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Archives for Human Affairs

Revenge in Timbuktu

The fabled city of Timbuktu, in north-western Mali, was occupied by armed Islamist groups for almost a year. At the end of January, French and Malian soldiers retook control of the city. Since then, its people have been enjoying the taste of freedom again. But the light-skinned Arab and Tuareg communities are accused of complicity with the extremists and have already suffered revenge attacks. France24′s reporters Alexandra Renard, Eve Irvine and Chady Chlela went to Timbuktu.

 

 

 

revenge

Mali & Sahel Crisis

Below are some of the latest analyses, aticles and news items related to the crisis in Mali and beyond:


January 13, 2013
Mali Crisis Expanding: Mass Kidnapping of Westerners in a Saharan Oil Base

The North Africa Journal: The French military intervention against Islamist militants in northern Mali has added greatly to the insecurity in the region. In addition to the casualties of the conflict proper, Western interests, in particular French are being targeted wherever Al-Qaeda affiliated militants are present.

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January 9, 2013
Franco-African Military Offensive Begins in Mali

The North Africa Journal | Aided by West African and French troops, Mali’s government soldiers have began a long-awaited offensive against Islamist rebels in Northern Mali.  …  Full story

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A North Africa Journal AudioCast:  Understanding the Mali Crisis (Youtube)
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The North Africa Journal | By Arezki Daoud |  Algeria’s diplomacy has scored a victory of sort following the statement made by US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns describing Algeria as the “leader” in the Mali crisis. The move provides Algeria with additional breathing room to get some factions in Northern Mali who have been pushing for independence to revert their position without resorting to force. It may also frustrate those who have been seeking to sideline Algeria fearing that in the eyes of the US, the UN and other global players Algeria could be seen as a regional power broker with growing responsibilities and oversight on economic and security issues….  Full story

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The North Africa Journal | Algiers has long been reluctant to participate in a military offensive in neighboring Mali to root out Islamist militants. Some of these militants are either seeking to create a separate state, and/or intend on imposing Sharia law. Already the northern part of Mali has fallen in the hands of a trio of organizations, namely the Mujao, Ansar Eddine and Al-Qaeda North Africa….   Full story

Rise and Struggles of the Islamist Movements in North Africa

The popular movements that have toppled dictatorial regimes in North Africa have unwillingly paved the way for Islamists and conservative factions to take over governance. With the Islamists front and center, divisions and differences in ideas have emerged among them, dominated by four distinct factions:  those in governments tend to be moderate Islamists. But they are surrounded by factions that are pushing for more conservative policies through constitutional reforms.  Outside of these two groups are the Salafists who have shown willingness to use violent methods to reach their goals. Outside of these three, are the extremists terrorist groups that may be or not coordinated at the regional or international level to inflict greater damage to existing governments and Western interests. In this context, those who took part to the Arab Spring, from students and youth to labor unions and rights organizations, although initially felt sidelined, they continue to work hard to insure that their voices are not drowned.

The following is a series of articles focusing on the rise of the Islamists and the issues they currently face among themselves and in relations to the secular movement

With the Rise of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya and Tunisia, Al Qaeda Starts New Offensive in North Africa

The assassination of American diplomats in Libya has brought to the forefront a new Salafist group with Jihadist tendencies called Ansar al-Sharia. Although the attack against the American consular office was seemingly carried out as a retaliation for an amateur movie insulting to Islam and its Prophet Mohamed, all fingers point to Ansar al-Sharia as being behind the killings for reasons that are not necessarily related to the film in question.

 

The War Within: Salafists vs. Moderates

In the aftermath of the toppling of many Arab dictators, Islamist politicians have come into the forefront of governance and are now seemingly in control. But as they move into halls of power in Tunis, Cairo, Rabat and elsewhere, we discover that Political Islam is not as homogenous as many thought. Philosophical differences and ideological gaps exist between the various stakeholders that are likely to make the transition to a stable region a difficult and bumpy road.

 

 Tunisia and the Salafist Threat

The general security climate in Tunisia has deteriorated and government response has been timid and inefficient. Given the Islamist offensive appears well organized, it is likely part of an effort to destabilize Tunisia and derail its efforts to recover from a disastrous 2011. The recent call made by Al-Qaida leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri for the Tunisian people to rise up against the Ennahda Islamist ruling party was followed immediately by a series of actions that took place in Tunisia, demonstrating that Al-Qaeda and its remaining leaders have the ability to strike. Relaying Al-Zawahiri’s call, young clerics in Tunisia followed up with their own local calls for action. Among them is the extremist figure Abu Ayoub Ettounsi who called on the Tunisians to revolt after the prayer session of June 15, 2012. The same man called for the destruction of the studios of the TV channels Nessma. And so Tunisia may now very well be in the eye of the storm.

How to Secure the Sahel

Thursday night, the northern Mali region of Kidal witnessed the first wave of serious clashes between the Touaregs and so-called Islamist group Ansar Dine, a group under the influence of Al-Qaeda. The event is critically important in that it confirms that the two groups, the Touaregs organized under the independence movement of the MNLA and the Al-Qaeda operatives in the region (Ansar Dine) have different agendas. As their key leaders have often stated, the Touaregs have not pledged allegiance to foreign Jihadist influences and will not do any time soon. That in itself is not only encouraging, but a major opportunity for those fighting the Jihadists and seeking to root them out. A fresh approach to the Sahel is needed and without an active participation of the Touaregs, the Sahel will remain a dangerous zone. Here’s why.

Debt Crisis in the Moroccan Subsidy System: Undesirable Gift for Islamist PM

There is a bumpy road ahead for the new government leader in Rabat. As he enters his offices, both excited and energized by a fresh electoral victory with the prospect of governing a nation, Prime Minister Benkirane has to deal with the country’s accounting books, and what he sees does not please him. The ledger looks dangerous and could force him to chose between making unpopular decisions or maintain a financially unsustainable status quo.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Secure the Sahel

Thursday night, the northern Mali region of Kidal witnessed the first serious clashes between the Touaregs and so-called Islamist group Ansar Dine, a group under the influence of Al-Qaeda Maghreb. The event is critically important it that it confirms that the two groups, the Touaregs organized under the Touareg independence movement of the MNLA and the Al-Qaeda operatives in the region (Ansar Dine) have different agendas. As their key leaders have often stated, the Touaregs have not pledged allegiance to foreign Jihadist influences and will not do any time soon. That in itself is not only encouraging, but a major opportunity for those fighting the Jihadists and seeking to root them out. A fresh approach to the Sahel is needed and without an active participation of the Touaregs, the Sahel will remain a dangerous zone. Here’s why.

Touareg fighters | (c) MNLA

Touareg fighters | (c) MNLA

As predicted, the Sahel is in a state of chaos and a power vacuum is magnified by lack of leadership on all fronts. The crisis in the Sahel has expanded in particular following the violent toppling of Libya’s Muamar Gaddafi, a man who had a substantial influence in the region. The Sahel has no economy to speak of, although the region undoubtedly abounds of natural resources global corporations cannot wait to grab. That goes from uranium, minerals and oil and gas, to fisheries along the Atlantic coast. But Sahel nations are too bankrupt to improve their economies. On the human level, the situation is no better. Racial tension in almost all nations from Mauritania to Mali and beyond, feed into the religious frenzy pitting Muslims, Christians, Animists and others against one another.

In this sorry state of affairs, it is no surprise that the divisions and crises affecting the Sahel are providing unique openings for all sorts of opportunists. First are the legal ones in form of highly organized and resourceful mining and oil companies, aided by their very own governments. Many Western firms that have been active for a long time in uranium, metals and oil and gas exploration and production have taken advantage of the weaknesses of the regimes in place, often even propelling and protecting them at time, or destroying them some other time based on their “shareholder interests.” This breed of capitalists are finding themselves facing unusual competition, in particular China which has proven to be able to turn a blind eye to the crises in the region and beyond. On the African theater, Capitalist entrepreneurs and Communist China make no difference. They are the two sides of the same coin, a coin used to perpetuate problems albeit with different styles but with the same goals.

Alongside these perfectly legal “economic” operators, value creators and captains of industry, are the shadowy criminal gangs that roam the Sahel. They are gangs because apparently, and on the surface, no government controls them. But they are also involved in less glamorous activities. Human smuggling, drug trafficking, arms dealing, illegal trans-border movement of commodities are among the actions that are making these gangs and their mafia bosses, wherever they are, thrive amid widespread misery. And, by the way, these bosses don’t have to be in the Sahel or anywhere in Africa. In the narcotics business, they are thousands of miles away in places like Colombia and elsewhere. From their headquarters and with their billions, these drug dealers remote-control the movement of their deadly cargos moving north and into Europe. And only occasionally do we hear about them. For example the airplanes full of drugs originating from Colombia that have crashed in the Sahel.

In addition to these criminals, who are in it for the money, there are also ideologically motivated gangs roaming around as well. Al-Qaeda’s North Africa franchise has been on everyone’s mind as the enemy number one to beat these days.  AQIM or Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb as it is known here has become central in furthering the destabilization of an already destabilized Sahel. AQIM is certainly a force to reckon with. Not because they have strong manpower or an effective strategy, but because no one can police the region effectively to neutralize them, therefore allowing them to strike in poorly controlled vast territories. Although AQIM is what the French like to refer to as “la bête noire,” they are not necessarily the biggest threat as a single force. In fact, AQIM is a divided organization with a faction seemingly more ideological than the other, each of which has its own leader. Although all of these factions are said to be reporting to the same man, ultimately what happens in one corner of the vast desert, stays in that corner. Eventually, these gangs have one thing in common and that is to engage in the lucrative kidnapping business.  Many locals and European travelers have particularly suffered on the hands of these groups, often with deadly consequences. The most ideological factions of AQIM seem to enjoy rather brutal endings of their kidnappings, with the killings of their victims publicized in the world media. Others seem to be willing to negotiate the terms of the ransoms, willing to even compromise on the ideological front as long as nations are willing to spend a few millions of dollars to save their citizens.

While it is possible that the AQIM risk is often overblown by the various governments and their intelligence services, the risk is no less real for the Sahel as long as no one has ownership of the security of the region.  And as of now, no one does. So the question we have asked ourselves is what strategy would we recommend as an approach to securing the Sahel?  The answer might surprise you.

The Touareg Card:

The State of Mali is the latest to showcase a series of dramas that originate from its deeply dysfunctional political system. As stated above, problems include poverty, racial tension, religious divisions and an incapable government with the now-deposed President known for cozying up to criminal elements, including an un-publicized peace treaty with AQIM. The country is battling what is clearly a civil war, one that may be the result of a government policy aimed at further impoverishing the country’s Touareg populations based in the north.

The Touareg uprising in Mali, which culminated with the recent takeover by Touareg rebels of towns like Gao and Timbuktu, is not an overnight event. Touareg grievances started decades ago as segregation, economic despair and social misery have been Bamako’s central policy toward them, planned or not. Yet, northern Mali has always been the Touaregs’ home. It is a vast territory that is part of larger territorial expanse that covers at least parts of Algeria, Libya, Niger, Burkina Faso and other nations, and extending further into troubled nations like Chad, Sudan, Mauritania, etc. The Sahel and the Sahara desert have been home to the Touaregs for centuries, so much so that their knowledge of the terrain is unsurpassed. No other ethnic group can match their skills and capabilities when it comes to handling the Sahelian landscape. And because of this fact, pacifying the Sahel, securing it and taking it away from the likes of AQIM and criminal gangs will not happen without the Touaregs’ agreeing and taking an active part to it.

While it is difficult to obtain reliable statistics on the Touareg population, best estimates put them at some 6 million, with most of them concentrated in Algeria, Mali, Niger, Libya and Burkina, or what represents the bulk of the Sahel.  The Touaregs of Niger amounted to nearly 1.8 million strong, based on a 1998 count. The Azawad of Mali were 1.5 million in 1991.  Algeria, which has its own Touaregs, counted them as less than a million but that was back in the late 1980s.  In all, it is conceivable that the Touaregs could exceed the 6 million mark.

With such a population in a vast deserted region, how can one expect to secure the Sahel without an active and direct Touareg involvement? Such as position would be tantamount to lunacy.

The issue is obviously more complex than what we see on the surface. Demand for a Touareg autonomy will not likely to resonate and be accepted easily by the region’s governments. They have shown over and over again that they would resort to armed conflict before they would allow such autonomy. But not all is lost as we look at the long term horizons. In this context, what is happening in Libya with many calling for Federalism, albeit with an uncertain outcome may be worth considering in the case of the Touaregs. After all, Libya itself has nearly 700,000 Touaregs and they are keenly taking part to the debate on autonomy that is taking place post Gaddafi.

In Libya, tribes have been insisting on the establishment of a federation of states that would be linked and unified by a central government but autonomous in many areas, probably including security.  The topic is front and center in the ongoing debate about the political future of Libya. But this very same idea should be applied elsewhere in Africa and certainly in the Sahel. In the case of the Sahel, the AQIM risk and the proliferation of criminal gangs can only be countered by the 6+ million-strong Touareg people in an environment where they feel they are in control and in charge of their own destiny and not by authorities housed in capitals thousands of miles away. By doing so, the Touaregs must feel empowered and incentivized to rid of all elements that could bring trouble to their homeland and people. In the process, one has to anticipate the negative reactions to this idea from the likes of Mali, Niger and probably all North African governments. But without resources and manpower to monitor and secure their own territories, these governments ought to seriously consider decentralizing governance for the sake of inclusiveness and efficiency.

Playing with the Touaregs is a difficult political and security exercise. The world’s powers, in particular the United States and Europe must be very careful not to alienate the Touaregs and so far, despite calls for the territorial integrity of Mali, these powers have refrained from vilifying the Touaregs. Doing so would bring a very dangerous outcome, one that would force the Touaregs to ally themselves with the wrong side. With a handful of men, AQIM managed to wreck havoc in the Sahel. Imagine what they can do if they form a real alliance with the millions of Touaregs.

The Touaregs are a proud people. They must be part of the solution and not considered as the problem. Only with their full participation will we see a secure Sahel. Not less.

France’s New President: Foreign Policy and Where North Africa Stands

President-elect François Hollande of France has his work cut out on the foreign policy front. His predecessor is leaving office with a sense of missed achievements and a series of policies blunders that need urgent fixing. In a five-year period, Sarkozy failed to leverage appropriately and responsibly his country’s global leadership position as a major economic and military power. That started with his failure to impose a more assertive France on the burning issues of the Euro-zone and the serious topic of the future of Europe. Instead, Sarkozy went along with Chancellor Angela Merkel and toed the line to the Germans who insisted on a miserable austerity approach to exorcize the mentality of excessive spending in the EU, not giving economic growth a chance. Hollande is likely to compensate for Sarkozy’s excesses but it remains to be seen how he will be able to convince the Germans to loosen up a bit.

Outside Europe, as Hollande takes office, there is no shortage of crises to dissolve and fires to put out. Problems for the new Hollande administration abound and they are everywhere. They are about reducing France’s involvement in Afghanistan and reclaiming its image in Africa. They are about dealing with the crisis in Syria and the never-ending Israeli-Arab conflict. Relevant to France’s stance in the Maghreb and Sub-Sahara Africa, Hollande will have to work on neutralizing the effects of Sarkozy’s disdain of minorities and immigrants, issues that have reduced France’s image in the southern Mediterranean region. They are about fixing the aggressive negative policies of a divisive President who heightened the divisions among the French people at a time when they needed shared objectives and common purposes. Sarkozy, just like his Italian friend Silvio Berlusconi, will not be missed. Both share common traits, including a complete abandonment of the Mediterranean zone of common interests.

On the foreign policy front, Afghanistan may very well be one of Hollande’s first points of concern, a problem he will have to deal with immediately upon the beginning of his 5-year term. Although the French involvement at first took on the narrative of liberating a people, it has progressively shifted into an unsustainable anti-insurrection campaign, amid a war that most French consider lost anyway. Both Sarkozy and Hollande generally agreed that French troops must be withdrawn; the only difference between them on this issue has been on timing.

François Hollande’s approach to Afghanistan is reminiscent of US President Barak Obama’s own campaign promises of a speedy troop withdrawal from Iraq. Hollande’s campaign position on this issue has been to bring the French troops back before the end of 2012. This may be an aggressive schedule, but one that he plans to inform France’s partners during the upcoming NATO summit schedules to take place in Chicago, on May 21, 2012.

France’s relations with the world’s superpowers will likely evolve on the American front, with Hollande expected to be less accommodating that Sarkozy. And while Holland will certainly use a less aggressive tone than his predecessor vis-a-vis China and Russia, he will likely continue to uphold current French policies vis-à-vis these two nations, in particular on human rights and economic issues.

On the Persian front, while Hollande will keep France in the camps of those who worry about a nuclear Iran, he is expected to lessen the excessive anti-Iranian rhetoric that his predecessor has displayed over the past years. Sarkozy’s pronouncements on Iran made him even more radical than those lobbyists and media commentators who speak of a gloom-and-doom scenario of a nuclear Iran. Hollande is expected to move much closer to the position of most of his European counterparts, acknowledging the Iranian nuclear problem, yet without having to fall victim of the excessive anti-Iranian fear mongering.

On the crisis in Syria, Hollande and Sarkozy generally saw eye to eye on the need to solve the problem within a multilateral context, ruling out the use of force. Getting Russia to pressure the Assad regime is what the two men see as a desirable course of action.

On the Mediterranean front, a unified Mediterranean zone as proposed in his early years by Sarkozy is unlikely to be a priority for Hollande as long as the Israeli-Arab conflict persists. In contrast, Sarkozy’s anti-Islamic and anti-immigration proclamations and policies have degraded France’s stance in the Maghreb and in the countries that France used to exhort enormous influence. Yet, François Hollande is likely to leverage his predecessor’s disastrous record to attempt to recover lost ground, even as Islamists in North Africa gain more political power.

Interestingly, Nicolas Sarkozy’s own shining moment, his contribution to the “liberation” of Libya was a muted topic during the Presidential debate and his own campaigning. This is because Sarkozy’s gung-ho interventionist stance has been perceived by many Europeans as a bullying tactic from a man who was planning his own election campaign. Instead, the Libyan crisis has divided Europe, forcing a state of freeze in the subsequent handling of the Syria crisis today. In Libya itself, a sense of an unfinished business is felt by many observers, a situation essentially caused by the hasty jump to the gun of Sarkozy and his allies, including the British. What should have been a “popular revolution,” in the eyes of many Libyans, it turned into a hasty Western intervention instead and Sarkozy being in the middle of it.

Sarkozy and his foreign policy team have done a poor job understanding African issues in general and failed to anticipate what’s to come. The crisis in Mali, bringing that country of massive French influence into chaos is one example of such mismanagement of French foreign policy in Africa. So much so that French interests are the prime target of Al Qaeda in North and West Africa and the Sahel. Meanwhile, African governments remain suspicious of the French agenda as Sarkozy showed eagerness to intervene quickly as was the case in Libya and Cote d’Ivoire. In their mind, they could be next.

What about North Africa? In Rabat, the Moroccan government showed no significant worries as François Hollande was declared the winner of the Presidential race. However, we picked up some signs of concerns as usually Morocco finds a more open-door policy among France’s right wing leaders and lot less accommodating Socialists. The Moroccans of a certain age remember vividly the cozy and personal relations that existed between the late Hassan II and former rightist President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. Then in 1981, Giscard d’Estaing was swept away from office by Socialist rival François Mitterrand. The Mitterrand tenure was characterized by lack of trust between him and Hassan II, a period which saw France increased its criticism of the Moroccan monarchy over allegations of human rights abuses. With Jacques Chirac replacing Mitterrand, the honeymoon period between Rabat and Paris returned, and went on during the Sarkozy tenure.

Within the French Socialist world, Morocco initially hoped for a Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) victory. DSK was also a good friend of Morocco, even owning a luxury 19th century villa in Marrakech purchased more than a decade ago for a half million Euros. But Morocco’s lobbying efforts had to quickly refocus on other politicians as DSK faced a legal battle of his own.

With the Socialists back into the Élysée Palace, the Moroccans are minimizing any negative impact such political change could bring, supported by positive comments by Martine Aubry, a friend of Morocco and the current Secretary General of the French Socialist Party. A charm offensive was launched early this year by the Moroccans to seduce François Hollande to insure that France does not open up to the pro-Western Sahara independence movement. Seeking to appease the Moroccans, Martine Aubry held a press conference in Rabat during which she welcomed Morocco’s position on a so-called “reinforced autonomy” for the Sahara. But there is no certainty that France’s position on the Western Sahara front will remain rock solid. The Moroccans remember 2007 when the then Presidential Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal made pronouncements that were constantly in opposition to the Moroccan monarchy.

François Hollande will not only have to deal with various leftist currents that supported him and have more affinity to the aspirations of the independence movement, but he is also looking to fix the battered relations between France and Algeria, a country that is critical to France on both the security front and as an energy supplier amid a reduction of the nuclear power source in France. The French diplomacy will have to walk a fine line to keep both of these feuding nations from thinking that France is against them. But Rabat is bracing for a shift in French policy toward them anyway. Indeed, not only Hollande has extremely limited interaction with Morocco, he has been much closer to Algeria, having worked there for 8 months. Also a point of concern for the Moroccans is the people who surround François Hollande, in particular his high-powered political adviser Faouzi Lamdaoui, a native of the eastern Algerian city of Constantine. Read this associated analysis on the “Rise of North Africans in French Politics.”  Another person to watch in the Hollande circles is Kader Arif, a Member of the European Parliament for the south-west of France. He is a member of the Holland’s Socialist Party and sits on the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade. A third source of influence is the young Razzy Hammadi who presided over the Movement of Socialist Youth, before becoming a national secretary of the Socialist Party in November 2008. Former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius is also an “Algerianist” who is likely to direct the new administration in favor of Algeria. The Moroccans are not left without their strong cards too. In addition to leveraging their friendship with Martine Aubry, the Moroccans will count on a bi-national, French Socialist militant Najat Vallaud-Belkacem to play a counter weight to the Algerianists.

With Algeria, as issues abound, the Franco-Algerian relations are expected to undergo some corrective measures from Team Hollande. It is worth noting that the emergence of François Hollande in the Presidential race was not anticipated by the Algerians. As in Rabat, all eyes in Algiers focused on DSK. So much so that during a 2010 trip to Algiers, François Hollande was not even received by President Bouteflika, who was said to have had a light schedule and a free calendar that time. Yet, Algiers tried to play catch up during the most recent campaign, dispatching lobbyists in an effort to meet with the likes of Faouzi Lamdaoui. This last minute effort failed as the Hollande team was required to avoid such contacts for the obvious reasons.

Yet, Algeria wants to be recognized as a key regional player, a position that Sarkozy refused to recognize. But with an Algeria increasingly positioned as a critical player in regional affairs, Hollande will likely reduce the tension that exists between Paris and Algiers under the Sarkozy regime, starting with the possibility of the new French government recognizing, to a limited extent, its colonial past and role during the Algerian war of liberation. Hollande is said to be willing to make a gesture, albeit symbolic toward Algeria, but may not go as far as a full recognition.

In addition, Sarkozy has been lobbying hard to re-negotiate the Franco-Algerian 1968 treaty, creating heightened tension with Algiers. The treaty provided greater rights to Algerians in France compared to other nationals, a situation that Sarkozy insisted on reducing. Under his watch, Hollande is not likely to rush to revisit France’s political and human framework deal with Algeria.

But what France is facing in North Africa in a more dramatic way is the political upheaval that has occurred in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and the security problems extending into Mali, Niger and the rest of the Sahel. This is while there is a certain constancy in France’s relations with Algeria and Morocco. In the Tunisian case, outgoing President Sarkozy failed to anticipate the outcome of the crisis that has led to the ousting of Ben Ali. The same could be said about Egypt and the inability of Sarkozy to project. On Tunisia, some creative strategy has to be adopted with the stabilization of that nation and a bit of touch-and-go process dominating the approach. Hollande’s pronouncements regarding Tunisia and all other countries that had a revolution of sort focus largely on insuring that democracy is the chosen political path. In an interview, Hollande was clear that France’s views and policies will not change because of changes in regimes in the Élysée.

During a visit to Tunis in May 2011, Hollande suggested that the international community should transform Tunisia’s debt into donation so as to not burden Tunisia with financial liabilities. The Tunisians have been ecstatic that Hollande won, in part because Sarkozy was “booted out like his friend Ben Ali,” as commentators there noted.

But some contentions are likely to take place on ideological grounds. As a Westerner, Hollande has been insistent on democracy as the only ideology to adopt in nations that underwent their own popular revolts. While this sort of pronouncement might have been welcomed a while ago by the Islamists, it is possible that they have a different views now that they have a grab over governance in the region. Equally a point of difference between Hollande and the Islamists is the role of women and gender equality as conservative groups in North Africa are pushing for a dangerous reduction in women’s rights. But Hollande remains more conciliatory when he speaks of the right of Muslims in France to live in peace and without any fear of government.

Specific to Libya, Hollande recognizes that he approved of the French intervention to oust Muamar Gaddafi, but he says he regrets the lack of follow up that would have stabilized that nation. He also regretted the impact the Libyan crisis has had on the deterioration of security in the Sahel region, further heightened by a proliferation of weapons and fighters previously active in Libya and spreading into Mali and Niger. There in the Sahel, Hollande believes that stabilization will require foreign support on economic growth. Within the Sahel, Hollande appears to be concerned by an increase targeting of French interests there, in particular with nuclear giant Areva active in Niger.

As France engineered a smooth transition from Sarkozy to Hollande, we should expect also foreign policies to evolve, and hopefully this time, a Hollande pragmatism will supersede provocative Sarkozy rhetoric.

The Rise of North Africans in French Politics

New generation of French of North African origin impacting French politics
New generation of French of North African origin impacting French politics

Seeking to discredit his opponent during the Presidential race in France, outgoing President Nicholas Sarkozy stated on April 27, 2012 that François Hollande has received support from 700 Muslim clerics operating in France. Blinded by a bad attitude vis-a-vis North Africans and Sub-Sahara Africans in general, bordering xenophobia, Sarkozy may have lost precisely because he alienated a substantial minority block that is becoming key to French politics, somewhat akin to the Hispanic vote in US elections.

Sarkozy statements on the matter and his dirty politics eventually backfired. Largely because French of North Africans origin have been energized to place a Socialist in the Élysée Palace. Yet, North Africans come in various political persuasions. They can even be on the extreme as was the case of Farid Smahi, a politician of Algerian parents who was a member of the rightist radical extremist party of the National Front. Indeed there are many French of North African origin who are standing against a certain culture in their country of origin that force them to take extreme positions. Arabization, the dangerous rise of conservatism, the prominence of Islamic politics, lack of rights for the Berbers and other minorities, gender inequality and bad governments are among the factors that led to these extreme positions. Many of them also happen to be the children of what is known here as “Harkis,” Algerians who have fought alongside with the French against the independence of Algeria. During his campaign to regain his seat, Sarkozy went on a charm offensive to lure the Harki vote. He stated in many occasions that the Harkis have not been treated fairly for their services to France, a situation that needed to be corrected. It is unclear how the Harkis voted, but they represent a half million votes worth of a charm offensive from the right.

But most French of North African decent tend to support the Socialist Party. This is largely due to the fact that most of them tend to live in working class neighborhoods outside of the big cities that lean to the left. A media commentator suggested that it is the case in particular in the Paris region, the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur in southern France, and in the Rhône-Alpes in the east. These are regions that are heavily invested by labor unions, natural allies of the Socialists. And so over the years, the Socialist Party in France has become a sort of safe heaven for French-North Africans seeking political office or leadership positions in politics. The Moroccan Najet Vallaud-Belkacem has been François Hollande’s spokesperson. The Algerian Malek Boutih is another person to watch. He has held a senior-level position at the Socialist Party making him a key player in the Hollande offensive. Moroccan Mohamed Oussedik is also a rising star, starting as a laborer and now well positioned to lead the formidable CGT labor union.

While Sarkozy continued to divide the French on religious and ethnic grounds, vilifying the North Africans in particular, he worked hard to muddy the water precisely to combat any allegation of racism. His cabinet has a handful of very vocal and media-savvy North Africans including former Justice Minister Rachida Dati, today a member of the European Parliament representing Sarkozy’s party the UMP. Another Sarkozy protégé was Fadela Amara, an Algerian who held the position of State Secretary (Junior Minister) in charge of urban issues. But many in France say that such appointments were simply meant to confuse and shield Sarkozy against accusations of ethnic and religious divisiveness. Such strategy continues even as Sarkozy is defeated. His party is fielding the daughter of an Algerian Harki, Salima Saa as a candidate for the legislative elections of June 2012. Ms. Saa is competing for a seat to represent Roubaix, a region in total control by the Socialists. Ms. Saa was almost hired as Sarkozy’s campaign spokesperson.

As Francois Hollande takes over the reign of power in France, he has surrounded himself with a number of politically aggressive French of North African origin. Generally young, being born in the 1960s and 70s, this group of political operatives are worth watching because they could become what will reignite France’s relations to North Africa. But just like Salima Saa, Rachida Dati, Fadela Amara and the flamboyant Farid Smahi, North Africans in France are given the chance to belong to whatever political persuasion they endorse, and that shows that diversity in France, a country often criticized precisely because of a perceived lack of diversity is on the right track.

Here are some of them:

Influencing Francois Hollande on the Socialist Front

Operatives on the right:

Women’s Domination in Egypt and Beyond

Women’s domination has been a fact that the world is witnessing through this era, not only in developed countries, but in developing ones too like Egypt. Their domination is reflected in the three most powerful things in life; economy, art and psychology.

Women’s power in economy does not only prove that she can be financially dependent and earn more money than a man too, depending on her wits, but it also reflects her existence in the money market and in the cycle of production.

Her power in art proves her understanding to the environment and her adventure to communicate with its wildness, and succeed to either tame it or make it wilder.

The power of a woman in psychology is a gift that she always had, but when combining it with her new gained powers, she becomes a mistress in wielding them altogether to reach her goal.

In our multi-cultural Egypt, there are some women who are still against the concept of feminism. However, the foundation defines feminism in a very simple way: “The right for all women to speak up.” That’s why anyone is free to participate in this competition with any kind of thoughts, for we strongly believe that there is much more science than that exists in our already published books.

Feminism itself as a concept is considered a separate revolution on politics, traditions and upon the Egyptian minds, although it is known through the ancient Egyptian history that Egyptians glorified the woman figure to a great extent.

Feminism in Egypt started to finally grow as a beautiful rose rising within a hot and thirsty desert. We long to let others know about this divine Rose and get inspired with it, and perhaps this rose will be the new Lighthouse shining from our Alexandria

The Forgotten Writers Foundation – formed after the Egyptian revolution to empower Egyptian literature – is issuing its second short story competition about “Women’s Domination” to make a study through the submissions on how different cultures and genders perceive the power of women psychologically and philosophically.

The winning stories will be published in one book – after the award ceremony is held – with a foreign publisher to deliver our own science and work to the other side of the world, and that they start knowing about Egyptians directly rather than through reporters and newspapers. It is unfair to have our intellectuals buying and reading English books and giving nothing back in return to the world except their money. Globalization will be fulfilled in the world of Literature and Egypt will then have its recognizable place among readers all over the world.

Guidelines:

http://mahmoudmansicriticreviews.blogspot.com/2012/01/international-womens-day-short-story.html

Deadline:

31 / July / 2012

Questions:

Native_writer@yahoo.com

(002) 0100 92 818 08

Best of Luck!
Mahmoud Mansi

The Forgotten Writers Foundation

Salaries in the Maghreb: The Land of Equality?

While no one expects their government leaders to earn the same wage as the average guy, North Africa governments tend to pay generous salaries to ministers and the likes. However, compared to corporate executive jobs, or even mid-level managers in the West, the salaries in question are not that great. They generally do not exceed the $150,000 ceiling, but that does not inlcude the perks and bonuses that most of these officials benefit from. That includes allowances for housing, travel, cars, gasoline, etc. If you include all of that and more, government people in North Africa are rich.

In the region, the most humble officials are those of Tunisia. The Prime Minister there does not get more than $48,000 per year, when his Algerian and Moroccan colleagues get almost triple that amount. Interestingly, in the spirit of good governance, the Interim President of Tunisia, who was entitled to a wage equivalent of $240,000 per year, has downgraded his pay to a symbolic $20,000 per year instead. We salute Mr. Marzouki for doing so as the Tunisian people continue to struggle with their evolving Jasmine Revolution.

What do the others make compared to minimum or median wages? Judge by yourself.

Top Algerian Leaders' Salaries

Top Algerian Leaders' Salaries

 

Moroccan Ministers' Wages

Moroccan Ministers' Wages

 

Wages in Tunisia

Wages in Tunisia

Libya: Not out of the Woods Yet

Libya is not out of the woods yet. And for those who think solutions to its multi-faceted crises are near, they should reconsider their views very carefully. It is certain that for a few multinational companies, the time is right to re-engage. With a country that has so much oil and gas, the time is always right to engage. The country has a multi-billion dollar budget, and although a substantial chunk of it is dedicated to buy peace, that is to pay for wages and compensations of all sorts, a good size of it is dedicated to reconstruction. So if you are a construction firm, an oil and gas company, or involved in general infrastructure and security, Libya could be a good deal for you. This is as long as you are neither Russian nor Chinese, two nations that are facing a less collaborating Libyans.

But apart from these reconstruction and peace-buying efforts, the country looks in pretty bad shape. The transitional authority or NTC seems generally unable to impose itself. Many of its key leaders are unknown entities, including the Prime Minister. And so as the NTC fails to deliver, what many here refer to as the ‘Tribes’ are pushing for federalism as Libya’s best political system to adopt. I happen to agree with that wholeheartedly. I am not naive to believe a transition to Federalism will be a smooth one, but consider for a moment the track record of Arab government in adopting a central government. The whole thing was probably an invention from former colonial powers and the dictators that followed to keep a lid on political demands. Under Arab central governments and across Africa as well, civil, ethnic, political and even religious rights have always been minimized or altogether suppressed, and that’s from the Atlantic Ocean, all the way to nations like Iran to the east. Religious tolerance does not exist in most of the Arab world, otherwise how can, for example, one explain the cracking down of the Shias in Bahrain, a crackdown sponsored and enforced by the Saudis themselves, the defenders of the faith. The Bahraini case is the most visible part of the iceberg as in some countries eating a sandwich in Ramadan, writing a novel involving different views or singing a song critical to the police land you to jail and troubles for the rest of your life. And so as the voices of Federalism are heard louder in Libya, we can and should endorse them because it may become an alternative to excessive central power.

One of the problems that Federalism could solve is the easing of the state of insecurity in Libya. The issue of insecurity in Libya is often overblown, because there are less criminal activities involved than reported. What many consider as heavily armed gangs roaming the streets, including in our own articles admittedly, may sound like a scene from a Mad Max movie when in fact, those gangs are men who may be less willing to believe in the political rhetoric of the new leaders in the new Libyan governance. Should we blame these young men and women for wanting to be part of the solution? Should we blame them for not trusting an obscure professor of engineering in an Alabama university and the men around him, coming to speak on their behalf, after more than 40 years of dictatorship, and a traumatic ending to it? I would say I honestly understand their position, and urge the Libyans to push for Federalism. In this case, those who have political power at the regional level should exercise it and work to influence regional security… not from Tripoli, Benghazi, London, Qatar or Washington. And as long as the regions are not fully empowered to deal with their issues and negotiate peace among one another, the security issue will remain front and center.

And here’s how the central government is good at ruining peace. Today for example, the NTC has failed to secure peace in Kufras in the south of the country, essentially bombing locations there that are inhabited by the Tebus. The official Libyan military is acting irresponsibly by doing exactly the type of things Muamar Gaddafi would have done. The Tebu district of Kufra in the Sahara is said to be off-limits to the Libyan military since February 2012, following the inter-tribe clashes pitting the Tebus to the Zway tribe, resulting in an astonishing 150 deaths. So as one witnesses these acts, one wonders how a solution to this southern Libyan conflict could be solved by a central government’s imposed solution. Only federalism that brings the leaders of these tribes together could reduce tension.

The Libyans are also facing substantial racial tension that further requires some level of federalism to solve due to the specific racial makeup in each of the regions. Human rights organization Amnesty International reported about abuses against the Tawargha community of black Libyans, essentially Touaregs, following the killing of one of them after being tortured in Misrata. Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui of Amnesty International says “this brutal death highlights the continuing dangers facing detainees in the new Libya.”  Amnesty International says it knows of at least a dozen cases to deaths that have occurred in jails in the hands of armed militias since Gaddafi was toppled, the Tawarghas being disproportionately targeted.

Amnesty says “the entire population of the city of Tawargha, some 30,000 people, has suffered abuses at the hands of armed militias in revenge to for their town’s perceived loyalty to the former government, and for crimes some Tawargha are accused of having committed during the siege and shelling of the neighboring city of Misrata by Gaddafi forces. Militias from Misrata drove out the entire population of Tawargha in August 2011, looting and burning down their homes.” Can the NTC and a central government stop these massacres? Probably not.

Unable to Control the Economic Problems, the Conservatives in Morocco Focus on Cultural Warfare

The Moroccan Islamists in power are facing a difficult economic environment. Because their programs fail to address the fundamental issues crippling the economy, such as corruption and industries heavily controlled by a few untouchables, the Islamists headed by Prime Minister Benkirane are turning their attention to the mundane in an effort to maintain their image among a substantial portion of the population. This includes policies aimed at favoring Arabic and reducing the impact of French and the Tamazight languages, in a trend that could constitute a setback to civil and cultural rights for the Amazigh people.

The first targeted by the conservative ideologues is naturally the media and in this case it is about more religious and Arabic-language programs in the two state-controlled TV channels, Channel 1 and 2M, as well as in radion stations. These two channels have been ordered by the minister of communications and government spokesman Mustapha El Khalfi, a prominent member of the Islamist PJD party to up Arabic-language programming or else! The move came in form of a government reform of the media landscape initiated by the winning PJD party, which won the argument before the nation’s media watchdogs, the Conseil Supérieur de la Communication Audiovisuelle and the Haute Autorité de la Communication Audiovisuelle (HACA), without any public debate. Both have essentially endorsed the wishes of the pro-Arabic language conservatives.

How do these reforms translate in reality? In the case of Channel 1, management is now required to broadcast three news hours exclusively in Arabic and only one bulletin in Amazigh. Even more ironic, the Amazigh bulletin will have to be subtitled in Arabic too. According to Moroccan media watchers and those working at Channel 1, Arabic programs will now account for 80% of programming, while Amazigh will be relegated to a 20% quota. That is ironic in a nation that has a substantial Amazigh population. The same thing applies to 2M, in addition to pushing non-Arabic programs and news late into the evening or early in the morning.

The conservative offensive on culture in Morocco, but also in Tunisia and even in Algeria is deep, widespread and highly alarming. This offensive takes the form of an ideological battle that is not only destructive to the cultural capabilities of the people of the region, but also destructive to the economy, a killer of jobs. Consider the fact that the Islamists in power in Morocco see the advertisement for the Moroccan lottery on TV as a sin and have decided to withdraw the MAD 26 million paid to 2M as part of its lotto program. By withdrawing such support, you can be assured 2M will have to reduce its staff.

And so go the Islamists of North Africa. Unable to think outside of the box, they will neither solve the economies of their nations, nor will they create an environment to stimulate job growth. Instead, they will continue to focus on the wrong things: vilifying anyone who does not think like them and force many more liberal and skilled North Africans to find refuge abroad.

Finally, let me recognize the fact that not all members of this conservative government are the same. It turns out the only woman in the cabinet, Women and Families Minister Bassima Hakkaoui is doing the right thing by endorsing calls to discuss reforming the nation’s laws related to families. These laws written by conservative men have essentially turned women into second-class sub-servant citizens.  The call was sparked by the suicide of a 16 year-old girl who was forced to marry her rapist, an outcome that can be granted by a judge as a way to solve family disputes. So rather than getting the criminal rapist locked up in jail, the justice system in Morocco gives a way out by forcing the victim to remain a victim all their life.

While Bassima Hakkaoui did not make a definite call to abolish the law that allows such a loophole, she stood up somewhat against it, proving that some in the conservative movement, albeit cautious, are capable of rational thinking. And that we salute.

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