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)
In Episode 16 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses how Berbers, Palestinians, Sahrawi Arabs and other subjugated peoples of the Middle East and North Africa are pitted against each other by the Great Game of nation-states. Berbers in Morocco and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories face identical issues of cultural erasure, yet Moroccan support for the Palestinians and retaliatory Israeli support for the Berbers constitute an obstacle to solidarity. The Sahrawi Arabs are meanwhile fighting for their independence from Morocco in their occupied territory of Western Sahara. But the Arab-nationalist ideology of their leadership is viewed with suspicion by the territory's Berbers—leading to Arab-Berber ethnic tensions in Morocco. Algeria, Morocco's regional rival, is backing the Sahrawi struggle, while denying cultural rights to its own Berber population. But there are also signs of hope. Arabs and Berbers were united in the 2011 Arab Revolution protests in Morocco, and greater Berber cultural rights were a part of the constitutional reform won by those protests. Algeria, facing resurgent Berber protests, adopted a similar constitutional reform in 2016, and has taken other measures to expand recognition of Berber cultural rights. And the new protest wave in Morocco's Rif Mountains over the past year has united Arab and Berber. These developments point to hope for the subaltern peoples of MENA to overcome the divide-and-rule game and build solidarity. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
The Libyan Amazigh Supreme Council, representing the country's Berber ethnic minority, has decided to boycott the referendum on the country's newly released draft constitution. In a statement issued July 24, the council called the draft charter "racist and unjust," saying the country's Amazigh (Berber) people would not accept the results of its referendum. "Clear rejection of us as national partner will oblige us to do the same," the statement said. Berbers boycotted the elections for the Constitution Drafting Assembly in February 2014 in protest of low representation of their community in the body, created by the General National Congress in 2013. Two seats in the CDA were given to Berbers, among six allocated for "cultural and language components" of Libyan society; the other four were given to representatives of the Tuareg and Tubu peoples. Berbers want their language to be official in the Libyan constitution, given equal status with Arabic in administration and education. (Libya Observer)
Angry protesters massed in front of the Moroccan parliament building in Rabat June 27, one day after the sentencing of several leaders of the 2016 uprising in the country's marginalized Rif Mountains. Demonstrators chanted "We are all Zefzafi," "Freedom, dignity, justice," and "Long live the Rif." Among 53 protest leaders sentenced the previous day was Nasser Zefzafi, who became the symbol of the al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or "Popular Movement,"which demanded jobs, regional development and a crackdown on corruption. Zefzafi was among four activists who were sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Casablanca court for "plotting to undermine the security of the state." Other defendants received one year in prison and large fines. A march against the sentences was also held in the capital of the Rif region, Nador. Some protesters carried Amazigh (Berber) flags in the demonstrations. (AFP, Morocco World News)
In Episode 12 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg pays homage to the martyred Algerian Berber singer and songrwiter Lounes Matoub on the 20th anniversary of his assassination. It remains unclear to this day if Matoub was killed by agents of the Algerian state or militants of the Islamist opposition—as both were equally opposed to the Berber cultural renaissance that he represented. The Berbers, or Imazighen (singular: Amazigh), are the indigenous people of North Africa, whose language and culture have been suppressed to varying degrees by Arab-dominated regimes from Morocco to Libya. The 1980 "Berber Spring" in the Kabylia region of Algeria was key to Matoub's politicization, and his assassination was followed by a second round of "Berber Spring" protests in 2001. This presaged the international Arab Revolution that broke out a decade later—which in North Africa was really also a Berber Revolution. The 2011 protests and uprisings resulted in advances for Berber cultural rights and autonomy in Algeria, Morocco and Libya alike—a sign of hope amid the current atmosphere of counter-revolution and reaction throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
The UN Security Council on April 27 extended the mandate of the peacekeeping force for Western Sahara (MINURSO) through the end of October 2018, while calling for Morocco and the Polisario Front to finally negotiate an end to the decades‑old conflict. Western Sahara is claimed by Morocco, while the Polisario Front seeks independence for the territory. The territory has since the 1975-1991 war that followed its independence from Spain been divided by a series of sand berms and a "buffer zone." These separate the territory's Morocco-occupied west and a Polisario-controlled eastern strip. The Security Council called for the Polisario Front to immediately withdrawal from the buffer strip around the area of Guerguerat, to refrain from any destabilizing actions. It also expressed concern over Polisario's planned relocation of administrative functions form Tindouf, across the border in Algeria, to Bir Lahlou within Western Sahara, (ReliefWeb, April 27)
In a victory for Berber activists, Algeria officially celebrated Yennayer, the new year holiday of the Amazigh people, for the first time. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said declaration of Yennayer as a national holiday was officially approved at a meeting of his Council of Ministers. Yennayer marks the first day of the agrarian calendar, celebrated by the Berber (Amazigh) people across North Africa on Jan. 12. This Yennayer marks the first day of the year 2968 in the Amazigh calendar, which starts counting from the enthronement of Shoshenq I in Egypt, initiating a Berber-ruled dynasty. The move to recognize Yennayer is part of a general effort by Algeria's government to permit greater expression of Amazigh culture in order to head off a separatist movement, marked by the recent proclamation of a Provisional Government of Kabylia in the country's Berber-majority eastern region.