Middle East North & West Africa Politics & Diplomacy Sahel Security & Defense
Report July 27, 2023

The North African complex: Regional players, global challenges

By Karim Mezran, Alessia Melcangi, Riccardo Fabiani, Sebastian Sons, Hisham Hellyer, Matteo Villa, Alissa Pavia

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North Africa is, once again, the theater of local and global challenges, which makes it a highly unstable regional complex. Unresolved crises like the ones in Libya and Western Sahara create obstacles to regional security, economic integration, and peaceful coexistence. The presence and influence of regional players like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, and Russia—each having competing interests, priorities, and methods of operation, opens new pathways for conflict and instability. Moreover, the climate crisis is paving the way for additional challenges, with high temperatures soaring across the Mediterranean, scarce crops, and a looming global health crisis. Meanwhile, the number of migrants attempting to reach Europe rose threefold in comparison to this time last year, leaving European countries scurrying to find solutions while maintaining strong ties with North African leaders and standing for human rights—a somewhat impossible task. 

What is in store for the region, and what can global players such as the European Union (EU), the United States, and the African Union do to contain the side effects stemming from crises rising in North Africa?  The US withdrawal from the Middle East has clearly shaped its involvement, or lack thereof, in North Africa. Despite President Joe Biden announcing a more robust US presence in the continent, his feeble attempt to restore the status quo between Algeria and Morocco over Western Sahara is telling a different tale. Meanwhile, the European Union has heavily engaged with Tunisia by signing a memorandum of understanding which aims to stem migration flows while also improving the country’s economic conditions. However, European powers have failed to address the democratic backsliding occurring in the country, which in turn has fueled violence, poverty, and economic uncertainty. The following set of essays, edited by the Atlantic Council’s North Africa Program and the Institute for International Political Studies, seeks to address these challenges and others while also offering concrete recommendations for policymakers. 

Alissa Pavia is the Associate Director of the North Africa Program  

Chiara Lovotti is an ISPI Research Fellow and Scientific Coordinator of “Rome MED-Mediterranean Dialogues”, ISPI’s and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ annual flagship event. 


Aug 3, 2023

Libya: Back to the future?

By Karim Mezran and Alessia Melcangi

The current Libyan situation is complex, influenced by numerous factors, including the conditions of the 2011 revolution. The misconception of it being a whole people’s revolution led to a focus on elections instead of national reconciliation, hindering the rebuilding of consensus and a new social contract.

Civil Society Conflict


Aug 3, 2023

The Western Sahara conflict: A fragile path to negotiations

By Riccardo Fabiani

The long-dormant conflict over Western Sahara has resurged in recent years, challenging regional stability. Diplomatic tensions between the main sides, coupled with the collapse of the 1991 UN-brokered cease-fire and US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty in 2020, have complicated the situation. The appointment of UN envoy Staffan de Mistura in 2021 offers hope for the revival of cease-fire talks, while the UN and the United States aim to stabilize the conflict through renewed diplomatic efforts.

Conflict International Organizations


Aug 3, 2023

Gulf engagement in Tunisia: Past endeavor or future prospect? 

By Sebastian Sons

Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Qatar regard Tunisia as an important foreign policy partner within their regional sphere of influence. They also welcome Tunisia’s current autocratization under President Kais Saïed. However, Gulf states no longer pursue strategic goals there. As the region is undergoing a geopolitical shift toward more conflict management and reconciliation, the Gulf states consider Tunisia as a partner of choice in regional stability but no longer as a partner of necessity in terms of economic investment or development cooperation.

Civil Society Democratic Transitions


Aug 3, 2023

Egypt’s stability is the GCC’s top priority in the region. Here’s why. 

By H.A. Hellyer

After the 2011-2013 revolution in Egypt, the author discussed the GCC’s relationship with Egypt with a senior minister, who emphasized the importance of Egypt’s stability. This sentiment has been shared by most GCC leaders over the past decade, though the way it has been expressed may have evolved. Political nuances in Cairo were considered less crucial, while the focus remained on the pragmatic and straightforward need for stability in Egypt.

Defense Policy Economy & Business


Aug 3, 2023

Irregular migration from North Africa: Shifting local and regional dynamics

By Matteo Villa and Alissa Pavia

Irregular migration from North Africa to Europe, especially through the Central Mediterranean route connecting Libya and Tunisia to Italy, is increasing once more. Italy has witnessed a surge in irregular arrivals, with approximately 136,000 migrants disembarking between June 2022 and May 2023, almost comparable to the high arrival period of 2014-2017 when around 155,000 migrants landed each year.

Human Rights Italy

Related Experts: Karim Mezran, Alissa Pavia, and Alessia Melcangi

Image: Unfinished buildings in downtown Cairo, Egypt