Showing posts with label North Africa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label North Africa. Show all posts

December 2, 2016

Commemoration and counter-memory of the Algerian liberation and civil war: calls for an inclusive approach

    Friday, December 02, 2016   No comments
Anissa Daoudi*

When ‘Algeria’ is mentioned, some people might have heard of the book Djamila and Picasso, others might have seen the film The Battle of Algiers depicting Algerian women playing an active role in the revolution. In the Arab collective memory, Algeria is known as the country of the three Djamilas, an Arabic name, meaning ‘beautiful’ in referrence to three Algerian women war veterans: Djamila Bouheird, Djamila Boupasha and Djamila Bouazza, symbols in the fight against the coloniser during the Liberation War (1954-1962).

What unites these memories is the Algerian Revolution of the 1st of November 1954. However, Algeria has witnessed another traumatic phase during which more than 200 000 Algerians lost their lives. This historical period is what is known as the ‘Black Decade’ of the 1990s. Despite the atrocities of that period, little is known about what happened and above all, victims and activists struggle to keep the memory of their loved ones alive and bring the perpetrators to justice. In an effort to break the official and public silence, activists and survivors are attempting to appropriate the symbolic signification of the 1st of November to all Algerian victims and survivors of both periods: the Algerian Revolution and the Civil War of the 1990s.  

To that end, the Association Djazairouna (our Algeria), directed by Ms. Cherifa Keddar, one of the victims of terrorism, who witnessed the assassination of her brother and sister at her family home in Blida, organised a two-day conference titled Our memory, our fight: for the memory of our victims. The conference was held on the 1st and 2nd of November 2016 at Riyadh al Fateh, Algiers and Blida.  It was to commemorate those who lost their lives in the Civil War in the 1990s and to remind the Algerians of the atrocities which took place in what is known as the ‘Black Decade’. The theme of the conference falls within the context of my current research project on the 1990s. 

The 1st of November was chosen consciously to remember the eruption of the Algerian revolution against French colonialism in 1954. It symbolises the will of Algerians to fight against French brutalities and inhuman way in which they were subjugated. The date also coincides with the International Remembrance Day, as Cherifa Keddar explains. 

For Zahira Guenifi, a mother who lost her twenty year-old son, Hisham:

the 1st of November is chosen on purpose…I have all the right to use this day as I want and in the way I want…I was seven years old when the French killed my father…he is a martyr…that was not the end of that, 296 members of the Mehsen family, from Al Sitara, Beni Staih, near El Melia (Jijel) were assassinated in one afternoon by the French. This date is chosen not to steal the lime light out of the 1st November (Algerian revolution)…It is a date for all Algerians, except the Harkis. The 1st of November belongs to all Algerians…therefore; we said it is a date to send a strong warning to our government …to commemorate our victims…a date for the memory of our sons, husbands, brothers, sisters, all of those who were hurt, a date to remind us that we are not alone, a date that might help (not sure of that) us come to terms with our pain, a date that narrates stories of those who died…a date exactly like the 1st of November.

Three films were specifically chosen for the event. The first was l’Heroine (the heroine) by Cherif Agoune. The story goes back to the 1990s and takes place in a remote village, few kilometres away from Algiers, where Ashour and his two brothers lived on a farm. The men of the family are killed either in clashes between the security forces and the terrorists or by the terrorists. Two women are kidnapped. Houria, Ashour’s widow and the heroine of the story, was able to escape and save the children. She is received in Algiers by her family, but conflicts re-emerge and she finds herself facing another harsh reality of life. No longer willing to accept her status in her family, she decides to roll up her sleeves to meet the needs of her children. She becomes a professional photographer specializing in wedding ceremonies. She also joins the association of women victims of terrorists. The story is about survival and the strong will of the heroine to live for her children and overcome the obstacles of her society.  After the screening of the film, an actor who played the role of the officer, gave a short interview in which he said that the film was based on the true story of one of his patients, when he was the doctor in that town.

In Memoire de Scènes by Abderrahim Laloui, again, the story takes place in the 1990s. Azzedine, a professional journalist, prepares an adaptation of the play Tartuffe by Molière which he wants to stage in the municipal theatre. The story depicts the daily life of Algerian intellectuals in the 1990s. Throughout the story, intellectuals like Tahar Djaout, the francophone writer, as well asmany others are remembered. At the end, the playwright is killed but the group of actors swear to perform the play as an act of defiance against the terrorists.

The third film was El Manara by Belkacem Hadjadj. The film revolves around three characters, namely: Fawzi, Ramdan and Asma, who have been friends since childhood. The two men and the woman lead a happy life in the old city of Cherchell. Their relationship is complex; it includes a combination of friendship and romantic love. Their world is shaken and slowly torn apart as they become overwhelmed by events around them: the popular riots of 1988, the military heavy-handed response to the riots, the initiation of the democratic process and its abrupt dissolution, and then the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. The abduction of two female characters and their rape constitute the climax of the story and reveal the systematic sexual violence against women. Alongside the theme of violence, the film tackles the issue of the ‘new’ Islamic concepts which started to make their way in the Algerian society, such as the abolition of festivities such as the celebration of the prophet’s birthday, known as El Manara festivity, aiming to highlight the foreignness of this ‘new Islam’.

The audience was mostly victims/survivors of terrorism, who were crying and shouting out phrases in approval throughout the films. "Yes, it was like that during the nineties!" would be heard in the room. The survivors were happy that those films were produced. "These films say what we cannot express, they document to the coming generation what we have seen and above all, help us feel a sense of belonging to a group, particularly that the official narratives do not recognise that the 1990s existed," one of the survivors said. During the debate, the film makers said that their works were not shown on national television. Similar voices were heard on the second day of the conference. Voices which called for remembering of victims and, most importantly, calling for justice to take place.  All of the survivors, with no exception, stressed that they were against the Amnesty Law (1999, 2005) and that they want to bring to justice the perpetrators.

Mr. Ali Bouguettaya, President of the National Coordination of Resistance, talked about their role in restoring security, particularly in the villages most badly hit by terrorism. He mentioned that 5000 paramilitary men (patriotes, also called Civil Defence) died and 11000 were left handicapped. In his testimony, Mr. Farid Asslaoui, a retired official who worked closely with the victims of terrorism, referred to nine magistrates killed on the same day, as well as intellectuals (he cites Djilali El Yabes), journalists (e.g., Tahar Djaout) and many others. He adds that it was not possible to go to their families to pay tributes for fear of being identified by the terrorists.  As for rape, he classifies it in terms of space and time, in other words, where and when it happened.

Dr. Amira Bouraoui, a doctor and an activist discussed how she lived the Black Decade as a child and as a daughter of a doctor who worked in the military hospital of Ain Naadja. She described the daily atrocities she and many of her generation had witnessed. Prof. Cherifa Bouatta, an academic and a psychologist worked closely with survivors throughout the Black Decade, and explained her role as someone who had not only witnessed the atrocities but also as a professional known to most of the survivors in the room.  In a moving testimony, Fatima Zahra Keddar described how her brother, sister and mother were shot in the family home. Similalry, Ms Nadjia Bouzeghrane, a journalist who was exiled to France described her feeling of being away from her loved ones and hearing news about the death of colleagues and people she left behind.  Prof. Fadhila Boumendjel-Chitour, founding member of Réseau Wassila, and niece of the martyr Boumendjel, stressed the need to mend the social linkages and rebuild the collective memory. Mr. Mohamed Boudiaf, the son of the late president Boudiaf also talked bitterly about the assassination of his father and condemned the terrorists who “have no relation to Islam” as he says.  

What was clear from the event is the determination of the participants to continue their battle towards justice. Moreover, it shows the strong bonds between survivors, professionals such as psychologists, jurists, activists and doctors as a product of a long lasting combat by people who share similar memories. These men and women from different backgrounds and political opinions came together in opposition to the president’s charter for peace and reconciliation. Djazairouna represents the place to remember, to mourn and to get support. Through it they launch their call to make the 1st of November their day of remembrance too, a day that unites all Algerians and symbolises the fight against colonialism and terrorism at the same time, a day which denounces violence and puts forward notions of humanism.
_________________
Anissa Daoudi is a lecturer in Arabic and Translation Studies at the University of Birmingham. She is head of the Arabic section and specialist in the Translation Studies (Arabic-English-Arabic) programme. She recently won the Leverhulme Fellowship for her project: narrating and translating sexual violence in Algeria in the 1990s.

August 16, 2014

US, NATO and the destruction of Libya: The Western front of a widening war

    Saturday, August 16, 2014   No comments
by Horace G. Campbell *

General Khalifah Hifter and his men
NATO claimed that its intervention in Libya was a historic success. But three years later, Libya is in complete chaos. Some 1700 militias have a combined total of 250,000 men under arms. Another external intervention seems necessary to stabilize the country. But the US and NATO must never be involved.

INTRODUCTION

Most western embassies evacuated their personnel from Tripoli over the past few weeks as the fighting between rival armed militias creates a nightmare of violence, insecurity and death for millions of Libyans. The United States used its military presence in the Mediterranean to escort its embassy personnel and Marine guards to travel by road over the last weekend to Tunisia. The evacuation of western diplomats leaving the millions of Libyans to an uncertain fate has brought to the fore the Libyan dimensions of a wider theater of warfare from Tripoli through Benghazi to Cairo, Alexandria and Gaza and from Aleppo in Syria to Mosul in Iraq. The former allies of NATO such as Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are now connected to differing factions of the Libyan civil war. In Libya, the war and bloodletting between the US supported General Khalifah Hifter (sometimes spelt Haftar) and the militias supported by Qatar is one indication of former allies falling out. Citizens of the West have little understanding of the depth of the sufferings unleashed on the peoples of North Africa, Palestine, Syria and Iraq since the United States and NATO launched wars against the peoples of this region. The battles in Libya are merging with the criminal war against the people of Palestine, especially the peoples of Gaza.

January 14, 2014

Tunisia’s Ennahda movement, perhaps learning from the crises of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and AKP in Turkey, compromises to remain relevant

    Tuesday, January 14, 2014   No comments





On January 14, Tunisians will celebrate their revolution, which ignited a wave of protest that swept most of the Arab world. For this third anniversary, the Salvation Front, representing key leaders from political parties and civil society, gave the Tunisian people and the Arab masses a set of rare gifts: another peaceful transfer of power, a new constitution that protects the life and dignity of all Tunisians, and roadmap to a stable future.

October 15, 2013

A Moroccan view on Catalan independence: Madrid's continued support for the independence movement in the Western Sahara is hypocritical when compared with their attitude towards independence movements closer to home

    Tuesday, October 15, 2013   No comments
by Hassan Masiky*
Sahara

Behind Spain’s European veil is a country struggling to deal with its painful history. Catalonians’ quest for independence exposes Spaniards’ agony over Franco’s legacy and the destructive historical ramifications of the dictator’s actions in Europe and North Africa. For Moroccans, Madrid’s opposition to Catalans’ rights to self-determination while Spain supports the same rights for the Western Sahara represents an example of Spain’s’ political hypocrisy and dual personality.

January 18, 2013

News Analysis: Is France now fighting the same kind of groups it armed and assisted in Libya?

    Friday, January 18, 2013   No comments

It may be a long while before we know the details about France’s sudden intervention in Mali. After all, Mali’s armed forces lost control of parts of the country many years ago. Mali’s political leaders have asked for help many months ago. Yet, suddenly, France, with little warning, launched an aerial bombing campaign to push back armed Salafi groups, Ansar al-Din, who were seen (by satellite and surveillance airplanes) rapidly moving south, possibly towards the capital, Bamako. When the bombing failed to dislodge the Ansar, France decided to insert ground troops which would mean that this intervention will be a long one.

The surprise intervention might have a military value, but it also risked the lives of many civilians since it did not give governments any time to upgrade security around vulnerable facilities. The workers taken hostage in Algeria is just one example.

June 15, 2012

Egyptian military and Brotherhood in high stakes game of brinkmanship

    Friday, June 15, 2012   No comments

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Before his ouster, Hosni Mubarak fired a desperate, last shot. He handed over all his authorities to the military, from whose ranks he rose to power. He reasoned that if he cannot keep power, he should preserve influence. Since then, the military has walked a tight line between appeasing the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and protecting the old regime. The Muslim Brotherhood, too, practiced smart politicking by standing at an equal distance between the revolutionary youth who wanted a total break with the old regime (including the military). Both sides, the military and the Brotherhood, managed the transition like skillful chess masters. 

January 15, 2012

What is on the mind of Arab media

    Sunday, January 15, 2012   No comments


Tunisia’ new leaders wanted to celebrate the revolution that deposed the old regime and ushered in representative governance. So they invited other Arab heads of state, but only several showed up. Of course, this is not a normal gathering. It is one that reminded the Arab rulers that they will all go unless they reform. Reportedly, the new Tunisian leaders sent invitations but only the leaders of Algeria, Libya, Qatar, and Mauritanian showed up. The rest of the countries sent low level representatives just to be polite. Tunisian media noticed this awkward party moment.

Although Tunisia and Egypt have more or less moved to representative governance with bloodless revolutions that removed the strong regimes of Ben Ali and Mubarak, the Libyan uprising was bloody and cruel. Nearly 50,000 people are said to have lost their lives and there are daily reports of gun battles between competing rebel factions. The instability in Libya did not go unnoticed in other Arab countries. Consequently, enthusiasm for revolutions is brought under check especially in places like Yemen and Syria. Arab media took notice of the change in attitude. 

Here are some of the other themes discussed in several influential Arab news outlets recently.

Russia moves to limit its losses, editorialized the pan-Arab newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi:
"If you want to know the odds of a war taking place in the Middle East, just keep track of the statements out of Moscow and Washington and the movements of their respective vessels and aircraft carriers - especially now that Russia is waking up from a period of hibernation and is coming back strongly in the region to protect its interests."
The newspaper argued that Russia will not lose another Arab ally to the West. "Having taken stock of such a major loss, Russia is now determined to counter forcefully any US attempts to topple the Syrian and Iranian regimes," the newspaper concluded.

The newspaper pointed to the Russian ship loaded with weapons reportedly sent to Syria as evidence of this shift in policy adding that the "Russian aircraft carrier and other warships arrived in Syria's Tartous port" are a show of force aimed at reassuring Asad that military intervention will be met with military resistance:
"By dispatching an aircraft carrier and shiploads of weapons and other hazardous materials, Russia wants to send out a strong and unequivocal message to Arab governments and the United States, that it will not let down its Syrian and Iranian allies, after it has already lost Qaddafi's Libya and Saddam's Iraq."
To make matters very clear, Dmitry Rogozin, the Russian envoy to Nato since 2008, who was appointed in December as his country's vice premier for defense industries, said last week that "any military intervention having to do with Iran's nuclear program will be considered a threat to Russia's national security."

U.S. image in the Arab world: “soldiers abusing Muslims is a pattern” 

Another issue that was picked by the Arab media is the US soldiers' scandal. Sharjah-based newspaper al-Khaleej editorialized that U.S. soldiers violating their own laws, like urinating on dead bodies, are not isolated cases; they are patterns of behavior. The paper referred to the humiliating treatment of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison several years ago and said that that “showed how US soldiers were having fun dehumanizing prisoners in unimaginable ways.” The paper contended that other cases, such as “al-Nisour Square incident in Baghdad in 2007, when US soldiers killed more than a dozen Iraqi civilians for no reason.”  Guantanamo Bay, the newspaper argued "is yet another flagrant example of the violation of basic human rights." The latest incident in Afghanistan is not "isolated or individual", the newspaper said. "It is a function of the usual method adopted by the US forces in Afghanistan and previously in Iraq."

January 2, 2012

Policy and politics of the first democratic government in Tunisia

    Monday, January 02, 2012   No comments


by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Exactly two months after Tunisia’s October 23 elections, a peaceful transfer of power took place—a rarity in the Arab world. The outgoing prime minister, Beji Caid el Sebsi, handed the reins to Hamadi Jebali, one of the founding leaders of al-Nahda movement and a former political prisoner. The latter introduced his cabinet to the constituency assembly, which voted largely along political party lines to approve it. Forming a coalition government was understandably a struggle for a group of novices, many of whom had spent more time in prison than in government. But in the end, the parties put forth a respectable coalition of 30 ministers and 11 secretaries of state. Three political parties (Nahda, Mu’tamar, and Takattul) and some independents are represented in this coalition government. Several appointments in particular stand out.

The most controversial appointment concerns the foreign ministry, which was entrusted to Rafiq Abdessalam, a former politics and international relations student at the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster, London. The 43-year-old academic has no practical experience that would allow him to navigate the complex world of diplomacy, except his personal connections to some of the rulers of the Gulf States. It is believed that his appointment was meant to reward the historical leader of al-Nahda: Rachid Ghannouchi, his father-in-law. But this very fact did not please many Tunisians who had suffered from the actions of Ben Ali’s in-laws. Appointing the son-in-law of the leader of the winning party to a powerful position despite his lack of experience is a painful reminder of the corruption, cronyism, and abuse of power under the old regime. Nahda might suffer politically in next year’s elections because of this insensitive and probably foolish move.

Nahda leaders may have a saving grace in the new chief of the interior ministry. For most Tunisians, the interior ministry is a euphemism for police brutality. Under Presidents Bourguiba and Ben Ali, the ministry was used to eliminate political opponents, torture political prisoners, intimidate citizens, and spread fear—it was the tyrants’ favorite tool for subjugating peoples. One of the victims of this institution was Ali Laaridh, who was imprisoned for 15 years—13 years of them in solitary confinement—during Ben Ali’s rule. He was sentenced to death under Bourguiba’s regime. It is highly unlikely that a victim of torture and abuse would subject others to the same brutality. Consequently, Laaridh might well be the right person to rehabilitate the security forces and reform the institution.

Another reassuring face in the new government is that of Noureddine Bhiri. The 53-year-old lawyer is a moderate who spent years defending political prisoners. He, too, was imprisoned for his political activities. Many Tunisians, and other human rights activists, hope that his struggles for civil and political rights will serve him well as he leads the critically important ministry of justice.

Governing a country that has suffered years of mismanagement, corruption, and abuses of power is never easy. Forming a coalition government was the right choice. The three political parties seem to trust one another, and they all stand to lose a great deal if the coalition fails. They have months, not years, to deliver on three critical issues: unemployment, political reform, and economic growth. Even more importantly, they have the responsibility of setting new standards for the rest of the Arab world. The new standards must reflect transparency, compassion, and just use of power that demonstrates respect for human dignity
___________
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. He is the author of the book, Contesting Justice. Opinions expressed herein are the author’s, speaking as a citizen on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

December 20, 2011

The dissipating prestige of the Egyptian military

    Tuesday, December 20, 2011   No comments
Despite evidence to the contrary, the Egyptian military continues to deny using violence against protesters and continue to argue that it is the legitimate power broker. On Tuesday, Gen. Adel Emara, spokesperson for the ruling military junta contended that the military had never used violence against protesters:
“The armed forces and the police pledged not to use violence against protesters actively or even verbally.”
When a journalist tried to display a newspaper image of a woman brutally beaten by military police he interrupted:
“Before you open the newspaper, fold it. I know what I’m talking about. Yes, this scene took place and we’re investigating it. But let’s look at the whole picture and see the circumstances the picture was taken in and we will announce the complete truth. Don’t take only this shot, you or any other, and cite it to prove that violence was used.”
Another Egyptian general said that the protesters are "delinquents who deserve to be thrown into Hitler's ovens." Gen. Abdel Moneim Kato, who serves as an adviser to the military's public relations department, made the remarks in an interview with the Egyptian newspaper al-Shuruq on Monday.
The military rulers think that they are the legitimate authorities despite the existence of the newly elected body. In fact, the military junta wanted to circumvent the work of the newly elected members of the assembly when it appointed a “civilian advisory council,” which in turn suspended its activities until the military stopped the violence and apologized. One-third of its roughly 30 members have quit already.
Egypt and the military are both better served by recognizing the fact that the junta’s ascent to power was ordered by an ousted dictator and that only an elected authority can claim legitimacy. The military rulers should transfer power to the newly elected body, which should adopt the Tunisian model and establish an interim constitution and an interim government until a permanent constitution is adopted and general elections are held.


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December 1, 2011

A Middle East run by Islamists: Should Western Powers Freak Out?

    Thursday, December 01, 2011   No comments

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

In 39 days, three Arab countries held critical elections, Tunisia (October 23), Morocco (November 25), and Egypt (November 28-9). Although the elections in these countries have different contexts and implications, the three events have several things in common. First, the elections were made possible directly or indirectly by the Arab Awakening of early 2011. Second, before the Awakening, Western powers had labeled these three countries as “moderate,” a euphemism for undemocratic regimes run by a westernized elite. Last, these elections brought to power Islamist parties and groups that the west has labeled “extremists.” So should western governments now freak out?
In the short run, maybe. In the long run, not at all. Here is why.

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