The recent sentencing to death of former Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi and 121 others illustrates the farcical and politicised nature of the Egyptian judiciary which has, in the past two years, acted consistently to curb dissent and intimidate opponents of the military regime. Although it is still not certain whether the death sentences will be carried out, the consequences of the judgement are likely to be an increase in militancy, making the regime’s ‘anti-terrorism’ rhetoric a self-fulfilling prophecy. Aided in this regard is the weak and largely ineffective response from the international community, whose actions in recent months indicate a resignation with Egypt’s current trajectory.
Following recent rebel advances and regime defeats in Syria, speculation has been rife among commentators and some among the opposition about whether this represents the imminent demise of the Syrian regime. Regime losses since the end of March, including the complete loss of a second major city (Raqqa is already under opposition control), Idlib, along with the ceding of crucial strategic sites such as Jisr al-Shughur in the north, and, in the south, Busra al-Sham and the Nasib border crossing into Jordan.
The 25 January Egyptian uprising always had scant possibilities of success. The country’s secular and Islamist revolutionaries were odd bedfellows from the beginning. They agreed on forcing President Hosni Mubarak from power, but harboured different dreams and notions of a new Egypt, and often followed conflicting strategies. Other political forces, including the revolutionary youth, were weak and poorly organised. In the end, the uprising led to a totally different outcome than what the millions who took to the streets had envisaged, and by early 2013 it had run its course.
In early April 2015, sudden fighting broke out in the Yarmouk refugee camp between groups affiliated to the Islamic State group (IS) and Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM), which is linked to Hamas. The already dire humanitarian situation in the camp has since worsened for about 15 000 Palestinian civilians still besieged there, out of the population of over 150 000 before the Syrian war began.
The closeness of the elections was matched only by their bizarreness. As Herzog and Netanyahu went into the final weeks neck and neck one Likud campaign video likened those who complained about the economy to Hamas terrorists. It is possible that this fear mongering played a large role in mobilising support for Likud and engineering the nationalist party’s victory. Netanyahu went so far as to argue that the “left” posed an existential threat to Israeli democracy, as they were bussing in Israeli Arabs to vote; an ironic statement not lost on many political commentators. In light of Likud’s victory at the polls liberal supporters of the Palestinian quest for security, justice and human rights have taken to the airwaves to express their lamentations. Where is the chance for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict when such a militaristic hawk is at the helm of Israel?
On 15 February 2015, an armed group calling itself the Tripoli Province of the Islamic State and claiming affiliation with the Islamic State group in Iraq (IS) posted a video on the internet of what looked like the execution of twenty-one Egyptian Copts. The incident likely occurred on the beach of the city of Sirte. That evening, the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, delivered a hasty speech condemning the incident and warning that Egypt had the right to respond. He convened a late night meeting of Egypt’s Supreme Defence Council. The next four Egyptian Air Force fighter jets twice bombed targets in Darna (instead of Sirte), claiming Darna was controlled by IS.
The 15 February Islamic State group (IS) video showing the beheadings of twenty-one Egyptians raised concerns both about the possibility of the group’s influence growing in Libya (and North Africa more generally), and about the subsequent Egyptian airstrikes inside Libya, ostensibly against IS targets. Condemnation of IS has been widespread; however, Egypt’s attempt to further militarise the Libyan conflict should be equally concerning, and could help grow IS and increase its reach.
Against the backdrop of a South African couple liquidating their assets to travel to Iraq to join the extremist Islamist organisation, the Islamic State, which has established a caliphate in northern Iraq and Syria that it governs by sharia law, SACSIS caught up with Middle East expert, Na'eem Jeenah and put the question to him: "What would it take to defeat ISIS?"
Jeenah contends that it will take more than a military response. What is needed to properly defeat ISIS is an ideological battle and Muslims themselves need to take the lead in challenging ISIS' theological arguments. Sadly, however, he argues that the world is going to be stuck with ISIS for quite some time.
Na'eem Jeenah is the Executive Director of the Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) in Johannesburg. He is interviewed by SACSIS' Executive Director, Fazila Farouk.
Late on Sunday, 25 January 2015, hundreds of protests broke in various Egyptian cities and towns, followed by attacks on public administration buildings and branches of the Interior Ministry; the burning of dozens of police and security vehicles; blocking of roads and railways all over the country; and even armed attacks on security patrols, with security personnel being ambushed and attacked at roadblocks. Some of these activities continued well into the following morning, with the death toll including more than twenty-five civilians and four security personnel, and with hundreds injured and hundreds more in custody.
The election of General Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s president will see a renewed focus by the government on domestic challenges posed by endemic corruption, the Boko Haram insurgency, and lower oil prices. How successful Buhari will be in dealing with these remains to be seen, but there are hints from his past record about the approach he might take. The gravity of these domestic issues will thus mean little change in the country’s foreign policy.
US President Barack Obama, in his struggle to fashion a transformative foreign policy by reshaping the balance of America’s relationships in the Middle East, faces formidable resistance from Israel’s right-wing Likud government allied with the most reactionary Republican-controlled US Congress in recent memory. There are, however, two missing dimensions that must be inserted into Obama’s equations regarding Iran and Israel within the context of the framework accord between Tehran and the P5+1 (US, UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany): the Palestinians, and the level of black support for Obama’s Middle East policy.
With the 31 March deadline for the conclusion of a framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme with the P5+1 looming, stakeholders have increased contact visits and interested actors have become more wary. Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, have begun building a unified bloc to respond to the negotiations, while Israel has ratcheted up its rhetoric and used its congressional support in the USA to lobby against a deal. However, convergences – especially those resulting from US and Iranian attempts to defeat the Islamic State group (IS) and the tactical astuteness of the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani – have increased the probability of an agreement. To paraphrase the German minister of foreign affairs, Guido Westerwelle, more has been achieved in the past few months than in the previous ten years of negotiations.
The Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) and Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations invites you to a conference titled: Palestinian Reconcilliation: Prospects and Challenges.
The conference will discuss the factors affecting Palestinian schism and possible solutions, while shedding light on international paradigms of reconciliation and transitional justice. A selection of Palestinian and international political figures, experts, academics and intellectuals will be participating in this conference.
Israelis are heading to the polls next week to choose among party candidates to serve in the 120-seat Knesset. A recent survey showed that Israel's Labour Party leader, Isaac Herzog, is maintaining its lead. However Palestinians, believe that the upcoming Israeli elections will not bring any change in relations between the two states. From the Afro-Middle East Center, or AMEC, we are joined by Na'eem Jeenah to look at the upcoming elections in Israel.
South Africa has been put on terror alert following reports that IS-linked suspects could be heading to the country. Reports suggest that 11 international terrorists might be considering using the country as an operational base. Na'eem Jeenah, the Executive Director of the Afro-Middle East Centre, gives his analysis.
The situation in Yemen is rapidly deteriorating. President Mansour Hadi, formerly under house arrest in Sanaa, has now escaped to the city of Aden and could set up an alternate government there in competition with the one in Sanaa. Also, a number of embassies have already shut down, and international investors have withdrawn, signalling a growing isolation for the country whose new de facto rulers in Sanaa (even if not recognised as such by the rest of the world), the Zaidi-Shi'a insurgents from the northern part of the country, the Houthis, will find difficult to manage. The United Nations has not given up on Yemen yet; its envoy, Jamal Benomar, brokered a deal between the various political foes on Friday, 20 February, before Hadi’s escape, while the UN Security Council called on the Houthis to relinquish power and allow Hadi to return to his position. However, militias aligned to Hadi and antipathetic to the Houthis took matters into their own hands and seized key government buildings and institutions. Meanwhile, al-Qa'ida, which was previously being targeted by a US-Hadi security alliance, has continued with its campaign against military instalments, citing fear of a Houthi takeover.
The death of Saudi King Abdullah on 23 January, and the ascension to the throne of his half-brother Salman have generated a flurry of discussions and speculation globally. Much attention has being paid to gestures of condolences, and comments about Abdullah’s legacy and achievements (including some western leaders’ assertions of Abdullah as a ‘reformer’). The conversations have also included reflections on royal succession and the potential for Saudi domestic and foreign policy changes. The issue of succession has been feverishly discussed for the past few years, dogged by the question of who among the grandsons of the founder of the Saudi monarchy, Abdulaziz al-Saud, would reign and when that might happen. Among many commentators there is an impression that this succession question has been resolved because Salman’s appointment of Muhammad bin Nayef as the new deputy crown prince was seemingly accepted without dissent by members of the royal family.
Tunisia’s parliament last week ratified the cabinet of the prime minister, Habib Essid, in a sign of the country’s preference for consensus building. It points to a desire for democratic consolidation, but could portend trouble for, and even fragmentation of, the ruling Nidaa Tounes party.
The cabinet comprises four parties, including the three largest parties in the legislature, Nidaa Tounes (with eighty-six seats), Ennahda (sixty-nine seats) and the Free Patriotic Union (sixteen seats). The ratification of the cabinet was a formality and over seventy-five per cent of voting parliamentarians (166 out of 204) endorsed its formation. This augurs well for Tunisians; the vast economic and security challenges the country faces requires the adoption of difficult measures, supported by a large constituency. Key amongst these is a reduction in subsidies, especially on fuel, which benefit mostly the middle and upper classes; and combating militancy without disillusioning religious Tunisians.
After the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa region, Political Islam took centre stage in many respects, as numerous actors in the region claimed their Islam as the inspiration or basis of their political activity. This manifested during various elections, coups, and civil wars. Perhaps the most recent of these has been the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, which seeks to undo the post-Ottoman Sykes-Picot architecture of the MENA region.
These developments over the past four years have resulted in the MENA region, and the Muslim world more generally, experiencing a profound conceptual rethinking, including a re-evaluation of notions of global ethics, citizenship and democracy, capitalism and economic development, imperialism, and liberation.