Press Release: Instability in North Africa and Sahel claims over 8,500 deaths in 2016. MEA Risk expects 2017 to be another crisis year

January 25, 2017

Miami, FL – MEA Risk LLC – The North Africa and Sahel zone witnessed a 16.0% increase in the number of destabilizing critical incidents in 2016 to a total of 11,916, according to MEA Risk LLC. Despite such increase, MEA Risk’s Instability Index, measuring the crisis intensity for the region, dropped 15.2% as a result of lesser terrorism-related incidents and a shift to less deadly forms of critical incidents. But the Instability Index still remains elevated, putting the region in the low-end of the High-Risk Zone. The death toll from critical incidents for the region fell by 37% year over year to settle at 8,511, as violence in some areas subsided a bit as a result of more proactive military and law enforcement engagements to reduce terror acts. However, MEA Risk expects 2017 to be another year of heightened instability in many key regions of North Africa and the Sahel, driven by political uncertainty, a spike in social unrest as governments roll out new austerity measures, weak economic performance, and sustained risk from militant groups.

2016IndexFor 2016, and despite a reduction in the most violent factors of instability such as insurgencies and terrorism, two other sources of instability have seen a substantial spike in key geographies, pushing the total number of incidents upward and maintaining the level of instability in the region elevated. Incidents of criminality and those due to social unrest (including labor unrest) led to an increase in the number of arrests in large urban centers, with at least 41,000 people arrested for various offenses during the year across the region, mostly due to political and social conflicts. Arrests for criminal activities such as drug and contraband smuggling have increased, so did the number of arrests of illegal migrants.

Most active geographies

The best performers in terms of reduction in critical incidents are Egypt and Morocco, which managed to lower the number of incidents by 14.3% and 1.7%, respectively. The most active geography is Algeria, followed by Libya and Tunisia, each growing their incident pool by double-digit rates. The increases in Algeria and Tunisia are largely attributed to spikes of incidents in the labor and social sectors, as well as due to a major expansion of criminal activity forcing authorities to up their enforcement campaigns. In Libya, the fundamentals of the Libyan crisis being the same as in 2015, the escalation in incidents is largely attributed to the escalation of violence pitting the various political factions and militant groups, including the Islamic State organization.

Deadliest geographies: Libya and Egypt

With over 8,500 deaths directly related to critical incidents, the region remains a high-risk zone, despite a year-on-year casualty drop of -37.01%. In spite of both countries succeeding in reducing their death tolls in 2016, Libya and Egypt were the deadliest geographies, accounting for 47% and 32.2% of the entire region’s human losses. The death toll in Libya of over 4,000 is symptomatic of a country in near failed state status, amid a violent civil war with competing governments fighting for control. In Egypt, the government’s policy of zero tolerance to Islamist opposition, and its war with various militant groups resulted in over 2,700 deaths. Many of the casualties are alleged militants operating in North Sinai. The military and security forces also recorded substantial losses. The third biggest region in terms of human losses is the Sahel, where the four tracked countries in the region collectively lost 1,301 people in 2016. Mali held the top position. On the lower end of the death toll data are Algeria at 242, Tunisia at 164, and Morocco down to just 51 losses.

Mass arrests

The highest increase in arrests in 2016 was recorded in Algeria, growing its arrest figure from 5,985 in 2015 to over 16,800 in 2016. However, and in most cases, the arrests were short-term incarcerations considering most of the arrested were illegal migrants or foreign nationals seeking to extract gold in the Southern Provinces. Another major spike in arrests affected criminal gangs operating illegal drug and contraband trafficking operations. This is while the Algerian the authorities have been upping their arrests of suspected Islamist militants and their support networks.
In line with the number of critical incidents, Morocco and Egypt have managed to bring down their arrest numbers by 67.2% and 30.8%, respectively. Yet the total figure for Egypt remains extremely high at over 8,000 arrests. Not only Egypt has been aggressive arresting violent militants and so-called Jihadists, but it also incarcerated all kinds of civil society stakeholders, from students to journalists.
Most unstable geographies

All in all, 2016 data indicate that Libya remains North Africa/Sahel most unstable country. Its 2016 MEA Risk Instability Index was 3.02. The index measures the extent of the instability on a scale of 0.5 to 5, where 0.5 means the country or region is risk free, and an index of 3.6 to 5 means the region qualifies as a failed state. Libya remains anchored in the Red zone, as a Severe/High-Risk Zone on the MEA Risk Index.
Despite some improvements in the reduction of the negative factors of instability, Egypt gathered the second highest Instability Index at 1.87 . While down from 2015’s 2.37, Egypt has been facing a severe set of negative factors, ranging from violence, to general and labor unrest, to broad political tension, all compounded by a major economic crisis that conspired to rate the country 1.87, putting it very near Severe/High Risk country rating of 1.89.

Also at 1.87, the Sahel region is on par with Egypt in terms of instability. Although the bulk of the negative factors concentrates in Mali, other countries in the region struggle with their own sets of issues, from the presence of militant groups and Boko Haram to environmental disasters and economic despair across the Sahel to the maintaining of slavery in Mauritania, which force the instability rating to remain high.

The three Maghreb countries of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia have somewhat similar risk profiles, registering moderate risk ratings. Although their risk ratings have improved from 2015, each country faces their own specific types of risks as highlighted in the outlook section below.

Outlook

All countries tracked by MEA Risk share similar factors of instability but they also have their own sets of issues. Collectively, the region’s countries face similar problems of Islamic militancy and insurgencies. Although 2016 saw a reduction of militant activity across many sub-regions, there is a strong likelihood of a resumption of terror activity in 2017 owing to the return to their home countries of North Africa militants who have been fighting in Syria and within Libya. Their return could stimulate new reorganizations of local militant structures within the regional affiliates of Islamic State and al-Qaeda. The degradation of Islamic State in Libya does not necessarily bode well for the rest of the region, in particular Libya’s direct neighbors. An exit of militants from Libya could increase the prospects of instability in the Sahel, West Africa, East Africa, and in the Maghreb. Therefore, MEA Risk expects terror activity to take place in the region with greater intensity in 2017 than in 2016.

Although the impact of Jihadists and militant groups remains dangerously high, the countries of the region will remain confronted with bigger governance, economic and social issues. With the exception of a slight improvement of governance in Tunisia and a status quo in Morocco, most countries of the regions have yet to find political and economic models that are well balanced and endorsed by their populations, hence reducing social and labor unrest and promoting a more stable environment.

Egypt will continue to struggle with the use of violence by authorities to try to impose stability. The deployment of repressive measures against a large swath of political and social stakeholders makes it difficult to agree on a path of reconciliation. Authorities remain steadfast in their zero tolerance to any ideas that deviate from the official policy, a situation that is likely to persist in 2017. With the country on its way of implementing severe austerity measures, social unrest could escalate further this year.

Libya could see an escalation of violence as efforts are underway by military chief Haftar, aided by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Russia to take control over Tripoli, possibly against the will of the West. Such development could further escalate tension and can lead to more instability over the coming months.

The Sahel remains highly vulnerable to the presence of Islamic militants and other non-Jihadi groups that have their specific political agendas, including regional autonomy. Tension there is likely to remain at its current level, as France is predicted to maintain its military presence there despite a new President in May 2017.

Algeria is confronted with the inability of its government to manage the expectations of the population amid a push of new austerity measures. Authorities will continue to use police and security services to deal with general social and labor grievances. Absent of structured conflict resolutions mechanisms that prevent the use of police and channels grievances around negotiating tables, Algeria will continue to witnesses a difficult environment. Governance and leadership issues will remain front and center with the absence of President Bouteflika in core decision making.

Tunisia is facing greater risk with the expected inflow of militants from Syria and Libya. Controlling its borders will be crucial to maintaining stability. However, this will not be enough as the country will continue to face labor unrest and a tense domestic politics, homegrown conservatism, and a weak economy.

Morocco too will face a series of challenges, including the proliferation of Islamic State cells and their support network, poor economic results, and governor issues affecting social stability.

About MEA Risk:  MEA Risk LLC is a global security analysis and tracking company that engages in data collection, analysis, forecasting and alerting.  MEA Risk’s Critical Incidents Tracker disseminates incident information to a broad range of clients and travelers, via direct data access, Premium Reports, Shield & Alert Pro, and the free TripFence mobile app. With locations in the Maghreb, Sahel, Egypt, Turkey, Sub-Sahara Africa, MEA Risk is please to announce that it is adding Saudi Arabia and Iran in 1Q17.  To learn more, please visit http://www.MEA-Risk.com

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