IEMed Mediterranean Yearbook 2005


Panorama : The Mediterranean Year


The Impact of International Terrorism on Mediterranean Countries

Jean-Luc Marret

Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, Paris

Just when everyone has spontaneously come to recognise the existence of terrorism, it has now become difficult to define it. There is a media utilisation of the phenomenon involving spectacular and traumatic images – the site of the attack, the victims, and so on. Politically, states sometimes exploit terrorism to justify their own security policies. In fact, the definition of terrorism itself is highly political and states are involved in a symbolic struggle to impose a terminology that suits their interests. The differences in public communication policy between the United States, Israel and Great Britain on one side and most of the European Union on the other are a demonstration of this. After 11 September 2001, Algeria actively tried to link its own terrorism with the strike against the United States, which was partly true beyond specifically local causes, and by doing so it achieved various political, security and technological advantages.

Many aspects of the threat itself are undoubtedly simplified: “Al Qaida” ends up becoming a label covering all the international jihad networks, local organisations like Armed Islamic Group (GIA), Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) or Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM), and independent militants carrying on their own jihads and spontaneously emerging here or there. In fact, this violence has multiple, deep and long-term causes:

  • reactive (the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia or today in Iraq, the fate of the Palestinian people, the existence of a generation imbued with a romantic ideal of  Islamic radicalism, the crises in Chechnya or Central Asia, separatist movements with an underlying religious factor), etc.
  • structural (the development of Arab-Muslim societies between tradition and modernity, the difficulties of developing a local democratic political model and integrating Western democratic and liberal values).

The Security-Based Approach and the Strengthening of Legislation

The 11 September 2001 has acted around the world as a generator of legal security measures. This was certainly a response to a public need, but it has also sometimes been carried out to the detriment of civil liberties or in contradiction of the legal traditions applying in each country where these laws have been adopted. Moreover, the “Al Quaida” label has, in many states, encouraged the arrest of individuals who, far from being operational terrorists, were simple Islamic militants – some radical, some not – or opponents of existing regimes. This last point is particularly true for Arab-Muslim regimes around the Mediterranean.

Concerning the European Union, there are continuing gaps in anti-terrorist measures, particularly in co-operation between countries, co-ordination and the real-time use made of the results obtained. However, there is general agreement among European leaders to strengthen Europol, the police co-operation bureau, and Eurojust, the embryonic “European Prosecution System”.

In the South, several countries have taken measures, some of which would be unthinkable according to Western criteria:

  • strengthening or creating national legislation,
  • intensifying the battle against money laundering or clandestine immigration,
  • freezing assets,
  • creating special police units,
  • the imprisonment of specific individuals,
  • prolonged solitary confinement of prisoners,
  • coercive interrogation,
  • censorship, etc.

The African Union Convention for the fight against terrorism forbids member States helping terrorist organisations, in particular with papers, passports and visas. A multilateral summit meaning in Algiers in September 2002 on preventing and fighting terrorism adopted an action plan against terrorism (aspects involving the police, judiciary, border control, exchange of information etc.). Focusing on the origins of terrorism, this conference emphasised the need for development aid to be provided by Western countries.

As for the member statesof the Community of States of the Sahel-Sahara region (Cen-Sad), they met on 14 May 2004 in Barnako for a sixth summit, where various issues, including terrorism, the possibilities for co-operation against this phenomenon and food safety were brought up. Following this, Senegal and Morocco adopted cooperation measures concerning intelligence and the police. An African centre for studies and research against terrorism, based in Algiers, was set up at the end of 2004 at the initiative of the African Union and with European, United Nations and American financial support.

Terrorism and the Realignment of Security Alliances

The fight against terrorism has provided the opportunity for unlikely rapprochements between States which had sometimes experienced conflicts of interest. So, we can talk about a rapprochement between Spain and Morocco, symbolised by the visit of King Juan Carlos to Morocco, the first for 25 years. Until then, as we know, relations between Spain and Morocco had been difficult because of territorial issues and clandestine immigration. These bilateral relations had initially been strengthened by the coming to power of a Socialist government and a more European-centred and less Atlanticist approach to international relations. We also know that Mr. Zapatero’s first foreign visit was to Morocco.

Within the Pan-Sahel Initiative (PSI), the American Defense and State Departments are providing training and materials to security forces in several countries: Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad, to help them control their borders better. In May 2004, the American military command “Europe” proposed to extend the PSI to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. In itself, the PSI is symptomatic of the lessons picked up by American troops in the theatres of operations in Afghanistan and, to a certain degree, in Iraq: this new approach in effect avoids the Americans having to plan and deploy a considerable troop presence. Instead, the more discreet and probably cheaper special forces, capable of training local forces, are used.

Another example of the realignment of alliances – the security links developed between the United States and Algeria – has sometimes been considered as providing competition for the traditional relationship between Algiers and Paris. From the point of view of the authorities in Algiers, this recent interest in the United States could have been motivated by an attempt to show that there were alternative possibilities to the traditional links and/or that these were insufficient compared to what the United States was proposing. 

Prevention of Jihadism on the Northern Shores of the Mediterranean

The fact that there are networks of jihadists that have arisen in Western countries does not necessarily mean that Islamic radicals are playing a central role in European Islam. It seems in reality that the movement for a return to Islamic roots affects young people who feel marginalized by life in European suburbs. There are several reasons for this: a desire to reaffirm themselves, construction of individual identities based on Islam, activities by proselytizing organisations on the ground and, at the same time, a lack of action by the State and its failure to be perceived as the legitimate regulator of law and order. There is also a fashion effect: nowadays some young people enjoy declaring themselves to be “Salafists”, invoking a poorly understood concept of Jihad, probably in the same way that young people declared themselves to be “revolutionary communists” immediately following 1968.

From a social point of view, the European development of jihadism seems to be a small-scale – but dangerous – reflection of national ills: social exclusion, unemployment, acculturation of certain citizens of foreign origin, compatibility problems between different aspects of Islam and national values, etc.

Prevention therefore includes social measures, such as the fight against unemployment and the need for a cultural reassertion of national values in “difficult” districts.

Also, in many countries, prisons are now a scene of intense proselytizing. It is practically impossible for prison staff to get a proper grip on the situation. In addition, the jihadists who sooner or later come out of prison will not have been forced to change their opinions, which raises the problem of the surveillance of dangerous people of this kind.

If there is a correlation between unemployment rates and the increase in numbers of jihadists in France, falling unemployment rates would significantly reduce their numbers. However, it would not eliminate them, because activities by various organisations and proselytizing individuals would remain, along with the influence of the conflicts and structural problems in the Arab-Muslim cultural atmosphere..

In short, some of the northern Mediterranean problems can only be solved in the South.

Prevention of Terrorism on the Southern Shores of the Mediterranean : Islam and Economic Development

Active measures to prevent political violence – infra-state conflicts or terrorism – can be of two kinds:

  • Reactive. This necessarily means preventing the situation degenerating into intense armed conflict without being able or wanting to put things right at the grass roots level through lack of time. The aim is to keep conflict restricted to a latent level.
  • Structural prevention, on the other hand, is more substantial and ambitious. It attempts to make a contribution to getting to the deep-seated social and historical origins of potential violence.

Economic development can contribute to the creation of a middle class in communities that traditionally support terrorist organisations, and jihadists in particular. Economic and social development policies can contribute towards reducing the intensity of recruitment by reducing the socio-economic origins of terrorism (unemployment, underdevelopment, lack of infrastructures or consumer goods).

A strictly security-based approach to anti-terrorist measures – although clearly necessary – does not take care of long-term factors. The social origin of this violence is complex and it cannot be reduced to a few overall factors. Poverty is, therefore, a necessary but insufficient explanation. In Egypt, for example, Islamic radicalism draws a good proportion of its militants from the middle classes. In Algeria, however, it developed in the cities, where young unemployed people – “trabendistes” – were influenced by “Salafist” militants who had returned from Afghanistan, or by Wahhabite N.G.O’s.

Immediately after 11 September 2001, the prevention of terrorism became a declared priority for developing countries in the Arab-Muslim Mediterranean world. But nowadays, faced with budgetary imperatives, it has sometimes become less urgent.

To put it simply, while the “security community”, made up of the police, experts or politicians, has a tendency to consider only repressive aspects and to ignore the deep roots of jihadism, the “development agency community” (NGOs, specialized civil servants, international organisations), because of their training, rarely take security aspects into account. These two blind spots have very real consequences: we have often seen on the ground that the rather oracle-like “good governance” and “conflict resolution” programmes limit themselves to distributing funds and materials or to instilling negotiation techniques in an untargeted way to local partners, who are most often linked in one way or another to the existing power structures.

Between individual anti-terrorist security campaigns and techniques to help economic development in problem areas, a systematically combined approach is possible. German technical cooperation has created some development projects with the aim of preventing crisis by trying to target the youngest people in the poorest areas of the Maghreb, those who could react in the most violent ways to structural problems. There is also aid to help Islamists and juvenile prisoners to re-find employment.

But how can the expansion of Islamist radicalism and jihadism be reduced throughout the world? There is no simple answer. On the contrary, humility should always prevail and resolving the cultural crisis of modern Islam is something that can only be achieved by Muslims themselves. “Good governance” is a Western concept which is too often promoted in a superficial way. It has certain advantages: fairness, reduced corruption, taking into account minority points of view. In this sense, it may be useful in directing development efforts. But real change must come from inside Arab-Muslim societies themselves. We can only assist it. We should at least think systematically about the consequences of our actions: “Is our policy feeding the anger of young Muslims?” And consider that the fight against terrorism requires a presence on the ground: not with satellites or hundreds of tanks, but with police officers, social workers and humanitarian aid assistants.