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The West should focus on North Africa

Making the Maghreb a development partner would promote human rights and reform.

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For North Africa, 2009 is a year of elections. Regrettably, these elections – this week's presidential elections in Algeria, Tunisia's presidential and legislative elections in October, and Morocco's local council elections in June – attest not to the vibrancy of democracy in the region, but rather to its lingering authoritarianism.

Although Washington has found solid counter terrorism partners in North Africa, a short-term focus on security is potentially harmful. These countries face myriad challenges which necessitate a broad, long-term focus on reform. Doing so will serve not only the people of North Africa, but also the strategic interests of the US and its allies.

This week, Algeria's president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, will compete for a third term in office. Unlike in 2004, Mr. Bouteflika will run virtually uncontested. The opposition is boycotting because, according to two-time presidential contender Said Saadi, the elections are a "nihilistic folly." Indeed, Bouteflika is only able to run because he engineered a constitutional amendment abolishing term limits.

Of course, for Algerians, these elections are just a formality. As Algerians know, elections are predetermined not by the people, but by "le pouvoir" – the power of the shadowy tripartite of the army, the intelligence services, and Bouteflika's clan.

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