North Africa Theater

Displaced Libyans stranded in the desert

UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Cecilia Jimenes-Damar is calling on the government of Libya to protect hundreds of former residents of the town of Tawergha who are currently stranded in the desert. According to the UN, approximately 40,000 Tawarghans were forcefully evacuated in 2011 due to their perceived support for the country's former leader Moammar Qaddafi and their return has since been blocked by armed militia groups acting with the consent of the Libyan government. These militias continue to impede the Tawarghans' return despite an agreement being reached by representatives of the Tawarghans and the Misratan militia group that would have allowed individuals to begin returning home on Feb. 1.

War crime seen in Benghazi mosque attack

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Jan. 25 condemned the deadly mosque attack in eastern Benghazi two days earlier that left 34 people dead and 90 wounded, the majority civilians including three young children. According to a local hospital source, the car bombs exploded within 15 to 30 minutes of each other in front of the Baya'at al-Radwan Mosque in the Salmani district of Benghazi. The identity of the individuals or group that set the bombs is currently unknown. The first explosion occurred as worshipers were on their way out, after finishing their evening prayers known as "al-Isha," killing three and injuring six. The second explosion, which caused the majority of the casualties, followed the arrival of security forces and volunteer civilians who were helping to evacuate the wounded and dead.

Algeria, Libya mark Berber new year —at last

In a victory for Berber activists, Algeria officially celebrated Yennayer, the new year holiday of the Amazigh people, for the first time. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said declaration of Yennayer as a national holiday was officially approved at a meeting of his Council of Ministers. Yennayer marks the first day of the agrarian calendar, celebrated by the Berber (Amazigh) people across North Africa on Jan. 12. This Yennayer marks the first day of the year 2968 in the Amazigh calendar, which starts counting from the enthronement of Shoshenq I in Egypt, initiating a Berber-ruled dynasty. The move to recognize Yennayer is part of a general effort by Algeria's government to permit greater expression of Amazigh culture in order to head off a separatist movement, marked by the recent proclamation of a Provisional Government of Kabylia in the country's Berber-majority eastern region.

Tunisian Jews scapegoated in anti-austerity revolt?

A Jewish school on the Tunisian island of Djerba, home to one of North Africa's ancient indigenous Jewish communities, was attacked Jan. 9 as anti-government protests raged elsewhere around the country. Petrol bombs hurled at the school caused property damage but no injuries, the head of the local Jewish community, Perez Trabelsi, told Reuters. Trabelsi suggested the assailants exploited the fact that there was a reduced security presence in Djerba, as police were occupied elsewhere repressing anti-austerity protests. "Unknown people took the opportunity of the protests and threw Molotov cocktails into the lobby of a Jewish religious school in Djerba," he said. (Haaretz)

Anti-austerity protests rock Tunisia

At least one is reported dead as angry protests have spread across Tunisia in response to an austerity package imposed by the government under pressure from the International Monetary Fund. The protester died due to tear-gas inhalation Jan. 8 in Tebourba, 40 kilometers west of Tunis, with demonstrations reported from several other cities and towns, including Sidi Bouzid, cradle of the country's 2011 revolution. Under the new budget, which took effect Jan. 1, fuel prices are hiked, and new taxes imposed on housing, cars, phone calls, Internet services, and several other items. Hamma Hammami, leader of the opposition Popular Front, pledged to keep up the pressure, telling reporters: "We will stay on the street and we will increase the pace of the protests until the unjust financial law is dropped."

Morocco: mass protest against 'mines of death'

Thousands have repeatedly filled the streets of Jerada, in northeastern Morocco, as a mounting protest movement demanding jobs and social development for the marginalized region was further fueled by a mining disaster that left two young brothers dead Dec. 22. The demonstrations started Dec. 12, with residents demanding lower electricity and water bills. But movement swelled after the deadly flood in a tunnel being dug by desperate locals at an abandoned coal pit in the mountains outside the town. The mine was for decades Jerada's economic lifeline, employing more than 9,000 people. After operations closed in the late 1990s many left the city. Those who stayed are struggling to survive—often by illegally taking coal from the abandoned pit, and selling it on the black market. Protesters accuse officials of turning a blind eye to the pirate mining despite the growing number of deaths in the improvised operations. They are demanding economic alternatives for the region, and government intervention to close "the mines of death."

Libya: Europe 'complicit' in horrific abuses

European governments are knowingly "complicit" in the torture, abuse and exploitation of tens of thousands of refugees and migrants detained by the Libyan immigration authorities or criminal gangs in appalling conditions, said Amnesty International Dec. 12. In a new report, Libya's Dark Web of CollusionAmnesty shows how European governments are actively supporting a system of abuse of refugees and migrants by the Libyan Coast Guard and detention authorities as well as smugglers operating in the country. Amnesty accused the EU of being unconcerned with the fate of thousands of vulnerable people while prioritizing the blocking of those risking their lives to reach European countries.

Libya slave trade becomes political football

We've already noted the unseemly gloating over the chaos in Libya from many who opposed the NATO intervention of 2011. For them, the factional warfare and endemic lawlessness is only an opportunity for schadenfreudetaking glee in the misfortune of others. They were uninterested in loaning support to (or even recognizing the existence of) progressive elements during the Libyan revolution, and they continue to be thusly uninterested today. The Libyan human rights groups that are documenting war crimes by the profusion of militias and foreign powers, the women and ethnic minorities fighting for their rights—all safely invisible to stateside commentators of the left, right and center. For the schadenfreude crew, the Libyans are not actors in their own drama, but pawns to be exploited for propaganda against Obama and Hillary Clinton (tellingly hated by left and right alike). That many of these commentators consider themselves anti-imperialist is high irony, as they have completely internalized the imperial narcissism that makes the Libyans and their struggles and aspirations completely invisible, and turns them into objects for use in political contests within the imperial metropole. Perversely, this attitude even extends to the chilling emergence of a slave trade in abducted Black African migrants in Libya's remote desert south...

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