Berbers

Algeria: Berbers targeted in sectarian attacks

Sectarian attacks in Algeria's desert city of Ghardaia (see map) have left five dead over the past week—including one young Berber man who a local official said was knifed to death and disfigured under the eyes of police. Local Mozabite Berbers, adherents of the Ibadi sect, are apparently being targeted by Chaamba Arabs, followers of the Malekite branch of Sunni Islam. Troops of the National Police and Gendarmerie were rushed to the city this weekend, and 10 arrested in connection with the violence. There have been repeated clashes in the city since December, but the violence reached a climax on Feb. 4 when a Mozabite teaching center was torched. (AFP, Feb. 9; AP, Algeria Press Service, Feb. 8)

Moroccan villagers occupy silver mine

A Jan. 23 profile in the New York Times put a rare spotlight on the ongoing occupation camp established by Berber villagers at Mount Alebban, 5,000 feet high in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, to protest the operations of the Imiter Mettalurgic Mining Company—whose principal owner is the North African nation's King Mohammed VI. The occupation was first launched in 1996, but broken up by the authorities. It was revived in the summer of 2011, after students from the local village of Imider, who were used to getting seasonal jobs at the mine, were turned down. That led the villagers—even those with jobs at the complex—to again establish a permanent encampment blocking access to the site of Africa's most productive silver mine. A key grievance is the mine's use of local water sources, which is making agriculture in the arid region increasingly untenable. Protesters closed a pipe valve, cutting off the water supply to the mine. Since then, the mine's output has plummeted—40% in 2012 and a further 30% in 2013. But Imider farmers say their long-drying wells are starting to replenish, and their shriveled orchards are again starting to bear fruit.

Beyond Benghazi: Libya faces converging crises

Libya's ongoing internal chaos briefly made world news Dec. 5 as a US national, a teacher at the Benghazi International School named Ronald Smith, was shot to death under circumstances that are still unclear. Whoever was behind it, it will be a headache for Obama, whose opponents are still milking the "Benghazigate" scandal. (CNN, Dec. 5) Other than when a US citizen dies, the world media take little note the near-daily violence in the city. On the same day Smith was killed, a member of Libya's Special Forces and a young cadet were gunned down in Benghazi. And the head of the Presidential Guards of the city, Anwar al-Dous, lost a leg when an explosive device detonated under his car. (Libya Herald, Dec. 5) Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou, speaking at a Franco-African summit in Paris, responded by implying that Libya could be next for intervention:  "Our fear is that Libya falls into the hands of Salafist terrorists and that the state becomes like Somalia... Sadly, we're seeing that the terrorists are there and that armed Salafist militia are in Benghazi, with people being killed almost every day. We must stabilize Libya." (Reuters, Dec. 6)

Libya: Berbers overrun Congress building?

Reports are divided on whether members of Libya's Berber minority forced their way into the General National Congress building in Tripoli on Aug. 13, smashing windows and destroying furniture, during a demonstration to press for greater recognition. Reuters, in a rare mention of the Berber political struggle, cited the claims of Congress member Omar Hmaiden. But Libya's local media quoted other lawmakers as saying the incursion never took place. The protest outside the Congress building did bring traffic to halt, as hundreds of Berbers gathered to oppose a law approved last month to reserve just two of the seats on the Constitutional Commission for members of their community. Berber activists charges that Congress is deliberately marginalizing Libya's ethnic minorities. Two seats each were also reserved for the Tuareg and Tebu (Toubou) communities.

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