The Ties That Bind

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PHOTO: Peter Fairley

Some 2000 years ago, North Africa was an integral part of the Roman Empire. Those early ties with Europe are ­apparent from the Roman ruins that remain there, including those of Leptis Magna, in Libya. The ­spectacular theater of this ancient city was one of the few tourist sites that Contributing Editor Peter Fairley [above] was able to take in during his journeys.

Fairley spent two years ­planning his fieldwork in North Africa to investigate the region’s role in the emerging Mediterranean Electricity Ring, or MedRing. But a week before he was to leave home, a ­promised Algerian visa ­evaporated amid that ­country’s deteriorating security ­situation. So he quickly had to redirect part of his focus from Algeria to Morocco. ”It gave me ulcers,” Fairley says. His revised ­itinerary turned out for the best, however, ­opening his eyes to some of the vast differences within the region.

Fairley observed firsthand that parts of Casablanca, Morocco’s main economic hub, could easily be mistaken for a bustling European capital, whereas Tripoli, in Libya, suffers from decades of isolation under Muammar al-Qaddafi’s rule.

More recently, in the wake of Libya’s renunciation of terrorism and abandonment of its efforts to obtain weapons of mass ­destruction, the country has been working to rebuild links with the international community. Some of those ties, as Fairley details in his feature article, run at hundreds of kilovolts: they are electrical interconnections of the Libyan grid with countries to the east and, very soon, to the west. Completing these interconnections will be a key step in bringing about the MedRing’s long-awaited closure.

With greater electrical ­stability, the countries of North Africa may gain a measure of economic ­security, as more reliable electrical supplies begin to improve the quality of life. Further in the future, the intercontinental ties might allow North African organizations to sell ”green” electricity northward: there are rich potential sources of wind and solar energy along the Mediterranean’s southern flank and ready markets for it across southern Europe. Fairley hopes that the increasingly robust connections with Europe may even eventually strengthen democratic institutions within North African countries. ”Despite the patina of democracy,” Fairley explains, ”for the people who live there, it’s a ­dangerous place to be critical.”

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