Middle east: three challenges for 2014
The heady days of early 2011 feel like a long time ago now. Egypt has military rule, Libya has militia rule, Syria is Syria. Any hope of reform in Bahrain has disappeared in a burst of tear gas, while the Saudi royal family will still not even let women drive. The next 12 months could bring a region-wide backlash against democracy. But there are rays of hope.
State of the nations
It may seem odd to equate Egypt with hope, but let’s be optimistic. Elections are due in 2014 (see right) and despite crackdowns on free speech, Egypt’s media remains more independent than at any time under Mubarak.
Again, not an obvious choice when looking for rays of hope. But the fact that there are talks – or talks about talks – is far better than last year. Israel is tied in to this process as much as the Palestinians. With Barack Obama willing to open dialogue with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, Benjamin Netanyahu cannot afford to be so belligerent. The threat of a third intifada, this one political and non-violent, is also exercising Israeli minds.
Hard to be hopeful here – this is a country where the prime minister can be kidnapped. The government has become more isolated, with its jurisdiction rarely extending beyond Tripoli.
A pan-Arabian rail network has long been mooted, but the Etihad Rail project – a 1,200km link between Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the Northern Emirates – looks likely to happen. It is expected to cost about €8bn.
City to watch
Since the Arab revolutions of 2011, Tunisia’s hard-fought democratic transformation has been rocky at times but generally stable. In the capital, Tunis, young entrepreneurs and social leaders are taking advantage of the momentum to re-energise the business climate as well.
At the same time, the Tunisian government is aggressively courting foreign investment from other African countries and from Asia. In 2014, look out for Chinese infrastructure deals in Tunis that will provide deeper economic stability, although a recent suicide bombing shows how far there is to go. Through tech start-ups, foreign investment and pride in its revolution, Tunis will emerge as an island of relative stability in a rough neighbourhood.
A politician to watch
The sad reality of the way the press normally deals with Africa means that if you don’t hear anything about John Dramani Mahama for the rest of the year then he’s probably doing well. Ghana’s president won a narrow election last December, upheld by the Supreme Court in August. That both election and court case were carried out fairly bodes well for the West African nation as it prepares to take advantage of its coming oil boom (see issue 50). Widely respected, Mahama may even begin to take on a more continental role.
Elections to watch
Will General Abdul Fattah El-Sisi stand for president? Will Egyptian voters embrace the military? Will the so-called revolutionaries manage to organise themselves properly this time? Will the Muslim Brotherhood be allowed to stand? Will the Salafists pose a threat? Will the election actually happen?
The ANC will win, of that there is no question. The big unknown is the margin of victory and whether any ANC offshoots manage to present themselves as a credible alternative. Cope, Agang and Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters will all be hoping to take advantage of Jacob Zuma’s underwhelming first term.
Joyce Banda has been fêted abroad since becoming only the continent’s second female head of state in 2012 following the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika. Her reputation at home is less stellar. She will face a tough race against his brother, Peter, who has the backing of most of the establishment.