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Sudan’s invasion of the town Abeyi; sexual harassment in Egypt; the impact of Egypt’s uprising on migrants; the detention of Syrian blogger Amina Arraf; Western Sahara; and the opening of the a centre for women in Eastern Congo, the City of Joy, are among the topics featured in this week’s review of African blogs, by Sokari Ekine.

Sudan’s invasion of the town of Abyei and the resulting displacement 100,000 (UN figures) has renewed discussions on whether Sudan is engaging in ethnic cleansing and the ethnic/religious nature of the attacks and subsequent occupation or is this simply a case of oil?

African Arguments publishes an article by Clement noting the military build-up which has been in place for the past four months and the invasion under the cover of clouds. The invasion was brutal.

‘Under the cover of clouds, which for two days obscured the region from the cameras in low-earth orbits of Satellite Sentinel, a consortium that has been monitoring and reporting on the militarization in and around Abyei for four months, invaded the area. The Sudanese Armed Forces accompanied by Misseriya militias used aerial bombardment, tanks, and artillery to quickly rout Southern People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) forces and police from the area, terrorizing tens of thousands of civilians to flee. Eye witness accounts related scenarios similar to tactics used in Darfur: Antonov cargo planes flew over populated areas dropping bombs or incendiary devices, soldiers and militias arrived soon after in trucks firing into dwellings and at anyone who seemed to resist.

‘After the residents fled, satellite imagery revealed that 70% of structures in Abyei town had been torched, but not before trucks loaded with personal goods and humanitarian stores looted from homes, businesses, and storehouses. Casualty rates are not known, but it appears that civilians were not the primary targets. Residents in the area, who are largely Ngok Dinka, were not allowed to vote in the January referendum, in part because the National Congress Party wanted the nomadic Misseriya, who are aligned with north or government of Sudan, to be able to vote as well.’

Sudan Reeves Sudan Reeves publishes a ‘compendium of reports’ from the ground in South Kordofan but points out that the facts have yet to be fully determined, and the larger ambitions of the Sudan remain uncertain. Below are excerpts from personal reports:

‘The conflict erupted in several places in south Kordofan such as Talodi, Ebradap and Kadougli the centre for the fight. The fight started in Kadougli yesterday at 4:00 pm and continued up to this day 7th June, and the worry is that there is hug[e"> number of armies arrived Kadougli this morning in support of NCP army with modern type of weapons and the SPLM has also requested more sold[i">ers from their side to support them.’

‘Security situation is very bad, citizens of Kadougli town fled their homes to a save places even though hundred of them have nowhere to hide, people have been in door for three days and nights and there is no movement, market has become a battle ground, no food, no water, no fuel for transporting the civilians to where is a bit safer. There is need for an urgent action to stop the conflict and let civilians access water and food. Even the sick once in the hospital have run a way living their treatment. Humanitarian aid is needed because the conflict is inflaming every hour, urgent call for the NCP and the SPLM to stop fighting immediately.’

‘There is death and injuring among citizens and the solders only that the statistics is not yet known. Some families in Khartoum started mourning over their dead once, solders or victim citizens, the killing is increasing. If the UN has no mandate to speak to the fighters, we are calling that they should be allowed to intervene and assist the poor civilians have water, people should put in mind that there are children, there are sick persons, there are women in birth labour who cannot sty without water.’

The situation and impact of the Egyptian uprising on foreign migrant workers, particularly those from other parts of Africa, is as story which has been ignored. The Arabist focuses on Eritreans in this article on refugees and migrants in Egypt who face arrest, deportation, physical violence or even death from the authorities.

‘Legally speaking, it is important to differentiate between migrants whom the Egyptian authorities have detained—whether refugees, asylum seekers or other categories of migrants.

‘Some refugees in Egypt have been in detention from as far back as February 2008. A group of several Eritreans and Ethiopians, as well as a few Somalis, are currently being held in Qanater prison; some of them have been detained for entering Egypt illegally, mainly through the Sudanese border. Many of them are held with criminals who have life sentences for crimes like drug trafficking.

‘This is a particularly vulnerable group for a few reasons. Firstly, their detention violates the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which Egypt has ratified. The law says that illegal entry of refugees fleeing persecution should not be penalized granted that they present themselves to the authorities within a reasonable amount of time and can explain their illegal entry or presence. Secondly, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the agency responsible for conducting refugee status determination in Egypt, has not been able to access all such detained asylum seekers due to lack of response from the government authorities. While the UNHCR is the main actor involved in upholding the legal status and welfare of refugees in Egypt, the Egyptian government is the only authority.’

MyWeku reports that 83 per cent of Egyptian women and 98 per cent of foreign women living in Cairo have been sexually harassed. One response is the ‘HarassMap’.

‘A publication by Amnesty International also highlighted the plight of Egyptian women forced to undertake “virginity” tests at the hight of the Egyptian protests. In the report “20-year-old Salwa Hosseini told Amnesty International that after she was arrested and taken to a military prison in Heikstep, she was made, with the other women, to take off all her clothes to be searched by a female prison guard, in a room with two open doors and a window. During the strip search, Salwa Hosseini said male soldiers were looking into the room and taking pictures of the naked women. The women were then subjected to ‘virginity tests’ in a different room by a man in a white coat. They were threatened that “those not found to be virgins” would be charged with prostitution.

‘It is evident that Egypt and other parts of Africa need to demand not only political change that throw out dictators but also social change that will guarantee women with the same rights as men.’

Leil-Zahra Mortada reports on the detention of queer Syrian blogger Amina Arraf who authors the excellent ‘A Gay Girl in Damascus’ blog. The story of Amina’s detention broke on Wednesday 8 June and was published in most of the UK and US mainstream media as well as Al Jazeera. This has to be positive as the more publicity around her detention, possibly the safer and sooner she will be released. As Leil-Zahar points out as an openly queer woman in Syria, her arrest will be ‘mixed with trans/homophobic abuse and violence’.

‘When an openly queer person is subjected to state-brutality, any state, it is almost always mixed with trans/homophobic verbal and/or physical violence; just like when a woman is taken into “custody”. The state and its police, as every other patriarchal monstrosity, are quite commonly inclined to use gender violence against dissident women and queers. In the end, jail is meant to break a person on all levels and they seem to believe that hitting the gender nerve is our fastest highway to their hell. It was clear in the first attempt to terrorize her and her family in their visit to her house. Talk to most women or queer people who have been arrested and they will most probably tell you of how their jailer(s) took time to hit on that rooted nerve called gender identity; sometimes the hit being so brutal that it scars and bruises one´s self and body pretty badly. Amina is queer, Amina is a woman, Amina is an openly queer woman.’

However, doubts are being raised as to the identity and authenticity of 'Amina', including her photo.  Opinion on Twitter is divided; some say who cares even if the story is fake? Thousands of people have been arrested and hundreds killed in Syria over the past few months.  Others felt if the story was fake, then it was cruel.  Discussions were intense as her words, style and language (both English and Arabic) were dissected in small twitter bites under the tag #Amina

Meanwhile Book Maniac wrote:

'Over the course of the day as I tracked the stories about Amina I noticed that all the articles sourced her blog, and then her other blog from 2007. I started looking for traces of her elsewhere. She has a Facebook page, but not a lot of other presence. It looked to me like her 2007 blog was a few chapters of experimentation with a memoir or a novel. Then she abandoned that and brought it back in mid-February on a new site. Not uncommon. But I started having doubts based on some of her patterns of talking about personas and fiction. Back when people were talking about My Father, the Hero, I heard people doubting Amina’s existence simply based on her being an out lesbian in Damascus. I argued against that doubt and would not doubt someone based on their identity. But now began to feel differently.'

One Tweet asked why the focus is on one person when so many have been arrested. There is something to be said, as #Amina is becoming a distraction, whether the person and story are fact or fiction. I think the focus on her is because she was so well known online - we all came to be her 'friend' as she engaged us in her life as a 'queer activist in Syria'.

After 36 years in exile the Saharawis have had enough. Stiff Kitten’s Peter Kenworthy reports that after years of negotiation and no solution they are ready to go to war “to reclaim our land”:

‘And now that we are finally awakening to the fact that the picture of North Africa and the Middle East that we have been served by our governments and media – a region full of Al Qaida supporters and Muslim fanatics and fundamentalists – has been proved wrong, it is time to look critically at the EU’s and the USA’s closest ally in the region, Morocco.

‘Although Morocco has illegally occupied Western Sahara for 36 years now, the EU and the USA have not wavered in their support for Morocco. A steady stream of reports might have shown that the occupation of Western Sahara is illegal and that Morocco is responsible for grave human rights violations in the occupied territories of Western Sahara. But this has not stopped the EU and the USA from negotiating and renegotiating trade agreements with Morocco that violate international law.

‘Negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front, the Saharawi liberation front, which are overseen by the UN and mandated by the UN Security Council, have been ongoing for over twenty years now, since the ceasefire between the Polisario Front and Morocco, but these negotiations have not produced any results that are palatable for the Saharawis.’

Black Looks comments on the opening of the City of Joy centre in Eastern Congo.

‘The City of Joy is really like a dream that is coming true, because it was something that was created by the Congolese women. And at the beginning, it was just like a dream. And thanks to V-Day, who was like the wind behind our back, it becomes a reality. And we started receiving the first women like two weeks ago. So we are in the process. And it’s all amazing. I left Congo like two weeks ago. And every time I’m with them on the phone, they have new things. It’s like it really belongs to the Congolese women. So I just told them, “As long as we respect, you know, our budget and the program, just go on.”


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