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M A Y 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
31
F
OCUS ON THE
A
RAB
S
PR ING
M
ARGINAL
N
O
L
ONGER
:
N
EW
O
PENINGS IN THE
M
AGHREB
he dramatic overthrow of
the Arab world’s most repressive regime in Tunisia in Jan-
uary 2011 surprised everyone, not least the roughly two
dozen federal employees in Washington who covered the
tiny North African country. When those events appeared
to inspire similar challenges across the Arab world, in-
cluding neighboring Libya, the once-marginal Maghreb
region became a major preoccupation for the Obama ad-
ministration. Policymakers wondered whether Algeria and
Morocco would follow suit and also require the evacuation
of U.S. government personnel and American citizens.
(For the purposes of this article, I will restrict defini-
tion of the Maghreb, as the State Department does ad-
ministratively, to include Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and
Libya—but not Mauritania, as the countries of the region
generally do.)
Fortunately, wholesale evacuation of our personnel was
not required. Even as the over-reaction of the Moammar
Qadhafi regime led to a brief but brutal civil war that trig-
gered NATO intervention, opposition in Algeria failed to
gel, the king of Morocco responded to protests with im-
portant symbolic reforms, and Tunisia’s once-repressed
civil society began the daunting task of rebuilding a state
that President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his family had
hollowed out through corruption. The locus of contesta-
tion then shifted eastward to Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and
Syria, where the true test of Arab reform is still playing out.
What is happening in the Near and Middle East is ul-
timately crucial to the region’s long-term future and, thus,
U.S. national interests. But the Arab Spring has also pre-
sented Washington with an opportunity to re-evaluate its
interests in the Maghreb, increase the level and quality of
its attention to that region, and reorganize itself to take into
account its connection to the Sahel and West Africa.
Back in the Spotlight
Over the years, language, geography and historically
closer ties with Europe (for which the Maghreb is a top
national security priority) have reinforced Washington’s
tendency to relegate the region to secondary status.
Early American involvement, linked to military action to
T
HE
A
RAB
S
PRING HAS GIVEN
N
ORTH
A
FRICA GREATER
SALIENCY FOR
U.S.
POLICYMAKERS
,
INVITING MORE
CONCENTRATED ATTENTION TO THAT REGION
.
B
Y
W
ILLIAM
J
ORDAN
William Jordan, a Foreign Service officer from 1981 to
2011, currently resides in Paris. His many overseas post-
ings included Dhahran, Damascus, Amman and Paris, as
well as Arabic-language studies in Tunis. From 2002 to
2007, he covered North African issues, first as an analyst
in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research and later as
deputy director and director of NEA’s Maghreb office. His
last assignment was as DCM in Algiers.