The region of North Africa includes Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and the Western Sahara. A mostly Muslim region populated largely by Arabs and, in the west, Berbers, it is more similar culturally to the Middle East than to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
Tunisia was the site of the protests that led to the so-called Arab Spring uprisings in early 2011. A wave of ensuing protests and violence overturned longtime governments there and in Libya and Egypt. Journalists were repeatedly subjected to hazardous conditions while covering these events, such as CNN’s Lara Logan, who was sexually assaulted by a mob in Cairo’s Tahrir Square; French photographer Lucas Mebrouk Dolega, who died of head injuries during protests in Tunisia; and photographers Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, who were killed during fighting in Libya.
Central to the success of the Arab Spring uprisings was social media, which allowed protesters and citizens to communicate and share information, videos and other documentation that would otherwise have been stifled by government censors.
Egypt, with more than 80 million people, is the third most populous country in Africa and a political and cultural leader in the Arab world. For a brief period after the overthrow of the government of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, it appeared that journalism in Egypt might flourish more freely. But the Committee to Protect Journalists noted a new wave of prosecution and attacks against journalists later in the year, and a significant portion of the media remains under state ownership. The Overseas Press Club protested the jailing of a blogger who had criticized the Egyptian army.
Libya is a vast, oil-rich land that had been governed for more than 40 years by Col. Moammar Gadhafi before he was overthrown and killed during the civil war that swept the country following the Arab Spring. Libya is now taking steps toward democracy, but journalists continue to face dangers there, like two who were detained by local militiamen in February 2012.
Algeria, the largest country in Africa by area, suffered through a brutal period of civil unrest in the early 1990s after the military abruptly cancelled elections an Islamist party was poised to win. Sixty journalists have been killed in Algeria since 1992, nearly all in the years immediately following the foiled elections. Although the country’s leaders recently passed new laws that they said would liberalize press freedoms, the CPJ maintains the laws fall short and “fail to meet international standards for freedom of expression.”
In Tunisia, the climate for journalists improved after the ouster of the longtime president in January 2011, but CPJ notes that plainclothes police attacked several reporters and photographers a few months later. The Overseas Press Club had protested journalist harassment in the country shortly before the president’s overthrow.
Morocco’s King Mohammed VI was able to weather the protests that overturned the governments of some of his neighbors, but despite pledging constitutional reforms, the government continues to repress critical voices. Two journalists were imprisoned last year and several assaulted by security forces during anti-government protests. Still, Morocco remains relatively moderate and pro-Western, and it has much higher Internet penetration – 49 percent – than any other North African nation.
The Western Sahara, a thinly populated stretch of desert south of Morocco, remains disputed territory. It is effectively controlled by Morocco, but an Algerian-backed rebel group also claims sovereignty, and the United Nation’s efforts to broker a settlement have so far come to naught.
Sudan has become best known in the West as the site of the humanitarian disaster in Darfur, where famine and conflict led to the death of thousands and the displacement of thousands more. Sudan is also the site of the world’s newest nation, South Sudan, which broke from Sudan in summer 2011 after a lengthy series of civil wars and a referendum vote for independence. Sudan continues to censor critical press and confiscate newspapers, according to the CPJ. Sudan has very low internet and telecommunications penetration, making news gathering difficult.