Nearly a month after its initial release in Algeria, the Barbie film has been removed from cinemas across the nation. Reports from the online news platform, 24H Algerie, highlight that Algeria’s Ministry of Culture and Arts issued an urgent directive to cinemas in major cities such as Algiers, Oran, and Constantine to immediately cease the film’s screening.

To date, neither the ministry nor the Algerian Audiovisual Regulatory Authority has provided an explanation for this sudden directive or made any comment.

Following its release in select Algerian theatres last month, film distributors initiated the removal of the Hollywood blockbuster from their weekly schedules. This move mirrors decisions made by authorities in Kuwait and Lebanon, where the film was banned due to its commentary on gender and sexuality.

The abrupt cancellation has prompted a flurry of discussions on social media. Supporters voiced their frustration using the hashtag “#IAmBarbie”, with others condemning the act as an instance of “censorship” and “bigotry”. Leila Belkacem, a prominent writer, expressed her discontent on Facebook, questioning the motives behind the censorship given the private behaviours of some officials.

Fatima Ait Kaci, who had anticipated watching the film with her granddaughters visiting from Canada, expressed her dismay upon discovering the change in schedule at the Riadh El Feth cinema in Algiers. She criticised Algerian authorities for their lack of transparency and responsibility.

This incident follows the recent suspension of programming by the private TV channel Es Salam, accused of broadcasting content contrary to Islamic principles and Algerian societal norms.

Directed by the acclaimed Greta Gerwig, the film stars Margot Robbie, portraying the iconic Barbie, and Ryan Gosling as her partner, Ken. While the film does not include explicit sexual scenes or direct references to LGBTQ+ rights, it has faced criticism due to its vibrant representation and overarching message of gender equality and inclusion. This theme is particularly controversial in areas where same-sex relationships are prohibited by law.

Despite the regional controversies, the Warner Bros production has achieved significant success, grossing over $1bn globally. This outstanding performance has positioned it as the top-grossing film directed by a woman in cinematic history.

In the run-up to Egypt‘s 2024 Presidential Elections, an open and vigorous national debate has sparked around the country’s future. With an impending vote in just a few months, this dialogue is unfolding against a backdrop of a daunting economic crisis and heightened calls for political reform, according to political commentators, activists and politicians.

This dialogue, although under scrutiny from authorities, is displaying a level of tolerance for criticisms of government policies that would have been unthinkable a little over a year ago. The topic of civil liberties has become a contentious issue in Egypt, whether directly associated with the forthcoming elections or seen as a ploy by the authorities to pacify the rising public discontent over soaring prices of essential commodities.

Yet, the motive aside, Egyptians are currently experiencing a level of freedom – albeit carefully managed and under close watch by authorities – not seen in the past decade.

Current President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, who has led Egypt for the past ten years, has yet to announce whether he will run for another term. However, the likelihood is high, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, he is projected to secure a comfortable victory.

Despite the predictable result of these elections, the political stir they are creating is dominating television debates, newspaper columns, and social media platforms, which have been the primary vehicles for expression in Egypt over the last decade.

The public is openly criticising perceived governmental shortcomings, demanding an action plan to tackle the economic crisis, advocating for broader freedoms and requesting President El Sisi to ensure a fair and transparent election.

Political pundits and politicians suggest this surge in political discourse offers El Sisi and his government an opportunity to foster a credible electoral process that would overwrite the memories of the 2018 election – a near one-man race, where President El Sisi faced off against a virtually unknown politician who entered the contest at the eleventh hour to prevent it from being a one-man referendum, a type all too familiar in Egypt’s recent past.

In April last year, El Sisi initiated the shift from a zero-tolerance approach to dissent by calling for a national dialogue. The dialogue, which started in May this year, will produce recommendations for Egypt’s future expected later this year.

El Sisi also ordered the release of hundreds of critics held in pretrial detention over the past year, permitted exiled critics to return home, and tolerated – albeit within bounds – criticism of his economic policies.

However, many more journalists and activists remain incarcerated. Not everyone is prepared to trust the current administration. Khaled Dawoud, the chief spokesperson for the opposition 12-party Civil Democratic Movement, expresses scepticism about the government’s sincerity.

El Sisi has responded to criticism over his handling of the economy by extolling the transformation of Egypt into a modern state during his tenure, with reliable infrastructure, renewable energy usage, and an ambitious drive to uplift the quality of life in rural areas.

Nevertheless, several aspiring candidates, including the only female candidate, veteran politician Gameela Ismail, are waiting for assurances of a fair election.

The presidential hopefuls, some of whom are known supporters of President El Sisi, are keen to avoid a repeat of the 2018 election. Despite this cautious optimism, the upcoming election is predicted to be a tightly controlled affair unlikely to produce any surprises.

The widespread national debate indicates a shift in the Egyptian political landscape. However, its long-term implications and whether it signifies a genuine commitment to political reform remain to be seen.

Image Credit: Graham Carlow / Wikimedia

A Libyan court, in an unprecedented move, has issued severe prison sentences to three individuals charged with human trafficking. This represents a milestone judgement in a North African state notorious for the systemic maltreatment of migrants.

The defendants were found guilty of human trafficking, the unlawful detention and torture of migrants, and the extortion of relatives for their release by the Criminal Court of Tripoli. This was according to an announcement released on Friday by the office of the country’s chief prosecutor.

The court handed down a life sentence to one of the convicted individuals, while the remaining two have each been sentenced to twenty years in prison, as per the statement.

Further specifics regarding the identities or nationalities of the convicted were not included in the statement. On Saturday, no comments were available from the General Prosecutor al-Sediq al-Sourr.

Libya has been in a state of turmoil since the NATO-supported uprising in 2011 that led to the overthrow and subsequent death of longstanding dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Since then, Libya has become a prominent transit hub for migrants hoping to find a better life in Europe.

Human traffickers have exploited Libya’s instability and used the country’s extensive border with six nations to smuggle migrants. In desperation, these individuals are often crammed into inadequately equipped rubber boats and other vessels for hazardous journeys via the Central Mediterranean Sea route.

For many years, the United Nations and various human rights organisations have condemned the dreadful conditions faced by migrants trafficked and smuggled across the Mediterranean.

In March, human rights experts backed by the United Nations suggested there was evidence that crimes against humanity had been perpetrated against Libyans and migrants within the country, including women being coerced into sexual slavery.

Image Credit: AP / Joan Mateu Parra

The much-loved Mohammed V Stadium in Casablanca , Morocco, finds itself in the limelight as concerns about its future rise amidst plans to construct a new stadium 40km away from the city. Fans of the two local clubs are apprehensive that the historic venue might close down due to safety reasons.

Officially known as the Mohammed V Stadium, fans endearingly call it the “Donor,” referencing the “Stade d’honneur” (stadium of honour, in French), a name given to it at Morocco’s independence. Launched in 1955 in what was then the outskirts of Casablanca, today the bustling Maarif district, this 45,000-seat structure is an architectural marvel amidst its modern neighbouring buildings.

Its imposing reinforced concrete structure, the work of French architect Achille Dangleterre, is a quintessential example of the Brutalist movement. With strong ties to the city’s two clubs, Raja and Wydad, the stadium is home to at least two heated derbies per season, hailed by specialist press as among the world’s most intense football rivalries. Fans see the stadium as an integral part of Casablanca’s identity and its football culture.

However, the recently confirmed location for the new ‘great stadium of Casablanca’ in Benslimane, approximately 40km from the economic capital, has sparked confusion among fans. Social media quickly buzzed with criticism, questioning the logic of building a new stadium so far from the city.

The planned 93,000-seat project has reopened ongoing debates about the future of Mohammed V Stadium. Abdullah Abaakil, adviser for the Maarif district and city council member for the Unified Socialist Party (PSU), states, “The idea of moving the stadium is not new. But if it ends up closed and handed over to property developers, especially once the new stadium is built, it would be baffling. For the residents of popular neighbourhoods, it’s a source of integration, of which we have few in Casablanca.”

The proposal for a new stadium has been in discussion intermittently since 2008. The recent announcement came as Mohammed V underwent another round of renovations, and following the death of a female fan near the stadium on 29th April while attending a match. Official reports attribute her death to a crush caused by ticketless fans, but videos and testimonies implicate the police’s use of water cannons that day.

Casablanca Events & Animation, the company charged with managing the stadium, has been repeatedly accused of poor handling. After the events of 29th April, the company defended itself by citing the excessive number of spectators and the responsibility of clubs in deciding the number of tickets for sale.

“Matchday is a different day,” confesses Othman, 37, who spent part of his childhood living near the stadium. For residents, the hours before a game follow a set script: the area is cordoned off by the police, car movements are restricted, shops close early. Othman, who has lived in England, states emphatically, “Casablanca fans are no worse than West Ham or Millwall fans who attend their team’s matches in downtown London. The issue isn’t the location, but if a move must happen, a place within Casablanca, such as Central Quarries, should have been chosen. There is ample land available and it would have revitalised the neighbourhood.”

Mohammed V Stadium: A ‘monument’ to be ‘preserved’

So far, no official announcement has been made regarding the future of the Mohammed V Stadium. Its fate hangs in the balance, held hostage by urban planning ambitions and the aspirations of Moroccan football for a modern stadium fitting of a future World Cup host.

In 2016, clashes within the stadium led to the death of two fans. For the next two years, ultra-supporters were banned from the stadium. In 2018, the press was intrigued by the chants echoed in its stands, notably the most famous, F’bladi Dalmouni (“I suffered from injustice in my country”), protesting a lack of freedom.

The Mohammed V Stadium holds a significant place in Casablanca’s urban and football heritage. For many, its location, history, and architecture make it a monument to be preserved at all costs. As the debate about its future continues, what is certain is that whatever decision is made will profoundly affect the lives of local football fans and the city’s identity.

As the country prepares to host the 2030 World Cup, Moroccan authorities face a challenging task in balancing the need for modern football infrastructure with preserving the deep-rooted cultural identity embedded in the nation’s football history.

Image Caption: Mustapha Ennaimi / Flickr

In the Tunisian city of Sfax, the stabbing death of a local has sparked a surge of anti-immigrant violence. Hundreds of residents have taken to the streets in protest, demanding the immediate expulsion of all undocumented migrants from the city.

According to eyewitness reports, scores of African migrants have been driven out of Sfax following a night of upheaval triggered by the murder. Throughout the central-eastern city, large groups of residents gathered in the streets from Tuesday into Wednesday, 6 July, calling for the prompt removal of all undocumented migrants, according to a local AFP correspondent.

The atmosphere in the city has been described as “inhumane”, with some individuals resorting to blocking roads and setting tyres ablaze to vent their frustration. The stabbing victim, a 41-year-old local, was allegedly killed during a late-night conflict with migrants of Cameroonian origin, authorities have reported. Social media footage shows police officers evicting dozens of migrants from their homes to the cheers of local residents before loading them into police vehicles. Other videos show migrants sitting on the ground, hands on heads, encircled by baton-wielding locals awaiting the arrival of the police.

Local group Sayeb Trottoir, focused on illegal immigration issues, shared a Facebook post from Lazhar Neji, an emergency worker at a Sfax hospital, lamenting the “inhumane, bloody night”. According to Neji, between 30 and 40 migrants, including women and children, were admitted to the hospital. He claimed that some had been thrown from terraces, others attacked with sabres.

In a joint statement, the Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), along with over 20 other Tunisian and international NGOs, expressed deep concern over the situation. They asserted that on Tuesday, security forces had escorted a “group of 100 migrant and refugee individuals” from the Sfax region towards the Libyan border. The group, which included Ivorian, Cameroonian, and Guinean nationals, along with at least 12 children aged between six months and five years, had been relocated.

In addition, around 50 other migrants had been directed towards the same region on 2 July. The NGOs claimed that some of these individuals had been “beaten and mistreated” and called on the authorities to “provide clarification on these incidents and intervene urgently to ensure these people are cared for”.

Several migrants rushed to Sfax’s railway station to catch trains to other Tunisian cities, according to an AFP photographer. Jonathan Tchamou, a young Congolese man, described the severity of the problem: “There’s a serious problem in Sfax. A Sub-Saharan killed a Tunisian, and now the Tunisian population is angry with all Sub-Saharans and is attacking them. Even the Tunisian police are trying to arrest all Sub-Saharans illegally to push them back into the Libyan desert.”

“We are really scared of being here, that’s why we want to leave Sfax at all costs,” added Tchamou, stating that he had come to Tunisia legally with a student visa. “Tunisia used to be a welcoming country for us, we lived comfortably here, but now we’re not welcome, so the solution would be to cross the Mediterranean to go to Europe.”

The Monday death in Sfax triggered a wave of predominantly racist reactions, calling for the expulsion of African migrants from the city, a frequent starting point for many illegal sea crossings to Italy. The tension between the residents and the migrants has heightened following a speech in February by President Kais Saied, in which he condemned illegal immigration and portrayed it as a demographic threat to his nation.

Many of these migrants come to Tunisia with the intention of eventually reaching Europe by sea, by landing clandestinely on the Italian coast. On Tuesday, Saied insisted that Tunisia “does not accept on its territory anyone who does not respect its laws, nor to be a transit country (to Europe) or a land of resettlement for the nationals of certain African countries.”