The coronavirus will have wide-reaching impacts in the Maghreb
As Libya takes steps to avoid a coronavirus outbreak, other Maghreb leaders are adopting drastic measures to reign in the pandemic’s progress. These measures include banning public gatherings, imposing mandatory confinement, canceling classes, closing mosques, partially demobilizing the workforce, and suspending air, sea, and land travel.
Some of these measures will have severe economic impacts across the Maghreb. Morocco and Tunisia, whose economies rely on tourism, will struggle as travel restrictions persist. Hydrocarbon-exporting Algeria and Libya will suffer as oil prices drop. Disruptions to trade with China will negatively impact Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, while slumping European markets will hurt Morocco, Europe’s largest trade partner in the Mediterranean.
On the political front, although the pandemic may provide a period of respite from regular protests in Algeria, regime behavior during this time, along with mediocre healthcare systems and social inequality, will eventually lead to dissent across the Maghreb. In Morocco, where the government’s response was mostly applauded, the decision to close mosques triggered criticism from notable Salafist figure Abdelhamid Abou Naïm, while the general lockdown led dozens of people to demonstratein Tangier, Fes, and Tetouan. Authorities have since arrested Abou Naïm, who is currently awaiting trial, as well as a group of people accused of inciting the protests. Videos and images of security forces violently repressing individuals who challenged the lockdown have circulated widely on social media. This violence will be criticized by human rights activists and groups, which recently accused the regime of judicial repression.
In Algeria, members of the peaceful, anti-regime Hirak movement have postponed protests for the first time since February 2019. The movement’s decision to delay protests for the greater good will earn it respect and trust within the population. The ongoing crisis will also be a test for President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, whose election to office was widely boycotted and whose reaction to the pandemic will be scrutinized.
Tunisia has a better healthcare system than Morocco and Algeria and is dealing with a slower progression of the virus. In addition to $400 million it received from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the government has pledged $850 million to help contain the virus’ impact. However, the country’s economic outlook is bleak and a recession is likely, especially with the pandemic’s impact on its tourism sector.
Despite having only one confirmed case at the time of writing, Libya is also a source of concern, given its ongoing conflict; should an outbreak occur, the consequences will be catastrophic, due to its limited resources and the internationally recognized government’s lack of control over the country.