North Africa Theater

Tunisian fellahin resist land-grab

The farmers and agricultural workers of Tunisia's Jemna oasis have issued an urgent call for solidarity in defense of their communal property against a government-backed land-grab. The Jemna oasis historically belonged to the local farmers, until it was expropriated by French settlers and then by the Tunisian state after independence. İn the aftermath of the 2011 Revolution, the farmers successfully fought to recover title to the lands, organizing production collectively in a "solidarity-based micro-economy." The Tunisian state is now trying to re-expropriate the oasis to turn it over to local or foreign cronies, in what the farmers call a "counter-revolutionary attempt to maintain the capitalist order." Most recently, the government declared the Association for the Protection of Jemna Oasis to be an illegal entity. The Ministry of State Properties and Land Affairs, which leased the land to private operators before 2011, issued a statement threatening to cancel the call for tenders on the Association's' date harvest. It is now harvest season, when dates are sold to vendors and intermediaries through the Ministry's call for tenders. If pressure is not put on Tunis to issue the call for tenders, the harvest will be lost. The oasis accounts for some 10% of the arable land in Tunisia. (Lucha Internacionalista, UIT-CI, TunisiaLive, Oct. 10; Nawaat, Sept. 27)

US builds regional drone base in Niger

The US is building a military air base in Niger that will be capable of deploying drones to police the greater Sahara and Sahel regions. The US already has a presence in the capital Niamey, where it shares an airbase with with French troops from the anti-Islamist Operation Barkhane. The new facility, in the central city of Agadez, will give Washington greater ability to use drones against Islamist extremists in neighboring Libya, Mali and Nigeria. A Pentagon representative confirmed the US has agreed to pay for a new runway and "associated pavements, facilities and infrastructure," estimating the cost at $50 million. But The Intercept, which broke the story, said it is projected to cost twice that. The news site reports that it has obtained files indicating the project is considered "the most important US military construction effort in Africa," and will be completed in 2017. (BBC News, Sept. 29)

Libya: against imperial retrospectivity

The latest fodder for "anti-war" propaganda—avidly jumped on, of course, by such predictable outlets as  the (reliably reactionary) Counterpunch and (poorly named) Global Research—is the report of the British parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee finding that the 2011 military intervention in Libya relied on flawed intelligence and hastened the country's political collapse. The report blasts the UK's then-Prime Minister David Cameron, stating that his government "could not verify the actual threat to civilians posed by the Gaddafi regime; it selectively took elements of Muammar Gaddafi's rhetoric at face value; and it failed to identify the militant Islamist extremist element in the rebellion." (Al Jazeera, Sept. 14)

Libya: rival governments clash over oil ports

Forces led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, loyal to Libya's eastern government, launched an attack Sept. 10 on three ports held by Petroleum Facilities Guard troops, loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA). The attack on terminals in Libya's "oil crescent" is the first armed conflict between the eastern government and the UN-recognized GNA, based in Tripoli. A spokesman for Haftar's forces said the offensive, dubbed "Surprise Lightening," has taken control of the Sidra and Ras Lanouf oil terminals, with fighting continuing for the facilities at Brega and Zuwetina. (MarketWatch, Libya Observer, Sept. 11)

Algeria: five years for 'insulting prophet' online

An appeals court in the Algerian city of Setif on Sept. 6 upheld the conviction of Slimane Bouhafs, a man the court says slandered Islam and the Prophet Muhammed. Bouhaf's lawyer claims his client, a Christian convert, only criticized political Islam in a Facebook discussion with non-Algerian Christians. On Aug. 7, the trial court found otherwise, ruling that those Facebook posts were offensive to the prophet, and the appeals court agreed. Now, international human rights groups are calling for Bouhafs' "immediate and unconditional release." Bouhafs faces a five-year prison term.

Algeria to build security wall on Libyan border

Algeria has announced plans to build a 120-kilometer wall along its border with Libya, local media sources report. The wall along the 1,000-kilometer border is another step in a list of upgraded security measures Algeria is undertaking to improve its counter-terrorism initiatives. Measuring three metres in height, and lined with barbed wire, the wall is intended curb the movement of ISIS militants and arms smugglers from entering the country. Growing reports of incursions by armed militants and criminals, alongside growing attacks and kidnappings in Algeria's remote south, have spurred calls for construction of the barrier. According to Geoff Porter, president of North Africa Risk Consulting, Algeria seeks to avoid "trespassing on another sovereign territory" by militants and smuggling networks. Tunisia earlier this year completed the first phase of its own separation wall on the Libyan border. (MEM, Sept. 2)

Mauritania: detained anti-slavery activists tortured

Lawyers for 13 anti-slavery activists on trial in Mauritania said they have been tortured in detention. The activists, on trial for "rebellion and use of violence," were arrested last month after angry protests in a poor district of the capital Nouakchott slum community that faces forcible relocation as part of an urban clearance plan ahead of an Arab League summit to be hosted in the city. "One by one, the 13 spoke out against the forms of torture they had been subjected to in custody," said attorney Brahim Ould Ebetty, representing the members of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (ARI). The riots started when security forces stormed dwellings occupied for decades by members of the Haratin ethnic group, many of them former slaves. Authorities accused the ARI members of instigating the riots. The detained are now being held at an unknown location.

Pentagon admits: US troops fight in Libya

US special operations troops are for the first time directly supporting local forces battling ISIS in their key Libyan stronghold of Sirte, the Washington Post reported  Aug. 9. US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Post the commandos are working from a joint operations center on the outskirts of the city. (AFP, Aug. 10) However, the head of Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA) made clear that he rejects the introduction of foreign troops in the country. "We do not need foreign troops on Libyan soil," Fayez al-Sarraj said in an interview with Italy's Corriere della Sera daily. (Middle East Eye, Aug. 10) The US-backed militias in Sirte now say they have seized control of the city's Ouagadougou convention center that had served as ISIS headquarters. (BBC News, Aug. 10)