North Africa Theater

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.

France launches new military offensive in Mali

French troops last week launched a new offensive against Islamist rebels in northern Mali—raised questions about whether Paris will in fact reduce the number of its forces in the African country from 3,000 to 1,200 by year's end as planned. Islamist militants have been struggling to regain control of the contested area, known as the Niger Loop, which includes the cities of Gao and Timbuktu. French general staff spokesman Col. Gilles Jaron said the new campaign, dubbed "Operation Hydra," was undertaken joinlty with Malian army forces and troops from MINUSMA, the UN force for the country. "It is the first time we have seen forces of significant size working together," Jaron said. (NYT, IBT, Al Jazeera, Oct. 24)

Mauritania: polls boycotted, slavery condemned

Parties that make up Mauritania's Coordination of the Democratic Opposition (COD) have announced a boycott of November's legislative and municipal elections after talks with the government collapsed without agreement earlier this month. The ruling Union for the Republic is the only party fielding candidates in every district, with the next highest representation from Islamist group Tewassoul, the only member of the 11-party COD that will field candidates. Tewassoul calls its participation a form of struggle against the "dictatorship" of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who took power in a 2008 coup. The opposition is demanding the polls be postponed until April to allow time for a voter census and guarantees of the independence of the electoral commission. A vote was due in 2011 but has been repeatedly delayed due to disagreements between the opposition and government. The last legislative election was held in 2006. (AFP, Oct. 29; Reuters, Oct. 4)