At least 90 people have been killed in wildfires that have swept through northern Algeria over the past weeks. The blazes have consumed some 100,000 acres, mostly in the northeastern Kabylia region and its central province of Tizi Ouzou. While remaining silent on the role of climate change, the Algerian government seems to be exploiting the disaster for political purposes. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on Aug. 18 said most of the fires were "criminal" in origin, and blamed them on regional rival Morocco. The two countries were already in a diplomatic tiff before the new accusations. "The incessant hostile acts carried out by Morocco against Algeria have necessitated the review of relations between the two countries," the presidency said in a statement, adding that there will be an "intensification of security controls on the western borders." Algeria's western border with Morocco has already been sealed and heavily militarized since 1994.
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)
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.
In a meeting hosted by the Yazidi autonomous territory of Ezidikhan in northern Iraq last month, representatives of tribal peoples and ethnic minorities from across the Middle East and North Africa agreed on a framework for a region-wide alliance of stateless nations struggling for self-determination and autonomy. The meeting at the Ezidikhan seat of Shingal (also rendered Sinjar) was attended by representatives of the Mandaeans and Zoroastrians as well as Yazidis. Messages of support were also sent by the Shabaks of Iraq, Ahwazi Arabs of Iran, Berbers of Libya, and Palestinian Bedouins residing in the state of Israel. Delegates announced formation of a Confederation of Indigenous Nations of the Middle East open to all stateless peoples of the region. "We are are expecting even more indigenous nations to sign on," said Ezidikhan Minister of Justice Nallein Sowilo. She noted that the Kawliya and Yarsanis, whose territory is divided between Iraq and Iran, have also expressed interest in joining. "We are all natural allies. That is why we call this an alliance of First Peoples. We represent the Middle East's ancient heritage of ethnic and religious diversity."
In Episode 52 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses CS Lewis' last novel, Till We Have Faces, a reworking of the myth of Eros and Psyche, comparing it to its ancient source material, The Golden Ass of Apuleius. The pagan roots of the novel, as well the influence of Lewis' first real love interest, Joy Davidman, make the work his most richly layered with meaning—and perhaps even unintentionally feminist. Weinberg also decries that the current edition does not include the original engravings by artist Fritz Eichenberg, a radical pacifist associated with the Catholic Worker movement. Listen on SoundCloud.
For the past two weeks, thousands of protesters across Algeria have defied attempts by the security forces to seize Amazigh (Berber) flags after army chief Ahmed Gaïd Salah declared that only the national flag would be permitted in the ongoing pro-democracy demonstrations. Police used tasers against protesters in the capital Algiers June 30, and made numerous arrests. Among those arrested for wearing a t-shirt with the Amazigh national symbol was 25-year old Samira Messouci, an elected member of the People's Assembly (regional parliament) in Tizi Ouzou wilaya (province). The Assembly has issued a statement demanding his release. (El Watan, MENA Solidarity Network)
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)