North Africa Theater

Berbers symbolically raise Kabylia flag at UN

A large crowd of Berber (Amazigh) residents of Algeria's Kabylia region gathered Nov. 12 at the town of Bouzeguène (Wizgan in the Berber language, Tamazight) to symbolically raise the flag of their homeland. The action was called by the Kabylia Self-Determination Movement (MAK), whose president Bouaziz Ait Chebib oversaw the ceremony. The MAK has been demanding recognition of Amazigh language and cultural rights in Algeria, and advancing a right to self-determination for the Kabylia region if these demands are not met. The crowd at Wizgan applauded when it was announced that the Kingdom of Morocco had committed to raise the issue of self-determination for Kabylia at the United Nations. (Morocco World News, Nov. 17; Siwel, Nov. 12)

Glencore secures Libya oil contract

Media accounts Nov. 20 report that Glencore, the commodity trader with global mining operations, has secured a deal with Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) to broker the nation's crude. The agreement, initiated in September with an option to renew in December, covers 150,000 barrels a day, or roughly half the amount currently being exported. According to Reuters: "Under the arrangement...Glencore loads and finds buyers for all the Sarir and Messla crude oil exported from the Marsa el-Hariga port near the country's eastern border with Egypt." The reports portray the deal as uncontroversial. The Financial Times writes: "The National Oil Corporation, along with the central bank, is one of the few institutions still functioning in Libya, where a civil war has left the country divided between an internationally recognised government in the east and an Islamist militia in the west that controls the capital Tripoli." In fact, the NOC is also divided, with feuding branches controlled by the rival regimes. Marsa el-Hariga is just outside Tobruk, exiled seat of the recognized government. We can be certain that the Glencore deal will raise protests (at least) from Tripoli.

UN: ISIS brutality increasing in Libya

The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) released a 37-page report (PDF) Nov. 16 calling on those with ground-level control to declare that recent acts by the Islamic State (ISIS) and other militants will not be tolerated and "to immediately take action to stop acts in breach of international human rights and humanitarian law." The report highlights that against the background of factional infighting and the breakdown of the justice system, ISIS has gained control over large areas of Libya and committed such atrocities as public beheadings for political or religious affiliation, amputations and floggings. Several Libyan armed groups have pledged allegiance to ISIS and are actively fighting against both the internationally-recognized fovernment and other factions that have not declared such allegiance. The report outlines other abuses such as arbitrary civilian abduction, property destruction and looting, inhumane incarceration and torture performed by ISIS and other armed groups, and classifies these events as potential war crimes.

France bombs Syria; US bombs Libya

French warplanes carried out air-strikes on the ISIS capital Raqqa, just two days after the "Islamic State" claimed the attacks in Paris that are now said to have killed 130 people. The raids, involving 10 planes launched from Jordan and United Arab Emirates, struck a "command center," a "recruitment center," a "munitions depot" and a "training camp," according to the French Defense Ministry. There is no report of casualties, so far. (France24, Alas, even "progressive" news sources like The Guardian are referring to Raqqa as an "ISIS stronghold"—which (in a rhetorical device we have noted before) implicitly legitimizes attacks on the civil populace. In fact, the civil resistance that is active throughout Syria even has a presence in Raqqa—activists there have been heroically documenting ISIS crimes and even protesting jihadist rule. They even have a website, maintained by their friends abroad, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently. The already precarious position of these courageous activists cannot have improved since Raqqa has come under bombardment by both the US and Bashar Assad's warplanes—and now those of François Hollande.

UK Supreme Court hears Libya rendition claim

The UK Supreme Court on Nov. 9 began hearings in the case of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who claims the British government assisted in his 2004 rendition by US forces. Belhaj and his wife were arrested in Bangkok in 2004 and returned to Muammar Qaddafi's Libya, where he spent six years in prison. Belhaj first filed his lawsuit in 2012. In 2013 the British High Court threw out the claim, stating that hearing the claim was barred by the Acts of State doctrine. However, in October 2014, the Court of Appeals found that the claim is not barred because "it falls within a limitation on grounds of public policy in cases of violations of international law and fundamental human rights." The court stated that while the Acts of State doctrine is valid, it does not stop a British court from examining whether British agencies, officials or ministers were separately culpable. The case will be heard by seven judges over four days, who will decide whether Belhaj can sue the British government, former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), known as MI6, for alleged complicity with US intelligence over his treatment.

Libya: oil output plummets as rival regimes fight

Libya's oil output dropped below 400,000 barrels per day after the divided country's internationally recognized government in the east sent troops of the Petroleum Facilities Guard to close the port of Zueitina on Nov. 5, charging that tankers seeking to load crude there had failed to register with the National Oil Corporation (NOC). Vessels registered with the rival NOC headquarters in Tripoli are "illegitimate" and won't be permitted to load at the port, Petroleum Guard spokesman Ali al-Hasy told Bloomberg by phone. The Tripoli-based NOC declared force majeure and said in a statement that the port was closed for all exports due to a "deteriorated security situation." Libya, with Africa's largest oil reserves, pumped about 1.6 million barrels per day of crude before the 2011 revolution. Libya is currently the smallest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. (More at Hellenic Shipping News, Maritime Executive, Aramco FuelFix, Nov. 5)

Meanwhile in, um, Benghazi...

Missiles and mortar rounds were fired into a crowd of demonstrators in central Benghazi's al-Keesh Square, killing six and injuring at least 35. The pro-secular protest was called to oppose proposals, now being heard in the UN-brokered peace dialogue, for a new unity government that would include leaders of the Islamist factions that now control Tripoli. (BBC News, Libya Herald, Oct. 24) One of the protesters, 32-year-old architect Salwa, told Middle East Eye: "We went out today to tell [head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, Bernadino] Leon that he does not have the right to propose that terrorists and leaders of militias should be part of a government for Libya, and we protested even though we knew there was a threat from ISIS, who claim that they are revolutionaries." She added: "But I did not expect their brutality to reach this level. They bombed areas where there were innocent people—women and children—who just wanted to try and have a say in the fate of their homeland."

Tunisia: progressive forces still under attack

The Tunisia Quartet civil activist group was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 9 for its pivotal role in channeling the country's revolution in a secular and democratic direction. The Quartet was formed in the summer of 2013, composed of four civil society groups—the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT); the Tunisian League of Human Rights; the Bar Association; and the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts. It led what is called the National Dialogue, bringing together the country's fiercely adversarial political parties to forge a new democratic process. The groups opened the dialogue process amid an alarming political crisis, marked by political assassinations and turmoil. As other Arab countries were descending into civil war, Tunisia came back form the brink, adopting a secular constitution, thanks to a "vibrant civil society with demands for respect for basic human rights," in the words of the Nobel Prize Committee. (HRW, Oct. 9)

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