Fruit of Arab Spring

 

Just as the disintegration of Yugoslavia liberated not only democrats but demons, plunging it into fratricidal civil war, the fruits of the Arab Spring have been as bitter as they are sweet, not least in north Africa, from Yemen to Sudan and Somalia, Libya, Mali, the southern deserts of Algeria, and Nigeria.

Militant Islamists freed from jail or from under the dead hands of repressive regimes became indispensable allies to those overthrowing tyrants, and emboldened to go after broader jihadist agendas.

Borders became more porous and in entire regions central authority simply disappeared. Radicals in countries like Mali suddenly had access to fresh supplies of weapons from Libya’s rebels.

And as the US begins to boast of its success in crippling al-Qaeda’s central command in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in north Africa hybrids, linked more ideologically than organisationally to the brand, have flourished.

Among them smugglers like Mali-based Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, expelled last year from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb for his indiscipline and ancillary activities, and his Signed in Blood group which took over the Algerian gas complex last Wednesday. Their purpose: to hit western interests in protest over France’s role in Mali, to strike at Algeria’s government as part of a long war in the country’s south, and, no doubt, to burnish Belmokhtar’s credentials among former allies. And in the warped logic of terrorism, even the siege’s bloody defeat will go down as a success on all fronts.

Its costly end, which left 23 hostages and dozens of militants dead, has raised questions about Algeria’s aggressive handling of the crisis. It owes the 12 countries whose citizens were held a detailed account of the events and its actions. Yet perhaps what was remarkable was that 107 foreign and 685 Algerian hostages survived, and that they also prevented the potentially catastrophic detonation of the plant.

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