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Navigating North Africa's Political Complexities: A Holistic Approach for the U.S.

In a region often overlooked in global strategic calculations, North Africa stands at a pivotal juncture with a slew of elections slated for 2024. As Mauritania, Tunisia, Algeria, and potentially Libya prepare for presidential contests, the United States faces a critical opportunity to reassess and recalibrate its engagement strategy. Recognizing the limitations of electoral processes in fostering genuine democratic change, Washington must broaden its focus to address deeper economic, social, and institutional challenges while deftly managing regional dynamics and global geopolitical competition.

The 2024 Electoral Landscape

Observers have dubbed 2024 the “year of elections,” a term particularly fitting for North Africa. Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani seeks a second term on June 29. Tunisia plans a presidential election in the fall, and Algeria's is scheduled for September 7. Libya, meanwhile, remains mired in uncertainty, with calls for elections by year's end but no concrete roadmap in place.

The electoral landscapes in these countries are fraught with uncertainty and complexity. In Algeria, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s decision to advance the vote to September raises questions about his motives, possibly aiming to preempt potential challengers or reduce protest risks. Tunisia’s President Kais Saied has indicated his intention to run again but has not formally declared his candidacy, leaving the electoral process shrouded in ambiguity. Libya's persistent political fragmentation casts doubt on the feasibility of credible national elections.

Beyond the Ballot Box: Broader Issues at Play

The tumultuous decade since the 2011 Arab Spring has underscored the limitations of a narrow focus on elections. Egypt’s 2012 presidential vote led to a return to military rule. Libya's 2012 and 2014 elections did little to stabilize the country or establish a functioning central government. Tunisia’s successive elections have failed to prevent an increasingly authoritarian turn under Saied. Algeria's 2019 presidential election, held amid mass protests, brought a former prime minister to power but did not address the root causes of popular discontent.

These examples illustrate why U.S. policymakers must look beyond elections to address the underlying issues affecting stability and development in North Africa. Economic fragility, insecurity, and irregular migration are pressing concerns that demand a comprehensive approach.

Current Electoral Prospects and Challenges

Given the region's history, the upcoming elections offer slim prospects for meaningful change. In Libya, ongoing political disagreements have stalled progress on establishing a constitutional framework. Even if elections occur, they will depend on a fragile political settlement and the goodwill of heavily armed militias. Tunisia faces an equally bleak outlook, with President Saied's repressive tactics and proposed exclusions of foreign-affiliated opponents creating an atmosphere of intimidation.

In Algeria, the decision to hold elections early appears more a maneuver to consolidate power than a genuine democratic advance. Tebboune’s policies have done little to address the grievances that sparked the 2019 protest movement. Mauritania, while more stable, still faces significant challenges in democratic development due to limited political competition and power concentration within the ruling party.

Policy Implications for the United States

The slim prospects for significant political reform in North Africa raise questions about the efficacy of elections as tools for democratization. The increasingly antagonistic rhetoric and military postures among regional governments, particularly Algeria's attempts to form a political bloc with Tunisia and Libya to isolate Morocco, further threaten stability.

A more proactive U.S. approach is needed to prevent regional fragmentation. The Biden administration’s engagement with Algeria, despite setbacks at the UN Security Council, positions it well to promote regional de-escalation. Diplomatic efforts should be leveraged to foster a shared vision for a stable and integrated North Africa.

Toward a Holistic U.S. Strategy

To advance its interests and support the aspirations of North Africans, the United States must adopt a holistic and adaptive strategy. This involves:

  1. Providing Targeted Electoral Support: Assisting with the technical aspects of elections to ensure they are free, fair, and transparent.

  2. Addressing Economic and Social Challenges: Supporting economic reforms, job creation, and social welfare programs to address the root causes of instability.

  3. Strengthening Institutional Capacity: Enhancing the capacity of state institutions, including the judiciary and media, to support democratic governance.

  4. Managing Regional Dynamics: Promoting dialogue and cooperation among North African states to reduce tensions and foster regional integration.

  5. Engaging Strategically with Global Competitors: Balancing the influence of China and Russia by offering viable alternatives and fostering partnerships based on mutual interests and shared values.


North Africa's upcoming elections highlight the complexities of U.S. engagement in the region. Recognizing the limitations of electoral processes and addressing broader economic, social, and institutional challenges will be crucial for fostering stability and development. By adopting a more holistic approach, Washington can navigate the evolving geopolitical landscape and effectively support the long-term aspirations of North African societies. This strategy not only advances U.S. interests but also promotes a more stable and prosperous future for the region.


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