Archive for the politics Category

The Tuaregs: From African Nomads to Smugglers and Mercenaries

Posted in algeria, amazigh, culture, history, mauritania, morocco, people, politics, sahara, tuareg on February 4, 2012 by kenzilisa


ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images Tuaregs on camelback Sept. 25, 2010, during a festival in northern Niger

The Tuaregs, a nomadic tribe in North and West Africa, dominated the caravan trade through the Sahara Desert for thousands of years. Their entire way of life was disrupted, however, by the imposition of borders, natural desertification, urbanization and the rise of maritime trade. In their quest to survive, the Tuaregs have launched several revolts in Mali and Niger, fought as mercenaries in the Libyan civil war and used their expertise to smuggle illicit goods, which brought them into contact with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). It is the development of these skills and links to AQIM that have brought the Tuaregs to Western governments’ attention.  More here: The Tuaregs: From African Nomads to Smugglers and Mercenaries | STRATFOR.

“Day of Dignity”protests in Morocco this coming weekend

Posted in amazigh, morocco, people, politics on February 22, 2011 by kenzilisa

This is a story from Afrol News.  They don’t have share or email buttons I had to cut and paste it here. You can see the article with photos at the link.

From Afrol News, 22 February – Human rights groups and the opposition youth movement are preparing new mass protests in Morocco for 26 and 27 February, while denouncing government “lies” that Sunday’s protests had been peaceful.

Already during the Sunday mass protests in Morocco, key groups gathered in front of the Rabat parliament announced that new protests would be held on Saturday and Sunday, 26 and 27 February. This was today confirmed by the Moroccan Human Rights Association (AMDH), calling for massive protests all over the country during the weekend.

The AMDH also strongly challenges the government’s and Moroccan press’ version of Sunday’s protests. The official version is that the protests, which had been allowed, in general went peacefully, with a friendly cooperation from security forces. However, looting criminals during the evening had caused great damage and violence, resulting in 5 persons being killed and 138 injured.

Not so, says the AMDH, which is among the key groups organising the protest movement. Indeed, AMDH President Khadija Riyadi herself was among the injured as she, other human rights activists and a journalist had been attacked by “pro-government thugs” outside a court in Rabat, the capital, in the late afternoon.

According to an AMDH statement in Arabic language, received by afrol News, “repressive forces” were used against the peaceful protesters in central Rabat. Both uniformed and plain-cloth government agents, “armed with batons,” started beating the peaceful protesters, causing severe injuries. Ms Riyadi and several others were hospitalised.

The AMDH strongly condemned “this heinous attack” and human rights violation, urging an “investigation into these violations” and further pro-democracy demonstrations in the coming weekend.

And as the first joy over Morocco’s “Day of Dignity” demonstrations is settling, an increasing number of reports document that government repression in Morocco had followed the same lines as other Arab regimes; only executed in a more elegant and discrete way.

For example, trains between Casablanca – Morocco’s largest city – and nearby Rabat were cancelled during the period protesters could have used them to flock to the capital. Protest organiser Mohammed Elaoudi and many other activists saw their websites and e-mail accounts blocked. Foreign journalists covering the events report being tailed by intelligence agents. “Activists” on state TV declared that the protests were cancelled one day before.

After the protests, the message is the same. While Moroccan media reported widely about the protests, they all refer to the official version. All disturbances are attributed to criminals, looters and drug addicts. Security forces had done nothing wrong.

King Mohammed VI in a televised speech yesterday commented on the protests, insisting he would keep faithful to Morocco’s “unique model of democracy and development,” not bowing into “demagoguery and improvisation” as represented by the protest movement.

For the masses of Moroccans, the messages from government so far are credible. Most people believe the protests were widely peaceful, only disturbed by looting criminals.

However, discontent is rife and Sunday’s protests also in Morocco helped to lift the barrier of fear. Protests like those on Sunday would not have been allowed before the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, and the masses can again be mobilised next weekend. 

But there are also more and more people that have stopped believing in the government version. Organisers like the AMDH are increasingly angered. But, even worse, in the areas witnessing violence on Sunday, discontent may grow into an Egypt-like force as people for the first time in decades dear protesting. Sunday’s deaths and injured may ignite deeper anger.

The nucleus of discontent and unrest remains the northern Rif region and the central Atlas mountains; both historically disadvantaged regions dominated by the Berber minority.

Especially in the Rif region, which includes the port city of Al-Hoceima where 5 persons were killed during the Sunday riots, resistance against the capital has deep roots. Indeed, the great political discussion in the Rif right now is whether the government or the King himself is responsible for the problems in Morocco.

In forums, politically conscious Rif residents are discussing the way forward and whether to keep revolting until the King steps down. A person calling himself “Khattabi” in a Rif discussion forum urges people not to believe in the King’s “false promises.” Rather, he says, “we now have a golden opportunity to confront the government; an opportunity that may not present itself again.”

The future of Morocco’s protest – whether they can become peaceful or violent – will probably be decided in the Rif region and around Marrakech, the unofficial Berber capital, next weekend.

By staff writers

© afrol News

Finally! A very happy announcement!

Posted in algeria, amazigh, art, ceramics, classes, critique, cuisine, culture, design, food, henna, history, jewelry, jewish, language, mauritania, moor, the book, morocco, music, people, politics, sahara, tattoos, textiles, traditions, travel, tuareg, tunisia, Uncategorized, weddings, women with tags on June 1, 2010 by nictharpa

We are very pleased to announce that “Moor: A Henna Atlas of Morocco” is now available for purchase!

Moor: A Henna Atlas of Morocco

Moor: A Henna Atlas of Morocco

The first book of its kind, “Moor” is the story of henna in Morocco, giving you a first-hand account of how the Moroccans use henna for magic, beauty, and protection. After more than a decade of research, Lisa “Kenzi” Butterworth and Nic Tharpa Cartier are proud to present their findings in this groundbreaking book.

“Moor” contains more than 40 pages of text covering the history and culture of henna in Morocco, as well as an in-depth design manual that gives step-by-step instructions for learning Moroccan design elements and creating authentic and beautiful Moroccan-style henna work. The book also features more than 20 full-color photos of Moroccan-style henna work, as well as over 100 pages of Moroccan henna patterns from traditional and modern sources. “Moor” is the first comprehensive manual covering all aspects of Moroccan henna, and will be invaluable to henna artists, fans of Moroccan culture, and anyone interested in the beauty and rituals of exotic lands.

The book is currently available as a digital PDF download, for $43, from at the following link: or as a full color printed and bound copies  through at the cost of $52 for a softcover printing and $70 for a hardcover.

B’saha! Wear henna in good health!

Hennaed Refugees

Posted in algeria, culture, henna, history, mauritania, morocco, people, politics, sahara, traditions, women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2010 by kenzilisa

While Nic was writing his post on indigo, we got to talking about various groups of people who live in and/or traverse the Sahara.  I have also been reading an article about a photographer who uses a motorized glider to take aerial pictures of the Sahara.  Now my mind is lost in the past to another time in my life that almost seems like a dream.  About fifteen years ago I lived and worked in the Western Sahara, a territory claimed by Morocco, whose native inhabitants, the Sahrawi, have been fighting for independence since Spain pulled out of the territory in the mid-70s promising a referendum.  Morocco and Mauritania annexed the territory, with the northern 2/3s being controlled by Morocco, the remaining 1/3 controlled by Mauritania.  The group leading the fight for independence—and a referendum—is called the Polisario Front, supported by Algeria.  Their pressure caused Mauritania to give up control over its portion of the Western Sahara thereby allowed Morocco to extend its control over the entire territory.  There was a ceasefire in 1991 at which time some Sahrawis chose to stay in the territory of the Western Sahara, administered by Morocco, and those who supported independence were forced into exile in refugee camps in the Algerian Sahara.  In the interim, efforts have been made to hold a referendum to decide the future of the territory.  More information is available here, on Wikipedia.  Morocco is keenly in favor of making the territory part of Morocco—in fact, Morocco refers to the Western Sahara as the “Southern Provinces—and has has full administrative control over the territory.  The capital of the Western Sahara is Laayoune (also spelled El Aiun) which means “two eyes” or “two wells” (they use the word “eye” to mean “well” as both sight and water are considered vital to human life).  This tiny dot on the edge of the Sahara was my home for a year.  

Laayoune, Western Sahara


Those Sahrawis who went to live in the camps in Algeria have not be able to visit family back in the Western Sahara.  In their harsh conditions in the camps, Sahrawis were cut off not only from their families, but also from the rest of the world.  Water and food have to be shipped in to the camps, and all the medical, educational and social needs are take care of by the refugees themselves or with help from the UN and aid agencies around the world.   

My reason for being in the Western Sahara was to be part of the team that registered voters for the ever-elusive referendum.  I worked for the UN in New York City and had the opportunity to go overseas to work for the UN Mission for the Referendum in the Western Sahara (aka MINURSO).  My base was in Laayoune, the capital, but I also spent a lot of time in the MINURSO offices in Algeria.  My work consisted of maintaining a database of voter registration files and providing information for the election officers who were responsible for interviewing voters.  The process was incredibly complicated by factors unique to the area.  Prospective voters were spread across all of the territory of the Western Sahara, as well as in the refugee camps and throughout Morocco.  Some of them had emigrated and had to be tracked down and contacted overseas.  Many of the voters were illiterate and a lot of the older voters didn’t know what year they were born.  Older generations in this area often remember important dates by events that occurred then like “I was born the year that the wind blew from the east for 2 weeks”.   

I feel that I could write so much more on this topic, specifically about my life there and about our work with voters.  These topics might require several posts, so I will constrain myself here to talk about henna in the Western Sahara.  What prompted this post about the Western Sahara was this Flickr set I came across about the UNHCR’s (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) story about Sahrawi families reuniting.    

Sahrawi women


As a henna artist and also a researcher, my eyesight has been trained to seek out and find henna in any photo and sure enough, my eyes were rewarded.  A lot of the women in these photos have henna which is not surprising since henna is often done before a trip to protect the traveler from evil and also to celebrate a happy occasion, in this case a reunion of families.  

My very first experience of henna was when I was living in the Western Sahara.  We were flown to our headquarters in Tindouf, Algeria, smack dab in the middle of nowhere in the Sahara.  This was the town closest to the refugee camps where we had to register voters.  The Algerian army had given the UN one of its bases to serve as the headquarters for MINURSO, and that is where we lived, ate and worked whenever we weren’t in the refugee camps.  One of my colleagues returned from the refugee camps with a brown stain on her hand; the stain was a boldly drawn Polisario flag.  My colleague explained the concept of henna to me but my brain couldn’t quite grasp the idea.  As she explained I remembered all the times I had seen orange fingernails and dark brown fingertips while living in the Western Sahara and things started to click.  Since that day I have continued to look for henna whenever I travel in Morocco, stopping women to ask them about it.   

Enjoy the photos at the UNHCR link!