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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 4th March 2021

North Africa awaits the Biden reset

Blue Lines

After a month in which the Gulf monarchies saw the new United States administration in action, with sanctions against top security officials in Saudi Arabia, airstrikes on Iranian-backed militia in Iraq and pressure on United Arab Emirates' expansionism in the Horn of Africa, it is the turn of North Africa's authoritarian regimes to test the relationship.

New Secretary of State Antony Blinken quickly informed Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el Sisi that human rights are back on the US agenda, ending an era of impunity for President Donald Trump's 'favourite dictator'. What that means for a regime that has killed far more of its opponents than the now-sanctioned Saudi monarchy will unfold in the months ahead. 

It also means the end of El Sisi's intervention (as well as that of UAE) in support of Khalifa Haftar and allies such as Aguila Saleh in Libya, as politicians manoeuvre to form the new interim government there. President Joe Biden also dropped Trump's full-throated support for El Sisi in his dispute with Addis Ababa over the dam on the Nile, opting instead for multilateral negotiations.

Biden is yet to pronounce on Trump's acceptance of Moroccan rights over Western Sahara in exchange for Rabat's restoration of diplomatic ties with Israel. Insiders say the preferred strategy is bringing the UN back into the frame but concede that looks highly unlikely in the short term.