Students Lead Struggles for Freedom in Middle East and North Africa

Students have put themselves on the front lines of the struggle in countries in the Middle East and North Africa to rid the region of monarchies and strongmen who have ruled, in some cases, for decades. Inspired by uprisings for freedom in Tunisia and Egypt, young people are taking on repressive regimes in hopes that their countries can be free from tyranny.Libya: Students, who participated in a movement that called for a "Day of Rage" on February 17, are seeing their friends killed by mercenaries that Leader Gaddafi has hired to protect him from losing power. In his rambling and incoherent speech on February 22, Gaddafi accused youth of taking “hallucinatory drugs” and destroying the country. He also compared the youth to “greasy rats and cats.” Al Jazeera reported on February 17 that Libya was threatening to withdraw government scholarships from students studying in the United States if they didn’t attend pro-government rallies. Students told Al Jazeera they received phone calls from the Libyan Embassy explaining they would pay for plane tickets, hotel rooms and food if they took part and, if they didn’t, the government would move to cut all financial support.  At the London School of Economics, students have launched an occupation against the school’s ties to the Libyan regime. Bahrain: Since Bahrainis held their “Day of Rage” on February 14, teachers have been encouraging students to go to Pearl Roundabout to camp out and protest King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. This cable released by WikiLeaks titled, “Bahrain’s Youth: Worried About Jobs, Skeptical of Political Authority and Open to America” offers a window into the grievances fueling young people in Bahrain. Yemen: Without students, President Abu Abdullah Saleh would likely be facing a fairly insignificant uprising. Tom Finn, stringer for The Guardian who is in Yemen, reports University of Sanaa students have been holding an Continue Reading

Is WikiLeaks Driving Unrest in the Middle East and North Africa?

Has WikiLeaks influenced the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa? Media Fix’s Greg Mitchell thinks the organization’s diplomatic cables leaks have played a significant role in the past few months’ events in the region. Mitchell, author of the recently published book The Age of WikiLeaks: From Collateral Murder to Cablegate (and Beyond), joined Antiwar Radio this morning to talk about WikiLeaks’ savvy decision to release batches of cables from Bahrain and Libya, as it has done for Egypt and Tunisia in past weeks. Though the media may attack WikiLeaks on their editorial pages, Mitchell says many outlets depend on the cables for juicy details about Libya. Where else could we learn that US diplomats consider Qaddafi and Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez “revolutionary brothers”? For the latest on all things WikiLeaks, read Greg Mitchell’s live blog. —Kevin Gosztola Continue Reading

Nearly 500 migrants force way into Spanish territory in North Africa by breaking through gates in 20-foot fence

MADRID - Almost 500 migrants forced their way into Spanish territory in North Africa early Friday by breaking through gates in the 20-foot (6-meter) high fence that separates Morocco from Spain's Ceuta enclave. The Ceuta regional government gave the figures, with officials saying it was believed to be the biggest border invasion in recent years. Ceuta is separated from the rest of Spain by the Strait of Gibraltar. Some 700 migrants attempted to smash through several gates simultaneously at about 6 a.m., a Ceuta government official told The Associated Press. He refused to be identified, in accordance with government rules. He said 498 migrants made it into Spanish territory, with two hospitalized due to injuries they sustained in the assault. He said 11 Spanish police were also hurt. A Civil Guard spokesman said police clashed with the migrants at the Tarajal area of the fence. He declined to disclose his identity in line with internal policy. At least 10 members of Morocco's armed forces were also injured, he said. More than 30 migrants were treated at a migrant center for bone fractures and other injuries. Some were also cut trying to scale the fence, which is topped with barbed wire, said Clemen Nunez, director of Ceuta's Red Cross emergency response team. According to the Civil Guard, a surveillance camera showed hundreds of people approaching the fence, using tools and clubs to break one of the gates. In video filmed by Faro TV Ceuta, some of the migrants can be seen with blood on their faces and bruises but mostly celebrating the arrival in Spanish territory. Some wrapped themselves with Spanish and European flags and screamed "Freedom, freedom!" Hundreds of sub-Saharan African migrants are living illegally in Morocco and regularly attempt to enter Ceuta and Melilla, Spain's other North African enclave, in hopes of getting into Europe. Most are fleeing poverty, violence or Continue Reading

For American Muslims, new ‘Mideast/North Africa’ box on census is sensitive

DEARBORN, Mich. — Zahraa Ballout isn't "white," and she certainly isn't "some other race." If the government gives her the choice of checking a new "Middle East/North Africa" box on a census form, would she? Yes, she says, despite some reservations about what it would mean to stand out after Americans elected a president who wants to ban travel from some countries in the region and has spoken favorably of registering Muslims in the U.S. "I would feel some wariness because you don't know exactly the consequences or what's coming next after you check the box," says 21-year-old Ballout, a student in Dearborn, Michigan, who's been in the country three years. "I don't want to fool myself to think that checking another box (other than the new one) is going to protect me in some way." Ballou's risk-benefit analysis reflects a new caution surrounding the way the U.S. government counts Americans, an every-decade exercise mandated in the Constitution that influences the nation's day-to-day operations in ways big and small. That includes representation in Congress and how taxpayer money is doled out — for education, public health, transportation and more. The Census Bureau on Feb. 28 for the first time recommended including the new category, which would mostly affect Muslims. The Office of Management and Budget is expected to make the decision later this year. The move is the product of years of research and decades of advocacy for Arab and other groups from the region that pre-date Trump's presidential campaign. The Census Bureau said that when it tested a new MENA category in 2015, people of Middle Eastern or North African descent tended to check off that box. When it wasn't there, they'd select "white" or, increasingly, "some other race." Including the separate category, the agency said, is "optimal" to get a more accurate count of Americans. "There's nothing for me to hide," said Hussein Dabajeh, 30, a Continue Reading

Homeland Security rolls out electronics ban on flights coming from 10 airports in Middle East, North Africa

The Trump administration is imposing an electronics ban for passengers at 10 airports in eight countries from North Africa and the Middle East. U.S.-bound travellers carrying anything larger than a cellphone — such as a laptop, tablet or portable DVD player — will now have to store the device in a checked bag if they’re flying nonstop out from affected Muslim-majority nations, several of which are U.S. allies. Great Britain announced later Tuesday it would take similar steps, but covering fewer countries.   The airports are in Amman, Jordan; Cairo; Kuwait City, Kuwait; Doha, Qatar; Dubai and Abu Dhabi, both in United Arab Emirates; Istanbul; Casablanca, Morocco; Riyadh and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Officials said the ban isn’t related to President Trump’s revised executive order blocking citizens of other Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days. A Homeland Security spokeswoman said the agency “did not target specific nations. We relied upon evaluated intelligence to determine which airports were affected.” The electronics ban impacts nine airlines flying into the U.S. on a daily basis. U.S.-based airlines are not impacted because they don’t fly directly in or out of the cities, officials said. The affected airlines have until Friday to begin complying with the new order, according to the government. U.S. citizens, however, are subject to the electronics ban, which DHS said will “remain in place until the threat changes.” Airline workers are exempt from the rules, and large medical devices aren’t subject to the ban. DHS could also expand the ban to airports in more cities. The ban comes after reports that terror groups plan to smuggle explosives in everyday electronic devices, as well as target commercial airlines. The ban “seeks to balance risk with impacts to the traveling public and Continue Reading

Algeria death toll grows to 81 as British Prime Minister David Cameron paints grim picture of war against terror in North Africa

As 25 more bodies were found Sunday at the site of a terrorist raid at an Algerian gas plant, the British prime minister made an even more gruesome discovery: the war against terror in North Africa could go on for decades. The newly found bodies at the natural gas plant in the Sahara brought the death toll to at least 81 — and many of the bodies were so badly disfigured they could not be identified after Algerian forces stormed the Ain Amenas refinery Saturday to bring a final, bloody end to the four-day hostage crisis. ALGERIA LAUNCHES 'FINAL ASSAULT' TO END BLOODY HOSTAGE SITUATION ISLAMIST HOSTAGE-TAKERS IN ALGERIA DEMAND RELEASE OF 'BLIND SHEIKH' On Sunday, Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed seven British nationals were among the dead. But his speech to his countrymen went beyond mourning and into action. “It will require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months,” Cameron said. “What we face is an extremist, Islamist, violent Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group — just as we have to deal with that in Pakistan and Afghanistan.” AP Hostages kneel in sand with hands in the air during the Sahara standoff at the Ain Amenas refinery.  Twenty-five more bodies were found Sunday as the British prime minister warned there could be decades of conflict. Algeria’s state news agency reported the militants planted mines throughout the site, which bomb squads were working to defuse as they found the new bodies, according to Algerian security officials. The militants — who came from six countries and were heavily armed — “had decided to succeed in the operation as planned, to blow up the gas complex and kill all the hostages,” Algerian Communications Minister Mohamed Said said in an interview on state radio. PETER KING: NO DAYLIGHT FOR THE BLIND SHEIK The Islamic militant group the Masked Brigade claimed responsibility for the attack. Founder Moktar Continue Reading

Al Qaeda branch in North Africa calls for stepped up attacks on U.S. embassies and diplomats

CAIRO -- Al Qaeda's branch in North Africa on Tuesday called for attacks on U.S. diplomats and an escalation of protests against an anti-Islam video that was produced in the United States and triggered a wave of demonstrations and riots in the Middle East and beyond. While demonstrations have tapered off in nations including Egypt and Tunisia, protests against the film turned violent in Pakistan and Indian-controlled Kashmir and hundreds of people rallied in Indonesia and Thailand. In Kabul, the Afghan capital, a suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into a mini-bus carrying South African aviation workers to the airport, killing at least 12 people in an attack that a militant group said was revenge for the film "Innocence of Muslims," which was made by an Egyptian-born American citizen. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the attack killed eight South Africans, three Afghans and a Kyrgyzstani. At least 10 protesters have died in riots in several countries, bringing the total number of deaths linked to unrest over the film to 22. U.S. officials describe the video as offensive, but the American government's protection of free speech rights has clashed with the anger of Muslims abroad who are furious over the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, womanizer and pedophile. Dar Yasin/AP Firefighters work to extinguish flames on a government vehicle after it was set on fire by Kashmiri protesters in Srinagar on Tuesday. In a statement, Al Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb praised the killing of Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11. The group threatened attacks in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania, and condemned the United States for "lying to Muslims for more than 10 years, saying its war was against terrorism and not Islam." The group urged Muslims to pull down and burn American flags at embassies, and kill or expel American diplomats Continue Reading

Oil prices rise over $100 a barrel amid chaos in Middle East, North Africa

Oil prices topped $100 a barrel Thursday for the first time since 2008 as traders eyed growing chaos in the Middle East and North Africa. In Libya, which has the biggest oil reserves in Africa, the popular rebellion against Col. Moammar Khadafy was disrupting the flow of crude. There were widespread reports that Khadafy had ordered the destruction of oil fields and refineries, though no evidence surfaced of such attacks. But foreign companies that are pulling out cut production. Libya's biggest oil producer, Eni, idled operations and French oil giant Total, Germany's Wintershall, Spain's Repsol-YPF and Austria's OMV all suspended operations and evacuated workers and their families. Barclays Capital estimated 1 million barrels per day of Libya's production has been shut down. Most of Libya's oil goes to Europe, but any disruption affects the global market. The International Energy Agency and Saudi Arabia have pledged to cover any shortfall in world supplies, but that hasn't eased tensions in oil markets. Analysts say violence in the region has added a "fear premium" of about $10 per barrel of oil. The average price of gasoline in the city Wednesday was $3.49 a gallon, according to the website,   Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

From North Africa to London to Washington, Libyan fight ebbs and flows on many fronts

It's anyone's guess how the Pressed to clarify the mission, The topic was America's tactical relationship with the rebel forces who are trying to oust Secretary of State Clinton raised the possibility of arming the rebels, and the Meanwhile, Gates said the insurgents need help of a more fundamental nature - and would have to look elsewhere to get it. "What the opposition needs as much as anything right now is some training, some command and control and some organization. It's pretty much a pickup ballgame at this point," Gates said. "That's not a unique capability for the Similarly, after a Talk about outsourcing. No-fly-zone enforcement has been formally handed off to NATO, whose forces are under the direct command of an American. But management of the operation is distressingly unclear. On the brighter side, Khadafy's close buddy, To their credit, the Brits said Koussa was granted no immunity. The first task will be to debrief him about Khadafy's war-waging machinery and then, in due time, to grill him about the regime's participation in atrocities like the downing of Finally, there was a heartening glimpse into the anti-Khadafy mindset of the Libyan people. The government brought reporters to the gravesite of an 18-month-old killed in an air strike, thus to blame America and allies. Fighter jets had attacked an ammunition depot out of which flew a tank shell that hit the child's house. A family member put the blame where it belonged. "No, no, no, this is not from NATO," said the family member. "What NATO did was good." Yes. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

A new front in the fight against terrorists? Al Qaeda gaining strength in North Africa

WASHINGTON —  Al Qaeda's terror network in North Africa is growing more active and attracting new recruits, threatening to further destabilize the continent's already vulnerable Sahara region, according to U.S. defense and counterterrorism officials. The North African faction, which calls itself Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), is still small and largely isolated, numbering a couple hundred militants based mostly in the vast desert of northern Mali. But signs of stepped-up activity and the group's advancing potential for growth worry analysts familiar with the region. The rapid recent rise of the Al Qaeda group in Yemen — which spawned the Christmas airliner attack — is seen by U.S. officials and counterterrorism analysts as evidence that the North African militants could just as quickly take on a broader jihadi mission and become a serious threat to the U.S. and European allies. The Mali-based militants have yet to show a capability to launch such foreign attacks, but are widening their involvement in kidnapping and the narcotics trade, reaping profits that could be used to expand terror operations, officials and analysts said. Several senior U.S. defense and counterterrorism officials spoke about AQIM on condition of anonymity to discuss internal analysis. Those advances have set off alarms within the counterterrorism community, which watched as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula quickly transformed over the past year from militants preoccupied with internal Yemeni strife to a potent group recruiting and training insurgents for terror missions inside the U.S. That threat was underscored by the failed Christmas airliner attack, which officials say was planned and directed by Yemeni insurgent leaders. A key fear is that as AQIM expands, its criminal and insurgent operations will continue to destabilize the fragile governments of heavily Islamic North Africa, much as it has in Mali. The Maghreb includes the North African Continue Reading