North Africa Theater
Following weeks of mass protests across Algeria, long-ruling President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced March 11 that he will not run for a fifth term—but also said elections that were set for April will be postponed, with no new date set for the polls. There has also been a government shake-up, with Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia to be replaced by Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui, who has been tasked with forming a new administration. But protesters vow to keep up the pressure, demanding that Bouteflika cede power immediately, and, increasingly, that his entire government step down. The protests are on a scale unprecedented since the 1990s when a military coup aborted a democratic process, precipitating a civil war. Algeria's army chief invoked this period in a stern warning to the protesters. "There are some parties who want Algeria to return to the era of extreme pain," Lt. Gen. Gaed Salah said. (Middle East Eye. North Africa Post, BBC News)
Tens of thousands of Algerians took to the streets March 1 to oppose plans by long-ruling President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to seek a fifth term in office. Police fired tear-gas at protesters in Algiers, and more than 50 officers were reported injured, with at least 45 people arrested. The mass demonstration—dubbed the Million Man March—followed week-long protests in more than 30 cities against incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's reelection bid for a fifth term in office. On Feb. 26, the University of Algiers camus was locked down by riot police as hundreds of students Around 500 students shouted "No to a fifth term!" and "Bouteflika get out!" (BBC News, Al Jazeera, AhramOnline)
Migrants and refugees in Libya are facing severe human rights violations, according to a UN report (PDF) released Dec. 20. The UN Support Mission in Libya and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights collaborated to generate the report, which is based on some 1,300 first-hand accounts, detailing human rights violations by state officials and armed groups, as well as abuses committed by smugglers and traffickers. The report finds that Libya "criminalizes irregular entry into, stay in or exit from the country with a penalty of imprisonment pending deportation, without any consideration of individual circumstances or protection needs." This policy has resulted in arbitrary and abusive detention of migrants.
Libya's National Oil Company (NOC) declared force majeure at the country's largest oilfield Dec. 18, a week after announcing a contractual waiver on exports from the 315,000-bpd Sharara field following its seizure by protesters and militants. The Sharara facility was seized Dec. 8 by a force of desert tribesmen under the banner or the Fezzan Anger Movement, which is demanding better living conditions for the remote and impoversihed southern region of the country. Sharara is located in the Fezzan region, which produces most of Libya's oil but lacks basic services such as electricity and hospitals. The Fezzan militants were actually joined by members of the Petroleum Facilities Guard, demanding back wages be paid by the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). Oil production in Libya has been repeatedly paralyzed by unrest over the past years, and the NOC is still struggling to restore output to pre-2011 levels. (OilPrice, Reuters, Gulf Times, TeleSur, North Africa Post)
The Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), al-Qaeda's branch in West Africa and the Sahel, claimed its forces were responsible for a suicide bombing in the northern Malian city of Gao Nov. 12. The suicide truck-bomb detonated in a residential area of Gao, killing three (not counting the attacker) and wounding another 30. The JNIM statement claimed the target was a base of "Crusader invaders" from the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada. However, all of those killed were civilians and local Malians. Four of the wounded were foreign employees of the United Nations' Mine Action Service, working to remove landmines in the area. They included two Cambodians, a South African, and a Zimbabwean. A video later released by JNIM confirmed that the mine-dismantling headquarters in Gao was the intended target. The video stated that "this operation demonstrates that the mujahideen are continuing upon their covenant, which they had made to their lord, until they achieve one of the two good ends, victory or martyrdom." The statement said the group will continue to target international forces until "the ummah [Musilm community] enjoys the rule of shariah."
Armed street clashes have rocked Tripoli over the past week, as militias linked to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) have vied for control of the Libyan capital with rival militias that have launched an offensive on the city from the southeast. The most significant of these is the 7th Brigade from the town of Tarhuna—also known as as the Kaniat Brigade, led by the Kani brothers. The 7th Brigade has rejected the truce, vowing to continue fighting until it "cleanses Tripoli of militias." The 7th Brigade has reportedly assumed control of the airport. There have been reports that that GNA has launched air-strikes on Tarhuna, but these were denied by the Presidential Council, which said that the strikes targeted only "aggressor" postitions inside Tripoli. The city's electricity has intermittently gone out amid the fighting, and access to Facebook—the only news source for most Libyans—has been blocked, although it is unclear by whom. The GNA has declared a state of emergency in the city, and Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj has formed a "crisis committee" to try to broker peace. But warlord Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi, who is loyal to Libya's unrecognized eastern government, anticipated the fall of Tripoli, saying that "liberating the Libyan capital is inevitable." (Middle East Eye, Libya Observer, Libya Observer, Libya Observer, Libya Observer, Libya Observer, Libya Observer, Al Jazeera, Libya Herald, Reuters )
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.