Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

21 Feb 2014

There are a number of newish websites which have sprung up to address the growth in interest in the Middle East and the Muslim world. War on the Rocks has lots content, frequently updated, including easy-to-read situation report-style articles. POMEPS, a Middle Eastern studies network, has more academic pieces, including recent briefings on Islamist politics and the Syrian conflict. Meanwhile, Al Monitor, the self-styled "Pulse of the Middle East" is always worth reading.

Top Stories

HA Hellyer considers the British government's treatment of fighters returning from Syria, as the numbers of returnees rise. He argues that the stripping of citizenship is not an appropriate response to a criminal act – especially without a conviction in a court of law.

This week's London Review of Books contains a clearly-argued piece from Hazem Kandil on the future of Egypt under Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. He is deeply critical of the Muslim Brotherhood, while avoiding the temptation to embrace the current regime. He suggests the Morsi era represented "a historic uncoupling of Islam and Islamism in the Muslim popular psyche".

The Economist takes a sideways glance at global enemies of Valentine's Day, ranging from Florida schools to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or, as Al Monitor reports, Salafist groups in Gaza.

Middle East and North Africa

Field Marshal al-Sisi, yet to announce his widely anticipated candidacy for the Presidency, remains something of an enigma both to Egypt and the wider world. Gregg Carlstrom attempts to profile the most powerful man in the most populous country in the region.

Raphael Lefevre on the new cabinet in Lebanon, suggesting it represents a temporary agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia to keep their proxy war in Syria, and a strategic withdrawal of Hezbollah from the political space to empower its coalition partners and guarantee some short-term domestic stability.

The war in Syria has attracted a lot of interest. The Guardian has published video footage from inside Raqqa, the Syrian town controlled by the Islamists of ISIS. 

Richard Spencer notes the rising number foreign jihadis returning from the Syrian war, and identifies it with an emphasis on the hardship of jihadi life being expressed in jihadi videos.

After the firing of Gen. Salim Idriss, David Ignatius describes collaboration between Gulf and Western intelligence agencies as a renewed attempt to bolster moderate opposition groups. Meanwhile, the UN has been talking to al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra in an effort to open up humanitarian corridors, Foreign Policy Reports.

Refugees in Israel and Palestine form a major stumbling block to the peace process. But Jews who fled from Arab states want compensation too, reports the Economist. In the same paper, Palestinian refugees are suffering in Syria, and have nowhere to go.


Sub-Saharan Africa

Somalia's president faces several problems; al-Shabaab is only one of them, argues Hassan M. Abukar.

Andrew Katz takes a look at the causes of sectarian conflict in the Central African Republic; it isn't entirely religious.

On South Sudan, Matthew LeRichie argues against Thabo Mbeki and Mahmood Mamdani's advocacy of a 'big tent' political settlement, writing that sustainable peace can only be built on a constitutional process with accountability and national reconciliation at its heart.

John Stevenson cautions against placing false hope in ceasefires. He argues that in new states, ceasefires are often an opportunity for the parties to plan their next move in the conflict.

Central and South Asia

Thomas Ruttig of the Afghanistan Analysts Network writes on the forthcoming elections and the Hezb-e Islami Afghanistan, describing their dual strategy of continued insurgency and electoral participation.

For War on the Rocks, Michael Kugelman warns that Al Qaeda is still alive and well in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On India, Ashutosh Varshney looks at Penguin's decision to withdraw The Hindus, stating that Indian freedom of expression is in a precarious position, and that the principal culprit is not a cowardly publisher, but a legal context which disallows offense to religious communities. Many commentators have pointed to William Dalrymple's 2005 New York Review of Books essay for in-depth background to the issue.

The Economist discusses last Friday's resignation of Arvind Kejriwal as Chief Minister of Delhi and points to the importance of personalities in the Indian parliamentary system as Kerijwal's AAP look to challenge the Congress and BJP parties.

Reflecting on the Government's talks with the Taliban in Pakistan, in Foreign Policy magazine Daniel Markey explains US support for the talks as premised on the bet of harder action in the future.

Mosharraf Zaidi sees Pakistan's diplomatic position in the Muslim world squeezed between Iran and Saudi Arabia, due it being the home to violent anti-Shia groups, Pakistan's own decline as a stable state, and its endorsement of Saudi intervention in Syria.

East and South East Asia

There are some improvements in human rights in Myanmar, but Rakhine state – the scene of significant Buddhist-Muslim violence – presents a particular obstacle to reform, reports the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar.

The UN accuses North Korea of crimes against humanity at the highest level, in a report looking at political, religious, racial and gender persecution.


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