EU rules on Morocco, Western Sahara trade amid escalating tensions
A European Union judge has ruled that key trade agreements between the EU and Morocco do not apply to the disputed Western Sahara territory, adding that the Polisario Front’s authority – while recognized by the international community in negotiation of Western Sahara’s political self-determination – does not extend to the territory’s commercial interests.
The ruling issued Tuesday by EU Advocate General Melchior Wathelet also appears to question the Polisario Front’s unique status as sole representative of the people of Western Sahara. “It is conceivable that Spain, the former colonial power of that territory, still has responsibilities in that regard,” Wathelet explains in his decision. That position is consistent with an opinion recently issued by the national High Court in Spain, according to the Western Sahara Resource Watch advocacy organization.
Morocco has claimed rule over Western Sahara since Spain’s departure in 1975, and continues to do so despite 25 years of negotiations following the establishment of the United Nations Mission (MINURSO) in 1991. Many indigenous Sahrawi who fled decades of subsequent war continue to live in Algerian camps.
The EU ruling comes amid heightened tensions between Morroco and the Polisario Front, sparked by a Moroccan road project near Guerguarat. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has expressed his concern over the escalation, but Wathelet’s ruling on fishing and agricultural trade also is likely to cause a new rift in the EU’s relationship with Morocco, as well as dissension among EU members. The North African nation temporarily severed diplomatic ties with EU institutions last year following an unfavorable ruling.
While the judicial ruling is nonbinding, the EU typically adheres to guidance from the advocates general. A final decision is expected later this year.
Human rights advocates appeal on behalf of Egyptian Christians
A new law in Egypt is making it easier to discriminate against the nation’s Christian minority, according to a Human Rights Watch statement released Thursday. The law passed by Egyptian parliament on August 30 places new restrictions on church construction and renovation that apply only to Christian faith communities, which are primarily Coptic Orthodox in the overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim nation.
Although Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has promised religious freedoms to all faiths, an increase in clashes between Muslims and Christians since the 2011 Egyptian uprising continues. The anti-Coptic sentiment has resulted in burned homes, street attacks, church protests and at least two deaths. Two Coptic Christians were injured in new attacks that occurred Monday in the village of Assem.
Attacks on Christians in the Nile Delta region of Minya, where Copts are 40 percent of the population, led local bishop Makarios – quoted in a September 4 New York Times piece – to warn that Egyptian Christians are at a breaking point. While Egyptian authorities also exert strict control over mosques, they don’t experience the same interference nor the escalating discrimination that the Coptic Christians do.
Advocates say the new law gives tacit approval to attacks on Christians and creates a climate of fear in which they are encouraged. “Egyptian authorities need to hold accountable those who commit violence and reform the law to protect freedom of religion,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “All Egyptians hold the right to live their lives in peace, regardless of their religious beliefs.”
Zimbabwe to solve currency woes with October bank-note issue
Zimbabwe announced Thursday that it will begin issuing its own “bond notes” in October, to replace the supply of U.S. currency that has run dry in the southern African nation. Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya, speaking to media outlets in Harare, said that the equivalent of USD $75 million in the new notes will circulate through Zimbabwean markets by the end of 2016. The notes will be issued in denominations of $2, $5, $10 and $20.
The country’s cash shortage has delayed salary payments to civil service and military workers in recent months. The notes are meant as a solution in Zimbabwe’s deteriorating economy, but the idea has met with widespread protest, and Thursday’s announcement raises new concerns over the hyperinflation that forced Zimbabwe to suspend its own currency in 2009 and shift to the U.S. dollar and South African rand.