most observers might claim otherwise, Morocco’s approach and methodology in restructuring its economy and lifting the purchase power of its citizen is all but comprehensive and sound. The gross mistake the Moroccan authorities have been conducting throughout the years, and more acutely now, is that the government tries to induce a top down growth through encouraging multibillion dollars investments instead of building a strong investment base powered by the middle class and small businesses. The last visit of the king to the Gulf countries, a recurrent theatrical play where the monarchy squeezes billions of dollars from the Gulf royalties whenever the domestic economics are not adding up, is an astounding example of such state practice of top down investment. Channeling investments and projects by Gulf corporations to Morocco might be of short-term benefits since it creates direct jobs in construction or tourism; yet, most of these foreign ventures end up frozen due to the absence of consumers of such products, and deficiency of completive small businesses that can create the necessary environment for a full investment to operate. What I mean by completive small businesses are those enterprises that offer services and products that a Hotel cannot offer, as simple as that. Luxurious resorts and Hotels are a product locals cannot afford, a fact not hard to miss on since the market these investments target are foreign. This poses the question: will a businessman, celebrities or high-income consumers visit Morocco on the sole basis of staying in a luxurious hotel? What draws outsiders are unique travel experiences that are prosperous for them to initiate potential ventures, that is to say a compelling cultural setting, the existence of advantageous telecommunication services and infrastructure, the flourishing of small businesses that offer skilled technicians and resources and the presence of quality transportation firms. Thus begging for Gulf investments without laying the foundations for these very ventures to thrive is pouring water on the sand. A state that cannot cope with rainfalls, rising criminality, poor consumer purchase power, degrading middle class and fiscal irregularities and fraud is far from succeeding in getting the economic house back in order through a couple of foreign investors.

Another flaw in Moroccan approach to economic growth is the discrepancy in treatments offered to foreign investors. While western investors are treated with the greatest forms of respect and privilege, Asian entrepreneurs are disregarded as casual travelers who have to pass through the hardships and tortuous airline and airports process, a process that the Moroccan airports made the worst possible in any sovereign nation. Lost luggage, hours in line for the passport checks, empty cubicles meant to be filed by airport officers and no regards for customer service… many of the realities of Moroccan airports that would push away any investor from thinking about traveling to Morocco. These are the basic services that a state should prioritize if it seriously considers drawing foreign cash to the mainland.

Successful investment strategies are those that care about the small businesses, encourage entrepreneurship and facilitate foreign knowledge and expertise flow to the domestic market. If a nation cannot offer decent treatment for travelers and outsiders going through its airport –travelers who after all are walking wallets that can be tapped into -, then there is no premise for talking about economic recovery through foreign investments. It is saddening to see on one hand great nations deploy resources, efforts and time to empower small businesses as the ultimate path to recovery, and on the other hand witnessing one’s country waste money in lobbying and embassy held dinners to attract investments that will not impact the domestic economic landscape, because the state didn’t care enough to build a favorable base for these investments to flourish upon. The true change starts from within, not through aesthetic appliances to hide inherent flaws in the domestic scene, thus if Morocco is to ever join in the global effort to regenerate wealth and growth, it should start by permitting small businesses -domestic and foreign- to prosper, not by helping them financially, but simply through fulfilling the tasks every state is elected to accomplish in the first place.

Mohamed Amine Belarbi

Saturday, December 15, 2012

International Affairs on the Edge Mag 2

Our Magazine's 2nd edition is now live! Check it for the latest articles published in the Blog.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Egyptian Politics: between the immature and the unorganized

Egyptian Politics: between the immature and the unorganized

The recent tragedy unfolding in Egypt in the aftermath of the presidential decree is a critical sign of Egyptian politics’ immaturity. An immaturity not only due to the young democracy that is taking shape in Egypt, but also due to the inexperience of the ruling party that has shouldered political responsibility and state management for its first time.

Although not enlisted in the Muslim Brotherhood or in its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, Mr. Morsi showcases all the pathological signs of the Muslim Brotherhood approach to politics and policymaking. The extensive network of the Muslim Brotherhood spans throughout Egypt and the greater Middle East, yet the historical background of the organization doesn’t include in its records periods of time where the brotherhood assumed political office or statesmanship position. Imbued in an activist and underground lifestyle, the Muslim brotherhood drew its power in its ability to mobilize its members and partisans en masse and in short notices, as well as its extensive knowledge of the public opinion’s tendencies and ways to manipulate domestic and foreign events in shaping the street pulse and using it as a leverage to further their agenda and recruitment process.

The issue with underground, and in this case banned groups and congregations, is that ideological battles are their expertise, yet Realpolitik and political practice are not fields of mastery for groups that always strived to assume roles of opposition and state defiance with no intent on engaging in statesmanship and policy making.
The case of the attempt of the Muslim Brotherhood to assassinate the Egyptian president Gamal Abdennasser in 1954 is a typical trait of the organization: Although the assassination of the president would not have an impact on the course of policies of its administration, the Brotherhood envisioned such attempt as a show of force to further confirm its defiance and opposition stance against the government. If the Brotherhood had any sense of political engagement, it could have mobilized its extensive human and financial capital to lobby and influence policy makers as a mean to shape policies they see best serve their agenda or that of the Egyptian people.

The same trait of rebellion continued during the Arab Spring and Egyptian revolution, a revolution that remains a standing ovation for the ability of the Muslim Brotherhood to mobilize a vast human capital and hijack mass protests through a subtle and swift influence and engineering of the public opinion and street pulse. Yet, as the regime fell down and the prospects of power became apparent for the Muslim Brotherhood, the newly legitimate organization assumed political office through its political party, the Freedom and Justice party, a step that is being considered a true game changer in the history of the Brotherhood. For 84 years of activity, the Muslim Brotherhood assumed state responsibility, a responsibility that extends beyond the operational capability of the congregation given the lack of political experience and exposure to the intricacies of governance and state management.

Although a gloomy prospect for Egyptian domestic affairs, the Muslim Brotherhood remains the only alternative in a political spectrum hugely divided between unorganized and scattered political actors.

Whether liberals, secularists or moderate Islamists, the plethora of political establishments in Egypt is far from displaying the political plurality that is a sign of a healthy democracy. The realities enclosing the various political parties in Egypt attest of their inefficacy and inability to run a consensual government cohesive enough to stand the challenges of the post-revolutionary Egypt. The opportunities that the revolution offered seemed immeasurable in political terms, thus the exponential rise in political formation, parties and groups was a much-expected trend in the Egyptian arena, a trend that not only determined the impossibility of forming a non-Islamist majority government, but also signed the death testimony of the Egyptian pluralistic system of governance.

Although some of the political establishments, in great parts remnants of the old regime, have the ability to govern and to strongly handle the domestic affairs in Egypt, they remain hugely overwhelmed by the far reaching discipline and organization of the Brotherhood, and continue to be seen under a negative light due to their association with the fallen dictatorship.

The way forward in Egypt is to be determined by the willingness of the Muslim Brotherhood to both accept a political compromise and an ideological paradigm shift. The Muslim brotherhood lacks the experience that statesmanship requires, an experience that can be offered by the contesting political establishments pioneered by the secularists and the liberals. Although see as an ideological threat, the Muslim brotherhood can still accommodate the opposite factions in state organs by offering a mutual governance of Egyptian affairs, a mutual governance that can be exploited by the Muslim brotherhood as a temporary venture to gain the political maturity needed for a powerful governing organization. The Muslim Brotherhood will not be able to assume fully its responsibilities towards the Egyptian street unless it decides to relegate its rebellious ideology and its affinity towards opposition for a more governance driven line of thought. It is of paramount importance to realize the necessity that the times of staunch opposition are over, and the era of political practice is on. If the Brotherhood is to persist in its ideological supremacy and political immaturity, it will lose the hearts and minds of the supporters who propelled it to the pic of power, and it will miss on the golden opportunity of transforming its principles, values and precepts into actual enforced policies through the powerful medium of the state and parliament.

Mohamed Amine Belarbi

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Obama 2016, China and the Middle East

 With a dramatic campaign brought to an end, it is reasonable to let loose the festivities and celebrate the second term of the 44th president of the United States. Yet, behind the stunning smile and the theatrical performances, Obama’s to do list is filling up with major challenges, and celebrating along Michelle is far from being the paramount priority of the overburdened president thus far.

From the Iranian nuclear aspirations to the growing Chinese influence in the Middle East, this short article will draw on the time urgency and contextual realities of the MENA region in order to bring the casual reader a step closer to understanding how the US policies should evolve with regard to the Arab World if the US interests are to prevail in the region.

“Iran is now 4 more years closer to the production of a nuclear bomb”, how familiar this seems given that Romney’s foreign policy hovered around this very sentence throughout his campaign, yet, as we see it today, the round of international sanctions championed by the Obama are bearing fruitful results and bringing the Iranian regime closer to a financial meltdown. While the economic sanctions might prove to be the way to salvation, regional powers dependent on Iranian oil might beg to differ on the US strategic vision to impede the ayatollahs from procuring themselves nuclear capabilities. The Obama administration is faced with the choice of continued sanctions that might prove inefficient given the continual opposition of China (resources driven) and Russia (geopolitically immersed in the safeguard of the Iranian regime), or with the alternative of striking deep down in the Iranian territory. Such military venture, as foolish it might be, is rebutted by the former national security adviser and world renown strategist Brzezinski in the following terms:

           “A war in the Middle East, in the present context, may last for years, and the economic consequences of it are going to be devastating for the average American: High inflation. Instability. Insecurity. Probably significant isolation for the United States in the world scene” Brzezinski to Newsmax TV
Two choices, neither as promising as marketed to be, puts the US administration in the embarrassing position of accepting a nuclear Iran as a reality, a reality that might serve the American interests in fact, regardless of the catastrophic image the Israelis attempt to wave in mass media in order to favor a preemptive strike.

While Israel’s ties to the US are unshakable and enhanced by a certain sense of commonality in terms of political, cultural and historical similarities, the Arab states converge with the US strategic vision only when mutual interests are involved. These interests range from security (as in the case of the Gulf countries) to economic assistance (Egypt among others), yet the critical aspect of such interests is that they are not exclusive to the United Sates, but are tightly linked to the economic and geopolitical performances of international and regional hegemon. Such regional hegemon is embodied by China, an aspiring world player with an economy large enough to have its take on international politics and regional influence. China has been absent from the Middle East largely due to the US status in the region, yet as the US foreign policy accommodates the growing needs and fancies of Israel (ultimately alienating the Arab street), and as Washington’s tight policies increase pressure on post-revolutionary governments with a leadership not ready to accept a full allegiance to the white house, alternatives start shaping and Arab states are most likely to identify regional powers who can substitute the US in the Middle Eastern chessboard. China, with an appealing financial portfolio and a reassuring posture in the world scene is prone on undertaking the role of the major player in Middle Eastern politics, a role that doesn’t stem from choice but from necessity given the growing needs in oil of the Chinese industry and economy.

            “China’s presence in the Middle East has grown exponentially over the past decade and is affecting the region’s strategic environment. Chinese influence is multidimensional, encompassing economics, defense, diplomacy, and soft power.” [1]
In such circumstances, attending to the fancies of a certain ally become less urgent than securing states whose allegiance can be lost to potential competitors, thus the Middle Eastern agenda of Barack Obama should cut on the support to Israel (not much of a political suicide given the fact that the presidential campaign is over and the super PACs are not as meaningful now that the results are out), and deploy a strategic vision preliminary aimed at accommodating the post-revolutionary Arab states through financial, political, diplomatic and military support. Such attempt would leverage the US interests on two levels: first by providing a stronger geopolitical stance in the region for American interests through US-friendly governments, and second through the establishment of a pressure regional bloc that can downsize Chinese access to oil resources.

Such US foreign policy, coupling stronger unconditional support for post-revolutionary Arab states and firm refusal to bend to Israeli appeals will inevitably disarm Iran from its main source of support in the Arab and Islamic world, depriving it from popular compassion and thus disabling proxy factions such as Hezbollah from tapping into anti-US feeling as main recourse for recruitment and military support to the mullahs in Teheran.

[1] James Chen, The emergence of China in the Middle East, Institute for National Strategic Studies

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mitt Romney's Foreign Policy Flaws

Much talk has filled mass media since the kick off of the presidential elections, with most of the analysis and speculations hovering around what mattered most to Americans: Economy; but what about the other main segment of presidential capabilities, namely foreign policy? While Obama’s foreign policy has crystalized over the past four years in world consciousness, Mitt Romney remains a focal point of controversy, not only because republicans developed the bad habit of ruining their nations’ foreign policy, but also because of the thundering statements of Mitt who vowed to redefine the 21st century as the American century by excellence under Washington’s leadership. Such declarations ought to push the casual citizen to offer special consideration to the Republican runner up for presidency, and to develop a thorough understanding of what is widely held to be the very policies that will shape the world we live in.

I will walk you through Mitt Romney’s Foreign Policy, with special focus on the republicans’ strategy with regard to the Middle East given the current unfolding and turmoil spanning throughout the region.
It is worth noting, before heading any further in this article, that Mitt Romney’s Foreign policy speeches have so far only communicated a set of critiques and undermining statements of Obamas’ handling of key topics such as the Arab Spring, the Syrian crackdown on civilians and the nuclear potential aspirations of Iran, without pointedly communicating a clear strategy and set of policies that will define the path Washington will undergo under a republican administration. Although unclear and suspiciously similar to the key fundamental pivots of Obama’s foreign policy, Romney’s driving philosophy for handling world challenges can be, as written in the Economist’s Lexington notebook, best characterized as a “[…] Reaganesque talk of achieving “peace through strength””[1]. The peace-through-strength line of thought has proven to be
unproductive and indeed detrimental to US interests under the Bush administration. The setbacks of unilateral action coupled with disregard of the new realities of distribution of power makes a new Bush Style foreign policy unraveling in the Middle East, and on a more global scale, noxious for world cooperation and for US interests indeed. Discouragement of multilateral cooperation is not a speculation but rather a plain acknowledgement by Romney himself since he plainly declares in his Foreign policy document when discussing the Syrian crisis: “Instead of taking the initiative to establish his own transition plan, the President outsourced leadership to Kofi Annan and the United Nations”. A foreign policy based on individual aspirations to shape the politics of a certain region through unilateral action not only undermines international cooperation, but also rules out the component of diplomatic compromise, which it is worth remembering, is the driving fuel of world politics and was the only way out for the Kennedy administration during the Cuban Missiles crisis (since we are commemorating the 50th year of the event, it worth clarifying that the secret deal with the USSR over the American missile system deployment in Turkey is the compromise that allowed the peaceful resolution of the Cuban issue, thus Realpolitik in action, not unilateral vocation for world individual leadership as Romney advocates).

The rise of China as a global economic engine, and the resurgence of Russian interests in the Middle East coupled with the emergence of new Arab governments with a less pro-American leadership tendency puts the US in a sensible position, a position where diplomatic efforts and compromises are the only pathway towards greater collaboration, not confrontational tensions that will shrug the new global players from elaborating friendly approaches and policies towards the US. The usage of power can be adopted as foreign policy framework only if a nation is declared as sole superpower and is safe from any potential resistance by instated or emerging global actors. This is what Romney fails to account for in todays pluralistic and multifaceted world, instead clinging to the notion of American exceptionalism, exceptionalism he advocates for not only as a domestic philosophy but also as a driving foreign policy.

Mitt Romney, in his speech at the Virginia Military Institute on October 8th, argued for the case of a 21st century American exceptionalism, a driving philosophy that is the backbone of US foreign policy, by stating that “It is the responsibility of our president to use America’s great power to shape history – not to lead from behind, leaving our destiny at the mercy of events”. The American exceptionalism is held to be true today only in the domain of military dominance, yet the emergence of the current economic powers (BRICS) has shattered this concept as detailed in the "Post American World" by Fareed Zakaria. The rise of the rest is what is at the heart of discussions in the white house given the impact such rise upholds on US leadership and exceptionalism, and it is the first time since the collapse of the USSR that the US position as world superpower is under threat. Americans do believe in the uniqueness of American history, yet the debt leverage China has and its trade advantage over the US, the shift of educational and financial capital towards the East and the cultural dilution of American culture amidst new prominent additions to the Globalized world tradition is a reality that contrasts with the typical American belief of US exceptionalism. Thus it is important to question the practicality of the policies Mitt Romney advances and through which he claims he will underscore the rise of the rest and consolidate the fading American exceptionalism.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

International Affairs on the Edge Magazine

Finally our Magazine is out! This 1st publication compiles recent articles by Mohamed Amine Belarbi on various topics, ranging from A potential war on Iran to US Foreign Policy.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Post-American World: Book Review

My Book Review for "The Post-American World" by Fareed Zacharia is now live!


"A good read combining a deep understanding of economics, history, foreign policy and global security, “The Post-American World” offers rich resources and ideas t
o have a grasp on the mechanics of international affairs today, allowing the casual reader to reflect on today’s politics, how they are shaped, and what is the likely outcome they can offer given the many political orientation world powers, and especially the US, decide to follow."

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Human security in NATO strategies

The North Atlantic alliance has a rich portfolio of military interventions and operations throughout the world, a portfolio which not only gathers successful military involvements, but also wide criticism for failures to protect and secure civilians in areas struck by the curse of war and conflict. The Kosovo intervention and the operations in Afghanistan are striking examples of how objective-driven military strategies overcome the necessity to ponder the implications of intervention and operations on civilians and non-military personnel.

A working plan mainly based on strategic bombings (as in Kosovo), or on short term efficient destruction of enemy operational forces and arms is all but considerate to the importance to protect civilians both in the short and long term of ongoing conflicts. It is important and indeed crucial to assess the success of any intervention by its potential to protect the civilians on the ground rather than by the potential losses the intervention can incur on hostile forces. In the 21st century, aerial supremacy is fading as main course of action to defeat ground forces, especially that today’s targeted forces are not conventional armies but militias with street warfare techniques. Resolving to aerial bombings and drone strikes is condemning the conflict to bear heavy casualties on civilians since the hostile militias (ex: al Qaeda, Al Shabab…) take from civilian residential blocks footholds and grounds to launch rocket attacks and furtive assaults. This not only leads to embarrassment with local administrations and authorities, but puts at risk the success of any military intervention since it alienates the foreign troops on the ground and catalyzes rogue operations as it has been happening in Afghanistan with the NATO led coalition.

The solution then?: A rising field of military intelligence which studies and analyzes the subtleties of the cultural mix of targeted areas, and adapts the missions to the sensitivities of the society in order to build strong collaboration with local civilians instead of keeping them on the sidelines. Cultural intelligence, as I came to understand through a lecture I attended in Abu Dhabi and through a conversation I had with a US intelligence personnel in Morocco, is rising to prominence in international affairs, defense and security agendas, a rise which started with the gulf war and kept on gaining interest through the following military conflicts which spanned in the Middle East and elsewhere. A military intervention can never be won by planes or troops only, it is far and foremost won by the establishment of trust between the locals and the intervening troops, and also though the creation of tensions if not repugnance towards the operating militias in the region.
NATO operating officers and troops ought to understand the complexities of the boundaries they operate within, and to do so require a clear grasp of the language, religion, traditions and customs as well as the ethnical tensions existing in order to exploit them in achieving key goals with minimal losses of troops and civilians. A NATO leadership which overlooks the tensions between Shias and Sunnis, tribal affiliations and secessionist movements will induce civil war confrontations after any military intervention (Kurds/Shias/Sunnis tensions in Iraq, Sunni/Shia divide in Syria, Tribal conception of power in Libya and Yemen), and these are the byproducts of war which inflict the greatest losses in civilian ranks.

NATO strategies in future military interventions should attend to key points amongst which is a thorough understanding of the tribal, religious and ethnical discrepancies, and based on such assessment, any military intervention should aim at inflicting defeat upon the hostile force and establishing a distribution of power in which the ruling majority before the intervention is likely to secure control over state management. Such distribution of power should not empower authoritarian majorities against the interest of existing minorities, but should secure arrangements and political pacts which will render any future majority-led repression impossible. To do so, NATO should attend to the destruction of most of the hostile groups’ military arsenal; with the systematic elimination of its key figures I order to transform its leadership into a void and obsolete center of command. Furthermore, NATO officials should empower dissidents among a targeted regime or militias through financing and intelligence support in order to break down the efficiency of the target and deviate its focus from external confrontations towards internal struggles. An example is the Iraqi case: with former ruling Sunni elite, today’s Iraq empowered Kurds and Shias is in total chaos due to sectarian conflicts raging throughout the nation. If the coalition intervening in Iraq weakened the Baath party and encouraged dissidence amongst its rank, facilitating the restructuration of the regime without necessary inducing its collapse, a Baath regime with moderate approach to the US and with a fierce grasp on the Iraqi sectarian mix could have prevented the civil war which tears the country apart today.

In other cases such as a potential intervention in Syria, NATO’s strategy should dismiss air strike due to the urban density of the country (unlike Libya where air strikes were successful due to low urbanization), instead prioritizing proxy intervention and regional interference. With direct confrontation, NATO strategy is ultimately deeming the coalition to severe human losses both in the military and civilian ranks because of the blending of fighters, both rebels and regime troops, in the urban setting. A NATO airstrike would be as disastrous as its previous intervention in Kosovo, thus utilizing ground forces acquainted with the geography, demographics, culture and religious environment instead of NATO personnel would be far more successful. 

The rebel networks, evolving and getting more complicated, are losing the structural basis they were first based on. The disruption in the chain of command is what leads to unpredictable situations post-regime fall such as that in Libya were militias outside the authority of the state proliferate. The NATO, by channeling efforts, resources, intel and personnel in a directed flow can indeed establish a rebel structure which is organized in the same fashion as conventional military and prone on being converted into an armed authority wing under a single command. This will greatly reduce collateral damages emerging from uncontrolled military units and will enhance the efficiency of rebel operations against rogue states.

Besides the military nature of its operations, NATO should conduct nation building efforts through programs aimed at improving the socio-economic conditions of the country targeted, as it is the best way to win the hearts and minds of local populace who are the best actors to exploit and direct towards leading insurgency against authoritarian states and terrorist groups. An inside rejection of a regime or repressive militia is far more powerful in determining the course of action domestically, and way more inexpensive in terms of humanitarian losses. As civilian resources are and will always be the key decisive currency of any conflict or resolution, it is necessary and critical for NATO to adopt civilian-friendly strategies which not only will boost its reputation cross-seas, but will also make from risky operations with alarming consequences a scarce commodity in the 21st century.

Mohamed Amine Belarbi