Israel-Hamas Conflict Tests Abraham Accords
Morocco’s friendly ties with Israel are facing a backlash from some pro-Palestinian citizens as Sudan renews ties with Iran.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
The highlights this week: Liberia votes, Niger cuts its budget, and Mauritius scraps colonial-era anti-gay laws.
Morocco Faces Pro-Palestinian Protests and Sudan Renews Iran Ties
Arab League foreign ministers are expected to meet today in Cairo to discuss ways “to stop the Israeli aggression” against the Gaza Strip, the group said in a statement.
The extraordinary session was scheduled in response to a Palestinian request. Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit condemned “the violence, but from all sides.” Gheit, a former Egyptian foreign minister during the final years of Hosni Mubarak’s presidency, traveled to Moscow on Sunday to discuss the situation in Gaza with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. They agreed to partner to “stop the bloodshed.”
Cairo, which has historically played the role of mediator between Israel and Hamas, said it warned Israel of possible escalation by Hamas in Gaza while Israel was focused on violence in the West Bank. “We have warned them an explosion of the situation is coming, and very soon, and it would be big. But they underestimated such warnings,” an Egyptian official told The Associated Press. The Israeli government denied the warnings, claiming they were a “complete lie.”
More than 1,000 Israelis and more than 800 Palestinians have been killed since Saturday. So far, the only African nations to strongly denounce Saturday’s attack by Hamas are Kenya and Morocco, the current chair of the Arab League. Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairperson of the commission of the African Union, said that the “denial of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people, particularly that of an independent and sovereign state, is the main cause of the permanent Israeli-Palestinian tension.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made strengthening the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords a top priority, and he has attempted to push for African states to establish embassies—controversially—in Jerusalem. But while the accords have served to reduce official hostility to Israel from signatory nations, the agreement has had limited impact on pro-Palestinian public opinion across the Middle East. A unilateral decision by the African Union’s Faki to restore Israel’s observer status caused uproar and led to the unceremonious removal in February of Israel’s senior delegate to the African Union summit in Ethiopia.
A devastating war in Sudan has complicated its relations with Israel. On Monday, Sudan agreed to exchange official delegations and restore diplomatic relations with Iran, which is allied with Hamas. Sudan had cut diplomatic ties with Iran in 2016 after the storming of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Tehran.
Netanyahu has vowed that Israel will “return fire of a magnitude that the enemy has not known. The enemy will pay an unprecedented price.” Such words have prompted Moroccans to demonstrate in the capital, Rabat, in support of Palestine and push back against normalization with Netanyahu’s far-right government. Several Islamist groups and those on the left have taken a divergent stance to the Moroccan government. Morocco’s Islamist Justice and Development Party, which had a parliamentary majority until the 2021 elections, praised the Hamas attack as “a natural and legitimate reaction to daily violations.”
Rabat has struggled to align strong support for Israel against domestic opposition. The two countries normalized ties in exchange for recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara, where the Polisario Front seeks independence. Since the deal, Morocco has ramped up purchases of drones and other military equipment from Israel, in an arms race with its rival Algeria, which backs Palestine and Polisario.
Riccardo Fabiani, the North Africa project director at the International Crisis Group, said the Moroccan monarchy has made a concerted effort to conflate the conflict between Israel, Iran, and Hamas with its conflict in Western Sahara. “There is this idea that the Moroccans have been promoting that the Polisario Front has ties with Iran. That Algeria has ties with Iran and therefore Morocco’s fight in Western Sahara is akin or similar to Israel’s fight against Iran, and this is obviously completely imaginary,” he told Foreign Policy.
“There is very little if no evidence that there is any connection between the Polisario Front and Algeria on the one hand, and Iran and its proxies on the other, but it’s a narrative that has gained quite a bit of traction in Israel,” Fabiani said.
The linkage between normalization and Western Sahara has made it difficult for many Moroccans to openly oppose Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. “There are still these voices which are dissenting, but it’s becoming increasingly hard for them to express themselves … the public spaces have really shrunk,” Fabiani said. In turn, Morocco’s stance has served to further solidify Algeria’s support for the Palestinian cause.
In recent months, there had been talks that the Abraham Accords and a potential normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia could lead Egypt and Morocco to broker de-escalation in the Israel-Hamas conflict. But as fighting spreads and a possible Israeli reoccupation of Gaza looms, it is a stark reminder that the Abraham Accords will not bring peace.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, Oct. 11: Extraordinary session of the Arab League to be held in Cairo.
Wednesday, Oct. 11: Ghana releases inflation data for September. The country has been rocked by protests calling for the resignation of the central bank governor.
Wednesday, Oct. 11, to Thursday, Oct. 12: Middle East and North Africa Climate Week, which began on Monday, continues in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Wednesday, Oct. 11, to Sunday, Oct. 15: Annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group, which began on Monday, continue in Marrakech, Morocco.
What We’re Watching
Kenya delays Haiti deployment. A Kenyan court has temporarily blocked the deployment of police officers to Haiti until Oct. 24, when a petition against the U.S.-backed mission will be heard. Kenya pledged 1,000 police officers, but a case brought by opposition politician Ekuru Aukot and two civilians argued that the deployment was unconstitutional. Aukot said Kenya could not afford to deploy officers before addressing insecurity issues at home.
Liberia elections. Liberians went to the polls Tuesday in a tough race for incumbent President George Weah. The 57-year-old former soccer star won office in 2017 after promising to create jobs, battle corruption, and set up an economic and war crimes court to investigate the horrific civil war that killed 250,000 people between 1989 and 2003. But the court was never established, and opponents accuse Weah and his Congress for Democratic Change party of economic mismanagement. Graft scandals led the United States to impose sanctions on senior Liberian officials, including Weah’s chief of staff.
Yet a lack of fresh opposition figures could earn Weah a second term. He faced 19 candidates, but the main challenger was former Vice President Joseph Boakai, 78, whom Weah defeated in the 2017 runoff. Boakai, dubbed “Sleepy Joe” for allegedly falling asleep at public events, has been in government for four decades. Provisional results are expected today.
Niger junta slashes budget. Niger has cut its 2023 government budget by 40 percent, the junta announced in a televised statement on Saturday. Niger’s military leaders were left with little choice, as nearly 40 percent of the government’s planned budget is based on foreign aid, which is now suspended. In Foreign Policy, Anastasia Moran argues that the World Bank, which suspended nearly $5 billion in funding to Niger, should move to a civil society partnership model over a government-first approach.
Niger’s announcement comes just as the Biden administration officially designated the military takeover as a coup d’état more than two months after the ouster of President Mohamed Bazoum. There are 1,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in Niger, and counterterrorism efforts there are the main reason the United States has held off declaring a coup, which would cut off military aid and cooperation.
African debt. As Morocco hosts the annual meetings of the World Bank and IMF this week, Kenyan President William Ruto, along with the African Union and the heads of two finance and climate institutions, have called for a 10-year grace period on interest payments on foreign debt to allow nations to address the challenges posed by climate change. “In Africa, we can’t fix the climate issue unless we fix the debt issue,” they wrote in the New York Times. Africa is borrowing at a cost up to eight times higher than the richer nations. According to David McNair, the executive director at the ONE Campaign, the continent is paying a 500 percent premium on capital market borrowing compared to those available through the World Bank.
This Week in Culture
Anti-gay law binned. The Supreme Court in Mauritius has thrown out 125-year-old legislation criminalizing same-sex relations. The court said that the law on sodomy, introduced in 1898 during British colonial rule, was unconstitutional in two cases brought by members of the gay community. Mauritius gained independence in 1968, but it kept a ban that imposed a prison sentence of up to five years for gay sex, which recently was not being enforced. “Section 250 was not introduced in Mauritius to reflect any indigenous Mauritian values but was inherited as part of our colonial history from Britain,” the court ruled.
Chart of the Week
In Johannesburg next month, a U.S.-Africa trade summit will discuss the future of Washington’s African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which expires in September 2025. Since its enactment more than two decades ago, oil has been the primary export covered by AGOA. Non-fossil fuel benefactors between 2014 and 2021 were limited to just five countries: South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, and Madagascar.
The Carnegie Endowment’s Africa Program Director Zainab Usman and researcher Alexander Csanadi echo the argument made by Witney Schneidman and Vera Songwe in FP in August, noting that the 35 African countries that have duty-free access to the U.S. market through AGOA could become suppliers of clean energy minerals to the U.S. market—provided that there are enabling factors, which include supporting African research and development, analytics-gathering, and domestic value-addition processing. The U.S. Minerals Security Partnership currently doesn’t include any African nations, some of which are among the largest producers of key minerals for the green energy transition, including cobalt, iron ore, and copper.
FP’s Most Read This Week
- What You Need to Know About the Israel-Hamas War by Daniel Byman and Alexander Palmer
- Israel Could Win This Gaza Battle and Lose the War by Stephen M. Walt
- Russia’s Crimean Red Line Has Been Erased by Casey Michel
What We’re Reading
Somali war crimes. In February, an 18-year-old pregnant woman was raped and brutally assaulted with a knife by members of an armed militia allied with Somali troops fighting al-Shabab. The incident wasn’t rare: Somalis have reported widespread attacks, including lootings and beheadings, by militias helping the government secure territories against the terrorist group. In the Continent, Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, a Somali journalist who was detained and tortured by Somalia’s national intelligence services, argues that as long as the Somali government is fighting al-Shabab, the international community is prepared to overlook the terror it unleashes on citizens.
Nosmot Gbadamosi is a multimedia journalist and the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Africa Brief. She has reported on human rights, the environment, and sustainable development from across the African continent. Twitter: @nosmotg
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