North Africa Theater
In Episode 16 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses how Berbers, Palestinians, Sahrawi Arabs and other subjugated peoples of the Middle East and North Africa are pitted against each other by the Great Game of nation-states. Berbers in Morocco and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories face identical issues of cultural erasure, yet Moroccan support for the Palestinians and retaliatory Israeli support for the Berbers constitute an obstacle to solidarity. The Sahrawi Arabs are meanwhile fighting for their independence from Morocco in their occupied territory of Western Sahara. But the Arab-nationalist ideology of their leadership is viewed with suspicion by the territory's Berbers—leading to Arab-Berber ethnic tensions in Morocco. Algeria, Morocco's regional rival, is backing the Sahrawi struggle, while denying cultural rights to its own Berber population. But there are also signs of hope. Arabs and Berbers were united in the 2011 Arab Revolution protests in Morocco, and greater Berber cultural rights were a part of the constitutional reform won by those protests. Algeria, facing resurgent Berber protests, adopted a similar constitutional reform in 2016, and has taken other measures to expand recognition of Berber cultural rights. And the new protest wave in Morocco's Rif Mountains over the past year has united Arab and Berber. These developments point to hope for the subaltern peoples of MENA to overcome the divide-and-rule game and build solidarity. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
A Libyan appeals court on Aug. 15 sentenced 45 former pro-Qaddafi militiamen to death by firing squad for their involvement in murders that occurred during the 2011 uprising. The defendants were accused of opening fire on a crowd of demonstrators calling for the end of Moammar Qaddafi's regime in the Abu Salim district of Tripoli, the nation's capital. An additional 54 people were handed five-year prison sentences, and 22 of the militiamen were acquitted. According to the Ministry of Justice, the president, members of the court and victims were present at the sentencing. These are the first death sentences given by the Tripoli Court of Appeals since Saif al-Islam Qaddafi was sentenced to be hanged in 2015.
The Libyan Amazigh Supreme Council, representing the country's Berber ethnic minority, has decided to boycott the referendum on the country's newly released draft constitution. In a statement issued July 24, the council called the draft charter "racist and unjust," saying the country's Amazigh (Berber) people would not accept the results of its referendum. "Clear rejection of us as national partner will oblige us to do the same," the statement said. Berbers boycotted the elections for the Constitution Drafting Assembly in February 2014 in protest of low representation of their community in the body, created by the General National Congress in 2013. Two seats in the CDA were given to Berbers, among six allocated for "cultural and language components" of Libyan society; the other four were given to representatives of the Tuareg and Tubu peoples. Berbers want their language to be official in the Libyan constitution, given equal status with Arabic in administration and education. (Libya Observer)
Libya’s Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation (NOC) lifted the state of force majeure it had declared at four export terminals in the country's eastern "oil crescent," after the forces of eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar agreed to withdraw from the facilities. Exports are set to resume, and global oil prices began to fall as the news broke. (Libyan Express) The ports of Ras Lanuf, Es Sider, Zueitina and Hariga were all handed back to NOC control without any obvious concession being made to Haftar. The Guardian reports that Haftar had been pressing privately for Saddek Elkaber, the governor of the Libyan central bank, to step down, claiming that Elkaber was funnelling monies from the oil industry to militias opposed to him. A strongly worded letter from President Donald Trump, warning he would take legal action against those responsible for the impasse, may have prompted Haftar's capitulation.
Oil prices rose above $75 a barrel on July 3 for the first time since November 2014, as Libya's National Oil Corporation declared force majeure at its principal oil ports, which continue to be battled over by rival armed factions. Prices for West Texas Intermediate crude rose to $75.27 a barrel before dropping back down to $72.73. After years of depressed global oil prices, analysts are again talking of a possible new "oil shock." Growing tensions between the US and Iran, and other factors, were also cited. Libya's Union of Oil and Gas Workers meanwhile issued a statement saying that the country's oil is the collective property of all Libyans, and should be removed from all political, regional and tribal disputes. (CNBC, Libya Observer)
Angry protesters massed in front of the Moroccan parliament building in Rabat June 27, one day after the sentencing of several leaders of the 2016 uprising in the country's marginalized Rif Mountains. Demonstrators chanted "We are all Zefzafi," "Freedom, dignity, justice," and "Long live the Rif." Among 53 protest leaders sentenced the previous day was Nasser Zefzafi, who became the symbol of the al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or "Popular Movement,"which demanded jobs, regional development and a crackdown on corruption. Zefzafi was among four activists who were sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Casablanca court for "plotting to undermine the security of the state." Other defendants received one year in prison and large fines. A march against the sentences was also held in the capital of the Rif region, Nador. Some protesters carried Amazigh (Berber) flags in the demonstrations. (AFP, Morocco World News)
In Episode 12 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg pays homage to the martyred Algerian Berber singer and songrwiter Lounes Matoub on the 20th anniversary of his assassination. It remains unclear to this day if Matoub was killed by agents of the Algerian state or militants of the Islamist opposition—as both were equally opposed to the Berber cultural renaissance that he represented. The Berbers, or Imazighen (singular: Amazigh), are the indigenous people of North Africa, whose language and culture have been suppressed to varying degrees by Arab-dominated regimes from Morocco to Libya. The 1980 "Berber Spring" in the Kabylia region of Algeria was key to Matoub's politicization, and his assassination was followed by a second round of "Berber Spring" protests in 2001. This presaged the international Arab Revolution that broke out a decade later—which in North Africa was really also a Berber Revolution. The 2011 protests and uprisings resulted in advances for Berber cultural rights and autonomy in Algeria, Morocco and Libya alike—a sign of hope amid the current atmosphere of counter-revolution and reaction throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) is warning of an "environmental disaster" following clashes at the country's Ras Lanuf oil terminal that set storage tanks of the Harouge Oil Company on fire. “Further damage to these oil sites could have a huge impact on the Libyan oil sector and the national economy," the statement said. The chief of the Petroleum Facilities Guard, Ibrahim Jadran, launched a military operation in Libya's "oil crescent" last week to take the Ras Lanuf and Sidra terminals from Operation Dignity militia forces. Jadran called Operation Dignity “a terrorist entity.” Operation Dignity and the affiliated "Libyan National Army," led by commander Khalifa Haftar, are loyal to Libya's unrecognized eastern government. (Al Jazeera, June 18; Libya Observer, June 16)