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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.





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.


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

A North Africa Journal AudioCast:  Understanding the Mali Crisis (Youtube)

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


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

Economic Growth Not a Religious Discourse

Original Title: Moroccans Would Like to See Economic Growth Not a Religious Discourse

Written by Said Temsamani*

“Islamism is a term that has been used to describe two very different trends,” wrote Maha Azzam, an associate fellow at Chatham House, in a recent paper on the implications of the Arab spring for British foreign policy earlier this year.

“First, [it describes] the non-violent quest for an Islamic-friendly society based on the ‘principles of Islam’, which can involve a more liberal application of Islamic teachings and tradition or a more strict interpretation. Second, Islamism is also associated with violent extremism, most notably that of al-Qaida in the promotion of terrorism.”

For about two centuries now, Moroccans, like the vast majority of Arabs and Muslims, have been searching for a magical formula that would allow them to stay true to their traditions and faith and, at the same time, catch up to the scientific, commercial, and political prowess of Europe and the West.   Delegations were sent to France to check out the wonders of modern French civilization; individuals travelled and lived in European and American capitals; Western products fill the shelves of every Arab and Muslim supermarket, from Dubai to Casablanca; we get dressed in Western-style military uniforms and carry Western weapons; we proudly fly Western-style flags and recite national anthems at sports events; we use the Internet, cell phones, and every Western-made gadget to show that we are as capable as anyone else to live in the modern world; we travel the world in Western-made planes, fuelled by Western-extracted and processed technologies; we seek—no, demand—Western-style democracy and a long list of social and human rights, while condemning the West for its arrogance and gross materialistic culture.

Abdellah Laroui, the great Moroccan historian, noted a long time ago that we are alienated (note that the word in Arabic, taghrib, is, etymologically, tied to the West, as if to be alienated is to be Westernized) between modernity and tradition. It is a fairly safe bet to expect that most of my fellow Moroccans reading this article are major consumers of Western products, but they most probably find refuge in an imagined past of upright ancestors, hazily pictured as ideal and wholesome, thanks to the sermons (khutab) that inundate our streets and souks, and stream through radio waves and the Internet. No Western-made medium exemplifies this schizophrenic state better than Al Jazeera television.  A slick Western-style production, financed by a state that is deeply embedded in the global financial system, is keeping hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims stultified in front of their TV sets—raging at the West, but incapable of finding their way out to the freedom they have long sought.

As much as anything else, what we need in Morocco right now is to be what we choose.  All Moroccans should have the right to live as they please and question and write about any subject that interests them. Moroccan artists and scientists should have absolute license to create and invent; men and women should pursue their dreams and desires however they imagine them; and businesspeople should have ironclad guarantees that their investments are protected by strong laws.  If our model of freedom is France, Britain, or Canada, then we have no option but to enshrine these freedoms, which include the right to any opinion, however offensive it may be to tradition, without being harassed by self-appointed guardians of ancestral ways.

The new mudawwana (family law) and women’s right to share their Moroccan nationality with their children are gifts of secular policies, not religious ones.  But now, we are back to the Middle Ages, when religion ruled supreme in both Europe and the world of Islam. For one of the fundamental tenets of modern political systems is the separation of religion from politics. Technically, as the founders of democracy in ancient Greece knew, gods may be worshipped privately at home or in temples, but they have no place in a political, citizen-based system. Democracy, properly understood, and theology, do not mix well.

We may move, however slowly and frustratingly, toward more political accountability, but we will not make much progress if we don’t open our own selves to inquiry.  Each of us, I am afraid, hosts a little tyrant inside.  We have a hard time accepting differences in our midst. We want our friends and neighbors to share our beliefs; if they don’t, we hammer them with advice and what we call maw`idha. Few Muslim Moroccans have Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or atheist Moroccan friends. We wake up and go to sleep in a vast ocean of sameness. We like the West for the liberties it offers, but we don’t do much to have them at home. This is why political revolutions are far easier to implement than cultural ones. Yet, without a solid cultural foundation that emancipates people from the fear of ghosts and spirits, we will remain mugharrabun, alienated between a future we desire and a past that pulls hard at our coattails and jellabas.

We may need another protest movement after the one known as “February 20th” does its work and recedes into the margins of Morocco’s new future. The democracies that are emerging now of the debris of war and turmoil—Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya—and regimes that seem to be on the verge of collapse— Syria—are lessons for Moroccans to ponder. The non-Muslim people who have lived in Iraq since ancient times—including Jews and Christians—have either left the country for good or are in the process of doing so. Christian Arabs are threatened in most Muslim-majority nations.  If we stay on this path, Arab states will more likely resemble the Iran of the ayatollahs than Spain or Switzerland. Is that what we want for our country?

A society, or nation, reaches its maximum potential when it allows its members to create and prosper without fear from cops or imams. If our political, social, and economic systems were to be well regulated—as the new constitution calls for—Moroccans could potentially unleash their intellectual and economic powers to create and share, invent and sell.  The state could then collect more taxes to finance education, medical care, and major national projects.  Poverty will diminish, prosperity could become more widespread, faith will be genuine, and more people will experience life at its fullest.

This is what freedom is all about.  To me, it is less about what political parties do or don’t do, and more about maximizing the enrichment of human experience on earth. It is about equal opportunity and fulfilling work, whether one is white or black, Muslim or Christian, young or old, man or woman. We could still seek salvation through religion, but that won’t stop our society from developing and join more scientifically advanced nations. Let’s hope we get a taste of this new social order soon.  Moroccans all lucky to have a legitimate religious institution (Commander of the Faithful) that guarantees freedom of worship to all faiths (Muslims, Jews and Christians) with no restriction.   Moroccans would like to see powerful political parties with clear platforms that answer their immediate needs and expectations for a real economic growth and not a religious discourse that unfortunately sometimes becomes extremist.


Said Temsamani

Said Temsamani

 Said Temsamani is a Moroccan Political analyst and consultant who follows events in his country and across North Africa. He is a former Senior Political Advisor at the US Embassy in Rabat.

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.






Egypt under Morsi

Egypt—a transcontinental country, having African-Middle Eastern border, and a deep geo-strategic significance in the Middle East, Africa, Mediterranean Basin and the Muslim world suffered 60 years of dictatorship until an Arab Spring starting in 2011 led to an overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Muhammed Morsi became Egyptian President defeating his rival, ex-Mubarak premier Ahmed Shafiq with 51.7% of votes. The trailblazing elections brought sweet delight and a first of many things for Egypt-he is the first democratically elected President, the first Islamist to rule the nation and the first President who is not from the military.

Although Morsi, member of the once scrutinized Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Freedom and Justice party, was sworn in as Egypt’s first civil President, his victory was anything but a sweeping win and  the revolutionary battle is far from over, as among the earlier challenges that Morsi has to coup up with included, national reconciliation and engagement with liberal opposition, to deal with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) in context to the dissolution of parliament and the SCAF’s constitutional declaration that limited much of his powers, had undercut state budget and granted the military power to arrest protestors and civilians, then drafting a new constitution and election of a new Parliament,the rehabilitation of state economy and defunct security apparatus.

While on the external front, to review Cairo’s relations with Turkey, US, Saudi Arabia and Iran, must convince and reasssure the paranoid Western world, terrfied of an Islamist government and the Shariah Rule that this loyal old Western ally would remain an open and tolerant society, and this new regime does not mark ‘ the beginning of Islamization’ in Egypt. Howere the real concern here was the  impact of the 180 degree change in goverence on the Arab-Isreal issue but the fiercely pro-Palestinian leader has pledged to honour Egypt’s international treaties, which include a 1979 peace treaty with Israel and take control of Sinai after recent attacks at Israeli border. He also paid an official visit to Saudi Arabia, met Hamas leader, khaled Meeshal, and attended African Union Summit to improve his diplomatic relations with foreign countries.

Under the recent developments in Egypt, Morsi not only ordered to reconvene the Parliament, announced the release of political war detainees, many of which are from Islamist groups, and the appointment of a woman and a Christian to a vice president positions in the government but also appointed Hesham Kandil, a religious Muslim- a technocrat rather than a hardliner and not member of Muslim brotherhood as his Prime Minister. His newly elected cabinet comprises figures of the Egyptian financial elite with representatives from the Egyptian military, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (MB), former ministers of the interim government of Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri, and various technocrats.  He made no move to antagonize Egypt’s military and the Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, kept his post.Two of the 35 ministers are women, and only one is a Coptic Christian. All this has raised skepticism about Morsi’s administration which has shown little luck in placating secular and other liberal opponents but the Egypt’s current leader understands well that his country not only needs a political reform but a practical socio-economic uplifting as the future of the democracy and stability in the region depends on what would happen in Egypt. Mr. Morsi put it himself ‘“The revolution goes on, carries on until all the objectives of the revolution are achieved and together we will complete this march.”

With such drastic and unprecedented change in the leadership of Egypt, the world is watching, fingers are crossed that would this middle-eastern power under Morsi actually succeed in achieving the democratic freedom for which it has fought for nearly 17 months, for which it sacrificed nearly 850 lives or would this country relapse and slip back into the hands of the more experienced and established military autocracy?

 The writer, Aymen Ijaz works for the Islamabad Policy Research Institute.

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.

Salafists youth in Tunisia responding to Zawahiri's call for actionAfter labor unions somewhat eased tension following their earlier confrontations with the business sector and the government, now Islamist militants have come to the forefront, making the security issue Tunisia’s number one problem today.

Cases of extremist Salafists spreading fear across Tunisia have accelerated over the past week, courtesy of Al-Zawahiri and his followers. The purpose is essentially to scare the interim government and the administration headed by the moderate Islamist party Ennahda in an effort to imposed Sharia style law.

Confrontations between police and Salafists have taken place this week in the western suburbs of the capital Tunis.  The neighborhoods of Cité Intilaka, M’nihla, and Ennogra were invaded by black flags and large crowds of young Islamist militants taking over local cafes. Similar confrontations took place in areas like Carthage, Kram and La Marsa, where militants attacked the arts house Abdellia Palace. A police station in Carthage Byrsa was also targeted.  In Sousse, the Fine Arts Institute was attacked with a cocktail Molotov. Arts and culture are prime targets for the Salafists, so much so that calls for the killing of politicians who support arts were made and posted on social networks.

The situation has gotten so bad that the military has expanded security around the Presidential palace in Carthage.

In this confrontation between the Salafists and the fragile interim government, criminals are playing a significant role in spreading terror. Indeed police have arrested some 90 perpetrators of attacks against a variety of establishments, including liquor stores, who are confirmed to already have criminal records.

This escalation of events does not bode well for Tunisia in the short and mid term. This is likely to distract the central government from dealing with real structural issues and focus on enforcement.

The Salafist movement is often driven by inexperience and highly emotional youth that are often manipulated by outside forces, including Iran. Their insistence on making unrealistic changes based on the Sharia law in countries like Tunisia where the population has always been liberal, often leads to a protracted period of confrontation with the military, with the silent support of the majority as we have seen that in neighboring Algeria. If such insistence continues, the intervention of the military will be inevitable and Tunisia will become another red dot in Al-Zawahiri’s theater of operations’ map.

A Fast Evolving Landscape

We felt rather guilty for releasing to you an 80+ page issue. For a moment we thought we should split it into two installments, but here’s the problem: North Africa is a never ending source of critical matters at this very important junction of its history. The news and fast developing stories keep on pouring at such a speed that they inevitably require large amounts of reporting. Problems abound and political leaders, including their military patrons are unable to find suitable solutions. There are no groundbreaking creative ideas going around in the region. Although we would love to share the occasional good news, we admit that there is a serious shortage of such positive matters.

Within North Africa itself, events are unfolding at a rapid velocity. Most here see them as part of a greater “revolution” that promises equity, better resource distribution, and more rights and civil liberties to the peoples of the region. So far, although revolutions have toppled a few dictators and frightened Kings and Generals, they have paved the way for the conservatives under the banner of the Islamist movement to take over the political agenda. And for the moment, that does not bode well. Their actions so far are rather disappointing and often alarming as they take over governance. As we report in this issue and in the most recent ones, human rights and civil liberties are taking a beating by the conservatives in Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and elsewhere. There is no guarantee that the conservatives will win in the long run, as the moderates and liberals are fighting back, but expect a long process and may be some collateral damage along the way.

Speaking of collateral damage, some companies are facing greater scrutiny about their dealings with the Gaddafi regime. In a previous issue we reported about Canada’s SNC Lavalin. In this one, we look at two other companies that are dealing with the same unwanted media and government scrutiny for their work in Libya. More is likely to emerge over time and companies that have conducted business in Libya are advised to revisit the way their executives dealt with the regime.

As the Islamists and conservatives take over the reign of government, they face very difficult economic conditions. High unemployment, soaring food prices in the international market, weather conditions that are destroying crops, greater political demands from citizens forcing governments to increase their subsidies to consumption are some of the many problems facing non-creative political leaders in the region. With expanding budget deficits and worsening finances, these nations’ governments will meet increasing difficulties in meeting their citizens’ demands and that too spells trouble.

As if the take-over of conservatives is not enough trouble, the region is surrounded by an ocean of regional crises. Europe’s economic crisis is another soar point for North Africa, creating problems on at least two fronts: first is the fact that Europe is a heavy weight as an economic partner to North Africa. And when Europe sneezes, North Africa catches a bad flu. In this case, expect reduced economic activity and trade between the two regions, with the strong likelihood of also reduced European investment in the Maghreb.

The second is on the human front. All these boiling problems are having a spillover effect on human and social policies affecting millions of immigrants living in Europe. The financial crisis hurting Europe affects first the lower wage demographics, among them the North Africans living in the EU, and an anti-Islamic backlash in Europe risks creating more drama and insecurity, expanding the gap between the immigrants and the Europeans. France, which is in the middle of a heated presidential election season is reaching out to Algeria to discuss a reduction by half of Algerian residents in France. Although such reaction may be an expected knee-jerk reaction after the Mohamed Merah saga, it may be unbearable for the millions of African immigrants who selected Europe and France as their new home and shelter.

To the south of North Africa is also the long-lasting multiple crises of the Sahel region. Mali with its coup-d’états and Touareg war in the north, Niger with its famine, Nigeria with its religious divide, Guinea-Bissau with its own political meltdown, let alone the nebulous Al Qaeda and the proliferation of criminal gangs in the region. Sandwiched between a troubled southern Europe and an exploding Sahel, North Africa is itself in the limelight dealing with a multi-front crisis of its own.

Then again, as some say, it is in the middle of a crisis that opportunities knock. Not the best ending for an op-ed but consider the fact that for many companies, it is business as usual despite the crises. Many Tunisian firms, as reported here, announced healthy dividends for fiscal year 2011. That is something good considering the turmoil of 2011. More interesting for the future is the fact that many of these companies are in the process of raising capital. This is because business executives are feeling more optimistic about the future and that bodes well.

The mood in Libya is also improving ever slightly. There is still plenty of drama in that country, but with a big budget and foreign companies willing to come back, the economic machine is slowly recovering, and even in a symbolic gesture, the Tripoli Stock Exchange reopened in March 2011.

In Algeria, oil giant Sonatrach is also looking for a way forward. After many years of a multi-dimensional crisis, financial scandals, and numerous jail sentences, the company, which generates the bulk of Algeria’s foreign currency income, has a new CEO who is focused on bringing hope to the tens of thousands of employees. His role is very critical as Algeria plans to expand the scope of oil and gas in the nation’s economy. Not only to up the rate of household penetration of natural gas, but to help stimulate the rest of the economy with such industries as refining, exploration and production.

In Mauritania, small independent foreign oil companies are not hesitating to invest their resources to explore for oil and gas. And that’s good as well.

As these domestic economies and the business leaders look for bright spots toward the future, foreign investors do not remain neutral in this game. And China and India appear competing against one another in getting Africa’s attention. In this game, as we report in this issue, China is the uncontested player, but do not disregard India. Bollywood is knocking on Africa’s door and may already be in a cinema near you. But China, just like Russia does not always find the doors of new markets wide open. Beijing and Moscow’s siding against the Libyan “revolutionaries” is costing them dearly today. They are simply unable to get the attention of the current Libyan authorities because the bet on the wrong horse.

In contrast, we are now seeing the small Gulf state o f Qatar almost everywhere in North Africa. Flush with billions of dollars, the Qataris are spending money to buy influence, including within France itself to get the hearts and souls of North African immigrants.

As we release this 229th issue of The North Africa Journal, we would like to propose a special focus on the crisis in the Sahel.

– First is our view that the solution to securing the Sahel has to include the Touareg people. In fact, we argue here that they are the only ones who can bring peace and stability in the region.  Read here.

– While we see the Sahel as a  source of trouble, we often forget that there is real economic activity. My colleague Alessandro Bruno reports as to why Mali is important to the mining sector (read here) and predicts that despite a worsening security climate in the Sahel, uranium production in Niger will increase (read here).

– The talented Yasmine Wozniak tackles head on two very difficult topics, which I suspect will get a great deal of feedback. The first is about the bad agricultural policies put in place in Algeria that are hurting people’s budgets [read here], and the second concerns the irrational relations between Algeria and Morocco [follow this link].

– Redouane Benhemdi also tackles explosive topics, starting with his views on the Islamists in power in Morocco and while they are unable to solve Morocco’s economic problems, their focus recently has been on imposing cultural changes for ideological purposes [read here]. Equally difficult for Redouane as his own country, Tunisia, is facing some degress of insecurity, here he focuses on Libya, arguing as I did in favor of federalism. [Read here]

For our Premium subscribers, there is plenty to ready with nearly 90 pages of Premium Content.  Please visit the dedicated site where you can either download the PDF or read online. The address is:


Finally, in our Opinions site [http://www.north-africa.com/premium/opinions/], you will notice on the top right corner a link that says “Submit your Article.” Well, it is exactly what we want and that is to hear from you.

Thank you.

Arezki Daoud