North Africa Theater
Tunisian President Kais Saied was accused by opposition parties of launching a "coup" with the help of the country's military after firing the prime minister and freezing parliament July 25. The move comes after anti-government protesters took over the streets of the capital Tunis, expressing dismay over ongoing economic turmoil and a demonstrably poor response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Saied had been engrossed in disputes with the now-ousted prime minister Hichem Mechichi since the pandemic struck.
Fresh evidence of harrowing violations, including sexual violence, against men, women and children intercepted while crossing the Mediterranean Sea and forcibly returned to detention centers in Libya, highlights the grave consequences of Europe's ongoing cooperation with Libyan authorities on migration and border control, said Amnesty International in a report published July 15. Entitled 'No one will look for you': Forcibly returned from sea to abusive detention in Libya, the repprt documents how violations against refugees and migrants continued unabated in Libyan detention centers during the first six months of 2021 despite repeated promises to address them.
US-led forces are currently carrying out war games in Morocco, the periodic "African Lion" exercises which this year also involve troops from Tunisia and Senegal. The games are taking place near the disputed region of Western Sahara, which Morocco is trumpeting this as a re-affirmation of US recognition of its claim to the territory. Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani said on Twitter ahead of the exercises that the event "marks the consecration of American recognition of the Moroccan Sahara." (The Defense Post, Africa News, June 15)
Security forces in Algeria put down weekly pro-democracy protests in the capital and cities across the country May 21, detaining hundreds of would-be demonstrators. "March prevented and suppressed in Algiers and Annaba, confrontations in Bouira, arrests in several provinces," reported Said Salhi, head of the Algerian League for Human Rights (LADDH), adding that demonstrations had gone ahead in Bejaia and Tizi Ouzou. He said nearly 500 people had been detained across 15 provinces, but mostly in Algiers. Protests had been held every Friday since the Hirak pro-democracy movement emerged in February 2019. In early May, just as the weekly protests were starting to re-mobilize after a period of abeyance due to the pandemic, the Interior Ministry announced new rules barring unauthorized demonstrations. This past Friday marked a second consecutive week that police flooded the streets of the capital to head off the protests. Said one activist on the scene: "For the 118th Friday [since the first Hirak protests], 'Algiers the White' has turned police blue." (TRT World, Al Jazeera)
The UK government on May 20 imposed sanctions on Libya's al-Kaniyat militia and its leaders for violations of international law. The militia is reportedly responsible for 27 mass graves containing the remains of hundreds of residents reported missing in the Libyan town of Tarhuna, on the southern outskirts of Tripoli. The group, aligned with the forces of eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar, is additionally held responsible for atrocities such as torture, murder, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearance between 2014 and 2020. The UK has imposed the sanctions under the Sanctions & Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018.
Libya's Government of National Accord officially handed power over to a new interim government in Tripoli on March 16, the day after Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh's cabinet was sworn in by the House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk. This is the fruit of a long and complicated UN-led process with multi-track negotiations. The new leadership faces multiple challenges, including holding elections and restoring much-needed government services. It also needs to unite a country that has largely been in chaos since the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi, helped by NATO's decision (exactly 10 years ago) to intervene. The new cabinet contains five women, including the ministers of foreign affairs and justice. Together they make up 15% of the leadership—not the 30% delegates to the UN process had promised. But many Libyan women are viewing this as at least a step in the right direction.
A Tunisian appeals court ordered the release of jailed activist Rania Amdouni on March 17, following an outcry from civil society and human rights groups. Amdouni had been charged with "insulting police and abuse of morals," which sparked concerns from rights groups over suppression of free speech. Amdouni is the president of Chouf Minorities and a member of the Tunisian Association for Justice & Equality (DAMJ), both organizations concerned with rights for women and the LGBT. She has faced abuse from law enforcement over of her involvement in recent protests against austerity policies and police brutality. Police and politicians have shared her photo on social media with disparaging comments about her appearance and presumed sexual orientation and gender identity.
Erik Prince, former CEO of the notorious private military company Blackwater, violated the UN arms embargo on Libya with a clandestine pipeline to a rebel warlord, according to a confidential report to the Security Council obtained by the New York Times. The report found that in 2019 Prince deployed a force of foreign mercenaries and weapons to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, who has been fighting to depose the UN-recognized Libyan government. The $80 million operation, dubbed "Project Opus," included a shipment of aircraft from South Africa. It also included plans to form a hit squad to hunt down and kill Libyan commanders opposed to Haftar. The accusation exposes Prince to possible UN sanctions, including a travel ban. Prince did not cooperate with the UN investigation, and his lawyer declined to comment to the Times. (Al Jazeera, Daily Sabah)