Drought sharpens Moroccan nomads-farmers dispute

A nomadic herder walks near tents in the Moroccan Tiznit province in the region of Souss-Massa, which has drawn in nomadic herders for decades. (AFP)
Updated 19 May 2019

Drought sharpens Moroccan nomads-farmers dispute

  • A law has been adopted by the central government that seeks to regulate nomadic herding and allow “a rational exploitation of vegetation”

TIZNIT, MOROCCO: “We refuse to be confined to a cage,” declares nomadic herder Mouloud, asserting the rights and customs of his kin as they graze livestock in Morocco’s southern expanses.
But the herders’ determination to roam freely has brought them into dispute with crop farmers in the region of Souss-Massa.
In the village of Arbaa Sahel, arable farmer Hmad and many of his peers are enraged by herds stomping through wheat and corn fields.
Drought has turned parts of these plateaus arid, and when water becomes scarce, tensions rise — several clashes have been reported by local media in recent months, as the herders seek pasture.
The battle is also playing out on social networks. Videos show hooded men presented as nomadic herders, equipped with sticks and swords, attacking villagers.
Some villagers have even uploaded images of what are purported to be camel-mounted attacks on their almond groves.
A few residents have fought back by poisoning water supplies and pastures used by nomads, according to testimony on the ground.
“All these lands that belong to locals, (to) fathers and sons — they’re not grazing areas,” said 35-year-old Hmad, clad in leather jacket and trainers.
Exasperated, he points to wheat fields “trampled by sheep” around Arbaa Sahel, near the city of Tiznit.
The region has drawn in nomadic herders for decades — the verdant landscape a major attraction, compared to arid lands to the east.
There has been a “significant rise in the arrival of flocks, due to drought” over the last couple of years, said nomad Mouloud, sporting sunglasses and a blue turban. This has stoked tensions.
A local land organization has recorded 18 cases of aggression by nomadic herders against farmers in Arbaa Sahel alone since December, according to Hassan, who sits on this committee. But Moroccan authorities say only 15 cases have been recorded in the entire Souss-Massa region. The tensions are not limited to farmland — there has been a spike in incidents in the region’s forests, which cover 1.2 million hectares.
Villagers consider these forests to be their property, in line with ancestral customs. But the nomadic culture, and the right to roam freely, form “part of the Moroccan identity,” said Mouloud.
Clutching his smart phone, he discusses the recent tensions with his nomadic friends, who erect large tents when they set up camp during their search for pasture.
In one such tent, women prepare food for the group — a metal tray full of grilled livers and other meat.
Abu Bakr, crouching next to Mouloud and sipping a glass of goat’s milk, has dropped his studies in favor of the nomadic lifestyle.
There are currently some 40,000 nomadic shepherds in the country, according to official statistics.
They move in all-terrain cars to escape the drought — their tents and herds packed into lorries.
When rains are rare, the nomads are constantly on the move, but their movement is more limited when rain is abundant.
“Schooling of children has pushed nomads to opt for stability,” said Abu Bakr.
For Mustapha Naimi, professor of Sahara studies at the University of Mohamed V in Rabat, “nomadism is very old in Morocco, but it has been reduced in recent decades by urbanization.”
Nomadic roaming by entire families has gradually given way to smaller scale pastoralism by shepherds, Naimi explained.
At the same time, “an increase in the number of herds, with 3.15 million heads of livestock... has contributed to conflict,” according to the agriculture ministry.
Land committee member Hassan recalls when shepherds would request “permission from residents” ahead of arriving with flocks.
A law has been adopted by the central government that seeks to regulate nomadic herding and allow “a rational exploitation of vegetation.”
The legislation only allows grazing of flocks in certain zones and along pre-defined routes. And nomads have to obtain a permit, or face penalties.
But this law has been rejected by both camps.
“We hold to our freedom to roam,” said herder Mouloud.
On the other side of the fence, the farmers’ land committee firmly opposes government-designated grazing on land that belongs to local residents.

‘Hypocrite’ Rouhani rejects war as Iran’s drones target Saudi civilians

Updated 19 June 2019

‘Hypocrite’ Rouhani rejects war as Iran’s drones target Saudi civilians

  • Tehran regime has fanned sectarian flames in region for four decades, analyst tells Arab News
  • IRGC chief says Iranian missiles capable of hitting "carriers in the sea" with great precision

JEDDAH: Iran “will not wage war against any nation,” President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday — hours after two drones launched by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen targeted civilians in southern Saudi Arabia.

Rouhani's statement sounded a note of restraint after the United States announced more troop deployments to the Middle East.

“Iran will not wage war against any nation,” he said in a speech broadcast live on state TV. “Despite all of the Americans’ efforts in the region and their desire to cut off our ties with all of the world and their desire to keep Iran secluded, they have been unsuccessful.”

But he was also contradicted by the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Gen. Hossein Salami, who said Iran’s ballistic missile technology had changed the balance of power in the Middle East.

“These missiles can hit, with great precision, carriers in the sea ... they are domestically produced and are difficult to intercept and hit with other missiles,” Salami said.

He said Iran's ballistic missile technology had changed the balance of power in the Middle East.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Before both men spoke, Saudi air defenses intercepted and shot down two Houthi drones packed with explosives. One targeted a civilian area in the southern city of Abha, and the second was shot down in Yemeni air space. There were no casualties, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen said.

Rouhani’s offer to avoid war was “the height of hypocrisy,” the Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News.

“Rouhani is the biggest hypocrite in the world,” he said. “On the one hand, he is saying that Iran does not seek a conflict with anybody, and on the other it is launching attacks through its militias on oil tankers, oil pipelines, civilian airports and holy cities.

“This is nothing but the height of hypocrisy. Who does he think he is fooling with those words? Why are they enriching uranium? Why are they seeking nuclear bombs? What have they done over the past four decades? They have only caused trouble. They have only fanned sectarian flames in the region.”

The Saudi Cabinet, meeting in Jeddah, also condemned the Houthi attacks on Saudi civilians, and last week’s terrorist attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, widely blamed on Iran. 


Confrontation fears

Fears of a confrontation between Iran and its long-time foe the United States have mounted since Thursday when two oil tankers were attacked near the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane, which Washington blamed on Tehran.

Iran denied involvement in the attacks and said on Monday it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under a 2015 nuclear deal, which had sought to limit its nuclear capabilities.

Exceeding the uranium cap at the heart of the accord would prompt a diplomatic crisis, forcing the other signatories, which include China, Russia and European powers, to confront Iran.

The standoff drew a call for caution from China. Its top diplomat warned that the world should not open a “Pandora’s Box” in the Middle East, as he denounced US pressure on Iran and called on it not to drop out of the landmark nuclear deal.

Russia urged restraint on all sides.

On Monday, Iranian officials made several assertive comments about security, including the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, who said Tehran was responsible for security in the Gulf and urged US forces to leave the region.

Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Monday announced the deployment of about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for what he said were defensive purposes, citing concerns about a threat from Iran.

The new US deployment is in addition to a 1,500-troop increase announced last month in response to tanker attacks in May. Washington previously tightened sanctions, ordering all countries and companies to halt imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system.

'Nuclear blackmail'

Iran’s announcement on Monday that it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under the deal was denounced by a White House National Security Council spokesman as “nuclear blackmail.”

The move further undermines the nuclear pact, but Rouhani said on Monday the collapse of the deal would not be in the interests of the region or the world.

The nuclear deal seeks to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb in return for the removal of most international sanctions.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi said the United States should not use “extreme pressure” to resolve issues with Iran.

Wang told reporters China, a close energy partner of Iran, was “of course, very concerned” about the situation in the Gulf and with Iran, and called on all sides to ease tension.

“We call on all sides to remain rational and exercise restraint, and not take any escalatory actions that irritate regional tensions, and not open a Pandora’s box,” Wang said.

“In particular, the US side should alter its extreme pressure methods,” Wang said. “Any unilateral behavior has no basis in international law. Not only will it not resolve the problem, it will only create an even greater crisis.”

Wang also said the Iran nuclear deal was the only feasible way to resolve its nuclear issue, and urged Iran to be prudent.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the EU would only react to any breach if the International Atomic Energy Agency formally identified one.

The Trump administration says the deal, negotiated by Democratic President Barack Obama, was flawed as it is not permanent, does not address Iran’s missile program and does not punish it for waging proxy wars in other Middle East countries.