Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

07 Mar 2014

In this week's Roundup, President Obama talks about the Middle East, the Economist looks at the role of the Orthodox churches in the Ukrainian crisis, Reuters reports the spread of the plight of the Rohingya community of Myanmar to Malaysia, and Foreign Policy examines the history of ethnic conflict in China.

Top Stories

Jeffrey Goldberg has published the transcript of a wide-ranging interview with President Obama, covering Iran, Israel/Palestine, and Syria.

The Erasmus blog at the Economist looks at the dilemmas facing the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

An exclusive for Reuters this week examines the continuing plight of the Rohingya Muslim community in Myanmar, which has now spread across the border to Malaysia where hundreds have been trafficked and are being held captive in border camps.

After the 1 March attack in Kunming, James Palmer's view of the historical relationship between the Uighurs of China and the Han majority, which he regards as producing the most bitter ethnic relations in China today, is republished by Foreign Policy.

Middle East and North Africa

The Economist examines the reasons for the change of government in Egypt last week, and speculates that it demonstrates the army's reluctance to govern openly, whilst the Guardian explores a return of authoritarianism.

The Center for American Progress has published a report on the state of Islamist movements in Egypt since the coup in July 2013. It finds them deeply divided, with no clear strategic vision. Islamist groups that are still in public life, such as Hizb al-Nour, are viewed by others as traitors. Repression is leading to the spectre of widespread Islamist violence such as was seen in the 1980s and 90s.

Hassan Hassan writes in the National about the ideological ties of Jabhat al-Nusra of Syria to Abu Musab al-Suri, who advocated fighting jihad personally, rather than being restricted by membership of a group. This gives flexibility in the case of organisation such as Jabhat al-Nusra -- but also gives rise to lone wolf attackers in the West.

As a special forces commander seeks to restore order to Benghazi, Libya, Frederic Wehrey assesses the security situation in a country still reeling from the militarisation of society caused by the civil war, and cautions against viewing the situation in simple terms of 'civilians vs militias' or 'Islamists vs the state'.

The UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have all withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar in an irony-free protest at what they describe as the Emirate's interference in the internal affairs of other countries in the region ( Reuters reports). In al-Arabiya, Theodore Karasik analyses the issue.

Bloomberg examines the impact of Hizbullah's involvement in the Syrian civil war - referred to as the movement's 'mini-Vietnam' - on Lebanon, and on the movement itself.

Israel claimed this week to have evidence that a ship seized in the Red Sea was carrying weapons from Iran to Gaza. Haaretz reports that the Israeli government hopes to show the P5+1 that the Islamic Republic is not to be trusted.

Sub-Saharan Africa

The New York Times looks at the United States' military's increased training role in Africa as an attempt to contain the spread of Islamist militants.

The latest publication from the Institute for Economics and Peace calculates the economic cost of violence in over 150 countries. The report highlights Somalia as a country with a worst-case scenario of long-term conflict and insecurity, with GDP levels per capita falling from US$643 in 1992 to US$452 in 2001.

Human Rights Watch has updated its report from the Central African Republic on the growing number of Muslim residents who have been forced to leave their communities. The organisation urges the EU and others to assist in stabilising the country.

The United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Rita Izsák, who has been visiting Nigeria, has welcomed local initiatives to build bridges of understanding and trust between communities through inter-faith and inter-communal dialogue, shared activites, and education. 

Meanwhile, an article in the New York Times this week looks at the 'enigma' of Boko Haram which, though rarely acknowledging its deeds or goals, by becoming more feared it goes from strength to strength.

Central and South Asia

Thomas Ruttig explains the significance of the recent 'Unity Jirga' in Afghanistan, an attempt to streamline the field of Pashtun candidates for April's elections, who previously made up four of the eleven candidates. The choice was reduced to a duel between Qayyum Karzai, the president's brother, and Zalmai Rassul, the former foreign miinster and national security advisor, thought to be the president's favoured candidate. However, Qayyum Karzai pulled out of the race on Thursday 6 March.

Helena Malikyar claims for Al Jazeera that the upcoming elections may bridge ethnic and sectarian divides.

The Washington Post interviewed President Karzai on 1 March. He restated his opposition to the Bilateral Security Agreement, and commented on the recent release of Taliban fighters from Bagram prison and the remains of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Tanvi Madan discusses India's relationship with Iran as Iranian Foreign Minister Jaad Zarif has travelled to India this week, and whilst playing down frequently cited historical and civilisational ties in order to emphasise economic and energy factors, also notes sensitivity around India's domestic Shia constituency and potential spill-over from tensions in the Middle East.

Deep Pal notes in Foreign Policy that expected election victor Narenra Modi's foreign policy will hinge on economic development, but that fellow top-rung BJP leaders may resist attempts to continue liberalising the economy. Many BJP leaders began their career in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) - a volunteer-based social organisation that claims to stand for traditional Hindu values and whose vision of India has in the past been formulated in narrow nationalistic terms, including the rejection of capitalism in favour of self-reliance.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, two authors who have books out on India's Muslims look at the changes happening in the Indian Muslim community, during the week that the announcement is made of the key dates in May 2014 for the Indian General Election.

Huma Yusuf questions Pakistan's bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia following a shift in stance on Syria, noting that an associated strain in relations with Iran risks exacerbating sectarian tensions in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, dialogue between the Pakistani Taliban and the government resumed on Wednesday after a two-week suspesion, the government having paused its airstrike campaign in the north-western tribal regions after a Taliban ceasefire, says the Express Tribune.

East Asia

The Wall Street Journal portrays growing levels of unease in China after the knife attack in Kunming city which killed 29 people. The Chinese authorities have attributed the attack to members of the Muslim Uighur minority from Xingjiang province.


A Gallup poll republished this week, but conducted before the protests, examines views in Ukraine on the ideal government, and finds that it depends on the proximity of the respondent to Europe or Russia.

Meanwhile, during the twenty fifth session of the United Nations Human Rights Council which opened this week, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov stated that internal crises should be overcome between all political forces, ethnic and religious groups in accordance with constitutional norms and international obligations.

United States

Mother Jones describes a State Department policy which is investing a few million dollars a year in 'trolling' terrorist accounts on Twitter.


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