The Twitter campaign aims to pit Amazigh (Berber) Moroccans against their Arab brothers.
A viral Twitter campaign using the hashtag “#Arabes” is currently trending in the MENA region. The tweets appear to be aimed at stirring resentment through ethnic divisions in Morocco and Algeria.
The trending hashtag is directly targeting existing tensions in North African countries, seemingly with a view to provoking civil unrest as economic crises plague the region and the COVID-19 lockdown worsens existing pressures.
Over the past week, the rash of tweets from accounts based in Gulf states has spread a divisive message intended to pit Amazigh (Berber) populations in North Africa against their Arab compatriots by disseminating a message of Arab supremacy.
“The Arabs are a supreme race and not everyone who speaks Arabic becomes Arabic. Arabism is a race and not just a language, and the Arabs only exist in the Arabian Peninsula,” reads one such tweet from a faceless account.
The Arabs are a supreme race and not everyone who speaks Arabic becomes Arabic. Arabism is a race and not just a language, and the Arabs only exist in the Arabian Peninsula. #Arabes pic.twitter.com/7goIJFZB8z
— نَـجم الأزدي 🕋 (@wy_4h) June 16, 2020
Many of the tweets disparage the Arabic dialects spoken in North African countries, class Amazigh people as second-class citizens, or insult North African populations, claiming that Arabs only come from “rich” states.
They are not arabs (arabs in the arabian peninsula) only, and I can exclude Yemen as well
The people of north africa 🇩🇿🇲🇦🇱🇾🇹🇳 etc … , they are berbers and have absolutely no relation to the arabs they only speak arabic and even their accents are not understood by arabs pic.twitter.com/eTrQO5JNiL
— ⴰⴱⴷ ⵙⴰⵎⴰⴷ Abde Ssamade (@AbdeSsa02480514) June 18, 2020
Twitter users have reacted to the barrage of divisive tweets from the mysterious accounts with mixed responses. While some users have slammed the campaign, calling out the tweets as racist or politically motivated, many have tweeted that they are proud Africans and Amazigh and do not want to identify as Arabs.
— Rima 🅞 (@oxilxi) June 16, 2020
The debate now raging in the Twittersphere is simply magnifying an existing, though largely dormant, tension in Morocco and Algeria, among other North African countries. And, though the argument exists, for the moment, only online, the instigators of the campaign may well be hoping for the debate to leave the safe, virtual world of Twitter and hit North Africa’s streets.
A physical manifestation of the Twitter debate in North Africa has the potential to re-ignite militant strains of the Amazigh cultural revival movement and perceptions of marginalization that have already been intensified by the current economic strains brought by the COVID-19 crisis.
Algeria, already in the clutches of over a year of anti-establishment protests and demonstrations, is, according to international commentators, now standing on the edge of a precipice. The economic woes caused by the COVID-19 crisis have magnified existing tensions, creating an incubator for unrest and potential political disaster.
It appears that the owners of #Arabes Twitter accounts are hoping to doctor the situation, both in Algeria and its neighboring countries, to make the predictions of rising protests across the region more than just speculation from foreign correspondents in the West.
Closer examination of the first spate of divisive #Arabe posts leads to faceless, relatively new accounts with few followers, and tags containing numbers and letters rather than names. Many also appear to be posting from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The latest social media campaign follows a series of tweets in April that directly targeted Morocco. After a communication crisis between the UAE and Rabat over repatriations, numerous Twitter accounts began shooting out negative messages about Morocco’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In early April, news reached Rabat that the UAE and Israel had planned a joint repatriation operation to take Israeli and UAE residents home after Morocco suspended air travel in March to curb the spread of COVID-19.
It became clear that Israel and the UAE had planned to carry out the operation without consulting Morocco or sharing information about the planned flight with Moroccan authorities. The flight did not go ahead.
Soon after the incident, Twitter and Facebook were flooded with posts, seemingly from Moroccan citizens, openly criticizing Morocco and its Head of Government Saad Eddine El Othmani.
The posts bore the hashtag #ThankyouElOthmani. Moroccan social media expert Ghassan Benchiheb analyzed the campaign and revealed that 80% of the accounts attacking Morocco launched on the same day. The remaining 20% were created one day earlier or later than the rest.
According to Benchiheb, the fake accounts reacted to posts about three different countries: Morocco, Qatar, and Turkey. He speculated that, considering the diplomatic tension between the three countries and the UAE, the attacks came from social bots or “electronic flies” controlled in the UAE.
It remains to be seen whether the two psychological social media attacks aimed to stir unrest in Morocco are linked, but what is clear is that the power behind the bots would benefit from increased tensions and potential unrest across North Africa.
Neighboring countries Algeria and Morocco have nothing in common politically but an ongoing “cold war” and a less-than-friendly attitude towards Israel. Both countries maintain a “red line” as far as Palestine is concerned and actively advocate against annexation of the West Bank and normalization of ties with the Zionist state.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are becoming more and more interested in developing a healthy line of communication and economic cooperation with both Israel and the US. On June 16, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash affirmed that, though his country does not agree with the annexation of the West Bank, his ministry still hopes for increased cooperation with Israel.
“Clearly, looking back at different episodes in Arab history in the context of dealing with Israel, we see that negotiations and having lines of communications open will actually yield better results for us and the Israelis, and at the same time, a policy of rhetoric, a policy of stonewalling, a policy of not actually opening these lines of communications has only radicalized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he told the Global Forum of the American-Jewish Committee earlier this week.
Though the UAE ambassador to the US announced this week that “it’s either annexation or normalization,” the Gulf state is clearly aiming to “normalize” the normalization of diplomatic ties between Israel and Arab states, a move Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria are unlikely to support.
International aid agencies and observers have warned that the annexation of 30% of the West Bank would cause both a refugee crisis, with Palestinian citizens spilling into Jordan, and potentially re-ignite armed conflict between Arab states in the region and Israel. Were key Palestinian allies such as Morocco and Algeria to be out of action due to internal struggle, the risks for Israel would be significantly less.
Whether or not the UAE, and by extension Israel, are behind the maneuvers aimed to undermine social cohesion in Morocco and North Africa, Amazigh and Arab alike must unite to oppose the insidious attempts to stir discord and division. Morocco and Algeria are countries built on dignity, cultural pluralism, and tolerance and should not allow cheap tricks to undermine their strength and solidarity.