The UN Security Council on April 27 extended the mandate of the peacekeeping force for Western Sahara (MINURSO) through the end of October 2018, while calling for Morocco and the Polisario Front to finally negotiate an end to the decades‑old conflict. Western Sahara is claimed by Morocco, while the Polisario Front seeks independence for the territory. The territory has since the 1975-1991 war that followed its independence from Spain been divided by a series of sand berms and a "buffer zone." These separate the territory's Morocco-occupied west and a Polisario-controlled eastern strip. The Security Council called for the Polisario Front to immediately withdrawal from the buffer strip around the area of Guerguerat, to refrain from any destabilizing actions. It also expressed concern over Polisario's planned relocation of administrative functions form Tindouf, across the border in Algeria, to Bir Lahlou within Western Sahara, (ReliefWeb, April 27)
In a victory for Berber activists, Algeria officially celebrated Yennayer, the new year holiday of the Amazigh people, for the first time. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said declaration of Yennayer as a national holiday was officially approved at a meeting of his Council of Ministers. Yennayer marks the first day of the agrarian calendar, celebrated by the Berber (Amazigh) people across North Africa on Jan. 12. This Yennayer marks the first day of the year 2968 in the Amazigh calendar, which starts counting from the enthronement of Shoshenq I in Egypt, initiating a Berber-ruled dynasty. The move to recognize Yennayer is part of a general effort by Algeria's government to permit greater expression of Amazigh culture in order to head off a separatist movement, marked by the recent proclamation of a Provisional Government of Kabylia in the country's Berber-majority eastern region.
Protests against austerity and the lords of capital are erupting simultaneously in Iran, Tunisia, Sudan, Morocco, China, Peru, Honduras, Argentina and Ecuador, recalling the international protest wave of 2011. Such moments open windows of utopian possibility, but those windows inevitably seem to close as protest movements are manipulated by Great Power intrigues or derailed into ethnic or sectarian scapegoating. What can we do to keep the revolutionary flame alive, build solidarity across borders, and resist the exploitation and diversion of protest movements? Bill Weinberg explores this question on Episode 1 of the long-awaited CounterVortex podcast. You can listen on SoundCloud.
Thousands have repeatedly filled the streets of Jerada, in northeastern Morocco, as a mounting protest movement demanding jobs and social development for the marginalized region was further fueled by a mining disaster that left two young brothers dead Dec. 22. The demonstrations started Dec. 12, with residents demanding lower electricity and water bills. But movement swelled after the deadly flood in a tunnel being dug by desperate locals at an abandoned coal pit in the mountains outside the town. The mine was for decades Jerada's economic lifeline, employing more than 9,000 people. After operations closed in the late 1990s many left the city. Those who stayed are struggling to survive—often by illegally taking coal from the abandoned pit, and selling it on the black market. Protesters accuse officials of turning a blind eye to the pirate mining despite the growing number of deaths in the improvised operations. They are demanding economic alternatives for the region, and government intervention to close "the mines of death."
Protests continue for a second week in Morocco's neglected Rif region which has been shaken by unrest since death of a fish-monger at hands of police last year. More leaders of the al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or "Popular Movement," were detained by police in the flashpoint town of al-Hoceima, but protests also spread to cities throughout the country. On June 11, thousands took to the streets of the capital Rabat to demand release of the detained activists. Chants included "Free the prisoners!" and "We are all Apaches!"—a reference to an insult the late King Hassan II aimed at the people of Rif, who are mainly Berbers. The Rif was at the heart of the Arab Spring-inspired protests in Morocco in February 2011, which prompted a constitutional reform and greater cultural rights for the Berber people. (Irish Times, June 12; Middle East Online, Middle East Eye, June 11)
Protests spread in cities across Morocco on May 28 as thousands demonstrated solidarity with activists who had taken to the streets in the fishing port of al-Hoceima and were met with mass arrests. Rallies were reported from Casablanca, Tangier, Marrakesh and Rabat, where the protesters massed outside the parliament building. The wave of anger was sparked when authorities issued an arrest warrant for Nasser Zafzafi, a leader of the new al-Hirak al-Shaabi (Popular Movement) in al-Hoceima, on charges of "undermining state security." Zafzafi had allegedly interrupted Friday prayers at a mosque to call for further protests. At least 20 others were detained as residents took to the srteets of al-Hoceima in support of Zafzafi.
As Morocco is readmitted to the African Union at the continental body's 28th summit in Addis Ababa, it is pushing for the suspension of Western Sahara, placing the AU in a difficult position. The AU has long backed self-determination for the Moroccan-occupied territory, and recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as the representative of its people. Morocco dropped out of the Organization of African Unity (precursor to the AU) in 1984 in protest at the SADR's admission to the body. At Addis Ababa, Rabat won the backing of a simple majority of AU members for its return to the body. Among the dissenting votes was South Africa, whose ruling African National Congress (ANC) issued a statement calling the readmission of Morocco an "important setback for the cause of the Saharawi people." Rabat stopped short of explicitly demanding the AU withdraw its recognition of the SADR, with King Mohammed VI saying in a statement: "On reflection, it has become clear to us that when a body is sick, it is treated more effectively from the inside than from the outside." SADR's Foreign Minister Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, howver, said Morocco's readmission represents "a victory of the Sahrawi people since Morocco had finally accepted to sit alongside its neighbor, Western Sahara." (Africa in Fact, Feb. 1 via AllAfrica; BBC News, Sahara Press Service, SPS, Jan. 31; The East African, Jan. 30 via AllAfrica)
The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported Jan. 6 that 2016 had more recorded migrant deaths than any previous year. According to preliminary figures, 363,348 migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe arrived successfully while 5,079 died at sea. At least 300 more fatalities are expected to factor in, as the figures do not yet reflect more recent events off Spain, Morocco and Tunisia. The IOM suspects there are additional unreported deaths in areas between North Africa and Spain where there was less reliable data collection. The IOM expressed its dismay over the current migrant situation, expressing the need to find "creative means to permit safe, legal and secure migration." The IOM also began training rescuers in Libya to strengthen migrant lifesaving efforts.