North Africa Theater
Reports are divided on whether members of Libya's Berber minority forced their way into the General National Congress building in Tripoli on Aug. 13, smashing windows and destroying furniture, during a demonstration to press for greater recognition. Reuters, in a rare mention of the Berber political struggle, cited the claims of Congress member Omar Hmaiden. But Libya's local media quoted other lawmakers as saying the incursion never took place. The protest outside the Congress building did bring traffic to halt, as hundreds of Berbers gathered to oppose a law approved last month to reserve just two of the seats on the Constitutional Commission for members of their community. Berber activists charges that Congress is deliberately marginalizing Libya's ethnic minorities. Two seats each were also reserved for the Tuareg and Tebu (Toubou) communities.
More than 40,000 marched yon Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly Aug. 6 to demand the resignation of the government, with progress towards a new constitution stalled. The elected body has suspended its work until the Islamist-led administration and secular opposition open negotiations over the stalemate sparked by last month's slaying of leading left-opposition figure Mohamed Brahmi. (BBC News, Aug. 6; AFP, Aug. 7) Responding to an obvious question from Al Jazeera, Walid Bennani, vice president of the ruling Ennahda party, said: "There's no coup d'etat in Tunisia. There’s an opposition party that wants to dissolve the government. The opposition...wants to repeat the Egyptian scenario. That can't happen." (Al Jazeera, Aug. 8)
Ahmed Ibrahim, former minister of education and information for Libya, was sentenced to death on July 31 for inciting citizens in Moammar Qaddafi's hometown and place of death, Sirte, to oppose the rebellion. He is the first member of Gaddafi's ministry to receive a death sentence, which is to be carried out via firing squad. Ibrahim was also a high ranking member of the "revolutionary committees," organizations of Gaddafi's loyalists known for enforcing his policies. Human rights activists have raised concerns that the Libyan criminal courts based in Misrata do not meet international standards. The conviction must be confirmed by the Supreme Court before the sentence can be carried out.
Protesters in Libya attacked offices linked to the Muslim Brotherhood following the assassination July 26 of political activist Abdelsalam al-Mismari (also rendered Elmessmary). Al-Mismari, a vocal opponent of the Brotherhood, was shot dead as he left a mosque in Benghazi after Friday prayers. As the news broke, his supporters stormed offices of the Justice and Construction Party (JPC), the Brotherhood's Libyan political wing, in both Benghazi and Tripoli. Two members of the security forces were also shot in Benghazi that day, the latest in a wave of targeted killings in the city.
A nationwide strike has been declared in Tunisia after protests over the killing of opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi July 25. The nation's UGTT trade union federation called the stoppage to protest "terrorism, violence and murders" by the Islamist government of the Ennahda party. Police used tear gas to disperse protesters in several towns, after Brahmi was shot dead outside his home in Tunis. "This criminal gang has killed the free voice of Brahmi," his widow, Mbarka Brahmi, told Reuters. His sister Souhiba Brahm was even more forthright: "Ennahda killed my brother," she said. Ennahda has condemned the killing. Brahmi, a lawmaker and leader of the leftist Popular Movement, is the second opposition leader killed this year; the February assassination of Chokri Belaid also sparked a political crisis. The killing of Brahmi came on Republic Day, marking the 56th anniversary of Tunisia's independence. (Middle East Online, July 27; BBC News, July 26; Reuters, July 25)
The International Criminal Court (ICC) on July 18 rejected Libya's request to suspend the order to hand over Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, son of the late Moammar Qaddafi. It also ruled that its forum is more appropriate than the Libyan forum because of the accused's stated preference, genuine fear of bias, and the scope of crimes alleged by each prosecutor. The scope of the ICC's allegations is broader than that stated in the Libyan charges, allowing for a wider spectrum of evidence. The ICC ruled that the Libyan government failed to show how his appearance in the ICC would create an irreversible situation, as is required for the court to order such relief in a request to suspend appearance.
At a ceremony in Bamako July 1, UN troops formally took over the "peacekeeping" mission in Mali, with authority transferred from the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). But most of the soldiers actually remained the same, with AFISMA troops merely donning the blue beret of UN peacekeeping forces. In April, the Security Council approved the 12,600-strong MINUSMA to take over from the African-led force, with authorization "to use all necessary means" to carry out humanitarian and security-related missions and protect civilians, UN staff and cultural artifacts. The new mission begins as French forces continue their phased withdrawal. But France, Mali's former colonial master, is to keep up to 1,000 troops in the country. (Al Jazeera, UN News Centre, July 1)