Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

03 Apr 2014

There is a lot of election coverage in this week's Roundup to reflect the number of countries of interest to the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics which are going to the polls or have recently done so. This week, Times columnist David Aaronovitch used the word "pseudocracy" to describe the governments of Russia and Iran. "What looks like a democracy but smells bad?" he asks. "Answer: a country that gives people a vote but deals ruthlessly with dissent and blames foreigners for its problems."

This description could apply to a number of countries where religion is an important factor in the choices people make at the polls. Diversity and religious freedom may thrive best in a democratic context, but elections are no guarantee in themselves.

Top Stories

Thailand: In the second of our Situation Reports, Duncan McCargo assesses the present violence in southern Thailand. This comes in a week when voters again went to the polls ito select half of the Senate, and with continual unrest after the general election, an article in Vice looks at the wider problems around the country.

Syria: There has been a lot of talk recently of the divided nature of both the rebels and the government forces in Syria.  Peter Welby analyses the fragmented nature of the country's jihadist groups. On the same subject, Peter Neumann examines the Syrian government's creation of the Islamist monster it is now fighting.

Nigeria: After reports of three hours of heavy gunfire near the Presidential Villa in Nigeria this week, John Campbell questions the official narrative, and asks whether Boko Haram is taking the fight to Abuja. Elsewhere, he comments on an Amnesty International investigation of security abuses in the country's north east.


A large number of countries have just been to the polls, or have elections coming up. The International Crisis Group have released their annual report, in which they look at recent and forthcoming elections in conflict regions of Africa.

In advance of Afghanistan's presidential election on the 5th of April, the Guardian reports on hopes that electoral fraud will be reduced. Matthieu Aikins argues little has been done to address the underlying issues behind previous fraud, also suggesting community and patronage networks will influence the vote. Reuters' Hamid Shalizi sees Zalmai Rassoul as a front-runner alongside Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, and warns the Taliban could be strengthened by instability in Kandahar (home to Ghani and Rassoul) due to tribal rivalry.

The Hindustan Times explains India's Muslims' fears of a Narendra Modi election victory with reference to the notorious site of the 1992 Gujarati riots. In a debate in the Indian Express, responding to Ashutosh Varshney's view last week on Modi's campaign rhetoric, Ram Madhav counters his portrayal of Hindutva, arguing the seminal thinkers Varshney quotes were more committed to Hindu-Muslim unity than he gives them credit for.

The coming elections in Egypt are widely expected to be a foregone conclusion. But Steven Cook takes a look at the challenges that face al-Sisi if he wins the presidency, and finds the business and security establishments and the economy to be threats as significant as the Brotherhood.

Following the AKP's victory in the local elections in Turkey, the same author analyses why President Gul remains in Prime Minister Erdogan's shadow, and concludes it is because the AKP's unity in the face of secular opposition is more important to him than its moderation.

Syria also has elections coming up. The country has had many in the past – under strict controls – but this one serves a vital purpose in showing Assad's continued power, explains David Kenner.

With a presidential elections approaching in Indonesia, the Lowy Institute for International Policy reviews the candidates from the Islam-based parties looking at their support and the struggles they face.

Middle East and North Africa

With a lot of attention on Syria's foreign fighters, two reports this week look at the importance of social media. Sam Jones has a feature in the FT on the use of Twitter by British jihadis to galvanise each other to go and fight, and on Buzzfeed Miriam Berger focuses on one prominent Saudi cleric's use of the medium to give himself a following among the conflict's fighters. Meanwhile, RUSI has examined the pasts of foreign fighters, and found that many are petty criminals.

Shadi Hamid and Meredith Wheeler write on Egypt that much as Morsi was a majoritarian and incompetent, he was not much more autocratic than most rulers of transitioning democracies. The post-coup government, however, has taken the country on a significant turn for the worse.

Amid the increasing chaos of Libya, Vice News reports on the power and views of the country's militias.

Sub-Saharan Africa

The head of al-Shabaab in Somalia has called on his countrymen to throw out the Ethiopian and Kenyan 'occupiers'. Alex Dick-Godfrey writes that though both countries are part of the African Union Mission to Somalia force, they are 'occupiers', and not altruistic. Meanwhile, a prominent Muslim cleric in Kenya, believed to have been a recruiter for al-Shabaab, was shot dead in Mombassa this week.

The United States Institute of Peace summarises a recent discussion on plans for a National Dialogue in Sudan, with participants suggesting genuine progress will have to involve Sudanese civil society and that if simply structured as an 'elite bargain', the dialogue will be shortsighted.

The Central African Republic has dominated the agenda at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) this week, with increasing reports of displacement and calls from the United Nations for more peacekeepers to be sent to the country. But Simon Allison says the response to the conflict from the international community is far too slow.

Central and South Asia

Pakistan's Dawn interviews an insider to the government's first face-to-face talks with Pakistani Taliban leaders, who says resumption of dialogue depends on the state response to militant demands including the prisoner releases, and is nervous that a tense 'confidence-building' first meeting does not bode well for discussion of more substantive issues.

Huma Yusuf states that inter-provincial rivalries could be as big a threat to Pakistan's stability as the Taliban. She cites Baluch nationalist attacks on Punjabi 'settlers' and Punjab's relative development and freedom from terrorism to explain the view of many Pakistanis that a peace deal with the group involves the sacrifice of the tribal areas in order to protect Punjab's Lahore.

On India, Christophe Jaffrelot picks up on corruption and the quality of democracy as key electoral themes with a profile of Arvind Kerjriwal whose Gandhian ideology could be game changing in the coming years.

South East Asia

With the first census in 30 years taking place in Myanmar this week, Joshua Kurlantzick blogs on the problems faced by aid workers in the west of the country. TIME magazine also takes a look at ongoing issues around the identity of the Rohingya Muslim community during this eagerly anticipated event.

Meanwhile, Min Zin sums up the political situation in Myanmar and the growing unrest throughout the country.

Following the peace deal signed between the Philippines government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front last week, the Anadolu news agency reports on the Moro National Liberation Front which tried to disrupt the peace talks, but says they have no plans for further attacks.


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