North Africa Theater

Tunisia: one step forward, one step back

Tunisia's parliament, the Assembly of People's Representatives, voted Sept. 14 to overturn a 1973 Ministry of Justice directive prohibiting marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man—a victory for the country's transition to secular rule. But one day earlier, the parliament voted overwhelmingly to approve a controversial amnesty law pardoning thousands implicated in corruption and embezzlement of public funds under the former regime of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. The opposition bloc (led by the Popular Front) boycotted the vote in protest against the insistence of the ruling coalition (made up of Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda) on passing the law in an extraordinary session. Hundreds protested outside the parliament building as the vote was held. Amnesty will only be granted to those who did not personally profut off of the corruption, or to those who pay back the money with penalties. Nonetheless, protesters condemned the law as a betrayal of country's 2011 revolution. Amna Guellali of Human Rights Watch said the amnesty law coiuld be a "final blow" in Tunisia's democratic transition, and called the back-to-back votes a case of "one step forward, one step back." (HRW, Jurist, Jurist, Sept. 15; Middle East Online, Sept. 14; HRW, May 23)

Reparations for destroyed Timbuktu shrines

The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Aug. 17 found (PDF) that a former Malian jihadist militant is liable for individual and collective reparations for overseeing the destruction of Muslim shrines in Timbuktu. Ahmad al-Faqi was found liable for 2.7 million euros in expenses. In its order, the ICC stressed the importance of cultural heritage:

Because of their purpose and symbolism, most cultural property and cultural heritage are unique and of sentimental value. As a result, they are not fungible or readily replaceable. The destruction of international cultural heritage thus "carries a message of terror and helplessness; it destroys part of humanity's shared memory and collective consciousness; and it renders humanity unable to transmit its values and knowledge to future generations". It is an irreplaceable loss that negates humanity.

The court noted that al-Mahdi is indigent and encouraged the Trust Funds for Victims to complement the reparations award and submit a draft implementation plan by next February.

Libya: videos capture summary executions

Forces loyal to the Libyan National Army (LNA), military arm of the country's unrecognized eastern government, appear to have executed captured fighters in Benghazi and desecrated corpses, Human Rights Watch charges. Video recordings posted online since January seem to show LNA fighters carrying out seven distinct unlawful executions of "extremists." The most recent video, which appeared on social media July 24, shows the apparent summary execution of 20 blindfolded men with their hands tied behind their backs in orange jumpsuits, whom the commander in charge accuses of "terrorism." The executioners appear to be members of a special forces unit headed by Mahmoud al-Werfalli.

Libya: Haftar vows to attack Italian warships

The military commander of Libya's unrecognized eastern government, Khalifa Haftar, has threatened to bombard any warships sailing into the country's national waters—an explicit challenge to Italy, which is dispatching vessels to the Libyan coast as part of its effort to intercept migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa. "The General Commander of Armed Force Marshal Khalifa Haftar instructs chiefs of staff of air and navy forces to intercept any foreign vessels in the Libyan waters except the commercial ones," read a statement from the media office of Haftar's Operation Dignity forces. The statement took aim at the recognized government in Tripoli, which it accused of entering into agreements with foreign powers that "violate the sovereignty of Libya under the pretext of fighting illegal immigration." (Al Jazeera, Aug. 3; Libya Observer, Aug. 2)

Libya: fatwa against 'infidel' Berbers

The Amazigh Supreme Council (ASC) of Libya, representing the Berbers in the country's western mountains, released a statement responding strongly to the fatwa issued by clerical authorities attached to the "Interim Government" based in Libya's east against the practice of Ibadhi branch of Islam. The edict, issued earlier this month by the Interim Government's  High Commission of Fatwas, refers to Ibadhi Muslims as "infidels" and "Khawarij"—referring to a schism in early Islam now considered heretical by the orthodox. Nearly all followers of Ibadhi Islam in Libya are ethnic Berbers in the Nafusa Mountains and the western port of Zwuarah. The ASC called the fatwa "a direct incitement for genocide of the Amazigh people in Libya." The statement added: "[W]e call all Libyans to refrain from being persuaded by such racist and menacing speech... Furthermore, we call the international community to commit to its duties of protecting civilians. (World Amazigh News, July 18)

Arab-Berber unity in Morocco protests

Protests continue for a second week in Morocco's neglected Rif region which has been shaken by unrest since death of a fish-monger at hands of police last year. More leaders of the al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or "Popular Movement," were detained by police in the flashpoint town of al-Hoceima, but protests also spread to cities throughout the country. On June 11, thousands took to the streets of the capital Rabat to demand release of the detained activists. Chants included "Free the prisoners!" and "We are all Apaches!"—a reference to an insult the late King Hassan II aimed at the people of Rif, who are mainly Berbers. The Rif was at the heart of the Arab Spring-inspired protests in Morocco in February 2011, which prompted a constitutional reform and greater cultural rights for the Berber people. (Irish Times, June 12; Middle East Online, Middle East Eye, June 11)

Libya: Saif al-Islam Qaddafi released from prison

Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, son of late Libya leader Muammar Qaddafi, was released from prison June 9, according to the Abu Bakr al-Sideeq militia, which has held him for the past five years. Saif, 44, who was the most high-profile of Qaddafi's children, was expected to lead Libya after his father. Saif was released under a "General Amnesty Law" passed by the Libyan House of Representatives. Saif is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. According to Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, "the reported release of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi based on the Libyan parliament's 2015 flawed amnesty law does not change the fact that he is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity related to the 2011 uprising." Saif's lawyer told media that he will not be turning himself in to the ICC.

Arab Revolution re-ignited in Morocco

Protests spread in cities across Morocco on May 28 as thousands demonstrated solidarity with activists who had taken to the streets in the fishing port of al-Hoceima and were met with mass arrests. Rallies were reported from Casablanca, Tangier, Marrakesh and Rabat, where the protesters massed outside the parliament building. The wave of anger was sparked when authorities issued an arrest warrant for Nasser Zafzafi, a leader of the new al-Hirak al-Shaabi (Popular Movement) in al-Hoceima, on charges of "undermining state security." Zafzafi had allegedly interrupted Friday prayers at a mosque to call for further protests. At least 20 others were detained as residents took to the srteets of al-Hoceima in support of Zafzafi.