Algeria 'surprise' attack: everybody should have seen coming, says renowned historian
In many ways, BP's state-of-the-art gas facility in the middle of Algerian nowhere was a symbol of Western Europe's idyllic isolation from the growing chaos just across the Mediterranean. For the last two years, the West has looked at the region through the rose-tinted lens of the 'Arab Spring'. Democracy was supposed to be transforming the Arab world.
But last Wednesday's assault on the In Amenas gas production facility was a 'surprise' attack which everyone should have been expecting. And while the post-mortems currently underway will attempt to explain why the BP complex was so easily taken, this narrow focus on security is a simplistic view. The broader threat to local governments in the area and to the West in general from the Islamic fundamentalist groups across the vast Sahara region needs to be urgently assessed.
The continuing flow of Libyan oil was one reason why David Cameron and his Nato partners were happy to take credit for their part in Colonel Gaddafi's downfall. But it went almost unnoticed that Algeria greeted the celebratory gunfire of Gaddafi's lynching with a deafening silence. To them, Gaddafi was a useful neighbour because he shared the same enemies -- the Islamist rebels who want to take over the entire region. Unlike Gaddafi, the rulers of Algeria are not a flamboyant lot. They are mainly generals in and out of uniform. They regarded the Arab Spring as a threat to their regime. To them democracy is a bad idea not just because people might vote them out of power, but because it could mean chaos. In 1990, when fundamentalist candidates looked set to win, the generals stepped in to stop the elections. A decade of horribly brutal civil war followed.
This explains why there was such a disconnect between Whitehall and Algiers over how to handle the hostage crisis.
Our Government was bewildered by the Algerian decision to open fire without consulting us or other foreign leaders. But the Algerian army had -- and still has -- three simple reasons for cracking down at once: it wanted to stifle the crisis quickly and to destroy the terrorists; they wanted to show their own people that the regime is still firmly in charge and they were also desperate to avoid any chance of Western special forces getting to play a role on their territory. North African governments may share a common Islamic fundamentalist enemy, but sharing a common enemy doesn't mean they share the same values.
| See the comments of the Diplomad (cited today) also in this regard: western governments place the value of the lives of the hostages above the goal of stopping the terrorists. Most governments in the rest of the world reverse that order.|
From Afghanistan via Iraq to Libya, the West has shown it can knock down tyrannical Humpty-Dumpties, but putting the societies back together again has eluded us which is why Algeria sees the Arab Spring as part of the problem, not part of the solution.
In some ways it is surprising how few people have been radicalised. But we cannot let ourselves rely on their moderation for ever. Unless ordinary life can be made better Islamic radicals will offer a brutally simple solution to too many people. As the Libyan example shows, exporting democracy at gunpoint is not enough. Without governments genuinely concerned for the well-being of the people in the lands south of the Mediterranean, hopes for a peaceful future for North Africa -- and Europe -- will be no more than a mirage.
Posted by: Pappy 2013-01-21