A forthcoming CCAS Occasional Paper by Dr. Noureddine Jebnoun, to be published in December 2007, investigates the nature and extent of Islamist political strategies and actions in North Africa.
Emerging forecasts about Islamist political extremism in North Africa have enhanced regional governments’ geostrategic positioning in the “Global War on Terror” (GWOT) by strengthening their diplomatic and military ties to the United States. Speculations and warnings about the “Afghanistan-ization” of North Africa have not, however, contributed to the development of a viable interpretive framework for assessing the contexts and interests underpinning radicalization.
In reality, the threat level in the Maghreb in general, and in Algeria in particular, can only be understood by taking the internal political situation into consideration from an emic perspective. Only a fine-grained, qualitative framework, one that attends to the processes of radicalization from an insider’s perspective, can reveal how and why individuals are vulnerable to recruitment into the ranks of extremist Islamists, the so-called “Salafi jihadi” network. A completely reformed American security plan for the Maghreb region is imperative for ensuring U.S. interagency coordination by incorporating “soft power” that strengthens regional economic progress, promotes good governance, and facilitates political transition. U.S. policymakers should understand that the war against terror cannot be won by security and armed forces alone. A “kill or capture” approach does not acknowledge the dynamics of sociocultural and political factors in the North African environment. Poverty, cultural alienation, and authoritarianism continue to fuel jihadi violence. The Salafist movement remains a very attractive life choice for disfranchised and disillusioned North African youth.