Tag: Niger

MALI: MESS RESULT OF US MISSTEPS, BECOMES GATEWAY TO EAST AFRICA FOR ISLAMIST TERROR AND POTENTIAL DIPLOMATIC OPPORTUNITY FOR ISRAEL

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(Please Note: articles may have been shortened in the interest of space. Please click link for the complete article – Ed.)

 

 

Mali is a Diplomatic Opportunity for Israel: Dr. Emmanuel Navon, Israel National News, Feb. 13, 2013—France’s military intervention against Mali Islamists provides Israel with an opportunity to improve its relations with France and restore ties with Africa’s non-Arab Muslim countries, a chance that must be seized by Israel’s next foreign minister.

 

Islam’s Path To Africa: Michael Widlanski, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 16, 2013—Muslims often say “sabeel Allah fi-al-sayf,” “the path of God is by the sword,” and this path, which once led to the gates of Vienna, or to Spain, or to France, or Asia, now seems to be leading to Africa. Mali, Morocco, Algeria, Sudan, Libya, Nigeria and Egypt are all experiencing terrific violence at the hands of forces claiming to be carrying the banner of Islam.

 

After Mali Comes Niger: West Africa's Problems Migrate East: Sebastian Elischer, Foreign Affairs, February 12, 2013—Last month, the French army's rapid advance into northern Mali and the timely deployment of troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) seemed to result in a swift victory over Islamist and Tuareg militants there. Equally important, however, was the Islamist and Tuareg militants' hasty withdrawal into northeastern Mali.

 

On Topic Links

 

 

U.S. Counterterrorism in Africa Defined by a Decade of Missteps: Craig Whitlock, The Washington Post, Feb. 4, 2013
Thanks to Their Hubris, al-Qaeda’s Sahara 'Princes’ are on the Run: David Blair, The Telegraph, Feb. 14 2013
Taming Terrorism in North Africa: Rep. Mike Rogers, Politico, Feb.3, 2013 

 

 

 

MALI IS A DIPLOMATIC OPPORTUNITY FOR ISRAEL

Dr. Emmanuel Navon

Israel National News, Feb. 13, 2013

 

France’s military intervention against Mali Islamists provides Israel with an opportunity to improve its relations with France and restore ties with Africa’s non-Arab Muslim countries, a chance that must be seized by Israel’s next foreign minister. France intervened in Mali to protect its vital interests. For years, al-Qaeda has been trying to take over the countries of the Sahel region, and Mali is its main target. Without the French military intervention, Mali would have become the first Islamic state of the Sahel region, followed by neighboring Niger, a country on which France heavily depends for its uranium imports.

 

Yet, by defending its interests, France has also opened a diplomatic opportunity for Israel.

 

Mali’s interim President, Dioncounda Traoré, had very harsh words for the Arab members of the African Union on the closing day of the organization’s summit in Addis Ababa on January 27, 2013. Addressing the Arab states that had condemned France’s air attacks against the Islamists – such as Egypt and Tunisia – Traoré questioned their refusal to condemn the horrific actions inflicted by the Islamists on the people of Mali, alongside willingness to express outrage against a French intervention.

 

Mali’s political leaders and opinion-makers openly express their feeling of betrayal by the Arab countries, especially those run by Islamist regimes; after cutting ties with Israel under Arab pressure, they expected those same Arab states to aid them in their fight against the Islamists. Instead, the Arab countries condemned France, not the Islamists.

 

A recent article in the Malian daily Le Matin directed its critique specifically at the Palestinians and their ambassador to Mali, Abu Rabah. In addition to being the PLO’s ambassador, Abu Rabah is the head of Mali’s diplomatic protocol. He is ubiquitous in the media and has managed to put the “Palestinian cause” on top of Mali’s national agenda – including the naming of a public square in Bamako, Mali’s capital, after the “Palestinian Martyr” Mohamed al-Dura. Yet Abu Rabah did not have a single word to say against the Islamists.

 

Le Matin not only lashed out at Abu Rabah, it claimed that the Islamists are backed by the Arab and Muslim countries. Since Mali has been duped by its so-called Muslim brethren, Le Matin concluded, it should change its foreign policy. Mali’s feeling of betrayal is reminiscent of Africa’s disappointment in the Arab and Muslim world in the 1970s, when Libya and Saudi Arabia tried to use financial incentives to encourage African countries to cut ties with Israel.

 

After the Yom Kippur War, the Arab League threatened to apply its oil embargo to Africa. As a result, all African countries (except Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, and Swaziland) severed their ties with Israel. But they soon realized that their move had no benefit, and that the Arab League was willing to share its enemies but not its oil.

 

More and more African leaders and opinion-makers openly charged the Arabs of racism, reminding them of their past slavery trade in Africa. They were also concerned by Muammar Gaddafi’s expansionist and destabilizing policies. In the 1980s, Israel proactively re-engaged Africa under the leadership of Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Ministry Director-General David Kimche. Most African countries restored their ties with Israel in the 1980s and 1990s.

 

However, some African states changed course in the following decade. Niger severed its diplomatic relations with Israel in 2000 at the outbreak of the Second Intifada, and Mauritania in 2009, after Israel’s military operation in Gaza. Both countries are Muslim, and both were influenced by Iran. In 2008, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that his country intended to develop ties with Africa. One year later, he visited many African countries with Iranian diplomats and generals, signing commercial, diplomatic, and defence deals.

 

Israel lost a project of water sewage in Senegal after Iran promised to carry out the same work at lower cost. Iran’s influence in Africa also relies on Lebanon’s rich and influential diaspora in countries such as Congo, Guinea, and Senegal, which donates money to Hizbullah.

 

However, with the electoral victory of Islamists in Egypt and Tunisia, and with the near takeover of Mali by al-Qaeda, more and more African countries are becoming fearful of Iran and of its Islamist allies. Ethiopia, forced to confront Islamist militias backed by nearby rebels in Somalia, has become one of Israel’s closest allies in Africa, as well as a major buyer of Israeli defense equipment. Kenya, which also faces Islamist terrorism from neighboring Somalia, is interested in strengthening its military ties with Israel. Even Nigeria reportedly spent about $500 million on Israeli military equipment in the past few years.

 

Mali’s anger at Arab countries, especially Egypt, is part of a wider African fear of Islamic influence and of Iranian meddling on the continent. Even though France’s military intervention in Mali is only meant to serve French interests, it opens a window of opportunity which Israel should seize to improve its relations with Africa and with France itself.

 

French military strikes against Mali’s Islamists are in stark contrast with France’s backing of the Muslim rebels in Côte d’Ivoire during that country’s civil war in 2002-2011. There, President Laurent Gbagbo, a Christian, started challenging France’s strong economic grip over his country. His defiant policy created a community of interests between France and Côte d’Ivoire’s Muslim rebels led by Alassane Ouattara. Hence France supported the Muslim rebels from Côte d’Ivoire’s northern region against Gbagbo and the Christian south.

 

The embattled Ivorian president, a close friend of Israel, sought and obtained Israel’s logistical help. France and Israel ended up confronting each other by proxy in Côte d’Ivoire. In April 2011, then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered a French military commando to oust Gbagbo from his bunker, allowing Ouattara to take the presidency.

 

While France and Israel collided in Côte d’Ivoire, the policy of President François Hollande in Mali creates a new community of interests, since France is now fighting forces that are hostile to Israel. Thus, the Malian crisis constitutes an opportunity for Israel to improve its relations with France and with former French colonies in Africa. This opportunity should be seized by Israel’s next foreign minister.

 

The author heads the Political Science and Communications Department at the Jerusalem Orthodox College, and teaches International Relations at Tel-Aviv University and at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

 

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ISLAM’S PATH TO AFRICA

Michael Widlanski

Jerusalem Post, Feb. 16, 2013

 

Muslims often say “sabeel Allah fi-al-sayf,” “the path of God is by the sword,” and this path, which once led to the gates of Vienna, or to Spain, or to France, or Asia, now seems to be leading to Africa. Mali, Morocco, Algeria, Sudan, Libya, Nigeria and Egypt are all experiencing terrific violence at the hands of forces claiming to be carrying the banner of Islam. The world looks on and acts slowly, if at all. Meanwhile, weapons proliferate, and many die. Hundreds of thousands of refugees stream across Mali, as the UN debates what to do – much as it did when tens of thousands were slaughtered in Sudan.

 

Egypt’s mostly nonviolent revolution was hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood, whose leader says Jews and Christians are descended from apes and pigs. Egypt remilitarizes the Sinai Desert, and the US sends it F-16’s and more aid. Tunisia’s secular opposition leader has been murdered, and the Islamic agenda rises in both Tunisia and Egypt, even as Christians are slaughtered in Egypt and Nigeria. Areas once conquered by Islam and now deemed somehow insufficiently Islamic, as well as areas not completely conquered by Islam are now being targeted by forces who call themselves “true Muslims.” Villages are destroyed in Algeria and Nigeria, their inhabitants often beheaded.

 

Islam has been knocking loudly and violently at the gates of the non-Muslim world ever since the prophet-general known as Muhammad sanctified, as jihad, land grabs for his “religion of peace.” In some respects, jihad was a way to sublimate the territorial urges of the Beduin that used to find their outlet in periodic raids known as ghazwa. Jihad, as scholars observed, was a both a religious duty and a pragmatic safety valve.

 

Jihad is the “sixth pillar” of Islam, whose five basic commandments are known as khamsat arkaan al-Islam – the five pillars of Islam. Jihad, in other words, would be a bit like what Jews and Christians would call “the eleventh commandment” of the Ten Commandments.

 

This is important information, but it is being studiously avoided by leading Western officials who prefer to take a politically correct approach to Islamic conquest. In his State of the Union speech, US President Barack Obama patted himself on the back for sending some transport planes to help France try to push back against the Islamic terrorists in Mali.

 

Obama claims to have eviscerated al-Qaida, but the actions of al-Qaida-inspired or linked groups in Africa make a mockery of his claims. Meanwhile, China and Russia, which have their eyes on the minerals of Africa, play the usual diplomatic games of supporting Islamic terror by refusing to countenance “interference in domestic affairs.”

 

Obama and his CIA director-designee John Brennan take a benign view of some of the Islamist movements, even helping the Brotherhood in Egypt, much as Jimmy Carter once helped the ayatollahs in Iran. Brennan, who speaks Arabic (badly), has publicly called jihad a “spiritual journey,” and both he and Obama believe that they know where Islam is headed. They think it is headed to Indonesia – the most populous Islamic country in the world.

 

Obama and Brennan both spent part of their youth in Indonesia. They think Indonesia is an example of what Islam is and should be. But the Indonesia of their youth is not the model for most Muslims, who prefer to look to Mecca. Indeed the Islam of east Asia – Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines – is itself becoming much more violent and anti-Western.

 

The more radical Islamic forces are on the march, and they are not really impressed by Western solidarity, by speeches by Obama and Brennan. Many of the victims of jihad are now in Africa, but they will probably not be the last.

 

The writer, an expert on Arab politics and communications, was a strategic affairs adviser in the Ministry of Public Security.

 

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AFTER MALI COMES NIGER:
WEST AFRICA'S PROBLEMS MIGRATE EAST

Sebastian Elischer

Foreign Affairs, February 12, 2013

 

Last month, the French army's rapid advance into northern Mali and the timely deployment of troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) seemed to result in a swift victory over Islamist and Tuareg militants there. Equally important, however, was the Islamist and Tuareg militants' hasty withdrawal into northeastern Mali. With France planning to pull its troops out of the country as soon as March, Mali will almost certainly be turned into an ECOWAS trusteeship. The most likely upshot is not a neat end to the conflict but, rather, a migration of the problem into neighboring Niger.

 

Parts of the Tuareg leadership, which signed a power-sharing agreement in March 2012 with three jihadist militias — al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa — have already fled across the unguarded Nigerien border, where they will try to regroup. Given Niger's weak government structures, they also pose a serious security threat to the country as a whole.

 

Niger presents an appealingly easy target. For one, despite several attempts at reform by President Mahamadou Issoufou, who was elected in April 2011, Niger's secular political elite lacks legitimacy in the eyes of its largely illiterate, rural, and deeply religious population. Numerous failed attempts at democratization and rampant corruption by previous governments have plagued the country for over two decades. Among the population, this troubled legacy has fostered a general sense of alienation from the capital.

 

Large parts of the Nigerien army, meanwhile, are opposed to the notion of civilian rule. Ever since it was pushed out of power in 1991, the army leadership has cultivated a deep mistrust of the civilian elite among all military ranks. Consumed with hatred for the Tuareg following two major military campaigns against them (1990-1995 and 2007-2009, respectively), the Nigerien army has overthrown three civilian governments since 1993. Although recent coup attempts in 2011 and 2012 proved amateurish and lacked sufficient support among both the armed forces and the population, they indicate long-standing tensions between parts of the military and the civilian elites.

 

Despite a 2009 peace accord with the government, Niger's Tuareg clans remain marginalized economically and disenfranchised politically. Although in 2009 the central government agreed to channel more resources to the Tuareg, this promise has clearly not been kept. The Tuareg thus have remained poorer than the rest of the population. The current prime minister's Tuareg ancestry should not distract from the fact that the community lacks genuine political representation in the capital.

 

Given that the Tuareg are a nomadic people, no one knows exactly how many there are — but the best estimates suggest that there are roughly 1.2 million Tuareg in total, with most of them living in Mali and Niger. Issoufou, for one, has explicitly warned about the threat of a new Tuareg rebellion in the north. The government's announcement of a $2.5 billion aid package for the Tuareg-populated areas at the height of the French intervention was likely an attempt to head off such an insurgency.

 

Meanwhile, in southern Niger, unguarded checkpoints along the border with Nigeria have allowed for an influx of radical Islamic preachers, who have sought to win over the population by promising to provide public goods that the state has not. Boko Haram, a jihadist militant organization based in Nigeria, and homegrown radical Islamic sects, such as the Izala movement, operate well-known outposts in Niger's southern cities of Diffa, Maradi, and Zinder. Their operatives clash regularly with Nigerien security forces.

 

In short, Niger's domestic political scene remains highly volatile. And the fuse that ignites it could well be the inflow of rebels from Mali. These rebels could try to foment an uprising of either Islamists or Tuareg — or both. The socioeconomic predicament of the Tuareg in northern Niger and the growing influence of Islamist groups in the south provide fertile ground for such an attempt.

 

The outbreak of wider unrest in Niger could drag the West into a long-term military engagement in the Sahel region. France gets roughly three-quarters of its energy from uranium mined in northern Niger, near the city of Arlit. Unsurprisingly, France has already deployed soldiers to protect those resources, and China is said to have done the same at its uranium mine near Azalik. Niger is also an oil exporter, and production is expected to grow significantly in coming months. Rebel movements and Islamic militants are within reach of Niger's mines and oil fields, which they could use to fund their rebellion. Further attacks on Nigerian and Algerian territory remain a distinct possibility.

 

The West should not trust the Nigerien army to manage such a conflict on its own. Its upper ranks were appointed by the previous civilian government — based on political loyalty, not merit. As a result, the army lacks professionalism and adequate training. And the country's already weak forces will soon be further depleted: Niger has offered ECOWAS 20 percent of its military to either join in the operation in Mali or go on standby.

 

ECOWAS' ability to police the region is also highly questionable. First, previous ECOWAS missions — in Sierra Leone and Liberia — have proved touch and go. In both cases, mistrust and disunity plagued relationships among the military leadership. These ECOWAS operations also suffered from inadequate resources, including a lack of weapons. Ultimately, the only reason they were effective was a strong British military presence. But with France's withdrawal from Mali imminent, such a force will be lacking in the Sahel.

 

Moreover, the various African countries that have pledged support for the military engagement in Mali lack the necessary finances for even that war. They have already asked Western donors for $1 billion in aid, and thus far the West has provided only half that amount. It will be no easy task for them to open another front.  Furthermore, roughly a third of all African soldiers committed to the Mali mission come from Chad, which is not an ECOWAS member. Although the United Nations' mandate for Mali refers to "an African-led International Support Mission" and therefore permits any African nation to join the fray, a longer-term, multilateral mission would ultimately raise the question of whether ECOWAS or Chad is in charge. 

 

Unfortunately, however, outside help does not appear to be on its way. The United Kingdom and Germany do not seem to grasp the importance of the Sahel to European energy security. Germany has dedicated only three aircraft to the Mali campaign and the United Kingdom has sent 240 "not for combat" soldiers. In the United States, meanwhile, President Barack Obama lacks a comprehensive African strategy, let alone a plan for the Sahel. Drone policing — the Obama administration's preferred tactic — provides little more than a short-term fix. If the West wants to prevent the Sahel from falling hostage to Tuareg and Islamist militants, longer-term military and financial engagement is urgently required.

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U.S. Counterterrorism Efforts in Africa Defined by a Decade Of Missteps: Craig Whitlock, The Washington Post, February 4, 2013—The U.S. military was closely tracking a one-eyed bandit across the Sahara in 2003 when it confronted a hard choice that is still reverberating a decade later. Should it try to kill or capture the target, an Algerian jihadist named Mokhtar Belmokhtar, or let him go?
 

Thanks to Their Hubris, al-Qaeda’s Sahara 'Princes’ are on the Run: David Blair, The Telegraph, Feb. 14 2013—If al-Qaeda’s leaders have one real achievement, they have surely demonstrated how to combine fastidious bureaucracy with rhetorical flourishes. The document I found in Timbuktu, as reported in the Telegraph yesterday, duly records a meeting of the “princes” of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), carefully listing all those present at gathering number “33”, before paying effusive tribute to “our Muslim heroes on this grand desert”.

Taming terrorism in North Africa: Rep. Mike Rogers, Politico, Feb.3,2013—For years, North Africa has been a simmering caldron of Islamist militant activity. The Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks in Benghazi and at a natural gas plant two weeks ago in Algeria tragically illuminated this threat on television screens around the world. The United States urgently needs a comprehensive strategy to fight this new front in the war on terrorism.

 

 

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DISQUIETING ISLAMIST “ARAB SPRING” IN TUNISIA & LIBYA, AND SADISTIC ISLAMIST INSURGENCY IN NIGERIA, NIGER & BEYOND

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Ennahda Clears the Decks to Dominate: Sana Ajmi, The Daily Star, Dec. 11, 2012—Members of Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly – the democratically elected body responsible for drafting the country’s constitution – put forward a new bill on Nov. 23 which would exclude politicians once affiliated with the former ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) from political life for 10 years.

 

Boko Haram’s Growing Presence in Niger: Jacob Zenn, Jamestown Foundation, Nov. 2, 2012—The recent arrests of Boko Haram members in the Niger town of Zinder come at a time when the Islamist movement’s fighters are taking advantage of the porosity of the Nigeria-Niger border region to avoid security crackdowns in Yobe, Borno and other states of northeastern Nigeria.

 

Libyans Say Sharia Will Be Law of the Land: Jamie Dettmer, The Daily Beast, Dec 11, 2012—The constitutional debate that Libya is likely to have in the coming months is going to be different from Egypt’s…Across the political spectrum, there’s a general acceptance that the country’s new laws must reflect religion and that sharia will figure prominently—only a small minority question this.

 

On Topic Links

 

 

Tunisia Battles Over Pulpits, and Revolt’s Legacy: Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, Nov. 11, 2012
Boko Haram’s Dangerous Expansion into Northwest Nigeria: Jacob Zenn, Counter Terrorism Center, Oct 29, 2012
Nigeria’s Most Sadistic Killers: Why is Boko Haram not Designated a Terrorist Group?: Eli Lake, The Daily Beast, Oct 16, 2012
List of Designated Terrorist Organizations: Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

ENNAHDA CLEARS THE DECKS TO DOMINATE

Sana Ajmi

The Daily Star, Dec. 11, 2012

 

Members of Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly – the democratically elected body responsible for drafting the country’s constitution – put forward a new bill on Nov. 23 which would exclude politicians once affiliated with the former ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) from political life for 10 years. Entitled “The Protection of the Revolution,” the measure – proposed and supported by Ennahda parliamentarians – is being seen by some as a tactic to hinder an opposition front to Ennahda and ensure the Islamists’ dominance in the upcoming election. Its supporters, however, see it as a protective measure necessary to safeguard the revolution.

Sahbi Atig, the head of Ennahda’s parliamentary bloc, explained that the bill would forbid any politician who had served in the RCD from running for president and participating in political life. Ennahda controls 89 out of 217 seats in Constituent Assembly and can easily pass the bill by an overwhelming majority – with the support of four other major blocs backing the measure: This includes the Fidelity to the Revolution, Congress For the Republic, Freedom and Dignity, and the Democratic Bloc – as well as some independent parliamentarians.

Farida Laabidi, head of the government’s Commission on Rights and Liberties (and a member of Ennahda himself) explained that “Through this law we will guarantee that those who served under the former repressive and corrupt regime will not rule the country again.”

This envisioned ban on former RCD members has sparked controversy particularly within the ranks of center-left parties in the opposition, a number of whose members were associated with the old regime. Parties like the newly formed Nidaa Tunis (as well others like Al-Moubadara and Al-Watan) have condemned the proposed bill. Khmais Ksila, a member of the Constituent Assembly representing Nidaa Tunis and who is formerly a member of the center-left Ettakatol Party (currently in coalition with Ennahda), described the proposed law as “anti-revolution”; the bill would render certain Tunisians second-class citizens based on political affiliations, and that these kinds of laws only encourage a revenge mentality among Tunisians and threatens to “resort to international institutions to invalidate it.”

Analysts have argued that Tunisia’s transitional democratic process cannot be based on exclusion. Kais Saiyed, a constitutional law expert at the Faculty of Political Science in Tunis, believes that proposing such a law contradicts the principles of democracy: “It is up to the people to decide who to exclude from the political,” he says. Furthermore, other figures – like Kamel Morjane, the former minister of foreign affairs under Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and the leader of Al-Moubadara, and Beji Caid Essebsi, the octogenarian head of Nidaa Tunis and interim prime minister during the transition (and also former interior minister under Habib Bourghuiba) – all see this as a purely politically motivated attack to eliminate parties and coalitions capable of competing with Ennahda in the upcoming election.

Nidaa Tunis has a wide range of secular liberals formerly associated with the RCD – which claimed a membership of 2 million people before its dissolution. Many of these saw in Essebsi’s party an opportunity to revive their political chances and perhaps even regain their lost status. Nidaa Tunis, which aims to unite Tunisia’s non-Islamist parties in a national unity movement, was perceived as a way to “protect” them from religious extremism and to uphold a modernist interpretation of Islam initiated under the Bourghuiba and Ben Ali regimes – which these former RCD-associates see Ennahda failing to do, if not supporting explicitly. Essebsi himself is especially outspoken in his criticism of the ruling coalition for its “failure” to protect its people from religious extremism and Salafism.

The pragmatism of which Essebsi’s party boasts and its espousal of “modernist” values – coupled with Ennahda’s perceived failures to deal with pressing socio-economic issues – have all given Nidaa Tunis an edge and a chance to have a strong showing in the coming election. According to a recent poll conducted by the Tunisian poll office and 3C Etude, Ennahda and Nidaa Tunis rank close in popularity.

The party has also announced an initiative to merge with the ranks of other center-left parties – among which include Al-Joumhouri, Al-Massar, and the Popular Movement, as well as others – in anticipation of the 2013 parliamentary and presidential elections. Essebsi and his followers believe that the only way to counter Ennahda is through a united opposition front.

Ennahda’s fear of a more robust opposition in the upcoming election may well be the motive behind its support of the proposed bill. And whether or not a concern for the rise of former-regime sympathizers is founded, a bill based on political exclusion and score-settling does not bode well for Tunisia’s fragile political process. By pushing it forward, Ennahda is doing exactly what it claims to protect the revolution from: creating a one-party system and attempting to ensure an opposition vacuum – bringing the ruling party more in line with the RDC than it would perhaps like to admit.

 

Sana Ajmi is a Tunisian journalist and writer. This commentary first appeared at Sada, an online journal published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

 

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BOKO HARAM’S GROWING PRESENCE IN NIGER

Jacob Zenn

Jamestown Foundation, Nov. 2, 2012

 

The recent arrests of Boko Haram members in the Niger town of Zinder come at a time when the Islamist movement’s fighters are taking advantage of the porosity of the Nigeria-Niger border region to avoid security crackdowns in Yobe, Borno and other states of northeastern Nigeria. On September 27, a Nigerien security official reported that five Boko Haram members were arrested in Zinder, one of the rare times that Boko Haram members have been arrested outside of Nigeria since Boko Haram launched an insurgency in September, 2010 to dismantle Nigeria’s secular regime and “entrench a just Islamic government”. The only similar case in Niger occurred last February, when 15 suspected Boko Haram members were arrested in Diffa, Niger’s easternmost city, allegedly planning to plant bombs in several of the city’s public places. Diffa and Zinder (the largest city in southern Niger) both border Nigeria’s Yobe State, where Boko Haram—then popularly known as “the Nigerian Taliban”—established a base nicknamed “Afghanistan” in a village three miles south of the border with Niger in 2003. Diffa is believed to be a principal refuge for Nigerian Boko Haram fighters.

 

On both sides of the Nigerian-Nigerien border, as well as in northern Cameroon and western Chad, Sunni Islam and the Hausa language are predominant. However, there are sizable minorities of Shuwa Arabic and Kanuri speakers in Diffa, western Chad and Nigeria’s far northeastern Borno State, which has been Boko Haram’s main area of operations since the start of the insurgency. These cross-border ties help unite the peoples of the border region.

 

The movement of Boko Haram members into Niger follows a series of blows inflicted on the movement by Nigerian security services in recent weeks:

 

    On September 24, Nigeria’s Joint Task Force (JTF) killed 35 Boko Haram members and seized ammunition and weapons in house-to-house searches in Yobe;

    Also on September 24, the Special Security Squad launched “Operation Restore Sanity” in Mubi, Adamawa State, which borders Borno to the south. 156 Boko Haram suspects were arrested, four of whom were believed to be unit commanders. A top commander, Abubakr Yola (a.k.a Abu Jihad) was killed in the operation;

    On October 15 the Joint Task Force in Borno State killed 24 Boko Haram members during a series of night raids in Maiduguri; and

    On October 20, security forces arrested a wanted Boko Haram leader, Shuaibu Muhammad Bama, in Maiduguri at a house owned by his uncle, Senator Ahmad Zanna, who represents Borno Central.

 

Nigeria shares approximately 2,000 miles of border with Niger, Cameroon and Chad, but, according to the Nigerian Immigration Service, only 84 border points are staffed by immigration officials. Nigeria has previously closed the border after major Boko Haram attacks, such as the Christmas Day 2011 church bombings in Madalla, a city outside of Abuja. The Borno State National Service Immigration Comptroller said at the time that such measures were the only way to “prevent the entry and exit of suspected Boko Haram sect members and illegal aliens that have no travel or residence permit documents to remain in the country”.  

 

Due to the linguistic and cultural ties along the 950-mile Nigerian-Nigerien border, Nigerien Muslims can easily cross the border and assimilate into Boko Haram’s ranks. According to local reports in Niger, many Nigeriens have joined Boko Haram because of economic rather than religious or ideological motives. Unlike northern Nigeria, Niger does not have a legacy of religious extremism, but it is one of the world’s least developed and most impoverished nations.

 

With an estimated 200,000 herdsmen and farmers in Niger subsisting on Red Cross food rations due to severe drought, the $30 that Boko Haram offers its members for killing Nigerian security officers—or the $60 it offers for also stealing the officer’s weapon—can be an effective recruiting tool.. The hundreds of thousands of dollars that Boko Haram has acquired in several dozen bank robberies in the past two years, can provide additional economic motivation for the poor to join the insurgency, whether or not they share the same motivations as Boko Haram leader Abu Shekau. If such reports are true, the poor Nigeriens who are taking up arms for Boko Haram may join other illicit economic activities such as selling black market gasoline and cigarettes. In February, captured Boko Haram spokesman Abu Qaqa told interrogators that Nigeriens were among the groups commonly chosen by Boko Haram to carry out suicide bombings.

 

Boko Haram’s infiltration of the immigration service also facilitates its operations in the border region. Two days after the arrests of the five Boko Haram members in Zinder, the Nigerian Army announced it had arrested a Nigerian immigration official posing as an army officer. Under interrogation, the official confessed to having been trained along with 15 other Boko Haram members in weapons handling, assassinations and special operations in Niger, and named other officials who were conspiring with Boko Haram. The October 19 killing of a customs official and his son in Potiskum, Yobe State, by Boko Haram members was likely intended to coerce other officials to comply with – or at least not obstruct – Boko Haram’s efforts to infiltrate the immigration service. Boko Haram has similarly assassinated dozens of Islamic clerics, politicians and journalists who disagreed with Boko Haram’s ideology and militant activities in order to deter other influential figures from speaking out.

 

Since April, there have been reports of several hundred Nigerian and Nigerien Boko Haram members helping al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al-Din and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) consolidate control of northern Mali after the three militias expelled the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the ethno-national secular Tuareg militia. As a result, the territory of Niger separating northern Nigeria from northern Mali—only 300 miles across at its shortest point, Sokoto to Gao—is becoming an important area of transit for the insurgents. Niger is the one country of these three that has thus far avoided an Islamist insurgency on its territory, but Niger has a restive Tuareg population in the northern Agadez region bordering northern Mali and an increasing Boko Haram presence in its southern border cities—both representing potential sources of instability. Given this pressure, Niger and Nigeria agreed on October 18­—after four years of discussion­—to deploy joint patrols along their border in order to prevent the Boko Haram presence in southern Niger from growing into a cross-border insurgency. 

 

Jacob Zenn is a legal adviser and international affairs analyst who focuses on the Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria.

 

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LIBYANS SAY SHARIA WILL BE LAW OF THE LAND

Jamie Dettmer

The Daily Beast, Dec 11, 2012

 

“Egypt is Islamic, it will not be secular!” Islamist supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi have taken to chanting this slogan during street protests in Cairo. While the mantra fills opponents of the Egyptian president with dread, as does a Morsi-backed draft Constitution ensuring laws and rights will be strictly subordinated to sharia law, such chants would hardly prove controversial in Libya, Egypt’s neighboring Arab-Spring country—nor would they propel tens of thousands onto the streets of Tripoli or Benghazi to express dissent.

 

The constitutional debate that Libya is likely to have in the coming months—once its new rulers have decided on how to proceed with a draft—is going to be different from Egypt’s, and less about whether Islamic law should figure in the Constitution. Across the political spectrum, there’s a general acceptance that the country’s new laws must reflect religion and that sharia will figure prominently—only a small minority question this.

 

During the campaign for the country’s elections last July, party leaders—even those from moderate parties, such as Mahmoud Jibril, leader of the National Forces Alliance—acknowledged that sharia would significantly influence any Constitution. New laws should have a “reference to sharia,” Jibril told The Daily Beast, arguing, “Sharia law, when it was understood in the proper way, managed to create one of the great civilizations in human history. The problem is not with sharia or Islam; the problem is with the interpretation of sharia.”

 

Even among women agitating for a greater role in public and political life here, there’s agreement that sharia law should be at the heart of the country’s new Constitution. The only disputes are about the drafting process; whether the members of a 60-strong drafting panel should be elected or appointed by the country’s new Parliament, the General National Congress; and whether sharia should be the “only source of law” or a “principal source of law,” with the latter allowing greater possibility of adopting laws used in non-Muslim countries.

 

“Libyans wouldn’t accept a Constitution that isn’t informed by Sharia,” says 20-year-old Issraa Murabit, a second-year medical student from the town of Zawiyah and vice president of The Voice of Libyan Women, an NGO campaigning for greater women’s rights.

 

She says that a majority of women involved with civil-society activism are broadly comfortable with sharia and don’t see any contradiction between Islamic law and their demands for gender equality and a bigger role for women in Libyan society.  Some women activists argue that women’s rights are, in certain cases, better protected under sharia than they are in the West. They cite property protections afforded to divorced spouses. “In the West, they think we are the oppressors of women and they have the best rights for women, but we have a different perspective,” says Murabit, who was raised in Canada until her early teens. “Islam doesn’t undermine women’s rights—the problem is with Muslim men and how they try to use sharia against women.”

 

For Western commentators, the mere mention of Islamic law prompts, at best, suspicion and oftentimes pure horror. “A dangerous pattern is emerging,” Bonnie Erbe, host of the PBS show, To the Contrary, wrote recently. “Islamic countries more often than not replace tyrants with religious dictators who can become even more despotic than their predecessors. Look at Iran. Unfortunately, look at Egypt.”

 

Libyan activists say such sentiments tarnish the Arab Spring and that the problem with Morsi’s draft Constitution lies with the underhand manner of its drafting process, involving a lack of consultation by the country’s Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly. Islamists railroaded approval of the final draft in an all-night session on November 30….

 

When Libya’s government—led by the new prime minister, Ali Zeidan, and the country’s Congress—eventually decide on the process for the drafting the Libyan constitution, activists warn that Morsi’s example shouldn’t be followed.  “If they are inclusive and consult and have women among the drafters, there won’t be a problem,” says Murabit.

 

One key area of contention could be over who interprets the Sharia provisions included in any Libyan constitution. Morsi’s Egyptian opponents take issue with the draft Constitution’s provision that Muslim clerics will be Sharia’s arbiters. Under the charter, clerics from Egypt’s conservative Al-Azhar University are “to be consulted on any matters related to Sharia.” Libyan women activists say no religious body or figures should be allowed under Libya’s Constitution oversight of the country’s laws—only the courts should decide. Others argue that religious arbiters would be acceptable as long as women religious scholars were also included.

 

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Tunisia Battles Over Pulpits, and Revolt’s Legacy: Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, Nov. 11, 2012—On the Friday after Tunisia’s president fell, Mohamed al-Khelif mounted the pulpit of this city’s historic Grand Mosque to deliver a full-throttle attack on the country’s corrupt culture, to condemn its close ties with the West and to demand that a new constitution implement Shariah, or Islamic law.

 

Boko Haram’s Dangerous Expansion into Northwest Nigeria: Jacob Zenn, Combatting Terrorism Center, Oct 29, 2012—During the past year, the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has expanded from its traditional area of operations in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno State and is now capable of conducting attacks across a 900-mile breadth of northern Nigeria, including in the strategic state of Sokoto.

 

Nigeria’s Most Sadistic Killers: Why is Boko Haram not Designated a Terrorist Group?: Eli Lake, The Daily Beast, Oct 16, 2012—The group is one of the deadliest organizations in Africa, accused of killing at least 1,500 people between June 2009 and September 2012. Its victims are the cops, Christians, and those Muslims it sees as betraying the true faith. It is alleged to sabotage oil pipelines, take down automated teller machines, and rip up telephone lines in a violent jihad against the West.

 

List of Designated Terrorist Organizations: Wikipedia—This is a list of designated terrorist organizations by national governments, former governments and inter-governmental organizations, where the proscription has a significant impact on the group's activities.

 

 

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