North Africa Theater
The army was ordered into the streets in Tunisia Jan. 18 following four days of angry protests by disaffected youth that have led to hundreds of arrests. Enraged over widespread unemployment, youth have erected roadblocks of burning tires, clashed with police, ransacked shops and banks, and hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at government buildings. The protests began in poor districts of Tunis, but quickly spread to other cities, including Kasserine, Gafsa, Sousse, Siliana and Monastir. At the more organized demonstrations, marchers carry placards reading "Employment is a right."
Libya's eastern warlord Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive last year to capture the capital Tripoli from the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, threatened Dec. 24 to launch attacks on Turkish forces if Ankara doesn't withdraw troops and mercenaries sent in to back up the GNA. The ultimatum is a theat to the ceasefire that has largely held since it was signed in October. Haftar's comments came in response to the Turkish Parliament's move to extend for 18 months a law that allows the deployment of Turkish troops in Libya. "There will be no security or peace as long as the boots of the Turkish military are desecrating our immaculate soil," Haftar said in comments from his eastern stronghold of Benghazi on the 69th anniversary of Libya's independence. "We will carry weapons to bring about peace with our own hands and our free will."
President Donald Trump announced Dec. 10 that Morocco and Israel have agreed to normalize relations, adding that the US will formally recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the occupied territory of Western Sahara. Trump's official proclamation states that "as of today, the United States recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara territory." The blatant quid pro quo makes Morocco the third Arab state to join Trump's vaunted "Abraham Accords," which have already seen the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recognize Israel this year. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Morocco's King Mohammed VI for his "historic decision" to sign the deal, and pledged a "very warm peace" between the two countries.
The Polisario Front has declared the 1991 Western Sahara ceasefire defunct after Morocco launched a military operation within the UN-patrolled buffer strip through the disputed territory Nov. 13. At issue is a road linking the territory to Mauritania, which passes through the buffer zone just before the border. Polisario considers the road illegal, claiming it was built in violation of the 1991 truce. What are variously called protesters or Polisario-linked militia have been blocking the road at the locality of Guerguera, within the buffer zone. Morocco's Royal Armed Forces say they are seeking to secure the flow of goods and people along the road; Polisario contends the road is being used to smuggle drugs and contraband. Polisario's armed wing, the Sahrawi People's Liberation Army, claims to have launched attacks on Moroccan forces. It is unclear if the renewed conflict has yet claimed any lives. (Sahara Press Service, WSRW, Maghreb Daily News, MEO, NYT, NYT, UN News, Al Jazeera)
Amid low turn-out and a boycott in regions of the country, Algerians approved a new constitution pushed by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune in a Nov. 1 referendum. The referendum took place on the anniversary of the start of Algeria's war for independence from France in 1954, with the government adopting the slogan "November 1954: Liberation. November 2020: Change." The preamble to the new charter actually invokes last year's Hirak or "revolution of smiles" protest movement, and the reform was clearly intended as a response to the movement's demands. But in the northeastern Kabylie region, heartland of the country's Amazigh (Berber) people and a bastion of support for the Hirak, demonstrators blocked polling stations to enforce a boycott. In response, election authorities annulled the votes from 63 of the 67 towns in the region.
Libya's warring factions on Oct. 23 signed a "permanent ceasefire" agreement, raising hopes of progress toward ending the conflict and chaos that has gripped the country since Muammar Qaddafi was overthrown and killed during a 2011 NATO-backed uprising. The internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and eastern forces led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar have been fighting for control of Libya since April 2019—each backed by a bevy of militias in a war that has seen international powers join the fray and an arms embargo routinely violated. While violence has subsided in the capital city of Tripoli in recent months, countrywide peace efforts have until now gone nowhere. Acting UN head of mission Stephanie Williams hailed the agreement, hammered out during talks in Geneva, as "an important turning point," but some have expressed doubts that it can be implemented on the ground. Under its terms, all foreign fighters must leave within three months, and a new joint police force will aim to secure the peace. The ceasefire is to start immediately.
At least six protesters were abducted and several others wounded when armed men fired into the crowd to disperse a demonstration in the Libyan capital on Aug. 23. The gunmen, who used truck-mounted heavy machine-guns as well as small arms, apparently belonged to a militia under the informal command of the Interior Ministry. Five days later, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) suspended Interior Minister Fathi Bashaga while an investigation is underway.
Libya's eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar, his long siege of Tripoli broken by the city's defenders in June, continues to hold the country's principal oil terminals, and has established effective control over the Petroleum Facilities Guard. The UN this week brokered a ceasefire between Haftar and the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, seeking to re-open exports from the terminals. Haftar agreed to the ceasefire after the US threatened sanctions against him. Russia, in turn, is apparently backing Haftar, sending arms and mercenaries to help his forces secure the terminals. Russia's paramilitary Wagner Group is especially said to be present at Es-Sider terminal, outside the port city of Ras Lanuf. (Argus Media, Libyan Express, OilPrice.com, Middle East Eye)