For the past two weeks, thousands of protesters across Algeria have defied attempts by the security forces to seize Amazigh (Berber) flags after army chief Ahmed Gaïd Salah declared that only the national flag would be permitted in the ongoing pro-democracy demonstrations. Police used tasers against protesters in the capital Algiers June 30, and made numerous arrests. Among those arrested for wearing a t-shirt with the Amazigh national symbol was 25-year old Samira Messouci, an elected member of the People's Assembly (regional parliament) in Tizi Ouzou wilaya (province). The Assembly has issued a statement demanding his release. (El Watan, MENA Solidarity Network)
Algerians flooded into the streets in celebration April 2 as long-ruling President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced his resignation following weeks of protests in cities across the country. The ailing Bouteflika clearly stepped down to avoid being deposed by armed forces. Just hours before his announcement, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, commander of the National Popular Army, called for "immediate" application of Article 102 of the constitution, which calls for the removal of a president who is too incapacitated to serve. The resignation also came four days after some million protesters filled the streets of Algiers for a "Friday of the Steadfastness"—the sixth consecutive Friday of demonstrations calling for an end to Bouteflika's rule. But a popular chant at the protests was "We want the implementation of Article 7 of the constitution"—which stipulates that "the people are the source of all power." The movement is demanding an end to the entrenched military-dominated regime altogether.
Canadian opposition parties are crying foul after an investigation into the corruption scandal rocking the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was shut down this week by the parliamentary Justice Committee—dominated by Trudeau's ruling Liberals. His cabinet's justice minister, Judy Wilson-Reybould, has already stepped down over the affair, which concerns Quebec-based construction giant SNC-Lavalin's apparent attempts to secure leniency from the Trudeau government in various criminal investigations it faces. Buried in Trudeau's 2018 omnibus budget bill was a provision allowing corporations charged with certain offenses to avoid prosecution by entering into "remediation agreements." In place of convictions, fines and prison terms, companies and executives would merely be obliged to admit to wrongdoing, and return any funds involved. The amendment was adopted after an aggressive public-relations and lobbying campaign by SNC-Lavalin.
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)
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is reported to have fled to Afghanistan via Iran, to escape "Operation Roundup," a final offensive against remnant Islamic State pockets in Syria's eastern desert. The operation was launched last week by the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). London-based pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported that Baghdadi is believed to have reached Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, on the border with Pakistan. According to Pakistani security sources, Baghdadi crossed through the Iranian border city of Zahedan. The sources claimed Baghdadi received protection from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as he passed through the country's territory. ISIS now holds only three towns in Syria—Hajin, a-Baghouz and al-Sussa, all close to the Iraqi border.
In Episode 18 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg looks back at the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement of the closing years of the Cold War, when the Western Shoshone people, whose traditional lands were being contaminated by the nuclear blasts at the US government's Nevada Test Site, made common cause with the Kazakh people of Central Asia who opposed Soviet nuclear testing at the Semipalatinsk site. Kazakh activists travelled to Nevada to join protests at the Test Site, while Western Shoshone leaders travelled to Kazakhstan to join protests at Semipalatinsk. This initiative eventually evolved into the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons, which as recently as 2016 held an International Conference on Building a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World in Astana, Kazakhstan, again attended by Western Shoshone leaders. The story of indigenous peoples impacted by nuclear testing on their usurped lands has come to us from several places around the world, including the French test site at Gerboise Bleue in Algeria—known to the local Tuareg nomads as Tanezrouft. Other examples are the Chinese test site at Lop Nur, on lands of the Uighur people in Xinjiang, and British testing on Aboriginal lands at Maralinga, in the Australian outback. The Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement provides an inspiring example of indigenous peoples and their supporters building solidarity across hostile international borders and superpower influence spheres. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
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.