North Africa Theater

Algeria: Berbers targeted in sectarian attacks

Sectarian attacks in Algeria's desert city of Ghardaia (see map) have left five dead over the past week—including one young Berber man who a local official said was knifed to death and disfigured under the eyes of police. Local Mozabite Berbers, adherents of the Ibadi sect, are apparently being targeted by Chaamba Arabs, followers of the Malekite branch of Sunni Islam. Troops of the National Police and Gendarmerie were rushed to the city this weekend, and 10 arrested in connection with the violence. There have been repeated clashes in the city since December, but the violence reached a climax on Feb. 4 when a Mozabite teaching center was torched. (AFP, Feb. 9; AP, Algeria Press Service, Feb. 8)

Moroccan villagers occupy silver mine

A Jan. 23 profile in the New York Times put a rare spotlight on the ongoing occupation camp established by Berber villagers at Mount Alebban, 5,000 feet high in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, to protest the operations of the Imiter Mettalurgic Mining Company—whose principal owner is the North African nation's King Mohammed VI. The occupation was first launched in 1996, but broken up by the authorities. It was revived in the summer of 2011, after students from the local village of Imider, who were used to getting seasonal jobs at the mine, were turned down. That led the villagers—even those with jobs at the complex—to again establish a permanent encampment blocking access to the site of Africa's most productive silver mine. A key grievance is the mine's use of local water sources, which is making agriculture in the arid region increasingly untenable. Protesters closed a pipe valve, cutting off the water supply to the mine. Since then, the mine's output has plummeted—40% in 2012 and a further 30% in 2013. But Imider farmers say their long-drying wells are starting to replenish, and their shriveled orchards are again starting to bear fruit.

Morocco considers amending rape law

The Justice and Human Rights Commission of Morocco's parliament on Jan. 9 announced a proposal to amend Article 475 of the penal code, which allows rapists to avoid charges if they marry their victims. This practice is currently encouraged in countries such as Morocco and India, where the loss of a woman's virginity out of wedlock is said to bring shame upon the family. Article 475, translated from French, reads, "When a minor removed or diverted married her captor, the latter can not be prosecuted on the complaint of persons entitled to apply for annulment of marriage and can not be sentenced until after the cancellation of marriage has been pronounced." The proposal will be put to a vote by Parliament.

Tunisia opts for civil law over sharia in constitution

Tunisian members of parliament rejected Islam as the main source of law for the country on Dec. 4 as they voted to establish a new constitution. The Islamist-led party and secular parties overcame intense debate about Islam's role in the country before beginning to draft the new constitution. The National Constituent Assembly adopted only 12 of the proposed 146 articles despite a Jan. 14 deadline for the completion of the new constitution. The first clause of the constitution says Tunisia is "a free country, independent, with sovereignty; Islam is its religion, Arabic its language and the republic its regime." However, Article 6 makes the state the "guardian of religion," "protector of the sacred" and guarantor of "freedom of conscience." The Tunisian government employed heavy security in the capital Tunis during the parliament assembly to deter attacks from radical Islamists opposed to the adoption of the new constitution in place of Islam law.

Benghazi bad guys: Is You Is or Is You Ain't al-Qaeda?

A Dec. 28 New York Times feature by David D. Kirkpatrick purports to categorically dismiss a role for al-Qaeda in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, sure to win cheers from Democrats and jeers from Republicans. But the notion of any objectivity on this highly politicized question is dubious at best. In the paragraph where he attempts to define terms, Kirkpatrick poses it as an either/or:

Beyond Benghazi: Libya faces converging crises

Libya's ongoing internal chaos briefly made world news Dec. 5 as a US national, a teacher at the Benghazi International School named Ronald Smith, was shot to death under circumstances that are still unclear. Whoever was behind it, it will be a headache for Obama, whose opponents are still milking the "Benghazigate" scandal. (CNN, Dec. 5) Other than when a US citizen dies, the world media take little note the near-daily violence in the city. On the same day Smith was killed, a member of Libya's Special Forces and a young cadet were gunned down in Benghazi. And the head of the Presidential Guards of the city, Anwar al-Dous, lost a leg when an explosive device detonated under his car. (Libya Herald, Dec. 5) Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou, speaking to reporters at a Franco-African summit in Paris, responded by implying that Libya could be next for intervention:  "Our fear is that Libya falls into the hands of Salafist terrorists and that the state becomes like Somalia... Sadly, we're seeing that the terrorists are there and that armed Salafist militia are in Benghazi, with people being killed almost every day. We must stabilize Libya." (Reuters, Dec. 6)

Mali: Tuareg rebels declare end to ceasefire

Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) announced Nov. 29 that they are ending their ceasefire with the Malian government, which has held since June. The statement comes a day after clashes between Malian troops and Tuareg protesters who prevented a visit by Prime Minister Oumar Tatam Ly to the rebel-held town of Kidal. The central government said soldiers at the airport had been attacked with stones and gunfire by "uncontrollable elements," and had fired warning shots. But the MNLA said troops had fired directly at a crowd that included women and children, leaving several wounded. MNLA vice president Mahamadou Djeri Maiga told the AFP: "What happened is a declaration of war. We will deliver this war. Wherever we find the Malian army we will launch the assault against them. It will be automatic. The warnings are over." (BBC News, Nov. 29)

Former Mali junta leader detained for murder

Gen. Amadou Haya Sanogo, leader of the March 2012 coup that plunged Mali into civil war, was arrested Nov. 27 on charges of murder, complicity to murder, assassination and kidnapping. According to one of the arresting soldiers, Sanogo had repeatedly ignored summons by Mali's Ministry of Justice. Twenty-five armed soldiers arrested Sanogo in his home in Bamako and took him to appear before a judge, after which he remained in custody.

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