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Ed Webb

Is Tunisia Abandoning Morocco for Algeria? - 0 views

  • Power balances in North Africa are shifting. The latest indication that Algeria’s star is rising—along with European demand for its natural gas—as Moroccan influence wanes was all but confirmed by Tunisia’s decision to include the leader of the Western Sahara independence movement the Polisario Front in an investment conference, a move seemingly designed to ruffle feathers in Morocco.
  • For decades, Tunisia has looked on, maintaining its neutral stance as both sides jockeyed for dominance. However, by appearing to have unilaterally invited Brahim Ghali, the Polisario leader and president of the self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, to a conference it was holding in tandem with Japan, that neutrality has come into question. Moreover, for many observers, the invitation confirmed what many suspected: that Tunisia is growing increasingly close to Algeria, potentially at the expense of its historically close ties with Morocco, while Rabat’s relations with Japan, which Tunis enjoys a burgeoning relationship with, are cast into doubt.
  • His presence appeared to take many by surprise, not least Morocco, which swiftly issued furious missives of the “hurt” caused to the Moroccan people by Tunis’s action. Ambassadors were withdrawn by both countries while Morocco’s newspapers denounced Tunisia’s shortcomings.
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  • Saied and his foreign ministry claimed surprise at the reaction, citing a circular from the African Union, which extended the invitation to all leaders, including Ghali. A statement was issued by the foreign ministry, reaffirming the country’s total neutrality in line with international law, stating, “This position will not change until the concerned parties find a peaceful solution acceptable to all.”
  • Morocco’s King Mohammed VI used a televised address to send what he said was a clear message to the world, telling viewers, “The Sahara issue is the prism through which Morocco views its international environment.”
  • with European gas prices soaring, Algeria—Europe’s third-largest gas supplier (after Russia and Norway) and the Polisario Front’s chief backer—is also enjoying a diplomatic renaissance. European politicians and regional power brokers are all enjoying a renewed interest in Algiers, with Tunisia’s Saied among them
  • Tunis also relies on Algeria for its own gas, buying it at a discounted price, as well as receiving revenue for the transport of Algerian gas across its territory, bound for Sicily and then the rest of Europe.
  • “The war in Ukraine and its impacts on Europe in terms of gas supplies reposition Algeria as an important player in the western Mediterranean,”
  • The plight of the Sahrawis is one of the world’s longest-standing refugee crises. Since 1975, thousands of Sahrawis have been sheltering in the Algerian desert, waiting for the opportunity to return home.
  • the U.N. estimates that around 90,000 “vulnerable refugees” are sheltering in the desert, relying on international aid just for their daily food and shelter.
  • “Weather conditions are especially adverse in this part of southern Algeria, where temperatures in summer can reach up to more than of 50 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit), which causes casualties among the elderly, children, and pregnant women.”
  • with both Algeria and Morocco having relatively static leaderships, where there is little change in personnel, the dispute was allowed to rumble on
Ed Webb

French report grapples with nuclear fallout from Algerian War - Bulletin of the Atomic ... - 2 views

  • In January, the French historian Benjamin Stora filed a report commissioned by the French President Emmanuel Macron aimed at “reconciliation of memories between France and Algeria,” which France ruled as the jewel of its colonial empire for more than 130 years. The Stora Report addressed several scars from the Algerian War for Independence (1954–62), a bloody struggle for decolonization that met savage repression by French troops. One of these controversies stems from French use of the Algerian Sahara for nuclear weapons development.
  • Between 1960 and 1966, France detonated 17 nuclear devices in the Algerian Sahara: four atmospheric explosions during the Algerian War, and another 13 underground, most of these after Algerian Independence
  • radioactive fallout from the Algerian War has remained a thorn between the two nations
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  • Disagreement between France and Algeria about the future of nuclear test sites in the Sahara was one reason why the first round of peace talks at Evian, Switzerland, broke down in June 1961
  • The concern was not only for contested territory in Algeria, but also for independent states bordering the desert, whose leaders warned that nuclear fallout could cross their national borders. Radiation measurements taken in the wake of Gerboise bleue proved many of them right.
  • France would not, until 1999, call the bloodshed a war, preferring the line that what happened in Algeria, as part of France, amounted to a domestic dispute, rather than UN business. Macron became, in 2018, the first French president to acknowledge “systemic torture” by French troops in Algeria.
  • The US State Department worried that French attachment to the test sites might thwart the decolonization process.
  • The Evian Accords marked a nuclear compromise. Finally signed in March 1962, the landmark treaty granted France a five-year lease to the Saharan test sites but did not specify terms of use.
  • The Hoggar Massif shook 13 times before France handed over its two Saharan test sites to Algeria in 1967. An accident occurred during one of these underground blasts, dubbed Béryl, when containment measures failed. Several French soldiers and two high-ranking French officials suffered the highest radiation exposures, but roughly 240 members of “nomadic populations” in the region received lower doses.
  • France began construction on its Pacific test range in French Polynesia, the site of nearly 200 nuclear explosions between 1966 and 1996. Most took place underground, but France also conducted atmospheric detonations in Polynesia, and these continued into the 1970s. Even though the Limited Test Ban Treaty had gone into effect in 1963—prohibiting nuclear blasts in the atmosphere, underwater, and in outer space—France refused to sign it.
  • Compensation programs map a global history of colonial empire, racial discrimination, and dispossession of indigenous land, but postcolonial inequalities look particularly stark from the Sahara. Including appeals, France has granted 545 of 1,739 total requests filed by French soldiers and civilian participants in the nuclear detonations, as well as exposed populations in Algeria and Polynesia. Only 1 of 52 Algerian dossiers has proven successful.
  • Macron could declassify archival materials documenting the intensity and scope of radioactive fallout generated by French nuclear blasts. Draconian interpretations of French statutes on the reach of military secrecy continue to block access to the vast majority of military, civil, and diplomatic collections on France’s nuclear weapons program—including radiation effects. Foreign archives have provided useful information, but official documentation from the French government would help exposed populations—like those in the Sahara—understand what happened, evaluate the risks, bolster their claims, and likely find these more successful.
Ed Webb

Will Tunisia, Algeria relations recover through land border reopening? - Al-Monitor: In... - 0 views

  • Tebboune announced that land borders between the two countries would reopen July 15. The announcement represented a breakthrough in the silent crisis between the two countries as the closure of the land borders has heavily affected Tunisia in particular.
  • disputes between the two countries have pushed Algeria to pressure Tunisia on several issues, including in delaying the reopening of the border.  Among the files that may have contributed to the silent tensions is Tunisia's position on the Western Sahara dispute pitting Morocco against the Algerian-backed Polisario Front.
  • Tunisia has in the past tried to distance itself from the Western Sahara conflict, amid reports of Algeria’s attempts, in vain, to lure Tunisia to its side.
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  • on May 26 Tebboune stated from the Italian capital, Rome, that Tunisia is facing a political impasse and needs support in reinstating democracy
  • Tunisia has valid concerns about Algeria raising gas prices in light of the global energy crisis.
  • Algeria sells gas to Tunisia at preferential prices, and the latter earns a right of passage of 5.25% on the total of Algeria gas transported through Tunisian territory to Italy.
  • Algeria has expressed concerns over potential Tunisian normalization with Israel despite the fact that Saied had stated during his electoral campaign in 2019 that “normalization with Israel is tantamount to treason.”
  • Taboubi leads the UGTT, a historically strong and popular union in Tunisia with more than 1 million workers. In an explicit reference to Morocco's normalization with Israel, Taboubi said in his June statements that a campaign to push Arab normalization with Israel aims to pressure Algeria, which leads a campaign to boycott Tel Aviv in the North African region.
  • Although the opening of the land borders appears to be an indication of the beginning of the recovery of Tunisian-Algerian relations, other measures will need to be in place to guarantee this recovery
Ed Webb

How Washington helped foster the Islamist uprising in Mali -- New Internationalist - 3 views

  • Libya was the catalyst for the Azawad rebellion, not its underlying cause. Rather, the catastrophe now being played out in Mali is the inevitable outcome of the way in which the Global War On Terror has been inserted into the Sahara-Sahel by the US, in concert with Algerian intelligence operatives, since 2002.
  • The 9/11 terrorist attacks precipitated a whole new era in US-Algerian relations. Over the next four years, Bush and Bouteflika met six more times to develop a largely covert and highly duplicitous alliance.
  • By 1998, the killing had become so bad that many Islamists abandoned the GIA to form the Groupe Salafiste pour le Prédication et le combat (GSPC) but it soon became evident that it too had been infiltrated by the DRS. Although the ‘Dirty War’ began winding down after 1998, it has never really ended. The GSPC, which changed its name to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2006, is still operative both in northern Algeria and the Sahara-Sahel.
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  • the DRS is still creating terrorists and using ‘false flag’ incidents and ‘state terrorism’ as fundamental means of control. The DRS has certainly not changed: its head, General Mohamed Mediène, who was trained by the KGB and once referred to himself as ‘The God of Algeria’,2 was appointed in 1990 and is still in post. He is regarded as the most powerful man in Algeria
  • Some incidents, such as the widely reported Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb attack on Algeria’s Djanet airport in 2007, simply didn’t happen. What actually transpired was that a demonstration against the Algerian administration over unemployment by local Tuareg youths ended with the youths firing shots at the airport. It was nothing to do with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
  • The first US-Algerian ‘false flag’ terrorist operation in the Sahara-Sahel was undertaken in 2003 when a group led by an ‘infiltrated’ DRS agent, Amari Saifi (aka Abderrazak Lamari and ‘El Para’), took 32 European tourists hostage in the Algerian Sahara. The Bush administration immediately branded El Para as ‘Osama bin Laden’s man in the Sahara’.
  • Operation Northwoods remained ‘classified’ and unknown to the American public until declassified by the National Security Archive and revealed by Bamford in April 2001. In 2002, a not dissimilar plan was presented to US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by his Defense Science Board. Excerpts from its ‘Summer Study on Special Operations and Joint Forces in Support of Countering Terrorism’ were revealed on 16 August 2002,3 with Pamela Hess,4 William Arkin5 and David Isenberg,6 amongst others, publishing further details and analysis of the plan. The plan recommended the creation of a ‘Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group’ (P20G as it became known), a covert organization that would carry out secret missions to ‘stimulate reactions’ among terrorist groups by provoking them into undertaking violent acts that would expose them to ‘counter-attack’ by US forces.7
  • As for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, its leaders in the Sahara and Sahel regions, namely Abdelhamid Abou Zaid, Mokhtar ben Mokhtar and Yahia Djouadi (all have many aliases) are either agents of the DRS or closely connected to it.
  • ‘terrorism rents’
  • Around the time of the El Para operation, the Pentagon produced a series of maps of Africa, depicting most of the Sahara-Sahel region as a ‘Terror Zone’ or ‘Terror Corridor’. That has now become a self-fulfilled prophecy. In addition, the region has also become one of the world’s main drug conduits. In the last few years, cocaine trafficking from South America through Azawad to Europe, under the protection of the region’s political and military élites, notably Mali’s former president and security forces and Algeria’s DRS, has burgeoned. The UN Office of Drugs Control recently estimated that 60 per cent of Europe’s cocaine passed through the region. It put its value, at Paris street prices, at some $11 billion, with an estimated $2 billion remaining in the region.
  • the rebellion that began in January 2012 was different from all previous Tuareg rebellions in that there was a very real likelihood that it would succeed, at least in taking control of the whole of northern Mali. The creation of the rebel MNLA in October 2011 (see box below) was therefore not only a potentially serious threat to Algeria, but one which appears to have taken the Algerian regime by surprise. Algeria has always been a little fearful of the Tuareg, both domestically and in the neighbouring Sahel countries. The distinct possibility of a militarily successful Tuareg nationalist movement in northern Mali, which Algeria has always regarded as its own backyard, could not be countenanced
  • The loss of tourism has deprived the region of tens of millions of dollars and forced more and more Tuareg (and others), especially young men, into the ‘criminality’ of banditry and drug trafficking.
  • The Algerian intelligence agency’s strategy to remove this threat was to use its control of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to weaken and then destroy the credibility and political effectiveness of the MNLA
  • The leaders of these new groups – Ansar al-Din’s Iyad ag Ghaly, and MUJAO’s Sultan Ould Badi – are both closely associated with the Algerian intelligence agency, the DRS. Although Ansar al-Din and MUJAO both started out as few in number, they were immediately supported with personpower in the form of seasoned, well-trained killers from the DRS’s Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb brigades. This explains why the Islamists were able to expand so quickly and dominate the MNLA both politically and militarily.
  • Foreign military intervention now looks increasingly likely. That is something to which Algeria has always been strongly opposed in that it regards itself, not France, as the hegemonic power in the Sahel. The UN Security Council’s 12 October Resolution effectively gave Algeria a last window of opportunity to ‘rein in its dogs’ and engineer a peaceful political solution.
  • there is the prospect of one appalling scenario that is being raised by some of the local, mostly Tuareg, militia commanders. They are postulating as to whether Algeria’s DRS and its Western allies have been using the Azawad situation to encourage the concentration of ‘salafist-jihadists’ into the region – in the form of the long-talked about ‘Saharan emirate’ – before ‘eradicating’ them. In that instance, Algeria’s DRS would pluck out its ‘agents’ and leave the foot-soldiers – the Islamist fanatics – to face the bombardment.
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    Dirty games afoot?
Ed Webb

The Qatar Blockade Is Over, but the Gulf Crisis Lives On - 0 views

  • Officials from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Qatar sought to end their rancorous three-and-a-half-year dispute over Qatar’s drift toward Iran and restore much-needed cohesion to the GCC, which also includes Kuwait and Oman. The GCC summit was a resounding success. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt lifted their blockade on Qatar and restored diplomatic relations with the country. Qatar also suspended its World Trade Organization case against the UAE’s economic isolation efforts.
  • the Gulf crisis is far from over. The reconciliation at the GCC summit was triggered by fatigue from the blockade and by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s desire to rebrand his tarnished image with the new U.S. administration
  • focus on symbolism over substance at the GCC summit bodes poorly for the organization’s long-term cohesion
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  • Mistrust between Qatar and the blockading states, an ongoing rivalry between the UAE and Qatar, sharp divergences in policy toward Iran and Turkey, and geostrategic contestation in Africa could reheat the Gulf crisis in the near future
  • the recent blockade’s impacts were felt at both the elite and popular level. Hardships, such as the separation of mixed-citizenship Saudi-Qatari couples, created lasting societal rifts. Saudi and Emirati state-aligned media outlets relentlessly promoted the narrative that Qatar was a state sponsor of terrorism, while Qatari media outlets equated the UAE’s religious tolerance policies with support for idolatry. In turn, Saudi, Emirati, and Qatari publics have increasingly come to view each other as adversaries rather than as neighbors or friends
  • The ongoing rivalry between the UAE and Qatar could derail any normalization in the Gulf. Since the 2011 Arab Spring protests, the UAE and Qatar have advanced competing visions for the region’s future. The UAE has condemned Islamist civil society movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and, with few exceptions, has supported the forces of counterrevolution against those of political pluralism. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain align with the UAE. Qatar enthusiastically supported the post-Arab Spring Muslim Brotherhood governments in Tunisia and Egypt and continues to encourage popular unrest in the Middle East. Turkey is the principal backer of Qatar’s vision
  • The GCC remains divided especially on Iran and Turkey, which will impede intra-bloc cooperation on security issues
  • the GCC will remain bifurcated on Iran policy between a pro-engagement bloc consisting of Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait and a pro-isolation coalition comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain
  • Due to Turkey’s operation of a military base in Qatar and Doha’s standing as the second largest foreign investor in the Turkish economy, the Turkey-Qatar strategic partnership will only tighten in the post-crisis period. Qatar’s alignment with Turkey is a source of friction with the UAE.
  • the GCC could respond incoherently to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s escalations in the Eastern Mediterranean
  • Although countries that balance positive relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, such as Pakistan and Malaysia, benefit from the GCC’s reconciliation, the UAE-Qatar rivalry in Africa remains an unresolved source of friction. The UAE wishes to counter Qatar’s influence in Tunisia, which has grown due to large-scale Qatari investment in the Tunisian economy and Qatar-Tunisia diplomatic cooperation in Libya. Qatar has similarly capitalized on UAE-Algeria frictions, which were triggered by Abu Dhabi’s concerns about strengthening Turkey-Algeria relations and Algeria’s opposition to the UAE’s normalization with Israel.
  • The UAE and Qatar also vie for influence in Somalia. The UAE has close relations with the self-declared state of Somaliland, and Qatar aligns with Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s government
  • The United States should not view the GCC as a united security bloc. Regional strategies that depend on Gulf unity, such as the Middle East Strategic Alliance, should be shelved. U.S. officials should also carefully vet large-scale arms transfers to GCC countries, such as former President Donald Trump’s $23 billion arms deal with the UAE. These contracts could trigger reciprocal arms buildups that revive the Gulf crisis
  • the new state of cold peace on the Arabian Peninsula can benefit U.S. interests
  • As Qatar has returned to the GCC fold, it could act as a moderating influence on Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Biden seeks to revive
Ed Webb

Macron's Algeria Report Isn't Progress, It's a Whitewash. - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • President Emmanuel Macron’s administration has just released a new report on the memory of colonization and the Algerian War, firmly placing the presidential seal of approval on a woefully one-sided document.
  • The report is already hugely controversial because of what it has failed to recommend: an apology. Despite losing the jewel in their empire following more than a century of lethal subjugation, including nonstop crimes against humanity, the French apparently do not think they were barbaric enough to show any contrition.
  • Introducing the new 146-page document, a spokesman for Macron was adamant that there would be “no repentance, nor apologies.” The express political purpose of this statement was ostensibly to prevent history being used to open up further division. But in reality, it allows France to evade responsibility.
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  • The profile of the Macron-appointed author of the report gives a clue as to why it is so one-sided. Historian Benjamin Stora is an academic based in Paris, not Algiers. Moreover, he comes from a family that fled Algeria along with hundreds of thousands of European colonists in 1962. Like almost all the one million settlers of European origin, who were known as pieds–noirs (Black Feet), Stora’s family was ultimately displaced by members of the indigenous Arab Muslim and Berber communities who continue to inhabit Algeria to this day.
  • This caricature goes back to the early days of colonization, when Arab Muslims were considered morally inferior to Christians.
  • in the introduction to his supposedly historical inquiry, Stora focuses not on colonial-era savagery, but on the brutal recent attacks carried out in France by Islamist terrorists. He specifically refers to heinous crimes that are wholly unrelated to Algeria, including the beheading of a schoolteacher by a Russian passport-holder in a Paris suburb, and three killings of Roman Catholic churchgoers by a Tunisian immigrant in the southern city of Nice.
  • What Stora is doing is echoing a contentious Macron speech on what the president calls Islamist “separatism” from last October, in which he spoke about “the traumas” of France’s “colonial past”—and particularly the Algerian War—“feeding unspoken resentments,” which allegedly radicalize youths and lead to terrorist attacks.
  • Macron considered Stora to be the right scholar to shed light on a vexed subject that still affects those living in the largest country in Africa by land mass, and their diaspora, which is estimated at about 800,000 in France.
  • an unrelenting conflict that became a full-blown war in 1954. Algerians estimate that it claimed 1.5 million of their citizens, including those fighting with the FLN, or National Liberation Front. The dead included men, women, and children who were indiscriminately obliterated by French carpet-bombing.
  • Of the 1.5 million military personnel mobilized throughout the War, the French lost some 25,000 soldiers, as well as up to 3,000 pieds-noirs militias and as many as 150,000 Harkis (Algerians who collaborated with the colonizers).
  • Colonial repression tactics were imported from Algeria to mainland France when up to 300 Algerian men taking part in a peaceful pro-independence demonstration were shot, beaten up, and tortured to death or drowned in the Seine in Paris, many in full public view, by police on one night—on Oct. 17, 1961. Scores of lifeless bodies washed up for weeks afterwards.
  • Up until 1999, the French government was still calling the war itself “operations to maintain order” or merely “the events.” The problem, therefore, is acknowledging the evidence that exists, rather than “finding” it. The French have the complete archives, but object to full disclosure.
  • The Algerian government has asked Abdelmadjid Chikhi, the director general of the National Centre of Algerian Archives, to conduct his own inquiry alongside Stora and wants the restitution of their entire colonial archives from Paris.
  • Much of the opposition to rigorous research comes from those with a background in the Front National (FN), the far-right party founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen, an Algerian War veteran who was linked to acts of torture and who is now a convicted racist and Holocaust denier.
  • Le Pen’s early political goal was to lobby on behalf of the hugely bitter pieds-noirs class who had swapped their colonial lifestyles for far more modest ones in mainland France. Such far-right nostalgists now rally behind Le Pen’s daughter, Marine Le Pen. She renamed the FN the Rassemblement National (RN), but it has lost none of its antipathy toward Algerians.
  • The toothless Stora report feigns an interest in justice while whitewashing colonial crimes; it shows Macron is doing everything to try to win over Le Pen supporters
Ed Webb

Business as Usual in Western Sahara? | MERIP - 0 views

  • potentially promising peace talks took place in Geneva in December, 2018 between the Polisario Front liberation movement of Western Sahara and the Kingdom of Morocco in an effort to kickstart the stalled peace process for the nearly 45-year conflict over this North African territory
  • The two claimants to the territory, Morocco and the Polisario Front, sent delegations. In addition, and as at previous talks, neighbouring Algeria and Mauritania were also invited to attend
  • UN peacekeepers have been on the ground in Western Sahara for nearly three decades as part of the mandate of MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara), which has been renewed regularly since 1991 even though the Secretariat’s negotiators have made little progress toward a solution to the Morocco-Sahrawi dispute
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  • the forces protecting the status quo, and thus Morocco’s ongoing colonization of Western Sahara, remain durable
  • If formal talks have been sporadic and often lacked clear outcomes, the parties have been pursuing other initiatives in the past few years. Polisario has achieved favorable outcomes in legal cases calling into question Morocco’s exploitation of resources from a non self-governing territory.[3] Morocco is focused on increasing its reach and influence in Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa. In January 2017 the Kingdom rejoined the Africa Union, which it had left in protest at the admission of SADR in 1984.
  • Algeria not only hosts the exiled SADR government, but also the thousands of Western Saharans who were exiled by Morocco’s invasion in 1975 and who now number 173,000.
  • In the world after the September 11 attacks, the North Atlantic community, led by Paris and Washington, began to view the stability provided by the UN mission in Western Sahara as an end in itself. Since at least 2004, the Council—unable to take independence off the table (because of international law) yet unwilling to force Morocco to contemplate it (because of geopolitics)—has opted to keep the parties talking in the hopes that a new reality will someday emerge.
  • Facing a Moroccan military invasion of its desert colony and with the dictator Franco on his deathbed in October 1975, Spain abandoned its plans for a plebiscite and arranged for Morocco and Mauritania to divide the territory. Mauritania renounced its claim in 1979 and later recognized the government for Western Sahara which the pro-independence Polisario Front founded in 1976, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). War between Morocco, supported by France and the United States, and the Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, lasted until a ceasefire was established in 1991, which still holds today.
  • While this consensus-based process has been part of the dynamic reinforcing a status quo that has provided international political cover for Morocco’s ongoing colonization and economic exploitation of Western Sahara, it has rarely been met with anything short of a unanimous vote from the entire Security Council and especially the Permanent Five. In breaking with this tradition, the US resolution elicited almost unprecedented abstentions from two permanent members of the Security Council with little historical interest in the Western Sahara issue, China and Russia, as well as the de facto AU representative on the Council, Ethiopia, a state that also recognizes SADR.
  • Operating under Chapter VI of the UN charter, the only material leverage the Security Council has in Western Sahara is to tie the fate of MINURSO’s peacekeeping force to progress at the negotiating table. The Council, however, has always been loath to terminate a mission that appears to be keeping the peace in Western Sahara. In past few years, several nearby countries—Mali, Chad, Niger, Libya, and Nigeria—have witnessed increasing levels of terrorism and armed conflict which have raised international concerns about the possible destabilizing effects of a UN withdrawal from Western Sahara.
  • the new US attitude toward Western Sahara appears to be driven by John Bolton, who became Trump’s National Security Advisor shortly before the April vote on MINURSO. Bolton has a long history with the Western Sahara conflict, from his days in heading the State Department’s UN office at the end of the Cold War, to serving as an aide to Baker’s Western Sahara mission in the late 1990s, to his controversial interim appointment as the US representative to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006. It is no secret that Bolton has been sympathetic toward Polisario, a cause that became popular among the UN-bashing conservatives in the mid-1990s. While Bolton’s “get tough” approach to Western Sahara might be framed in terms of sensible UN cost-cutting, his recent statements on the issue, where he framed the Western Sahara question as a simple matter of organizing a vote on independence, have sent the Moroccan diplomatic corps, Washington D.C. lobbyists and media apparatus into a frenzy.
  • There has been no fundamental change to the basic geopolitical architecture of the conflict to suggest that Morocco and Polisario Front are more willing to accept an outcome they view as existential annihilation (respectively, independence for Western Sahara or some kind of political-economic integration with Morocco).
  • the Sahrawi nationalist movement benefits from a safe haven in Algeria, which serves as a base for pro-independence Sahrawi activism. Recent years have seen this activism flourishing beyond the refugee camps in Algeria: in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara, in the Sahrawi diaspora, and in social media campaigns. The “supply” side of Sahrawi nationalist demand for self-determination seems assured.
  • France has supported Moroccan efforts to decouple MINUSRSO’s primary and secondary functions. Though MINURSO ostensibly exists to facilitate a political solution that respects Western Sahara’s right of self-determination, its secondary peacekeeping function has effectively provided international cover for Morocco’s ongoing colonization of the territory since 1991.
  • Sahrawi activists contesting Moroccan rule continue to provide substantive documentation, now easily circulated by social media, that the Moroccan authorities commit human rights abuses against nationalist Sahrawis.[4] Troublingly, MINURSO is one a few UN peacekeeping missions in the world whose mandate does not include a provision for human rights monitoring, due in large part to French protection on the Security Council. Similarly, some Sahrawis in the Moroccan-controlled territory continue to voice grievances that the economic investment and development of the territory under the auspices of Morocco does not benefit the Sahrawi population but instead go to Moroccan settlers, corporations, and political-economic oligarchs of the makhzan.
Ed Webb

Black Lives Matter skirts North Africa despite everyday racism - France 24 - 0 views

  • the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, most observers agree, has not triggered a major debate on racism or police violence against black Africans within the Maghreb region itself.Only Tunis saw a small demonstration in early June of around 200 locals and foreigners, at the call of the association Mnemty.The protest was "a message for African Americans from Mother Africa to say 'We are with you'," said its leader, Saadia Mosbah, a dark-skinned Tunisian.
  • a long-standing culture of silence about race.
  • "We have to wage a permanent struggle against these verbal abuses," said Algerian sociologist Mohamed Saib Musette."Some Algerians forget that they themselves are Africans." Interracial marriages are rare in North Africa, he said, and "very few TV stars, civil servants or political leaders are dark-skinned".
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  • In Morocco, a coalition of associations in 2014 launched an anti-racism campaign in support of sub-Saharan migrants with the message "Massmiytich Azzi!", literally, "Don't call me a black man".After a string of attacks in Tunisia, including a violent assault against an Ivorian woman, Mnemty successfully lobbied parliament into adopting a law against hate speech in October 2018.
  • In Morocco, a coalition of associations in 2014 launched an anti-racism campaign in support of sub-Saharan migrants with the message "Massmiytich Azzi!", literally, "Don't call me a black man".After a string of attacks in Tunisia, including a violent assault against an Ivorian woman, Mnemty successfully lobbied parliament into adopting a law against hate speech in October 2018.
  • And the Algerian parliament followed suit in April 2020, reflecting, according to Musette, the fact that the reality of racism "is there and must be fought".
  • And the Algerian parliament followed suit in April 2020, reflecting, according to Musette, the fact that the reality of racism "is there and must be fought".
  • Slavery was first formally abolished in the region by Tunisia in 1846. French-colonised Algeria partially followed suit two years later, while Morocco under French mandate only did so in 1922.
  • Slavery was first formally abolished in the region by Tunisia in 1846. French-colonised Algeria partially followed suit two years later, while Morocco under French mandate only did so in 1922.
  • modern-day slave markets have been reported in war-torn Libya, where desperate migrants suffer horrific abuse at the hands of human traffickers
  • In the absence of official data, non-government groups estimate there are more than 200,000 African foreigners in Algeria, and tens of thousands in both Morocco and Tunisia.
  • Algeria and Tunisia bar foreign Africans from obtaining residency papers unless they are students.Only Morocco has exceptionally granted residency rights to some 50,000 people, mostly from West Africa, since 2014.
  • Algeria and Tunisia bar foreign Africans from obtaining residency papers unless they are students.Only Morocco has exceptionally granted residency rights to some 50,000 people, mostly from West Africa, since 2014.
Ed Webb

Algeria closes airspace to French military, French army says, as row grows | Reuters - 0 views

  • Algeria has closed its airspace to French military planes, France's military said on Sunday, escalating the biggest row between the countries in years.
  • On Saturday, Algeria recalled its ambassador to Paris citing comments attributed to French President Emmanuel Macron, who was quoted in Le Monde as saying Algeria's "politico-military system" had rewritten the history of its colonisation by France based on "a hatred of France".
  • Macron was also quoted questioning whether there had been an Algerian nation before French colonial rule
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  • A source in the Algerian government said the comment about Algeria's existence as a nation had caused particular anger.Algeria's ruling elite since independence has been largely drawn from veterans of its war of liberation from France.
  • "We understand Macron is on campaign and that he wants to get far-right support by all means, such as insulting Algeria's history... This is unacceptable to us," a former Algerian minister said. Frances holds a presidential election next April.
  • on top of strains last week when France said it would slash the number of visas available to citizens of Maghreb countries - drawing a formal protest from Algeria
Ed Webb

The Coronavirus Oil Shock Is Just Getting Started - 0 views

  • People in the West tend to think about oil shocks from the perspective of the consumer. They notice when prices go up. The price spikes in 1973 and 1979 triggered by boycotts by oil producers are etched in their collective consciousness, as price controls left Americans lining up for gas and European governments imposed weekend driving bans. This was more than an economic shock. The balance of power in the world economy seemed to be shifting from the developed to the developing world.
  • If a surge in fossil fuel prices rearranges the world economy, the effect also operates in reverse. For the vast majority of countries in the world, the decline in oil prices is a boon. Among emerging markets, Indonesia, Philippines, India, Argentina, Turkey, and South Africa all benefit, as imported fuel is a big part of their import bill. Cheaper energy will cushion the pain of the COVID-19 recession. But at the same time, and by the same token, plunging oil prices deliver a concentrated and devastating shock to the producers. By comparison with the diffuse benefit enjoyed by consumers, the producers suffer immediate immiseration.
  • In inflation-adjusted terms, oil prices are similar to those last seen in the 1950s, when the Persian Gulf states were little more than clients of the oil majors, the United States and the British Empire
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  • Fiscal crises caused by falling prices limit governments’ room for domestic maneuver and force painful political choices
  • The economic profile of the Gulf states is not, however, typical of most oil-producing states. Most have a much lower ratio of oil reserves to population. Many large oil exporters have large and rapidly growing populations that are hungry for consumption, social spending, subsidies, and investment
  • In February, even before the coronavirus hit, the International Monetary Fund was warning Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that by 2034 they would be net debtors to the rest of the world. That prediction was based on a 2020 price of $55 per barrel. At a price of $30, that timeline will shorten. And even in the Gulf there are weak links. Bahrain avoids financial crisis only through the financial patronage of Saudi Arabia. Oman is in even worse shape. Its government debt is so heavily discounted that it may soon slip into the distressed debt category
  • Ecuador is the second Latin American country after Argentina to enter technical default this year.
  • Populous middle-income countries that depend critically on oil are uniquely vulnerable. Iran is a special case because of the punitive sanctions regime imposed by the United States. But its neighbor Iraq, with a population of 38 million and a government budget that is 90 percent dependent on oil, will struggle to keep civil servants paid.
  • Algeria—with a population of 44 million and an official unemployment rate of 15 percent—depends on oil and gas imports for 85 percent of its foreign exchange revenue
  • The oil and gas boom of the early 2000s provided the financial foundation for the subsequent pacification of Algerian society under National Liberation Front President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Algeria’s giant military, the basic pillar of the regime, was the chief beneficiaries of this largesse, along with its Russian arms suppliers. The country’s foreign currency reserves peaked at $200 billion in 2012. Spending this windfall on assistance programs and subsidies allowed Bouteflika’s government to survive the initial wave of protests during the Arab Spring. But with oil prices trending down, this was not a sustainable long-run course. By 2018 the government’s oil stabilization fund, which once held reserves worth more than one-third of GDP, had been depleted. Given Algeria’s yawning trade deficit, the IMF expects reserves to fall below $13 billion in 2021. A strict COVID-19 lockdown is containing popular protest for now, but given that the fragile government in Algiers is now bracing for budget cuts of 30 percent, do not expect that calm to last.
  • Before last month’s price collapse, Angola was already spending between one fifth and one third of its export revenues on debt service. That burden is now bound to increase significantly. Ten-year Angolan bonds were this week trading at 44 cents on the dollar. Having been downgraded to a lowly CCC+, it is now widely considered to be at imminent risk of default. Because servicing its debts requires a share of public spending six times larger than that which Angola spends on the health of its citizens, the case for doing so in the face of the COVID-19 crisis is unarguable.
  • Faced with the price collapse of 2020, Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed has declared that Nigeria is now in “crisis.” In March, the rating agency Standard & Poor’s lowered Nigeria’s sovereign debt rating to B-. This will raise the cost of borrowing and slow economic growth in a country in which more than 86 million people, 47 percent of the population, live in extreme poverty—the largest number in the world. Furthermore, with 65 percent of government revenues devoted to servicing existing debt, the government may have to resort to printing money to pay civil servants, further spurring an already high inflation rate caused by food supply shortages
  • The price surge of the 1970s and the nationalization of the Middle East oil industry announced the definitive end of the imperial era. The 1980s saw the creation of a market-based global energy economy. The early 2000s seemed to open the door on a new age of state capitalism, in which China was the main driver of demand and titans like Saudi Aramco and Rosneft managed supply
  • The giants such as Saudi Arabia and Russia will exploit their muscle to survive the crisis. But the same cannot so easily be said for the weaker producers. For states such as Iraq, Algeria, and Angola, the threat is nothing short of existential.
  • Beijing has so far shown little interest in exploiting the crisis for debt-book diplomacy. It has signaled its willingness to cooperate with the other members of the G-20 in supporting a debt moratorium.
  • In a century that will be marked by climate change, how useful is it to restore profits and prosperity based on fossil fuel extraction?
  • The shock of the coronavirus is offering a glimpse of the future and it is harsh. The COVID-19 crisis drives home that high-cost producers are on a dangerously unsustainable path that can’t be resolved by states propping up their uncompetitive oil sectors. Even more important is the need to diversify the economies of the truly vulnerable producers in the Middle East, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America.
Ed Webb

Growing demand for Russian arms in the Middle East: The Syria Effect? - 1 views

  • For Russia, the military and political engagement in Syria is an opportunity not only to showcase the operational capabilities of their weapons but also the political “muscle” behind them. 
  • A quick look on arms transfers databases reveals a growing demand for Russian arms in the Middle East. In 2012, Russia delivered weapons to four countries (Algeria, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE – in addition to Syria and Iran). Five years later, in 2017, it delivered weapons to eight countries (Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, the UAE and Turkey – in addition to Syria and Iran), and sales grew in variety, size and value. Compared to 2012, the sales, according to announced figures and estimates, at least doubled in size, both because of the expansion to new markets and increased sales to traditional partners
  • The Russian military industrial complex showcased the best it has to offer in Syria, deploying a vast array of naval, air and ground weapon systems. Furthermore, the conflict has served as a major testing ground
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  • “Combat-proven” is in itself a major marketing argument
  • the heavy supersonic strategic bomber Tu-160, new generation fighter jet Su-34 or the first Russian stealth fighter ever constructed, the Su-57
  • The S-400 air defense system is not just another advanced piece of equipment. The decision to acquire it is the basis or starting point of a strategic relation between the provider, Russia, and the client.
  • most of the contracted weapons, such as air defense systems or fighter jets, are highly advanced pieces of technology and there is only a handful of producers capable of supplying them. Generally speaking, Russian weapons are highly efficient and cost-effective. Where Russia lags in technological innovation, it makes up for in costs. At the same time, American (and Western) companies go through a much stricter process of arms export control, and arms deals to third countries often involve some form of political conditionality. Middle Eastern countries might therefore prefer, under certain circumstances, to avoid the uncertainty and bureaucracy and choose the straightforward option of dealing with other providers, such as Russia, which also puts forward the time factor and its ability to deliver supplies quickly
  • At the end of 2017, it was announced that a deal was reportedly reached allowing Russia to use Egypt’s air space and air bases
  • As a member of NATO and U.S. ally, the decision to purchase the S-400 air defense system puts a strain on Ankara’s relations with its western allies. Specifically, the U.S. is exerting strong pressures on Turkey, threatening to cancel the planned sale of F-35 jets, in order to discourage it from moving forward with the S-400 deal, but with little success so far
  • Algeria is a regular client. Algiers is the largest military spender in Africa, and despite efforts to reduce military imports, it continues to import Russian weapons and remains one of Russia’s most important clients in the region.
  • a number of countries in the region have recently signed MoUs with Russia for closer military cooperation, in anticipation of future arms deals
  • arms deals are generally lengthy processes. Some of the deals concluded lately have been years in the making, before even the start of the Russian intervention in Syria. Not all can be solely attributed to the “marketing effect of war”. That said, the “combat-proven” label is an undeniable marketing argument. In Russia’s case, the massive military engagement in Syria, coupled with increased influence in the region, allowed Russia to position itself as a desired political and military partner
Ed Webb

Implications of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's New Leadership - Newlines Institute - 1 views

  • While al Qaeda does not recognize national borders or flags, AQIM recently has increasingly involved itself in local Algerian and Malian dynamics, with leaders appearing in front of national flags and publicly endorsing local causes
  • Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), the group that united several jihadist factions under the banner of AQIM to operate in Mali and the Sahel in 2017.
  • the recruitment reach of jihadist groups in the Sahel, which now goes beyond the ethnic Arab, Tuareg, and Fulani communities that mostly make up JNIM
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  • The sole survivor of the French raid is the driver, Boubacar Diallo (aka Abu Bakr al-Fulani), whose name was on the handwritten list of the prisoners whom JNIM demanded be released in return for the liberation of hostages Soumaïla Cissé and Sophie Pétronin. The list indicates that Diallo was in Malian intelligence services’ custody. (The author has confirmed that he was released.) That Diallo was driving the AQIM leader and JNIM’s media boss in the same car, and that he was on JNIM’s prisoner swap list, emphasizes the tight organizational and subordination links between JNIM and AQIM.
  • the group’s strategy of entrenching itself in local Malian politics appears to have borne fruit, exemplified by the ascension of Ag Ghali to head JNIM in 2017. Before becoming a jihadist, Ag Ghali was a respected political figure and Tuareg independence advocate in northern Mali. He has inspired respect among locals who see him as one of them, and his presence has helped JNIM (and thus AQIM) entrench itself in local Malian dynamics and gain the upper hand in its ongoing conflict against Islamic State militants in the region
  • the Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat) splintering off from the GIA in 1998. Less than a decade later, this group would vow allegiance to al Qaeda and rebrand itself as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The man who made that 2007 announcement was al-Annabi. Three years later, in 2010, al-Annabi was heading the Council of Notables, the most senior assembly that answers to and advises AQIM leadership. And three years after that, he was calling for jihad against France after French military involvement in northern Mali.
  • In early 2019, the author sent al-Annabi 12 questions, which he answered in a 52-minute-long audio compilation. It is a rare occasion for a senior al Qaeda representative to answer questions from Western media, indicating that al-Annabi is portraying himself as more of a political figure than an operational commander.
  • The first two questions were about the Algerian protest movement that began in February 2019, and al-Annabi dedicated more than half of the time answering them. He said the protests are “a natural continuation of the military struggle of AQIM,” which is in accordance with al Qaeda’s support for popular uprisings in the Arab world, such as Egypt and Tunisia. AQIM itself has halted operations in Algeria since the protests began, “to avoid undermining the uprising.”
  • Al-Annabi, whose birth name is Yazid M’barek, was born in 1969 in Annaba, a coastal town in eastern Algeria, according to his Interpol file. Though he has been designated as a terrorist by U.S. and European authorities since 2015, AQIM says he “joined jihad” in 1992 or 1993.It is improbable that he participated in the Afghan jihad or visited Afghanistan or Pakistan in those early years. Instead, he likely joined one of the many small, local groups active in his native region that orbited around the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), which claimed responsibility for several attacks, including hijacking an Air France commercial flight in 1994 and bombing the Saint Michel train station in Paris in 1995.
  • “JNIM is a non-dissociable part of AQIM, which in its turn is an non-dissociable part of al-Qaeda central. … Regarding the geographical reality and the military pressure on its leaders and commanders, al Qaeda had to adapt with flexible command and control, therefore giving general and strategic guidelines, and then tactically it is up to each branch to reach toward achieving those guidelines depending on their realities. … AQIM follows the same process of leadership regarding its activity in different African countries.”
  • “Our objectives are clear, fighting intruders and occupiers are legitimate in heavenly and earthly laws, so those who stay neutral will be spared.”
  • Mauritania, which kept open channels with AQIM and in return has not been attacked by AQIM since February 2011 despite being part of the G5 Sahel
  • The French campaign has weakened JNIM’s grip on Mali’s border region with Burkina Faso and Niger and prompted an Islamic State “comeback” offensive that resulted in the death of a JNIM field commander and led to a bloody confrontation between the militant groups in December. JNIM prevailed for the second time in that conflict, but a combination of pressure from Islamic State and French forces have left its manpower depleted.
  • Locals caught in the middle of the conflict between the Islamic State and JNIM are increasingly being forced to choose a side between local actors, all of which are committing human rights abuses. The Islamic State lacks significant local acceptance or political experience, while JNIM’s continued presence and the balance of fear it has imposed with government forces,  militias, and now the Islamic State in central Mali has made it a more palatable choice. The French strategy of seeking out high-value targets has contributed to disruptions in negotiations between the Islamic State and JNIM, contributing to the inflammation of the war between militant groups in the Sahel.
  • The growing influence of JNIM and AQIM in Mali has been the cause of France’s renewed efforts, but the French strategy could put its forces more at odds with locals in northern Mali who prefer JNIM to the Islamic State.
  • The French military and officials have maintained that France will not negotiate with terrorists, but they recently indicated they would not obstruct negotiations when led by local parties. 
  • in Niger, where some border-area communities are seeking the Islamic State’s help with local problems, including some within the same community, leading to bloody “conflict resolution.”
  • Today, a majority of Malians approve of talks with JNIM.
  • AQIM’s willingness to overlook personal and ethnic grievances to coalesce several distinct local groups under the JNIM banner has given it flexibility and resistance to military pressure, and the strategy has garnered praise from al Qaeda central – the same leadership that criticized Droukdel a decade earlier for being too compromising. We are witnessing a shift away from never-ending battles toward foreseeable political objectives in order to avoid repeating failed governing experiences in Somalia, Yemen, or even Syria. As the group shifted its focus from Algeria in order to survive, it also began to expand and can now be seen as a player in Western Africa. This shift happened under Droukdel with al-Annabi’s influence; it likely will continue now that al-Annabi is AQIM’s leader.
Ed Webb

Ten Years After the Arab Spring, Tyranny Lingers On | Newlines Magazine - 0 views

  • The initial impulse behind the uprisings, the very impulse that led Bouazizi to self-immolation, lay in the fact that humiliated peoples, suffering from economic dislocation, political repression, and denial of basic human rights had grown impatient with their status as subjects and had risen, demanding their rights as citizens. Wealth redistribution, social justice, and good governance were as equal for those demonstrating en masse as regaining their lost karama — their dignity
  • Most of the political and intellectual debates that animated the early stages of the uprisings had their roots in the reformist movements and the intellectual ferments and the drive to modernize Arab societies that began in the first half of the 19th century
  • a stagnant economy remains the greatest threat to Tunisia’s stability and a major source of Tunisians’ discontent. Tunisia’s robust civil society made it possible, even during periods of political and security tensions, to conduct executive, legislative, and municipal elections democratically, although elected officials still display some of the discredited habits of the ancien régime. Ennahda, the main Islamist movement, proved adept at political transformation when its founder Rachid Ghannouchi declared the moderate Islamist party was abandoning political Islam. Ten years on, Tunisians are openly critical of their government’s failure to address their economic needs, forcing the youth either to immigrate to Europe or to join radical Islamists abroad. Ten years after Mohamed Bouazizi’s fiery end, disillusionment is the national mood.
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  • the repressive regimes shared one thing in common: All reacted with brute force to peaceful calls for empowerment and accountability.
  • Some of them, particularly those ruling heterogeneous states, brazenly weaponized religion, regionalism, sectarianism, and tribal and ethnic cleavages in their societies to divide and crush the uprisings
  • The Arab uprisings began as spontaneous protest movements led first by middle-class students and professionals who were then joined by workers and other social groups. The Islamists, skeptical at first, joined later. In a political landscape bereft of organized liberal and secular mass movements or political parties, with only defunct old Arab nationalists and leftists, it was a question of time before the Islamists would control the political square and hijack the uprisings.
  • The political, social, and cultural maladies afflicting Arab societies that were supposed to be swept away by the young activists have proven to be immovable
  • That does not mean that the spirit and the yearning for empowerment that animated the early phase of the uprisings have been irrevocably defeated. In recent years we have seen the populations in majority Arab states like Sudan, Algeria, Iraq, and Lebanon erupt in fury over their ossified, repressive, and venal regimes. In Sudan, the protests forced the military to oust Omar al-Bashir, their tormentor for 30 years. In Algeria, the mass protest forced the stagnant regime to end the 20-year reign of the ailing president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. In both countries we have seen a glimpse of the hope and enthusiasm that animated those who went to the streets in 2011. So far the positive changes in Sudan and Algeria are not fundamental, but at least the protests have shaken two stagnant and moribund regimes.
  • The protests that rocked Iraq and Lebanon in 2019 also brought to the fore a new, emergent reality. Despite or partly because of the uprisings, the Middle East is less Arab today than at any time in a century. Iran is the dominant force in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Israel owns the skies over Syria, while Iran, Turkey, and Russia carve up zones of control and influence on the ground. In Iraq, Turkey has established military bases, and Iran pulls the strings of many militias. In Libya, Russia and Turkey continue to play their cynical proxy wars. In this “wounded time” many Arabs are living in the shadows of their more powerful neighbors.
  • The uprisings faced not only entrenched ruling classes but also deep-rooted patriarchy and religious and cultural traditions that are not amenable to swift and significant social and cultural change.
Ed Webb

So Why Did I Defend Paul Bowles? | by Hisham Aidi | The New York Review of Books - 0 views

  • Long a sanctuary for Spanish and French writers, American writers began visiting Tangier in the late nineteenth century: Mark Twain on his way to Jerusalem in 1867, the painters Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1870 and Henry Ossawa Tanner in 1912, and Edith Wharton in 1917. In 1931, when Bowles first visited, the American artists living in Tangier were primarily black: Claude McKay, Anita Reynolds, Juice Wilson, Josephine Baker. These African-Americans came to Morocco from Paris, where they had formed a community after World War I, and as the Harlem Rennaissance spread to France. Upon arrival, Bowles began to socialize with both McKay and Anita Reynolds. Like the other Americans, he had also discovered North Africa through France. In high school, he had read Marcel Proust, Comte de Lautréamont, and André Gide—the latter’s accounts, in particular, of his travels and sexual trysts in Algeria and Tunisia had conjured North Africa in Bowles’s teenage imagination.
  • in December 1923, France, Spain, and the United Kingdom signed the Tangier Protocol in Paris, setting up a new administration and placing the city at the center of a 150-square mile International Zone overseen by a committee of nine Western powers. The city was henceforth governed by a court that included French, Spanish, and British judges, along with the mendoub, the Moroccan sultan’s representative. It is this international period, from 1923 to 1956, especially postwar, that has shaped the image of Tangier as a free port, a tax haven, and a place of international intrigue and excess.
  • His first novel, The Sheltering Sky, told the story of an American who flees the numbing modernity of New York and meanders through the Algerian desert, only to disintegrate psychologically. Published in the fall of 1949, it became a bestseller and made Bowles a household name. Three more novels and a handful of short stories set in Tangier followed.
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  • Bowles did not create the “myth of Tangier,” but he gave it a literary respectability and an American cast.
  • In the early 1950s, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Bryon Gysin, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and Susan Sontag all gravitated to this “portal to the unknown,” as one author christened Tangier. So did European writers like Genet, Juan Goytisolo, and Joe Orton, but Bowles’s influence was not limited to the literary community. In later decades, his recordings and promotion of Moroccan music would draw producers and recording artists from Patti Smith to the Rolling Stones.
  • Through the 1960s and 1970s, he focused instead on recording and translating from darija (Moroccan Arabic dialect) the oral histories of men he met in Tangier’s cafés. By the time of his death, in 1999, the idea of Tangier as a place for self-discovery had become received wisdom in the West and the Arab world, and Bowles was established as a giant of American letters despite decades of silence.
  • I gave him a copy of my thesis. He looked up from the title page: “‘Orientalism’?—that’s a bad word, isn’t it?” Faux-naïveté, I would learn, was part of his manner. He told me to come back the following day.
  • I was, he said, the first Moroccan researcher—a Tangier native, to boot—to defend him. He added his signature beneath my printed name. (A few weeks ago, I got goosebumps when I found the same copy that I gave him, albeit coffee-stained, in the archives at the University of Delaware’s Paul Bowles Collection.) Later, the thesis was included in a collection titled Writing Tangier (2004). I still see citations occasionally in student dissertations on Bowles noting that one Tanjawi, at least, did not regard him as an Orientalist.
  • Tangier’s collective memory is steeped in nostalgia and centered around the medina, the old city. The medina, the elders told us, was once the epicenter of the Islamic world: it was from the port where the medina meets the sea that Tariq ibn Ziyad had set sail and conquered Spain in 711. After the fall of Granada in 1492, it was to Tangier’s medina that the Jews and Moriscos fled, settling in its alleyways, preserving the mosaic of Islamic Spain
  • The economic misery and political repression of the 1980s and 1990s made it hard to believe that the medina was ever a free space. Most locals had never heard of these famous writers. I only heard of Bowles when, in 1988, a film crew began working in front of our family restaurant at the entrance to the Kasbah as Bernardo Bertolucci began filming The Sheltering Sky. As teenagers, we came to wonder what truths the books from the Interzone contained, and if Tangier had indeed been better-off under Western rule, as the nostalgists, local and foreign, seemed to imply
  • The narrative we learned at school was that the monarchy had liberated the north from colonial oppression. But what liberation did the regime (makhzen) bring? After independence, as a local intelligentsia began forming in Tangier, many came to see the American corpus of writings about 1950s Tangier as an invaluable record of a lost golden age.
  • I made a point of reading the American authors who had written about Tangier’s Interzone. Besides Bowles, I was intrigued by the Beats, especially the Columbia University alums—Kerouac, Ginsberg, Lucien Carr—students of Lionel Trilling and fans of Arthur Rimbaud who had somehow mapped Greenwich Village onto Tangier, turning the Boulevard Pasteur into a “North African Bleecker Street.” But even as a college sophomore, I realized that their writings were more about the straitjacket of McCarthyite America that they were running from, rather than about Morocco as such.
  • It was even gratifying to see that Tangier, like Berlin, had played a significant role in launching a gay literary movement—in some ways ahead of the West, in having its finger on the “prognostic pulse of the world,” as Burroughs called it. But what was startling was that, while these writers basked in the city’s pleasures, they—with the exception of the Bowleses—didn’t really like Tangier. The Beats had a casual disdain for the natives, invariably describing Moroccans as “rakish” or “raffish.” Capote found Tangier too alien, describing the men as “noisy heathens” and the women as “anonymous bundles of laundry.” He warned friends in New York about the “smell of the arabe.” Burroughs referred to the locals as a “bunch of Ay-rabs,” and in 1958 he pronounced: “Tanger [sic] is finished. The Arab dogs are among us.”
  • Paul Bowles traced the history of the medina from the early 1930s to independence. He chronicled how the sultan’s crackdown on Sufi practices (“the great puritanical purging”) in central Morocco inched northward.
  • Bowles’s defense of the Amazigh, or Berber, population was daringly transgressive. Morocco’s culture “is not predominantly Arabic, but Berber,” he insisted—in the face of Arab nationalists who acted as though they believed “Berbers have no culture at all,” as they tried to drag the country into the Arab League. “The general opinion is that the autochthonous population must at all costs be Arabized if it is to share in the benefits of independence,” he observed acidly. “No one seems to have conceived of the possibility of an independent Berber Morocco. In fact, to mention the Berbers at all qualifies one as a pro-French reactionary. At present, to become modern means to become Egyptian.”
  • Reading these words in my dorm room in wintry Pennsylvania in 1992 was both thrilling and frightening. We as Moroccans—especially those of us from the northern Berber region—grew up in a climate of fear, and I had never heard or read anyone publicly criticize Arab nationalism, or speak so openly of the Moroccan hinterland’s animus toward Fez, the city of the interior regarded as the seat of the regime. To hear this American writer openly excoriate the Moroccan ruling elite for its cruelty and skullduggery was exhilarating
  • Bowles prompted me to think beyond the binary of “Western” versus “Arab.”
  • Bowles, in the mid-1960s, had begun translating the memoirs and stories of down-and-out illiterate youth in Tangier. (While he could not read Arabic, Bowles did understand darija, the spoken dialect.) The most prominent of these were Larbi Layachi’s A Life Full of Holes (1966), about a petty thief and male prostitute and his experiences dodging police and servicing tourists (the book was made into a BBC film); Look and Move On (1967), the tales of Mohammed Mrabet, a hustler and golf caddie who worked for an American couple; and the best-known, Mohammed Choukri’s For Bread Alone (1972), an account of his migration from the Rif to Tangier, his life as a street kid in the International Zone, and his becoming a schoolteacher, which he recounted to Bowles in Spanish. These books were marketed in the West as “Moroccan literature,” and for many in the Anglophone world, this was their introduction to it.
  • The Ministry of Culture, which almost blocked his recording project in 1959, published a remarkable essay in 2009 on the tenth anniversary of his death defending Bowles against criticism from Moroccan nationalist intellectuals, underscoring how he presciently warned of the threats that modernization posed to Morocco’s cultural and physical landscape. Government mouthpieces such as Hespress run flattering pieces about “the American who loved Morocco.”
  • in effect erased an earlier literary tradition that had seen Moroccan writers published in French and Spanish since the 1930s, let alone the preceding centuries of poetry and other writing in Arabic
  • Laroui acted as an adviser to the king and was a strong proponent of Arabization. Tangierians saw his attack on Bowles as another attempt by the Arab nationalist elite to subdue the “sin city.” Ben Jelloun also had a complicated relationship to Tangier. The son of a merchant, a Fassi (a person from Fez) who settled in Tangier in the early 1960s, he had attended the French lycée and was seen as part of the new Francophone Fassi upper class—comprising the Alaoui, Alami, Ben Jelloun, Berrada, Omrani, and Tazi families—that had fanned out across the country as the French departed, assuming top government positions. Like Laroui, Ben Jelloun spoke neither of the two common local tongues of the north, Spanish and Tarifit (the Berber language). A paradox of Ben Jelloun’s work, in particular, was that it often featured the very tropes of mysticism, violence, and sexual deviancy he denounced in Bowles’s work. For his part, the American writer dismissed his Moroccan critics as “confirmed Marxists.”
  • as long as America was seen as a political friend, Bowles was viewed favorably. Not surprisingly, after the Gulf war of 1990 and the release of Bertolucci’s film of The Sheltering Sky that same year, more articles started to appear across the Middle East critiquing Bowles’s representations of Morocco, accusing him of racism and Orientalism
  • I myself was part of this trend—defending Bowles against the Arab nationalists who were trying to tear him down and impose their political preferences on us. In his final interviews, when asked if he was an “Orientalist,” Bowles would often cite me, noting that a Tangier-born scholar now in America had judged him not to be.
  • “Paul Bowles loves Morocco, but does not really like Moroccans.” Choukri had some powerful evidence on his side. Over the decades, Bowles had made countless derogatory remarks, speaking of Moroccans as “childlike,” “purely predatory,” and “essentially barbarous.” He claimed also that Muslims aimed for world domination through “the sword and the bomb.”
  • He was sympathetic to the Amazigh, whom he saw as the original inhabitants of North Africa, a fiercely independent people only “partially Islamicized.” This affection nevertheless rested on some unsettling ideas about racial hierarchy. Bowles was profoundly influenced by the “Hamitic hypothesis,” a late nineteenth-century anthropological theory that saw almost everything of value in Africa as imported by the Hamites, a branch of the Caucasian race, who were held as superior to the Negroid peoples. Berbers, whatever their actual skin tone—even the typically dark-skinned Tuareg—were for Bowles essentially a white “Mediterranean race.”
  • In Bowles’s idiosyncratic hierarchy, it was Berber music that encapsulated Morocco’s true African identity—and this cultural essence was threatened by the Arabs and their music. The recently released Music of Morocco collection reflects this bias, giving credence to Choukri’s claim that Bowles deliberately misrepresented local culture to reflect his personal vision of Morocco.
  • I began to realize that Bowles’s fondness for the Berbers and his animus toward Arabs was, in many ways, a reflection of French colonial policy. Although he was well aware of the violence of French imperialism, he enjoyed its amenities—“the old, easygoing, openly colonial life of Morocco”—and as early as the 1950s, Bowles began to lament the loss of “colonial Tangier.” Above all, he believed in the International Zone, seeing its “anarchy” and “freedom from bureaucratic intervention” as an extraordinary political experiment. But these liberties, which is what drew many of the Beats, were the privileges of Europeans and Americans—ones generally not enjoyed by the city’s Muslim and Jewish natives.
  • In 1972, Tahar Ben Jelloun publicly accused Bowles (and the Beats) of exploiting illiterate, vulnerable youths in Tangier not just artistically but sexually. Choukri in 1997 would echo this charge, claiming Bowles suffered from a sexual illness. These allegations became more commonly heard once Farrar, Straus and Giroux published Bowles’s correspondence in 1994, although he expressed some reluctance about its release. The volume included letters in which he described the boys he slept with, in one letter even bragging about how cheap sex was in Algeria. “Where in this country [America] can I have thirty-five or forty people, and never risk seeing any of them again? Yet, in Algeria, it actually was the mean rate.” (In the correspondence, he reminisced about how he “never had sexual relationships without paying,” and viewed paying for sex as a form of “ownership.”)
  • Although the letters simply lent credence to rumors long circulating in Tangier, Choukri and other Tanjawi writers were still shocked by them. The literary reaction in Morocco fed into a larger effort there by human rights activists campaigning against sex tourism and child prostitution. Whereas Bowles had always seemed more judicious and reputable than the Beats—in contrast, say, to Burroughs’s open bragging about buying “pre-pubescent gooks” and Ginsberg’s boasting about “paying young boys” for sex—it became increasingly difficult to defend him. For a man who had called Moroccans “purely predatory,” his own behavior now appeared in rather grotesque relief.
  • The more time I spent at the Schomburg Library uptown, the more I discovered an alternative American literature about Tangier. I stumbled upon Claude McKay’s memoir A Long Way from Home about his time in Tangier in the late 1920s, where he completed his novel Banjo; the actress Anita Reynold’s diary about life in the Interzone in the 1930s; Josephine Baker’s papers, where she talks about filming Princess Tam Tam (1935) in the International Zone, and jazz recordings produced by African-American musicians living in Tangier. Although they had their own dreams about a “Mother Africa,” the African-American writers did not see Tangier as a brothel, or its residents as primitives who needed to be contained or civilized. Most wrote and produced art in solidarity with the disenfranchised local population, connecting the civil rights struggle to North Africa’s anticolonial movements.
  • In 1998, armed with this newfound knowledge, and as a conscious revision of my earlier guiding, I began giving walking tours of “Black Tangier.” We would would meet at Cinema Mauritania, the theater where Josephine Baker had performed many times, up until her last show there in 1970. She had lived in the International Zone, then joined the French Liberation forces during the war, and later had an affair with the vice-caliph of Spanish Morocco. On the first floor of the Mauritania, pianist Randy Weston had once operated African Rhythms, a music spot that drew the likes of Max Roach and Ahmed Jamal. Then we’d walk down to the Fat Black Pussycat café where the poet Ted Joans, one of few black writers in the Beat movement, played trumpet and “blew” jazz poems.
  • Next, we’d hit Galerie Delacroix, where Joans once hosted a four-hour tribute to his mentor Langston Hughes, and had the late poet’s verse read in Arabic, English, French, and Spanish. (In 1927, Hughes had visited Tangier and written a lovely poem about travel and unrequited longing, “I Thought It was Tangiers I Wanted.”) Then we’d walk to the majestic Teatro Cervantes built in 1913, where Weston had organized the first pan-African jazz festival in Morocco in June 1972 (revived in 2002), which brought Dexter Gordon, Odetta, Billy Harper, and Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers to the city. Our last stop was the Hotel Chellah, where, as local legend had it, the Martinican anticolonial thinker Frantz Fanon stayed overnight on July 3, 1959, following a car crash on the Morocco–Algeria border rumored to be the handiwork of La Main Rouge, the paramilitary group run by French intelligence to assassinate leading supporters of Algerian independence. Fanon was flown to Rome the following day on a Moroccan passport.
  • Paul Bowles and King Hassan II died in 1999, a few months apart. The novelist and the tyrant who had towered over Tangier for generations had more in common than either would have admitted—and that in part explains the reverence Bowles still enjoys in official Morocco
  • both shared a disdain for leftist, Third-Worldist politics. Both hated pan-Arabism, and loved Berber culture as long as it was “folkloric” and apolitical. They each thought Moroccans were congenitally ill-suited for democracy.
  • both Bowles and the monarch celebrated a “primitive,” mystical, unlettered, unfree Morocco, sharing a special appetite for the intoxicating rhythms of the Berbers. No wonder King Hassan II, who expelled numerous critics—from Arab intellectuals to French journalists and American professors—never bothered Bowles.
  • The Moroccan reaction against Bowles began to take form in the early 1970s. His earliest critics were the philosopher Abdallah Laroui and Ben Jelloun, who both chided the American writer for promoting an image of the country as a land of primitivism, drugs, and unlimited sex. Laroui also lambasted the Moroccan bourgeoisie for buying into and reproducing Bowles’s “folkloric” portrayal of their country. Ben Jelloun, writing in 1972, accused the American of belittling the nation’s literary patrimony.
  • The Morocco that Bowles dubbed a “land of magic” is one the Ministry of Tourism sells to the West
  • his emphasis on Morocco’s “African” essence suits the country’s recent geopolitical turn and reentry into the Africa Union
  • for all his misgivings about Western modernity, he thought Morocco as an African country would be better off attaching itself to the West. This is now the position of a significant segment of Morocco’s ruling elite.
  • That the regime celebrates Berber folklore and the oeuvre of a novelist who wanted an “independent Berber republic” even as it imprisons Berber activists across the country is evidence for many of the regime’s fraudulence and bad faith. In this respect, Bowles’s continuing eminence suggests how little has changed in the kingdom since the colonial era, with an authoritarian regime and repressive social order remaining largely intact.
  • As for Bowles’s work, I had come to realize that it reflected poorly on Morocco and America. Yes, he had brought attention to the suppression of Berber history and made invaluable musical recordings, but decolonization was supposed to dismantle colonial representations, and instead, the Moroccan regime was validating and institutionalizing Bowles’s depictions of Morocco
  • today, a new generation of Moroccan writers—among them secularists, Berber activists, music critics, and pan-Africanists—are claiming Bowles as an ally. And that is why I found myself writing about Bowles once more.
Ed Webb

A Timbuktu Test For Europe - Bloomberg - 0 views

  • The first thing to note is that Mali’s problems, and those of the wider Sahel -- countries on the belt of land that runs along the southern edge of the Sahara -- are not new. There was no lack of intelligence about them. In September 2011, the European Union prepared a detailed strategy paper on the region, with recommendations of what to do and how to tackle the issue of the Sahel becoming an empty space free for jihadists to roam. The U.S. also has been deeply involved there for more than a decade, training soldiers for counterinsurgency operations and closely monitoring the situation on the ground.
  • On Malian television, local interviewees say it is right that France should help Mali in its hour of need, because Malian soldiers of the legendary Tirailleurs Senegalais regiment died for France, including in the two world wars.
  • it is likely, failing a quick victory, that the rest of Europe will soon face a choice: either support the French and the Malians with real resources, or concede defeat in an area where Europe's interests, including its energy supplies, are directly threatened.
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  • Libya and Algeria export much of their natural gas and oil to the EU. A third of Italy’s natural gas comes from Algeria, so it is clearly in Europe’s self-interest to prevent northern Mali from becoming the launchpad for attacks
  • stabilizing Mali is probably doable
  • Although few Europeans are aware, the EU is already present in Africa. The EU is training security forces in Niger, while the U.K., for example, is working with Mauritania on counterterrorism. An EU naval force has been in action to crush piracy off the Somali coast, while the EU is also training Somali troops in Uganda and paying for African peacekeepers in Somalia. U.K. Foreign Minister William Hague described the EU's involvement in Somalia as a model for Mali, in a BBC radio interview this morning. He added: What we don’t want in these countries like Mali is the 20 years of being a failed state that preceded all of that in Somalia.
  • optimistic scenario is that, having been slow off the mark, the EU, or at least European countries acting together in one combination or another, is now ready to help in Mali, recognizing that, as the U.S. pivots to Asia, Europe will need to do more to secure its own interests in Africa and the Middle East.
Michael Fisher

Memo From Cairo - A Nation's Shaken Ego Seen in a Soccer Loss - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • With all the challenges Egyptians face — more than half the population lives on less than $2 a day — nothing has mobilized public opinion in recent history quite like the events that occurred in Sudan. Egypt thought it would beat Algeria and earn a World Cup berth for the first time in 20 years. It approached the contest more like a nation going to war than to a soccer game.
  • With all the challenges Egyptians face — more than half the population lives on less than $2 a day — nothing has mobilized public opinion in recent history quite like the events that occurred in Sudan. Egypt thought it would beat Algeria and earn a World Cup berth for the first time in 20 years. It approached the contest more like a nation going to war than to a soccer game. When it lost and Egyptian fans left the stadium, many said they were chased down and harassed by Algerians, and some suffered minor injuries. But, most of all, they said they were deeply offended and left feeling helpless.
  • “How can Egypt, the Arab symbol of strength, be humiliated like this in the streets of Khartoum?” asked Ahmed Tarek, 33, who runs an Egyptian advertising agency in Sudan. “And if we are really a strong country, why aren’t we doing something about it? Nobody had ever insulted the Egyptians to this degree. This issue revealed so many things, it woke up the people.”
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  • Television talks shows and daily newspapers have been busy with discussion about Egyptian identity, while commentators have lamented the final collapse of pan-Arab unity.
  • Relations between Algeria and Egypt became so strained that the Arab League asked Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, to mediate.
  • “The leader who uses power and oppresses his citizens and forges their will in elections cannot convince anyone when he speaks about the dignity of the citizens,” wrote Alaa al-Aswani,
  • people focused on domestic failings that until now were largely tolerated, or swallowed: A ferry that sank leaving 1,000 Egyptians lost at sea; universities ranked among the worst in the world; an Egyptian border guard killed by the Israelis; Egypt’s longtime culture minister losing to a Bulgarian as the new leader of Unesco; and now Algerians desecrating the Egyptian flag.
  • he object of most people’s ire has shifted from the Algerians to the government, which many have started to accuse of exploiting the defeat for political gain, even as they continue to ache over the personal loss of pride.
  • what has emerged, instead, is a surge in nationalism wrapped up in anger — and despair. “If we are infuriated, it is not over soccer, to hell with the game, we are infuriated over our dignity,” said Hamada Abdullah, who lives in Daqahalya, northeast of Cairo. “We love this country and don’t want to be humiliated whether from the authorities inside or from other people outside. We feel oppressed and constrained and unable to do anything.”
  • Comparing the loss in 1967 with events in Khartoum, he wrote, “The Egyptian dignity which was wounded by the behavior of the Algerian thugs as they chased after the peaceful Egyptian fans in the streets of Khartoum will rise once again across the nation.”
Ed Webb

BBC News - Egypt recalls Algerian envoy as football row deepens - 0 views

  • The Egyptian government has recalled its ambassador to Algeria following complaints about violence towards football fans, reports say.
  • Violence between Egypt and Algeria fans flared up across four countries.
  •  
    bah you beat me by an hour! I forgot to check Diigo first, oh well.
Jim Franklin

Al Jazeera English - Africa - Egypt-Algeria in football spat - 0 views

  • Egypt has recalled its ambassador to Algeria after World Cup qualifying football matches between the two countries resulted in a number of outbreaks of violence.
  • Egypt says a number of its fans who travelled to Sudan for a match on Wednesday to decide which of the sides would go to next year's World Cup finals in South Africa were assaulted by Algerians.
  • About 15,000 police officers had been deployed for the match and supporters had been kept apart before kick-off.
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  • The earlier match played last Saturday between the two sides in Cairo had also triggered violence, with the Algerian team complaining that their team bus was attacked by Egyptian fans.
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