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End of an era: Germany’s Merkel bows out after 16 years


BERLIN - Angela Merkel was assured of a place in the history books as soon as she became Germany’s first female chancellor on Nov. 22, 2005.

Over the next 16 years, she was credited with raising Germany’s profile and influence, working to hold a fractious European Union together, managing a string of crises and being a role model for women.

Now that near-record tenure is ending with her leaving office at age 67 to praise from abroad and enduring popularity at home. Her designated successor, Olaf Scholz, is expected to take office Wednesday.

Merkel, a former scientist who grew up in communist East Germany, is bowing out about a week short of the record for longevity held by her one-time mentor, Helmut Kohl, who reunited Germany during his 1982-1998 tenure.

While Merkel perhaps lacks a spectacular signature achievement, the center-right Christian Democrat came to be viewed as an indispensable crisis manager and defender of Western values in turbulent times.

She served alongside four U.S. presidents, four French presidents, five British prime ministers and eight Italian premiers. Her chancellorship was marked by four major challenges: the global financial crisis, Europe’s debt crisis, the 2015-16 influx of refugees to Europe and the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s undeniable that she’s given Germany a lot of soft power,” said Sudha David-Wilp, the deputy director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States’ Berlin office. “Undoubtedly she’s elevated Germany’s image in the world.”

“When she first came onto the scene in 2005, a lot of people underestimated her, but she grew in stature along with Germany’s role in the world,” David-Wilp added. Others in Europe and beyond “want more of an active Germany to play a role in the world — that may not have been the case before she was in office, necessarily.”

In a video message at Merkel’s final EU summit in October, former U.S. President Barack Obama thanked her for “taking the high ground for so many years.”

“Thanks to you, the center has held through many storms,” he said.

Merkel was a driving force behind EU sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea and backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine, and also spearheaded so-far-unfinished efforts to bring about a diplomatic solution there. She was regarded as being “able to have a dialogue with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin on behalf of the West,” David-Wilp said.

She was steadfast in pursuing multilateral solutions to the world’s problems, a principle she set out at a military parade in her honor last week.

The global financial crisis and the migrant influx “made clear how much we depend on cooperation beyond national borders and how indispensable international institutions and multilateral instruments are to be able to cope with the big challenges of our time,” Merkel said, identifying those as climate change, digitization and migration.

That stance was a strong counterpoint to former U.S. President Donald Trump, with whom she had a difficult relationship. At their first meeting in the White House in March 2017, when photographers shouted for them to shake hands, she quietly asked Trump “do you want to have a handshake?” but there was no response from the president, who looked ahead.

Merkel dismissed being labeled as “leader of the free world” during that period, saying leadership is never up to one person or country.

Still, she was viewed as a crucial leader in the unwieldy 27-nation EU, famed for her stamina in coaxing agreements in marathon negotiating sessions.

“Ms. Merkel was a compromise machine,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said recently. When negotiations were blocked, she “mostly found something that unites us to move things along.”

That was on display in July 2020, when EU leaders clinched a deal on an unprecedented 1.8 trillion-euro ($2 trillion) budget and coronavirus recovery fund after a quarrelsome four-day summit.

At her 107th and last EU summit, European Council President Charles Michel told Merkel: “You are a monument.” A summit without her would be like “Rome without the Vatican or Paris without the Eiffel Tower,” he added.

The appreciation from her counterparts was genuine, although there was plenty of friction over the years. Merkel always sought to keep the EU as tightly knit as possible but strongly defended Germany’s interests, clashing with Greece during the debt crisis and disagreeing with Hungary, Poland and others over their refusal — unlike Germany — to host migrants arriving in Europe.

Merkel said she was bowing out of the EU “in a situation that definitely gives me cause for concern as well.”

“We have been able to overcome many crises in a spirit of respect, in an effort always to find common solutions” she said. “But we also have a series of unresolved problems, and there are big unfinished tasks for my successor.”

That’s also true at home, where her record — dominated by the crises she addressed and including a pandemic that is flaring anew as she steps down — is a mixed bag. She leaves Germany with lower unemployment and healthier finances, but also with well-documented shortcomings in digitization — many health offices resorted to fax machines to transmit data in the pandemic — and what critics say was a lack of investment in infrastructure.

She made progress in promoting renewable energy, but also drew criticism for moving too slowly on climate change. After announcing in 2018 that she wouldn’t seek a fifth term, she failed to secure a smooth transition of power in her own party, which slumped to defeat in Germany’s September election.

The incoming governing coalition under Scholz says it wants to “venture more progress” for Germany after years of stagnation.

But Germans’ overall verdict appears to remain favorable. During the election campaign, from which she largely was absent, Merkel’s popularity ratings outstripped those of her three would-be successors. Unlike her seven predecessors in postwar Germany, she is leaving office at a time of her choosing.

Merkel’s body language and facial expressions sometimes offered a glimpse of her reactions that went beyond words. She once lamented that she couldn’t put on a poker face: “I’ve given up. I can’t do it.”

She wasn’t intimidated by Putin’s style. The Russian president once brought his Labrador to a 2007 meeting with Merkel, who later said she had a “certain concern” about dogs after having once been bitten by one.

She was never the most glamorous of political operators, but that was part of her appeal – the chancellor continued to take unglamorous walking holidays, was occasionally seen shopping at the supermarket and lived in the same Berlin apartment as she did before taking the top job.

Named “The World’s Most Powerful Woman” by Forbes magazine for the past 10 years in a row, Merkel steps down with a legacy of breaking through the glass ceiling of male dominance in politics — although she also has faced criticism for not pushing harder for more gender equality.

Obama said that “so many people, girls and boys, men and women, have had a role model who they could look up to through challenging times.”

Former President George W. Bush, whose relationship with Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, soured over the latter’s opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, said that “Angela came in and changed that completely.”

“Angela Merkel brought class and dignity to a very important position and made very hard decisions ... and did so based upon principle,” Bush told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle in July. He described her as “a compassionate leader, a woman who was not afraid to lead.”




How to 'Europeanise' the upcoming French EU presidency?

By Nicoletta Pirozzi, Funda Tekin, Ilke Toygür, the EUobserver 06 December 2021

Madrid/Rome/Berlin - The upcoming French presidency of the EU Council will most likely be perturbed by the presidential elections scheduled for April 2022, during which Emmanuel Macron will want to show his ability to protect the French national interests also in the EU context.

The tendency to put a European flag on French goals, however, is not a new phenomenon. This is why one of the key issues for the upcoming leadership of the Union is how to Europeanise the French presidency – meaning, how to make sure that European priorities and solutions put forth by the French Presidency respond to wider European, and not merely French, interests and views.

In the meantime, reinforcing the Franco-German alliance will also be on the table since Germany is getting ready to send its new leader to the European Council. This time, however, the usual suspects should look for more inclusive alliances.

There are three areas where this is going to be extremely important: defining what "strategic autonomy" should practically entail; the execution of the recovery fund; and converting the results of the Conference on the Future of Europe into something tangible.

A collective plan for strategic autonomy

France has led the political discourse and initiative on European sovereignty and its corollary, strategic autonomy. It is now planning to give substance to it during its semester of the Council presidency through, among others, the presentation of the Strategic Compass and the organisation of a defence summit with the European Commission.

However, there are at least two main misconceptions to rectify if France wants to make strategic autonomy a success.

First in terms of its vision, which has been divisive rather than cohesive so far. Making strategic autonomy acceptable at EU level requires that it is conceived as an instrument to reinforce European sovereignty with France's key contribution, not to fulfil France's sovereign ambitions through Europe.

The second misconception relates to the method.

Making strategic autonomy work means going well beyond the Franco-German couple. In fact, the Franco-German engine is simply not powerful enough, even with the support of the European Commission, to sustain by itself a fully autonomous European foreign and security policy, both in political terms and in that of resources.

France and Germany need the contribution of other key member states, starting by those that are willing and able, in order to reconcile their positions and create a driving group to transform declarations into actions.

Squaring the circle between stability, growth and investments

One year after the establishment of the NextGenerationEU in response to the Covid-19 crisis, the Union needs to guarantee its effective implementation as well as to think ahead on economic governance.

One task for the French presidency will be to find the right way of handling the rule-of-law mechanism enshrined in the EU budget (or Multiannual Financial Framework). Establishing a sustainable link between rule of law and EU funds would be an investment for the future.

A second task is to tackle the question of how to guarantee stability and growth within the EU, while at the same time fostering investments.

There might hence be room for manoeuvre for Macron, who has been advocating European budgetary integration and debt mutualisation in the past years.

Having said that, there are still the so-called 'frugals' to convince – and Italy might be a partner in crime to do so. Before jumping the gun, however, the French presidency should focus on closely monitoring and overseeing the implementation of the National Recovery and Resilience Plans in order to assess the effects that the NGEU can have.

The Conference on the Future of Europe must go on

Another area where more selfless contribution of France is needed is the Conference on the Future of Europe. Being mostly the father of the exercise, Emmanuel Macron is hoping to harvest its results before the French presidential election.

There is a danger to it. Taking into consideration all the changes the Union is going through and what it is up to, collective thinking about its future should be more than an electoral pledge. This is why the Conference should bear results – and they should be concrete and tangible.

All in all, the French presidency should open the way for the continuation of the conference, while guaranteeing that its results will be converted into tangible actions through an explicit commitment at EU level. The conference should not be perceived as a step towards creating a common future.


- Ilke Toygür is a European affairs analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute and CATS Fellow at German Institute for International and Security Studies.

- Nicoletta Pirozzi is head of the EU, politics and institutions programme at the Institute of International Affairs in Rome.

- Funda Tekin is director of the the Institute for European Politics in Berlin.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's nd not necessarily those of our publication or the Euobseprver.



Europe’s 2 peace missions

By Kemal Derviş, Brookings, December 1, 2021

As we approach the end of 2021, the European Union is debating its choices and priorities in an increasingly dangerous world. Europe has succeeded since 1945 in realizing its foundational “peace project,” making war between old continental adversaries unthinkable and arguably reaching a Kantian “
perpetual peace” within the territory of the Union.

Moreover, although many analysts attribute the communist collapse of 1989-91 to the Soviet Union’s inability to sustain an arms race with the United States, a deeper reason for the failure of the Soviet bloc was the success of the West European social market economy. And nowhere was this clearer than in the competition between West and East Germany.

Crucially, West Germany—and Western Europe more generally—demonstrated that it was possible to have a liberal democracy, a growing market economy, and policies that effectively redistributed income and provided comprehensive social protection. The success of Western Europe’s model of peace and the social market economy, as much as the weakness of the Soviet system, brought about communism’s ideological defeat and eventual collapse.

Today, with the world facing other formidable challenges, there are two global “missions” that Europe could embrace, in line with its postwar history as a project to ensure regional peace.

The first concerns climate change. True, the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow produced notable new pledges by countries and alliances of private actors. But, given the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report, ambitious mitigation efforts have to be frontloaded this decade. It is the actual path to a carbon-neutral world, not pledges regarding the middle of the century, that is crucial.

Keeping global warming close to the target of 1.5 degrees Celsius, as established in the 2015 Paris climate agreement, will depend much more on the U.S., China, and emerging and developing economies than on Europe, which accounts forless than 8% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. Despite the promises in Glasgow and remarkable advances in green technologies, the race to keep 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach is playing out on a course strewn with severe obstacles.

In the U.S., President Joe Biden’s administration is committed to ambitious carbon-mitigation efforts but is encountering strong resistance. If the Republican Party wins the 2022 mid-term elections and the 2024 presidential election, U.S. climate policies are bound to fall far short of the COP26 commitments, even if some conservatives are finally taking climate risk seriously.

China represents a further hurdle. Its current pledge to reach peak carbon-dioxide emissions by 2030 is incompatible with the need to frontload mitigation. Unless China curbs its emissions sooner, the climate race will be lost. Making matters worse, the two superpowers may base their climate actions on what the other does.

Finally, there are the emerging and developing economies, where much of the new climate investment will be needed. These countries’ ability to contribute to a frontloaded global mitigation path depends on financial help from advanced economies. Rich countries promised such assistance in Glasgow, but their past failures to honor similar pledges do not inspire confidence.

There is a reasonable chance that a combination of rapid progress in green technologies, favorable political developments in the U.S. and China, and financial help for emerging markets will allow for the ramped-up mitigation the planet needs. But there is also a significant probability that the 2020s will become a decade of “perpetual war” on climate issues, marked by backsliding, delays, and more broken promises.

But Europe can have a positive influence on U.S. and Chinese climate policies, particularly through a carefully implemented carbon border adjustment mechanism that imposes a levy on carbon-intensive imports into the EU. And it can have a more decisive influence on mobilizing the required resources for emerging markets by supporting capital increases for multilateral development banks in which European countries are large shareholders.

The second arena where conditions may lead to perpetual war—and thus call for a European “peace mission”—is that of dual-use technologies such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. Although such innovations offer humanity tremendous opportunities for longer lives and greater well-being, they also imply existential risks similar to those posed by nuclear weapons and climate change.

It is difficult to draw the line between these technologies’ peaceful use and their deployment to gain strategic superiority over rivals. The aggressive technological competition between China and the U.S. is already tending toward a perpetual conflict, in which permitting the other to move ahead would allow it to dominate the world.

What makes this danger even greater than the nuclear arms race of the past is that weaponizing today’s civilian technologies may not require significant additional resources. Civilian medical research, for example, has brought the world frighteningly close to being able to produce synthetic viruses that could potentially be turned into weapons of mass destruction. Similar scenarios are likely to arise in developing AI. Scarier still, in both cases, is the possibility that unintended accidents could occur or non-state terrorist actors could acquire the ability to weaponize innovations.

Europe could lead in this area, as it has on climate. In particular, it should constantly warn about these dangers and help design new rules and treaties resembling the arms-control pacts that previously helped protect the world from nuclear Armageddon. It can do so while safeguarding fundamental liberal democratic values against misuse of these technologies not only by states but also by private corporate leviathans.

On both climate change and new dual-purpose technologies, therefore, Europe’s foundational peace project should become global. Europe has great human and scientific capacity, and its devastation in two world wars has stripped it of the desire to dominate others. That makes it easier for the EU to act as a peace broker. While Europe certainly must continue to improve its citizens’ well-being, embracing global missions like those described here could provide fresh motivation for this and future generations of Europeans.



Belarus president offers to host Russian nuclear weapons


MOSCOW — The longtime president of Belarus said Tuesday that his country would be ready to host Russian nuclear weapons if NATO moves U.S. atomic bombs from Germany to Eastern Europe.

In an interview, President Alexander Lukashenko also said for the first time that he recognizes the Crimean Peninsula as part of Russia and plans to visit it soon. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move that the West regards as illegal.

Lukashenko made the remarks as he moves to cement ties with Russia, his main ally and sponsor, amid tensions with the West over his disputed reelection last year and his government’s brutal crackdown on dissent in Belarus.

Asked about the possible redeployment of U.S. atomic bombs to Eastern Europe if Germany’s new government were no longer willing to house the weapons, Lukashenko responded that he would invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to send nuclear weapons that were withdrawn after the 1991 Soviet collapse back to Belarus.

“I would offer Putin to return nuclear weapons to Belarus,” Lukashenko said in the interview with Dmitry Kiselyov, the head of Russian state media group Rossiya Segodnya.

The Belarusian leader wouldn’t elaborate on what kind of weapons Belarus would be willing to accommodate. He added that Belarus has carefully preserved the necessary military infrastructure dating back to the Soviet era.

Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who left Belarus under pressure after unsuccessfully trying to unseat Lukashenko in last year’s election, denounced the president’s comments.

“Such a person shouldn’t be trusted to handle matches, let alone nuclear weapons,” she told The Associated Press.

Tsikhanouskaya said the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons to Belarus would violate international arms agreements and the will of Belarus’ people. “The majority of Belarusians have spoken for Belarus’ neutrality,” she said.

Speaking earlier this month, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the Western military alliance would need to ponder redeploying nuclear weapons east if the new German government changes the country’s policy on nuclear sharing.

“Germany can, of course, decide whether there will be nuclear weapons in your country, but the alternative is that we easily end up with nuclear weapons in other countries in Europe, also to the east of Germany,” Stoltenberg said.

Alexei Arbatov, a Moscow-based foreign policy expert, described the possible redeployment of U.S. atomic bombs to Eastern Europe as a “mad, adventurist move.” If Moscow responds by sending its nuclear weapons to Belarus, “the situation would be more dangerous than it was during the Cold War times,” the Interfax news agency quoted Arbatov as saying.

Lukashenko has edged closer to Russia since he faced Western pressure after being awarded a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that the opposition and the West say was rigged. Belarusian authorities responded to protests triggered by the election with a sweeping crackdown, prompting the European Union and the United States to slap Belarus with several rounds of sanctions.

Tensions have escalated further since the summer over the arrival of thousands of migrants and refugees on Belarus’ border with EU member Poland. The EU has accused Lukashenko of retaliating for its sanctions by using desperate asylum-seekers as pawns and tricking them into trying to enter Poland, Lithuania and Latvia to destabilize the entire EU.

Russia and Belarus have a union agreement that envisages close political, economic and military ties, but Lukashenko in the past has sought to maneuver between Moscow and the West, trying to win concessions from each party.

And even though he relied on cheap energy and loans provided by Russia, he refrained from recognizing Moscow’s annexation of Crimea until Tuesday. In Tuesday’s interview, he said he considers Crimea part of Russia both de facto and de jure. Lukashenko added that he planned to visit Crimea on Putin’s invitation.

“If the president comes there with the president of Russia, what other form of recognition could there be?” he said.

Ukrainian and Western authorities have raised concern in recent days about alleged Kremlin plans to invade Ukraine. Lukashenko warned that his country would stand squarely behind Russia if the Ukrainian government launched an offensive against Moscow-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Belarusian political analyst Valery Karbalevich said Lukashenko’s statement came as a payoff for Moscow’s backing.

“Lukashenko effectively pays Putin for the support that the Kremlin has offered to him at the time when he was on the verge of political death after the election,” Karbalevich told the AP. “Lukashenko has become a tool for the Kremlin and he expects more Russian subsidies and financial aid in return.”

He noted that in the face of Western sanctions against the Belarusian economy, Lukashenko is now “ready to deploy nuclear weapons, stage a crisis with migrants and get involved in a confrontation with Ukraine.”





How Gaza's water crisis is creating a humanitarian disaster

By Sally Ibrahim, The New Arab, 01 December 2021

In-depth: Israel's blockade and the destruction of key infrastructure during military operations have created a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, where 97 percent of the water is undrinkable.

Access to safe drinking water is an internationally recognised human right. But for Gazans, it is in short supply.

The Palestinian coastal enclave, home to more than two million people, suffers from an ongoing water crisis due to Israeli restrictions, the depletion of natural sources, and groundwater pollution.

Every day, Mohammed al-Assar, a resident from the al-Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, walks about 800 meters to fill three gallons of water that he takes from a mosque that provides it for free.

The 49-year-old father of seven told The New Arab that he could not use the water provided by the local municipality as it was salty and unsuitable for human use, especially drinking.

For years, he says, he used to buy desalinated water for his family, but it doubled his daily expenses. Two years ago, with the eruption of the coronavirus pandemic, he was forced to stop buying freshwater simply because he didn't have the means to purchase it.

Today, al-Assar is dependent on the $100 provided by a monthly Qatari grant for needy Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip. He is also reliant on food aid provided by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

"In the past, I was forced to buy 500 litres of drinking water a week, paying 10 US dollars, but currently, I do not think I can do this," he said with annoyance and anger.

Other families in similar conditions rely on charity organisations that set up water stations where they distribute these basic necessities, which have now become a commodity in Gaza.

Often, they are operated in front of mosques where dozens of local children gather to fill their pots and bottles with water.

Samah al-Masry, a teacher from Gaza city, also complains about the burden of accessing drinking water. The 39-year-old mother of two told TNA that she is forced to spend about 15 percent of her $350 monthly salary on water and electricity expenses.

"Usually, we rely on tap water for our daily housework, including showering, washing clothes and utensils, as well as cleaning the house. But the problem is that even basics such as tap water arrive three days a week, which means that women need to store water in large pots".

Amal al-Harazin, from the Jabalia refugee camp, suffers from the same crisis.

She says the salinity of the water has severe health repercussions, causing skin diseases and hair damage, not to mention the fact that her household utensils become corroded, the 36-year-old mother of four told TNA.

"If I buy desalinated water for housework, I will need to spend double of what my husband earns every day, and this means that we will all die of starvation," the Palestinian woman said, as she finished cooking for lunch.

The situation is similar for many families who live below the poverty line in Gaza.

The Hamas-run Water Authority accuses Israel of being responsible for exacerbating the water crisis after it imposed a strict blockade on Gaza in 2007.

According to officials in the Water Authority, about 97 percent of groundwater is polluted due to the suspension of most development projects and contamination with seawater.

Human rights organisations have warned for years about the deteriorating water situation in the Gaza Strip.

At the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council in October, the Global Institute for Water, Environment and Health and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said water in Gaza is "undrinkable" and "slowly poisoning" people.

The acute electricity crisis also hinders the operation of water wells and sewage treatment plants, leading to 80 percent of Gaza's untreated sewage being discharged into the sea, while 20 percent seeps underground.

In his speech to the Human Rights Council, Muhammed Shehada, chief of programs and communications at Euro-Med Monitor, said that about one-quarter of diseases spread in Gaza are caused by water pollution, and 12 percent of the deaths of young children are linked to intestinal infections related to contaminated water.

He added that the 11-day Israeli offensive on Gaza in May has severely affected basic water infrastructure and exacerbated the crisis in the besieged enclave.

Gaza municipality authorities said in a statement that 290 water supply facilities, including the sole desalination plant in northern Gaza, were damaged during the war and are in urgent need of repair. Sewage networks were also destroyed, flooding streets with dirty water.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), both salinity and nitrate levels in Gaza's groundwater have been "well above" the guidelines for safe drinking water.

About 50 percent of Gaza's children suffer from water-related infections, the WHO said.

In an effort to provide safe drinking water to Gazans, local authorities and private organisations have established desalination plants across the Strip.

Yassin desalination plant is one of the central stations in the sector that works on solar energy, producing approximately 800-900 cups of water per day.

"The water desalination process goes through several stages, including the removal of impurities, the addition of chemicals, their filtration, and the addition of sterilisers to the final product turning it into drinkable water," said Oday al-Danaf, the supervisor of the company's desalination process.

But although these plants help to ease the crisis, they are incapable of solving it all together.

According to Ahmed Helles, an environmental expert from Gaza, there are about 220 private desalination plants in the Strip, 70 percent of which are unlicensed and unattended and offer a product below the required level of quality.

"More than two million people are trapped between two options, the best of which is bitter. They are forced to use either water that is unsuitable for human use or desalinated water," he said.

He added that the main reason for the aggravation of the crisis is Israeli measures targeting the water sector, especially during times of escalation when the Israeli army bombs water wells, large reservoirs, and treatment plants.

In Gaza, three large factories manufacture desalinated water and package it in plastic containers for sale, while water from desalination plants is sold to smaller merchants.

Sally Ibrahim is a Palestinian reporter with The New Arab based in the Gaza Strip



State of Terror

By Rayyan Al-Shawaf, Carnegie Middle East, 30 November 2021

In an interview, Rémi Brulin discusses the term “terrorism,” and looks back at an Israeli bombing campaign in Lebanon.

Rémi Brulin, an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, has written extensively about the discourse of terrorism, particularly as formulated and deployed by powerful states. A particular focus of his has been the so-called Front for the Liberation of Lebanon from Foreigners (FLLF), a shadowy group that opposed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and claimed responsibility for a series of car bombs and other attacks in Lebanon during the late 1970s and early 1980s. His interest derives from the FLLF’s suspected ties to Israel, which has long portrayed itself as being in the vanguard of the war on terrorism. Apparently defunct since the early or mid-1980s, the FLLF more recently received attention in Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations, a book by Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman.


Rayyan Al-Shawaf: Ronen Bergman focuses on the Israeli politicomilitary establishment’s decisionmaking. However, as you have pointed out, Bergman writes—albeit in an endnote—that the FLLF was “a terrorist organization that Israel ran in Lebanon in the years 1980–1983, and which on its own attacked many PLO members and Palestinian civilians.” Is this acknowledgment significant?

Rémi Brulin: You are correct. Bergman does use the term “terrorist” to refer to the FLLF. The quote that you mention appears in an endnote to the book’s prologue. In another endnote, Bergman writes that, according to a senior Mossad official, “[T]he Front for the Liberation of Lebanon from Foreigners, a terrorist movement established by Meir Dagan in Lebanon, was responsible for” the bombing of the home of Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah in Beirut in March 1985. In his book Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987, Bob Woodward wrote that William Casey, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) during the years in question, had later told him that the CIA and Saudi Arabia were involved in the attack. A total of 83 people, mostly civilians, were killed. A banner stating “Made in USA” was later draped over part of the gutted building. In his book, Bergman suggests that Israel, via the FLLF, was involved.

What is rather striking, and also significant, is that Bergman devotes twelve pages of his book (pp. 234–247) to FLLF operations, yet neither in these pages nor in their endnotes does he use the term “terrorism” or “terrorist” to describe the group’s bombing campaign. Bergman reveals that very senior Israeli army officers—Meir Dagan, Rafael Eitan, and Avigdor Ben-Gal—secretly created the FLLF, a mysterious group that claimed responsibility for dozens of car bombings between 1979 and 1983, in order to “sow chaos” in Lebanon. He describes how then-defense minister Ariel Sharon used the FLLF bombs to provoke the PLO into resorting to terrorism, which would then give Israel an excuse to invade Lebanon in the name of fighting … “terrorism.” In just two weeks in the fall of 1981, Sharon’s car bombs killed at least 100 civilians in what were clearly indiscriminate attacks. Yet, despite the focus and subtitle of his book, Bergman avoids the crucial question of whether this secret FLLF campaign was an example of Israeli “targeted assassinations” or of something else entirely.

As I have documented in detail for Mondoweiss (here and here), the FLLF car-bombing campaign took place precisely at the time the Israeli government was carrying out a hasbara [“explanation,” often of a propagandistic nature] campaign to convince the United States and the rest of the Western world that Israel’s “terrorist” enemies, such as the PLO and its Arab allies, were in fact the enemy of the entire (civilized) Western world, and that the “war” Israel was waging against “the terrorists” was in fact a war “the West” as a whole would soon need to join.

The erasure of “our” terrorism is what allows for the discourse to remain unchallenged, and for the practices—immoral, counterproductive, and often deadly—that flow from this discourse to continue unabated. This is why Bergman’s reference to the FLLF as a “terrorist organization” in a couple of endnotes is so important. It is also why his studied avoidance of the term in the book’s actual text, and even in those specific endnotes that link back to the FLLF-related chapter, is so problematic and revealing.

RAS: It should come as no surprise that Israel would want to sweep the FLLF phenomenon under the rug, but what of the United States and its former ambassador to Lebanon, John Gunther Dean? Even if we set aside all the Palestinian and Lebanese civilians killed by the group, Dean has long maintained that the FLLP carried out the infamous August 1980 ambush of his embassy motorcade in Beirut, in which gunfire and light antitank weapons were used. And the FLLF claimed responsibility for the attack, correct?

RB: Right. Dean was often harshly criticized by Israel for his “pro-Palestinian” positions. Specifically, he was in favor of talking directly to the PLO. Dean has always insisted that Israel, through the use of proxies, was behind the attempt on his life in August 1980, and stated as much in his autobiography. Markings on unexploded missiles used during the attack on his motorcade revealed that the missiles had been sold by the United States to Israel. Dean pushed for an investigation. According to him, it went nowhere.

We know that in 1980, the FLLF claimed responsibility for the attack against Dean. We now also know, thanks to Bergman’s book, that the FLLF was a creation of Israel. This suggests, although it does not prove, that Dean may indeed have been correct and that the FLLF were the “proxies” he referred to in his autobiography. Bergman makes no reference at all to this attempted assassination in his book. I think that these revelations should have been major news, especially since we also know that in 1981 the Israeli military censor killed a story by two Israeli journalists (for Yedioth Ahronoth) that would have revealed that high-ranking Israeli army generals Rafael Eitan, Meir Dagan, Avigdor Ben-Gal, and others, were indeed behind the FLLF’s terrorist campaign. Interestingly, Bergman does not say a word about this act of censorship in his book.

In the United States, no media outlet has written about Bergman’s revelations. Bergman himself has appeared on countless interviews or podcasts to talk about his book, yet not a single journalist has asked him about these revelations. This is troubling on its own. Surely, historical truth matters and has value. It is troubling also because the discussion about the book is always framed as “the story of how Israel has used targeted assassinations in its fight against terrorism.” Even when Bergman or his interviewer/reviewer expresses criticism of Israeli policies or practices, the frame remains “this is all taking place in the righteous fight against terrorism.” Failing to mention the FLLF’s (in other words Israel’s) terrorist campaign is, in this context, extraordinarily troubling.

Such media silence is additionally problematic because it means that Israeli officials have not had to confirm or deny the veracity of what Bergman wrote. They have also not had to confirm, deny, or explain the decision by the Israeli military censor to kill a story that would have revealed all this (and potentially stopped the FLLF’s bombs from killing and maiming hundreds of people). Israeli officials have not been forced to launch an investigation into these alleged crimes.

RAS: Why have so many (Western) think tanks and academic-sounding journals purportedly devoted to the study of terrorism shown scant interest in the FLLF? Is the same historically true of other terrorist groups with ties to powerful Western countries?

RB: It’s possible that reviewers of Bergman’s book, which is very long, missed the significance of the relevant pages. Also, academic papers take time to write. They then need to move through the review process, meaning that they get published one or even two years later. So, there might in fact be a number of great papers about the FLLF that are about to get published. I do not know.

It is important to note, however, that there is no agreement among “terrorism experts” on how “terrorism” should be defined. Specifically, there is strong disagreement on whether it should apply solely to nonstate actors, or if it should encompass acts of “state-sponsored terrorism,” “state-supported terrorism,” and even “state terrorism.” It is striking to me how reluctant many of these terrorism experts are to discuss openly and publicly the consequences of their definitions when these definitions are applied in the real world.

In the 1980s, for example, the leading “terrorism journals” did not publish any articles about the Contras in Nicaragua, or about death squads in Guatemala, El Salvador, and elsewhere in Latin America. This was curious, to say the least, because the Contras repeatedly used methods that fit most definitions of “terrorism,” namely political violence against civilians. The death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala did the same thing on an even larger scale. These actors were trained, armed, and supported (to varying degrees) by the United States. Declassified documents show that U.S. analysts for the State Department or the Central Intelligence Agency repeatedly described them as “terrorists,” sometimes going so far as to express objections to policies that put the United States in the position of supporting or training terrorists. In the main terrorism journals, however, not only were these conflicts never mentioned, but countless articles published at the time (and since) simply take as self-evident that the United States “is opposed to all terrorism” and go on to assess the country’s “counterterrorism” policies around the world.

The field of “terrorism studies” has long been criticized precisely for focusing solely on “terrorists” that happen to be the enemies of various Western powers, while failing to focus on “terrorism” as a method used by Western states or their allies. This was pointed out in the 1980s by Noam Chomsky, Edward S. Herman, Michael Stohl, Edward Said, Christopher Hitchens, Alexander George, and others. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the subfield of Critical Terrorism Studies (CTS) came into being, as a correction to these alleged failings. CTS scholars claim that “orthodox terrorism experts” are much too close to (Western) centers of power.

RAS: This isn’t a specifically Western phenomenon, though, is it? Aren’t non-Western countries such as Russia, China, and Iran just as self-serving when it comes to determining who is a terrorist?

RB: That is absolutely correct. In the post-9/11 world, countless countries have used the rationale of “fighting terrorism” to justify deeply problematic, undemocratic, violent, and criminal policies. These issues have been deemed so significant that in 2005 the United Nations Commission on Human Rights created the position of Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism.

Russia is indeed a good example. Several United Nations reports have documented how it has used “antiterrorism” policies to target opponents of the regime (including journalists), infringe on civil liberties, engage in human rights violations, and so on. So, the point should certainly not be that what we have discussed here is a specifically Western phenomenon. It is not.

However, as someone who has focused on the genealogy of the discourses on “terrorism,” I would suggest that focusing on the American and Israeli discourses is warranted precisely because of the foundational role they have played in leading us to our current situation. That situation is one in which curbs on civil liberties, the justification of torture or “enhanced interrogation methods” because of so-called “ticking time bomb” scenarios, the spying on Muslim communities, and the use of entrapment, have gained widespread legitimacy as a means of fighting terrorism.

Indeed, everything in the post-9/11 American discourse on “terrorism” was already present in U.S. president Ronald Reagan’s discourse on the subject in the 1980s. And that discourse was, in turn, profoundly influenced by Israel’s discourse on terrorism. This matters now that we know that, while senior Israeli officials were conducting a hasbara campaign aimed at “selling” their country’s discourse to the West, and specifically to the United States, other Israeli officials were covertly conducting their very own (and extraordinarily deadly) campaign of “terrorism,” in part through the FLLF.

RAS: Does Israel’s recent designation of six Palestinian human rights and civil society organizations as terrorist entities figure into all this?

RB: Absolutely. This is how Zena Agha puts it in an excellent New York Times opinion piece: “It seems Israel’s goal is to weaponize the sprawling infrastructure of antiterrorism laws created around the world after Sept. 11, targeting Palestinian human rights defenders by labeling their legitimate work ‘terror,’ thus making their organizations, their efforts and their very persons toxic, untouchable and, most important, far harder to fund.” In many ways, this is simply the latest example in a long history of efforts by Israel to delegitimize anyone who is opposed to, or attempts to resist, its policies. To me, what this decision clearly highlights is the extent to which a number of states (not just Israel) are using the “terrorist/terrorism” label as an ideological and political weapon.

For decades now, Israeli officials have insisted that “terrorism” is a very clearly defined concept, and that it refers solely to the use of violence against civilians. This has allowed them to draw a stark line between “the terrorists,” described as savages and uncivilized precisely because they target civilians, and “us,” the (Western) states that oppose terrorism because we reject the targeting of civilians. Edward Said addressed this in 1986 in his superb essay “The Essential Terrorist.” In the real world, however, Israeli officials have never used the “terrorism” label in such a restrictive manner. Of course, they have condemned Palestinians who did indeed resort to “terrorism.” But they have also, and for decades, used that terminology to refer to Palestinians who used violence against purely military targets and to Palestinians engaged in entirely nonviolent activities.

Often, accusations aimed at civil society organizations and other nonviolent opponents of Israeli policies have been based on extraordinarily problematic assumptions about the kind of “ties” certain Palestinian individuals or organizations may have had with groups that Israel considers to be terroristic. This is perfectly illustrated in the latest case: Israel’s decision apparently rests on alleged ties between six Palestinian organizations and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which Israel, the United States, and the European Union list as a terrorist group.

A number of news organizations have been able to study and analyze the “secret file” that contains the evidence on which Israel based its decision, and have shown that the accusations against the six organizations are completely unfounded. The basic logic is guilt by association: The PFLP is a terrorist group, meaning that any ties one has with the PFLP makes one a terrorist. Israel has employed the same logic to target and kill Palestinian journalists, based on the rationale that they were members of Hamas and therefore not journalists at all, but rather “terrorists.”

In many ways, when we think of Israel’s recent decision regarding these Palestinian organizations, we should recall what happened after 9/11 to countless Muslim organizations in the United States In a number of “material support to terrorism” cases against U.S. Muslim organizations (perhaps most infamously in the Holy Land Foundation case), Israel was directly involved, and even went so far as to provide spies as witnesses for the prosecution.

RAS: Have you noticed any recent trends in terms of which individuals or entities are branded as terroristic by powerful Western countries and those moving within their orbit? Are the likes of Julian Assange and Wikileaks, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning at risk of being labeled terrorists?

RB: To identify a trend, one has to look at the relevant history. States have long used the “terrorism” label to delegitimize their opponents. The Nazis did so with resistance groups across Europe and beyond. Colonial France did the same with its enemies during its wars in Algeria and Indochina. The United States followed suit and labeled the Viet Cong “terrorists.” During the 1970s and 1980s, Latin American dictators, supported by Washington, used the “terrorist” label to delegitimize all “subversive” enemies. For example, after taking power in a coup supported by the CIA, General Augusto Pinochet of Chile repeatedly insisted he was fighting against “subversives” and “terrorists.” Time and again, he accused Orlando Letelier, a former diplomat who had fled Chile and lobbied against the Pinochet government in Washington, of being a “terrorist.” Letelier’s advocacy focused on defending human rights in his home country. He had very close ties to certain Democrats in Congress.

In 1976, Pinochet’s secret services planted a bomb under Letelier’s car. Letelier and his aide, Ronny Moffitt, were killed in the explosion, which took place on Embassy Row in the heart of Washington. This was condemned as an act of “terrorism” by the Carter administration and countless others in the United States. U.S. military aid to Chile was stopped once it became clear that the Pinochet regime would not investigate the bombing and would not bring the culprits to justice.

The Letelier assassination took place under the umbrella of Operation Condor, a secret system of crossborder repression put together by several Latin American dictatorships in order to fight against and eliminate their “subversive, terrorist” enemies. In the real world, Operation Condor itelf was, as the Letelier car bombing illustrates, an international terrorist network. This is yet another example of the propagandistic nature of the “terrorism” discourse: The very states that claimed to be fighting “terrorism” were themselves engaged in an international campaign of “terrorism.”

In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, U.S. economic and military aid to a number of right-wing regimes in Latin America—Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador—was a very contentious issue. Reagan insisted on providing aid to such countries. The argument put forth was that terrorism was the worst violation of human rights, and that U.S. aid would go toward helping these regimes fight terrorism. The terrorists, in this argument, were the left-wing groups opposed to Washington’s allies in the region.

To defend these policies, Reagan and his Republican allies in Congress had to certify that U.S. weapons were not going to human rights violators. To do so, they had to consistently reject reports from human rights organizations that documented precisely such abuses and described how these Latin American countries’ security forces had intimate ties to death squads. For example, Reagan insisted that U.S. support for the Contras in Nicaragua was part of the “war on terrorism.” In this case, the left-wing Sandinistas were the “terrorists,” and the Contras were “freedom fighters.” Many Democrats opposed this policy, insisted that the Contras themselves used methods that qualified as terrorism, and explicitly stated that U.S. support for the Contras amounted to state-supported or state-sponsored terrorism.

This is particularly interesting because Joe Biden, then a young senator, took part in some of these debates. He knows how contentious the term “terrorism” is. He knows that, throughout the 1980s, Democrats and Republicans could not agree on how to define it. They could not agree on who “the terrorists” were in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Chile, El Salvador, and of course South Africa, where Republicans insisted that the African National Congress and its imprisoned leader, Nelson Mandela, were terrorists. Democrats, in turn, argued it was Apartheid South Africa that was a terrorist state!

The only conflict where there has never been any disagreement as to the identity of the “terrorists” is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Democrats and Republicans have always agreed that Palestinians are perpetrators, and never victims, of terrorism, while Israelis are always victims, and never perpetrators, of terrorism. This is another reason why the FLLF revelations are so important.

In many ways, 9/11 simply consolidated and hegemonized discursive practices that had existed for decades. As mentioned, Letelier was labeled a terrorist by the Chilean government. His real crime? Documenting human rights violations by his government and lobbying Congress to force policy changes in Washington. Julian Assange, similarly, has uncovered grave crimes committed by the United States overseas. In 2010, he was labeled a “terrorist” by then vice president Joe Biden. A number of other U.S. officials have since labeled him such, as have media pundits and commentators intent on delegitimizing his and other whistleblowers’ work. This is crucial because many U.S. policies and activities that Assange and others have brought to light were criminal. At times, they may have amounted to war crimes, and “terrorism” can be thought of as the peacetime equivalent of war crimes. The fact that those who reveal such crimes would themselves be labeled terrorists says a lot about how propagandistic the discourse can be.

There is a parallel here with the aforementioned Palestinian human rights and civil society organizations that Israel has designated as terrorist groups. Some of these organizations are doing tremendously important work documenting what may amount to Israeli war crimes. A number of their findings have been used to build the case for an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into the Israeli military’s various operations in Gaza. Similarly, revelations from Wikileaks have helped document possible U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Of course, both Israel and the United States have refused to join the ICC, and have repeatedly rejected the very idea that the court should have the right or power to investigate their alleged crimes. Attacks against the Palestinian organizations or against whistleblowers such as Assange, Snowden, and Daniel Hale should be seen in the context of continued efforts by the United States and Israel to avoid any kind of accountability for the crimes of which they are accused.

Carnegie does not take institutional positions on public policy issues; the views represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Carnegie, its staff, or its trustees.




Syria: Shoring Up Raqqa’s Shaky Recovery

International Crisis Group, Report No 229, 18 November 2021

After suffering grievously under ISIS, and during the battles to defeat it, Raqqa is being rebuilt. The calm is tenuous, however. The U.S. and partners should work toward long-term stability in Syria’s north east, through investment and talks about sustainable governance and security arrangements.

Principal Findings


What’s new? Two years after an abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops followed by a Turkish incursion, Raqqa is largely quiet. Yet the stability of this Kurdish-controlled predominantly Arab province in north-eastern Syria is precarious and hinges on U.S. deterrence of military moves from Turkey and/or Russia in tandem with the Damascus regime.

Why does it matter? Raqqa’s trajectory and fault lines provide insight into the challenges ahead in Syria. Regional and international forces use the area to project power and pursue their security interests. Any sudden shift in the balance of power is liable to lead to violence, severe humanitarian crisis and mass displacement.

What should be done? The Biden administration has signalled that it will maintain U.S. forces in Syria for the time being. While the deployment continues, the U.S. and other anti-ISIS coalition members should promote steps to stabilise the north east, including areas like Raqqa. They should seek diplomatic arrangements to avert further disruptive offensives.


Executive Summary


Raqqa, the former de facto capital of the Islamic State (ISIS), today is among the more stable areas in Syria. Yet this relative success rests on wobbly foundations. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who control Raqqa city as well as the majority of the province govern efficiently, but high-handedly as some perceive it, fomenting occasional unrest. The province in which the city sits remains divided and contested among Turkey, Russia and the Syrian regime, while ISIS remnants exploit porous internal borders to move around. Tit-for-tat confrontations between Turkey and the SDF keep the northern border on edge and could escalate. Crucially, Raqqa’s stability depends on the U.S. troops stationed further east, whose presence deters what otherwise could be a violent free-for all. While this deployment continues, the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition should carry on investing in stabilising the area; encourage the SDF to adhere to ceasefires and reduce its monopoly upon local governance; and work toward negotiating sustainable arrangements sufficient to avert potentially destabilising military moves.

In the battles leading to ISIS’s defeat in Raqqa, the city and its immediate surroundings underwent destruction on an almost unimaginable scale. Today, the area has come back to life. With support from the coalition, the SDF established an array of institutions to secure, rebuild and administer the province, with a particular focus on the city of the same name. Despite the abrupt partial withdrawal of U.S. forces from Raqqa in October 2019 and the subsequent Turkish military incursion, security, economic conditions and governance practices are better in Raqqa than elsewhere in Syria, including in adjacent regions that equally suffered under ISIS rule but were reclaimed by Damascus.

Yet the potential for renewed destabilisation and conflict remains. Raqqa governorate is divided into three areas, distinctly controlled by rival powers, each with its own limitations. Most of the province, including the city, is under control of the SDF, a non-state actor with connections to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Kurdish militant group fighting an insurgency against Turkey since 1984. The northern part along the Turkish border is in the hands of Syrian factions ushered in by Turkey’s October 2019 incursion. Small pockets on the south-western edge are controlled by the Syrian regime, which has proven unable or unwilling to provide basic services and security to the population there. Russian forces also are on the ground; they do not hold territory, but they have established bases from which they conduct joint patrols with Turkish troops and, separately, with SDF and regime units under the terms of the 2019 ceasefire.

Any number of developments could violently upset the status quo. Resilient ISIS elements could exploit the lack of coalition presence in Raqqa, local Arabs’ alienation from SDF rule or deteriorating economic conditions to make new inroads with the hope of staging a comeback. Frictions between the SDF and the regime over governance, security and resource streams in areas where they uneasily coexist or are immediate neighbours could bring the two sides to blows. Turkey, which sees the SDF’s links to the PKK as a threat to its national security, could go on the offensive again, for example in response to attacks originating from SDF-controlled areas on its forces or the factions it backs in the north.

For now, these scenarios are kept at bay by the presence of a small contingent of U.S. forces further east and the support it provides for SDF control of the area. Absent an agreement between these actors and the SDF that provides credible guarantees against violent competition over territory and resources, there is a high probability that, were the U.S. to withdraw troops precipitously, north-eastern Syria would descend into chaos liable to trigger a severe humanitarian crisis and massive displacement. The Biden administration has signalled that it does not intend to withdraw U.S. forces for the time being; the criticism it has received for the chaotic pullout from Afghanistan makes such a move even less likely.

While the U.S. deployment continues, Washington and other anti-ISIS coalition members should use the leverage their presence in the north east affords to keep investing in the area’s stabilisation, encouraging negotiations among the parties and working in parallel to reach diplomatic understandings that would avert military moves by Ankara or Damascus if and when the U.S. does leave. Such efforts are key to addressing governance gaps and grievances that ISIS could exploit. Assistance should be contingent on the SDF both adhering to ceasefires and reducing its monopoly upon governance, including by enabling more substantial participation by non-SDF-affiliated Arabs and Kurds in the autonomous administration and local government’s decision making. The U.S. should push the SDF to restrain insurgent attacks on Turkish-controlled areas in the north, while seeking to dissuade Ankara from escalating on its end. At the same time, Washington should signal to all involved parties – Damascus, Moscow, Ankara and the SDF – its interest in exploring arrangements that could stabilise the area in a sustainable way.

Raqqa/Ankara/Brussels, 18 November 2021

To download the full report, visit:




Not Disobeying God

Michael Young Interview with Leena El-Ali, Carnegie Middle East Center, 25 Nov. 2021

In an interview, Leena El-Ali explains what the Qur’an really says about the rights of women.


Leena El-Ali is the founder and managing member of Bona Smarts LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based international development consultancy. A former London-based investment banker for over a decade, she also works to bring sustainable and impact-sensitive approaches to international aid and investment. Diwan interviewed El-Ali in late November to discuss her new book, No Truth Without Beauty: God, the Qur’an, and Women’s Rights, which she has just published with Palgrave Macmillan. It is part of the Sustainable Development Series cobranded by the United Nations, Springer Nature, and Palgrave Macmillan. She has made the e-book accessible for free, while hard copies can be bought at subsidized prices. A link to the e-book will be inserted here this coming weekend once the book is out.


Michael Young: What was the main purpose in writing your book?

Leena El-Ali: After more than fifteen years working on a variety of community, national, and cross-border conflicts throughout South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa, it became clear to me that there were many misperceptions about what the Qur’an says about many issues. Those myths and beliefs can often prevent people from embracing or participating in seemingly beneficial solutions or reforms. Regular people, both men and women, are often held back by guilt, specifically the fear of doing the wrong thing from a religious perspective. And quite often such concerns include whether and how women can be involved in their communities and societal initiatives and institutions at large.

So, the idea was to consolidate and synthesize the wonderful work of so many extraordinary scholars on the subject of women and the Qur’an, rather than leave the information diffuse and relatively difficult to build upon. In the process, just to be clear and transparent, I had some new insights which I highlight as such in the book, so as not to conflate them with previously-published views by such scholars. I also decided to cover all the issues on which women are treated differently from men and that are usually attributed to the Qur’an or Islam as such—seventeen topics in all. These include the subordination of wives to husbands, the right to divorce, political and religious leadership, inheritance rights, legal testimony, domestic violence, and much more. The book is intended to serve as a comprehensive, user-friendly reference for anyone seeking answers.

MY: In your book you make a distinction between the Islamic and the Qur’anic that is essential for your approach. Can you explain the importance of this distinction?

LEA: In essence, Qur’anic refers to what is written in the Qur’an whereas Islamic refers to how the faith has evolved over time and place. Qur’anic verses were divinely communicated to the Prophet Mohammed, according to Muslim belief, over the course of the 23 years of his mission. The verses were written down on parchments as they were being revealed, and two years after the Prophet’s death the first caliph, Abu Bakr, had them gathered into a single volume. This volume became the basis, 21 years after the Prophet’s passing, for the standardized form of the Qur’an we have today.

But what we call “Islamic” resides in the cumulative folds of Muslim history over the course of no less than fourteen centuries, with all of the ebbs and flows, customs and trends, brilliance and shortcomings of a wide variety of circumstances, cultures, and challenges. What has happened is that we have gotten lost in the unfolding of history, in a sense, so that an issue that has been labeled “Islamic” by the powers that be at any time, anywhere, is often taken as the bona fide source of its own legitimacy, as its own nonnegotiable starting point. This has proven to be far from a benign phenomenon on a vast array of topics in many communities, and indeed for many individuals, not only as relating to women’s issues. In sum, we must examine everything that is labeled “Islamic” in light of the Qur’an and see how it holds up before accepting that label.

MY: What did your research into hadiths, or reports on the sayings and actions of the Prophet Mohammed, allow you to conclude about the role of women in the Qur’an?

LEA: This was the most surprising aspect of this journey for me on several fronts. On the one hand, the hadith reports of the Prophet Mohammed’s actions as relating to women show him to have been exceptionally emancipated and egalitarian not only for his time and place, but even by today’s standards when we compare with what goes on in many Muslim societies. He gave life to the written word of the Qur’an at every turn, as indeed was his mission. If we line up all of the verses that refer to women’s issues, we would notice that there is a persistent current of what in the United States is referred to as “affirmative action” that revolves around the recognition, protection, inclusion, and promotion of women.

The hadith reports moreover tell us that some of these verses that advocate for women’s rights were revealed in response to the activism of the women themselves at the time. This included their mobilization to demand the right to inheritance, to challenge unfair divorce customs, and even to question why the Qur’an addressed people in the masculine plural (for example the plural “you” in Arabic is masculine, as in many other languages), thereby throwing doubt on whether it was including them in its message at all!

On the other hand, the hadith reports of the Prophet’s sayings as relating to women turned out to be more of a mixed bag. Not all of these appear consistent with the message of the Qur’an or with the Prophet’s own actions. While there are only about a half-dozen sayings denigrating women that are designated as “reliably transmitted,” these have come to dominate the discourse despite the volume of evidence in support of women’s spiritual and societal equality. On a side note, I should mention that the hadiths were compiled 200–300 years after the Prophet’s passing, and that these compilations also contain sayings and commentaries by others.

MY: How would you characterize the rights of women today in many Muslim communities?

LEA: Muslim societies have gone from being ahead of the pack by centuries, if not by over a millennium on some issues—think divorce rights, property ownership and inheritance rights, and even civil or interfaith marriage—to being left behind in an ironically pre-Islamic time warp on many other issues. Most egregiously, rather than take ownership of our own choices, we blame that which we claim to love the most—our God. Disappointing.

MY: Following on from the last question, there is a widespread perception in the West that Islam denigrates women, and you acknowledge that many Muslim communities treat women as “second-rate beings.” Yet you also make the point that the Qur’an takes a very different view. Can you elaborate?

LEA: It’s important to begin by asking the right question, which to my mind is: What does the Qur’an tell us is God’s purpose in creating human beings and placing them on earth? It’s to be His representatives, and we’re even given a job description: To spread kindness and eschew the morally distasteful, to worship God and give in charity, to obey God and His messenger, and to work on the content of our hearts. The Qur’an moreover tells its readers that “believing men and believing women are each other’s protectors.” It could hardly be simpler or clearer: To prevent women from full engagement in the world or deprive them of their free will is, quite simply, to dis-obey the Qur’anic God.

MY: You’ve made your book open access to all. Why do so?

LEA: I wrote this book as a bridge between scholarly works on women’s issues and the average reader of whatever background who may not have the time, inclination, or ability to read these works directly. This is reflected in the book’s language and presentation, but it must necessarily also be reflected in its availability to anyone, anywhere. I hope to bring joy to people’s hearts and would hate to think that the cost or logistics might get in the way.


Carnegie does not take institutional positions on public policy issues; the views represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Carnegie, its staff, or its trustees.



North Africa

Why the closure of Algeria's gas pipeline to Morocco will prove costly for all

By Yasmina Allouche, the New Arab, 01 December 2021

After 25 years, the Maghreb Europe Gas pipeline (GME) has had its operations suspended after Algeria's decision last month to end its contract following the rupture in relations with neighbour Morocco.

Inaugurated in 1996, the pipeline has transferred billions of cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas annually from Algeria to southern Spain along 1,400 kilometres across northwest Africa and 540 kilometres of Moroccan territory.

Algiers will now deliver its natural gas to Spain exclusively through an undersea pipeline to avoid going through Morocco. The GME has a capacity of transferring around 12 bcm annually but in poorly performing years like 2019, production can be limited to 7 bcm passing through the pipeline.

Europe has long considered the energy potential of the Sahara desert in North Africa, which could generate renewable and solar energy that would meet European energy demands.

However, many North Africans fear that Europe's help in fulfilling its targets for greenhouse emission cuts could plunder local resources, cause environmental damage, and solely serve the interests of corrupt elites.

As relations between Morocco and Algeria continue to deteriorate significantly, the consequences will not only affect the Maghreb region. Europe will now have to contend with decisions that do not prioritise its interests at a time when countries like Spain are struggling with skyrocketing prices of electricity, fuel, and natural gas.

In July, the Moroccan ambassador to the UN called for the self-determination of the Kabyle people in Algeria, which was seen as a direct “insult” to the sovereignty and unity of the country.

In turn, Algiers accused Morocco of supporting the "terrorist" arsonists of the forests of Kabylia and unilaterally severed diplomatic relations, closing the border, recalling its ambassador, and now suspending one of the last few forms of cooperation between the two states.

Uncertainty about the pipeline’s future is an issue that concerns both Morocco and Algeria and jeopardises any chance of industrial cooperation that would help connect the Maghreb region more closely to world trade.

Competition to be the leading regional power has defined the bitter rivalry over the last two decades (which both the EU and the US have had little interest in fixing) and is the driving force behind why broader economic cooperation, trade, and investment across North Africa and neighbouring regions have failed to progress despite great potential.

Since the 1994 closure of land and sea borders between Morocco and Algeria, commercial transactions had been considerably reduced but still functioning. Until 2016, Algiers was Rabat's primary trading partner, since replaced by Egypt and Côte d'Ivoire.

With the suspension of the pipeline, commercial transactions will continue to deteriorate and make more room for smuggling and informal border trade, which is driven by drug, fuel, and medicine trafficking.

With both countries suffering from high unemployment rates, political discontent, and tepid economic indicators, the timing of the pipeline’s suspension will only further exacerbate a delicate situation by threatening thousands of jobs during a time when poverty is on the rise and social and political stability is fragile.

The GME gas transit has proven advantageous for the two neighbours over the course of its history. Algiers benefits from a low-cost route for its exports to Spain and Portugal, and Rabat, which lacks alternative sources of natural gas supply, has received an average of 1.07 bcm annually over the last five years making up over 95% of the total supply for its power sector.

While Morocco’s National Office for Hydrocarbons and Mines and the National Office for Electricity and Drinking Water have ensured that Algeria’s move will not have a "insignificant impact" on performance in the immediate future and that all necessary measures have been taken to continue to supply the kingdom with gas, it may still face an energy crisis of its own if it fails to recover lost numbers, with few alternative options.

To add to Spain’s worries, Morocco has also renewed the license for Qatar Petroleum to explore oil in its southern waters near the Canary Islands after Italy sold 30% of its share to Qatar Petroleum. The move comes a year after Morocco passed laws delimiting its maritime borders with Spain giving Morocco exclusive authority over research, economic activity, and resources in the area, which was heavily criticised in Spain.

Morocco’s own relations with Germany and Spain have soured over the past year, something which it will look to remedy quickly if it wishes to maintain its regional dominance over Algeria.

Since the pipeline suspension, Rabat has also stepped up efforts to strengthen its economic relations with France as the latter manoeuvres the bumpy terrain it shares with Algeria, which is currently on bad terms with the Elysée.

Algeria will now be looking to reassure Spain that the GME closure will not affect its exports, which accounted for 34.8 bcm between 2016 and 2020 or 52% of its total exports to Spain. Spain also receives natural gas from a second pipeline in Algeria called the Medgaz pipeline, which was inaugurated a decade ago and is jointly controlled by the Algerian state and Spanish energy company Naturgy.

While all operations will now rest on the Medgaz route for Spain to cover nearly half of all the natural gas it consumes annually from Algeria, there are still concerns the pipeline will be unable to make up for the shortfall from the GME closure.

In order to avoid a significant production decrease, Algeria would need to increase the capacity of the Medgaz pipeline, which currently provides a quarter of all the natural gas that reaches Spain, to over 10 bcm a year for Spain to be able to cover its needs.

Another option aside from the Medgaz submarine route would be to ship more liquefied natural gas (LNG) but that may prove to be a poor economic decision for Algeria in the long term due to frequent outages at key LNG export facilities, and in the scenario that Spain ends up diversifying its gas sources and reducing its dependence on Algeria as its primary source.

Algeria may decide to restart supplies again at some point in the future, but in order for this to resume a substantial degree of political will needs to be in place as it contends with the threat of the Tel Aviv-Washington-Rabat axis on its territory.

Yasmina Allouche is a freelance journalist and researcher working on the Maghreb with a special focus on Algeria.




Libya needs more than a vote

By Tim Eaton and Tarek Megerisi, Chatham House, The World Today, 03 December 2021

The international community must ensure a clear and workable election process if Libya is to achieve stability, argue Tim Eaton and Tarek Megerisi

On December 24, 2021, Libyans are due to vote in elections that seek to provide a unified, legitimate, national government for Libya for the first time since 2014. Yet, a myopic focus on creating a new government obscures the fact that the measure of success should not be that government’s mere existence, but rather what it can achieve.

The government will be elected on a contested basis but there is little clarity over how the roles and responsibilities of key positions in the process will operate. We have seen how this plays out before.

In 2014, a second bout of civil war followed parliamentary elections as rival governments emerged. If this latest poll is to be a success, the ambiguities of the election process must be clarified. In the longer term, means to initiate national reconciliation and address sources of conflict within the economic and security sectors must be established to make any gains sustainable.

At first glance, it seems that all Libyans and the international community are united behind elections. Yet, despite the pro-election statements, a zero-sum competition for power continues. The fight is now over the electoral process for whoever controls what happens next. Those in positions of power see the elections as an opportunity for advancement or self-renewal but place a priority on protecting their current position should the process collapse.

Abdul Hamid Dabaiba, the prime minister of the Government of National Unity, has been arguing that ‘stabilization’ must precede elections. Should the election falter, then his framework for stabilizing Libya will become the default – and perhaps only – policy option in play.

Dabaiba has courted support through the rollout of populist policies, such as handing out 40,000 dinar ($9,000) grants to newly married couples and kickstarting reconstruction through his ‘Reviving Life’ project. Yet, the tendering of these contracts has raised eyebrows given the Dabaiba’s family history of enrichment while in charge of Libyan state institutions. Critics claim these projects are little more than a series of payoffs, using public funds to obtain political support.

Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who demolished 2019’s political process by marching his troops on Tripoli, has spent most of the year trying to ensure he can run for office while guarding his independence by preventing political or military unification in Libya. There is little prospect that candidates standing in areas under Haftar’s control could meaningfully challenge him, and there is no realistic way of ensuring the polls are free and fair. Should the elections fail, or if Haftar performs poorly, he will no doubt return to barracks and dispute the victor’s authority. This is highly likely as it is difficult to see how he will obtain the necessary votes to get over the line in the more populous west of the country that he spent two years attacking.

Aguila Saleh, Speaker of the chronically divided Libyan parliament, has capitalized on international desperation for the election to ride roughshod over due process. While seen as a competitor to Haftar, Saleh has done much to facilitate Haftar’s candidacy, whose attack on Tripoli he supported. Having blocked any progress on the substantive side of elections – the constitutional basis and electoral law – until the autumn, Saleh then unilaterally drafted and passed election ‘laws’, that are more accurately described as decrees. These decrees transformed Libya into a presidential system, with an ill-drafted constitutional basis that creates an executive of largely unchecked power and would delay a vote on a new parliament until at least a month after presidential elections.

While Saleh is known to have aspirations of being elected president, it is difficult to see how he could overtake Haftar let alone win votes outside of his eastern constituency. His calculation seems to be that either political rivals across Libya will object to a vote or that the process will not deliver a result. Either of these outcomes would allow Saleh to stay on and grow his power.

To further complicate matters, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the heir apparent of his late father, threw his hat into the ring. Saif’s prospects of winning are highly limited owing to the fragmented nature of the so-called Greens. But his re-emergence poses a further challenge to Haftar as they compete for the support of the same constituencies, and it has sparked rage among pro-revolutionary groups.

Perhaps most important at this stage is the question of who will be able to run. This issue is becoming more hotly contested by the day. Saif’s candidacy has now been rejected due to a prior in absentia conviction, while the court is currently considering appeals for Dabaiba’s expulsion. Exclusions are subject to appeal, and whichever way they fall the decisions have major ripple effects. Less than a month from the polls, the electoral process is at breaking point.

Rebooting the peace process

The current political process was built on the rubble of previous United Nations’ efforts that collapsed as Haftar marched on Tripoli. By the summer of 2020, Turkey had stopped Tripoli falling to Haftar’s international coalition only for Russia to re-enforce Libya’s division by imposing a new front line in the central city of Sirte.

Russia worked with Egypt to piece together a new eastern Libyan political entity through which they could channel their interests. Egypt then appealed to the United States and France to recreate the failed peace process between western and eastern Libyan factions who represented international interests yet lacked support within Libya.

The international community was gridlocked, and so turned back to the UN to resolve the situation. With limited room to operate and with an inappropriate format for peace-making imposed on them, the UN worked to try and formalize peace and restart Libya’s political realignment afresh.

An old format of a joint military council was brought together to forge a ceasefire, while elections were resurrected to generate a legitimate leader to bring about change.

In the event, the military council was a body of delegates with no leading military members taking part. In addition, it focused on lofty goals, such as the removal of foreign forces from Libya, rather than any security sector reform, unification or accountability measures that would have made the resumption of conflict within Libya less easy.

Similarly, the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum convened by the UN to create a strategy for political change, became a hollow forum of delegates. Despite its initial conception as a means to displace what Stephanie Williams, the then acting UN Special representative, dismissed as ‘Libya’s political dinosaurs’, the opportunity for bringing together individuals who could garner popular legitimacy to reconcile, reform and finally resolve Libya’s 10-year transition was missed.

The UN calculated that including members of the opposing parliament and consultative body that had presided over Libya’s political split in 2014 was necessary for progress, but lax follow-up and oversight of the process by Jan Kubis, the incoming UN Special Envoy who has since resigned , allowed the dinosaurs to dominate. The elements of the forum that the UN had originally sought to empower were marginalized. This meant that the Military Commission and the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, the two vehicles for driving Libya’s change, were dependent on those who benefited most from Libya remaining the same.

The forceful insistence by Richard Norland, the US Special Envoy for Libya, to hold elections by any means necessary and his support from France and Egypt – both of whom have long intervened in Libya to support the return of military authoritarianism – did suggest that the elections would take place, but legal wranglings over the process now threaten to derail it.

Even if the polls do proceed, there has been little content to the international consensus on the need for elections. The need to show progress towards that goal has meant a blind eye has been turned to destabilizing interference from external
actors in any forum that mattered.

Where do we go from here?

As Libya heads towards elections, it is apparent that a focus on ensuring the elections happen without the accompanying conditions to make polls meaningful has been a mistake. The international community’s lack of willingness to steward the process has allowed a transfer of power from the architects of the strategy and neutral international sponsors to parties involved in the conflict. This has placed the arsonists in charge of putting out the fire.

Despite their clear procedural violations, Saleh’s decrees were effectively rubber stamped by the UN Special Envoy who presented them to the Security Council as electoral laws that would serve as the basis for elections. Since then, Libya’s electoral commission has come under international pressure to conduct the polls based on Saleh’s unilateral decrees.

As a result, it is legitimate to ask what the planned elections might actually change. Given the level of fragmentation within Libya, a decisive result is unlikely. There is little time for new entrants on the political scene to make an impact and such is the level of disagreement over the parameters of the process itself that it will be easy for Libyan rivals to disavow the results.

Given the international community’s commitment to delivering elections, it must now seek to do all it can to rescue the process it started. At the very least, open questions over the sequencing of the poll, the transfer of power and clarifications over roles and responsibilities of key posts must be clarified before December 24. Finally, the international community must press Libyan candidates to agree publicly to accept the result of the polls, win or lose. If these minimum requirements are not met, then the electoral process will be a road to nowhere.

Looking beyond December 24, it must be noted that an electoral process is not a substitute for negotiation over the substantive issues that have driven the conflict.

A programme for ending Libya’s troubles must rely on a broader process of milestones for progress on key issues such as the reunification of institutions, economic and governance reform, security sector reform, reconciliation and transitional justice.

Elections form an important part of such a process but are not the sole element. This also involves accepting that a new government will not address all of these divisive challenges without considered assistance from the international community. The lessons of other post-conflict states such as Lebanon and Iraq clearly indicate it will not.

These deeper questions may be side-lined as the focus on elections narrows but they will not go away. Worryingly, there is no indication that Europe, the US or the UN are ready to deal with them once elections in Libya have been held.




How Egypt's grandiose neo-Pharaonism lends legitimacy to its strongman

By Kyle J. Anderson, The New Arab, 23 November 2021

CAIRO - Over the course of the past year, the Egyptian government, led by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has been transporting the millennia-old remains of the Pharaohs from the Museum of Antiquities outside Tahrir Square to the new Grand Egyptian Museum outside of the pyramids at Giza. The fanfare started in April, with 22 mummies making their way through the forcibly-cleared streets of Cairo and a nationally-televised celebration dubbed the "Pharaohs' Golden Parade." It continued in August, with the so-called "solar barque" transported through Cairo in a remote-controlled vehicle imported from Belgium. This week, the Egyptian regime is planning a grandiose reopening of the Avenue of Sphinxes (Kebash Road) in Luxor, in a ceremony to be attended by Sisi himself.

As these events have unfolded, I followed the reactions of Egyptians watching on social media. Many were supportive, but some expressed criticism at the pomp and circumstance.

One of the most insightful comments came from the eminent Egyptian historian Khaled Fahmy, who compared Sisi's ostentatious displays with the opening ceremony of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, hosted by Adolf Hitler and immortalized in Leni Riefenstahl's film Olympia.

Many will rightly object to a comparison between Hitler's fascism and Sisi's populist brand of neo-Pharaonism. After all, Hitler's ideology posited the mythical Aryan race as a superior racial subject to genocidal effect, while Egyptians have been the object of European racism, especially during decades of French and British colonialism. Moreover, after coming to power in the 1930s, the National Socialist state in Germany established a whole body of laws that defined German citizenship in terms of blood and descent, prohibited marriage between Germans and Jews, and institutionalised eugenics including by forcibly sterilising people.

Yet I agree with Mohamed Elshahed's recent observation about Egypt that, "if a state views its population as a burden not an asset, that's a red flag to notice."

Pharaonic nationalism shares a common history, as well as what philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein would call a deep conceptual "grammar," with the kind of European race science that culminated in Hitler's National Socialism. Historian Ivan Hannaford links National Socialism with "the racialization of history," when, beginning in the nineteenth century, human societies were reimagined as being naturally divided into a set of discrete units that could trace their roots back to racially-pure communities in deep historical time. Influential thinkers like the Prussian diplomat and historian Barthold Niebuhr (1776-1831) posited that it was relations between these groups of race and blood that provided the key to understanding history.

As a recent volume edited by Marius Turda and Paul Weindling demonstrates, by the period from 1900 to 1940, this type of "racial nationalism" had spread throughout central and southern Europe.

The racialization of history may have been the result of a long tradition of race-thinking in Europe, but Elise K. Burton's recent book shows how this was also a global process. In the 1880s, missionary schools in Beirut hosted the Austrian anthropologist Felix von Luschan as he measured the skulls of people in the Ottoman Levant. Observing the endogamous community of Maronites in Mount Lebanon, he asserted that they had "preserved an old type in an almost marvellous purity."

Connecting Maronites with the ancient Phoenicians, French colonial administrators and Francophone Lebanese nationalists associated this with what they called the "Phoenician race" (race phénicienne). In the 1920s, the American University in Beirut launched a major anthropometry program that measured the cranial indices of thousands of people, which was partly an effort to discover the "present representatives" of the Phoenicians.

Phoenicianism gave Maronites in Lebanon the opportunity to project an identity that pre-dates their adoption of the Arabic language—associated as it was with the Muslim conquests. In this sense, it was similar to what Iranian historian Reza Zia-Ebrahimi has called "dislocative nationalism."

Beginning the second half of the nineteenth century, Iranian intellectuals began to imagine a primordial nation that had existed for 2,500 years and was connected to the Aryan race. Since the Aryan racial essence was pre-Islamic, perceived shortcomings in Iranian society could be blamed on Islam and Arab 'contamination'. This claim was integrated into the official ideology of the Pahlavi state from 1925 until the Islamic revolution, and remains a powerful rhetorical weapon for political figures in Iran today.

The emergence of Pharaonism in Egypt signaled a similar shift towards conceptualizing the deep past as a pure national essence that pre-dates the Arab-Islamic conquests. According to Elliot Colla, when chronicler 'Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti watched the Napoleonic expedition in the grips of Egyptomania at the turn of the nineteenth century, he used a pejorative term for pagan worship by describing Pharaonic antiquities as "idols".

But a generation later, the first museum for the storage and exhibition of antiquities was established in Egypt under the directorship of Rifa‘a Rafi' al-Tahtawi, who had studied under one of Bonaparte's savants in France. Eliott Colla documents "a new connection between the ancient Egyptian past and the Egyptian present" across Tahtawi's numerous writings in the middle of the 19th century.

Although this initial attempt to build an Egyptian museum stalled out, by 1858, a French Egyptologist was appointed director of the new state agency known as the Antiquities Service.

As Omnia El Shakry has shown, another longtime European resident in Egypt—the Italian physician Onofrio Abbate—conducted a series of experiments around this time comparing the mummified remains of skeletons from the ancient necropolis of Kawamil with cadavers at the Qasr al-'Ayni hospital in Cairo. Through the observation of bodies in Egypt from 1845 to 1915, Abbate built up a complex and influential theory of Egyptian racial distinctiveness that drew heavily on European race science.

The heyday of Egyptian Pharaonic nationalism came in the 1920s and 30s—just as fascist movements were sweeping through Europe. It was spurred on by the discovery of the tomb of Tut Aknh Amun in 1922. When the leader of the anti-British revolution, Sa'd Zaghlul, passed away in 1926, his mausoleum was erected in grand Pharaonic style in the middle of Cairo's posh Garden City neighbourhood.

As Hussein Omar pointed out immediately in the wake of the Pharaohs' Golden Parade, it was 1931 when the dictatorial politician Ismail Sidqi set a precedent that would echo for nine decades by relocating 24 mummies from the Egyptian museum to Zaghlul's tomb.

By positing a link between the ancient Pharaohs from millennia ago and people living in Egypt today, Sisi's brand of neo-Pharaonism draws on this legacy of racial nationalism, even while jettisoning some of the pseudoscientific rhetoric that has fallen out of fashion.

We saw it among his supporters when he first took power, like the Antiquities Minister and famous Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, who likened Sisi to the Pharaoh Mentuhotep II. It cropped up at the inauguration of the New Suez Canal in 2015, when Sisi declared: "Egypt is a great country and has a civilization of 7,000 years," and special coins were minted with Pharaonic lotus designs. During the Pharaohs' Golden parade, First Lady Intisar el-Sisi expressed her pride in "belonging to an ancient civilization."

And in the heart of Tahrir Square, where a series of revolutionary demonstrations that began ten years ago ultimately swept him into power, Sisi's government has erected a 90-ton obelisk depicting the Pharaoh Ramses II.

Khaled Fahmy was right to compare Sisi's Golden Parade with Hitler's Olympic ceremonies, but he forgot one important aspect in his comparison: the important role played by popular notions of race in fascism.

The idea that "the people" constitute a homogenous mass is an appealing rhetorical device for any strongman leader who could claim to embody their essence in his singular persona. We do not talk about race today the same way we did in the 1920s and 30s, but the basic premises of that antiquated thinking are still there: that people are naturally organized into social groups that reproduce biologically through deep time.

The race concept is a powerful idea for modern nationalist mobilizations, and Sisi in Egypt is just one of the authoritarian governments manipulating archaeological remains to benefit politically from its resuscitation in the twenty-first century.

Kyle J. Anderson is an assistant professor in the Department of History & Philosophy at SUNY Old Westbury.




Abdelilah Benkirane back at the helm of Morocco’s PJD

Menas Associates,, London, 24 November, 2021

The former ruling Parti de la justice et du développement’s (PJD) is still struggling to hold itself together after its disastrous election defeat, which was quickly followed by the mass resignation of its general secretariat.

The party held an exceptional conference at Bouznika on 30 October at which it voted for a new leader. Unsurprisingly, rather than chart new territory, the party took solace in the familiar by electing Abdelilah Benkirane — its former General Secretary and the country’s former prime minister — to the post. Benkirane won by 81% of the vote and easily beat the two other candidate

He also defeated those elements in the party, including its outgoing leadership, who wanted the newly elected leadership to be temporary and to last for one year only. Benkirane demanded a normal leadership for a normal amount of time and was successful in achieving it.

Controversial figure

Benkirane has long been a controversial character on the Moroccan scene. He is most notably remembered for his willingness to take a more robust line with the Palace, and for being far less docile and compliant than his successor Saadeddine Othmani.

This characteristic should not be overplayed. While Benkirane was more willing than his predecessor to challenge the status quo, he also knew how to toe the line when necessary, following a policy of submission to monarchy which at times drew criticism from among the PJD’s more hardline elements.

However, he was definitely a fierier and more charismatic figure than Othmani, and many in the party are clearly looking to him to revive the PJD’s fortunes. He has had a growing following among some factions of the party faithful over recent years and he has made his presence felt not least through his outspoken condemnation of the previous PJD leadership. This became particularly forceful whenever he felt the party had bowed too low to meet the Palace’s demands, such as: over the normalisation of ties with Israel; the legalisation of cannabis for pharmaceutical purposes; and the return of some parts of the educational curriculum being taught in French rather than Arabic. Consequently his being re-elected was hardly a surprise.

Magnanimous tone

Those expecting Benkirane to use the conference to indulge in a public attack against Othmani for having led the party to electoral disaster were, however, disappointed. Although some jostling and criticism of the outgoing leadership was expressed during the conference, Benkirane personally adopted a magnanimous tone.

He made clear that the whole party should bear responsibility for its defeat at the polls and noted that it was not solely Othmani’s fault. He also made clear that the party should not expect miracles under his leadership, quipping, ‘I am not Messi. I am just one player, like you.’ He also talked of ‘a new phase’ for the party, stressing that it should focus on democratic reforms and human rights which are both issues that the party’s critics accused it of ignoring while in power.

More importantly for many, Benkirane has indicated that the PJD will return to its ideological roots by re-anchoring its priorities in Islam and the Islamic reference. This will have been welcomed by many party members who have long felt that the party has strayed too far from its religious core and Islamic principles in order to make itself more acceptable to the Palace and to the Moroccan elite.

Promise to be a strong opposition

Benkirane also promised that the party would work as a ‘strong, constructive and responsible opposition,’ stressing that he didn’t want the PJD to become part of the ‘chorus that switched overnight from supporting Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch to criticising him.’

Quite how it will be able to work as an opposition force is unclear given that it only has 13 of the 395 seats in parliament and has lost a major proportion of its funding. However, with the outspoken Benkirane at the helm, the PJD will continue to be vocal in its criticisms, and will make the most of its return to opposition to challenge the new government at every turn. Yet, given that the party is in such disarray, there is a risk that it will become more of a one man show under Benkirane’s lead and that it will struggle to properly resuscitate itself.




Research Papers & Reports

LONDON - The erectile dysfunction drug Viagra may be linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study.

Researchers found that using Viagra (also called sildenafil) was associated with a 69 per cent reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, when accounting for other factors like sex, race and age.

Experts from Cleveland in the US analysed insurance claims data from more than 7 million people and used computer modelling to look for drugs that might target areas in dementia.

They found that men on Viagra had a substantially lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and called for more research into its potential use.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of age-related dementia, affecting hundreds of millions of people worldwide, and there is currently no effective treatment.

The authors of the new study said they cannot definitely say there is a causal relationship between Viagra and Alzheimer’s, but called for this to be tested in a clinical trial.

Lead investigator Dr Feixiong Cheng, from the Cleveland Clinic, said the findings were encouraging but said more work was needed.

“Because our findings only establish an association between sildenafil use and reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, we are now planning a mechanistic trial and a phase II randomised clinical trial to test causality and confirm sildenafil’s clinical benefits for Alzheimer’s patients,” he said.

Viagra was originally designed as a heart drug but doctors also found it improved blood flow to the penis. At least two-thirds of men have improved erections after taking it, according to the National Health Service.


French and German approaches to Russia

By Dr Céline Marangé and Dr Susan Stewart, Chatham House, Russia and Eurasia Programme, 30 November 2021

Areas of common interest in French and German approaches to Russia make it possible to envisage cooperation between Paris and Berlin in the security and the economic spheres. Both France and Germany are determined to confront hybrid threats and destructive behaviours coming from Russia; both have pushed for more engagement with Russia while upholding sanctions against it; and both see Russia as a necessary actor in future European security arrangements.

However, differences in political style and in priorities have made it difficult for Paris and Berlin to act jointly, even if the Normandy Format – bringing together the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine – represents an important exception. In general, France is more focused on security, while Germany has put a premium on economic and energy issues.

This research paper explores the extent to which the Franco-German ‘motor’ can be mobilized in the area of Russia policy within the EU. The authors point to the possibility of continued convergence under the newly agreed coalition government in Germany, but underscore that the strength of opposition from eastern member states can be expected to impede potential French and German attempts to develop a consensus approach to Russia at EU level.



- Historically, France and Germany have had different priorities in their relationships with the USSR and the Russian Federation, but they nonetheless adopted similar approaches to the integration of Russia into European and international structures after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

- As an important military and nuclear power with a seat on the UN Security Council, France views Russia primarily through the lens of security policy. Germany, by contrast, focuses strongly on the business and energy spheres, reflecting not only its economic heft but also its historically based reticence in the realm of ‘hard’ security.

- The Normandy Format on the Russo-Ukrainian conflict in Donbas has been a pillar of French and German cooperation since 2014, creating an important arena for exchange and joint efforts with regard to part of the Eastern Neighbourhood. Although little progress has been made in ending the conflict, Berlin and Paris share a similar analysis of the obstacles preventing its resolution.

- Both Germany and France are interested in deepening cooperation with the countries involved in the Eastern Partnership, in particular those with an association agreement with the EU. However, neither views the Eastern Partnership as a route to EU membership.

- Although French President Emmanuel Macron’s initiatives on Russia have yielded few results, both France and Germany envisage Russia as a necessary actor in future European security arrangements. Both countries are opposed to NATO enlargement to Ukraine and Georgia for now. Convergence in the area of hard and soft security is therefore possible, but joint Franco-German proposals are likely to be met with strong opposition from eastern EU member states wary of Russian actions and intimidation tactics.

- Berlin and Paris are both determined to confront hybrid threats coming from Russia, especially disinformation and cyberattacks, while advocating for a combination of sanctions against and engagement with Moscow. However, Germany’s strong effort to uphold sanctions against Russia has been undermined by its insistence on completing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, resulting in a contradictory approach towards Russia.

- A key sphere that should be addressed in the relationship with Russia concerns illicit financial transactions. Cooperation in this area could not only tap into existing efforts at the EU level, but also involve other EU members, in particular the Baltic states and Poland, thus helping to bridge the wide gap in approaches towards Russia that currently exists within the EU.

To download the full report, visit:




STOCKHOLM - Sales of arms and military services by the industry’s 100 largest companies totalled $531 billion in 2020—an increase of 1.3 per cent in real terms compared with the previous year. This is according to new data released today by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The arms sales of the Top 100 arms companies in 2020 were 17 per cent higher than in 2015—the first year for which SIPRI included data on Chinese firms. This marked the sixth consecutive year of growth in arms sales by the Top 100.

Arms industry weathers Covid-19 pandemic and economic downturn

Arms sales increased even as the global economy contracted by 3.1 per cent during the first year of the pandemic. ‘The industry giants were largely shielded by sustained government demand for military goods and services,’ said Alexandra Marksteiner, Researcher with the SIPRI Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme. ‘In much of the world, military spending grew and some governments even accelerated payments to the arms industry in order to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 crisis.’

Nevertheless, operating in the military market did not guarantee immunity to the effects of the pandemic. French arms manufacturer Thales, for example, ascribed a drop in arms sales of 5.8 per cent to lockdown-induced disruptions in the spring of 2020. Some companies also reported supply chain disruptions and delayed deliveries.

US companies continue to dominate ranking

The United States once again hosted the highest number of companies ranked in the Top 100. Together, the arms sales of the 41 US companies amounted to $285 billion—an increase of 1.9 per cent compared with 2019—and accounted for 54 per cent of the Top 100’s total arms sales. Since 2018, the top five companies in the ranking have all been based in the USA.

The US arms industry is undergoing a wave of mergers and acquisitions. To broaden their product portfolios and thus gain a competitive edge when bidding for contracts, many large US arms companies are opting to merge or acquire promising ventures. ‘This trend is particularly pronounced in the space sector,’ said Marksteiner. ‘Northrop Grumman and KBR are among several companies to have acquired high-value firms specialized in space technology in recent years.’

Chinese firms account for second largest share of Top 100 arms sales

The combined arms sales of the five Chinese companies included in the Top 100 amounted to an estimated $66.8 billion in 2020, 1.5 per cent more than in 2019. Chinese firms accounted for 13 per cent of total Top 100 arms sales in 2020, behind US companies and ahead of companies from the United Kingdom, which made up the third largest share.

‘In recent years, Chinese arms companies have benefited from the country’s military modernization programmes and focus on military–civil fusion,’ said Dr Nan Tian, SIPRI Senior Researcher. ‘They have become some of the most advanced military technology producers in the world.’ NORINCO, for example, co-developed the BeiDou military–civil navigation satellite system and deepened its involvement in emerging technologies.

Mixed results among European arms companies

The 26 European arms companies in the Top 100 jointly accounted for 21 per cent of total arms sales, or $109 billion. The seven British companies recorded arms sales of $37.5 billion in 2020, up by 6.2 per cent compared with 2019. Arms sales by BAE Systems—the only European firm in the top 10—increased by 6.6 per cent to $24.0 billion.

‘Aggregated arms sales by the six French companies in the Top 100 fell by 7.7 per cent,’ said Dr Lucie Béraud-Sudreau, Director of the SIPRI Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme. ‘This significant drop was largely due to a sharp year-on-year decline in the number of deliveries of Rafale combat aircraft by Dassault. Safran’s arms sales grew, however, driven by increased sales of sighting and navigation systems.’

Arms sales by the four German firms listed in the Top 100 reached $8.9 billion in 2020—an increase of 1.3 per cent compared with 2019. Together, these firms accounted for 1.7 per cent of the Top 100’s total arms sales. Rheinmetall—the largest German arms manufacturer—recorded an increase in arms sales of 5.2 per cent. Shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp, in contrast, reported a drop of 3.7 per cent.

Russian arms sales decline for third year in a row

The combined arms sales of the nine Russian companies ranked in the Top 100 decreased from $28.2 billion in 2019 to $26.4 billion in 2020—a 6.5 per cent decline. This marks a continuation of the downward trend observed since 2017, when arms sales by Russian companies in the Top 100 peaked. Russian firms accounted for 5.0 per cent of total Top 100 arms sales.

Some of the sharpest declines in arms sales among the Top 100 were recorded by Russian firms. This coincided with the end of the State Armament Programme 2011–20 and pandemic-related delays in delivery schedules. Almaz-Antey and United Shipbuilding Corporation saw their arms sales fall by 31 per cent and 11 per cent, respectively. Conversely, United Aircraft Corporation increased its arms sales by 16 per cent.

Another key development in the Russian arms industry was the diversification of product lines. Russian companies are currently implementing a government policy to increase their share of civilian sales to 30 per cent of their total sales by 2025 and 50 per cent by 2030.

Other notable developments in the Top 100

- Collectively, the arms sales of companies in the Top 100 based outside the USA, China, Russia and Europe totalled $43.1 billion in 2020—an increase of 3.4 per cent since 2019. This represents 8.1 per cent of the Top 100’s total arms sales.

- The arms sales of the three Israeli companies listed in the Top 100 reached $10.4 billion, or 2.0 per cent of the total.

- The aggregated arms sales of the five Japanese companies in the ranking were $9.9 billion in 2020, or 1.9 per cent of the total.

- Four South Korean companies were included in the ranking. Their combined arms sales amounted to $6.5 billion in 2020, a year-on-year increase of 4.6 per cent.

- Combined arms sales by the three Indian companies in the Top 100 grew by 1.7 per cent. In 2020 the Indian Government announced a phased ban on imports of certain types of military equipment to bolster self-reliance in arms production.





DUBLIN/LONDON - A global study into causes of stroke has found that one in 11 survivors experienced a period of anger or upset in the hour leading up to it.

One in 20 patients had engaged in heavy physical exertion.

The suspected triggers have been identified as part of the global Interstroke study – the largest research project of its kind, co-led by National University of Ireland Galway.

It analysed 13,462 cases of acute stroke, involving patients with a range of ethnic backgrounds in 32 countries, including the UK and Ireland.

The research has been published in the European Heart Journal.

Stroke is a leading global cause of death or disability.

There are more than 100,000 strokes in the UK each year, causing 38,000 deaths. About 1.3 million people in the UK are survivors of stroke.

Each year, approximately 7,500 Irish people have a stroke and around 2,000 of these people die.

An estimated 30,000 people in Ireland are living with disabilities as a result of a stroke.

One of the lead researchers was Andrew Smyth, professor of clinical epidemiology at NUI Galway, director of the HRB Clinical Research Facility Galway and a consultant nephrologist at Galway University Hospitals.

Our study aimed to look at acute exposures''

Prof Smyth said: “Stroke prevention is a priority for physicians, and despite advances it remains difficult to predict when a stroke will occur.

“Many studies have focused on medium- to long-term exposures, such as hypertension, obesity or smoking. Our study aimed to look at acute exposures that may act as triggers.”

The research analysed patterns in patients who suffered ischemic stroke – the most common type of stroke, which occurs when a blood clot blocks or narrows an artery leading to the brain, and also intracerebral haemorrhage – which is less common and involves bleeding within the brain tissue itself.

Prof Smyth added: “We looked at two separate triggers.

“Our research found that anger or emotional upset was linked to an approximately 30% increase in risk of stroke during one hour after an episode – with a greater increase if the patient did not have a history of depression.

“The odds were also greater for those with a lower level of education.

“We also found that heavy physical exertion was linked to an approximately 60% increase in risk of intracerebral haemorrhage during the one hour after the episode of heavy exertion.

“There was a greater increase for women, and less risk for those with a normal BMI.

“The study also concluded that there was no increase with exposure to both triggers of anger and heavy physical exertion.”

'Important for some people to avoid heavy physical exertion'

Co-author of the paper Dr Michelle Canavan, consultant stroke physician at Galway University Hospitals, said: “Our message is for people to practise mental and physical wellness at all ages.

“But it is also important for some people to avoid heavy physical exertion, particularly if they are high-risk of cardiovascular, while also adopting a healthy lifestyle of regular exercise.”

The global Interstroke study was co-led by Martin O’Donnell, professor of neurovascular medicine at NUI Galway and consultant stroke physician at Galway University Hospitals.

“Some of the best ways to prevent stroke are to maintain a healthy lifestyle, treat high blood pressure and not to smoke,” Prof O’Donnell said.

“But our research also shows other events such as an episode of anger or upset or a period of heavy physical exertion independently increase the short-term risk.

“We would emphasise that a brief episode of heavy physical exertion is different to getting regular physical activity, which reduces the long-term risk of stroke.”




Digitalizing Africa’s mines

By Landry Signé, Brookings, December 3, 2021

Mineral resources are a critical source of revenue for Africa. In 2019, minerals and fossil fuels accounted for more than a third of exports from at least 60 percent of African countries. The continent produces around 80 percent of the world’s platinum, two-thirds of its cobalt, half of its manganese, and a substantial amount of chromium, leaving it in a strong position to benefit from growing demand for these minerals. Moreover, Africa is believed to have some of the world’s largest untapped mineral reserves.

Unfortunately, a lack of systematic geological mapping and exploration means that the full scope of the continent’s resources remains unknown. To unlock mineral-rich African countries’ full potential, mining companies and African governments must embrace Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies. Artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and big data can help mining firms limit damage to the environment, improve working conditions, reduce operating costs, and boost productivity.

The adoption of efficient renewable-energy systems already is helping the mining sector reduce its environmental impact. Autonomous 4IR technologies complement the clean-energy transition by cutting fuel consumption in processes such as loading, hauling, crushing, and drilling. According to one estimate, driverless technology could lead to a 10-15 percent decrease in fuel use on mine sites.

Better use of data and analytics can improve mine performance as well. Mining companies generate enormous amounts of data throughout their operations, but only a few use it in a way that provides real value. This represents a major missed opportunity, because advanced analytics can optimize mine planning, increase yields, and reduce equipment downtime. In South Africa, a 30-year-old mine
boosted its mineral recovery by 2 percent by applying advanced analytics to its main processing steps.

The Syama mine in Mali is another example of a site that has benefited from digitalization. In 2015, Resolute Mining took over operations at Syama and transformed it into the world’s first purpose-built automated mine. Employees use a fiber-optic network connected to above-ground control centers to manage and monitor all activities, from the clearing of the drill point to extraction, loading, and hauling. Although the initial investment was steep, the changes are expected to cut mining costs by 30 percent and improve overall efficiency. The machines can operate 22 hours a day, and there is no time lost due to shift changes.

4IR technologies will define the future of mining. But while they represent tremendous opportunities for boosting productivity, improving safety, and mitigating the environmental impact of mining, they also raise legitimate concerns. Many of the new technology-enabled jobs require skilled workers that the labor market cannot supply, implying limited employment opportunities in the absence of educational and training programs to reskill workers.

One proposed solution is for mining companies to use the profits gained from the
higher margins made possible by the introduction of new technologies to train relevant workers in AI and machine learning. And new curricula in schools can teach the tech skills the next generation will need for 4IR-enabled jobs—including with the mining companies.

Another possibility is for mining companies to encourage the development of other local industries to reduce communities’ dependence on the mine for employment. In Mauritania, mining companies finance a number of ventures that encourage local economic development, including a jewelry production facility, a brick-making plant, and an agricultural cooperative.

Industry leaders and policymakers must work together to capitalize on the opportunities that digitalization brings. Many mining companies are reluctant to invest in new operations that require a stable regulatory framework, because they do not trust African governments’ capacity to enforce compliance. As a first step, governments must change that perception. After all, the economic benefits of digitalization extend to governments and local communities. As mines become more productive—and more profitable—national governments will have more revenue to
spend on investment in infrastructure, like roads, schools, and health clinics.

Mines that embrace the digital transformation will increase their production, run more efficiently and effectively, and be more environmentally sustainable. They will set new standards for workers’ health and safety, and they could contribute to reskilling through educational and training programs. In short, they will disrupt Africa’s mining sector; but the advantages of digitalization, if harnessed correctly, will far outweigh the risks.




Africa: Ethiopia is tearing itself apart

By Alexander Rondos, Former EU Special Representative to the Horn of Africa, The World Today, 03 December 2021

Alexander Rondos warns that the ongoing conflict spells turmoil for the Horn of Africa

The longer the 12-month conflict in Ethiopia drags on, the greater the damage to the fragile stability of the Horn of Africa. It has already sown the seeds of regional destabilization that will accelerate if a political settlement is not sought urgently.

It is a sign of this concern that President Uhuru Kenyatta of neighbouring Kenya is actively engaged in trying to promote a resolution to the conflict and to lay the groundwork for a longer-term political settlement in Ethiopia.

From the moment the fighting began, Ethiopia’s neighbours sensed unprecedented danger. If not rapidly contained, which it was not, the conflict would trigger a chain reaction of claims for self-determination and drain the economy. The consequences would not be confined within the borders of Ethiopia. At issue now is whether a country of 110 million people can be prevented from unravelling.

The effects of failure will be felt in neighbouring states, in the fragile relations among the countries of the region and in the strategic environment surrounding the Horn of Africa.

Conflict and economic collapse beget displacement and the hardest hit by a migratory wave will be Kenya and probably Somalia. If this wave grows, migrants – and the numbers could be very high – will try to reach South Africa and Europe. All of Ethiopia’s neighbours have their own economic challenges and this additional influx will test their financial capacities.

Ethiopia’s centrifugal political forces were contained over the past 30 years by significant budget subsidies to the regions nearest to the frontier. This is no longer the case. The cost of war has diminished the subsidies to these already impoverished border populations, who will seek more opportunity across the frontier. Once the provider of stability in the region, Ethiopia has become an exporter of insecurity. Ethiopia is now over-armed and under-financed. Weapons are making their way across frontiers and one should be alarmed that the jihadist group al-Shabaab, for example, can buy guns more cheaply from the Ethiopian market than it does from Yemen.

Ethiopia’s deteriorating internal security is being exploited by al-Shabaab and other likeminded groups to infiltrate and recruit in Ethiopia. If this persists and succeeds, an entirely new front is opened making Kenya’s security even more fragile.

The threat has now been exacerbated by Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian prime minister, calling for a levee en masse under which every locality has been encouraged to arm itself, unleashing weaponized radical groups or plain local warlordism.

The dispute over centralization of political authority in Ethiopia, which spilled over into the war with Tigray, was accompanied by a deliberate and parallel strategy to realign influence in the Horn of Africa.

It is now emerging that the agreement between Isaias Afewerki, the president of Eritrea, and Abiy – for which the latter won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 – supplemented by the inclusion of Somalia into a trilateral agreement, was to to create a bloc of countries with highly centralized and authoritarian political systems to control the eastern coastline of Africa, from Eritrea to Somalia. In the process, efforts to consolidate cooperative security and development in the region, under the umbrella of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, were jettisoned, leaving it with new divisions and no institution to manage differences.

Multilateral options, in short, were deliberately abandoned. The Horn of Africa thus hovers over how the fate of this political axis will be managed in an institutional vacuum. Djibouti is caught between the contending politics of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. In Sudan the move to overthrow the experiment in political reform in favour of the military is colliding with sustained popular resistance. South Sudan is prey to its own post-independence demons. Kenya is fighting to inoculate its open economy and competitive political system from the infection of a region where the centre – usually Ethiopia – no longer holds.

If this grim outlook is not reversed, the threat of disorder emanating from Ethiopia will not only engulf the region but threaten the security of the Red Sea.

Abiy’s war on Tigray has turned into the potential dissolution of Ethiopia. Nothing is permanent, not least in a region which has recognized two secessions and lives with another in Somaliland.

The current successor of the Ethiopian empire may collapse. Eritrea’s lethally eccentric regime cannot last forever. But Ethiopia’s vast population, whether living in a united country or as separate entities, will inevitably seek access to the sea.

For many years, Ethiopian hegemony in the region allowed for the containment of crises. Ethiopian troops served in peacekeeping operations and in AMISOM, the African Union Mission in Somalia. Ethiopia and Kenya had an understanding that dated back half a century. Ethiopia’s relations with Sudan were balanced by a Faustian bargain between Omar al-Bashir’s Islamists and the regime controlled by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in Addis Ababa. Eritrea’s bizarre isolation could gradually have ended with the rapprochement with Abiy.

All these assumptions have now been shattered. Ethiopia must struggle to avoid dissolution. Eritrea’s authoritarian vision of order in the region will be replaced by that of the political victors in Addis and their vision of Ethiopia’s relations with its neighbours and the wider world.

Thus, a new transition beckons for Ethiopia. But this time, it must encompass the whole region which will have been so damaged by the events of the past few years.

The international community will have to consider how this transition is not hijacked again and under what conditions it can be sustained financially to give populations the belief that peace does not degenerate again into war and regional insecurity.




Are Illiasou Djibo and Moussa Moumoni Emerging as Islamic State in Greater Sahara’s New Leadership Duo?

By Jacob Zenn, Militant Leadership Monitor, Volume XII, Issue 11, 03 December 2021


Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS) has suffered a number of setbacks since it surged in late 2019 with a series of massive attacks in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. By January 2020, ISGS was on the verge of superseding its rival, al-Qaeda-loyal Group for Supporting Muslims and Islam (JNIM). However, after French president Emmanuel Macron held a meeting in Pau, France with Sahelian heads of state and designated ISGS as the Sahel’s number one security threat, ISGS began facing more intense military pressure (, January 15). Within months, ISGS had been weakened and JNIM gained the upper hand on ISGS in the Sahelian militant landscape.

ISGS has also begun losing leaders in French-led military operations. In July, France announced that ISGS’ deputy leader, Abdelhakim al-Sahrawi, had died two months earlier, reportedly due to a sickness that befell him while he was on the run. France also asserted that several other ISGS commanders had been arrested and killed (, July 2). More recently, in September, Macron announced that French counter-terrorism forces had also killed ISGS leader, Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, weeks earlier (, September 16). His death was acknowledged in an Islamic State (IS) al-Naba newsletter editorial in October (, November 1).

Where these two al-Sahrawis were the main figureheads of ISGS, there had been no clear “number three.” One possible militant to assume the leadership role after their deaths, however, is Illiasou Djibo (alias Petit Chafori), who was designated as a terrorist by the U.S. on June 28 (, June 28). As a commander in Nampala, central Mali in 2017, Djibo operated among Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, who deputized Djibo as a commander for his fellow Fulanis (, January 6, 2017). Before then, Djibo had been captured, but released secretly in 2016 in exchange for 85-year old Australian, Jocelyn Elliot, who was kidnapped along with her husband, who was a doctor in Djibo town (, December 14, 2016).

However, on October 13, ISGS published an unofficial video that was not released through IS’ centralized media apparatus perhaps because of disruptions in communicating with IS after the deaths of the two al-Sahrawis. In this video, the commander of the ISGS brigade appeared to be Moussa Moumoni (, October 13). Moumoni, who is from Niger, participated in ISGS’s attack in Koutougou, Burkina Faso in August 2019 that killed 24 soldiers and preceded the series of other ISGS attacks that resulted in France labeling ISGS as the region’s number one security threat (, September 30, 2019). Although Moumoni was subsequently reported killed in 2020, his apparent emergence in this video shows he is still alive and in a leadership role (, March 17, 2020).

It is not uncommon for jihadist leaders, including from ISGS, to be reported as deceased, only to reemerge. This had occurred with Abdelhakim al-Sahrawi in 2020 until such reports were disproven and he was killed one year later (, August 21, 2020). With Moumoni likely alive and Djibo released from prison, this duo is likely to take up the mantle of ISGS leadership and succeed the two al-Sahrawis. Moreover, their being nationals of Mali and Niger, as opposed to Western Sahara like the two al-Sahrawis, will further embed ISGS in the Sahelian militant landscape. After more than a year of ISGS seeing its influence wane relative to JNIM, this new ISGS leadership could help the group regain its strength and reassert IS’ presence in the Sahel.

Russia’s Influence in the Central African Republic

By Pauline Bax, International Crisis Group, 03 December 2021

Russia has become the Central African Republic’s preferred ally in its battle with insurgents. But the government’s use of Russian mercenaries as it goes on the offensive is causing domestic divisions and alienating other external partners. Concerns about rights abuses and misinformation campaigns are mounting.

Russia has rapidly expanded its influence in the Central African Republic (CAR) in the last few years, using military support to become President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s closest ally. Prone to coups, rebellions and communal strife, CAR has been engulfed in conflict for over twenty years. While the government wields authority in the capital Bangui, it is largely absent from the provinces, where an array of rebels and other armed groups exercise their own form of predatory rule. Disappointed by the inability of UN peacekeepers to extend the state’s writ, Touadéra turned to Russia in 2017, securing weapons and military instructors to bolster CAR’s shambolic army after the UN Security Council approved an exemption to the arms embargo on the country. Today, Russian advisers have the government’s ear in not just military but also political and economic matters.

Touadéra’s government also brought in the Wagner Group, a Russia-based military contractor that is active in Libya and Sudan, and which Mali’s transitional government has signalled an interest in hiring to fight jihadists. Moscow claims that it has no ties to Wagner, saying it is a private company that is free to sell its services to other sovereign governments as it sees fit. But Wagner is widely believed to be managed and financed by businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is close to the Kremlin and under U.S. sanctions for attempted meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. In 2020, the U.S. Treasury Department also imposed sanctions on companies and people working on Prigozhin’s behalf “to advance Russia’s influence in the Central African Republic”. Prigozhin has denied any links to Wagner. For his part, Touadéra has repeatedly said he has not signed a contract with the group. Wagner has no office or spokesperson in CAR. Yet its presence – estimated at between 1,200 and 2,000 personnel – is barely a secret in Bangui, where men in camouflage gear can be seen riding around in unmarked military-style vehicles. Rather than eradicating armed groups, the contractors are perpetrating abuses that increasingly drive violence in the provinces and fuel guerrilla warfare against government troops by rebels scattered in the bush.

At first, Central Africans greeted Moscow’s support warmly, hopeful that Russia would succeed in tamping down the country’s conflict where other foreign powers had successively failed (Libya under former leader Muammar Qadhafi, South Africa and France have all been involved in CAR in the past). Their enthusiasm seems to be dimming, however, due to Touadéra’s outsized reliance on Russian advisers, his government’s growing tendency to stifle dissent and allegations of human rights abuses in the counter-insurgent campaign. Moreover, the government’s opaque dealings with Russia and the lack of transparency surrounding Wagner’s involvement have driven a wedge between it and its traditional donors, in particular France, which sees Moscow as encroaching on its interests in the region. CAR is now in the tricky position of having to balance the benefits of Russia’s military and political support with the prerogative of securing the Western financial support on which it will continue to depend. Touadéra’s determination to achieve military victory is understandable, given the repeated failure of peace deals, but his close alliance with Wagner has antagonised Western partners to the point where CAR’s financial lifeline may be at risk.

A Country Plagued by Insurgency and Hardship

Russia’s role has drawn more attention amid the political crisis that has gripped CAR since shortly before December 2020 presidential and legislative elections. In the run-up to those polls, the country’s top court rejected the candidacy of former President Francois Bozizé, who had been ousted by the Seleka rebel coalition in 2013 after a decade in power. His successor, Michel Djotodia, ruled for barely a year before other Central African leaders forced him to resign amid mounting clashes between Seleka loyalists and so-called anti-balaka groups that had formed to fight them. The appointment of a transitional leader and the deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, then paved the way for 2016 elections, which Touadéra won. In 2019, with Moscow’s encouragement, the government signed the African Union-sponsored Khartoum agreement with fourteen armed groups controlling most of the provinces, a deal that still serves as the country’s roadmap to peace today. Following Bozizé’s exclusion from the 2020 polls, however, a loose alliance of armed groups known as the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), made up of six signatories to the Khartoum agreement, declared its intention to disrupt the elections. Bozizé later confirmed in a statement that he headed the CPC. Rwanda swiftly sent 300 “force protection troops” to help safeguard the elections. After Touadéra won a second five-year term, the insurgents advanced on Bangui in January aiming to topple the government. A combination of UN peacekeepers, Wagner personnel and Rwandan soldiers repelled the attack.

As Touadéra ordered a counteroffensive in the countryside, his government began closing political space in the capital. It barred several opposition politicians from leaving the country and arrested civilians and military officers seen as close to Bozizé. In the following weeks, troops led by Wagner contractors ended a rebel blockade on CAR’s supply channel from Cameroon and wrenched control of more than twenty towns and villages away from various rebel groups. A day before Touadéra’s swearing-in ceremony on 30 March, Russian Ambassador Vladimir Titorenko warned that Bozizé and other rebel leaders would be “absolutely eliminated in military operations” if they continued to wage war against the government. By April, government troops had reached most rebel strongholds. In a country that has been plagued by insurgency for the past twenty years, it was a momentous achievement that boosted Touadéra’s popular support. Many Central Africans hailed the Russian mercenaries as liberators.

But the intense fighting took a heavy toll. In March, the UN Working Group on mercenaries first sounded the alarm over Wagner’s activities, saying it had received reports of serious rights abuses, including summary executions, torture and forced disappearances. In June, a UN expert panel accused Russian instructors and CAR soldiers of large-scale looting, use of excessive force and indiscriminate killing. It also stated that Syrian and Libyan mercenaries were engaged in combat alongside Russian instructors. Russia angrily denied the charges. Two months later, MINUSCA and the UN human rights office voiced concern about mounting abuses by all belligerents, holding the army and Russian paramilitaries responsible for nearly half the documented incidents. There are reports in domestic and international media – corroborated by UN and humanitarian agency workers – that Wagner mercenaries and soldiers carried out summary executions of members of Bozizé’s ethnic Gbaya group. There are also reports of massacres committed by both the government and rebel sides.

Also worrying is that observers say Wagner mercenaries in the provinces tend to conflate all Muslims, particularly the ethnic Fulani, with insurgents, putting Fulani youth at risk of abuse. (The two most active rebel groups – Retour, reclamation et réhabilitation and Unité pour la paix en Centrafrique – are mainly Fulani, but others are not.) The targeting of Fulani could spur support for rebel groups and eventually trigger another dangerous cycle of violence. An independent investigative commission named by Touadéra confirmed in October that Russian instructors had committed abuses, but the full report has not been made public.

Most of the combat in recent months has occurred in the central Ouaka prefecture and in the west, where Fulani rebels control significant parts of the Nana-Mambéré and Ouham-Pendé prefectures. Despite the military’s unprecedented push into the provinces, its hold on recaptured territory is proving tenuous. Having retreated to the bush, insurgents have stepped up attacks with improvised explosive devices and staged ambushes on army outposts that are left exposed when Wagner mercenaries draw back to their bases. Security sources told Crisis Group that the army, which largely collapsed during the 2013 war that drove Bozizé from power, lacks vehicles and ammunition and is poorly trained. Defections to the rebels are common. Because the army has not really secured the towns it has retaken from rebels, state services remain absent, while the proliferation of combatants hinders delivery of humanitarian aid. On 15 October, Touadéra declared a unilateral ceasefire to allow civilians access to aid, yet military operations continue.

Central Africans have suffered severe hardship for decades and things may well get worse. CAR has a handful of tarmac roads, few basic services and the lowest life expectancy in the world. Although the army has stabilised Bangui with Wagner’s help, the resurgent violence has aggravated an already dire humanitarian situation in the provinces. The number of internally displaced people has risen to a record 722,000, while an additional 733,000 live abroad as refugees. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that over 60 per cent of the population, or 3.1 million of 5 million people, the highest proportion in five years, needs urgent relief. In parts of the north west, people face famine-like conditions. Chances that aid workers can quickly reach those most in need appear slim, given that troops often block humanitarian convoys from heading into war zones, citing security reasons.

“Caught in a Battle of Giants”

Russia’s influence in CAR has meanwhile poisoned relations between the government and its main donors, notably the European Union, the U.S. and France. Among diplomats and aid workers, frustrations run high with what they perceive as duplicitous messaging by the president and his allies, who continue to refer to Wagner mercenaries as “instructors”, despite overwhelming evidence that many contractors are shooting at rebels. Indeed, some Touadéra allies reportedly have close ties to Wagner. One is Alexander Ivanov, a Russian who heads the Officers Union for International Security, which purports to be an independent “peace advocacy” group. Russia told a UN expert panel that its defence ministry had recruited all the instructors serving in CAR through the Union. Ivanov runs a Twitter account from Bangui under the Union’s banner.

Another reason for donors’ annoyance is that they are left guessing who is in charge. “The government has an invisible partner whose face we cannot see”, says one diplomat. While most diplomats contend that relations with their Russian counterparts remain cordial, they have no interlocutors among the Russian advisers who manage two military and economic units that are separate from the embassy and run outside its premises, reportedly by retired Russian officials. CAR relies primarily on Western donors to provide more than half its $496 million state budget. Some donors, worried that funds or equipment could end up in the hands of unaccountable private military actors, have put stringent conditions on future disbursements. MINUSCA stopped supplying the army with fuel after finding evidence that mercenaries had used it for their own vehicles. It is unclear how CAR recompenses Wagner; the state budget does not reflect any payments.

Vitriolic media campaigns have created further divisions. Ahead of the 2020 elections, Russia and France hurled accusations at each other in a trolling battle related to their role in CAR, prompting Facebook to suspend hundreds of fake accounts linked to Russian and French authorities. In recent months, small street protests targeting the regional bloc Economic Community of Central African States, France and MINUSCA coincided with a swell of online content maligning CAR’s neighbours and other foreign partners, while celebrating Russia’s role in the “liberation” of the country. For example, local broadcaster Radio Lengo Songo has adopted a staunch pro-Russia stance, blaming the UN and France for the country’s crisis. To be sure, much of that content reflects Central Africans’ support for Russia’s political and military involvement. But dissident voices are increasingly suppressed, leading some to ask for UN protection. For its part, France has suspended budget support to the government, citing misinformation as a reason. “We are caught in a battle of giants”, says one senior Central African official. “We need our partners to have a common vision”.

Furthermore, concerns are growing that Touadéra seeks to rig CAR’s broken economy in favour of Russian business interests. Many observers say the offensive is concentrated in mineral-rich areas, fuelling suspicion that the government is more interested in securing the country’s diamond and gold wealth than protecting civilians. “There is a nefarious backdoor influence that tries to influence public opinion and buy access to natural resources”, says a senior diplomat. In May, the finance ministry unofficially handed responsibility for customs revenue collection to the Russian economic mission that operates outside the embassy’s purview, resulting in what an eyewitness described as inspections of vehicles, including UN trucks, by foreign paramilitaries at CAR’s main border crossing with Cameroon. The ministry cancelled the contract in October after months of intense donor pressure and an outcry from Central African importers. The latter may have been feeling the pinch of more vigorous duty collection, as CAR officials told Crisis Group that the Russian mission had boosted customs income.

Conflict over CAR’s mineral resources could also intensify amid fears that the government may compensate Wagner or associated companies by handing them control of mining zones. Wagner arrived in 2018, around the same time that the government granted gold and diamond mining licences to the Russian-owned company Lobaye Invest SARLU. The UN says the two companies are “interconnected”. Russian media have linked Lobaye directly to Prigozhin. In 2019, the government cancelled a Canadian company’s licences for the Ndassima gold mine in order to hand them to a Malagasy company that reportedly has links to Russian interests. The International Arbitration Chamber of Paris is mediating the case.

The government is drafting a new mining code, proposing the establishment of a state-owned company that would serve as the country’s principal buyer and exporter of minerals, thereby limiting the number of diamond-buying offices and pushing out the mainly Muslim middlemen, known as “collectors”, who purchase gemstones from artisanal miners on site. The mining ministry says the proposal will make the sector compliant with international standards. Donors have, however, voiced strong objections to the present draft, which they say would deter new foreign investment in the sector. Meanwhile, many Central Africans – including some officials, speaking behind closed doors – fear that such policies could eventually backfire on the government. They believe that Touadéra will lose domestic support if he is perceived as handing CAR’s main sources of income to Russian interests. They demand greater transparency in the government’s commercial contracts and foreign relations.

What Should Be Done

Touadéra faces a difficult choice with Wagner. Its fighters have shielded him from an attempted coup and reset the balance of forces on the ground in the government’s favour for the first time in decades. Touadéra appears understandably sceptical of pursuing talks with rebels who tried to oust him despite the 2019 peace agreement. His decision to use mercenaries is justifiable, from a military point of view, and so far, Wagner has served him well. In the long term, however, the government will have to muster the political will to extend its extremely limited services beyond Bangui if it is to maintain control over the areas its troops have recaptured from rebels. The military intervention force is far too small to push out all the armed groups and keep them out, and its relations with MINUSCA are far too fraught to accomplish much beyond securing mining zones. Despite Wagner’s unprecedented battlefield gains, there is no easy way out for CAR’s government. The offensive may have halted fighting in some areas, but the serious abuses committed by mercenaries and security forces risk leading to more war. Complicated as it may be, Touadéra will have to engage with rebel leaders to ease the suffering of rural dwellers and end the hostilities.

Touadéra’s first priority should be to ensure that the army and associated foreign troops adhere to the unilateral ceasefire he declared on 15 October. Civilians have borne the brunt of the offensive, as men under arms from all sides roam the provinces, severely limiting freedom of movement and hindering economic activity. The government should enforce the ceasefire, even if temporarily, to facilitate the delivery of much-needed humanitarian relief. It is particularly urgent that aid reach areas where people face famine-like conditions.

The president’s administration, meanwhile, should expedite preparations for the inclusive national dialogue it has repeatedly pledged to organise. Touadéra remains opposed to including the CPC in these discussions, despite calls from the opposition and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region that he invite the rebels. Touadéra’s antipathy for the CPC is understandable – with the coup attempt, the coalition breached the 2019 peace agreement. But the crisis is sufficiently grave that he should reconsider. On 12 November, Bangui began judicial proceedings against all the main armed group leaders who signed the agreement – even those who did not join the CPC – casting doubt upon not only the proposed dialogue’s inclusiveness but also Touadéra’s sincerity in pursuing it. A backlash is possible.

At the same time, the government should take steps to curb inflammatory content in both social media and local newspapers in order to lighten the tense political atmosphere. Online misinformation about what the UN and France are doing in CAR (they face constant allegations of undermining the government) and street protests have led to serious physical threats against Central African politicians and foreign personnel in the country, in particular MINUSCA staff, restricting their ability to perform their duties. The government should urgently call for moderation among CAR’s social media users to prevent further threats and press local media to refrain from publishing false allegations against regional and foreign partners. While there is no hard evidence that the misinformation campaigns and street protests are orchestrated, their relentless anti-UN and anti-France tone indicates some level of concertation. Given Russia’s experience with online influencing, many suspect that the spread of misinformation is somehow linked to its presence in CAR.

Finally, there is a clear need for a unified policy among all external partners in CAR. It may be hard to fashion one given the acrimony between France and Russia over CAR and Moscow’s refusal to acknowledge links to Wagner. Still, some steps could enhance relations. Russia should strengthen its official representation in the country, first and foremost by filling the ambassador’s post, which has been vacant for months. It should also provide clarity on the role of Russian advisers who operate outside the embassy’s purview. Most partner states and international institutions perceive the government’s use of unaccountable foreign mercenaries as an obstacle to ending the conflict. This perception seems accurate, given the mounting abuses of civilians in the provinces and the widespread fear of foreign mercenaries they have generated. While their departure in the near future is unlikely, given Touadéra’s determination to quash the rebellion, CAR and its partners should urgently find a way to coordinate efforts to stabilise the country. For better or worse, there is no doubt that Touadéra’s political fate increasingly depends on Russia (and Wagner), and there is little prospect of him changing the course he has chosen. Yet his Western partners should continue to press for more transparency in his policies and try to bring Russia on board while doing so.