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Mauritanian kidnappings

November 30, 2009

Three Spaniards snatched from an aid convoy, in an unpleasant first for Mauritania. Details remain scarce, but you’ll find an informative post and a useful discussion at the Sahel Blog.


Swiss minaret ban

November 30, 2009

Not Maghreb related per se, but one can’t just let this pass without comment:

Frankfurt – In what many see as a major setback to Europe’s effort to integrate its booming Muslim population – and a potential boost to right-wing parties throughout the continent – Swiss voters Sunday approved a move to ban the construction of new minarets in the country.

The Swiss government had urged voters to reject the ban, saying that it would violate religious freedom and human rights and intensify Islamic radicalism. But in Sunday’s referendum, which was organized by a right-wing political party, more than 57 percent of Swiss residents – a majority in 22 out of the country’s 26’s cantons – approved the proposal.

On the other hand, there’s not really a lot you can say about it either, except that this shouldn’t be taken as some minor aberration. For several years, parts of the Europen political landscape (not to mention the US Republican fringe, which is even loonier, but there are stronger constitutional safeguards there) has been sliding into clear-cut Islamophobic territory. Jew-bashing and other classic gimmicks are now a thing of the past: most far-right populists embrace Israel as a “Western outpost”, claim to have no racial prejudices, and now spend their days almost exclusively targeting Muslims, not on account of their religion, but because of what they call “Islam’s ideology”.

Of course it’s nonsense — they’re bigots, and that’s that. We’ve seen these people before, and apparently didn’t deal firmly enough with them in 1945, so here they are again. The new rhetoric seems to work like a charm, too, no matter how irrational their arguments (“‘Muslims don’t just practice religion, they increasingly make political and legal demands,’ said Walter Wobmann, who heads the initiative behind the referendum“), certainly helped along by their similarly bigoted counterparts in the Muslim world, and even more, I’m sure, by the social tensions raised by the economic crisis .

Conditions vary from country to country, of course — there’s no such thing as a “European debate”, whatever the EU may accomplish in the future — but the general trend is quite clear. Until recently, there was much beating around the bush, and talk about how it’s not really about hating Muslims, it’s just about fighting terrorism and supporting womens’ rights, and adopting a responsible immigration policy. Again, nonsense.

Now, the stage has been set, and here we go: Switzerland has actually voted for a law specifically and openly aimed at Muslims as a religious minority. The gloves are coming off, and this could get considerably worse in years to come.

As for me, I now count myself among the backers of Col. Qadhafi’s Great Popular De-Swissification Plan.

“Letter from a Sahrawi friend”

November 22, 2009

Quick translation of an interesting editorial in Morocco’s outspoken weekly Le Journal hebdomadaire, in the form of a fictive letter from a “Sahrawi friend” describing how his cost/benefit analysis of Western Saharan independence is shifting. Shorter version: the present regime in Morocco can’t win Sahrawi hearts and minds.

Read more…

Indyk & Hassan II

November 20, 2009

And here’s a really interesting interview in Morocco’s Le Journal Hebdo (French) with Martin Indyk, where he describes his dealings with King Hassan II during the Clinton administration. Not to be missed.

The next generation

November 20, 2009

A kind reader sent me the link to this BBC article on inherited power in North Africa:

In Libya and Egypt, it’s a son. In Algeria it’s a brother. In Tunisia it’s a son-in-law – or even his mother, the president’s wife. Across Africa’s northern rim, the belief is growing that these favoured relatives of long-serving leaders are being positioned for succession. With Morocco already a monarchy, the emergence of these heirs-apparent has led to the prospect of dynastic rule from the Red Sea to the Atlantic.

Read the rest.

Colonel’s News Network

November 17, 2009

Worst journalistic effort from an established news source this year? It’s only November, but I’ll bet my fortune on CNN’s atrocious “documentary” on the Libyan Jihadi revisions. Surely, no one can hope to rival the scene where the correspondent, Nic Robertson, arrives to Abu Slim prison to find fifty or so political prisoners sitting around neat tables in the courtyard, dressed up for the occasion and sipping orange juice with their wives and kids, who then “spontaneously” start yelling slogans in support of Col. Qadhafi.

Robertson tells viewers that he apparently happened to arrive during a family visit, as the prisoners keep punching the air in support of the man who has kept them in torture dungeons for ten-twenty years. He’s very impressed: “It’s hard to imagine this is even a prison”, he says, awestruck by the effectiveness of Seif el-Islam el-Qadhafi’s rehabilitation scheme.

Yes, hard! Like how it’s hard to imagine you’re a journalist, Mr. Robertson.

See also: The Arabist

Ciao bella

November 16, 2009

Europe’s hitherto unrivalled king of sleaze, Silvio Berlusconi, has finally been outdone in sheer madcap extravagancy, in his own homeland. Recently, an Italian recruiting firm posted this advertisement on behalf of a certain Maghrebi dictator:

Seeking 500 attractive girls between 18 and 35 years old, at least 1.70 meters (5 foot, 7 inches) tall, well-dressed but not in mini-skirts or low cut dresses.

No points for figuring out who.

(Via The Angry Arab News Agency.)