Mali and the Maghreb

Geoff Porter emails:

Over the last several days there has been lots of analysis about AQIM and about how the situation in Mali and France’s bombing campaign came to be, so there’s not much point in going over that ground again. Instead, it might be helpful to look forward to what the French campaign is about (and what it’s not), as well as to look north to the implications for North Africa.

Until 2012, AQIM in the Sahara had been a relatively successful criminal organization – kidnap for ransom, smuggling, narco-trafficking, etc – but it was not a very good or very committed salafi jihadi terrorist organization. From 2008 until 2012 it prioritized making money over ideology. It was intertwined with local populations to the extent that they provided cover and support for illicit activities, but it did not try to impose its salafi jihadi ideology on the population with which it interacted. In general, its roughly 500 fighters existed on the margins of an already marginal region. It was troublesome, but it did not pose a strategic threat to local governments or Europe or the US. That obviously changed in 2012 with the influx of Libyan weapons, the Tuareg rebellion, the collapse of the government in Bamako and its control of the northern half of Mali. AQIM went from a criminally inclined, underperforming Al Qaeda affiliate with dubious loyalty to controlling a large territory and running a “terrorist safe haven” in a country that was an ally to both France and the US. And it placed AQIM and the other Islamist organizations with which it has tensely shared power – Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Ansar al-Din – squarely in France’s sights.

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Organized Crime and Conflict in the Sahel-Sahara Region

Organized Crime and Conflict in the Sahel-Sahara Region

From a new Carnegie paper by Wolfram Lacher:

The Sahel and Sahara region is far from a pivotal area for transnational organized crime. The importance of organized criminal activity there stems from the fact that there are few alternative activities that produce similar profits and rapid enrichment. This particularly applies to three undertakings that have expanded significantly since around 2003: smuggling of Moroccan cannabis resin, cocaine smuggling, and kidnapping for ransom. Individuals and networks involved in these activities have converted their wealth into political influence and military power. Contraband trade in licit goods, which had developed across the region in previous decades, laid the institutional basis for the development of these high-profit activities.

This kind of drug networks have their origins in cigarette trafficking that took off in the 1980s and were instrumental in financing Algeria's jihadists in the 1990s.

Cigarette smuggling in particular has greatly contributed to the emergence of the practices and networks that have allowed drug trafficking to grow. The smuggling of cigarettes to North African markets began to thrive in the early 1980s, and it developed into a large-scale business controlled by a few major players. Cigarettes, imported through Mauritania, supplied a large portion of the Algerian and Moroccan markets, while those imported through Cotonou in Benin and Lome in Togo were routed through Niger and Burkina Faso to Libya and Algeria. In 2009, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated cigarettes smuggled along these routes accounted for around 60 percent of the Libyan tobacco market (or $240 million in proceeds at the retail level) and 18 percent of the Algerian market (or $228 million).

The key actors in this trade are legal cigarette importers and distributors, who import their merchandise from free trade zones such as Dubai. The trade is therefore best interpreted as a deliberate strategy by tobacco companies to circumvent tax regimes or break North African state monopolies on cigarette distribution.

Funny to think that something as technocratically banal as a Maghreb customs unions would have discouraged such things.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Mish Ba3id, the North Africa revolution mixtape

A bunch of North African hip-hop artists have produced this mixtape compilation of revolutionary songs. 

Get it here or here [direct dl link].

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Links for 10.24.09 to 10.25.09

Power play - The National Newspaper | M. Bazzi on Saudi-Syrian relations. Weirdly makes no mention of Lebanon. ✪ Bikya Masr (BikyaMasr) on Twitter | Report: Ayman Nour attacked by security and NDP thugs in Hurghada. ✪ Algérie-Maroc | Blog on Algerian-Moroccan relations. ✪ Un propagandiste intéressé du régime tunisien - Les blogs du Diplo | Alain Gresh takes down Antoine Sfeir over his apologia for the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. ✪ “The State is an ostrich”: Algerian riots in the shadow of Power « The Moor Next Door | On the recent turmoil, and more generally the absence of a well-managed state in Algeria. ✪ Arms Smugglers Into Gaza Face a New Foe: Egypt – Forward.com | To Egypt's eternal shame! ✪ «الإخوان المسلمون» ينتصبون ضدّ بيونسي | جريدة الأخبار | The Muslim Brothers take on Beyoncé. ✪ Daily News Egypt -No Egyptian Films At The Cairo International Film Festival, Says Ciff President | er.... what? ✪ Reporters Sans Frontières | Tunisia: Election campaign impossible for opposition media ✪ Daily News Egypt - ‘Spinsters’ By Choice: Egypt’s Single Ladies Speak Out | About the Facebook group "Spinsters for Change". ✪ Michael Gerson - Michael Gerson on Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa - washingtonpost.com | Rather lame column about the Mufti of Egypt makes no mention of his civil servant status. ✪ The Empire Lovers Strike Back « P U L S E | Fantastic text by Gore Vidal from the 1980s, about the Podhoretzes and the Israel lobby in the US. ✪ Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism « P U L S E | Excerpt from new book by M. Shahuid Alam.
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Links for 10.22.09

Corruption au Maghreb: Mode d’emploi | On corruption in the Maghreb, especially Algeria. ✪ Algeria-Watch: Diar Echems ne décolère pas | If you're interested in following the recent social unrest in Algiers, Algeria-Watch is the place to do it. ✪ Tunisie: une journaliste du "Monde" refoulée à l'aéroport de Tunis | Le Monde's Florence Beaugé barred from entering Tunisia after critical reporting and ahead of presidential elections on Oct. 25. ✪ Abu Khaldoun | New blog on things Middle Eastern. ✪ Le Figaro: Alger sur une poudrière | Riots in poor area of Algiers highlight undertow of social tensions. ✪ EgyptAir guards thwart attempted hijacking of flight from Istanbul to Cairo; suspect arrested - WGN |
A Sudanese man used a plastic knife from the in-flight meal to threaten flight attendants after the plane left Turkish airspace and demanded that the flight be diverted to Jerusalem, the official said. Guards on the flight were able to detain the man and no one was hurt, he said. The flight landed safely at Cairo airport. The man was arrested and was being questioned by state security, the official said. The Boeing aircraft was carrying 87 passengers, a Cairo police official said. He identified the suspect as Mohammed Hamad Nourain, 26, and said he used a passport with a phony name to board the flight. The man told flight attendants he wanted to "liberate Jerusalem," the police official said.
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Links for 08.15.09 to 08.16.09

'Operation Cast Lead': A Statistical Analysis | "Al-Haq is pleased to present its report: ‘Operation Cast Lead: A Statistical Analysis‘,  prepared in conjunction with the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights. The report is a culmination of a thorough investigation of the offensive by field workers on the ground. It presents a selection of the data collected of the extent of the killing and the destruction perpetrated by Israeli forces during the attack." ✪ Dan Halutz (danhalutz) on Twitter | How terrifying to receive an email that says, "Dan Halutz is following you on Twitter." But it's not the actual former chief of staff of the IDF who was behind the Dahiya Doctrine. It's actually someone who sees him as what he is: a war criminal. ✪ Egyptians wonder how long aging leader can go on - The Boston Globe | Hosni just keeps on truckin' ✪ How to Cover a Paranoid Regime from Your Laptop - Kelly Golnoush Niknejad | Foreign Policy | The story of tehranbureau.com ✪ Middle East among world's top 10 confectionery markets | More important news brought to you by CENTCOM. WTF? ✪ Somali Pirates vs. Egyptian Fisherman: guess who wins? | Go Egyptian fishermen! ✪ Moroccans debate young people's taste for ready-made Ramadan dishes | This really important story was brought to you by the US taxpayer - this site (which is not altogether bad, but dodgy at times when covering terrorism) is financed by the US military.
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Links for 07.13.09

Class action at 3arabawy | Hossam's latest article, covering a strike at a QIZ factory, highlights practice of forcing workers to sign a resignation letter when hired so they can easily be fired. Maybe Ahmadinejad just likes gallopinto | The Majlis makes a good point about the huffing and puffing made by Hillary Clinton over the fact that Iran is boosting its ties with Latin American countries. Maybe if Bush hadn't let the Monroe Doctrine slip, this would have not have happened. La mafia sicilienne, colombienne et russe s’offre les services d’El Qaida au Maghreb | Algerian newspaper claims AQIM working with Moroccan, Sicilian, Russian and Colombian mafias for drug trafficking. The Dark Sahara by Jeremy Keenan [PDF] | New book by Jeremy Keenan, leading investigator of Algerian govt. involvement in "Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb." Qashtamar Rules Everything Around Me (Q.R.E.A.M.) « THE BOURSA EXCHANGE | Very funny. Britain revokes five Israeli arms export licences - Yahoo! News | Out of 182, over Gaza war. Note here that the Perfidious Albion claims humanitarian concern, as if they don't continue to export arms to other unsavory types, or that this decision did not come out of domestic pressure rather than routine humanitarian review. Israel to keep only Hebrew names on road signs (AFP) | This reminds me of the Flemish-Waloon road sign wars of Belgium - except they had the good sense to keep the English: "AFP - The Israeli transport ministry said on Monday that it will get rid of Arabic and English names for cities and towns on road signs, keeping only the Hebrew terms."
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