Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

01 May 2014

We have devoted a special section of this week's digest to Iraq, given the importance of yesterday's elections. Two other stories also particularly stood out to us; the ongoing crisis in Syria and of course the horror of the 230 abducted school girls in Nigeria.

Top Stories

Iraq:  Reidar Visser analyses previous Iraqi electoral campaigns, suggesting that increased sectarianism in the country is not an inevitable consequence of the current poll.

Nigeria:  Alexis Okeowo writes on how the tragedy of the 200 Nigerian school girls abducted more than two weeks ago is affecting the region.

Syria:  Aris Roussinos reports from northern Syria, where the fight against ISIS has brought a semblance of unity to other rebel groups, but ideological divisions remain.



Leadership: Writing in Foreign Policy, Zaid al-Ali argues that Nouri al-Maliki's much described 'strongman image' is a sham and that the only substance to his indispensability is his "willingness to burn the whole house down" to secure his position.

Election:  Ahmed Ali guides us through the election in detail, including the position of religious authorities; meanwhile, an interesting view from the streets of Baghdad is gained where residents explain their hopes for the elections.

ISIS: A focus on the activities of ISIS in Syria can overlook their powerful position in Iraq. The International Crisis Group has published a report on the city of Falluja, where ISIS is going as a defence against government brutality.

Middle East and North Africa

Middle East:  Shadi Hamid is interviewed on the changing nature of Islamist movements over time, and cautions against drawing too many parallels between Iranian (or Shi'ite) Islamism, and Sunni Islamism.

Palestine: The international reaction to the Palestinian reconciliation agreement is disturbing, argues Khaled Elgindy. Despite Hamas's terrorist credentials, they are a political reality, and reconciliation of the Palestinian factions is necessary for wider peace.

Saudi Arabia:  Aaron Zelin describes the history of Saudi foreign fighters since the Afghan conflict of the 1980s, as their numbers peak in the current Syrian crisis, and says the experience gained on the ground will be a threat to Saudi stability in future.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Kenya: Harassment and forced repatriation of Somalis has been counter-productive, reports Noor Ali, as Kenya's Council of Imams and Preachers claims it warned the government six years ago about radicalisation and al-Shabaab recruitment, but nothing was done.

Mali:  Adam Nossiter champions the efforts of French and American special forces in reducing the Sahel's jihadists to a remnant of their former selves, noting that Taureg rebels, previously their allies in Mali's north are unwilling to make common cause again.

Nigeria: There is a growing sense that the kidnapping of school girls from Borno State needs to be acted upon not just accepted writes Okey Ndibe. Meanwhile, a group of writers looks at what could be an escalation of violence in the run up to the 2015 elections.

Central and South Asia

Afghanistan:  The New York Times discusses the prospects of a second round runoff between Afghan presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani. With other candidates likely to fall in behind Abdullah, his ethnic heritage and northern power-base is significant.

India: As Narendra Modi casts his vote in the seventh phase of the Indian election, Ashutosh Varshney considers the constraints Modi will face in government, arguing against the likelihood of an extremist takeover of Indian institutions but questioning his ability to control his foot–soldiers.

Pakistan: Following the recent attack on TV host Hamid Mir, Amnesty International detail threats endured by Pakistani journalists, implicating both the ISI state intelligence agency and non-state actors like the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat religious group.

South East Asia

Myanmar: Following a visit to the country by Barack Obama, who raised concerns on the condition of the Rohingya community, the Wall Street Journal reports on discussions this week on the challenges faced by the Muslim and Buddhist communities in Rakhine State.

Thailand: The conflict in southern Thailand is raised again this week as the Thai negotiating team were replaced by individuals Duncan McCargo describes as 'lukewarm' to the peace talks.


Religious Freedom: The United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released their annual report this week on religious freedoms around the world, highlighting 33 countries with religious freedom violations.

Terrorism Assessments: Also in the United States, the State Department released their annual assessment of terrorism worldwide during 2013, making clear that terrorism continues to evolve with growing numbers of foreign fighters, particularly in Syria.

Minority Groups: In another global report this week, Minority Rights Group International has released their 'Peoples under Threat Index', highlighting the situation for minority groups, including the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar and non-Sunni Muslims and Christians in Pakistan.


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