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  • North Africa in Transition: State, Society and Economic Transformation in the 1990s
  • Heather Deegan
Zoubir, Yahia H. 1999. North Africa in Transition: State, Society and Economic Transformation in the 1990s. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. 299 pp.

Although during the late 1980s international attention focused on the dramatic events unfurling in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Yahia H. Zoubir argues that significant changes had been taking place in North Africa. Postcolonial struggles for independence had deteriorated into states that had become increasingly autocratic, corrupt, and ineffective, consequently giving rise to the emergence of new oppositionist [End Page 156] groups. North Africa in Transition charts the critical issues confronting the Maghrebi countries (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya) in a series of country-specific essays that deal with political, economic, and social scenarios. However, further sections of the work explore wider issues such as: human rights, alienated youth, and foreign arms sales, as well as the foreign policies of the United States and the European Union.

Although differences exist between the countries of the Maghreb, one common factor remains, which is the manner in which the states deal with political Islam. In Algeria, Zoubir explains that the Islamist movement, despite being "well-anchored in the political system, in the FLN party and in mass organizations, in order to propagate its own ideology" (p. 38) it could not extend its influence over the whole of society, at least not without incurring repressive measures from the state. The cancellation of the 1992 elections, which Islamists were set to win, coupled with the violence that threatened to engulf the country still cast a long shadow over the future of the country. Mary-Jane Deeb highlights the plight of the long-running Qadaffi regime in Libya in the face of varied Islamic opposition groups, while Robert J. King observes the "crackdown" on "Islamists" (p. 68) evident in Tunisia as the country seeks to expand its economic base. Morocco, as Azzedine Layachi makes clear, has "co-opted, coerced and contained the visible manifestation of Islamism" (p. 55). Yet, the Islamist challenge remains.

In an interesting chapter on the role of youth in the Maghreb, Mohamed Farid Azzi points out that until the 1970s, "the size and youthfulness" of the region's population were regarded as "great assets, precious human capital necessary for social and economic development" (p. 110). However, rising unemployment, inadequate housing, and uneven socioeconomic development have contributed to the emergence of "street" dwellers, or in other words, the disaffected and dispossessed young. Islamic activism and violent confrontation became ways in which young people could assume identity and significance. Youcef Bouandel's chapter highlights the differences between the Maghrebi countries in their responses to human rights, despite having all signed up to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Clearly, the militancy of Islamic groups combined with the authoritarian instincts of political leaders have both contributed to tensions surrounding the whole issue of human rights.

Perhaps one of the central issues of concern to the maintenance of peace and stability in the region is the arms trade. Daniel Volman details the extent of foreign military assistance to the area since the end of the Cold War. Between 1989 and 1994 the United States emerged as the largest single supplier of military hardware to Morocco, yet "Algeria's military strength, in terms of weaponry remains significantly superior" (p. 221). Meanwhile, Libya imports armaments from Brazil, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy, and Russia. Inevitably, as Zoubir and Stephen Zunes demonstrate, U.S. policy toward the region is based on pragmatism. While the post-Cold War climate is less cold, Libya still clouds the horizon. For the [End Page 157] European Union (EU) the Maghreb is of concern both in terms of Mediterranean security and the threat of increasing migration, hence the introduction of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership Initiative. North Africans represent some 2.6 million of Europe's estimated ten million foreign emigrant workers, and as George Joffe warns, a crisis could loom in "several European states over the level of migrant labour," particularly when unemployment figures are high in some European states (p. 247). The EU hopes that seeking a more engaged understanding with...


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