World Social Forum meets Arab Spring

As tens of thousands of activists from around the world converge on Tunisia for the World Social Forum, the annual anti-globalization confab, the country is facing a pending peckage of austerity measures as the condition of a $1.78 billion emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund—two years after economic misery sparked an uprising in the country that unleashed the Arab Revolutions. “We need to have economic reforms that work for the people, not for the global economy,” Mabrouka Mbarek, a member of Tunisia’s constituent assembly, told Al Jazeera. “It seems they have forgotten our history.” (Al Jazeera, March 26)

Human Rights Wacth meanwhile protested that Algerian authorities illegally barred 96 activists from travelling to Tunisia for the WSF, without giving any reason. Border officials stopped the activists at the border on March 25. The group included members of the Algerian League for Human Rights, the National Autonomous Union of Public Administration Staff (SNAPAP), SOS Disparus, and other non-governmental organizations. Mourad Tchiko, a member of the national bureau of SNAPAP and one of the designated leaders of the Algerian delegation to the WSF, told HRW that police did not explain why the authorities had decided not to allow the activists to cross into Tunisia. They said only “that they have instructions,” Tchiko said.

“The Algerian authorities are disrupting the legitimate activities of local human rights and civil society activists, as they have so many times before,” said Eric Goldstein, HRW’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa. “It is high time they end their campaign of harassment and intimidation of reform advocates, and observe their obligations under international law.”

This latest incident follows Algeria’s arrest and summary expulsion of 10 foreign nationals from the Association of Unemployed Workers of the Maghreb on Feb. 20. They travelled to Algiers to attend the first Maghreb Forum for the Fight Against Unemployment and Temporary Work. Instead, police held them—five Tunisians, three Mauritanians and two Moroccans—at the local police station for several hours before taking them to the airport and expelling them. Police also detained two Algerians, Abdelkader Kherba,  a member of the National Committee for the rights of the unemployed (CNDDC), and Tchiko, all day, before releasing them without charge that night. (HRW, March 27)

Meanwhile, at the other end of the African continent in the South African port of Durban, leaders of the BRICS nations—Brazil, Russia, India, China and host South Africa—are meeting to discuss plans for a new development bank to rival Western-dominated institutions like the World Bank and IMF. But the talks are reportedly stymied by Beijing’s insistence that the new bank be based in China. (Al Jazeera, March 27)