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Showdown in Sudan

November 14, 2009

ceasefireMichael Collins Dunn has been doing an excellent job covering the Great Schism now tearing northern Africa apart: the Algerian-Egyptian football war, which has reached levels of antagonism rarely seen outside East Jerusalem. Emotions are boiling over all around, the press in both countries is up in arms, Internet activists and hackers are wreaking havoc online, and just before the last game the Algerian team was physically attacked in Cairo, their tour bus smashed and three players injured. FIFA issued a warning, but the Egyptian Football Association promptly responded that the perfidious Algerians had staged the entire event to avoid the whipping they received today, 2-0.

One more game is required to decide who qualifies for the World Cup, Les Verts or The Pharaos, and it will be played on November 18 in Khartoum — an appropriate choice of venue, given Sudan’s proven capacity to absorb massive internal warfare.

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Maghrevision Song Contest

November 10, 2009
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rock the casbah

If nothing else can unite the Maghreb, perhaps music will. So which Maghreb country has the best national anthem? Listen to the songs below, and write in comments which are your TWO favorites, and we’ll chalk up the score to find the winner in a week or so. And please do feel free to suggest alternative/better versions!

  • ALGERIA: qassaman (we do swear)
  • LIBYA: allahu akbar (god is greater)
  • MAURITANIA: kun lillahi nasiran (be a helper of god)
  • MOROCCO: el-nashid el-sharif (the sharifian hymn)
  • TUNISIA: humat el-hima (defenders of the land)

Those are the candidates. And no, you can’t vote for the anthem of RASD, or for the anthem of Cheb Khaled, given that neither of them is a presently a full member of the UN.

Traditional slavery in the Sahel

November 10, 2009
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The Sahel Blog has a post up about slavery in Mauritania, a major but neglected human rights issue in the West Africa and Sahel region, where millions of people are still subject to various forms of hereditary social discrimination, ranging from outsider status to outright slavery. While there is a black/white element to it in some areas, one shouldn’t confuse this with US traditions of skin-color based labor slavery among captured peoples. It’s more an outgrowth of traditional tribal culture, local adaptions of ancient Islamic rulings on slavery, and hereditary social stratification in nomad communities, and it has existed in various forms as a fact of life for hundreds of years. It’s quite repugnant nonetheless, of course, but understanding the context is important to realizing how deeply-rooted and hard to destroy these notions are.

Also, it’s not only among the Moors of Mauritania. The caste-like traditions that underpin these practices also apply to varying degrees to the closely related Sahrawi and other communities in Western Sahara, Morocco and Algeria (including among the Tindouf refugees, as this report from Human Rights Watch makes clear) as well as among non-Moorish, non-Arab Touareg communities in the wider Sahara, and also among several African peoples in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, etc. This is not to mention how traditional practices sometimes mix with modern slavery practices, tied to labor exploitation, warlordism, and such phenomena.

Insights into Algerian parliamentary etiquette

November 9, 2009

The passing of Algerian politician Bachir Boumaezza has prompted El Khabar to print some juicy stuff from his still unpublished memoirs, which he had asked to be kept secret until after his death. It concerns his resignation from the post as speaker of the Senate in 2001, after conflicts with president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. According to El Khabar, the quarrel ended when Bouteflika’s supporters started using threats and mobster tactics – inside the Senate. A former parliamentarian, Djamaleddine Belhadj (RND), confirms Boumaezza’s version, and claims he has a videotape to prove it.

According to their story, a group among the “presidential third” – those parliamentarians directly appointed by president Bouteflika – began protesting the speaker, as the conflict between Boumaezza and Bouteflika heated up. In the days before his resignation, things got out of hand, and the Boutef appointees went on a political rampage to force his resignation.

They made quite the scene. Leila Aslaoui, a former government spokeswoman, set the tone by standing up in her seat and shouting at the speaker, “using her hand in a way understood to mean screw you” (as Belhadj puts it, adding that “she was quite impolite”). A bunch of retired generals joined in, one of them yelling, in French, “you can all go to hell!” Another screamed at Boumaezza that he would “get him naked”, echoing former FLN leader Ben Bella‘s words to his rival Benyoucef Ben Khedda in 1961: “I’ll pull your pants down, I’ll get you naked!”, while, to the delight of Freudians everywhere, he pulled out his service revolver.

After a day of this, Boumaezza broke down and had to be helped out of the chamber. He resigned, quit politics, and flew off to exile. Since then, parliament hasn’t caused Bouteflika any more problems, although I’m sure debates haven’t been quite as exciting either.

As an epilogue, this being Algeria, Boumaezza eventually patched things up with Boutef, and was recently invited back to celebrate the November 1 revolutionary anniversary. Then, just the other day, the president ordered his body brought home and gave him a lavish official funeral in the company of the rest of that venal elite – and there was much shedding of crocodiles’ tears.

Nous sommes tous Fatma!

November 9, 2009

Free Fatima!The eminent Michael Collins Dunn has it all on Tunisia’s arrest of a dissident blogger, Fatma Riahi, of the Fatma Arabicca blog (now shut down). She stands accused of running this site, serving the 10.4% of Tunisians who didn’t vote for Ben Ali in last month’s slapstick parody of a democratic election.

Read the post, further this message, and — of course — visit and link to that site.

Clinton on the Sahara

November 4, 2009
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Annouss has been keeping track of Hillary Clinton’s visit in Morocco. During a press conference, she stated clearly that US policy has not changed on the Western Sahara. There had been some speculation, with US rhetoric having changed a bit, but this answer was straightforward enough:

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, change of subject, if I may.  During the past few years, the United States, just like other members of the Security Council, have characterized the Moroccan initiative for autonomy in the Sahara as being serious and credible.  My question is:  Does the Obama Administration stand by that position?  Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.  Our policy has not changed, and I thank you for asking the question because I think it’s important for me to reaffirm here in the Morocco that there has been no change in policy.

The Hillary Clinton might want to reconsider her anachronistic-sounding use of definite articles, though.

Islamist boot-kissing in Libya

November 4, 2009

Interesting! Ali el-Sellabi, a prominent Libyan Islamist, has come out in favor of Seif el-Islam el-Qadhafis ascent to power. You’ll remember he was publicly anointed regime no. 2 recently, which seemed to confirm that — despite some hickups — he’s en route to succeeding daddy.

Sellabi, who belongs to  the Muslim Brotherhood, has previously helped mediate reconciliation moves between the Libyan state and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a banned Salafi-Jihadi outfi which fought the regime in the 1990s. This mediation bore fruit earlier this year, when the group’s imprisoned leaders started publishing a series of “revisions” of their ideology (through Seif el-Islam’s media outlets), and called on those LIFG members who had joined al-Qaida to repent. Read more…