A forum devoted to current political, economic trends, and news of the Maghreb region.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Police Brutality and the Feb 20 Protests

Horrific images have been surfacing from last night's Feb 20 protests in Casablanca, Rabat and El Jadida. Thousands took the streets demanding greater social justice and to condemn widespread corruption. The demonstrations were violently repressed by the police resulting in 14 injuries. This continues a state pattern of violence against peaceful protests. Despite the new constitution and the elections of the Islamist PJD which pledged human rights and dignity for all, the forces of order do no hesitate to use the baton to quell social protestations of increasingly tougher socio-economic indicators. Poverty rate exceeds 20% and unemployment exceeds 30% among people under 34 years-old. These are made worse by this year's chronic drought, drop in tourism, and economic recession in Europe (Morocco's leading trade partner).

The PJD government already launched controversial fiscal reforms as it took on the state's subsidy system in an attempt to bridge the gap between the rich and poor. The Benkirane government also unveiled a 20% increase in fuel prices, which angered many in the streets, already reeling from high levels of inflation and increased cost of living. The latest protests are about the recent government decisions, and the perceived lack of movement towards meaningful socio-economic and political reforms in the country as a whole. The demonstrations are only the first of many that the Feb 20 movement has promised over the month of Ramadan. Last night's police brutality will only make it difficult to contain the public sense of frustration with the Makhzen and its structures of social pacification.

The regime, since it is the one that holds all keys to power and not the PJD government, cannot continue on this dual policy of promoting fictitious reforms, and oppressing individual liberties at the same time. This only serves to undermine the current Islamist government hailed as a historic landmark in modern political history of Morocco. More importantly, it gradually erodes the regime's legitimacy especially as it is increasingly seen as an agent of immobilism and paralysis.

Photos from El Jadida (all photos are courtesy of Mamfakinch)

Video from the protests in Rabat.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Libya's Remarkable Elections

Libya may be on its way to buck the trend of Islamist electoral victory in post-Arab Spring. Reports suggest that the liberal, and secular-minded ex-PM Mahmoud Jibril may be leading  the elections of the National Congress. The 200-seat body will be a key transitional institution in the future of post-Gaddafi's Libya, as it will be entrusted with the task of choosing an interim government and a commission to draft a new constitution. The election commission will not report its preliminary results until Monday, but if the results hold, this will be a remarkable turn of events in post-Gaddafi Libya mired by occasional insecurity and warring armed tribal militias.

Despite initial unease, an estimated 60% of the 3 million registered Libyan voters woke up early, headed to the segregated polling stations and lined up in queues in the first such elections in the history of Libya. Despite reports of violence and burnt ballots in polling stations in Tobruq, Benghazi, Guba and Suluq, the elections went smoothly as jubilant and proud Libyans cast their vote for some of the 142 parties that have been registered.

My own sources in Libya reported a general jubilation on election day. Twittervese was buzzing with elated messages. Young Libyan, Malik L, captures this sense of joy as he states: "I'm happy w/environment we've experiencing over 48 hours. Just went through a war, guns everywhere & we had a peaceful day of voting." Libyans, rightly so, are proud of this monumental and historical achievement, and as their Tunisian and Egyptian neighbors to the east and west, sent a message to the world that electoral contests can take place in the Arab world without much irregularities or violence.

Mahmoud Jibril, who served as de facto prime minister in post-Gaddafi National Transitional Council, is now allegedly leading the poll results under his National Forces' Alliance.  He is a centrist liberal candidate, who once even served as economy minister in Gaddafi's government. Despite Jibril's statements of defection from the old regime, some Libyan are still wary of him. This makes the current reports all the more perplexing, and given the general conservative tendency of the Libyan society, where the Islamists of  el-Watan, led by Jihadi commander of the Tripoli militia Abdel Hakim Belhaj, were expected to hold a slight electoral advantage, especially since only 80 of the 200 seats are allocated on the basis of party lists. In that case, el Watan was perhaps slated to form a potential coalition with Muslim Brotherhood's Libyan offshoot, the Justice and Development party. The party is headed by moderate Islamist Muhammad Suwan, who languished for years in Gaddafi's prisons.

The National Salvation Front was also among the contenders in yesterday's elections. The front was one of the most steadfast and visible opponents to Gaddafi. Founded in the 1980s and forced into exile, the front was seen as the most consistent movement that has at all times kept its distance from Gaddafi's state. However, they have been unable to appeal to a substantial number of Libyans.

Whatever the final results are, this is a victory for Libya and Libyans amidst continuing anxiety about security, tribal rivalries, and some lack of respect for the law and legal procedures. Many Libyans are still armed, and some are even dangerous, as fighting and tensions occasionally flare up between tribes and clans. State control remains elusive in such cities as Zintan, Zwara, Sebha and Kufra.

The elections of the National Congress is a much needed step towards institutional and constitutional development of the country that was politically and economically depleted for 42 years. Libya faces arguably the toughest road of all the post-auhtoritarian states in North Africa. Whereas Tunisia and Egypt have varying levels of state institutions that can ease the two countries (albeit each with their idiosyncratic problems) through their transitions, Gaddafi has left a country with no state  apparatus and a deeply divided society along tribal and regional lines.

Libya's elections are just the beginning of the long process of state formation, but this will inevitably be a tedious task if Libyans are collectively not able to cast their tribal, clan and regional identity for the sake of a more inclusive and subsuming national identity.

Dr. Mahmoud Jibril's first press conference after the elections