North Africa Theater
Protests continue for a second week in Morocco's neglected Rif region which has been shaken by unrest since death of a fish-monger at hands of police last year. More leaders of the al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or "Popular Movement," were detained by police in the flashpoint town of al-Hoceima, but protests also spread to cities throughout the country. On June 11, thousands took to the streets of the capital Rabat to demand release of the detained activists. Chants included "Free the prisoners!" and "We are all Apaches!"—a reference to an insult the late King Hassan II aimed at the people of Rif, who are mainly Berbers. The Rif was at the heart of the Arab Spring-inspired protests in Morocco in February 2011, which prompted a constitutional reform and greater cultural rights for the Berber people. (Irish Times, June 12; Middle East Online, Middle East Eye, June 11)
Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, son of late Libya leader Muammar Qaddafi, was released from prison June 9, according to the Abu Bakr al-Sideeq militia, which has held him for the past five years. Saif, 44, who was the most high-profile of Qaddafi's children, was expected to lead Libya after his father. Saif was released under a "General Amnesty Law" passed by the Libyan House of Representatives. Saif is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. According to Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, "the reported release of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi based on the Libyan parliament's 2015 flawed amnesty law does not change the fact that he is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity related to the 2011 uprising." Saif's lawyer told media that he will not be turning himself in to the ICC.
Protests spread in cities across Morocco on May 28 as thousands demonstrated solidarity with activists who had taken to the streets in the fishing port of al-Hoceima and were met with mass arrests. Rallies were reported from Casablanca, Tangier, Marrakesh and Rabat, where the protesters massed outside the parliament building. The wave of anger was sparked when authorities issued an arrest warrant for Nasser Zafzafi, a leader of the new al-Hirak al-Shaabi (Popular Movement) in al-Hoceima, on charges of "undermining state security." Zafzafi had allegedly interrupted Friday prayers at a mosque to call for further protests. At least 20 others were detained as residents took to the srteets of al-Hoceima in support of Zafzafi.
Egyptian warplanes on May 26 carried out air-strikes on what President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi called six "terrorist training camps" in Libya after a new massacre of Coptic Christians earlier in the day. The latest of a series of bloody attacks on Copts in Egypt came as Christians were headed to the Saint Samuel Monastery, near the city of Minya, some 220 kilometers south of Cairo. Masked gunmen cut off the bus in three pick-up trucks, and opened fire before fleeing the scene. At least 28 people were killed, many of them children. The retaliatory air-strikes apparently struck locations of the Mujahedeen Shura Council in Libya's eastern city of Derna. (Al Arabiya, BBC News, France24, Egyptian Streets, Al Jazeera)
Possibly as many as 130 soldiers of the Libyan National Army, loyal to the eastern commander Khalifa Haftar, are reported to have been summarily executed after a mixed force loyal to the Tripoli-based "official" Government of National Accord took the Brak al-Shatti airbase in the country's south May 18. The attacking troops were members of the Third Force militia from Misrata the Benghazi Defense Brigades. The mayor of Brak al-Shatti reported that most of the defenders were killed with a shot to the head, but five beheaded. "They killed everyone at the base: soldiers, cooks, cleaners," said one LNA source.
Thousands of Tunisians on May 13 protested a bill that would grant amnesty to officials facing charges of corruption committed under the previous regime. Under the amnesty bill officials who had money seized from them following the overthrow of president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali would be pardoned and have their funds returned. Proponents of the bill say it would help reconcile political divisions in the country but it has been met with massive public disapproval.
The leaders of the two major factions in Libya's civil war—Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the Tripoli-based "official" government, and the eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar—reportedly agreed to hold new elections after meeting in the UAE last week. The elections, aimed at finally unifying the country, are said to be tentatively scheduled for March 2018. (MediaLine, May 4) An "accord committee" of the new Constitution Drafting Assembly has meanwhile been holding meetings at locales around the country to discuss a draft for the country's long-awaited charter. But the draft, drawn up under the supervision of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), has been meeting with harsh criticism. (Libya Observer, April 22)
A new Qaeda-affiliated faction, the Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (Group for Support of Islam and Muslims, JNIM), is said to be behind a string of recent deadly attacks in Mali's conflcited desert north. The group claimed responsibility for a May 7 suicide assault on a military base at Almoustarat, outside the northern city of Gao, that left seven Malian soliders dead. The jihadists breached the base perimeter, and were able to capture at least three vehicles and large amounts of weapons before French troops arrived. JNIM also claimed a May 3 raid on a camp of the MINUSMA peacekeeping force outside Timbuktu that killed a Liberian solider. Under the nominal command of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), JNIM is apparently attemtping to reunite the fragmented jihadist insurgency in northern Mali. It has apparently absorbed the Murabitoun group, until now the most active jihadist faction in Mali. (Journal du Mali, May 9; Long War Journal, May 8; UN News Centre, May 4)