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US will focus on both Asia and the Middle East
March 25, 2013, 3:55 pm

Obama seems to be warming up to the Israelis, but will he deliver a Middle East Peace settlement? [Xinhua]

Obama seems to be warming up to the Israelis, but will he deliver a Middle East Peace settlement? [Xinhua]

Global systems are very much in flux in 2013. From the continuing financial crisis in Europe to the endless violence in the Middle East to the growing competitiveness in Asia, trends are giving way to new realities and new ways of thinking.

There have been five major areas of interest that have taken center stage in the past five years – the global financial crisis brought upon by the sub-prime mortgage-led recession in the US, the populist revolts in the Middle East and North Africa, the growth of China as the world’s economic dynamo, the rising of the BRICS bloc of nations, and the growing Al-Qaeda/sectarian conflict stretching from Pakistan to Algeria.

In much of Europe today, economic growth has ground to a standstill with the European Commission’s office for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion reporting that unemployment in some countries has reached record levels with nearly 19 million people jobless in the eurozone.

The EU report on February 22 forecast rising unemployment rates: 26.9 per cent in Spain (up from 26.6 per cent), while in Greece jobless rates have increased from 19 to 27 per cent over the past year (up from 26 per cent previously forecast).

Portugal’s unemployment rate is 17.3 per cent. According to Commission’s report, “household incomes have declined and the risk of poverty or exclusion is on the rise, especially in member states in southern and Eastern Europe”.

While Europe was looking inward to fix its fiscal failures – and with the UK now likely to put to referendum its relationship with the mainland should Prime Minister David Cameron’s ruling Conservative party win the next election – the focus slipped somewhat from the Middle East and North Africa.

The Al-Qaeda attack on an Algerian energy facility where dozens of foreign nationals worked was a resounding alarm that the terrorist group had grown in influence – and brazenness of attacks – in the past decade.

The attack highlighted the geostrategic dangers posed by a country destabilising and falling prey to armed fanatical militia; point in case: Mali.

The instability in Mali created opportunities for armed groups and the smuggling of weapons across the border into Algeria. Security deteriorated in Mali following a coup in March 2012 by military officers who were unsatisfied with the way the civilian administration was dealing with a Tuareg rebellion in the north.

The military campaign in the north was halted thereby creating a vacuum, which was quickly filled by the Al-Qaeda-allied Ansar Dine rebels who pushed back the Tuareg and then imposed a severe strain of Islamic law and began to capture towns in their southward push.

In January, France sent hundreds of troops to Mali and launched an air offensive to beat back the rebels. Initially successful, French forces are now hunkered down in guerrilla warfare as they pursue Islamic militants in the mountains.

The Russian Foreign Ministry says that the growing terrorist threat which has seen France – and the US – expand military operations in Western Africa is primarily due to the power vacuum created after the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

“Those whom the French and Africans are fighting now in Mali are the (same) people who overthrew the Qaddafi regime, those that our Western partners armed so that they would overthrow the Qaddafi regime,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the media in February.

Qaddafi, who held power in Libya for more than 40 years, was executed by opposition forces nearly 18 months ago as a wave of Arab uprisings swept the Middle East and North Africa.

Months earlier, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak were both forced to resign in the face of millions of protesters who demanded their ouster. In January 2011, Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali was forced to flee the capital Tunis when the military sided with street protesters calling for him to be tried for corruption and murder.

However, the transition from dictatorship and authoritarianism to democracy has proven to be a rocky one at best. In Tunisia, the Islamist government resigned when a prominent human rights activist was killed last month. In Libya, armed militias threaten the volatile stability of the country in the post-Qaddafi period, and in Egypt, street violence has continued unabated despite democratic elections which brought a member of the once banned Muslim Brotherhood to power.

For the rest of this article, and other in-depth features, visit The BRICS Age Magazine.

By Firas Al-Atraqchi for The BRICS Age.

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