Protests against high unemployment, poor government services and corruption that began in Iraq's southern oil hub of Basra have spread to several other cities, including Najaf, Amara, Nasiriya and even Baghdad. At least three have been killed since the protests erupted a week ago. Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi arrived in Barsa to try to calm the situation July 13, flying straight into the city from the NATO summit in Brussels. But the next day he convened a meeting of Iraq's National Security Council, where the decision was taken to cut Internet access in Basra and mobilize army troops to the city. After the meeting he issued a statement accusing "infiltrators" of exploiting "peaceful protests to attack public and private property." He warned: "Our forces will take all the necessary measures to counter those people." Units from the elite Counter-Terrorism Service and the Army’s Ninth Division have arrived in Basra.
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.
Saudi Arabia won applause around the world last year when women were finally allowed to drive in the conservative kingdom. But now, just as this reform is about to take effect, some of the activists who campaigned for it have been arrested—and may face the death penalty. A Saudi government statement said that the seven activists had been detained for "contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country’s stability and social fabric." The statement also accused them of working together in "an organized manner to violate religious and national values," without actually naming the detainees. Rights groups have named six of them as Eman al-Nafjan, Lujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Aisha al-Manea, Ibrahim Modeimigh and Mohammed al-Rabea. Saudi newspaper Okaz reported on May 20, shortly after the arrests, that they may face the death penalty. An online "smear campaign" has also been launched against them, wth social media posts portraying them are "traitors." Most prominent among the detained is Loujain al-Hathloul, well known for her work campaigning against the driving ban. She was arrested at her home on the evening of May 15. (Middle East Eye, May 21; Amnesty International, May 19)
Human Rights Watch on Feb. 26 accused Egyptian authorities of escalating arbitrary arrests against political opponents. According to HRW, the arrests, which took place in late January and February, are part of a government strategy to quell political protests ahead of the next presidential election to be held in late March. A statement earlier this month by regional human rights organizations charges that "the Egyptian government has trampled over even the minimum requirements for free and fair elections." The statement accuses President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi of creating a repressive environment, and demands that the US and European Union, which provide substantial aid to the Egyptian government, speak out.
Amnesty International on Feb. 21 criticized a Bahrain court for sentencing the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab, to five years in prison for posts he made on Twitter in 2015. Rajab is currently serving a separate sentence for his comments in interviews in 2015 and 2016. On Feb. 22, a post on Rajab's Twitter account revealed that he will not be appealing this five-year sentence and will not take further legal action on this matter. Rajab's tweets and retweets resulting in his current sentence alleged acts of torture in Bahrain's Jaw Prison and also related to the killing of civilians in the conflict in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition that also includes Bahrain.
We, the Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists, support the popular protests in Iran and call on progressives in the region and throughout the world to stand in solidarity with them as well. We believe it is an absolute necessity to build regional and global solidarity with anti-authoritarian struggles for democracy, social justice and equality, and to oppose patriarchy, racism, sectarian or homophobic discrimination and prejudice. We hope that the current protests in Iran will force the Iranian regime to withdraw its military and financial support for the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and to end its reactionary interventions in the region. We also hope that the efforts by some elements to inject anti-Arab chauvinism into the movement will be rejected in order to reach out to grassroots struggles across the region. Solidarity with the popular protests in Iran!
A Jewish school on the Tunisian island of Djerba, home to one of North Africa's ancient indigenous Jewish communities, was attacked Jan. 9 as anti-government protests raged elsewhere around the country. Petrol bombs hurled at the school caused property damage but no injuries, the head of the local Jewish community, Perez Trabelsi, told Reuters. Trabelsi suggested the assailants exploited the fact that there was a reduced security presence in Djerba, as police were occupied elsewhere repressing anti-austerity protests. "Unknown people took the opportunity of the protests and threw Molotov cocktails into the lobby of a Jewish religious school in Djerba," he said. (Haaretz)