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Meet Azawad, Africa’s Newest Country

A secular Berber, pro-Western nation in the middle of the Sahara.

by
Michel Gurfinkiel

Bio

April 12, 2012 - 12:00 am
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For the time being, MNLA is focused on defeating AQIM, which it characterizes as an interloping non-Touareg element and an Algerian proxy. The MNLA leadership vows to crush it as soon as possible, if not within days.

Ever since the 1960s, the Arab states in North Africa have attempted to seize chunks of the Sahara Desert and its mineral resources: oil, natural gas, uranium, gold, bauxite, phosphates. Morocco tried to annex Mauritania, and then occupied the former Spanish colony of Rio de Oro (known now as Western Sahara). Gaddafi’s Libya was constantly interfering in Mali, Niger, and Chad. Algeria, already in control of the northern half of the area thanks to colonial France, has steadily claimed control over the southern half countries either by countering Morocco in Western Sahara or by undermining the existing governments in other places.

For a time, Algeria contended its primary concern was to fight radical Islam and to eradicate drug trafficking. As of today, the Algerian secret services seem to be aligned with both.

The core of AQIM consists of former Algerian jihadists pardoned by the Algerian government on the condition that they propagate radical Islam and terrorism in foreign countries. They were reinforced later by volunteers or mercenaries from Arab countries and sub-Saharan African countries (like Burkina Faso or Nigeria).

Clearly, AQIM’s strategy is to entice Ansar Dine to turn against MNLA. For Algeria, the creation of a fully independent Berber state on its southern border is a major threat, not just against its imperial designs on Sahara but against its very existence as an Arab-Islamic nation. Half of the Algerian population is Berber-speaking. One province, Kabylia, is entirely Berber and has started the process of secession. A Kabylia provisional government in exile was even formed last year. A domino effect may lead to the consolidation of Azawad.

On the other hand, the nastier Algeria gets with MNLA, the closer MNLA gets to the Kabyles. Azawad owes at least part of its secular and law-oriented agenda to them. And it agreed to take part last month in a pan-Berber conference in Morocco hosted by Kabyle leaders.

The French may grant some measure of help to MNLA in order to protect its sub-Saharan former colonies against Algeria. But only American support can guarantee Azawad’s independence and ensure that MNLA will get rid of its jihadist competitors.

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Michel Gurfinkiel is the Founder and President of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, a conservative think-thank in France, and a Shillman/Ginsburg Fellow at Middle East Forum.
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