Events in Mali are developing rapidly; for the moment, readers may refer to this blogger’s Twitter feed and those of others better informed (for example: Martin Vogl, Martin Plaut,Peter Dorrie, Hannah Armstrong, Tommy Miles, and Andrew Lebovich, and the articles here). Media reports have AQIM and MUJWA operating together with Ansar Eddine in Gao and Timbuktu; reports are mixed and the situation continues to be fluid. The MNLA appears to have been sidelined in some areas by Ansar Eddine, which is reported to have a heavy presence with members of AQIM in Timbuktu, and in others to be operating in proximity to MUJWA and/or Ansar Eddine. At present it is clear there are at least partial divisions in that Ansar Eddine may seek to expand beyond the Azawad, while the MNLA is more likely to attempt to hold territory in the north toward its goal of establishing a state there. Ansar Eddine (and the other Islamist/Salafi groups), though, look ready to try and extend their reach further south. In such a case they may find themselves at an even greater cross purposes than they did early on. The MNLA, highly media conscious, may attempt some kind of manoeuvre to take some of the initiative from the Ansar Eddine and other armed factions. Ansar Eddine appears much stronger than previous reports suggested, and it may have come to an agreement or understanding with AQIM or MUJWA as a result of a common worldview or revenge politics directed toward the MNLA or a need to find ins at the local level in Timbuktu, for example. But there in particular if reports about AQIM having established itself there with the rebels moves beyond the group’s usually more low key and more pragmatic style; a prominent role there exposes it to targeting by the Mauritanian air force or others. This is especially true if reports about AQIM leadership figures showing up in Timbuktu or returning to Mali from neighbouring countries are true (including Yahya Abu al-Hammam and Belmokhtar; they are reported to have taken control of some military bases/installations in the area). The heavy hand in Timbuktu or Gao could also instigate pressure from ethnic militias in the area and with tribes. At the same time such figures may also help Ansar Eddine, whose leader Ag Ghali draws much of his support from Kidal, cement control in the area. From the distance and without more reliable reporting and definitive accounts from locals questions remain numerous and assumptions and contingencies must be reconsidered and interrogated vigorously.
This post continues some of the questions raised in the post immediately preceding it, with respect to AQIM, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), the Tuareg rebellion in Mali (and the subsequent coup) and other similar problems. The proliferation of arms and armed groups in northern Mali since the fall of the Qadhafi regime in Libya has created opportunities and probably the necessity for AQIM to move men and activity into southern Libya, and potentially Nigeria. The Mali safe haven, for the time being, looks less hospitable to the group and conditions there mean that AQIM will likely seek out space and links in Libya to compensate for short-term losses in northern Mali and may evolve its leadership to seek a more deliberate and longer lasting presence in Libya, which is likely to become a priority for AQIM in the future. This post explores this possibility in context of recent evens in the region as it relates to armed groups in northern Mali and instability in southern Libya. It does not claim to provide any answers or satisfy all readers but mainly to explore possibilities emerging in a fluid environment. Continue reading
This writer has an op-ed at the terrific English-language Tunisian site Tunisia Live on polarization between religious and secularist tendencies in the Maghreb, drawing together some of the thoughts discussed in this space recently.
This blog does not generally or usually deal with Morocco. It is worth looking at James Asfa’s article on the Justice and Development Party’s recent performance in Morocco’s parliamentary elections. These were less momentous and exciting than the ones in Tunisia and Egypt given the tightly managed nature of the reform process there and the enduring strength of the monarchy; but they do fit into general trend in the region and point to interesting trends in the Maghreb. The piece can be looked at as a jumping point to think about some recent developments elsewhere in North Africa; in Algeria — where the regime’s efforts to lumber through this past year through managed reforms resemble Morocco’s to a certain degree — and in transitional Tunisia and Egypt, where change has obviously been more radical and where political polarization is more intense when it comes to religion than in Morocco. Asfa’s summary of the lessons the PJD has drawn from the Algerian experience are notable and worth reading. Indeed, as Paul Pillar writes, there is some danger in ‘sloppy thinking in failing to distinguish radical Islamists (who of course have represented the most salient and worrisome form of transnational extremist violence in recent years) from all other political Islamists.’ Asfa’s piece is worth reading in these terms. Continue reading
Wolfram Lacher has an interesting article (‘Families, Tribes and Cities in the Libyan Revolution,’ at the Middle East Policy Council) on the role of families and tribes in the Libyan revolution, during the struggle against Qadhafi and after. Long and very interesting portions are posted below. Do read the whole thing. Continue reading
DZCalling’s comment on the previous post on Abdallah Djaballah pointed to the ongoing power struggles and divisions in the FLN, Algeria’s former single party until 1989. It brought these points to mind which would have been a comment on that post but were not strictly related to the original point and have thus been placed here. The reference to the FLN brought to mind two things primarily: (1) generational tensions and conflicts in institutions of the political establishment; and (2) attitudes toward political change and violence as they related to some of the experiences (especially the civil war) that created those generational rifts. These are general thoughts. Continue reading