The Arab Spring has upset the status quo in North Africa and the Middle East, providing opportunities for countries to re-engage with a region often seen as stagnant and unchangeable. The United States has taken the initiative and greatly increased U.S. presence in North Africa through intelligent and locally relevant programs. Because of this, and other factors, U.S. influence in North Africa, excluding Egypt, is poised to increase should this constructive engagement continue.
In Morocco, Libya, and Tunisia we have seen increased attention to the needs of their citizens and leaders, which will contribute to more positive relations in the future.
In Morocco, the first country to officially recognize the U.S. in 1777, the U.S. supported the July constitutional referendum, introduced by King Muhammad VI, to curb some of his powers. Although many will take issue with the considerable flaws in the constitutional changes, the public and forthright support of the U.S. for the referendum will certainly bode well for U.S. influence in the country.
In Tunisia, despite the initial hesitancy to support the revolution, the State Department and many other organizations both private and public, are now supporting the democratic movement and are providing electoral and political support ranging from technical assistance to training, and electoral polling. From my observation, most of this support is being provided without attempting to influence the outcome of the elections, a feat often lacking when the U.S. participates in other regional elections.
In Libya, the U.S. played a significant, though not entirely leading role in assisting the revolution. The contrast between this international intervention and the intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan could not be any greater. The U.S. rightly did not attempt to decide the outcome for the Libyans, nor did the U.S. attempt to dictate the terms of the intervention — other than refusing to consider placing troops on the ground. This “soft-approach” to intervention has won the U.S. considerable “soft power” in Libya and will not be forgotten. The U.S. is likely to reap the rewards both in terms of access to oil and new markets, but also in terms of geo-political support, as it appears that Egypt will be unstable for a considerable amount of time.
The U.S. has lost, and will continue to lose influence in Egypt because of a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is the considerable America-bashing coming from the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The Mubarak government’s position on the Israel-Palestine conflict was not supported by a large portion of the Egyptian public, and since his ouster the Egyptian policy on this issue appears open to change. This issue is of considerable concern for Israel and the U.S., and will remain an area of considerable tension for U.S.-Egyptian relations and thus will continue to limit U.S. influence in Egypt.
In total, the U.S. influence in North Africa is increasing, caused in no small part by the intelligent application of hard and soft power throughout the region. If the U.S. government continues to apply influence in a similar fashion, I suspect the image of the U.S. in this region, could become increasingly positive.
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