(Interview) Benhammou on the Main Security Challenges Facing the Sahel Region

In his interview with Morocco Telegraph News, Mohammed Benhammou, President of the Moroccan Center for Strategic Studies, expressed his views regarding the current situation in the Sahel-Sahara region and security challenges facing the Sahel countries.

In his interview with Morocco Telegraph News, Mohammed Benhammou, President of the Moroccan Center for Strategic Studies, expressed his views regarding the current situation in the Sahel-Sahara region and security challenges facing the Sahel countries.

How would you rate the Sahel Summit and the security challenges facing the region?

The Sahel and Sahara region still face very large security challenges, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the absence, to a large extent, of joint action to confront either emerging threats or traditional threats that the Sahel region is witnessing along with persistent security crises, and other threats mainly related to the increasing number of terrorist attacks and transnational international crime.

Therefore, holding this meeting is important in itself, but it seems that the solutions suggested by the Sahel countries are not enough to meet the current challenges; security issue in the Sahel and Sahara region is intertwined, the nature of threats is complex and confusing, the whole area is vast and rugged, as well as the borders between countries that, unfortunately, are not impregnable. In addition to that, there is the incapacity of security and defense forces in these countries, the continuous existence of “incubators” for extremist groups, as well as transnational organized crimes, in addition to the absence of a solution to problems associated with active rebel movements, so the situation is still very difficult in the Sahel region and the horizon still appears unclear, If not inexistent.

What do you think of Algeria’s absence from this Summit in light of current circumstances in the Sahel region?

Algeria is first part of the problem in the Sahel before being part of the solution. The Sahel region, for Algeria, is an area that it relies on as a “pressure card”. The country also uses some of its positions or some of its interventions in a way that does not help to overcome crises and face challenges as much as it seeks to achieve political gains for Algeria. In light of the internal situation in Algeria and the lack of a clear direction to deal with the situation in the Sahel and Sahara region in a positive manner, away from methods adopted by Algeria in the region, this absence indicates that Algeria is waiting for a future opportunity to have a military presence in the region, especially after the recent constitutional amendments; which ended Algerian army’s intervention outside its borders. I think that the goal is to move “towards the Sahel and Sahara”, but it seems that the Algerian regime at this time is waiting for the right opportunity to make a deal in this regard.

There is a large number of challenges facing Morocco, Mauritania and countries of the Sahel region, such as combating jihadist movements and poverty… How can this Summit be a ground for presenting a vision to overcome these challenges?

Certainly, holding the meeting in itself is positive, and it is certain that the meeting to deliberate on issues related to security, stability and development in the Sahel and Sahara region is positive, even if the expected results are still far from suggesting solutions that could contribute to ending this situation, knowing that the situation is very complex and difficult. Therefore, the international community must enter a phase similar to the Marshall Plan. This may help the region to build security, stability and development at the same time because there is a large deficit in these three elements, and there cannot be security and stability without development, and vice versa. Morocco deals with its “strategic depth” and the Sahel-Sahara region very positively as a pivotal actor in the field of security and development in the region. Morocco is betting that the Sahel region will be able to achieve development and face poverty, because the miserable economic and social conditions that the region is struggling with greatly help to transform large areas to incubators for extremist movements and transnational organized crime organizations and also help them find a foothold in this region. Therefore, I believe that Morocco is seeking, alongside Mauritania and the Sahel countries, to find a strategy that enables the Sahel to break the deadlock in which it has been besieged for decades.

The Summit was characterized by the physical absence of French President Emmanuel Macron … How could this affect the geostrategic interests and relations between France and North African countries in the future?

In France, many questions arise about the continued French military presence in the Sahel region, as there are voices within the Sahel countries calling for the withdrawal of the French army from the region. On the other hand, there are voices that view this positively, as they see an opportunity and possibility to limit the activities of terrorist movements, and we have noticed that France recently paid a great price as a result of this presence, as terrorist attacks in the region resulted in the loss of many members of the French army, so there is a human, financial and political cost for France’s presence in the Sahel. I think that Sahel countries have expressed their desire for the continuation of French military presence, and the meeting in southern France was an opportunity to emphasize some of the constants in this area. There is a need today to rebuild this joint work, be it internal, regional or international, in order for there to be an effective confrontation of all these security threats. There are various forms of intervention to confront security challenges, especially terrorist movements in the region. Today, it is permissible to rebuild the strategy with greater coordination, a new approach, and new goals for the various stakeholders in the Sahel and Sahara region, with the aim of permanently ending these deteriorating security conditions. This is however also linked to the need to accomplish a lot internally at the economic or socio-political level, in addition to regional and territorial governance, which can help citizens become more devoted to  the state, because the absence of patriotism among many citizens in many areas left holes that can be quickly filled by extremist movements and criminal organizations that “represent” the state and perform tasks on its behalf and thus exploit these areas and exploit citizens all while carrying out their criminal activities.

Many experts have witnessed the Algerian lobby’s attempt in Washington to convince John Biden to withdraw US recognition of Moroccan Sahara … What do you think of this attempt and does this fall within the strategy set by the “Old Guard” in Algeria to confront Morocco?

Indeed, the Algerian regime has lost its marbles and is still under the shock of American recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara. Therefore, I am sure that this regime wagered in the past on some of the lobbies that it financed with very large sums, and this regime is still uselessly wishing that Biden will withdraw this recognition. It is certain that this American lobby is playing its role because Algeria pays generously in order to achieve its goals. Despite all these maneuvers by the anti-Moroccan lobby and mockery on the part of Algeria, I do not think that the new American administration will follow the course that Algeria is hoping for, because the recognition was a decision made by the United States and not by its former President Trump, therefore all the indications that might have been waiting for Morocco’s opponents to be for their benefit do not answer their aspirations. In the end, it is not a moment of moment, but rather a decision based on data over the past twenty years and on the positions of the American administrations since the Clinton era and up to Obama and Trump… Algeria is still generously making use of what remains of Algerian people’s money, but I do not think it will achieve its goals. The American administration is pragmatic and realistic; an administration that looks at the nature of partners and allies, and Morocco is a strategic ally and partner of the United States. The U.S. needs Morocco, which is a pivotal country at the regional and continental level, and therefore the common interests between Morocco and the United States are very strong, so again, I do not think that the American president will turn a blind eye to these interests to satisfy the caprice of the Algerian regime.

A large number of experts and observers have noted that the “Old Guard” in Algeria has put in place a strategy to confront Morocco through the media … How can we address this? What are the challenges Morocco faces regarding the Moroccan Sahara matter?

I think that the doctrine of hostility to Morocco made the Algerian regime use some of its media shields to spread lies and pollute the image of Morocco in a systematic and continuous manner, and therefore we are facing a real strategy. and we know that we know babies from the breasts of the Soviet Jeb and therefore it improves the fabrication of many fallacies and lies about the events. The regime has been in a state of distraction and a great deal of shock. Through the media, they try to launch a psychological war through which they believe they might harm Morocco. We have noticed that these malicious media platforms that can be considered degenerate and do not live up to the ethics required by the press do not pay any attention to objectivity, and therefore it is an absurd move through which they attempted to cause harm and even disrespect the sanctities of Morocco. This is a reckless act which unfortunately characterizes the regime; an act which can be considered historically illogical as the Algerian regime suffers from an unfortunate crisis; the regime that used to be productive, struggles today with great difficulties especially deteriorating internal conditions, economically, socially, and politically as well, and in the face of the flames of the movement that re-ignite, heralding the burning of what remains of this desperate regime, as well as the suffocating isolation from which it suffers regionally and internationally. Moreover, there are the very large diplomatic and political setbacks that have accumulated and crumbled at the head of this regime through the great victories regarding Moroccan Sahara, and thus the failure of the separatist project aiming to weaken Morocco.
This includes the complex of Morocco and the pivotal country dream; as Algeria has been trying for decades to become the pivotal country of the region. Algeria is failing to achieve all these goals, and therefore, the future of this neighboring country remains uncertain in light of the uncertainty and ambiguity surrounding its regime.

Republican American Senator Jim Inhofe ferociously attacks Morocco, using Algerian funding … Do you think that the future of this lobby depends solely on the withdrawal of American recognition of Moroccan Sahara, or is this part of a long-term strategy?

As for the lobbies recruited by Algeria, I find it normal for them to play these roles as they try to justify their commitment to the Algerian regime and the funds that are disbursed to them. We know that the lobbies in the United States have legitimate work and operate in broad daylight with whoever pays them, so the Algerian regime is betting on these lobbies and strives to find anyone who can collaborate with it in an attempt to undermine Morocco and pass its fallacies in the face of these major setbacks. Today, Algeria has lost All the battles that it wagered on with the separatist Polisario Front, whether military, political, or diplomatic, or those that they tried to link to human rights or wealth, and therefore nothing remains for them today except for media platforms. By taking advantage of these people and lobbies, they seek to shed light again on this “separatist” topic, as the issue of Moroccan Sahara is raised in forums and within institutions. “Cauterization is last of treatments”… I think that the Algerian regime’s last treatment is media, which will constitute an end point for this project that no one believes in, even within the Algerian regime itself. There is no longer a possibility to change track of the train that will permanently destroy this separatist illusion. The Algerian regime loses what it wagered on by clinging to this card, because its fate, future and existence depend on the Moroccan Sahara matter… Failing in this matter means the end of this regime.

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