North Africa Theater
Thousands of Moroccans held protests in several towns and cities after a fish vendor was crushed to death in a garbage compactor while trying to retrieve fish confiscated by police Oct. 28. The death of Mouhcine Fikri in the northern town of al-Hoceima immediately sparked widespread outrage on social media, and protests quickly spread to Marrakesh, Rabat and elsewhere. The protests, on a scale rarely seen in Morocco, were called by the February 20 Movement, which organized demonstrations during the "Arab Spring" of 2011. Angry postings on social media referred to "hogra," a term for official abuse and injustice.
The desert town of Kidal in northern Mali is under siege, divided into hostile camps by rival Tuareg factions—the pro-government Platform coalition, led by the GATIA militia, and the separatist Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA). Jihadist insurgents meanwhile harass the UN peacekeeping force MINUSMA in sporadic attacks from the desert. (Reuters, Oct. 17) Now there are signs that the jihadists are again trying to draw the separatist Tuarges into an alliance. On Oct. 9, renegade North African al-Qaeda leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar issued an online statement eulogizing Sheikh ag-Aoussa, a CMA leader who was killed in an explosion in Kidal the day before. Ag Aoussa's car blew up as he was leaving a meeting at the town's MINUSMA compound. Authorities maintain the car hit a land mine, but CMA followers charge that Ag Aoussa was assassinated. (LWJ, Oct. 14)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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 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)