The Maghreb’s Fragile Edges

Nearly a decade after the Arab uprisings, tempers in the outlying regions of the Maghreb are on the boil. Scarred by a history of states’ neglect, with poverty rates often more than triple that of urban areas, these frontiers of discontent are being transformed into incubators of instability. Bitterness, rage, and frustration directed at governments perceived as riddled with abuses and corruption represent a combustible mix that was brewed decades ago, leading to the current hothouse of discord and tumult. Into the vacuum of credible state institutions and amid illicit cross-border flows of people and goods, including arms and drugs, militancy and jihadist recruitment are starting to take root, especially among restless youth. The center of gravity for this toxic cocktail is the Maghreb’s marginalized border areas—from Morocco’s restless northern Rif region to the farthest reaches of the troubled southern regions of Algeria and Tunisia. Governmental response has been parochial with an overemphasis on heavy-handed security approaches that often end up further polarizing communities and worsening youth disillusionment. At a time when governments are playing catch up against a continually shifting terror threat—and with the menace of returning Maghrebi fighters from Iraq, Syria, and Libya—the disconnect between the state and its marginalized regions threatens to pull these countries into a vicious cycle of violence and state repression. Breaking this spiral requires governments in the region to rethink their approach to their peripheral regions.

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