Tag: North Africa

Morocco: Once a stopover, now a home for migrants

African migrants sit on top of a border fence between Morocco and Spain's north African enclave of Melilla during their latest attempt to cross into Spanish territory, on April 3 2014. (Pic: Reuters)
African migrants sit on top of a border fence between Morocco and Spain’s north African enclave of Melilla during their latest attempt to cross into Spanish territory, on April 3 2014. (Pic: Reuters)

In a back alley in the Moroccan capital, the small household repair shop opened by Moctar Toure since escaping conflict in his native Côte d’Ivoire is doing a brisk business.

At the gates of Europe, Morocco has long been a transit point for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa looking to make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.

But tighter immigration controls and economic malaise in Europe have made the kingdom a destination in its own right for many.

In spite of the challenges that living in Morocco poses for migrants, Toure wants to stay permanently and got his legal papers last year.

“In the beginning it wasn’t difficult… it was impossible,” said the Ivorian, who migrated to Morocco nine years ago.

For several years after his arrival he relied on whatever odd jobs came up.

Toure struggled with a family to support, and it was only when he received his residency permit that he was able to secure a regular income.

With the help of local refugee agency Amapp, he got a roof over his head and rented a small space where he started his shop a few months ago in a working-class neighbourhood of Rabat.

Toure has even managed to employ a fellow Ivorian to meet demand from customers, most of whom are locals.

Although he is still working to integrate with society, “to return to Côte d’Ivoire would be something abnormal”, he said.

 Multiple rejections
The alternative to staying in Morocco for many is a perilous sea voyage across the Mediterranean.

According to figures from the UN’s refugee agency, more than 2 500 people have drowned or been reported lost at sea this year trying to cross the sea to Europe.

They include people who have fled poverty-stricken nations in sub-Saharan Africa, preferring to risk their lives at the hands of people smugglers.

Those who remain in Morocco face a struggle to access education and healthcare.

This year, in response to a migrant influx and criticism from rights groups, authorities launched a scheme to naturalise migrants and refugees, who number about 30 000.

By the end of October, 4 385 residency permits had been delivered out of more than 20 000 requested.

Serge Gnako, president of the migrant organisation Fased in the economic hub Casablanca, arrived five years ago.

The 35-year-old Ivorian said he was deported several times and it was “difficult to access healthcare or to school your children”.

Gnako believes Morocco is changing, however, and is hopeful his one-month-old son will receive a solid education.

“I see our future in Morocco, and I hope my child will learn Arabic,” said the former university lecturer, who now teaches French.

Thanks to a recent ministerial ruling, Gnako’s local school in the residential suburb of Oulfa now has 15 students from sub-Saharan Africa.

 ‘No magic wand’
Migrants in Morocco still face problems after gaining residency, especially in finding work in a country where youth unemployment is near 30 percent.

“Your residency permit lets you look for work, not to find it,” said Reuben Yenoh Odoi, a member of the Council of sub-Saharan Migrants in Morocco.

Many still consider “going to sea”, said Odoi, a Ghanian, referring to the treacherous maritime crossing to Spain.

Several hundred migrants recently tried to storm the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on the north African coast, leading to the arrest of more than 200.

Driss el Yazami, president of the National Human Rights Council, the group tasked with Morocco’s residency programme, recognises that the process is still in its infancy.

“Getting your papers is not a magic wand for integration,” he said.

In addition, tensions between local and migrant communities remain fraught.

In August, a Senegalese man was killed in clashes between migrants and residents in the northern port city of Tangiers.

But such impediments do not faze Simon Ibukun, a Nigerian musician who plans to settle in Casablanca.

“I’m Moroccan, and I’m working hard to get into the management business and become my own boss,” he said.

Zakaria Choukrallah for AFP

#FreeYara: Peaceful protesting should not be a crime

Yara Sallam. (Pic: Supplied)
Yara Sallam. (Pic: Supplied)

I write this as a feminist activist whose highest values include freedom of expression, freedom of choice and freedom of association. It scares me that we still live in an age where those freedoms can be taken away from us in an instant, and that anybody who places his or her head above the parapet can become a target for state repression. State violence can be found everywhere, whether in Ferguson, Accra or Cairo. You and I, should we choose to step out of the norm, can be subjected to the full force of the state. That is what has happened to Yara Sallam, an Egyptian feminist activist who is currently in prison for participating in a peaceful protest.

I first met Yara in 2012 in Cape Town, South Africa, at the Open Forum organised by the Open Society Africa Foundations. She was a speaker on a panel dubbed, ‘Are women occupying new movements?’ Yara spoke about the Egyptian people’s revolution, and the active role that women were playing in that process. Yara was one of thousands of Egyptian women who had been out in the squares and streets protesting the corrupt Mubarak regime. She knew that overturning the Mubarak regime was not a silver bullet for revolution.  During her presentation on the panel she stated, “…we see the overturn of the Mubarak regime as the spark of revolution, not the completion of it. The Egyptian people’s revolution has just started.”

Her comment that day – May 24 2012 – seems prescient today as Yara and hundreds of other Egyptians lie behind bars imprisoned by the very people who are in power because of the revolution that she and millions of other Egyptians fought for.

Yara’s struggle and the struggle of Egyptian women for a better Egypt began long before the North African springs. In a webinar I convened in December 2012, she shared how Egyptian women had used online technologies to complement their community-based activism. I remember that just before the webinar started Yara had dashed inside from the streets where she had been part of a protest in progress. I thought then, as I do now, “That’s a real activist.”

Yara works as a women’s rights manager for Nazra for Feminist Studies. On June 21 this year, she along with Sanaa Seif, Hanan Mustafa Mohamed, Salwa Mihriz, Samar Ibrahim, Nahid Sherif (known as Nahid Bebo) and Fikreya Mohamed (known as Rania El-Sheikh) were arrested during a peaceful protest against the Protest and Public Assembly Law.

On June 29, Yara and her colleagues appeared before a judge who, without notifying her lawyers, adjourned her case by postponing it to September 13. By then Yara would have been in jail for 83 days. 83 days in prison without trial for the simple act of taking part in a peaceful protest. 83 days in prison for wanting a better Egypt. An Egypt in which Yara, Sanaa, Hanan, Salwa, Samar, Nahid, Fikreya and all those who sacrifice so much for the rest of us can live in peace and with dignity. It’s time for the Egyptian authorities to do the right thing and #FreeYara and all the human rights defenders in Egypt.


UPDATE – September 15: The trial of Yara Sallam and other defendants has been postponed to October 11. They remain in prison.

Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah is a communications specialist who currently works with the African Women’s Development Fund in Ghana. She is a feminist writer and co-founder of the award-winning blog ‘Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women’.

Libya calls for foreign help to defeat Islamist militias

Libya’s foreign minister has warned that it will need foreign help to defeat an alliance of Islamist militias who seized the Libyan capital on Sunday, announcing a breakaway regime, and who are “now stronger than the government itself”.

Mohamed Abdel Aziz stressed he was not calling for direct foreign military intervention. But he said Libya’s government, which has fled to the eastern city of Tobruk, is now unable to safeguard key state institutions by itself, and called for “arms and any other equipment … that could ensure the possibility of protecting our strategic sites, our oil fields, our airports against militias “who are now stronger than the government itself, and who do now possess arms even more sophisticated than the government itself”.

Aziz’s call came as the new militia leadership in Tripoli appointed a former guerrilla commander as head of a reconvened Islamist-led Parliament, formally breaking with the country’s elected government which has escaped to the east. Omar al Hasi, a former commander with the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group, which fought against the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi, was announced as “prime minister” of the officially defunct general national congress by Islamist leaders meeting in a city hotel.

The move, a direct challenge to the elected Parliament, came amid a wave of attacks across Tripoli the day after it was captured on Sunday by Libya Dawn, an alliance of Islamist militias and their allies from the city of Misrata.

Gangs of armed men ransacked and burned homes of government supporters and residents from tribes sympathetic to the government. Misratan militias who captured Tripoli International Airport set it ablaze. Vigilante patrols swept the streets demanding to see identity documents, and many people feared to leave their homes. Several reported being chased by militiamen.

“They have now started burning houses and property belonging to people from Zintan, Warshafana, Warhafal and the east,” one resident tweeted. “Street fighting in different places, not safe.”

Tens of thousands flee
Speaking to the Guardian in Cairo, Aziz ruled out requesting for foreign air strikes against the insurgents in the short term – but hinted that they were likely should negotiations with the rebels fail. “Once we cannot achieve a serious or meaningful dialogue among all the factions, perhaps we can resort to other means afterwards,” said Aziz, who was at a Cairo conference for regional foreign ministers about the future of Libya.

Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel Aziz Aziz has ruled out requesting for foreign air strikes against the insurgents in the short term – but hinted that they were likely should negotiations with the rebels fail. (Reuters)

But Aziz said immediate foreign assistance was essential to the future of the country. “Without this protection, without the expertise to enable the government to be able to deliver goods to the people, it will be difficult to talk about smooth transition from the revolution to building a state with a rule of law and viable government.”

On Monday the rule of law had all but collapsed in Tripoli. A government official claimed tens of thousands had fled the capital. A BBC correspondent in the city, Rana Jawad, tweeted: “In past 48hrs many – if not majority – of apartments of Hay el Zohour compound on airport road have been ransacked acc. to witnesses.”

Journalists have also been singled out. There were attacks on the nationalist TV station, Al Asima, while the home of a correspondent for TV channel Al Arabiya was set ablaze. Villas of government officials were set alight and gunfire erupted in several districts of the city.

Islamists have replaced the editors of the two state TV stations, with the government responding by blocking their satellite signal.

A resident tweeted: “Tripoli is only safe if you are Muslim Brotherhood or Misratan. If anyone speaks out they will face the Gaddafi treatment, lose home and possibly life.”

Parliament denounces attacks
In Benghazi, another Islamist militia, Ansar al Sharia – blamed by Washington for the killing of its ambassador Chris Stevens in the city two years ago – called for Libya’s Islamists to form a united front: “Proclaim that your struggle is for sharia (law) and not democratic legitimacy, so the world unites under the same banner.”

Libya’s legitimate Parliament, the House of Representatives, met in the eastern city of Tobruk, appointed a new chief of staff, and denounced the attacks: “The groups acting under the names of Fajr (Dawn) Libya and Ansar al Sharia are terrorist groups and outlaws.”

US ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones, evacuated along with most foreign diplomats in July, warned of “real consequences” for groups that did not renounce violence.

Yet there is little appetite abroad for military intervention. The outside world is focussed on conflicts in Gaza, Syria and Iraq, and Western nations are waiting to see how much support the Parliament, elected in June, will garner. – Patrick Kingsley, Dan Roberts and Chris Stephen for The Guardian.

Meet Super Sisi, Egypt’s new game hero

On Egyptian streets Abdel Fatah al-Sisi – the top general who ousted ex-president Mohamed Morsi last summer – reached superhuman status months ago. Now the digital world has caught up: developers have released a Sisi-themed arcade-style game for Android users, billing the strongman as an Egyptian superhero.

Super Sisi sees a two-dimensional version of Egypt’s likely next president fly through a cartoon Cairo, attempting to save the country. In real life, Sisi’s picture looms over most main roads in Cairo, with many seeing his leadership as the answer to three years of political instability. In the game, Sisi’s avatar flies over the pyramids and the river Nile dodging bombs and explosives – a plotline that might remind some of a real-life wave of militant attacks aimed at soldiers and policemen.

Super Sisi is available in the Android App store.
Super Sisi is available in the Android App store. (Screenshot)

The game is the latest in a string of unlikely memorabilia aimed at cashing in on Sisi’s cult status. Elsewhere, Sisi’s face adorns tat ranging from underpants, fast-food packaging and, most famously, chocolates – at least until police raided the patissiers who made them last month.

But popular culture has not all been favourable to the man many expect to be elected Egypt’s next president in late May. In late March hundreds of thousands took to social media to express disgust at the general. Using the slogan “vote for the pimp”, it was a reminder that many Egyptians revile Sisi for his role in a crackdown that has seen at least 16 000 political dissidents arrested since regime change last July, and thousands killed.

After months of speculation as to whether he would stand for the presidency, Sisi resigned from the military in March, paving the way for a return to strongman leadership for Egypt.

Sisi had been spoken of as a potential head of state after he removed Morsi last July, following days of mass protests against the Islamist-slanted government.

A poll from late March by Egypt’s leading pollsters, Baseera, suggested that 39% of Egyptians would vote for Sisi in an election. This dwarfs support for the two other well-known candidates currently in the race – the rightwing football club chairman Mortada Mansour and leftist Hamdeen Sabbahi, who moulds himself in the image of Egypt’s 60s autocrat, Gamal Abdel Nasser. But it is a marked drop from Baseera’s February poll, which gave Sisi 51%. Most voters say they are yet to decide, but their choice is already limited by the withdrawal of two leading candidates who say that the race will be neither free nor fair.

Patrick Kingsley for the Guardian

Egypt’s pork farmers get their sizzle back

The overthrow of Mohamed Morsi last year did little to help Egypt’s economy. But for the butchers and pig breeders of the slums around Cairo, it has been an unexpected fillip.

Five months ago, pork was so scarce in Cairo that a butcher like Bishoy Samir sold pig meat just twice a month. Now Samir reckons he sells an entire pig’s worth of pork every day.

Five years ago, the Egyptian government culled most of Egypt’s pig population, leaving Samir’s family with nothing to serve. “It was very rare to find something to cook,” Samir says. “We used to work one week on, one week off.” But five months ago things started to pick up, and “now we’re preparing one pig a day – and others are doing two or three.”

Pork’s comeback began slowly after the 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak, when some farmers began to breed tiny herds of pigs again and hid them in their basements. But the revival was limited until the fall of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood last July. Pig farming is still illegal, but here and there smaller-scale breeders say they are now more brazenly rebuilding a process that was decimated in 2009.

“Under Morsi, everyone was afraid – people hid the fact we had pigs as they feared the government would come to kill them,” says Sayeed, another pork butcher in Cairo, who rears a now-expanding herd on the roof of his house in the east Cairo slum of Manshiyet Nasr.

“But after Morsi left, that was that – it was freedom,” says Sayeed. “Now the government is happy acting like they don’t know there are pigs here.”

Pigs piled up in the back of a truck before getting culled and buried on the outskirts of Cairo on May 14 2009. (Pic: AFP)
Pigs piled up in the back of a truck before getting culled and buried on the outskirts of Cairo on May 14 2009. (Pic: AFP)

Today, there are 50 000 to 80 000 pigs in Manshiyet Nasr, estimates Ezzat Naem, the head of the local workers’ union – far fewer than the 350 000 in 2009, but double or triple last year’s figure. A year ago, Samir’s family was one of just two or three butchers who secretly grilled pork in Manshiyet Nasr, known internationally as Garbage City. Now locals say there are a dozen or so, as more residents again turn parts of their homes into makeshift pig sties. Outside space is limited, so the swine live on the roof, or in converted bedrooms.

In 2009, government workers killed Egypt’s pigs in brutal fashion – many of them buried alive in the desert, and covered in acid. Ostensibly, it was to ward off swine flu, then considered a major threat. But World Health Organisation officials said the pigs had nothing to do with the spread of the disease, leading many of Egypt’s Coptic Christians – who form about 10% of the population and who run the pork industry – to view the cull as another bid to marginalise their minority.

They felt victimised for economic as well as social reasons. The Christians of Manshiyet Nasr and half-a-dozen other Cairo slums are collectively known as the Zabaleen, or “garbage people”. They collect and recycle about two-thirds of the 15 000 tonnes of rubbish that Cairo generates daily – and once fed the organic waste to their pigs. But that ended with the cull.

“It was revenge on the Christians of Egypt,” claims Father Barsoum Barsoum, a Coptic priest. This feeling of alienation rose under Morsi, when policemen and vigilantes besieged Egypt’s largest cathedral and fired teargas over the walls.

It was felt the president had done little to condemn the violence. “Morsi didn’t care about the country – he just cared about his group,” argues Abu John, who used to own one of the largest pig herds in Manshiyet Nasr, as well as a chain of butchers. “As Christians, we felt like we couldn’t live in Egypt.”

Now Abu John feels more at ease and is breeding more pigs again – 10 times more than last year, he says.

The local price of pork reflects this rise. A kilogram of pork at a nearby butchers costs about 50 Egyptian pounds (£4.30) down from E£70 last year (though still higher than the £20 it would have cost five years ago). “In the past four to six months, people have realised that it’s more profitable again,” says Ezzat Naem, the union leader and head of the Spirit of Youth, a local non-governmental organisation.

But for the moment, the renaissance remains limited to subsistence farmers in districts such as Manshiyet Nasr, where the influence of the government is weak. Egypt’s two pig slaughterhouses remain closed, and the men who once bred the country’s largest herds of pigs have refused to reopen their farms – and thereby spark a larger revival – while the practice is still illegal.

“If the government want to check on anyone, we’re the first on the list – so we don’t want to take the risk,” says Ihab Israil, whose family once owned Egypt’s largest pork business, but who are now reduced to importing mortadella. “I’m not going to start unless I get official documentation from the government. What we need is the slaughterhouses back.”

In other Zabaleen slums people are reluctant to talk about the pigs’ return. “No one here is slaughtering pigs,” says Barsoum, whose parish is on the other side of Cairo. “And of course I miss it. There’s nothing like barbecued pork.”

Patrick Kingsley for the Guardian