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The West should focus on North Africa

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Algeria's political stagnation is combined with high unemployment rates, a burgeoning population of young people, rises in the cost of living, and rampant corruption. This has contributed to a volatile cocktail of instability and fomented resentment among the younger sectors of the population. A bitter frustration with the system has resulted in mass illegal immigration to Europe, increasing clashes between rioters and government forces, and the presence of local jihadis linked to Al Qaeda, namely Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Disturbingly, the Algerian experience appears to be echoing across North Africa.

In Tunisia, where elections are slated for the fall, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's political style remains highly authoritarian. The US State Department 2008 Human Rights Report, for example, expressed dismay at the "severe restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association" reflected in Mr. Ben Ali's approval ratings.

Even in Morocco, where King Mohammad VI has some popular legitimacy, record lows in voter turnouts in 2007 suggest increased apathy and disillusionment with the voting process.

Both Tunisia and Morocco have been the target of jihadi attacks in recent years. Although Tunisia performs well economically, there are indications of an increasingly conducive environment for recruitment into AQIM – which has been trying to develop a presence across North Africa. Indeed, US National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair recently noted that AQIM "represents a significant threat to US and Western interests."

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