The North African Threat and Mediterranean Reunification
North Africa does not appear to be a military and political threat to the European Union. Why should it? In the last few years most of its countries have been convulsed by revolutions and are in disarray. Previous dictators and rulers that the West was not supposed to like are either dead or in exile. The North African economy is weak, its people impoverished and its military capability is a joke. How can this possibly be seen as a threat to the member states of the European Union? The reason is demographics. The likely outcome of the demographic trend is frightening, but History Future Now offers a solution. It wont be easy and nobody will like it. The alternative is worse, however.
But before we go into more detail, it is worth reminding ourselves about the countries of North Africa and history that they share with Europe. Most History Future Now readers will be unfamiliar with North African history. As we will see, the people there are are both very different and very similar to us in the European Union. If you are familiar, you can skip over much of the next two sections, which are only there to provide a high speed background to the main thrust of this article’s argument. But a refresher is never bad either. Read on.
North African historical similarities with Southern Europe, 650BC – 698AD.
Almost a thousand years before Christ, much of North Africa was dominated by a sea faring Semitic tribe, the Phoenicians, who came from a city called Tyre, now in modern day Lebanon. In 650 BC one of the Phoenician colonies, Carthage, gained independence from the mother city state and started to dominate other Phoenician settlements around the Mediterranean. By 264 BC, most of North Africa west of Egypt, southern Spain, parts of Sicily, all of Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearic Islands (Majorca and Minorca) were under their rule. Conflict with the Greeks in Sicily (the famous Archimedes, for example, came from the Greek city of Syracuse in eastern Sicily) and then with the Romans in the Punic Wars ultimately saw the end of the Carthaginian empire in 146BC. Thereafter, the whole area became part of the Roman Republic and then part of the Roman Empire for over half a millennia.
Many of the greatest cities of the Roman Empire, such as Carthage, Hippo (where St Augustine came from) and Leptis Magna were in North Africa. It was a rich area with excellent agriculture and the long stretch of the Sahara desert to the south provided an impassable barrier that made it very cheap to maintain militarily. It was a significant net tax contributor to the coffers of the Roman state. This was in sharp contrast to the northern boundary of the Roman Empire, which had poor soils and was constantly being attacked. The area around modern day Tunis was extremely fertile and, along with Egypt later on, became the bread basket of the Roman Empire, shipping the much needed grain to the city of Rome, which handed out free grain to its citizens, and thus ensuring its dominance in the Empire.
From the third century AD the Roman Empire was increasingly battered by German tribes on its northern border. To start with the Romans created buffer states of German tribes, that they managed by mixture of favouritism and the occasional war, who were used to fend off against other German tribes even further north. One German tribe, which has direct relevance to North Africa, were called the Vandals. They are believed to have come from an area around modern day Poland, and possibly from Sweden before that. The name “Vandal” might simply mean Wanderer.
Around 400 AD, the Vandals, perhaps pushed by the Huns, moved into Roman Gaul. By 409 they crossed the Pyrenees into what is now Spain along with a number of other German tribes. After attempts to settle in Spain failed, they continued south and a large group of Vandals crossed over into North Africa in 429AD. By 439 AD they captured the prize of North Africa, Carthage, without a fight. They then took over many of the old Carthaginian lands of Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and the Balearic Islands. With a navy they then raided the coast of Italy and even sacked Rome: which is why their name is now synonymous with destruction. The loss of North Africa helped to kill off the Roman Empire in the west as the loss of grain shipments and tax revenues made life in Rome almost impossible.
Repeated attempts to reconquer North Africa failed until finally, in 534, a force from the Eastern Roman Empire – what we now call Byzantium- defeated the Vandals. Most of its men were killed or recruited into the Roman army. The Eastern Roman Empire turned Africa back into a prefecture, with its capital in Carthage. It also added Sardinia, Corsica and the Balearic Islands to the prefecture.
This respite for North Africa was to be short lived. From the mid 600s the population of Carthage started to swell with refugees fleeing across the Libyan desert from Egypt. The invasions of the Muslims had begun. After the death of Mohammed in 632AD, Muslim fighters, who had been trained and armed by both the Romans and the Persians during the long war between those two powers, turned on both their Roman and Persian paymasters. A decade later they finished off the Persian empire. In 647AD they turned on Roman North Africa, first with attacks in Egypt and then on North Africa itself. In 698 Roman Carthage was crushed by a force of 40,000 Muslims. By 709 all of North Africa was under Muslim control and in 711 a small force crossed over the Mediterranean Sea and landed at Gibraltar. By 720 all of Spain up to the Pyrenees, with the exception of Asturias, had been taken over by Muslim forces.
North African historical differences with Southern Europe, 698AD – Today
After the conquest of North Africa and Spain by Muslim forces, the historical and cultural trajectory of North Africa and Southern Europe started to diverge.
Spain, or Hispania, was renamed Al-Andalus, which may be a corruption of Vandalusia, or the land of the Vandals. The territory was carved into five administrative units: Andalusia, Galicia, Portugal, Castile, Leon, Aragon, Catalonia and Septimania (what is now southern France). Asturias, to the far north, remained outside Muslim rule and was critical to Spanish history as it formed the basis of the gradual Christian reconquest of Spain. By 1200 only half of the Iberian peninsula remained under Muslim control and by the mid century only the Emirate of Granada remained, until 1492 when that was also wiped out, bringing the whole of the Iberian peninsula back under Christian control.
North African dominance by the Muslim world was more permanent but not without its ups and downs. In the early 740s the Berbers, the native population of the area who were by now a mix of African tribesmen, Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks and slaves from all over the known world, rose up in revolt against their Muslim rulers. Thereafter, Muslim control over North Africa from far away Damascus and Baghdad became almost impossible and a series of local dynasties were set up.
The first great dynasty was the Fatimid dynasty from AD 909-1171. First, the Fatimids headed east and conquered Egypt. There they created a new capital city on the Nile called “the Victorious” – Al Kahira – which we call Cairo in English. In the meantime, from AD 1062 – 1147 the Almoravids took over the northwest of Africa, centred on Marrakech. They entered Spain in 1086, on the request of Spanish Muslims who had been suffering defeats by the Spanish Christians, where they were stopped at Valencia by the famous Spanish warrior, El Cid.
The Almoravids were, in turn, defeated by another Berber Muslim group – the Almohads. By 1159 the Almohads ruled all of northern Africa as far as Benghazi to the east and also into southern Spain. Their decline in Spain began rapidly after the combined Christian armies of Castile, Aragon, Navarre and Portugal fell upon Cordoba and then Seville in 1236 and 1248. Berber tribes in North Africa declared themselves independent and another group, the Marinids, captured Fes and then Marrakech in 1269. Maranid rule continued until the 15th century when they also fell.
As we move into the early modern period things begin to get more familiar. The Berbers were by this stage also know as the Barbars and the area in which they lived became known as the Barbary Coast. From the early 1500s the Turks, who had recently defeated the remnants of the Eastern Roman Empire in Byzantium, come to dominate the eastern part of the Mediterranean and were in conflict with Spain over much of North Africa. The Turks sponsored pirates – corsairs – to fight the Spanish, in the same way that the English sponsored privateers to attack Spanish shipping in the Atlantic. The Turks were remarkably successful in disrupting the Spanish, but it also left North Africa without a strong political centre.
In 1830 the French, fed up with the ongoing Barbary piracy, invaded Algeria. Tunisia became a French protectorate in 1881, Morocco became a Spanish and French protectorate in 1912 and Italy took Libya from the Turks in the same year. Egypt, in the meantime, spent much of the 19th Century under British control, who were determined to protect the Suez canal that had opened in 1869. Independence came to North Africa over the course of the 20th Century. Egypt gained independence in 1922, Libya in 1951, Tunisia and Morocco in 1956 and Algeria in 1962.
So what does this 20,000 ft overview of North African history tell us? Firstly, from 650BC to 698AD – 1,348 years – North Africa with its Carthaginian, Roman, Christian and Germanic heritage, was a land that was culturally very similar to what could be found on the northern side of Mediterranean. It had, in fact, a historical background that was almost identical to that of Spain.
Then, with the arrival of Islam, which combined the sword with the word of God, North Africa switched from being a rather rich demilitarised zone into one that was aggressive militarily for over 500 years, invading western Europe all the way into southern France.
After that, for the next 700 years, the area was on the back foot, being pushed out of Spain completely by 1492 and descending into anarchic pirate kingdoms for over 300 years before the Europeans, mainly French, Spanish,Italian and the British, took them over as colonies or protectorates.
North Africa today
Today, much of North Africa is in trouble. It is not the rich land of the Carthaginians, exporting its huge food surpluses to southern Europe. It is not the aggressive land of the early Muslim conquerers, bringing Islam into Western Europe. It is not even part of the European Union: had they not achieved independence as early as they did then they might have had access to, or become part of, the European Union.
Morocco is a constitutional monarchy. It has a Mediterranean climate in the north, where most of the agriculture takes place but most of the country is desert. There are 32 million Moroccans in Morocco, 1 million in France, 700,000 in Spain and over 360,000 in Belgium and 300,000 in the Netherlands. There were 11.6 million Moroccans in 1960. The GDP per capita in 2011 was $3,083. Most are Sunnis of Berber extraction.
Algeria is a republic. It is the largest country in Africa and derives most of its budget and 95 % of foreign earnings from oil and gas. Its soils are pretty fertile from the coast to the Atlas mountains in the south. After the mountains is a huge steppe landscape and the Sahara desert. The population was 35 million in 2011, up from 10.8 million people in 1960. Thanks to oil revenues, its GDP per capita in 2011 was higher than that of Morocco, at $5,304. Most Algerians are Sunnis of Berber extraction.
Tunisia has just had a revolution. It is the smallest of the North African countries and shares a similar climate to Morocco and Algeria. There are 10.7 million Tunisians, up from 4.2 million in 1960. The 2011 GDP per capita was $4,351, which is what it probably should have been absence of any revolution. Most Tunisians are Sunnis of Berber extraction.
Libya has also just come out of a revolution. It is primarily desert and historically acted as a buffer zone between Egypt and the rest of North Africa. There is a thin strip of Mediterranean climate on the coast which sustains some agriculture but 75% of all food is imported. The population of Libya was 6.4 million in 2011, up from 1.4 million in 1960. The GDP per capita in 2011 was estimated to have been $5,691, which is probably what it should have been in the absence of any revolution. The bulk of Libya’s economy is based on the oil sector. Most Libyans are Sunnis of Berber extraction.
Egypt is the biggest country of North Africa in terms of population and has also just come out of a revolution. It is primarily desert, but has the River Nile running through it, which has brought the country economic prosperity since before the time of the Pharaohs. The population of Egypt was 83 million in 2011, up from 28 million in 1960. The country is poor, with a GDP per capita of 2011 of $3,118. Most of the country is made up of Egyptians at 91% of the population with Berbers, Arabs, Turks and Greeks making up the remainder. Most are Sunni Muslims.
So what do all of these countries have in common today?
- First, they are predominantly Berbers who share the Sunni form of Islam, along with most Saudis.
- Second, they are all relatively poor, with GDP per capitas ranging from $3,000 to $5,700 per annum.
- Third, they all have very little agricultural land. Most of their countries are desert, and soil quality is declining.
- Fourth, they have all seen huge increases in population during the 20th Century. This means that their populations are extremely young, makes it harder to compete for jobs and to feed themselves.
- Fifth, they have all been colonised by the West within living memory and have fought off colonial masters.
- Sixth, three of the five countries have populations that have gone through a revolution and have learned to fight for their beliefs.
What can we conclude from this?
They have lots of very young, poor people with a rapidly expanding population who live in countries that are not self sufficient in food. As their populations increase their ability to feed themselves by imports declines as competition for jobs puts downwards pressure on incomes.
Their shared Sunni faith with Saudi Arabia means that Islamic radicalisation through Saudi funding of Wahhabi sect schools in their countries is more likely.
This group has had a cultural history of resentment against the West, due to recent colonisation, and a longer history of aggressive Islamic militarism which includes the successful invasions and occupations of Spain, France, Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearic Islands.
The North African Threat to the European Union
At some point population growth, land degradation and their ability to feed themselves properly will hit a crunch point. They will then face a major issue: how do they ensure enough food and jobs for their people? If their economies do not grow sufficiently they will not be able to pay for food imports. There are millions of their fellow citizens already living in the European Union. Many will try to use those family connections to emigrate. But at some point the European Union citizens will say enough is enough.
However, that does not make the problem go away.
You can then expect two things to occur.
First, there will be pressure from North Africans living in the European Union on European governments to allow more North African migrants in. Some of this pressure will be political. If North Africans organised themselves they would discover that their numbers are probably sufficient to act as a swing political party in many European Union governments – especially those that are fractured by coalition governments. In return for policies allowing more immigration into the countries that already have large North African populations, such as France, Spain, Belgium and Holland, they would help local politicians form a government. Given what we know about how political parties operate, it is highly likely that political parties on the verge of winning a mandate would align themselves to these North African groups in order tip them over the edge and thus gain power.
Some of this pressure will be violent. Given Islam’s ability to gather sufficient recruits for suicide bombings without an existential threat, it is highly plausible that North African riots in places like France would be likely, as a minimum. After all, their family members are starving: this is an existential threat. This could precipitate in the fall of democratically elected governments in the European Union. At that point it is hard to guess whether a new government would be pro North Africa or anti North Africa.
Second, there will be pressure from North Africans (and sub Saharan Africans who face similar issues) fleeing across into Spain, Malta, Corsica, Sardinia, the Balearics, Sicily and Italy by boat. This would impose a moral nightmare for European Union governments. If the boat people were unarmed, they would be considered civilians and would get protection under international law. If they landed on European Union soil they would be granted asylum. If the boat people had weapons they would be considered military targets and thus the boats could be sunk.
So the European Union navies would have to try and stop the boat people from reaching the shores of European Union territories. Crashing navy vessels into heavily laden ships carrying women and children might result in the sinking of the boat, potentially killing all on board. If the boats were stopped by shooting out the engines the boats could drift, ending up killing all on board due to exposure and lack of food and water. In short, doing anything to the boats could result in many people losing their lives.
If this happened on a large enough scale (because it does happen today, already on a minor scale), you could expect the governments of North Africa to intervene, potentially sparking a military crisis. This would be relatively easy for the European Union to deal with as any North African naval vessels would then become legitimate military targets. But you would be almost guaranteed that the North Africans already in the European Union would switch from aggressive rioting and the occasional suicide bombing into something far, far worse. They are not going to accept the killing of their family members.
None of this is a particularly pretty picture and the endgame could be more horrific or more benign. What should be clear, however, is that what is happening in North Africa today represents a real threat to the European Union. The demographic trends are unstoppable and thus so is the problem. We would need a miracle to fix the problem.
Mediterranean Reunification, or the search of a miracle
Fortunately, History Future Now has such a miracle in mind. The solution is to make North Africa part of the European Union. Here are some details.
In a previous article, History Future Now wrote about the virtues of regional free trade, rather than global free trade. The argument was that global free trade resulted in a race to the bottom in terms of salaries, worker and environmental protections. Richer economies are being hollowed out and the benefit of cheaper products for those with jobs is not sufficient to offset the loss of social cohesion and the cost of paying for those without jobs.
European Union would put up trade barriers on all products imported into the European Union so as to make the cost difference between an EU product and a non EU product the same. The imported products would also need to conform to similar environmental and labour standards as products sold within the EU. Ideally, this would mean that imports of goods produced outside the European Union that simply competed on cheap labour and lax environmental standards would be halted.
In this scenario, North Africa would become part of a European Union Free Trade region. Its products would be able to be sold in the European Union without tariff barriers, subject to their conforming to minimum environmental and workers standards, similar to trade within the European Union today. They would, however, be able to compete due to cheaper labour than in the European Union.
What would this mean? Firstly, North Africa would be a magnet for companies that wanted to sell products in the European Union. They would be incentivised to set up factories, distribution centres and service centres for those jobs. Many products simply are possible due to lower costs of labour. This would help create jobs in North Africa, helping to stabilise their economies and to give them a stake in keeping the peace. With more income, North Africa would be able to afford to import more food and to modernise its own agriculture, making it more efficient with advanced irrigation techniques, for example.
As for the European Union, this should not result in a sudden loss of jobs to North Africa, as many of the products that we are currently buying from China and other parts of the world would be substituted for products being produced in North Africa instead. With increased stability in North Africa and increased trans Mediterranean Sea, it would also make sense to finally embrace DESERTEC, a scheme founded on the idea of creating concentrated solar power in the deserts of North Africa to provide reliable electric power to the European Union via high voltage sub sea cables. This would provide jobs in North Africa and could provide all of Europe’s electrical power needs.
There would be strings attached. Study after study shows that educating women results in lower levels of fertility. If the European Union helped provide funding for education it would reduce the need for funding of education from Saudi Arabia, reducing extremist forms of Islam. This would help defuse the demographic time bomb in North Africa and respect their Islamic heritage without getting the unnecessary form of Islam that is actively hostile to the West. In addition, North Africans would not get the freedom to emigrate to the EU. Without the economic impetus to do so, many would not want to anyway.
And finally, while this solution helps to solve some very real threats, there is something exciting about reunifying the Mediterranean after over a thousand years of strife. For 1,385 years we shared a common cultural, historical, linguistic and religious heritage. North Africa was more integral to the Roman Empire than Britain or Gaul.
So encourage your local politicians to stand on a platform of Mediterranean Reunification!
Good luck with that.