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Separating migrant families at EU borders must stop

Charlotte Slente, 27 July 2021. First published by Euobserver

Copenhagen - Over the last couple of years, the alarming extent of violence and illegal practices carried out against migrants and asylum seekers seeking protection in Europe has increasingly come into the open.
EU commissioners and member sates have condemned the situation, vowing to put an end to flagrant violations of fundamental rights and ensure that the rule of law is respected.

However, new findings from the latest report from the Danish Refugee Counil's Protecting Rights at Borders Initiative show that these vows have not sufficiently been turned into action.
On the contrary, a vast number of testimonies reveal that EU member states are resorting to different, but equally alarming, practices. While the previously documented physical beatings, humiliations, use of electro-shockers continue, in some EU member states, several documented cases of forceful family separations indicate re-emerging trends in deterrence practices.

The practice, already documented before, typically assumes the following pattern: after having been intercepted, the means of communication of the families are entirely disrupted. With damaged phones and no way to reach each other, parents and children are placed into different vehicles, to be then expelled at different border locations.

Without any information where their parents or children have been left, law enforcement tells them that if they return to (in these cases Croatia), the treatment will be "less mild."

On one occasion, after hours of searching, the Danish Refugee Council's outreach teams in Bosnia and Herzegovina were able to reunite a family of six, where the parents had been forcefully separated from their four underage children.

This practice has also been recorded at the French-Italian border, where local NGOs reported assisting an increasing number of people in locating their family members after a pushback incident. This suggests a new operational pattern aimed at separating migrants and asylum seekers from their family or group, in an attempt to discourage border crossings.

Trump Mexican border comparison

The comparison with border practices at the US-Mexican border under the Trump administration, where minors were also separated on purpose from their parents, and which have been widely condemned by EU decision-makers, cannot but spring to mind.

Regrettably these are not isolated cases.

The Protecting Rights at Borders Initiative, as well as UN's special rapporteur on the rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales, have also reported the denial of access to asylum procedures, pushbacks of persons with legal status, abusive and degrading treatment, physical abuse, theft, extortion, and destruction of property.

In his June 2021 report, Morales concludes, "The practice of pushbacks is widespread. In many contexts it has become a routine element of border governance, with a serious negative impact on the human rights of migrants."

Morales further states that "the loss of life at international borders has been a tragic consequence of states increasingly relying on militarisation, extraterritorial border control and deterrence to attempt to control migration."

The responsibility to end these widespread and illegal practices lies on the member states. Further, the European Commission, with the self-declared objective of being the 'Rule-of-Law Commission', has previously condemned the practices.

The commission's inclusion of a human rights monitoring mechanism under article 7 of the pre-entry screening regulation in the proposed EU pact on asylum and migration – a proposal following the wake-up call by the clearly documented practices over the previous years – could have been an initial step in the right direction to ensure more accountability.

However, it is increasingly perceived as a stumbling block in the negotiations between the EU member states.

The first information about Croatia's long-awaited independent border monitoring mechanism has been reported in the media. The proposed mechanism raises a number of questions in relation to whether it will indeed create a credible path towards accountability.

The criteria on which organisations were chosen to participate in the mechanism and their prior experience in the monitoring process is unclear. Also, access to official border crossings will be limited while data from the Protecting Rights at Borders Initiative, and other organisations, has been highlighting that 95 percent of the rights violations happen away from official crossings. Finally, a lack of clarity remains on how complaints will be investigated.

While the publishing of the Croatian border-monitoring mechanism might take away some ambiguity, scrutiny and effective assessment of how, and if, it will work in practice will be required.

Or put in another way: the proposed monitoring mechanism will have to be monitored to ensure that it in fact becomes a guarantee of accountability - not an obstacle to it.

Croatia's neighbour, Slovenia, has just taken over the presidency of the European Council, under the slogan "Together. Resilient. Europe."

While Slovenia's role in chain pushbacks has also been widely-documented, the hope remains that the member states (including Slovenia) and EU institutions may jointly demonstrate their unity and resilience by leading by example: stopping illegal practices, strengthening accountability to ensure that just and rights-compliant systems are in place, and demonstrating that the "European values" can pass the reality check and not succumb under pressure.


Charlotte Slente is secretary general of the Danish Refugee Council. This article is Written in cooperation with: Ratko Bubalo, president of the managing board of the Humanitarian Center for Integration and Tolerance (HCIT), Vassilis Papadopoulos, president of the board of directors of the Greek Council for Refugees, Associazione per gli Studi Giuridici sull'Immigrazione (ASGI) and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of Euobseprver or CEMAS.


Spain: Wave of Islamophobic hate crimes sweeps south of the country

By Inigo Alexander, in Murcia, Spain, The Middle East Eye, 24 July 2021

MURCIA, SPAIN - In the early hours of 7 July, local worshippers headed to the Ibn Arabi mosque for their morning prayer, to be greeted by the gruesome sight of a decapitated pig’s head, with a knife still plunged into it, at the doorstep, according to the Middle East Eye.

On the walls they found messages reading "No to Islam" and "Stop the invasion," and a large Spanish flag bearing the statement: "Spain's sovereignty is non-negotiable". "I was really shocked, I couldn't imagine that hatred could reach such extremes," says Sabah Yacoubi, president of the Association of Moroccan Immigrant Workers in Murcia and one of the first to sound the alarm on the attack.

"I've lived in Murcia for 22 years, and there have been very few cases [of Islamophobic hate], but I don't understand what's been going on lately. We have to stop this or the situation is going to worsen."

There is cause for concern for Yacoubi and her fellow Muslim residents in Murcia, who form around 90,000 of the 1.5 million people in the region.

The attack on the mosque in Cabezo de Torres is the latest in a series of Islamophobic and xenophobic attacks that have swept Murcia over the past month. In recent years, the far-right party Vox has emerged as a strong political force in Spain, and in Murcia in particular.

Rise of the far right

In recent years, the far-right party Vox has emerged as a strong political force in Spain, and in Murcia in particular.

In the 2019 general election, Vox won 28 percent of votes in Murcia - the highest-polling party - and it now rules the region in a coalition government, alongside the conservative People's Party and centre-right Ciudadanos.

Many believe the surge in Islamophobic hate crimes in Murcia can be attributed to the influence Vox now holds in the region.

"These attacks are the reflection of a growing normalisation of xenophobic and racist discourse, of attacks towards specific groups - in this case people of Arab origin," says Pedro Rojo, a prominent Arabist and president of Al-Fanar Foundation for Arab Knowledge.

"It is undoubtedly the result of hate speech that is normalising and making these attacks seem justifiable."

Since emerging onto the national political scene, the far-right party has been strongly criticised for its hardline stance on immigration and Islam, with Twitter blocking its account in January for "inciting hate" against Muslims following the launch of an online campaign under the hashtag #stopislamization.

"This has created a breeding ground exploited by Vox's demagogic discourse, as well as other parties, which leads a handful of people to believe that it is legitimate to attack and even murder people," Rojo says.

"It's much easier to accept a populist discourse against a defenceless part of our society than to really question our system."

Indeed, as Rojo points out, fingers cannot be pointed only at Vox, as the problem is deep rooted.

"Vox is not the problem, the system is," echoes Spanish-Egyptian activist Aurora Ali, a member of the Muslim Association for Human Rights. "Before Vox came into power, the discourse was propagated by right-wing, centre and progressive parties. The dehumanisation has always been there. The discourse is not new, only the faces have changed."

Dodgy data

The recent attacks in Murcia are part of a larger wave of Islamophobia that has swept Spain in recent years, with many pointing to the 2017 terror attacks in Barcelona as a contributing factor.

In 2017, the Interior Ministry recorded 103 instances of Islamophobic hate, a rise of 120 percent on the previous year.

Reliable data on Islamophobic crimes is hard to come by, with the government and NGOs producing varying results. In 2017, the Citizen Platform against Islamophobia registered more than five times the number of Islamophobic crimes reported by the government, citing 546 cases.

"Anti-Muslim hatred is not really recognised in Spain," says Ali. "The state understands that we are attacked due to 'religious intolerance' or 'racism and xenophobia,' but never admits its role through its securitisation or counter-terrorism policies that target Muslims and Arabs. Through these policies, Muslims and Arabs have been systematically stigmatised, criminalised and dehumanised."

Moroccans make up the second-largest migrant group in the country and are victim to the highest rate of hate crimes among foreigners in Spain, suffering 7.8 percent of attacks, according to a 2019 government report.

Additionally, a study conducted by the University of Valencia also found that residents of Maghreb descent are 7.5 times more likely to be stopped by police than their white Spanish counterparts.

To complicate matters further, Spain's Ministry of Interior has failed to categorise Islamophobia as a specific hate crime, with Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska deeming the classification "unnecessary".

"Without data, there's no problem to address, and without a problem there's no need for a solution," says Ali. "So the attacks will always be deemed 'isolated cases', since we are not even recognised in the victimology tables. It gets hidden."

Sidelined and neglected

Calls from the Muslim community, NGOs and organisations for a stronger political commitment to tackle Spain's rising Islamophobia have fallen on deaf ears.


Does democracy need troublemakers?

By CAROLINE DE GRUYTER, The Euobserver, 27 July 2021

OSLO - Nowadays, political crises and upheavals often seem to come from the periphery rather than the centre of power. Comedians, businessmen and other outsiders – think of Edward Snowden, Slawi Trifonow (the TV star who won the Bulgarian elections recently), or Donald Trump – try to disrupt power, pretending to expose political elites.
Thorns in the side of the establishment, some troublemakers manage to dominate the news and shake up the Western world like never before.

Why is this happening? Is it a coincidence that troublemakers often disregard basic rules of democracy once they are voted into office? In response, do we need to make governmental institutions more resilient? Or could it be that we actually, to a certain extent, need outsiders to prevent our democracies from becoming too complacent?

With these questions in mind a German philosopher, Dieter Thomä, published a book in 2016 about the role of troublemakers in society and politics through the centuries, which was translated into English in 2019: Troublemakers; a Philosophy of Puer Robustus.

Thomä, a professor at the University of Sankt-Gallen, argues that every social and political system tends to produce troublemakers. Societies need to adapt to a world that is constantly changing.

But existing rules and established order cannot be adjusted so swiftly.

Therefore, it can be useful if peripheral figures enter the scene and start kicking around, asking questions others prefer to duck, forcing others to think about politics and society in useful new ways.

Thomä is certainly aware of the risks: troublemaker Trump and his supporters almost destroyed parliamentary democracy in the US, and it is too early to assess how lasting the damage will be.

But it does not necessarily have to end badly, he argues: some troublemakers can be agents of positive change. "Democracies need some rebellion from time to time to keep them from becoming complacent," he writes.

Using both fictional examples and real people from the 17th century to now, Thomä distinguishes five types of troublemakers.

As often with academic categorisation, reality has trouble fitting in - some modern troublemakers would fit into three categories at once. But as a rough guide, the different descriptions are useful.

Five types of troublemaker

The first type comes straight from Hobbes' Leviathan: the egocentric who does not care about anyone and feels the urge to cross lines out of pure self-interest. This is an adult child, irresponsible, often driven by greed and jealousy. This type, which Hobbes called 'puer robustus' (stout boy), includes warlords, oligarchs or profiteers from the financial crisis, such as Jérôme Kerviel. According to Thomä, Napoleon was also an ego tripper, caring more about family and friends than the country.

The second type is the political rebel, the rather sympathetic non-conformist who shakes up cushions for a while, then blends into mainstream politics. He is like yeast in the dough of society, letting it rise and changing its substance, but not out to enrich himself or grab power. French philosopher Denis Diderot portrayed him in his 1770 book Rameau's Nephew. Harlem Désir could fall in this category: a student leader during France's social unrest during the early 1980s, he later became a mainstream politician. Some student leaders in the Occupy Wallstreet movement would also qualify. This type also regularly stirs up the worlds of business and art.

As a third type, Thomä mentions the romantic revolutionary, à la Rousseau, the idealist outsider who wants to change the world and never compromises. Such a person was Wilhelm Tell, the legendary (and perhaps fictitious) early 14th century Swiss freedom fighter.

The fourth type, Thomä suggests, is Max Horkheimer's 'little savage' of the 1930s and 1940s: the fascist on the fringes of society who, lacking a "consistent independent ego", takes refuge in a group, hiding in unanimity and glorifying authority without any specific idea of the end which this authority is supposed to serve. The more he succeeds in rallying masses behind him, the more his destructive impact grows. This type includes some contemporary populists and Islamists – Nigel Farage comes to mind.

A fifth type - more of an 'extra' than a full-fledged type - is the loner holding up a mirror to others. Here, Edward Snowden comes to mind.

Thomä readily admits the distinction between the types is not always clear. Donald Trump, for example, fits in both the first and the fourth category, being both an egocentric and a little savage.

Globalisation and populism

Western societies currently produce many troublemakers.

Perhaps widespread confusion about the state of our democracies is a root of this. While our economies have globalised in recent decades, our democracies have remained national.

Globalisation has lifted millions out of poverty, but also created international problems such as climate change, tax-avoidance by multinationals, and cybercrime.

Therefore, some national decision-making has moved to a higher level: to the G20, or the Eurogroup, for example. Even if democratically elected governments take decisions there, their collective decision-making is not subject to democratic control, and many citizens resent this.

They feel power has been taken away from them, and want it back. Some experiments are being done with 'global democracy', but governments are reluctant to relinquish power (does the EU could qualify as a sixth category: the 'international troublemaker'?). The alternative – de-globalisation – is no realistic option either.

A lack of direction is the result: problems are not solved, causing anxiety among citizens and doubts about the future of our system. This is a perfect breeding ground for troublemakers. The egocentric and the 'little savage' are particularly thriving nowadays, the latter being the most dangerous: the fascist who also strongly emerged from the toxic mix of political discontent and economic malaise in the 1920s and 1930s.

John Stuart Mill once called those breaking rules for the common good "the salt of the earth".

One of the ideas behind a healthy democracy is to welcome troublemakers from the periphery of society, and let them explain themselves and be heard. This usually sets some changes in motion.

This is happening now with anti-vaxxers taking to the streets in many countries. Thus, an important function of democracy is to integrate troublemakers – but only to a certain extent.

In the US, troublemaker Trump managed to take over the Republican Party and become president. Brexit, which started as a fringe initiative, politically engulfed an entire country, because it fell on a fertile ground of ignorance and nationalism.

One of the tests of democracy in the coming years will be precisely its ability to successfully integrate troublemakers, or succumb to them.

The Author

Caroline de Gruyter is a Europe correspondent and columnist for the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. This column is an edited version of a column in De Standaard.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.



By Michael Meyer-Resende and Jakub Jaraczewski, The Euobserver

BERLIN - Observers of the Polish government's approach to law have become used to a lot of things. And still one could be surprised by the escalation that transpired last week.

Just when the EU had decided last year that a threat to the rule of law in a member state should result in the suspension of EU funding to that member state, the government and its highest court declared war on the EU's legal order.

It is as if the Polish government is begging the EU to stop transferring funds.


What happened?


Right after the ruling party won the first election in 2015, it staffed the Constitutional Tribunal with judges that support its line. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg already ruled that these new judges were not lawfully appointed, but the government ignores the judgment.

Ever since that attack on the country's highest court, Poland's lawyers have been fighting a battle to preserve the independence of the other courts.

It is not going well. The government has been attacking judges and other courts through a newly created Disciplinary Chamber at the Supreme Court that can sanction judges not only for their behaviour but also for the judgments they pass.

Last year, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, the EU's top court, ruled that the Polish Disciplinary Chamber should suspend its activities until it could decide whether the Chamber is a lawful judicial body.

Last week the Disciplinary Court asked the unlawfully appointed judges at the Polish Constitutional Tribunal whether it has to respect the decision of the EU Court and the Tribunal said: 'no'.

Ruling pending

The Constitutional Tribunal also discussed another case last week, brought by the government, in which the government argues that EU law should not take precedence over national laws as is established legal doctrine in the EU for many decades. The tribunal's decision is expected in August.

The court's and the government's message from last week is that the Polish authorities can have whatever EU judgments they do not like annulled by their own court.

Furthermore, through disciplinary action they can also actively deter Polish judges from turning to the EU's court. In short, the Polish government and its top court are on course to decouple legal reasoning and legal practice from EU law.

Unsurprisingly, the government and the Polish courts have referred to the unfortunate and badly-argued decision of the German Constitutional Court last year, which considered a decision by the European Court of Justice to be beyond its legal remit.

Yet, the concern of Germany's highest court was that the EU Court did not sufficiently check the action of other EU branches of power.

The Polish situation is the exact reverse: the government is taking control of the courts.

Furthermore, no judge in Germany can be intimidated away from referring to the European Court of Justice by a threat of disciplinary action. Neither can they be prosecuted over the content of their rulings where they find the government breaking the law while distributing money from EU funds.

Red flag for business

For businesses last week's decision raises a red flag: if they can no longer rely on Polish courts and administrators to impartially enforce European law, their investments are much less safe.

The European Commission and the other European member states have consistently been too late, and done too little, in addressing the authoritarian measures taken in Hungary and Poland.

The independent judges in these countries were largely left alone to protect the law and they keep losing.

The situation calls for an application of the rule of law mechanism, which is meant to protect EU finances from risks of breaches of the rule of law in the member states.

Recently, renowned legal scholars made a convincing case that the mechanism should be used against Hungary. There is a clear case for applying it to Poland too.

The two cases are not identical.

The Hungarian government has a documented dismal record of financial irregularities of EU funds. That is not the case in Poland. The emphasis of the case against Poland should lie on the outright destruction of judicial independence combined with a refusal to accept the supremacy of EU law.

The relevant EU regulation indicates that the "endangering of judicial independence" is a breach of the rule of law. In Poland, the situation is well beyond endangering. Judicial independence has been systematically compromised as found in decisions of European courts that keep being ignored.

For lawyers last week's decision as well as the government's arguments in the additional case were astounding, given that they seemed designed to fulfil the criteria of the rule of law regulation.

The regulation centres on the idea that member sate institutions implement EU law in good faith and have sufficient checks and balances, namely independent courts, to check any critical cases.

The Polish judgment says: we do not respect that European law has precedence and we do not care what European courts say about our checks and balances. Authorities with that approach are not functioning properly as partners in spending EU funds.

Imagine a bank's business partner who clearly announced that he does not respect the contractual arrangements. Any bank clerk transferring more funds to that partner would be accused of gross negligence. The case in Poland is no different.

Stop pretending

The European Commission has given the Polish authorities a deadline to comply with the European court order, but the problem is well beyond one case.

As the European Court of Justice noted in a recent decision, the measures amount to "a structural breakdown which no longer makes it possible either to preserve the appearance of independence and impartiality of justice".

The commission should act now and apply the rule of law regulation by notifying the Polish government of its systematic concerns – the first step in the process. It needs to stop pretending that the problem is contained.


- Michael Meyer-Resende is the executive director of Democracy Reporting International (DRI), a non-partisan NGO in Berlin that supports political participation.

- Jakub Jaraczewski is the research co-ordinator for rule of law questions at DRI.




BY MICHAEL YOUNG, Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East, 27 July 2021

In an interview, Alice Boustany Djermakian discusses her book on Lebanon’s 2019 uprising and where the country is today.

Alice Boustany Djermakian is a Lebanese teacher and freelance editor. She is the author, most recently, of Liban 2019: Chronique de la Révolte (L’Harmattan, June 2021), a diary of Lebanon’s uprising in 2019. She is also the author of Une Saga Libanaise, La Famille Kettaneh. Boustany Djermakian has a DEA (Diploma of Advanced Studies) in literature and a Master’s degree in information and communications from Université St. Joseph in Beirut. Diwan interviewed her in mid-July to talk about her book, and more generally to discuss the situation in Lebanon today, as the country faces a major economic collapse.

Michael Young: You have written a book on the uprising in Lebanon of 2019. It covers the period between the widespread protests against the country’s corrupt political leadership and the start of its economic crisis—in other words the period of October–December 2019. What is the main lesson from that time?

Alice Boustany Djermakian: The October 2019 protests were an expression of the anger of the Lebanese against an oligarchy that has divided the national cake among its members, has squandered and stolen public funds, has hijacked foreign funding, and has divided the Lebanese in order to reign with total impunity. At the time, tens of thousands of people from diverse sectarian and social backgrounds took to the streets to denounce the rampant corruption and overthrow the regime. It was an awakening, an awareness of the reality in which we were living. This peaceful uprising transgressed the sectarian divisions of society and united the Lebanese around a noble cause. Over several weeks we saw national unity against the political system, freedom of expression as people engaged in public debates in tents set up in downtown Beirut or through media outlets. They highlighted the importance of social solidarity, while the young demanded their right to a future in a country that offers little. People expressed their interest in judicial matters, as part of their desire for legal accountability of those in power. There was also a focus on the essential role of women, who were central actors in the uprising. We understood that the divisions nurtured by the politicians could eventually dissolve, and that our collective lethargy could be transformed into revolt.

MY: Today, Lebanon is in a far worse situation than during the time covered in your book, yet the protests are fewer. What explains this paradox—that even though over half the population has fallen under the poverty line, the Lebanese have shown little inclination to return to the streets against those who robbed them?

ABD: Since January 2020 the protests have diminished due to the violence perpetrated against demonstrators. We cannot forget that many people were beaten with truncheons, wounded by rubber bullets, or detained by the security forces. Some lost an eye, others were tortured and received death threats. In my book I mention all this. As soon as the regime’s thugs infiltrated the protests to cause bloodshed, we women stopped going to the streets. It is true that today poverty affects over 50 percent of the population. It is also true that there is much anger, but it has become difficult to protest amid a devastating economic crisis. Those who are not politically committed are exhausted and lack the means to stand against a repressive political system that is backed by judges, the security forces, the media, and public institutions. It is David against Goliath.

MY: Next year Lebanon will be holding parliamentary elections, the first major opportunity that those who emerged from the protest movement of 2019 will have to punish the country’s political class. What do you think the results will be?

ABD: How can the voice of the free be heard while the Hezbollah-controlled leaders are in power? How can legislative elections be organized by the same people who imposed an electoral law that benefited their interests? We have already seen the consequences previously—votes being bought, ballot boxes disappearing, fraud, dead people voting. It is this political class that, through the Interior Ministry, organizes and supervises the elections.

On another note, the electoral campaigns are likely to be funded by foreign powers, since Lebanon’s politicians often benefit from foreign sponsors. Let’s not forget, to borrow from Etienne de La Boétie, the “voluntary servitude” of the partisans of the sectarian chiefs who were so desperate to cleanse the honor of their idols by relentlessly harassing and attacking the demonstrators. Under these conditions, can we really expect the emergence of a civil society?

MY: Many Lebanese say that even the civil war years were not as bad as what they are living through today in the country. Do you agree?

ABD: I understand those who say this. I lived through the 1975–1990 war, and despite the violence, the demarcation lines, and the economic crisis at the time, banks never stopped functioning and there was no absence of money. Today, the political crisis is compounded by a financial crisis in which our old, pre-1975 civil war economy has been replaced by a rentier economy, based on importation and on hindering investment in productive economic sectors such as agriculture and industry. Moreover, since October 2019 the banking cartel has been preventing depositors from accessing their accounts by imposing unilateral and illegal measures. In my book, I describe the hours spent waiting in line in front of my bank to withdraw a mere $100, and the aggressive response I received from the bank when I asked a volunteer lawyer to intervene to allow me to withdraw my own money. Over the months the bank restrictions worsened and the condition of the middle class began to deteriorate. Many people lost their job, including me, so that 40 percent of the population is unemployed today.

MY: On a personal level, are you still active in the protest movement and do you still see a point in opposing the political class, or have you given up hope? How do you think that you can make a difference?

ABD: Because of the violent reaction of those in power, like most people I rely on social media to denounce the mafia-like practices of the political class, protected by Hezbollah’s illegal weapons. The smuggling of subsidized essential products, such as flour and fuel, to Syria, a country under international sanctions, continues in plain sight. We are witnessing with dread the total collapse of Lebanon without being able to do anything about it. Yet we must pursue our struggle and not surrender to the criminals who are trying to escape responsibility for their crimes, including the August 4 explosion in Beirut port last year. Certainly, there are moments of doubt and discouragement when we only have a single desire—to leave and abandon everything.

Yet the revolution continues. We want to tear down the sectarian system. We want to dismantle the sprawling gang that presides over Lebanon’s destiny. We want to see implementation of United Nations Resolutions 1559, 1680, and 1701 that call for the disarmament of militias. To reinvent Lebanon we need to dismantle the myths that have been adopted in the country’s politics and history. This is the message that we need to convey to the youth.

Carnegie does not take institutional positions on public policy issues; the views represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Carnegie, its staff, or its trustees.



JERUSALEM — Human Rights Watch on Tuesday accused the Israeli military of carrying out attacks that “apparently amount to war crimes” during an 11-day war in May against the Hamas militant group.

The international human rights organization issued its conclusions after investigating three Israeli airstrikes that it said killed 62 Palestinian civilians. It said “there were no evident military targets in the vicinity” of the attacks.

The report also accused Palestinian militants of apparent war crimes by launching over 4,000 unguided rockets and mortars at Israeli population centers. Such attacks, it said, violate “the prohibition against deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians.”

The report, however, focused on Israeli actions during the fighting, and the group said it would issue a separate report on the actions of Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in August.

“Israeli forces carried out attacks in Gaza in May that devastated entire families without any apparent military target nearby,” said Gerry Simpson, associate crisis and conflict director at HRW.

He said Israel’s “consistent unwillingness to seriously investigate alleged war crimes,” coupled with Palestinian rocket fire at Israeli civilian areas, underscored the importance of an ongoing investigation into both sides by the International Criminal Court, or ICC.

In a statement, the Israeli army said its attacks were aimed at military targets and that it took numerous precautions to avoid harming civilians. It said Hamas is responsible for civilian casualties because it launches attacks from residential areas.

“While the terror organizations in the Gaza Strip deliberately embed their military assets in densely populated civilian areas, the IDF takes every feasible measure to minimize, as much as possible, the harm to civilians and civilian property,” it said.

The war erupted on May 10 after Hamas fired a barrage of rockets toward Jerusalem in support of Palestinian protests against Israel’s heavy-handed policing of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, built on a contested site sacred to Jews and Muslims, and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers in a nearby neighborhood. Israel has said it struck over 1,000 targets during the fighting.

In all, some 254 people were killed in Gaza, including at least 67 children and 39 women, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Hamas has acknowledged the deaths of 80 militants, while Israel has claimed the number is much higher. Twelve civilians, including two children, were killed in Israel, along with one soldier.

The HRW report looked into Israeli airstrikes. The most serious, on May 16, involved a series of strikes on Al-Wahda Street, a central thoroughfare in downtown Gaza City. The airstrikes destroyed three apartment buildings and killed a total of 44 civilians, HRW said, including 18 children and 14 women. Twenty-two of the dead were members of a single family, the al-Kawlaks.

The Israeli military said the attacks were aimed at tunnels used by Hamas militants in the area. The airstrikes unexpectedly caused nearby buildings to colapse, leading to “unintended casualties,” it said.

In its investigation, HRW concluded that Israel had used U.S.-made GBU-31 precision-guided bombs, and that it did not warn residents to evacuate the area ahead of time. It also found no evidence of military targets in the area.

“An attack that is not directed at a specific military objective is unlawful,” it wrote.

The investigation also looked at a May 10 explosion that killed eight people, including six children, near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It said the two adults were civilians.

In its statement, the Israeli military said the casualties were caused by errant rocket fire launched by militant groups, not Israeli airstrikes. It released aerial photos of what it said was the launch site, some 7.5 kilometers (4.5 miles) away, and the landing area. It also said it did not carry out any strikes in the area at the time of the explosion.

But based on an analysis of munition remnants and witness accounts, HRW said evidence indicated the weapon had been “a type of guided missile” used by Israel.

“Human Rights Watch found no evidence of a military target at or near the site of the strike,” it said.

The New York-based group said that Israel refused to allow its investigators to enter Gaza. Instead, it said it relied on a field researcher based in Gaza, along with satellite images, expert reviews of photos of munitions fragments and interviews conducted by video and telephone.

The third attack HRW investigated occurred on May 15, in which an Israeli airstrike destroyed a three-story building in Gaza’s Shati refugee camp. The strike killed 10 people, including two women and eight children.

Israel said the target was a group of senior Hamas officials hiding in an apartment, and that the civilian deaths were unintended and “under review.”

But Human Rights Watch said it found no evidence of a military target at or near the site and called for an investigation into whether there was a legitimate military objective and “all feasible precautions” were taken to avoid civilian casualties. HRW investigators concluded the building was hit by a U.S.-made guided missile.

The May conflict was the fourth war between Israel and Hamas since the Islamic militant group, which opposes Israel’s existence, seized control of Gaza in 2007. Human Rights Watch, other rights groups and U.N. officials have accused both sides of committing war crimes in all of the conflicts.

Early this year, HRW accused Israel of being guilty of international crimes of apartheid because of discriminatory polices toward Palestinians, both inside Israel as well as in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel rejected the accusations.

In Tuesday’s report, HRW called on the United States to condition security assistance to Israel on it taking “concrete and verifiable actions” to comply with international human rights law and to investigate past abuses.


Saad al-Hariri Has Withdrawn from Lebanon’s Government-Formation Process

By Michael Young, Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Missle East, 16 July 2021

Spot analysis from Carnegie scholars on events relating to the Middle East and North Africa.

What Happened?

Lebanon’s prime minister-designate, Saad al-Hariri, has announced he would withdraw from the government-formation process, after trying unsuccessfully for nine months to put together a cabinet. Under the Lebanese constitution the prime minister-designate must sign the decree forming a government with the president of the republic, and Hariri and President Michel Aoun have been unable to reach any sort of agreement. Complicating matters is that the constitution is not clear on the authority the president has to intervene in naming and approving ministers.

Aoun has repeatedly returned the proposed governmental lineups that Hariri has brought him, because he disapproves of names. He insists that he has a right to have a say in the government-formation process. As proof of this, he and his entourage argue that the key prerogative the constitution has granted the president of cosigning the decree forming a government affirms that his role involves more than passively approving the prime minister-designate’s choices.

In turn, Hariri and much of the Sunni community, from which all prime ministers are appointed, argue that the prime minister-designate has the major role in putting together a government. While the president may ask for changes here and there, he cannot effectively form the government himself by repeatedly vetoing names the prime minister-designate brings him. They cite Article 64 of the constitution, which states that the prime minister-designate “shall conduct parliamentary consultations in forming a cabinet.” To them, the president is not accorded equal status under the constitution.

Why Is It Important?

The constitutional implications aside, Hariri’s withdrawal is significant because Lebanon is in the midst of a major economic collapse, and has been without an effective government since August 2020, when Prime Minister Hassan Diab stepped down in the wake of the horrific explosion in Beirut port. It is not clear who will replace Hariri, the leading representative of the Sunni community. Hariri believes that Aoun and his son in law Gebran Bassil sought to undermine his chances of becoming prime minister because of the political differences that divide the two sides.

If Hariri refuses to endorse another Sunni to replace him and obstructs the government-formation process as payback against Aoun and Bassil, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to find a credible Sunni willing to form a government. Lebanon will suffer as a consequence, since international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and countless governments have told the Lebanese that no help can be forthcoming before a new government is put in place and introduces economic reforms to unlock financial assistance.

Even if parliament recommends a replacement for Hariri (as it must do constitutionally), and Hariri goes along with the nominee, that person is almost certain to interpret the prime minister-designate’s role in the same way as Hariri did, or risk losing communal support. In other words, Aoun’s and Bassil’s victory may be a pyrrhic one.

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s national currency, the pound, continued to tumble on news of Hariri’s withdrawal. After his announcement, the pound’s value fell to around $1 = LL21,150, when in the morning it was hovering around $1 = LL20,000. Well over half the population lives below the poverty line and in June the World Bank released a report underlining that the country faced a “severe and prolonged economic depression,” which had been caused deliberately and that possibly ranked among the top three most severe economic and financial crises since the mid-19th century.

What Are the Implications for the Future?

Unless Lebanon’s political forces can quickly name a replacement for Hariri, a lengthy vacuum could destabilize the country even more than it already is. By hindering Hariri, Aoun has also opened the door to sectarian tensions between Christians and Sunnis, even if many Christians also oppose the president. While the Lebanese are resilient, without a horizon of improvement in the foreseeable future, popular anger could rise dramatically and spread to the streets.

How likely is it that another Sunni will be named soon, however? Lebanon’s divided political class may decide that to avoid the fiasco of the latest government-formation process, it would be best to agree on a government behind the scenes before parliament names a prime minister-designate. But this is likely to be contentious, unless Aoun and Bassil are more flexible with Hariri’s replacement. More likely, the politicians will prefer to name the head of a transitional cabinet that organizes parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for next spring, hoping that the results will facilitate a breakthrough.

This raises the question of how Hezbollah will respond. When Hariri announced last October that he would try to form a government, it was clear that he was relying on Hezbollah to pressure Aoun and Bassil into being more amenable to a government he would form. This was overoptimistic, however, as Hezbollah was unwilling to compel the president to make concessions that could weaken him in the face of Hariri. Aoun’s primary ambition is to bring Bassil to power after he steps down next year, something that Hariri would like to prevent. For Hezbollah to have sided with Hariri against Aoun would have meant creating a conflict with the president over an issue he regards as vital. The party wants to avoid tensions with Aoun given the valuable cover he provides for Hezbollah’s weapons.

The reality is that Hezbollah may also mistrust Hariri due to his connections in the Sunni Arab world and his desire to strengthen ties with Western countries, particularly France and the United States. It’s conceivable that the party may also want Bassil as president next year, or at least would like to keep that option alive. Above all, Hezbollah may see that a Sunni-Christian clash over prerogatives creates space to push for its own agenda in Lebanon, one that involves exploiting the economic crisis to enhance relations with Iran. All this could explain why the party repeatedly said it wanted a government under Hariri, but never took decisive steps to bring it about.

Carnegie does not take institutional positions on public policy issues; the views represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Carnegie, its staff, or its trustees.


New Israeli government's land seizure - where's the EU?

By Sarit Michaeli, first published in the euobserver on 16 July 2021

JERUSALEM - A long convoy of diplomatic vehicles treaded the dirt roads leading to the Palestinian community of Khirbet Humsah twice since last November, when Israeli bulldozers ripped through it - in the first of what has by now became a series of no less than six demolitions.

The visit by the European Union heads of missions to this remote local in the occupied northern Jordan Valley, was heralded as a strong signal by the Union, that it is opposed to – and willing to openly challenge – Israel's declared intention to wipe off the ground the village.

The diplomats told residents and media that the EU and like-minded countries such as the UK and Norway, view Israel's demolition as a clear violation of its obligations under the laws of occupation, that they reject the Israeli claim that this area is off limits to Palestinians because it was declared a military-training zone, and that they stand shoulder to shoulder with the residents and with all Palestinian communities at risk of forcible transfer.

The EU didn't just send senior diplomats to view the wreckage of Humsah. It also provided humanitarian assistance for the residents - who like virtually all other herding communities in 'Area C' (60 percent of the occupied West Bank which remains under full Israeli control) - face intense Israeli pressure, intended to keep them from developing according the communities' needs.

The restrictions on obtaining legal building permits, home demolitions and confiscations of property and livelihood generating structures, are described by the UN as a "hostile environment" that creates conditions to force people away from the land.

The EU, through the West Bank Protection Consortium, funded solar electricity systems, and mobile toilets, among other forms of assistance, to allow Humsah residents to build resilience against this hostile environment.

European diplomats protested Israel's conduct also vis-à-vis the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs, logging a diplomatic demarche in February 2021, which also included the ubiquitous request that Israel return any European donor-funded material that had been confiscated.

That same month, European position was delivered to the UN Security Council, when six current and former members demanded that Israel halt its continuous demolitions of the village.

The flurry of diplomatic activity clearly failed to impress the Israeli occupation authorities.

Last Wednesday (7 July), soldiers and civil administration staff arrived at the community, declared the area a closed military zone and denied journalists, human rights activists and diplomats access.

The forces dismantled and confiscated residential and agricultural structures, belonging to nine families with a total of 61 members, including 34 minors. The forces also destroyed water tanks, fencing and farming equipment.

The residents' belongings were loaded onto trucks that transported them to the 'Ein Shibli community, which lies west of Khirbet Humsah, on the edge of Area C, which Israel has earmarked for their permanent forcible transfer - a war crime.

But the residents of Humsah resisted: community members fled to the mountains with their flocks, remaining on the land with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and some water bottles brought in by Palestinian and Israeli activists. In the days after the operation, Israeli soldiers continue to prevent all access to the ruined community.

EU silence

Astoundingly, this time the EU said nothing, following this Israeli war crime.

On the contrary.

In the days since, several developments concerning the bilateral relationship occurred: the new Israeli minister of foreign affairs, Yair Lapid, participated in an "informal exchange of views" over lunch with the 27 EU ministers at the 12 July Foreign Affairs Council, chaired by the EU high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, who also had a bilateral meeting with Lapid.

The Brussels meeting was the first of its kind in more than a decade and signals a thawing of the fraught EU-Israel relationship under the former Netanyahu governments: "a fresh start", according to the official EU statement.

In the meeting, Lapid was expected to promote an Israeli entry into Creative Europe – a European Commission funding instrument for the creative arts, which includes a territorial clause prohibiting participation of Israeli settlement entities.

Under the proposed formula, Israel will be allowed to join the program while simultaneously rejecting the long-term EU position, grounded in fact, that its settlements are illegal.

In his comments following the meeting, the high representative did not mention whether the ministers raised with Lapid Israel's razing of Khirbet Humsa. In these cases, participants normally report a "frank and honest conversation".

Borrell used a "wide-ranging, honest exchange" and also a "friendly, open and constructive exchange" and was cheered by the fact that Israel now has "that has publicly been advocating in favour of the 'two-state solution'".

Lip service

But Europe's lip service to Palestinian human rights, EU policy and international law will not hide the obvious fact that Israel's utter contempt of the EU's demarches – the most recent, sixth, forcible transfer attempt was perpetrated by the new government under minister of defence, Benny Gantz, from Lapid's "change coalition", not by Netanyahu's government – led to no consequences whatsoever.

This will rightly be seen here in Israel as nothing but acquiescence to our government's policy of destroying Palestinian communities, to further facilitate its takeover of their land.

Why should any rational Israeli politician view this utter lack of commitment to the EU's own foreign policy objectives and its stated human rights principles as anything other than a license to continue sending bulldozers to remove Palestinians from land the EU deems part of a future viable Palestine, and confiscate EU aid?

Since last week's demolitions, the roads leading to the ruins of Humsah have seen few diplomatic vehicles. Clearly, no top-level visit is in the making, and rightly so. After their utter failure to hold Israel accountable for its continued devastation of the community, any European statement of solidary with Palestinian people living under Israel's occupation will be seen as nothing but empty rhetoric.

Sarit Michaeli is international advocacy officer at B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.



North Africa

President Qaïs Said Has Suspended Tunisia’s Parliament, Dismissed the Prime Minister, and Enhanced His Judicial Authority

By HAMZA MEDDEB, Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East, 27 July 2021

Spot analysis from Carnegie scholars on events relating to the Middle East and North Africa.


What Happened?


On July 25, after a day of protests across Tunisia in reaction to socioeconomic hardships and poor management of the Covid-19 crisis, President Qaïs Said suspended parliament, dismissed the prime minister, and declared himself to be the county’s general persecutor. He also announced that he would appoint a new prime minister who would be in charge of forming a cabinet.

Said invoked Article 80 of the constitution, which gives the president extraordinary prerogatives to address any “imminent danger” to national security. He took advantage of the absence of a constitutional court that could have restricted his broad interpretation of the article. Commentators described his move as a constitutional coup. The current constitutional vacuum allows Said to accumulate extraordinary presidential, executive, and judicial powers.

The Islamist party Ennahda and its allies tried to oppose the president’s decisions by reactivating parliament. However, the party’s parliamentarians, led by speaker Rashed Ghannouchi, were denied access to the building, which is guarded by the military. On July 26, Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi issued a communiqué announcing his acceptance of the president’s decision and his readiness to hand over power. Said’s measures created divisions among the political class. Many progressive parties opposed them, while others were more supportive. Without contesting their legitimacy, the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) urged the president to return to a constitutional and democratic framework.


Why Is It Important?


Said’s decision came after months of a power struggle that included the president, the prime minister, and the speaker of parliament. Disagreement over a partial government reshuffle announced by Mechichi and opposed by the president had resulted in a constitutional stalemate since last January.

Said’s move also came in the context of a deepening economic crisis that was aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Power struggles and a lack of coordination between government departments led to the disastrous management of the disease and failures in the vaccination campaign. The wave of infections because of the Delta variant caused an average of 1,000 death per week. Videos of poorly equipped hospitals and overwhelmed medical staff caused anger among a population that views Tunisia’s political class as corrupt, self-centered, and shortsighted. By July 26, there had been 18,600 deaths due to the virus, prompting Said to intervene. The president views himself as the arbiter of the constitution and protector of national security. Since his election in 2019, he has also railed against corruption and nepotism, helping to delegitimize the political class.

What Are the Implications for the Future?


Said is expected to appoint a new prime minister who will be in charge of forming a government of technocrats to address Tunisia’s health and economic emergencies. His second priority would be to formulate a road map that can attract support from the international community and domestically. Said also announced his intention of reforming the constitution and introducing a presidential system. The aim would be to end the confusion over prerogatives and define clearly the powers of the president, prime minister, and parliament. His plan might also include a referendum on a new political system, reform of the electoral law, and the holding of early elections.

Said’s challenge will be to secure legitimacy for his road map. This will imply garnering the support of the political class and national organizations—mainly the quartet of the UGTT, the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade, and Handicrafts, the Lawyers Association, and the Tunisian League for Human Rights. Without political compromises and without integrating social and political forces into his efforts, Said risks taking Tunisia into a phase of prolonged political instability.

The constitutional crisis comes as Tunisia is discussing a new reform program with the International Monetary Fund. The importance of having a clear and broadly supported plan of action is key to restoring the trust of the international community and international financial institutions, especially given the burden of Tunisia’s debt and the significant levels of financing the country requires. Tunisia must extract itself quickly from this period of uncertainty, restore its democratic system, and address its economic challenges.


Carnegie does not take institutional positions on public policy issues; the views represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Carnegie, its staff, or its trustees.


Hirak and Feminism: An equation with two unknowns

By Lydia Haddag, Arab Reform Initiative, 22 June 2021

The history of the feminist movement and democratic struggle is that of a crossover. In Algeria, feminism is still perceived as a minority movement; neither the regime nor the opposition gathered under the Hirak seems interested in supporting it. Often subsumed within greater calls for democracy, feminists find themselves a target for slander and accusations of division. This paper explores the interlinkages between the Hirak and feminism and explains how the two can be one movement with a common goal.

“Women's liberation, just as national independence, must be taken by force. The colonized, the proletariat who have freed themselves in recent decades, owe their salvation to themselves. Fadéla M’rabet, The Algerian Woman followed by the Algerian Women, Paris, François Maspéro, 1983”.

The history of the feminist movement and democratic struggle is that of a crossover. If the first considers its claims to be consubstantial with the second, the opposite is not so obvious. Within the so-called democratic forces (a fuzzy term bringing together modernist, secular, and leftist currents), the issue of feminism is not quite settled. While official statements are largely in favour of feminism, this support becomes more discreet in practice as soon as it compromises the sacred union between forces of opposition to the regime, regardless of their ideological leanings. Thus, even among those who are supposedly their natural allies, in the name of a common conception of social progress,1 feminist activists find it difficult to impose their agenda. Whether part of political parties or working independently, favouring a reformist approach or defending a revolutionary position, they must constantly deal with political actors, far from having won their cause. A structure like the Algerian Hirak popular movement makes it possible to observe more closely these tensions.

Feminism is perceived as a minority movement in Algeria; neither the regime nor the opposition gathered under the Hirak seems interested in supporting it. Out of clientelism and a need to maintain a balance between progressive elites and pro-regime Islamists, the state avoids to clearly position itself vis-à-vis feminism and favours instead phrases such as “the place of women in society”, a term usually coupled with a vision of social integration. Taking feminist demands into account would amount to undertaking legal reforms that would be widely contested in Parliament, as well as by a predominantly conservative electorate.

Opportunistically, the Hirak maintains this same logic. Integrating ideological claims as divisive as feminism would weaken the general anti-regime consensus. Unlike identity and social issues, this particularity of feminism is not exploited by the regime. It is considered both an opportunity and a weakness: it is an opportunity because the movement, due to its "unpopularity", is unlikely to be co-opted by the regime; but it is a weakness that complicates the building of strategic alliances within the Hirak.

At this stage, a clarification is in order: a distinction is needed between women who are part of the popular mobilization and those who, in addition to being opposed to the regime in power, take action specifically as feminists. The latter, physically gathering in a "feminist square" or marching individually among protesters, try to combine the demand for a constitutional state with the call for equal citizenship between the sexes. In the Hirak, feminist slogans remain a minority despite the increase in the presence of women over time. This clarification helps refrain from any hasty optimism that would maintain the easy confusion between female protesters and feminist activists, though it should not be seen as a way of opposing these two entities in order to widen the gap between them.2 We prefer, therefore, to use the term “co-presence” to refer to the different feminine and/or feminist trajectories within the protests.

The Hirak: A historical opportunity

From the first weeks of pro-democracy protests, many feminist organizations joined the Hirak. On 22 March 2019, a “feminist square” was set up in Algiers, bringing feminist activists together under one umbrella. This self-managed, non-partisan, and autonomous action is supported by the initiative "Algerian Women for a Change Towards Equality" (FACE). Some of its members come from civil society (Wasilla network, NGOs, etc.). FACE also includes intellectuals, activists, and students. In their statement,[3] the first signatories took a stand in favour of the Hirak and sought to link the fight against the regime to the fight for equality.

The national and international media echoed this progress and presented women as protesters "on the front lines" of the Hirak. While some of these statements may be exaggerated, the presence of feminists is no longer under question. While their numbers are relatively small, they are still taking to the streets under the banner of feminism. We are also witnessing a reappropriation of the feminist fight by the new generation, especially as new members have sought to radicalize it by defining themselves as “radical feminists” and exploring questions such as the relationship between feminists and state institutions and punitive justice.

Since then, the “feminist square” has been placed in front of the Central Faculty of Algiers, at 2 Didouche Mourad Street. In line with the transfer of the struggle between the feminist veterans and their heiresses, they held a banner with photos of female Algerian fighters against colonialism, terrorism, and patriarchal violence. Among them, we find the fighter against French colonization Lalla Fatma N'Soumer (1830-1863), the heroine of the Battle of Algiers Hassiba Ben Bouali (1938-1957), the moudjahida Baya Touhami, known as "El Kahla" (1936-2017), the Algerian feminist Nabila Djahnine (1965-1995), killed during the Black Decade, as well as the photo of Amina Merabet, a 34-year old Algerian who was burned alive in the middle of the street in August 2016. This communication strategy serves to stress the historical legitimacy of the feminist struggle and to anchor it in a rebel and revolutionary tradition.

Most feminist activists subscribe to a legalistic approach to repeal the Family Code as they consider it unconstitutional. This code, established in 1984 during the time of the single-party rule (National Liberation Front) and later amended by presidential decree in 2005, is perceived as a personal statute law that reduces the Algerian woman to the status of "a minor for life." By doing so, it crystallizes the original misunderstanding between the proponents of secularization of the family law and those in favour of maintaining a religiously inspired code.

For some of these women who have been on the ground for several decades and have observed a change in the status of women, this discourse looks dated. The growing role of women in universities and on the labour market has contributed to improving their material living conditions to progressive and real social change. However, the obsession to repeal the Family Code is less the sign of a first feminist wave that could not have adapted to the new challenges facing women and more that of an increasingly glaring gap between the legal provisions of this code and the evolution of society. In this, feminists also demand a better legal arsenal to protect women as well as more means for the effective implementation of existing laws.

Formulated in this way, the equation is simple: There can be no collective emancipation without equality between men and women. However, while the Algerian Constitution enshrines legal equality between citizens3 in the private and family spheres, legal provisions continue to discriminate against women; one of the main injustices is the imposition of a legal guardian that keeps women in a subordinate status. This focus on formal equality might seem dated. Indeed, the evolution of feminism around the world and in MENA today goes as far as to question the framework of the nation-state or even heteronormative paradigms linked to gender. In comparison to Tunisia, Lebanon, or Palestine, the demands of Algerian feminists seem timorous. However, the simple questioning of the Family Code4 in Algeria raises strong reactions in the street.

Since 29 March 2019, the feminist square has suffered physical and verbal assaults by unidentified men as well as smear campaigns on the internet. In a video, an Algerian internet user living in London went as far as to call for people to spray feminists with acid. Activists are threatened and their placards destroyed. Between the reactionary opponents openly opposed to any change in favour of women's rights and those who try to reconcile feminists and “hirakists,”5 the issue becomes, in fact, eminently political.

The Hirak: A balance of power

This mistrust in feminist activists is also the result of representations strongly anchored in society. Even today, the feminist community is seen to be linked to post-colonial stigmas, reducing it to a limited circle of French-speaking, urban, and educated petty-bourgeoisie. Accused of promoting an elitist non-representative discourse, feminists are seen as disconnected from the material living conditions of most Algerian women and as undermining Algeria’s national identity. Unsurprisingly, it is also associated with state feminism under the reign of the one-party system due to direct agreements between certain associations such as the National Union of Algerian Women and the National Liberation Front.

Consequently, while the Hirak has allowed certain female mobility and a subversion of dominant norms (occupying public space on Fridays on the same schedules and routes as men), feminism is largely considered by society as a civilizing, even colonialist, project that seeks to depersonalize Algerian society and strip it of its identity. In this sense, one of the first successes of the Hirak from this point of view is the (positive or negative) popularization of the word feminist in the press and the national media. More broadly, the popularization of the word in civil society and the debates it sparks on social networks show a definite step forward in terms of recognition. The term that has long been used to disqualify6 women’s struggle for equality thus incorporates the "hiraki" vocabulary.

We are also witnessing the promotion of a discourse to reclaim the streets. While the Hirak, as a public and political space, may have yielded to a form of recognition of the feminist movement, this concession has not led to adherence: the movement seems legitimate at best, but not a priority. Thus, the feminist cause, which, like social or even identity issues, is not considered "political" in the sense of institutional change, becomes a cause of division for the Hirak, or even a problem that should be resolved later within the framework of a Second Republic.

However, despite a very limited response to them, compared with the Hirak's general slogans, feminist slogans have remained strong. They demand, every Friday, that the gap between the fight for equality in law and global political demands be filled: "My place is in the Hirak, not in the kitchen;" "Democracy will be achieved with women or not at all!”

But this is a perilous attempt to maintain a precarious balance. The women of the square are keen to assert their place as agents and stakeholders in the anti-regime fight, and not limit their role to guaranteeing diversity or a cosmetic performance. Thus, while the women of the Hirak are able to serve as a bulwark to protect the crowd from the police or to reinforce the non-violent nature of the protests (some commentators qualified them as the "cement of the Hirak"), they are cautious not to fall into a “folklorization” of their presence.

Asserting political autonomy

On 15 June 2019, a First National Conference on Civil Society Dynamics bringing together associations and unions was launched in Algiers. Its participants tried to agree on solutions to end the crisis, proposing a roadmap for the period of transition. Feminists boycotted the meeting, deeming that their demands were not taken into account. Among those who boycotted was Wassila network, which withdrew from the initiative one day before the event and made a statement on its Facebook page.

Despite the smear campaigns, even within the so-called progressive circles, meetings have been organized at the national level, such as the ones in Oran held from 17-19 October 2019. On this occasion, a feminist declaration was issued to condemn the crackdown on protesters, oppose the holding of presidential elections and call for the release of prisoners of conscience.7 For months, feminist groups were born or consolidated in the wake of the Hirak. This was the case of the Free and Independent Women's Collective of Bejaia or the Women's Collective of Constantine. Solidarity and awareness campaigns on violence against women were organized throughout the country. Also, various independent initiatives supported the feminist struggle, such as the collaborative project "Archives of women's struggles in Algeria,” which seeks to “make known the militant documents produced by Algerian feminist groups and associations, and to constitute a digital archive accessible to all."

On social media, “the Algerian Feminist Newspaper” has paid special attention to feminist news in the context of the Hirak. In addition, the "Féminicides Algérie" website voluntarily identifies the number of femicides through monitoring and documentation. Also, transnational solidarity actions allow symbolic connections in the form of petitions, such as the “Algerian women and feminists supporting the Palestinian feminist movement Tali3at,” which collected hundreds of signatures. More recently, a video campaign entitled "Algerian Actresses United Against Femicides" was widely celebrated, creating buzz beyond Algeria. Borrowing the register of denunciation and using Dardja (Algerian dialect), they condemn the contradictory restrictions imposed on women and the violence inherent in the patriarchal education of girls.

Feminists at the intersection of struggles

Denouncing police violence, showing solidarity with prisoners of conscience, condemning the detention conditions of political prisoners and attacks on freedom of expression, the approach of feminists aims to be inclusive, as they position themselves as citizens of a country where arbitrariness spares no one. Such a position will allow them in particular to eliminate any suspicion of selective condemnation.

However, these efforts are insufficient and encounter obstacles linked to the ephemeral nature of these demands. Feminists encounter a growing hostility as the noose tightens on the Hirak and in a context where each ideological divergence is interpreted as an attempt to divide the movement, polarize debates, or become subservient to the regime. However, the reluctance to embrace and support feminism is not just to preserve conservative currents. Since 2019, a radio show (known for its progressive views) went even so far as to use the headline: How to fight for equality without scaring the Hirak?

The Hirak as a space for citizenship and solidarity has acted as a reflection of Algerian society and the issues it is struggling with. This exposure of the ideological fractures that divide the Algerian society is more than necessary; it prevents the Hirak from falling into the trap of a unique narrative that would deny and undermine the existence of other components and orientations within it.

For the moment, the dominant speech within the Hirak equates democracy with a roadmap that relegates corporate, ideological, or social grievances to the backburner. By refusing to include the feminist issue on its agenda, supporters of a hierarchy of struggles within the Hirak reproduce the same authoritarian reactions as those used by newly independent states, when they confiscated individual and collective freedoms in the name of the putting of "development" first over democracy. As a result, this stage-by-stage incremental attitude destroys freedoms and works towards reducing democracy to a concept with specific boundaries rather than a daily practice; it also denies feminists their right to full citizenship.

In this sense, feminists are fully aware of the trap of the hierarchy of political demands that simultaneously emerged during the Hirak. Strong in their autonomy, they did not give in to the strategy that would prioritize slogans calling for the ousting of the regime over all other proposals for change.

For instance, the women's protests that took place on 8 March 2021 exposed the great unease surrounding this question. Chanting "we came out for change, not to party", most women turned the 8 March event into an opportunity to showcase a female and anti-regime Hirak, and they were soon joined by men. Feminists, on the other hand, have insisted on messages of a feminist nature. The idea of ​a convergence of the two protests would have sent a strong message to the groups that try to divide them. While the two protest groups can practice acts of resistance in different ways, the demands of women are not mutually exclusive. So, rather than joining each other’s ranks at the end of the course, a dividing line has isolated feminists who have found themselves unheard compared to the women's protest. The reason for this is that agreements require certain conditions: these include spaces for dialogue and debate, as well as the right of citizens to speak freely. At the moment, the autonomy of the feminist movement remains the only factor capable of guaranteeing its sustainability.

Although civil society is still struggling to acknowledge feminism as a significant fight in Algeria, the perseverance of activists on the ground and their loyalty to the Hirak undoubtedly contribute to increasing the political visibility of feminists. The challenge facing them is therefore one of legitimacy, as they need to build a presence in remote regions in the country. Democratizing feminism would thus amount to giving speeches, building networks, and mobilizing beyond the big cities of the north as well as supporting local, regional and transnational feminist solidarity.

For now, the wait-and-see attitudes that invite feminists to dissolve their presence in the crowd are reminiscent of those of Algerian leaders who, at the dawn of the independence, urged activists to be patient while they build the new nation-state. This paternalism and these orders are limited to feminist activists. Male domination, because it is trans-ideological and transclass, expects all women to stay in the places assigned to them by the patriarchy. If there are any lessons learnt from the relationship between the Hirak and feminists, it is that the Algerian feminist movement, scolded by past experiences, no longer allows itself to be lured by the speeches that condition any social demands on prior institutional reform. The determination of feminists is a political lesson for the collective action of the Hirak.


-1 Algerian feminism, assuming that a specifically national feminist tradition exists, is historically secular.
-2 This is particularly the case with certain conservative movements that seek to disqualify feminist demands, while defending the place of women within the Hirak.
-3 Article 32. Citizens are equal before the law, without any discrimination on grounds of birth, race, sex, opinion or any other personal or social condition or circumstance. Chapter IV of Rights and Freedoms.
-4 Known for decades as the “Code of Infamy.”
-5 In particular in the so-called democratic camp.
-6 See Feriel Lalami. The Algerian Women Against the Family Code. Fight for Equality, Paris, Sciences Po University Press, 2012.
-7 Statement of the National Movement of Algerian Feminists,, October 23rd , 2019 .

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.

Water Politics in Libya: A Crisis of Management, not Scarcity

By Malak Altaeb, Arab Reform Initiative, 29 June 2021

Libya is one of the driest countries in the world. The Great Man-Made River Project, touted by Qaddhafi as a solution to take advantage of Libya’s plentiful natural resources, serves as a case study in social and institutional engineering. This article discusses the defining characteristics and legacies of hydro-politics under Qaddhafi, presents some of the new issues that have emerged since regime change in 2011, and offers some ways forward for water policy in Libya.

Libya today is the 20th most water-stressed country in the world. Its freshwater resources originate primarily from four aquifers – Kufra, Sirt, Morzuk, and Hamada – the last three of which, located within the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer, are close to depletion. These aquifers are part of the network of the Great Man-Made River Project (GMMRP) that provides over 90% of Libya’s water, and which Qaddhafi anointed the “eighth wonder of the world” and heralded as the ultimate solution for Libya’s water needs. With Qaddhafi gone, Libyans have been trying to separate the truths from the fictions of the GMMRP and the nature and extent of the water crisis.

What we find is that Libya’s water crisis, like water crises around the world, is not one of scarcity but of political governance and mismanagement.1 Discussions around water use and scarcity in Libya reflect broader, global trends. The notion that the world is entering a water crisis has drastically affected how we perceive water. The management of this “blue gold’’, as denominated in studies and media, has publicized many debates about water use, from its commodification through privatization to its links with food security now and in the future. Fears over water shortages are especially pronounced in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), one of the most water-scarce regions in the world, containing only 1.4% of the world’s renewable freshwater.2

Moreover, MENA countries are extracting more groundwater than is being recharged in the absence of adequate legal frameworks and water regulations – and climate change is expected to further reduce the groundwater replenishment rate while the demand for water increases. According to some experts, the Middle East already ran out of water in the 1970s and now largely depends on “virtual water”, i.e., the commoditization of freshwater at the point of origin and its trade across international borders in the form of food imports.3

Yet, as Julie Trottier, puts it: “A water crisis can never be defined simply as a water shortage because nature is never ‘short’ of water. Even the driest desert constitutes an ecosystem…Water is short only when social actors have decided it is so for a variety of reasons.” To understand the water crisis in Libya, we must track how powerful and visible actors have defined the political-economic relationship to water, leading them to promote specific “solutions” over others. This article discusses the defining characteristics and legacies of hydro-politics under Qaddhafi, presents some of the new issues that have emerged since regime change in 2011, and offers some ways forward for water policy in Libya.

The legacy of Qaddhafi’s water policies

Qaddhafi promoted a discourse of Libya as “a country of plenty” – a country full of resource whose wealth put it in a position of power in the MENA region and made other countries dependent on it. This discourse was always in tension with the reality of climatic conditions. Libya is one of the driest countries in the world, with 90% of its land being desert, its population concentrated in the northern coast by necessity, and 85% of all water consumption going to agriculture. The discourse of plenty, unrealistic as it was, served a political purpose: it allowed for the exploitation of Libya’s water resources in ways designed to highlight and preserve Qaddhafi’s power.

Qaddhafi’s signature project, the Great Man-Made River Project (GMMRP), best exemplifies these dynamics. For one, and like the case of other development projects and policies, here too Qaddhafi resorted to religious legitimization to exclude public participation. The project’s famous slogan “turning the desert green like the Jamahiriya flag”, played on “green”, also the colour of Islam. Moreover, from the beginning, water policy was driven by social and institutional engineering that sought to empower certain tribes over others in order to create loyal bastions of the regime and quash the opposition. Before Qaddhafi took power in 1969, during the king’s reign, the Sannusi tribe in the east was the one in power.

Qaddhafi decided to change the power structure of the tribal system by empowering less powerful members over the bourgeoisie – all with the aim of building a loyal support base and ensuring unopposed access to the country’s natural resources. He deliberately weakened state institutions as he centralised power through informal networks surrounding the broader family and his tribe. Tribal symbolism was key to Qaddhafi’s system throughout his rule and tribal references filled his speeches.

A case in point was his inauguration speech to mark the first phase of the GMMRP in his hometown in Sirt in 1991, where he was surrounded by tribal members. In addition to tribal selective empowerment, the GMMRP was exclusionary in design. It excluded certain regions, such as the Nafusa mountain area, where the Amazigh community resides. This area was deprived of any connecting pipes to the project; its residents were forced to rely for many years on water tanks and fossil aquifers.

Another characteristic of water policy under the former regime was the dilution of water management and control over key infrastructures into multiple institutions. There are five major institutions in Libya responsible for the development, management, and monitoring of water resources and policies: the General Water Authority, the Authorities of Implementation and Management and Water Utilisation of the GMMRP, the General Company of Water Desalination (GCWD), the General Water Supply and Sewerage Company (GWSSC), and the General Environment Authority. Multiple institutions lead to more corruption on an administrative level and randomness in the set of decisions made around water specifically. Two of the four phases of the GMMPR are currently operational and the project is yet to be completed.

The GMMRP also sapped state resources, diverting attention and investment from alternative water policies that would have been beneficial, namely desalination. Although some desalination plants were established as early as the 1960s,4 the expansion of desalination plants in many coastal cities was slow due to the high dependency and investment that were directed to the completion of the GMMRP from the beginning of construction in the early 1980s. In 2007, the General Company of Water Desalination was established as an offshoot of the Ministry of Electricity, Water and Gas5 and given responsibility for managing, maintenance, and supervision of desalination plants in the country. The late establishment of the desalination authority, only four years before the beginning of the revolution in 2011, contributed to the fact that desalination has not received its due attention from the responsible authorities since regime change, contributing to making desalination vanish further in the cloud of existing problems.

Simultaneously, while consuming too much of the country’s financial, organizational, and political capital – to the detriment of developing alternative technologies –, the way the GMMRP was imagined made water policy dependent on oil revenue. To transform Libya into the imagined Jamahiriya (the state of the masses), Qaddhafi followed a sequential process: he first nationalized the oil sector, then worked on increasing cultivated lands and agricultural production, such as through Al Kufra agricultural project, and finally turned to water resources to develop the biggest irrigation project, the GMMRP. The sequence the regime followed to develop these projects, as well as the linkages between them, meant that the development of the agriculture and water sectors depended heavily on oil revenues.

A final, critical element of water policy under Qaddhafi was its dependence on foreign companies to complete projects, wherein these companies were paid for their expertise in terms of capacity, workers, and technology without sufficiently including and training Libyans.

Hydro-politics in post-2011 Libya

Developments since the fall of the Qaddhafi regime have brought water to the political fore in Libya. Long-held grievances over water access have risen to the surface in the form of popular protests – such as in the eastern city of Tobruk, close to the Libyan-Egyptian border, whose residents took to the streets in 2017 to protest long-standing water shortages.

Moreover, the armed conflict has made the water crisis more visible in many ways: the presence of international humanitarian agencies such as UNICEF providing drinking water for regions affected by conflict; the arrival on the scene of power cuts and the ensuing weeks-long water cuts; and water becoming a target in the ongoing political division and fragmentation, such as when water control systems were vandalized by the forces of Khalifa Haftar during his attack on Tripoli.

Despite the political changes at the top, Libya’s water management over the past decade has struggled to shed parts of its inheritance, namely the top-down nature of water governance, the over-exploitation of available resources, the underinvestment in desalination, and the economy’s extreme dependence on oil revenue, which contributes to the notion among citizens that water consumption should be free.

In addition, the political and economic instability in the country since the revolution has created unfamiliar problems of basic management. For example, for all its downsides, the GMMRP wellfields were constantly under the watch of supervisors, and the different stations of the system – electricity, ventilation, tanks – were under military protection around the clock in all regions. The situation now is characterised by a generalized lack of attention by state officials to the importance of water issues in general, their neglect of the challenges facing the GMMRP, and instability in the institutional structure of the water sector – compounded by electrical power cuts and security volatility.

The severity of the situation in many parts of Libya has left people to dig aquifers in their houses, without any supervision or legal permission. Without access to alternative methods such as desalination or sewage water treatment, citizens are likely to continue to dig aquifers.

Priorities for water reform in Libya

The urgency for Libya is to develop water policies that are participatory and allow for management at the local level. During the protests that rocked coastal cities over lack of water, many who mobilized called on improving the continuous shortages by the GMMRP authority through investing in desalination policies and reversing course on the inattention given to this technology with the rise of the GMMRP. The desalination authority established in 2007 must be empowered and provided support, both financial and administrative, to begin the maintenance of the existing facilities in different regions in Libya, as well as study the possibility of extending facilities to other regions far from the coast. The private sector could play a critical role in collaborating to revise and assess the desalination and water treatment facilities. Such an effort is particularly urgent in the areas that were left outside the network of the GMMRP.

A second key need is to invest in raising citizen awareness about water consumption. The fact that such consumption has been free in Libya – as it is subsidized by the state through oil revenue – lowers incentives for moderating consumption. Given that the demand for freshwater is expected to rise to 56% above what is currently available by 2025,6 there are discussions on the possibility of putting a price on water to increase the awareness of people on the importance of preserving water as an essential component of their social contribution.

Relatedly, pricing water raises the spectre of privatization and the transfer of water control and water management services to private companies. This could be effective in the current situation because it would activate the role of local private companies, which would provide numerous services to cover the state’s failure. Further, it could open opportunities for new entrepreneurs and businesses to develop new methods and tools. To be successful, such a shift would necessarily have to entail close collaboration between the public and the private sector, as the former can no longer deliver the required services of water supply and sanitation. Finally, the unification of institutions that manage water is key on the path towards a coherent vision and strategy for the management of water in Libya.


-1 OECD. 2011. OECD Studies on Water Governance in OECD Countries: OECD Studies on Water Water Governance in OECD Countries A Multi-level ... - OECD - Google Books
-2 Finding the Balance: Population and Water Scarcity in the Middle East and North Africa – Population Reference Bureau (
-3 Tony Allan. 1997. ‘Virtual water’: a long-term solution for water short Middle Eastern economies? Water and Development Session - TUE.51, 14.45, 9 September
-4 B. Brika. Desalination and Water Treatment 167 (2019) 351–358 167_2019_351.pdf (
-5 Abdudayem, A. and Scott, A.H.S. (2014) ‘Water infrastructure in Libya and the water situation in agriculture in the Jefara region of Libya’, African J. Economic and Sustainable Development, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp.33–64.
-6 Water privatization in developing countries: Principles, implementations and socio-economic consequences (

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.


Menas Associates, London, 13 July 2021

Deadly forest fires — especially in the eastern Khenchela region — and the growing water shortage crisis are fuelling a growing sense of anger which is becoming increasingly prevalent throughout most of Algeria.

There is immense anger amongst the predominantly Chaouia people in the Khenchela region where forest fires in the Aures mountains are out of control. In Algiers, and elsewhere, critical water shortage has already led to demonstrations this week blocking major thoroughfares in the city. We have listened to what we believe are unprecedented calls from quite different parts of the country for ‘separatism’ but what might be involved is neither clear nor thought through. Such calls are basically expressions of frustration and increasing anger at the regime and for the contempt in which it holds most of the country’s citizens and their regions.

Calls for separatism in Kabylia are neither new nor surprising and the same can be said of the Tuareg in the extreme south. This week, however, we have listened to people in Ouargla and Hassi Messaoud: saying that they will rise up against the regime if it does not respond to their demands to be separated from Algeria, by which we understand that they no longer want to be governed by the current regime and system. We have also listened to people in Timimoun, which could hardly be further from the political pulse of the country, talking about ‘autonomy from the regime.’

The latter’s hopeless response to the latest spate of summer forest fires — notably in Khenchela, where the situation has been and still appears to be dangerously out of control — has generated widespread anger amongst the region’s local communities.

Whether it is the forest fires or the water supply shortages, Algerians know that the fundamental cause is not just ‘prolonged severe drought’, ’summer heat’ and/or ‘climatic change’ as trotted out daily by the authorities, but the lack of investment, governance and sound management by the regime, which long ago lost interest in all but the maintenance of its own rapacious power and wealth.

Such seemingly irrational calls for ‘separatism’ and ‘autonomy’ are extremely dangerous signals about the direction in which the regime is dragging the country.


Research Papers & Reports

Introduction: What is New about Post-2011 MENA Diasporas?

By Sarah Anne Rennick, Deputy Director, Arab Reform Initiative, 26 July 2021

The phenomenon of mobilization among the diasporas emanating from the MENA region is in many ways not new. Historic diasporas communities, such as the Armenian, Palestinian, Kurdish, and Lebanese, have existed for multiple decades, and their contributions to their homelands has been both documented in the literature and promoted by policymakers and development organizations alike. This includes both the economic impact of MENA diasporas and the critical importance of financial remittances to supporting development and growth back home,1 but also various forms of political mobilization that have been undertaken by diasporic communities for the purpose of contributing to nation/state-building2 and recognition processes3 or, under certain conditions, contesting homeland regimes.4

In this vein, much of the literature has focused on more traditional forms of diaspora political mobilization,5 including lobbying and advocacy work designed to shape international public opinion and pressure foreign governments.

The idea that Arab diaspora communities can be viewed not only as an economic actor but also, potentially, a political one is not in itself new. Yet, much of this literature on Arab diasporas has been focused on unidirectional flow of remittance – from those in diaspora back to the homeland. Likewise, the view of diaspora communities as either a resource to be harnessed or a threat to be contained has been largely informed by the political and geopolitical realities of host and home states.6

Our observations of diaspora political mobilization dynamics and the role that Arab diasporas can play in shaping homeland politics have been enlarged since 2011.

Over the last decade, the many political, social, and economic upheavals that have transpired in the region – spanning national uprisings challenging the existing order, deepened authoritarianism and the closure of civic space, economic collapse and the undermining of collective morale, and the onset of violent intractable conflict – have produced multiple waves of migration of those seeking safe harbor abroad.7 While the image of Syrian migrants partaking in dangerous journeys to reach European shores dominates the popular narrative, the reality of this exodus from the Arab region over the last decade is much more complex.8

Indeed, what has evolved in the post-2011 period are Arab diaspora communities that have different and more diverse sociopolitical profiles from earlier epochs, with different degrees of attachment, identification to, and engagement with their homeland – both among new arrivals but also, importantly, those who have long since been in diaspora or who are second or third generation abroad. These Arab diaspora communities have also seen increased dispersal in terms of the geographic locations of resettlement, including both the enlargement and heterogenization of existing host sites but also the emergence of new destinations.

Alongside these transformations in the profiles and locations of these Arab diasporas has been the emergence of new forms of political remittances, involving the transfer of political ideas, norms, and practices in multidirectional flows that challenge the state-bounded concept of transnational politics.9 These new political remittances and forms of diaspora community organization and mobilization are in many cases actively seeking to make substantive changes to homeland politics and to respond to the cascading crises at home. Yet in other cases, they are instead efforts on the parts of diaspora members to navigate the liminal and uncertain status of being caught somewhere along the spectrum of “here” and/or “there.”

This collection of studies, written by Oula Kadhum, Houda Mzioudet, and Maysaa Shuja Al-Deen, seeks to investigate more closely these transformations within Arab diasporas in the post-2011, and to shed light onto what is actually “new” about them. Through three in-depth case studies looking at Iraqi, Libyan, and Yemeni communities in different locations abroad, the studies presented here assess the transformations within these diasporas in terms of profiles of members and locations of exile and how conflict dynamics at home inform not only patterns of migration but also relationships within diaspora communities themselves. The studies also expose new forms and directional flows of political remittances that are taking place, and the various factors that mediate the act of remitting politically.

This includes assessing how political identity is formed/transformed through the experience of exile and observation of conflict dynamics from quite different external vantage points, as well as the impact of multiple and overlaying political opportunity structures. Finally, the studies shed light on the impact of these political remittances and offer an assessment of the opportunities and constraints that these new Iraqi, Libyan, and Yemeni diasporas face in their own efforts to contribute to rebuilding, reconstructing, and reimagining their homelands.

Diversification in Diaspora Profiles and Geographies

The studies in this collection explore different waves of migration and diaspora formation emanating from Iraq, Libya, and Yemen over the past tumultuous decade, considering in particular how the evolution of conflict at home impacted who leaves when. At the same time, the studies also explore how conflict but also revolutionary and pro-change dynamics in the homeland have impacted those who were already in diaspora prior to 2011.

One trend that can be observed across the studies is the increased diversification in terms of the political leanings and profiles of those in diaspora, as well as the diversification in terms of geographic distribution and destination. All three countries under investigation here were endowed with important and historical diasporas prior to 2011, and in all three cases large diaspora communities could be found in certain key locations. These include the UK and US, where important diaspora populations have long been located, as well as destinations easily accessible and welcoming within the MENA region, including Tunisia, Egypt, and Gulf countries.

While for all three countries diaspora groups held heterogenous political leanings and by no means constituted a “unified” political force, the onset of new conflict and social mobilization dynamics at home has translated to increasing diversification within the political profiles of those in diaspora. In Libya, for example, the political profile of the diaspora from the 1970s onward was largely composed of dissidents to the Gaddafi regime,10 and although internally diverse in terms of socioeconomic background and position in the political spectrum, opposition to the Gaddafi regime remained a point in common. Likewise, the Iraqi diaspora during the period prior to 2003 was in large part composed of those excluded by or opposing the Saddam regime and was subsequently marked by political leanings in line with the ethno-sectarian divides as per the post-2003 political order.11

With regards to the Yemeni diaspora, though its political profile showed diversity as a result of multiple waves of internal conflict the country had experienced prior to 2011, the efforts by political elites to impose their political ideologies on diaspora members created a certain reproduction of existing positions.12

In the three studies presented here, the authors demonstrate how the new waves of diaspora set off by the events over the past decade, as well as observation of these dynamics from those already in diaspora, have been accompanied by a multiplication of political leanings. Houda Mzioudet, for example, demonstrates how the uprising of 2011 and initial transition process in Libya led to a rapid of departure of Gaddafi loyalists, followed in 2014 by an increasing departure of pro-revolutionary activists either too disappointed with the onset of war or indeed forced into exile because of counter-revolutionary political repression at home.

In this way, it was not one but rather a series of departures from Libya, resulting from conflict dynamics at home, that led to increased diversity in terms of political affiliations and ideological leanings of those in diaspora. Likewise, Maysaa Shuja Al-Deen demonstrates how Yemeni diaspora communities have become both more politicized and more politically diverse as a result of dynamics since 2011 and in particular the intensification of conflict since 2015.

As she explains, the mass displacement of Yemenis to cities such as Cairo has been characterized by the influx of political elites, journalists, and intellectuals, representing in part pro-revolution forces that carry a political vision for change born out of the post-2011 context. At the same time, the Yemeni diaspora today also reflects the political fragmentation of the Yemeni political arena, moving beyond the North vs. South divides of the pre-2011 period to include diaspora members with strong political leanings towards Islah as well as other regional affiliations such as Hadramout.

And in her study detailing the transformations within the UK-based Iraqi diaspora over the past several decades, Oula Kadhum reveals how recent dynamics have led to the manifestation of new political positions, including new anti-sectarian political leanings and affiliations with youth civil movements demanding a restructuring of the political order, as well as a unified political position against ISIS following the 2014 take-over of Mosul. As she explains, these dynamics break with the traditional ethno-sectarian political divides that had marked diaspora profiles in the post-2003 period.

Alongside this increased diversification in political leanings has been new geographical distribution of diasporic communities and groups. All three studies reveal that places where diasporas already existed – London, Cairo, Tunis, among others – continued to be important destinations for new arrivals in the post-2011. Indeed, the facility of reinstallation in such places, due to the existence of a local community already installed or the historic ties binding sites, served as major factors attracting further diaspora resettlement.

For example, the ease and familiarity of cities such as Tunis for Libyans and Cairo for Yemenis, where visa regulations are lax and where long-standing patterns of circularity had forged preexisting links between host and home locations, served to attract new arrivals in heretofore unseen numbers. Yet the studies also show new locations where Iraqis, Libyans, and Yemenis are settling in either permanent or semi-permanent fashions and forming diaspora communities.

Turkey, for example, has become a new destination for Yemenis and in particular students seeking study abroad opportunities as well as businessmen. Likewise, the studies on the Iraqi and Libyan diasporas both allude to new trends of diffusion across Europe in the last decade,13 breaking with previous patterns of family chain migration but nonetheless leading to diaspora formation (and not simply irregular migration) thanks to transnational connections through activist networks and virtual spaces.

As the studies reveal, and in line with findings elsewhere,14 conflict dynamics at home follow those in diaspora and become reflected in social divisions and lack of trust between members of a diaspora community, broken down along conflict lines (be they regional, ethno-sectarian, or other). The studies presented here on the Iraqi and Yemeni cases, for example, both depict how the outbreak of new conflicts since 2011 has led to deteriorating levels of trust and social interaction within diaspora communities long-since settled in the UK.

In both cases, this breakdown in trust and everyday social mixing reflects the lines of tension in the homeland. In this way, Sunni and Shia Iraqi communities in the UK find themselves not only living apart but even largely unaware of one another’s existence. Likewise Northern Yemenis and Southern Yemenis, who previously interacted at social gatherings, are increasingly separated, and as a result the informal mixing of different political positions has been curtailed. As the authors depict, these relational breakdowns have a negative impact on the capacity for diaspora mobilization, especially within the realm of political action.

The studies also demonstrate how the reproduction of conflict lines in diaspora also determines in some cases the place of settlement, creating homogeneous pockets of ideologically-aligned diaspora groups. Yet at the same time, the studies also indicate that the large-scale mixing happening in major cities seeing huge influx of permanent and semi-permanent migrants, such as Tunis and Cairo, are creating new possibilities for social interactions heretofore unseen. These sites can thus potentially serve as locations for more coordinated diaspora mobilization in the future.

Political Remittances and Mediating Factors

The collection of studies presented here demonstrate a variety of different ways that Iraqis, Libyans, and Yemenis in diaspora are remitting politically and culturally, in addition to economically. This includes more traditional forms of diaspora activism in situations of conflict, including efforts to channel humanitarian aid to communities in the homeland and lobbying foreign governments, but also a variety of new forms of activism and political engagement. As the authors reveal, the new diaspora activism since 2011 includes various efforts to document, archive, and pursue justice for human rights violations through translocal engagement, linking host and home sites for the transfer of material and immaterial resources, as well as cultural engagement activities including heritage protection and cultural exchange and revival.

Thus, for example, Houda Mzioudet outlines how online transnational communities of members of the Libyan diaspora have allowed for an Amazigh cultural revival movement, while Maysaa Shuja Al-Deen discusses the organization of cultural gathering places such as Yemeni bookshops to transmit homeland culture in host sites. Likewise, Oula Kadhum points to new forms of cross-sectarian mobilization since 2014 for the purpose of protecting Iraqi cultural heritage.

What the studies also indicate, however, is the complicated set of factors that mediate when and where diaspora members mobilize and the types of mobilization that they choose to undertake. Indeed, as is clear from the research presented here, activist trajectories pre- and post-2011 are not linear: while some who have never been mobilized for issues related to their homeland have come to do so in observing recent events in their country of origin, others who were actively involved in protest movements or other forms of engagement have now halted their activism. Indeed, and especially in the cases of Libya and Yemen, many of those who have left since 2011 represent pro-revolution activists who were forced into exile as a result of conflict dynamics; yet for some, this activist trajectory has not continued in host countries.

On the flip side of this coin, among those who have left their countries over the last decade are migrants who, though they were never politically active before, have now mobilized from their position in exile. The factors that mediate diaspora mobilization are quite varied, and include current and future relationships to the homeland, migration generation, the multicontextual political opportunity structure, and positionality – all of which intersect in complicated ways.

The relationship to the homeland – existing, perceived, anticipated, or desired – informs to an important degree if and how those in diaspora mobilize. In her study of Libyans in Tunisia, for example, Houda Mzioudet demonstrates how circular mobility and the desire to resettle in Libya once the situation improves acts as a break on mobilization: out of fear of creating future problems for themselves upon return (depending on outcomes of the conflict), some Libyan exiles in Tunisia prefer to fly under the radar and thus avoid any form of mobilization that could be considered overtly political.

Yet the anticipation or project of return does not act as a uniform barrier to mobilization. In covering the evolution of the Iraqi diaspora in the UK, for example, Oula Kadhum’s study reveals how the potential for more favorable political and social structures at home in fact favoured diaspora mobilization, and in particular in the aftermath of 2003 when a return under improved conditions seemed possible. A secondary factor mediating the relationship with the homeland, though, is generation in diaspora: all three studies reveal interesting insights with regards to second and third generation Iraqis, Libyans, and Yemenis in various diaspora locations, and how the observation of dynamics since 2011 has transformed their degree of engagement with the homeland.

In line with research elsewhere,15 all three studies reveal that moments of potential transformation produce a positive impact on diaspora mobilization of descendants of migrants. Thus, for example, descendants of Libyans who were born in North American and Europe experienced new feelings of citizenship and belonging to the Libyan nation in the wake of 2011 and the liberation of the country from the confines of the Gaddafi regime. Likewise, second generation Iraqis in the UK were spurred to mobilize or, in the very least, lend moral support to the idea of saving the Iraqi state in the aftermath of ISIS’ takeover of Mosul in 2014 and the failure of the government to defend the territory.

Conversely, the studies also demonstrate how disappointment with failed revolutions or systemic changes can push second and third generation diaspora members into less mobilization and identification with the homeland. In the case of Yemenis in the UK, for example, the inability to return to visit the country as a result of the conflict, along with the feeling of hopelessness about the situation, served to decrease the sense of attachment and hence interest in mobilization of those in the second generation.

Alongside the relationship with the homeland, however, the studies quite clearly demonstrate that diaspora political mobilization and the type of political remittances that occur are largely patterned on the “triadic political opportunity structure:”16 the multiple and embedded political contexts of home sites, host sites, and the transnational interactions and geopolitical relations between the two. As the studies show here, this triadic political opportunity structure includes the civic space afforded to diaspora communities and the ability to organize politically or not in host sites; access to elites and the discursive environment vis-à-vis the homeland within host sites; the threat and ability to enact repression (both national and transnational); and the relationship between host and home states. In the study on the Yemeni diaspora since 2011, Maysaa Shuja Al-Deen, for example, demonstrates how the degree of space given to diaspora activism alongside access to political elites in the UK vs. Egypt explains the very different forms of remitting that take place.

For those in the UK, activism is not only permitted but even structured by homeland political actors that are granted the space to organize their diaspora communities and have access to British political institutions. For those in Egypt, however, the closed civic space alongside increasing restrictions on migration rights have favored cultural mobilization in lieu of political. Likewise, in her study on Libyan diaspora mobilization, Houda Mzioudet demonstrates how the decrease in the threat of transnational repression after the fall of the Gaddafi regime allowed for increased mobilization on the part of diaspora activists, but how new threats of repression emerging in host sites (and in particular Tunisia) served to re-erect barriers. As related to this change in threat of repression, her study also reveals how the position of Tunisia vis-à-vis Libya, based on historically strong ties and an effort to remain neutral throughout the conflict, has resulted in restricted political mobilization - with the exception of activities channeled through formal, UN-led peacebuilding processes that utilize Tunis as the operational base.

Yet what the studies also show is that the triadic political opportunity structure does not affect all members in the diaspora in the same way. On the contrary, Oula Kadhum demonstrates how positionality vis-à-vis conflict dynamics serves to create favorable opportunities for some and unfavorable opportunities for others, thereby empowering certain diaspora groups or communities to remit politically while disempowering others from doing so. As her research shows, this positionality affects transnational ties and access points but also feelings of belonging and the ability to project future relations with the homeland and/or host site. In this way, for example, diaspora members who hail from Iraq’s Sunni population have been excluded from participating in the reconstruction of Iraq as their position within current dynamics in the homeland has led to marginalization. The studies in this collection thus contribute to a broader understanding of the multifaceted factors that affect diaspora political mobilization and the types of non-economic remittances that occur, ranging from the multiple political structural factors that act as opportunities or constraints to action to the subjective manner in which identity, community, and the relationship to home and host sites evolve and transform as political dynamics shift.

Impact and the Role in Peacebuilding

Conflict-generated diasporas are of course not always potential actors in peacebuilding processes; on the contrary, diasporas can mobilize in ways that contribute to reinforcing dynamics of conflict at home17 or act as spoilers18 during peace processes. For the purposes of the research conducted here, however, the authors have specifically explored how the diaspora communities they are investigating are currently mobilizing for the purposes of peacebuilding, reconciliation, or reconstruction in the homeland – and what possibilities exist for further leveraging diaspora mobilization in these efforts. Across many of the interviews, the authors find that a “do no harm” principle informs at least in part the willingness of diaspora members to engage in mobilization towards the homeland.

Thus, for example, Maysaa Shuja Al-Deen explains how fear of exacerbating the conflict acts as an impediment to mobilization among those in the Yemeni diaspora in the UK. Likewise, as Oula Kadhum explains, decreased confidence in the Iraqi political elite, and especially after the failure of the government to defend the territory in 2014, has turned mobilization efforts away from the political realm and towards support of civil society and the charitable sector instead. Indeed, a recurring theme throughout the three studies in this collection is diasporic efforts to channel humanitarian relief and fill information gaps as a means of addressing the conflict without interacting directly in the political sphere.

Yet mobilization and the act of political remitting for the purpose of rebuilding the nation or state are occurring within the diasporas under investigation here, and different forms of impact can already be observed. One theme that emerges is the reconceptualization of the nation and bases of belonging that is emerging through the process of diaspora political remitting. In her study on the Libyan diaspora, for example, Houda Mzioudet depicts how the construction of online communities linking diaspora members across a variety of host sites has allowed for the extension of the imagined Libyan community and an enlargement of what “being Libyan” means. As she shows, these multidirectional flows of remittance have not only allowed for transnational Libyan Amazigh revival to emerge but have also contributed to increased commitment on the part of previously atomized listeners to building a more equal and freer Libya in the future.

Likewise, Oula Kadhum reveals how new organizations have been formed in the UK, interacting with both British and Iraqi audiences, in order to support the 2019 civil and youth movements in Iraq and put forth a new nationalist vision of an anti-sectarian Iraq that echoes that being proffered by protestors back home. And Maysaa Shuja Al-Deen discusses the emergence of currents within the Yemeni diaspora in support of a new vision for the state and a rethinking of Yemeni identity, and the types of cultural mobilization occurring in support of these ideas. In this way, diasporic interactions both across diaspora communities and in interaction with those still in the homeland are contributing to a rethinking of what it means to be “Libyan” or “Iraqi” or “Yemeni” and what should be the foundations of the nation-state in the future.

In addition, the studies here all depict not only how diaspora mobilization is contributing to both Track I and Track II peacebuilding processes but also how diaspora actors are seeking to achieve justice for crimes committed during the conflict. The studies on the Libyan and Yemeni diasporas, for example, demonstrate how diaspora actors are incorporated in formal peacebuilding through their participation in dialogue and consultative processes. Perhaps even more importantly, the studies also depict how diasporic organizations are contributing to the pursuit of justice, despite the absence of formal transitional justice processes for the moment.

In the case of Libya, for example, diasporic organizations such as Lawyers for Justice in Libya are not only undertaking human rights activities but are also putting forth justice-based discourses in the transnational public sphere in order to shape the way we think about justice-related issues in the Libyan case. Likewise, the study on the Iraqi diaspora reveals the critical role being played by activists in the UK to raise awareness in a largely silent foreign public sphere regarding state-led crimes being committed against pro-change protestors at home. In this way, they are contributing to a broader understanding of violations and demands for justice in the Iraq case beyond the high-profile crimes and international criminal cases as related to ISIS. These actions in the pursuit of justice from vantage points of diaspora represent some of the most innovative ways that these new Arab diasporas are contributing to truth and reconciliation in the post-2011 period.

Future Prospects

The three studies in this collection reveal the enormous obstacles facing the prospects of increased diaspora mobilization for the purpose of reconstruction and political renewal at home. The process of political polarization and increased mistrust among those in diaspora, the closures of civic space and the decreased operational capacity of existing organizations, and the waxing and waning of feelings of belonging as a result of evolving conflict dynamics are all common features inhibiting more pronounced political mobilization. Nonetheless, the studies here also demonstrate that certain opportunities for leveraging the many resources of the Iraqi, Libyan, and Yemeni diasporas do exist. Mobilization along less overtly political issues, such as community-level reconstruction via translocal activist lines and cultural heritage protection, could offer a means for increased diasporic engagement that both overcomes divisions and also contributes meaningfully to rebuilding home sites. Such actions, moreover, can also be pillars in local-level reconciliation efforts19 while also working around some of the potential obstacles as imposed by the triadic political opportunity structure. Likewise, the field of transitional justice and truth-seeking actions are areas in which diasporic groups have much to contribute and can indeed make important gains given their different access points, capacity to link to home sites, and different judicial mechanisms at their disposal.20 The recent success of Syrian diaspora activists in pursuing transitional justice through European mechanisms provides an instructive example regarding the type of ecosystem that can be established for such efforts to come to fruition.21

Indeed, as the studies here conclude, for amplification in mobilization to occur, the operational capacities of diaspora groups need to be increased. While certain groups are currently finding ways to work around closures to civic space or the decrease in funding opportunities, leveraging diasporas for peacebuilding and reconstruction requires more operational coordination and more organizational skills. The authors of the studies in this collection offer a variety of ways in which this can be achieved, including partnering with other organizations and creating umbrella structures. Yet beyond organized and deliberate mobilization for the purpose of peacebuilding and political impact in the homeland, what the studies show is that political remittances are occurring in a variety of forms and directions. And while some are indeed directed towards the homeland, others are instead directed across diasporic spaces and within host sites. The transformations within Arab diaspora communities since 2011 have contributed to exchanges of new political ideas, practices, and norms; given that the process of diasporization of MENA populations is only likely to continue in the coming years, understanding how these various political remittances are affecting not only diasporic communities themselves but also home and host sites opens new avenues for a future research agenda.


↑1 See for example Jennifer M. Brinkerhoff, ed, Diasporas and Development: Exploring the Potential, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008; Mariem Mezghenni Malouche, Sonia Plaza, and Fanny Salsac, “Mobilizing the Middle East and North Africa Diaspora for Economic Integration and Entrepreneurship”, World Bank, 2016.
↑2 See for example Eva Pföstl, “Diasporas as Political Actors: The Case of the Amazigh Diaspora”, In Peter Seeberg and Zaid Eyadat (eds) Migration, Security, and Citizenship in the Middle East, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013; Jennifer Skulte-Ouiass and Paul Tabar, “Strong in their Weakness or Weak in their Strength: The Case of Lebanese Diaspora Engagement with Lebanon”, Immigrants and Minorities: Historical Studies in Ethnicity, Migration and Diaspora 33(2), 2015; Stephen Syrett and Janroj Yilmaz Keles, “Diasporas, Agency, and Enterprise in Settlement and Homeland Contexts: Politicised Entrepreneurship in the Kurdish Diaspora”, Political Geography 73, 2019; Maria Koinova, Diaspora Mobilization for Palestinian Statehood, In M. Koinova Diaspora Entrepreneurs and Contested States, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021;
↑3 See for example Ofra Bengio and Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, “Mobilised Diasporas: Kurdish and Berber Movements in Comparative Perspective”, Kurdish Studies 1(1), 2013; Maria Koinova, “Diaspora Coalition-Building for Genocide Recognition: Armenians, Assyrians and Kurds”, Ethnic and Racial Studies 29(11), 2019.
↑4 For more on conditions under which diasporas subject to transnational repression mobilize against authoritarian regimes, see Dana M. Moss, “Transnational Repression, Diaspora Mobilization, and the Case of The Arab Spring”, Social Problems 63(4), 2016; Dara Conduit, “Authoritarian Power in Space, Time and Exile”, Political Geography 82, 2020.
↑5 Benedict Anderson, “Long Distance Nationalism”, In The Spectre of Comparisons: Nationalism, Southeast Asia and the World, London: Verso, 1998.
↑6 Bahar Basar and Amira Halperin, “Diasporas from the Middle East: Displacement, Transnational Identities and Homeland Politics”, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies Vol.46 No.2, 2019; Elise Féron and Bruno Lefort, “Diasporas and Conflicts: Understanding the Nexus”, Diaspora Studies 12(1), 2019.
↑7 Philippe Fargues, “Mass Migration and Uprisings in Arab Countries: An Analytical Framework”, International Policy Development 7, 2017.
↑8 See also Claire Beaugrand and Vincent Geisser, “Social Mobilization and Political Participation in the Diaspora during the ‘Arab Spring’”, Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies Vol.14 No.3, 2016.
↑9 Melissa Finn and Bessma Momani, “Established and Emergent Political Subjectivities in Circular Human Geographies: Transnational Arab Activists”, Citizenship Studies 21(1), 2017; Félix Krawatzek and Léa Müller-Funk, “Two Centuries of Flow between ‘Here’ and ‘There’: Political Remittances and their Transformative Potential”, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 46(6), 2020.
↑10 Alice Alunni, “Long-Distance Nationalism and Belonging in the Libyan Diaspora (1969-2011)”, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 46 No.2, 2019.
↑11 Oula Kadhum, “Ethno-Sectarianism in Iraq, Diaspora Positionality, and Political Transnationalism”, Global Networks Vol 19. No.2, 2019.
↑12 Mohammed Sharqawi, “Dire et faire communauté en diaspora. Le cas de l’immigration yéménite en Angleterre (1950-2015)”, Unpublished Dissertation, Paris: Ecoles de hautes études en sciences sociales, 2020.
↑13 See also REACH, Iraqi Migration to Europe in 2016: Profiles, Drivers, and Return, 2017. Available at
↑14 Elise Féron, “Transporting and Re-inventing Conflicts: Conflict-Generated Diasporas and Conflict Autonomisation”, Cooperation and Conflict 52(3), 2017.
↑15 Lea Müller-Funk, “Fluid Identities, Diaspora Youth Activists and the (Post-)Arab Spring: How Narratives of Belonging Can Change Over Time”, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 46(6), 2020.
↑16 Ali R. Chaudhary and Dana M. Moss, “Triadic Political Opportunity Structures: Re-Conceptualising Immigrant Transnational Politics”, Working Paper 129, International Migration Institute, Oxford Department of International Development, 2016.
↑17 Fiona B. Adamson, “Mechanisms of Diaspora Mobilization and the Transnationalization of Civil War”, In Jeffrey T. Checkel (ed) Transnational Dynamics of Civil War, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
↑18 Yossi Shain and Ravinatha P. Aryasinha, “Spoilers or Catalysts? The Role of Diasporas in Peace Processes”, In Edward Newman and Oliver Richmond (eds) Challenges to Peacebuilding: Managing Spoilers during Conflict Resolution, Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2006.
↑19 See for example Ataa Alsalloum and Andre Brown, “Towards a Heritage-Led Sustainable Post-Conflict Reconciliation: A Policy-Led Perspective”, Sustainability 11(6), 2019.
↑20 See also Noha Aboueldahab, “Innovation in Transitional Justice: Experiences from the Arab Region”, Brookings Doha Center, 2020. Available at For examples outside the MENA region, see for example Camilla Orjuela, “Mobilising Diasporas for Justice. Opportunity Structures and the Presencing of a Violent Past”, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 44(8), 2018.
↑21 See also Espen Stokke and Eric Wiebelhaus-Brahm, “Syrian Diaspora Mobilization: Vertical Coordination, Patronage Relations, and the Challenges of Fragmentation in the Pursuit of Transitional Justice”, Ethnic and Racial Studies 42(11), 2019.

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.


LONDON - In 1972, a landmark study predicted a worldwide collapse by 2040 - and one researcher believes we are heading exactly that way.

Gaya Herrington, a sustainability analyst at KMPG, re-analysed the data in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study, The Limits of Growth.

She found that, in a worst-case scenario, industrial civilisation could be on track to collapse by 2040.

Herrington has called on governments to "act now" to avoid this.

The collapse would be preceded by a slump in growth at the end of this decade, Herrington said.

She told The Guardian: "From a research perspective, I felt a data check of a decades-old model against empirical observations would be an interesting exercise."

The original study used system dynamics to predict that the industrial world could collapse during the 21st century, due to over-exploitation of the planet.

Published in book form, it has since sold 30 million copies worldwide.

Herrington re-analysed two scenarios: one 'business as usual' scenario, BAU2, where growth would stop and the world would also see population collapse.

In another scenario, 'comprehensive technology' or CT, economic growth would halt without population collapse.

Both showed that chasing continuous economic growth was no longer possible, Herrington said.

The study concludes: "BAU2 and CT scenarios show a halt in growth within a decade or so from now.

"Both scenarios thus indicate that continuing business as usual, that is, pursuing continuous growth, is not possible.

"Even when paired with unprecedented technological development and adoption, business as usual as modelled by LtG would inevitably lead to declines in industrial capital, agricultural output, and welfare levels within this century."

It was possible for the world to steer away from these scenarios, Herrington told The Guardian.

She said: "We're totally capable of making huge changes, and we've seen with the pandemic. But we have to act now if we're to avoid costs much greater than we’re seeing.

"There is a sustainable way of creating value and prosperity that also has immense economic potential. Doing good can still yield a profit. In fact, we are seeing examples of that happening right now.

"Expanding those efforts now creates a world full of opportunity that is also sustainable."

Herrington said that if people had listened to the original study, the planet might be in better shape.

"The MIT scientists said we needed to act now to achieve a smooth transition and avoid costs. That didn’t happen, so we’re seeing the impact of climate change."


The Role of Petitions in Strengthening Citizens’ Participation in Morocco: Stakes and Outcomes

By Abderrafie Zaanoun, Law and Political Science Researcher, Arab Reform Initiative, 19 May 2021

Morocco’s 2011 Constitution introduced the right to petition public authorities as a tool to encourage and enhance citizens’ participation in the political process. This paper assesses the Moroccan experience by analysing the petitioning process, its constraints, and the opportunities it offers for advancing public interest. It also suggests recommendations to ensure petitions become a more effective role in entrenching participatory democracy in Morocco.



The 2011 Constitution paved the way for a new take on citizens’ participation in Morocco, carrying it to new heights by establishing new mechanisms that support citizens in their oversight of public policies, such as legislative petitions, which were anticipated to improve public action and bridge the gap between the citizen and the state. However, the practical legal and regulatory implementation of constitutional requirements, as well as the nature of the dominant political and administrative culture, have somehow constrained the acquisition of these tools and weakened their impact on dismantling the traditional course of action in public intervention.

In this paper, we will look into the gains of the Moroccan experience in participatory democracy by analysing the new requisites and the impact of the petitions presented to public and territorial authorities. Considering our initial findings, we will examine the legislative and practical constraints hindering these efforts, while trying to foresee enabling factors for improvement.

The Political and procedural dimensions of the legislative framework of local petitions

The submission of petitions1 to the public authorities in Morocco has guaranteed the introduction of participatory democracy techniques to representative democracy, further enabling citizens’ participation and strengthening its impact on public policies. However, there are still some doubts surrounding the ability of procedural instruments to meet constitutional requirements related to the diversification of citizen democracy mechanisms, as well as popular aspirations when it comes to promoting fair access of citizens to public services.
The role of petitions in developing the path of participatory democracy in Morocco.

Participation in political life is an effective indicator to measure the progress made in the democratic process and the impact of political and legislative reforms on the ground. In general, the political participation of citizens remained quite limited, as reflected by the participation indicators during the 2016 legislative elections, where it only reached 42.29% and 53.67% during the 2015 regional elections. These indicators reflect the lack of trust in political parties and further deepens the gap between representative institutions and the social fabric.

Amid this void, civil society witnessed considerable growth, with over 200 thousand organisations mostly working in development and service provision. However, this growth cannot hide the multitude of issues related to the discrepancy in accessing public funding among national and local organisations, the lack of good governance in the work of organisations, such as the absence of democratic methodology and financial transparency in development projects,2 and favouring service provision to advocacy and mediation,3 which is the result of the limited number of associations with the organisational and communication capacities to practice advocacy.

On a practical level, public authorities utilised the same kind of exclusivity where citizen engagement in decision-making depended on the will of central and local officials. Realising the importance of participation in consolidating social peace and prompting Morocco to honour its obligations towards sustainable development,4 - by creating several programmes to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development - the official rhetoric today emphasises the necessity of putting new mechanisms in place that enable wide citizen participation. This would be based on a new social contract that narrows the gap between rulers and citizens and restores a democracy that is hijacked by the political elite back to the people.5

Taking these stakes into account and in response to the upsurge of political demands during the Arab Spring, participation became a crucial guiding principle for the 2011 constitutional reforms, both as an essential foundation for the state and its institutions and as a precondition for the enactment of democracy. This was presented through several mechanisms in the form of consultative bodies and legislative petitions. As such, the Moroccan Constitution, together with that of Tunisia, became two of the very few constitutions in the Arab world to include participatory democracy,6 particularly petitions as a way to implement constitutional requirements related to citizens’ participation and as a proposal mechanism capable of actuating citizens’ engagement in putting forward, tracking, and evaluating public policies.7

In the provisions of the Constitution, petitions have several different objectives: political (as a framework to overcome individuality and hierarchy in the relationship between citizens and decision-makers), pedagogical (as a procedural approach to familiarise citizens with the administration of public affairs,) and organisational (as a chance to build the capacities of the societal fabric and give more value to mediation and advocacy). This begs the following question: to what extent do the legislative and regulatory texts reflect the spirit of the Constitution?

The Procedures of Petitioning in Morocco: Guarantees or Constraints?

To clarify constitutional requirements, several laws and regulatory texts were issued to regulate national petitioning, such as Organic Law No. 44-14, which specifies the conditions and the processes of the right to submit petitions to public authorities. The Law defines a petition as a written request that include demands or proposals that citizens present to the public authorities to take what they see as appropriate measures.

The public authorities empowered to receive petitions are limited to the prime minister and the presidents of both houses of parliament. To ensure the seriousness of petitions,8 the law sets formal and objective requirements and subjects the exercise of the right to file petitions to the requirement of exercising rights from within the system of representative democracy and abiding by its obligations as well as the enjoyment of political and civil rights.9 It also emphasises the need to register in general electoral rolls and to link the subject of the petition to legitimate demands and public interest.

Moreover, certain topics must be avoided to prevent the rejection of a petition. These include infringing on the unifying pillars of the nation (Islam, national unity, the constitutional monarchy and the democratic free choice), interfering with the work of the judicial and legislative powers, undermining national security, violating the principles of public utilities, causing harm to institutions and persons, expressing narrow discriminatory or partisan views in the petition, or expressing grievances or complaints that fall within the competence of other constitutional institutions.

Along with the text of the petition, which must be clear and concise, the petitioners are required to attach a detailed memo citing the reasons for the submission and its purposes, a copy of the minutes of the meeting of the Petitions Committee, a list of at least 5,000 signatures supporting the petition with copies of their national ID cards. Associations are excluded from petitioning at the national level, despite being a vital actor in strengthening the collective representation of civil society and contributing to consolidating the culture of advocacy amongst citizens in ways that might increase the impact on public decision-making.

On the other hand, local petitions – which are governed by the organic laws of local collectivities issued on 7 July 2015 - are any written request by a citizen or a local association demanding that a topic be added to the agenda of the elected councils. To regulate the petitioning process, several legal requirements were included. In addition, multiple decrees were issued that contained the template of the petition along with the submission procedure for individuals and associations.

For local petitions submitted to elected councils by citizens, the law requires that the petitioners be residents of the collectivity and registered in the electoral roll, but exempts petitions submitted to regional councils from this condition. Another condition is shared interest, leaving the interpretation of this requirement to the discretion of the receiving authority, which could prevent citizens who do not have any direct interest in the matter from signing a petition in solidarity.10 As for the required number of signatures, it ranges between 100 and 500, depending on the type of the territorial collectivity and its population.

For local petitions submitted by associations, the law requires the association to be founded in Morocco, with its headquarters or one of its branches located within the territories of the concerned collectivity, and to comply with all laws and at least three years old. Although petitions submitted by associations are exempted from the requirement on the number of signatures, except for those directed to the councils of the prefecture or the province (in which case the association must have more than 100 members), the law required that the petition be limited to the work area of the association.

The law sought to integrate democratic processes by requiring associations to abide by democratic principles11 and institutionalising the way petitions are presented to avoid heads of collectivities hijacking them for their interests and putting in place key guarantees to ensure elected officials deal seriously with the petitions and their outcome. Elected councils are obligated to respond to the petitioners, to publish the minutes of their meeting and their decision regarding the eligible petitions.12 They are also required to give reasoned rejection of any petition, against which the petitioner can appeal before the administrative courts.

Enabling Factors Allowing Petitions to Promote Citizens’ Participation in Morocco


Eight petitions have been submitted to public authorities, while more than 212 petitions have so far been submitted at the territorial level. This reflects a considerable development in using petitions compared to other Arab states. However, these numbers cannot hide the load of constraints that tie the hands of petitioners and threaten to turn this tool from a steppingstone to consolidating democracy into an opportunity to add social legitimacy to top-down policies.

Primary Outcomes of Petitions in Morocco: Advantages and Impact

The initial assessment of petitioning showed a popular enthusiasm to try this new advocacy mechanism, as opposed to a lukewarm official reaction to it both nationally and locally. At the national level, eight petitions were submitted, seven of which were rejected.13 The one accepted sought to establish a fund to fight cancer on 28 September 2020,14 where the government committed to taking several steps in response, such as transforming the National Oncology Institute into a public institution, and making diagnosis and treatment centres public, but did not commit to the solution put forward by the petitioners such as adding a public budget line to cover cancer patients. After a year and a half, the government has not yet started to honour its obligations regarding this petition, which reflects negatively on the government’s commitment to dealing with citizens’ initiatives.

This petition, which obtained over 40 thousand signatures – contributed to triggering wider public debates on health policies with the help of petitioners who were mostly from academic backgrounds. This shows the impact of petitions in bridging the gap between university research centres and civilian and political actors, and integrating citizens in the real dynamics of advocacy that would allow them to get their message across in a reasonable format, limiting the risks of violent or negative protests emanating from feelings of helplessness and lack of trust in public institutions.

There is currently one national petition being examined. It was submitted to parliament on 3 February 2021, with almost 14 thousand signatures, and calls for the establishment of true constitutional parity by 2030. Through campaigning to gather signatures, meetings with the media and the parliament’s Petitions Committee, this petition has brought gender equality in the electoral field to the forefront of public discussion.

In the economic sector, one petition is being developed to request dropping the residency right regarding guardianship over ancestral land,15 led by women groups calling for the review of Decree No. 2-19-973 related to implementing the provisions of Law No. 62-17 on the administrative supervision of Soulaliyat lands and the management of their properties. The Decree considers residency as a condition to become a member of the collectivity, which is an unjust condition that deprives large social groups of their right to benefit from collectivity lands.

At the local level, citizens increasingly benefitted from the right to petition, with 212 petitions submitted, according to the Ministry of Interior. Many of them were turned into projects related to local services and basic amenities. Successful initiatives led to the construction of roads or local cultural centres, while other petitions were rejected under various pretexts, including the lack of financial resources.16 Regardless of the contradictory positions of certain elected councils, simply urging them to include topics of interest to residents in their agendas is an important win that could be built up in the future.

Thanks to petitions, signs of synergy started to appear between participatory and representative democracy, with local actors coming together to address local issues. For example, a petition based on the conclusions of a seminar on freeing public property in the city of Meknes from the trespasses of shop owners led to an intervention of the elected council - in coordination with the local authority - to end the phenomenon of pavement occupation by retailers and coffee shop owners.17 Petitions have even become an essential method of understanding the popular rejection of certain transformation projects. This is the case of the “Thinking for Fnideq” initiative led by the local elite, pushing the regional council to find progressive economic solutions to the social issues resulting from closing the Fnideq crossing point linking Morocco to Spain through the occupied city of Ceuta.

The submitted petitions reflect - to a certain extent - the intellectual foundations of citizenship, as they draw attention to key issues, such as gendered approaches and the rights of people with disabilities. Many petitions called for the creation of accessible cities and resulted in decisions to make public spaces more accessible. Other petitions also call for the preservation of historical monuments and natural reserves, based on a legal approach to the right to a healthy environment. One relevant petition in this regard was submitted by the Youth Initiatives Forum in Agadir in December 2020 to create underground waste containers; another was submitted by the Observatory for the Protection of the Environment and Historical Monuments in Tangier calling for the three-stage treatment of wastewater in May 2019.

Many dynamics contributed to the increase of petitioning in certain regions, where the petition preparation and tracking process was a key indicator of the importance of cooperation between civil society organisations. Associations that succeeded in developing quality petitions have been part of local and national networks. Given the challenges related to resources and expertise, associations lean more towards networking and distribution of advocacy roles.

Politicisation has further amplified the use of petitions through the leadership role of former elected officials with the necessary tools and resources, to exert influence or candidates for elected officials who are riding the wave of petitioning to expand their reach and power and strengthen their relationship with decision-makers. There is an increased agreement between elected councils and regional actors on transforming some of the petitions into decisions that affect the living environment of citizens. This was the case, for instance, with the Tangier collectivity taking measures in May 2019 regarding the adoption of the participatory budget at the local decision-making structure, and the Marrakesh collectivity establishing the Agency for City Development and Protection of its Cultural and Environmental Heritage in October 2019.

Limits and Prospects of the Contribution of Petitions to Citizens’ Participation in Morocco

The petitioning experience in Morocco revealed shortfalls that go beyond legal and practical issues. This makes it necessary to review the petitioning procedures and take decisive measures to truly achieve participatory democracy.18 Putting excessive formal conditions and interpreting substantive conditions arbitrarily hollows citizens’ participation of its purpose.19 Rather than consolidating it and turning it into a culture of public action to improve and increase the level of trust in public institutions.

Among the immediate amendments that need to be integrated into any prospective reforms of the petitioning system, the following are noteworthy: widening the scope of public authorities to include every public legal person with administrative powers,20 overriding the shared interest condition as all public issues are of interest to all citizens regardless of their geographical location and the impact the issue may have on them. Also, the conditions requiring associations to file petitions that fall within their area of work should be removed so any arbitrary interpretations that may be used as a legal excuse to reject a petition,21 or at least allow the examination of the subject of the petition based on the association’s statutes and not merely on its name, considering that most associations cover numerous social, economic and cultural issues.

In parallel to expanding the scope of national petitioning, the number of signatures required must be reduced to a minimum or disregarded altogether,22 not to mention the “crippling condition” related to being registered in electoral rolls to submit a petition and sign it, both at the local and national level. This poses a disturbing question related to the added value of this mechanism if it can only address the concerns of an elector instead of an active and engaged citizen.23 This condition also contradicts the very purpose of participatory democracy, which was initially established to connect directly with and mobilise citizens who are not participating in the political process and who do not believe in the role of representative institutions, to build trust in public institutions and integrate the process in the management of public and local affairs.24

One of the shortfalls of the petition process is the requirement of having hard-copy signatures, which highlights the need to democratise the digital structure of the electronic signature25 by providing platforms to receive and track local petitions while developing a national portal for citizens’ participation. Despite providing the option to submit petitions digitally, the numbers are still very low or non-existent. Even the petition submitted to the Prime Minister on 3 February 2021, out of a total of 13,816 signatures, only 125 were submitted digitally through the national portal. There was no promotional campaign for the launch of this portal to introduce it to the public, not to mention the technical difficulties related to scanning certain documentation, as well as failing to update the portal’s services or upgrade the digital solutions it offers to promote citizens’ participation.

The time wasted on setting formalities that complicate the petition submission procedure could have been put to better use had it been dedicated to simplifying these procedures, by reducing the number of formal conditions, setting mechanisms to overcome the difficulties related to drafting and tracking petitions, establishing consultancy offices specialised in accompanying initiatives and connecting with their petitioners on ways to improve and optimise them.

If petitioners are asked to consider the process as a cooperation mechanism,26 then political and official actors must deal with it objectively, away from partisan interests that may threaten the democratic aspect of citizens’ participation, undermine its independence, and lead to its replacement by an “artificial” form of participation that can be manipulated through clientelism and that hinders the growth of an independent civil society.27 Without these considerations, petitions can become a tool to give social legitimacy to public policies that were drawn by the elite and imposed top-down on the people outside the requisites of participatory democracy.

The same concern is present at the local level, with the increased awareness of the risks of turning the participation of citizens and associations into a tool to fulfil the desires of locally elected officials and to serve electoral purposes.28 To prevent this, petitions must be utilised as a powerful tool to influence public authorities and urge them to heed the actual priorities of citizens.29 This requires building trust between civil and political actors that could dismantle the conflict-based administrative culture and open new paths to address the demands of citizens in a participatory manner.

The ability of petitions to contribute to instilling democracy does not rely solely on legislative reforms, but also on the positions of political actors. The role of elected officials must be structured and their communication with their constituents30 enhanced. They must be convinced of the democratic and developmental consequences of the petitioning mechanism, and trust the capabilities and expertise of citizens without worrying or fearing the emergence of opposing parallel authority.

By contrast, civil actors still hold significant responsibility to abide by the legislative and regulatory requisites and to be aware of the impact of civil society’s advocacy actions as a framework to defend citizens’ rights rather than to serve personal interests. Associations are also expected to enhance their internal governance and transparency, including by making publicly available administrative and financial documents and promoting the values of openness, volunteerism, and initiative.31 Associations should also seize opportunities and ensure that they integrate petitions with other participatory democracy tools, such as legislative petitions, advisory opinions, and public discussion forums, whose activation has been delayed, contrary to constitutional requirements.32 So far, no legislative petition has been submitted due to the difficult formal and procedural conditions.33 Moreover, no consultative bodies - as stipulated under Chapter 13 of the Constitution - have been created to engage various social actors in drafting, activating, implementing, and evaluating public policies.


The petitioning mechanism was introduced as an attempt to diversify citizens’ engagement in decision-making processes and to consolidate the pillars of citizen democracy, which was a guiding principle of the constitutional and political reforms introduced by Morocco following the first wave of the Arab Spring. The existence of a legal framework for submitting petitions to public authorities and territorial collectivities allowed the launch and trial of this new tool and promises to uncover future opportunities to deliver social demands to decision-makers through public institutions. Many petitions turned into projects dedicated to fulfilling the needs of citizens and improving public functions.

However, various difficulties emanated from the practice, hindering the effectiveness of this mechanism and its potential to contribute to strengthening citizens’ participation. Legislative reforms were not followed by administrative and pedagogical actions that urge public authorities and territorial collectivities to deal positively with the submitted petitions. There was also a clear paradox between working to promote the propositional and participatory aspect of petitions and the rising tension between State and society. Social protests increased considerably, negatively impacting the means of communication and participation in responding to pressing social demands.

The complexity of the legal and regulatory conditions, as well as the weak culture of participation, threaten to turn petitioning from an opportunity to strengthen citizens’ participation into a political marketing tool to legitimise public policies and give them popular approval,34 without reflecting the demands of the people. This shows a need to deepen the democratic mechanism of petitioning to avoid them increasingly a tool for the elite to settle scores.

The weakness of representative democracy and the retreat of the advocacy and mediation35 roles of civil society could risk further deepening the gap between society and the State. Simplifying the petitioning procedures could increase citizens’ participation in setting and tracking public policies, be it directly or through civil society associations. However, this is contingent on implementing legal and regulatory reforms, which fall under the bigger picture of consolidating the pillars of representative democracy and renewing the tools of participatory democracy.


↑1 Immediately after the Petitions Committee was formed at the end of May 2017, both male and female citizens were able to submit petitions to the Prime Minister. It is worth noting that the Petitions Committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, comprises representatives of seven governmental sectors, including internal affairs, justice, foreign affairs, General Secretariat of the Government, economy, finance, and the relationship with civil society and human rights organisations.
↑2 Bouchra Sidi Hida, Development NGOs: Actors Logic and Development Strategies: Morocco Case Study, Catholic University of Louvain, 2006, p.30
↑3 The traditional role that defines the historical identity of civil society organisations as mediators between the society and the political authority is in decline. Organisations specialised in advocacy and fighting for rights and freedoms have considerably diminished in favour of “service provision” organisations, which are thriving on the level of economic and social development, by providing health and education services and employment opportunities, in partnership with ministerial sectors, public institutions and international non-governmental organisations.
↑4 Abdullatif Qassem, Monitoring and Tracking Public Policies on a Local Level, Bada’el Al-Maghreb (Morocco Alternatives) platform, 2018, p.41.
↑5 Najib Ba Mohammed, Representative and of “Participative”, Democracy in Question, Remald, No. 105-106, July-October, 2012, p.14..
↑6 Participatory Democracy at the Local Level Report, Democracy Reporting International, Tunisia Office, p.8.
↑7 Synthesis Report on National Dialogue Regarding Civil Society and the New Constitutional Roles, The Ministry of State for Human Rights and the Relations with Parliament and Civil Society, 2014, p.54.
↑8 Rachid Lrizk, The Moroccan Constitution and the Right to Petition: A Comparative Study of the Right to Petition between the International and Moroccan Models, 12 February 2021, available on:
↑9 Massaab Al-Tijani, Petitions as a Mechanism to Implement Participatory Democracy Practices; The Moroccan Experience between Constitutional Provisions and Legal Implementation Thereof, Journal of Constitutional Law and Administrative Sciences, second issue, The Democratic Arab Centre, 2019, p.130.
↑10 Moulay Hisham Al-Marani, The Right to Petition in Moroccan Law in light of Comparative Experiences, Journal of Constitutional Law and Administrative Science, sixth issue, The Democratic Arab Centre, Germany, 2020. p. 149.
↑11 The regulatory laws of territorial collectives require organisations submitting petitions to abide by democratic principles and their basic systems. They also need to be in good standing with the laws and regulations in force (Article 121 of Regulatory Law No. 111-14, Article 115 of Regulatory Law No. 112-14, and Article 124 of Regulatory Law No. 113-14).
↑12 The Second Transparency and Accountability Development Policy Loan, The World Bank, Governance Global Practice, MENA Region, 2015, p.24.
↑13 The rejected petitions include: a petition related to the implementation of the development project on the riverbanks of Wadi Martil, submitted to the Prime Minister on 17 January 2017, rejected in January 2019; a petition submitted to the Prime Minister on 28 March 2018 related to integrating the extra hour GMT+1 to the education sector and all public administrations and institutions; a petition related to optimising the official and sovereign status of the Arabic language, submitted on 26 April 2018; a petition related to creating a water facility in “Wadi Shaq Al-Ard” in “Awtat Al-Hajj”, Boulemane Province, submitted on 23 March 2018; a petition from a resident of Tarfaya demanding Armas company to remove the ship wreckage that has ran aground to the coast of Tarfaya, submitted on 7 March 2019. All these petitions were rejected for not fulfilling the formal and substantive requirements.
↑14 Petition submitted to the Prime Minister on 14 February 2020 with over 40 thousand signatures following a national campaign that stirred the public both on the ground and on social media, due to the nature of its subject relating to health policies and the cleverness of the team who oversaw it, comprised mostly of academics.
↑15 A petition submitted to the Prime Minister demanding the review of Decree No. 2-19-973 related to implementing the provisions of Law No. 62-17 on the administrative supervision of Soulaliyat lands and the management of their properties. It considers residency as a condition to become a member of the collective, a clause that was rejected because it prevents many of them from accessing all the rights cited in the aforementioned law.
↑16 Francesco Collin, (Non-) Participatory Democracy? The Limitations of Institutional Petitions in Morocco, the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis, Rabat, 24 December 2019, available on:
↑17 A petition submitted by the citizens to enforce legal and administrative measures to end illegal occupation of public property in the territory of Meknes. The petition was accepted in February 2020, with several measures taken to free occupied public properties in coordination with the relevant local authorities.
↑18 Sarah Anne Rennick, Civil Society and Developing Public Policies: Strategies from Morocco and Egypt, Arab Reform Initiative, 4 July 2017, available at:
↑19 At the local level, many petitions are rejected because of simple flaws that could have been corrected and completed by petitioners had they been informed, such as not including a title for the petition, addressing the petition to the wrong the receiving party, not attaching the authorisation letter of the organisation’s legal representative, or because of a narrow interpretation of the conditions related to the organisations field of work and the interests of the territorial collective.
↑20 Abdullah Harressi, Promoting the Participation of Organisations: A Lever for Local Governance in Morocco, Badael Al-Maghreb (Morocco Alternatives) Forum, Rabat, 2015, p.37.
↑21 Ahjam Mohammed, Regional Petitions: Between Law and Practice, the Moroccan Journal for Legal and Economic Studies, Issue 6, 2020, p.133..
↑22 Most international experiences have relinquished the number requirement in petitioning, where every citizen has the right to submit a petition in Germany (Chapter 17 of the Constitution), Belgium (Chapter 28 of the Constitution), and Spain (Chapter 29 of the Constitution). Some countries even provide the opportunity to submit a petition regardless of nationality, age, and residency status, such as Denmark and The Netherlands, while others integrated the right to petition within their citizen’s basic rights, such as Canada.
↑23 Abdul Ghani Emrida, The Participatory Mechanisms and Petitions of Territorial Collectives in Morocco, The Moroccan Journal of Public Policies, issue 16, 2015, p.147.
↑24 Tarik Zaïre, Local Participative Democracy: Outline of Foundations and Prerequisites, op. cit., p.18.
↑25 Organic Laws: Obstacles facing the petitions by the dozen, 24/08/2016,
↑26 Abdul Wahed Al-Qourayshi, Political Participation and the Question of Citizenship in light of Participatory Democracy Mechanisms, Pathways to Legal Research and Studies Journal, first issue, 2016, p.59.
↑27 Bruno Jobert, Clientelism, Patronage and Popular Participation, Tiers Monde journal, vol. 24, issue 95, 1983, p.541.
↑28 Tarik Zair, Local Participative Democracy: Outline of Foundations and Prerequisites, Remald, No. 91-90, 2010, p:29.
↑29 Adel Ben Yakhlef, Local Democracy and the Participation of Citizens in Municipal Action, Centre of Training and Decentralisation Support (CFAD), Tunisia, 2014, p.10.
↑30 Mathias Le Galic, Participatory Democracy: Nantes Case Study, Harmattan, 2004, p.205.
↑31 Touhtou, Rashid. Civil Society in Morocco under the New 2011 Constitution: Issues, Stakes and Challenges. Arab Centre for Research & Policy Studies, 2014, Accessed 2 Mar. 2021, p.34-35.
↑32 Governing towards efficiency, equity, education and endurance, a systematic country diagnostic, world bank group, June 2018, p.126.
↑33 Among these conditions are: The need for the petition to be signed by at least 25,000 supporters; the need to attach a copy of their national IDs; the excessive number of obstacles increasing the risk of having the petition rejected. These include imposing ambiguous conditions, such as fulfilling public interest, not violating the unifying pillars of the nation, not contradicting the treaties and conventions ratified by the Kingdom (Articles 4-7 of Regulatory Law No. 64-14 on defining the conditions and methods of submitting legislative petitions).
↑34 In the context of national petitions, the Prime Minister and the Presidents of both Houses of Parliament are obligated to show the measures taken to respond to the subject of the petition without committing to the solutions presented by the petition’s authors, which forms a loophole enabling them to subvert popular demands and decontextualize them, leading to contradictory outcomes. At the local level, elected councils are only obligated either to accept or reject the petition without clarifying the measures taken to address the issues mentioned therein..
↑35 The reason for this decline might be the global trend encouraging the developmental role of civil society with the support of international donors with, states forsaking their direct intervention roles; in addition to internal factors such as social divisions and the inability of official intervention to respond to the increasing demands for basic services. Moreover, civil actors are increasingly becoming partners in managing public affairs, rather than simply playing the role of mediators, using development programmes to reach all social groups in search for legitimacy, which would enable them to hold their ground in the face of public authorities and elected bodies..

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.

Morocco – Noble ambitions

The Signal Room, Analysis Briefing, July 20, 2021

- The government has signed a memorandum of cooperation with Chinese company Sinopharm to produce its coronavirus vaccine domestically.

- The exportation of surplus doses could be a sizeable windfall for Morocco’s economy, which is forecast to achieve a strong rebound in 2021; although, recent ratings actions will weigh on investor sentiment over the medium term.

- Politically, the government continues to prepare for elections in September and October; but faces diplomatic challenges surrounding Western Sahara.

The government announced on 05 July that it has signed a memorandum of cooperation with China’s Sinopharm pharmaceutical firm, allowing Moroccan counterpart Sothema to produce the Chinese-developed coronavirus vaccine.

As per an official press release, Sothema will produce up to 5 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine per month for both domestic use and distribution in Africa. While no timeframe was given as to when production processes will start, Sothema indicated that the first batch will be available “soon”.

A steady pace

Domestic production of the Sinopharm vaccine will be a notable boon for the country’s already robust vaccination drive. Since commencing with the campaign on 28 January, 26.6 percent of Morocco’s population has received the requisite two doses of either the Sinopharm or AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, as of 18 July.

The domestic outbreak has also remained mostly stable following the conclusion of the country’s first wave of infections in March (which started in July 2020 and peaked at 49,000 active cases in December). Active cases have remained below 6,000 between April and early July.

This stabilisation and modest rate of vaccination led the government to amend regulations surrounding international travel on 15 June.After imposing a complete flight ban on over 50 countries between April and end-May, such restrictions are now divided into two categories; one with stable coronavirus indicators, and the other for countries with a preponderance of coronavirus variants, or where data on the domestic progression of the disease is deemed inadequate.

Travellers from countries on the former list will need to present only a negative PCR test, while travellers from the latter will need exceptional authorisation, a negative PCR test, and to undergo a ten-day quarantine on arrival.Broader regulations that remain in effect include a curfew from 23:00 to 04:30 local time; the closure of coffee shops, shops and supermarkets at 23:00; the prohibition of public and private gatherings; and the mandatory wearing of a facemask in public.

Meanwhile, intercity travel is subject to authorisation depending on the extent of active cases in the place of origin and destination. Those who have received both coronavirus vaccine doses through the official health ministry register are eligible to freely travel domestically and internationally. Failure to adhere to these regulations can lead to a prison sentence of up to three months or a fine of up to MAD 1,300 (roughly USD 145).

Unsavoury ratings

The moderate success at containing the domestic outbreak is projected to assist Morocco in achieving an economic rebound in 2021, as noted by the World Bank in June when it forecast a GDP growth rate of 4.6 percent.

However, the country’s economic performance in 2020 (when it registered a contraction of 7.1 percent) has, in part, weighed on broader investor sentiment.This was seen on 03 April, when S&P Global Ratings cut Morocco’s long-term foreign and local currency ratings from BBB- to BB+ (or “junk” status). The ratings agency cited the country’s historic 2020 contraction
and budget deficit (7.7 percent in 2020 from 4.1 percent in 2019) as the primary reason behind the ratings action. S&P specifically raised concern that the deficit could widen following the government’s announcement in 2020 that it would increase social spending over the 2021-2024 period. The downgrade followed similar actions by Moody’s Investor Services and Fitch Ratings in the final quarter of 2020.

Fitch then affirmed its previous ratings action on 05 May, when it maintained Morocco’s long-term foreign-currency issuer rating at BB+ (sub-investment grade) with a stable outlook. Commenting on its decision, the agency reaffirmed weak development and governance indicators, and budget and current account deficits as key challenges for the country. Building on S&P’s concerns, Fitch expressed that the fiscal deficit is expected to remain high as the government increases social spending without an equivalent increase in tax revenue.

The ratings firm indicated that the stable outlook designation is underpinned by relative macroeconomic stability with low inflation, access to external funding, and only modest foreign currency debt. Despite wider concerns, Fitch did note that Morocco’s economy is expected to rebound to 4.8 percent growth in 2021.

Saharan tensions

Ongoing diplomatic tensions surrounding Western Sahara could marginally impact this outlook. This much was highlighted on 21 June, when media reports indicated that developmental funding worth EUR 1 billion is being withheld by German institutions due to an ongoing bilateral spat over the issue of Western Sahara.

Germany’s rejection of Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara in December 2020 led the kingdom to suspend ties with the European country in March. In turn, the German Agency for International Cooperation and the KfW Development Bank have paused developmental financing agreements with Morocco.

Attempts at dialogue between Germany and Morocco to resolve the dispute have yet to bear fruit.

Spanish crossing

Morocco’s steadfast position on Western Sahara, and the nationalist Polisario Front group that has laid claim to the territory, also put strain on the country’s relationship with Spain.During an address to parliament on 10 May, Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani condemned the Spanish government for hosting Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali.

Othmani’s remarks were made after Ghali arrived in Spain to receive medical treatment for coronavirus.It is within this context that local media accused Morocco of purposefully suspending security controls at the Ceuta border crossing on 17 May, which allowed over 6,000 migrants to breach the frontier and enter the Spanish-administered territory.Speaking to the veracity of the allegations, security was again bolstered on the Moroccan side of the border on 19 May – a day after Spain’s high court served Ghali a summons for a preliminary hearing on 01 June in a war crimes case against him.

Tensions surrounding the issue have led the Spanish government to call for discourse with their Moroccan counterparts, but this has yet to materialise.

Tensions in Algiers

And most recently, the Algerian foreign ministry recalled its ambassador to Morocco on 18 July in response to recent comments made by Omar Hilale, the Moroccan envoy to the United Nations (UN). Hilale criticised Algeria for supporting the Polisario Front while simultaneously refusing to grant self-determination to the Tamazight-speaking minority within its own Kabylie region (which spans the Tizi Ouzou and Bejaia provinces).

This comes amid historic tensions between Algeria and Morocco, which are largely linked to Western Sahara. In addition to Algeria endorsing the Polisario Front’s call for independence, its government is alleged to have previously supplied arms to the Sahrawi nationalist group.

Preparing the ballot

While navigating these foreign policy challenges, the government is also focused on preparations for the forthcoming legislative and local council elections.After announcing in 2020 that the elections will be held in the final quarter of 2021, a government spokesperson confirmed on 12 May that the vote for the House of Representatives (lower house) will take place on 08 September; local councils on 21 September; and the House of Councillors (upper house) on 05 October.

Ahead of the ballot, political parties have put forward several proposed amendments to the country’s electoral code. The most significant of these include voting rights for the diaspora and legislative representation to be calculated based on registered voters as opposed to valid votes cast.The diaspora revision was proposed by the Maan party, which claims that the change is necessary as it aligns with amendments to the country’s constitution in 2011. This saw the inclusion of Article 17, which stipulates that Moroccans residing abroad (currently estimated at 4 to 5 million people) can exercise their right to stand as candidates and be eligible to vote. Despite its inclusion in the constitution since 2011, the clause has yet to reflect in the country’s electoral code.

Currently, Moroccans need to be physically present in the country to vote or stand as candidates. The bill is still under debate in parliament, but has faced little pushback thus far.In contrast, the representation amendment – the rationale for which has yet to be disclosed – was passed by the House of Representatives in March and is being contested by the ruling Islamist PJD party. The PJD has rejected the change on the basis that it contravenes the constitution; although, the aspect of the country’s legal framework breached by the legislative amendment is unclear.The PJD went on to denounce the fact that the amendment does not apply to communal council elections, which still assign seats proportionate to ballots cast.

The ruling party claims that this also violates the constitution – but failed to reference the article which is allegedly being contravened. A petition by the PJD to repeal the amendment has been put forward to the Constitutional Court.The basis for the PJD’s pushback is not immediately apparent. However, it can be speculated that the party is concerned that Morocco’s historically low voter turnout (as opposed to registered voters) could dilute its electoral haul.

Conservative decline

This comes at a time when the party’s relevance and internal stability are at a crossroads. This is largely as a result of a growing divide between the party’s conservative old guard and more progressive incumbent leadership.The rift was particularly widened following the government’s December 2020 announcement that it would pursue diplomatic rapprochement with Israel. A minority portion of the PJD subsequently called for the dismissal of Prime Minister Othmani – who is also the party’s secretary-general.

Meanwhile, the PJD’s publicised support of a bill that legalises cannabis for medical purposes in Morocco led former prime minister and PJD founding member, Abdelilah Benkirane, to resign from the party in March. Benkirane claimed that the cannabis bill (which passed in May) and “other socio-political issues” are robbing the country of its fundamentally “conservative and Islamic soul”.

The Signal

Morocco is poised to contain its domestic coronavirus outbreak over the medium term. This assessment is based on Morocco’s comparatively robust vaccination drive, which should be bolstered by the domestic production of the Sinopharm vaccine. Consequently, the country could reach herd immunity within the first quarter of 2022. In the meantime, the government is expected to maintain the moderate movement restrictions currently in place; but regulations could become more stringent in the event of a significant uptick in infections. Incidentally, with roughly 16,000 active cases as of 19 July, Morocco does appear to be entering its second wave of infections. This could see region-specific regulations implemented over the coming weeks or months. However, restrictions will unlikely include lockdowns or the reintroduction of blanket flight bans due to economic considerations.Morocco is expected to achieve its forecast economic rebound in 2021.

In line with Moody’s Investor Services, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected Morocco to achieve GDP growth of 4.5 percent in the current year. This growth is rooted in the expected normalisation of weather conditions during the next harvest season, the maintenance of monetary and fiscal policy support, a recovery in tourism arrivals from July onwards, and the anticipated normalisation of export activity.Increased growth, prudent spending policy, and increased revenue flows should ensure that public balances remain relatively stable. Public debt is projected to increase from 76.9 percent in 2020 to 77.3 percent in 2021, before reaching 77 percent in 2022 and then declining to pre-pandemic levels of around 65 percent.

A temporarily higher level of debt and financing needs should not jeopardise Morocco’s public debt sustainability, given low interest rates attached to the country’s sovereign debt, the long maturity of public debt, stable currency, and the ample availability of domestic savings. The projected recovery of tourism and export receipts is expected to lead to a gradual narrowing of the current account deficit, from 6.7 percent in 2020 to 5.8 percent in 2021. However, Morocco’s fiscal deficit may only close marginally or stagnate as the government undertakes various social spending programmes.

That said, the recently approved cannabis bill and production of the Sinopharm vaccine could result in sizable new revenue sources for the state. This should bolster the country’s fiscal balance towards the final quarter of 2021. Elsewhere, the recent downgrade by S&P Global is expected to offset investor confidence over the medium term, possibly undoing some of the positive sentiment gained from the European Union removing Morocco from its “grey list” of tax havens in February.

This may reflect in weaker performances by the Moroccan dirham and sovereign debt offerings.Western Sahara will remain a key point of diplomatic contention for the foreseeable future. Morocco’s dispute with Germany is the most concerning as the country remains a key trading partner. A protracted impasse over the issue could see trade marginally impacted, while Morocco could be further deprived of sizable development aid – of which Germany is also a key contributor.

There is no indication that the dispute will be settled in the coming months. Recent engagements with Spain over the Polisario Front should result in only a limited fallout between the two countries. While Spain is not expected to take a similar stance on Western Sahara as Germany, any leniency afforded to Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali over the coming months could see action undertaken on the part of Morocco. This could manifest through similar diplomatic moves as seen with Germany, or further lapses in security at the Ceuta border.

The latter would likely result in Spain taking more punitive diplomatic and economic action. Given the tenuous history between Algeria and Morocco, the recent withdrawal of the ambassador is not expected to drastically shift the relationship between the two. However, it could further diminish the likelihood of fresh rapprochement efforts, which were touted as a possibility by both governments in 2020. Apart from Algeria, Germany, and Spain, there are few countries which have actively engaged with Morocco over Western Sahara. This should limit the scope of associated diplomatic tensions extending to other countries at this time.The build-up to the September and October elections is not expected to have any meaningful impact on the domestic political environment.

Parliament is anticipated to pass the new diaspora law in the near term to allow it to come into effect ahead of the polls; although, procedures will be limited to voting abroad as the candidate registration period has passed. Meanwhile, the ruling PJD’s petition against the bill that changes legislative representation to be calculated based on registered voters as opposed to valid votes cast is likely to be rejected by the Constitutional Court. This, given the apparent lack of justification behind the application. Both developments should have little impact on wider election preparation. A more significant election-related process will be the positioning of the PJD ahead of the ballot, as it seeks to draw in younger and more progressive voters, while maintaining internal stability. It is anticipated that Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani and the majority of the PJD will campaign on more progressive policies to ensure the party’s long-term survivability as the country’s electorate becomes increasingly younger. This is likely to further widen divisions within the party ahead of the ballot, but should not pose a threat to internal or wider stability on account of the perceived strength that Othmani has within the PJD.


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What India’s COVID-19 crisis means for Africa

By Jamie MacLeod, Vera Songwe, Stephen Karingi, Hopestone Chavula, Jean Paul Boketsu Bofili, Sokunpanha You, and Veerawin Su, Brookings, 22 July 2021


By May 9, 2021 India accounted for 57 percent of new COVID-19 cases anywhere in the world.

This phenomenon rippled through the interconnected economies of the world, including those in Africa. Indeed, India has risen over the past decade to become Africa’s thirdmost-important trading partner, after the European Union and China. In fact, the African market is precariously dependent on Indian suppliers for certain products, notably pharmaceuticals and rice. This is especially the case of East Africa, in which 35 percent of pharmaceutical imports come from India, and 20 percent of rice.

As India’s second COVID-19 wave raged, a concern for African countries has been the potential for economic and trade-related spillovers channeled through these trade sensitivities. There is a precedent. At the start of the pandemic, in April 2020, Indian rice traders were forced to suspend exports amid disruptions to transport links, and maritime shipping and production bottlenecks caused by lockdown restrictions imposed to suppress the spread of the virus. In a United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) survey of African businesses across the continent in July 2020, companies reported switching suppliers as a result of sourcing disruptions, with 56 percent finding equivalent products and favouring national and regional suppliers.

Fortunately, the supply-side disruptions seen in early 2020 have not substantively materialized, but the recent soaring numbers in India have complicated things for the continent. Indeed, India is more than your average country in the face of a health pandemic and is also quite notably the “vaccine factory of the world.” In being forced to redirect COVID-19 vaccine exports domestically to fight its current outbreak, India is estimated to have left COVAX with a shortfall of 190 million doses by just the end of June.

Though countries across the world are also facing the vulnerabilities of having been too dependent on Indian vaccine supplies, it is developing and least-developed countries that are most dependent on COVAX and have already fallen behind in vaccination rates. According to WHO Africa, while the world—as of mid-June—had administered 29 doses per 100 people, African countries had managed just 1.5 doses per 100 people. (Note that this Africa figure excludes Morocco, which is an outlier on the continent as a large economy with an exceptionally high vaccination rate.) A scenario is emerging in which well-vaccinated rich countries like Israel, the United States, and the United Kingdom begin reopening their economies while African and other developing countries face persisting lockdown restrictions and stifled economic recoveries.

The Indian outbreak exacerbates this uneven recovery scenario. Of the vaccine doses received in Africa as of mid-May, by the time Indian supply disruptions had begun, almost one-half were from COVAX, with bilaterally negotiated supplies accounting for most of the remainder and AVATT deliveries expected in significant quantities only in the third quarter of 2021. In turn, in the three rounds of COVAX allocations the vast majority of doses (237 million) have been of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, almost all of which were made by the Serum Institute India. Only 15.4 million have been Pfizer-BioNTech, produced in a number of other sites outside India. The need to redirect Indian vaccines is estimated to have left COVAX with a shortfall of 190 million doses.

With vaccine exports from India banned until at least October, supply shortages in the COVAX initiative are likely to substantively delay the African vaccine drive and, in turn, any end to the pandemic on the continent.

Fortunately, Africa is not helpless. Over the short-to-medium term it will be important for African countries to consider diversifying vaccine supplies. Strategies might include raising the number of approved vaccines in supply portfolios and diversifying acquisition channels, contracted manufacturers, and the geographical mix of suppliers. The 870 million vaccine doses pledged to COVAX by the G-7 at their meeting in June is a welcome start.

Over the medium to long term, African countries must increasingly look to local manufacturing of vaccines. With momentum shifting behind a World Trade Organization waiver on intellectual property rights protections for vaccines, African countries may have opportunities for expanding and ramping up vaccine production on the continent. Doing so may help African countries to fight the COVID-19 pandemic with additional vaccine supplies, once this capacity comes online, but it could also prepare capacity for other future and ongoing health challenges beyond COVID-19. In fact, progress is already underway: The Institut Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal, with support from a number of donors, is constructing a facility that aims to produce 25 million doses monthly by the end of 2022.

The collective impact on African economies

The effects of trade spillovers, disrupted vaccine supplies, and the emergence of a new highly transmissible variant have been incorporated into an updated version of the UNECA macroeconomic model to assess the impact of the Indian second wave on the aggregate African economy. The situation is rapidly developing, and such estimates are best considered initial approximations among considerable uncertainty.

Initial UNECA estimates show that the outbreak of the delta COVID-19 variant in India is forecast to reduce Africa’s GDP growth by 0.5 percentage points in 2021 and a further 0.1 percent in 2022. These drops amount to approximately $13.5 billion in lost economic output in 2021 alone. Delayed recovery in labor markets and external demand due to the surging COVID-19 cases (with resulting persistent lockdowns) are the key drivers that will drag down economic activity. The pandemic outbreak will also reduce labor supply and labor participation rates as governments tighten restrictions. Rising unemployment, declining incomes, and growing poverty induced by the new wave further necessitate accelerated vaccination to reduce the impact of the Indian wave on the African continent.

New courses out of crisis?

As the “vaccine factory of the world,” India’s need to refocus vaccines toward its own COVID-19 crisis has greatly exacerbated the challenges of vaccine access in Africa. In the words of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, director-general of the World Trade Organization, “We have now seen that over-centralization of vaccine production capacity is incompatible with equitable access in a crisis situation” and that “regional production hubs, in tandem with open supply chains, offer a more promising path to preparedness for future health crisis.”

This is exactly the course of action African governments must see through to improve vaccination rates across the continent and bring forward an end to the crisis. The Indian second COVID-19 wave has reaffirmed the agreement of the African Union Heads of State at the Africa CDC’s vaccine-manufacturing summit on the need for “establishing a sustainable vaccine development and manufacturing ecosystem in Africa.”

The Authors

Jamie MacLeod: Trade Policy Expert - United Nations Economic Commission for Africa

Vera Songwe: Nonresident Senior Fellow - Global Economy and Development, Africa Growth Initiative, Under Secretary-General and Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa

Stephen Karingi: Director, Regional Integration and Trade Division - United Nations Economic Commission for Africa

Hopestone Chavula: Officer In-Chart, Macroeconomic Analysis Section - United Nations Economic Commission for Africa

Jean Paul Boketsu Bofili: Economic Affairs Officer - United Nations Economic Commission for Africa

Sokunpanha You: Associate Economic Affairs Officer - United Nations Economic Commission for Africa

Veerawin Su: Associate Economic Affairs Officer - United Nations Economic Commission for Africa


NEW YORK - Deteriorating economic conditions since 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic have fuelled an increase in domestic violence and forced marriage in Sudan, a UN-backed study has revealed.

Voices from Sudan 2020, published this week, is the first-ever nationwide qualitative assessment of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country, where a transitional government is now in its second year.

Addressing the issue is a critical priority, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Government’s Combating Violence against Women Unit (CVAW), co-authors of the report.

“The current context of increased openness by the Government of Sudan, and dynamism by civil society, opens opportunities for significant gains in advancing women’s safety and rights,” they said.

Physical violence at home

The report aims to complement existing methods of gathering data and analysis by ensuring that the views, experiences and priorities of women and girls, are understood and addressed.

Researchers found that communities perceive domestic and sexual violence as the most common GBV issues.

Key concerns include physical violence in the home, committed by husbands against wives, and by brothers against sisters, as well as movement restrictions which women and girls have been subjected to.

Another concern is sexual violence, especially against women working in informal jobs, but also refugee and displaced women when moving outside camps, people with disabilities, and children in Qur’anic schools.

Pressure to comply

Forced marriage is also “prominent”, according to the report. Most of these unions are arranged between members of the same tribe, or relatives, without the girl’s consent or knowledge.

Meanwhile, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) remains widespread in Sudan, with varying differences based on geographic location and tribal affiliation. Although knowledge about the illegality and harmfulness of the practice has reached community level, child marriage and FGM are not perceived as key concerns.

Women’s access to resources is also severely restricted. Men control financial resources, and boys are favoured for access to opportunities, especially education. Verbal and psychological pressure to comply with existing gender norms and roles is widespread, leading in some cases to suicide.

The deteriorating economic situation since 2020, and COVID-19, have increased violence, especially domestic violence and forced marriage, the report said. Harassment in queues for essential supplies such as bread and fuel has also been reported.

Data dramatically lacking

Sudan continues to move along a path to democracy following the April 2019 overthrow of President Omar Al-Bashir who had been in power for 30 years. 

Openly discussing GBV “has not been possible for the last three decades”, according to the report.

“GBV data is dramatically lacking, with no nation-wide assessment done for the past 30 years, and a general lack of availability of qualitative and quantitative data,” the authors said.

To carry out the assessment, some 215 focus group discussions were held with communities: 21 with GBV experts, as well as a review of existing studies and assessments.

Research was conducted between August and November 2020, encompassing 60 locations and camps, and the data was scanned through a software for qualitative analysis, followed a model first used in Syria.

What caused South Africa’s week of rioting?


JOHANNESBURG — South Africa has been rocked by the worst violence since the nation achieved democracy in 1994. Here is a closer look at the unrest.


The unrest began on July 8 when former President Jacob Zuma started serving a 15-month prison sentence for contempt of court. Supporters in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal set up roadblocks on major highways and burned about 20 trucks. The protests closed the N3 and N2 highways, which link the Indian Ocean ports of Durban and Richard’s Bay to the industrial hub of Johannesburg and to Cape Town.

The unrest spread within KwaZulu-Natal, where shopping malls and centers were ransacked by mobs that took food, electronics, clothes and liquor. Attacks on retail centers also spread inland to Gauteng province, to Johannesburg, the country’s largest city, and to Pretoria, the capital. In Durban and Pietermaritzburg, crowds attacked warehouses for major retailers and factories, which were set alight. Several burned until their roofs collapsed. The unrest lasted for a week until 25,000 army troops were deployed.


At least 215 people died in the unrest, and more than 2,500 were arrested on charges including theft and vandalism, according to government figures updated Monday.

The unrest was largely limited to the KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces, which together account for nearly 50% of South Africa’s GDP. The violence did not spread to South Africa’s other seven provinces.

Extensive damage was done to 161 malls and shopping centers, 11 warehouses, eight factories and 161 liquor stores and distributors, according to the government. An estimated 10 billion rand ($680 million) was lost in stolen goods, burned trucks and destroyed property, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.

South Africa’s economy may sustain longer-term damage if domestic and international investors view the unrest as a sign that the country is not a safe destination for their capital. South Africa’s economy was already in recession, and the instability is expected to cause the economy to contract even further. The hardest hit will be South Africa’s poor, many of whom will not be able to buy food at competitive prices at the township shopping centers that have been closed or burned. People receiving monthly government grants, especially the elderly, will not be able to get them at centers that have been closed.


Police and government officials say many of the deaths were caused when people were crushed in stampedes during the chaotic ransacking of shops. At least 20 deaths occurred in the Phoenix area of KwaZulu-Natal, where residents were protecting their neighborhood from suspected intruders, according to Police Minister Bheki Cele. It is not known how many deaths were caused by police shooting at rioters.

Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, are investigating the deaths.


After Zuma entered prison, numerous posts on social media encouraged protests, including attacks on highways and on retail centers. Six people have been arrested on charges of inciting violence, the government announced Monday without disclosing their identities. One of those arrested has been released on bail. Five are still in custody.

“The unrest was orchestrated, instigated and planned ... It almost brought our country to its knees,” said acting Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has also stated that the violence was planned. The police have said they have discovered large caches of ammunition.

The extent of the rioting exposed South Africa’s underlying economic problems, including high rates of unemployment and poverty. Unemployment is more than 32%, and it is above 64% for those under the age of 35, according to South African government statistics. More than half of the country’s 60 million people live in poverty, and more than 20% are food insecure. The country is one of the most unequal in the world, and that inequality has increased since apartheid ended in 1994, according to the World Bank.


Zuma, who has been a controversial figure for years, went to prison for contempt of court because he refused to testify before a judicial commission investigating allegations of corruption during his time as the country’s president from 2009 to 2018. The commission has heard damning testimony from former Cabinet ministers and top executives of state-owned corporations that Zuma allowed members of the wealthy Gupta family to influence his Cabinet appointments and the awarding of lucrative state contracts.

The 79-year-old Zuma also faces separate charges of corruption. He’s accused of receiving bribes from the French arms manufacturer Thales related to the country’s controversial 1999 arms procurement contracts. At that time, Zuma was a high-ranking official in the ruling African National Congress party and a provincial minister in KwaZulu-Natal. He is alleged to have received the bribes through his former financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, who was convicted on related charges in 2005, sentenced to prison and later released on medical parole.

Zuma was forced by his ANC party to step down as president in 2018 because of the growing allegations of corruption, but he still has a considerable following within the party, including other top ANC officials who are also facing corruption charges. Before he was imprisoned, Zuma made inflammatory speeches to his supporters in KwaZulu-Natal.

Human rights groups have welcomed his imprisonment. When he entered prison, the Nelson Mandela Foundation said it was pleased to see Zuma in custody and criticized him for “a pattern of disregard for the rule of law and for our constitutional democracy.”

The foundation said it was “profoundly disturbed” by Zuma’s willingness “to court public violence and lawlessness in support of political and personal agendas.”


The deployment of 25,000 army troops to assist police has succeeded in establishing an uneasy calm over the country. The highways have reopened, and no violent incidents were reported Monday. Volunteer groups are helping to clean up trashed retail centers. It was not clear how long the military would be needed on the streets.

COVID-19 and poverty’s impact on electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa

By Tamara White, Brookings, July 12, 2021

On June 14, the United Nations released its 2021 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Report, which examines the world’s progress toward accomplishing the SDGs. The most recent edition placed special emphasis on the COVID-19 pandemic given its role in reversing many SDG gains. More specifically, the authors note that
years or even decades of progress have been halted or reversed due to the pandemic.

For example, countries have made major progress relating to SDG 7—ensure access to affordable, reliable sustainable and modern energy for all. While the electricity sector has increased and renewable energy has improved, millions of people still find themselves without power and many major improvements are under threat. While 46 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population now has access to electricity—up from 33 percent in 2010—the region is far behind the global average of 90 percent (Figure 1). Indeed, 97 million people in urban areas and 471 million in rural areas are still without access to electricity.

Moreover, according to United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Statistics Division, the
COVID-19 pandemic could reverse progress in some countries. In fact, in developing countries in Africa, the
number of people without electricity increased in 2020 (after declining over the past six years) and basic electricity services are now unaffordable. Moreover, the
cost of electricity services in sub-Saharan Africa remains among the highest in the world—and those who can afford electricity often face unreliable service. As poverty levels increase, countries will be forced to scale back to basic electricity access because citizens will not be able to afford formal electricity bundles.

These persistent gaps in access to energy are also colliding with the increasing threat of climate change, forcing policymakers to navigate a complex, difficult policy environment. As such, many countries are looking to increase their reliance on renewable energy sources. However, least-developed countries receive only a small amount of international financing for renewable energy. In fact, that number is decreasing: In 2018, financial flows to developing countries for climate change and renewable energy were 35 percent lower than in 2017.

According to the report, countries with the lowest levels of electricity access tend to be least-developed countries, which are largely found in sub-Saharan Africa, and these same countries receive far less energy funding than the global average. Moreover, not only did financial flows for such projects decrease overall in recent years, the financing that was given tended to be concentrated in specific countries. For example, 46 of the least-developed countries combined together
received only 20 percent of commitments over this time while Nigeria, Turkey, Pakistan, India, and Argentina combined for 30 percent.

Experts maintain that increasing electricity access will have knock-on effects in terms of economic growth and overall well-being. Indeed, lack of access to electricity severely limits adoption of emerging and potentially transformative technologies in sectors such as banking, education, agriculture, and finance that could otherwise alleviate some of the core challenges facing Africans, such as low productive employment opportunities and limited health care.

For more on electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa see, “Figure of the week: Increasing access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa.” For more on the debate around the role of the SDGs in Africa, see “The SDG’s are our compass for bolstering Africa’s long-term COVID recovery” and the opposing viewpoint, “Africa faces a hard choice on the SDGs under COVID-19.”

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