For the past two weeks, thousands of protesters across Algeria have defied attempts by the security forces to seize Amazigh (Berber) flags after army chief Ahmed Gaïd Salah declared that only the national flag would be permitted in the ongoing pro-democracy demonstrations. Police used tasers against protesters in the capital Algiers June 30, and made numerous arrests. Among those arrested for wearing a t-shirt with the Amazigh national symbol was 25-year old Samira Messouci, an elected member of the People’s Assembly (regional parliament) in Tizi Ouzou wilaya (province). The Assembly has issued a statement demanding his release. (Photo of protest at Algerian embassy in London via MENA Solidarity Network)
In Episode 16 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses how Berbers, Palestinians, Sahrawi Arabs and other subjugated peoples of the Middle East and North Africa are pitted against each other by the Great Game of nation-states. Berbers in North Africa and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories face identical issues of cultural erasure, yet the Arab states' support for the Palestinians and retaliatory Israeli support for the Berbers constitute an obstacle to solidarity. The Sahrawi Arabs meanwhile fight for their independence from Morocco in the occupied territory of Western Sahara. But the Arab-nationalist ideology of their leadership is rejected by the territory's Berbers—leading to Sahrawi-Berber ethnic tensions in Morocco. Yet there are also signs of hope. Arabs and Berbers were united in the 2011 "Arab Revolution" protests in Morocco, and greater Berber cultural rights were a part of the constitutional reform won by those protests. And the new protest wave in Morocco's Rif Mountains over the past year has again united Arab and Berber. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon. (Image of Berber flag via Kabylia Information Agency)
The Libyan Amazigh Supreme Council, representing the country's Berber ethnic minority, has decided to boycott the referendum on the country's newly released draft constitution, in protest of the lack of provisions for their language and cultural rights. Berbers want their language to be official in the Libyan constitution, given equal status with Arabic in administration and education. Meanwhile in Morocco, Berber leaders are protesting a move by the city of Agadir to remove street names in the Berber language, Tamazight. The Agadir city council voted to change Tamazight street names to the names of Palestinian cities, ostensibly as a show of support for Palestinians. Abdullah Badou, head of Morocco's Amazigh Network, said: "We do not have a problem with Palestine. Certainly, we support the Palestinians, but we do not agree with those who ignore the nature of the area and the history of Morocco." (Photo of Agadir port via Morocco World News)
Angry protesters massed in front of the Moroccan parliament building in Rabat after the sentencing of several leaders of the 2016 uprising in the country's marginalized Rif Mountains. Demonstrators chanted "We are all Zefzafi," "Freedom, dignity, justice," and "Long live the Rif." Among 53 sentenced was Nasser Zefzafi, who became the symbol of the al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or "Popular Movement,"which demanded jobs, regional development and a crackdown on corruption. Zefzafi was among four activists who were sentenced to 20 years in prison for "plotting to undermine the security of the state." A march against the sentences was also held in the capital of the Rif region, Nador. Some protesters carried Amazigh (Berber) flags in the demonstrations. (Photo: Arab Reform Initiative)
In Episode 12 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg pays homage to the martyred Berber singer and songrwiter Lounes Matoub on the 20th anniversary of his assassination. It remains unclear to this day if Matoub was killed by agents of the Algerian state or militants of the Islamist opposition—as both were equally opposed to the Berber cultural renaissance that he represented. The Berbers, or Imazighen (singular: Amazigh), are the indigenous people of North Africa, whose language and culture have been suppressed to varying degrees by Arab-dominated regimes from Morocco to Libya. The 1980 "Berber Spring" in the Kabylia region of Algeria was key to Matoub's politicization, and his assassination was followed by a second round of "Berber Spring" protests in 2001. This presaged the international Arab Revolution that broke out a decade later—which in North Africa was really also a Berber Revolution. The 2011 ptotests and uprisings resulted in advances for Berber cultural rights and autonomy in Algeria, Morcco and Libya alike—a sign of hope amid the current atmosphere of counter-revolution and reaction throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon. (Image via Le Matin d'Algéria. Lounes Matoub shown accosted by Algeria's ruling generals on one side and the Islamist opposition on the other.)
As Turkey invades Syrian territory to attack the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin, the Assad regime and its Russian sponsors are bombarding the rebel-held province of Idlib. Civilian populations in each are facing military attack. And the Rojava Kurds as well as the autonomous municipalities of Idlib are animated by an ethic of popular council-based democracy. But while Noam Chomsly and David Graeber issued a statement in support of Afrin, they—like most of the Western left—are silent about the aggression against Idlib. The destructive meddling of the Great Powers could unleash an Arab-Kurdish ethnic war in Syria—a potentially disastrous sequel to the war against ISIS. It is urgent to rebuild Arab-Kurdish solidarity against the Assad regime, the jihadists and the intervening imperialist powers—and for a democratic and secular future for Syria. Bill Weinberg explores this question on Episode Two of the CounterVortex podcast. You can listen on SoundCloud and support it on Patreon. (Photo: Kurdish militia figher at Afrin, via ANF)
In a victory for Berber activists, Algeria officially celebrated Yennayer, the new year holiday of the Amazigh people, for the first time. The move is part of a general effort by Algeria's government to permit greater expression of Amazigh (Berber) culture in order to head off a separatist movement. Neighboring Libya also saw its first official Yennayer celebrations, although not on a national scale. The locally ruling Amazigh Supreme Council declared the holiday within the Berber self-governing zone in the country's western mountains. But elsewhere in the country there are signs of backsliding toward the intolerant stance of the Qaddafi dictatorship, when any expression of Amazigh language or culture had been strictly banned. A Berber activist in Benghazi, Rabee al-Jayash, was detained by forces of the city's reigning warlord, Khalifa Haftar, for public speaking and writing in the Amazigh tongue. (Photo: Amazigh World News)
The Amazigh Supreme Council (ASC) of Libya, representing the Berbers in the country's western mountains, responded strongly to the fatwa issued by clerical authorities attached to the "Interim Government" based in Libya's east against the practice of Ibadhi branch of Islam. The fatwa refers to Ibadhi Muslims as "infidels." Nearly all followers of Ibadhi Islam in Libya are ethnic Berbers in the Nafusa Mountains. The ASC called the fatwa "a direct incitement for genocide."
Protests continued for a second week in Morocco's neglected Rif region, and spread to cities throughout the country—bringing together Arabs and Berbers to demand democratic reform.
Protests spread across Morocco as thousands demonstrated solidarity with activists who took to the streets in the fishing port of al-Hoceima and were met with mass arrests.
Libya's Constitution Drafting Assembly is under harsh critcism from women's rights advocates, while Berber leaders have called for a boycott to press demands on language rights.
Thousands of Moroccans held protests in several towns and cities after a fish vendor was crushed to death in a garbage compactor while trying to retrieve fish confiscated by police.