On 1967 and Islamism

Earlier this month, the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War evoked some great writing, including a piece by Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution. His piece is entitled “The end of Nasserism: How the 1967 War opened new space for Islamism in the Arab world.”

Maybe I’m reading too much into the words “Arab world” in the title, because Hamid focuses on Egypt, but at the regional level, I question the idea that 1967 was the turning point or even that 1967 was a major factor in trajectories of Islamism in some Arab countries.

Here is Hamid:

When Nasser, and by extension Egypt, lost, there was relatively little left to say. The starting premise of Arab nationalism had been fatally undermined, 15 years into the 1952 revolution…When Nasser died in 1970 at the age of 52, millions of Egyptians gathered to mourn him in a six-mile procession. It was perhaps the last unifying moment in Egypt’s modern history, before the resurgence of Islamism—and particularly the Muslim Brotherhood—opened up a new fault line in Egyptian society.

The first point to make is that Egypt does not equal the Arab world. If 1967 marked the end of Nasserism, why did not just one but three leaders clearly inspired by Nasser come to power after 1967? The three leaders were Muammar al-Qadhafi of Libya, Ja’far al-Numayri of Sudan, and Muhammad Siad Barre of Somalia (a member of the Arab League), all of whom came to power in coups in 1969. True, each of them had a unique relationship with Islam, and al-Numayri embraced Islamism by the late 1970s, but it is significant that multiple leaders in the Arab world were vying for Nasser’s mantle after 1967 and even after Nasser’s death in 1970. If Egypt followed a certain trajectory, that does not mean that Egypt set the pace for the whole region.

The second point to make is that key figures associated with with the “Islamist resurgence” were already up and coming before the 1967 war. The best example is Egypt’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi (b. 1926), who published his influential Al-Halal wa-l-Haram fi al-Islam (The Licit and the Prohibited in Islam) in 1960. Another example is Sudan’s Hasan al-Turabi (1932-2016), who first came to prominence in Sudan’s 1964 revolution. The point here is that after 1967, many of the leading figures were not converts from Arab nationalism to Islamism, but rather people who had been Islamists all along. Certainly the events of 1967 put them in a position to amplify their message, but that might tell us more about the relationship between Islamism and crises than it does about 1967 specifically. Moreover, much of the infrastructure of contemporary Islamism was built after 1967, but key components of that infrastructure were built before 1967.

Third, whatever impact 1967 had, it was not necessarily immediate, and it was only in combination with other factors. When we look at where Islamists actually came to power or nearly came to power, two of the most prominent cases occurred over two decades later – Sudan 1989, and Algeria 1991-1992. And in both of those cases, it was largely domestic factors that brought Islamists to the forefront.

I don’t want to understate the psychological, political, and spiritual impact of 1967 on the Arab world. But I don’t think 1967 was the watershed moment for Islamism in the entire region. Rather, I think that the trajectories of Islamism in the Arab world have been highly divergent, and that some of the most successful Islamist movements in the region were in countries much less affected by the 1967 defeat than Egypt was.

My last thought is a somewhat simplistic one, and it concerns Egypt itself. If 1967 was “the end of Nasserism,” then why has the Egyptian military regime been so enduring, so strong, since 1952? Perhaps the revolutionary aura and the Arab nationalist ideology fell away after 1967, but it still seems to me that Nasser and the Free Officers created a system that remains partly (largely?) in place to this day. Put even more simply: no Nasser, no Sisi. Viewed in that light, the Muslim Brotherhood’s ups and downs in Egypt since 1928 have only really brought it close to controlling the actual levers of the state on a few occasions and only allowed it to partially grasp those levers during one brief period. There have also been multiple moments of “resurgence” for the Brotherhood, just as there have been multiple moments of repression, disarray, and weakness. So was 1967 a turning point, or was it just one of several key moments in a long cycle – a cycle that always ends with military men in power?

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New Blacklists, External and Local, Clarify Faultlines in Libyan Politics

Amid the dispute between Qatar and a group of Arab countries (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain), Qatar’s opponents released a list last week of fifty-nine individuals and twelve charities accused of involved in terrorism and extremism. The United Nations, which operates its own influential blacklist of proven and alleged terrorists (as does the United States), has essentially rejected the list, and so the list’s influence may have real limits. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see who made the list, and it is notable that the list is already being amplified by those on one side of Libya’s complex civil war.

First, I think it’s worth noting the breakdown of the fifty-nine individuals by nationalities:

  • 26 Egyptians (of whom the most famous is Yusuf al-Qaradawi, arguably the most famous living Sunni Muslim scholar)
  • 18 Qataris
  • 5 Libyans
  • 3 Kuwaitis (counting 1 Saudi-Kuwaiti)
  • 2 Saudis (counting 1 Saudi-Kuwaiti)
  • 2 Bahrainis
  • 2 Jordanians
  • 1 Emirati
  • 1 Yemeni

Here are the Libyans:

  • Al-Sadiq al-Gharyani, Libya’s Grand Mufti
  • Ali al-Sallabi, a religious leader from Benghazi strongly associated with Qatar and with political Islamism
  • Ismail al-Sallabi, Ali al-Sallabi’s brother and a leader in the Benghazi Defense Brigades/Companies for the Defense of Benghazi*
  • Abdelhakim Belhadj, a former jihadist in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and currently an Islamist politician
  • Mahdi Harati, a former militia commander who served as mayor of Tripoli in 2014-2015

There is no question that these individuals are connected to Qatar, but the question of whether they are “terrorists” or not is essentially political.

The blacklisting has already evoked complex responses inside Libya. One major response has come from the House of Representatives, the internationally recognized, anti-Islamist parliament in eastern Libya. The House of Representatives is aligned with Khalifa Haftar, a retired general who commands the would-be Libyan National Army, a major force in northeast (and increasingly, southern) Libya. The House of Representatives and Haftar strongly oppose a variety of Islamist and jihadist-leaning currents in Libya; Haftar considers all of them “terrorists,” even figures and movements (such as the Muslim Brotherhood) that have participated in mainstream politics in Libya. In terms of how these sides line up with the political splits in the Gulf, the House of Representatives and Haftar receive strong backing from the UAE, Egypt, and to some extent Saudi Arabia, while many Libyan Islamists receive backing from Qatar.

Given that context, it is perhaps no surprise that the House of Representatives’ National Defense and Security Committee not only welcomed the Saudi/Emirati/Egyptian/Bahriani list, but also issued its own list (Arabic) of 75 Libyan individuals and 9 institutions that it alleges are associated with terrorism and with Qatar. The list includes numerous Muslim Brotherhood leaders, various figures associated with Qatar-backed media channels, individuals close to the Grand Mufti, people in the anti-Haftar Benghazi Defense Brigades, and prominent members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

If the list, as proposed, were accepted by the Government of National Accord (the GNA, the internationally recognized executive government backed by the United Nations, although not yet endorsed by the House of Representatives), then the resulting designations would effectively ban Islamism as a mainstream political force in Libya. I do not expect the GNA to accept the list, but its circulation gives a very clear snapshot of whom the House of Representatives and Haftar consider their main political enemies. The list also gives an initial sense of how the Qatar/Saudi split (to use a shorthand) is playing out even more explicitly in Libyan domestic politics now than it was before.

*I’ve written about the Brigades here.

Africa News Roundup: Ethiopia and Egypt, Chad and Libya, CAR’s Crisis, and More

Los Angeles Times:

A battle over water has turned into a war of colorful rhetoric between Ethiopia and Egypt over the flow of the Nile, which begins in the African highlands but keeps Egypt from being swallowed entirely by desert.

An ambitious Ethiopian dam project is diverting Nile waters that Cairo says will reduce the river’s northward flow. The Egyptians have stumbled into crisis mode: At a meeting hosted by President Mohamed Morsi this week, several politicians, unaware TV cameras were rolling, suggested sabotaging or threatening to bomb the dam.

IRIN: “[Central African Republic] Crisis Remains Dire – and Neglected.”

El Watan (French):

Gao, Kidal, Anefis… Six mois après le lancement de l’opération Serval, que deviennent les villes du Nord-Mali ? Notre envoyée spéciale a échappé à un attentat kamikaze et a vécu des accrochages entre l’armée malienne et le MNLA. Elle témoigne de la peur et de la précarité dans lesquelles vivent les populations.

BBC:

Seven people have died in the Somali port of Kismayo in fighting between two self-declared leaders of the strategic city and surrounding area.

Residents told the BBC the clashes began in the town centre at midday and lasted for about 40 minutes.

They broke out after one of the leaders tried to meet the defence minister who is attempting to resolve the crisis.

VOA: “South Sudan Switches from Arabic Textbooks to English.”

From May (missed it then), Luke Balleny: “What Impact Has the EITI Transparency Initiative Had on Nigeria?”

The Economist: “Could Political Demonstrations in Ethiopia Herald Greater Freedom?”

Wall Street Journal: “Chad’s President Warns of Islamist Threat in Libya.”

What else is happening?

Roundup on Sudan, Israel, and the Yarmouk Weapons Factory

On October 23/24, explosions occurred at the Yarmouk weapons factory in Sudan. The Sudanese government has stated that an Israeli airstrike was responsible. The situation remains murky enough that I do not feel comfortable writing an analytical piece on the issue, but the incident has generated substantial media attention, so I thought I would round up some important stories.

International Press Reports

  • VOA: “The [US-based] Satellite Sentinel Project released images Tuesday that show six 16-meter-wide craters near the center of the explosion. The group said the holes are consistent with impact craters created by air-delivered munitions.”
  • NPR: “Israel Operates Inside Sudan, Israeli Official Says.”
  • AP: “In Sudan blast, signs of Iran and Israel’s rivalry.”
  • BBC (October 29): “An Iranian naval task force has docked in Sudan, carrying with it a ‘message of peace and security to neighbouring countries,’ Iranian state media report.” Reuters (October 31): “Iran Warships Leave Sudan after Four-Day Stay.”
  • Al Jazeera: “Sudan denies Iranian links to bombed factory.”
  • VOA: “Sudan’s Iran Alliance under Scrutiny.”

Speculative Commentary (International Media):

  • Time: “Did Israel Bomb a Sudanese Ammunition Depot?”
  • Reuters: “Sudan: A Front for Israel’s Proxy War on Sinai Jihadists?”
  • Washington Post/World Views: “Why Would Israel Bomb Sudan? Theories Cite Iran, Hamas, Even the US”

Sudanese, Egyptian, and Israeli Sources:

  • Sudan Tribune: “Sudanese Opposition Groups Condemn ‘Israeli Aggression,’ Criticize Government.”
  • Akhir Lahza (Arabic): “Explosions and Fire at the ‘Yarmouk’ Factory”
  • Ahram Online: “Egypt Military Dismisses Rumors of Israeli F-35 Overflights.”
  • Akhbar (Arabic): “The [Non-Governmental] Egyptian Delegation Returning from Sudan: The World Ignores Israel’s Crimes.”
  • YNet: “Egypt Denies Knowledge of Attack in Sudan.”
  • Jerusalem Post: “Sudan Strike – A Blow to Iran.”

What do you make of this whole affair?

Nile Politics: Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan to Meet Regarding Grand Renaissance Dam

A few weeks ago, I looked at the regional politics of sharing water from the Nile River in the wake of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s death. The conflict between upstream and downstream Nile countries over water usage has historically pitted Ethiopia and the upstream countries against Egypt and Sudan. In Meles’ final years, Ethiopia began pursuing a more aggressive strategy, including the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam, set to be completed in 2018. The Dam has been a source of tension between Ethiopia and Egypt, and Meles’ successors have continued to pursue the project.

Alongside disagreement, however, Egypt and Ethiopia have made efforts at dialogue. This week brings news that may help reduce tensions. From the Africa Report:

A tripartite commission, established by Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will meet on 8 October 2012 in Addis Ababa to discuss the impact of Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam on the three other countries.

[…]

The commission, established after Egypt raised alarm, will discuss the effects of the Ethiopian on both Egypt and Sudan.

However, Ethiopia maintains that the dam over the Nile River will not affect either Egypt or Sudan.

Ethiopia seems unwilling to halt construction of the Dam, but it is possible that the commission could produce some agreements and compromises. With or without the Dam, the situation is unsustainable – by 2017, even under the status quo, experts predict that Egypt’s share of the Nile will be insufficient for its needs. And in the meantime the upstream countries’ water needs and dissatisfaction will only grow. The two sides will eventually need a mechanism to settle the dispute. Hopefully the commission will represent a step in that direction.

Nile Politics in a Post-Meles Era

Conflict and tension between upstream and downstream countries over the use of the Nile River has been going on for years. But changes in leadership in the Nile region could affect the course of the struggle. Egypt, the leader of the downstream bloc, and Ethiopia, the leader of the upstream bloc, both have new heads of state. At a recent meeting between Sudanese President Omar al Bashir and Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi shows, parts of the status quo will remain in place, but other parts may be set to change.

Kenya’s Africa Review reports (Kenya is one of the upstream countries):

In what must be construed as a warning to the other Nile waters sharing countries, both President Bashir and his Egyptian counterpart reaffirmed their countries “identical position” in regards to the water dispute.

Mr Morsy’s spokesperson did not hide the fact that the issue of the Nile Water is “an Egyptian national security issue”. The two countries receive 55 billion ( Egypt) and 18.5 billion ( Sudan) cubic meters of water annually thanks to a series of agreements that date back to 1929 and drawn by Britain when it was the main colonising power over much of the continent.

The upstream countries maintain that these agreements, which also give the two countries veto powers over projects deemed as “harmful’ to their interests, where [sic] signed during the “colonial era, and should be rewritten to allow countries to equally share in the river’s economic potential.”

One of Egypt long standing objectives over the body of water is that it would never consider the calls for a decrease in its annual share, in fact it would actively seek to increase it – already both Egypt and Sudan control approximately 87 per cent of the water resources of the Nile.

Back in 2010 then Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, following the signing of the the Cooperative Framework Agreement water treaty by Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Tanzania, flatly stated Egypt’s annual share would not be affected.

That view has pretty much remained unchanged in the eyes of the newly elected government and whilst it also seeks to increase that share, it has been at pains to add that this is “through cooperation and coordination with the Nile Basin countries”, not unilaterally.

In the midst of continuity – Egypt and Sudan against the upstream countries – there is also some change, at least in the diplomatic tone Egypt takes. Africa Review writes that “President Morsy’s government has gone on a charm offensive with its African counterparts,” adding, “What steps Khartoum and Cairo will take is still unclear, but the signs do point to a more conciliatory tone though not to the extent where they will agree nor accept the demands of the other Nile Basin countries unconditionally.”

Read about Morsi’s July visit to Ethiopia here.

How will the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who had ruled Ethiopia since 1991, affect Nile politics? Meles’ most ambitious move on the Nile issue as of late was the Grand Renaissance Dam, projected to be one of the largest dams in the world. Construction began in April, and by late May 10% of the dam had been completed, with the project set to finish in 2018. So far, it looks as though the project will remain on track even without Meles there to oversee it. The International Monetary Fund recently suggestion that Ethiopia slow down the project, but the government refused:

Ethiopia’s government won’t reschedule construction of the Grand Renaissance dam, said Communications Minister Bereket Simon, who co-chairs a fundraising committee for the plant.

“It was a well-considered plan and it’s one of the mega projects for which the government commits itself unconditionally,” Bereket said in a phone interview [September 13].

The Grand Renaissance Dam has caused substantial alarm in Egypt, which fears the project may reduce its water supply. Experts project that by 2017, even Egypt’s current share of the waters will be insufficient for its population’s needs. Egypt may attempt, then, to frustrate the Renaissance Dam project by “lobby[ing] foreign donors and international organisations to withhold financing for the dam because of the adverse impacts on its economy.”

The existence of South Sudan adds another complication to the status quo. The National writes,

The 1959 treaty did not foresee an independent South Sudan, and the implications for Juba’s share of Nile waters. Like most post-secession issues between Sudan and South Sudan, the South’s allocation of Nile waters is not agreed. Nor is Khartoum, like Cairo before it, likely to easily give ground to a state upstream. The acrimonious relationship between Juba and Khartoum is unlikely to help.

Tension with Khartoum has not, however, prevented Juba from taking action. As part of its strategy to meet the country’s energy needs, South Sudan has stated that it will build dams on the White Nile and its tributaries. Reuters reports, “One of the most ambitious plans is the construction of a 540-megawatt Bedden dam across the White Nile south of Juba, but the government has not yet provided details of funding for the $1.5 billion, seven-to-eight-year project.” As details on this and other projects emerge, South Sudan’s role in the new politics of Nile water usage will become clearer.

As populations grow, the Nile issue will only become more urgent over time. The new leaders of Egypt and Ethiopia, no matter how friendly the tone of their diplomatic interactions, will face difficult choices in the coming years about how and whether to share the waters.

Africa News Roundup: Algerian Elections, Egyptian Early Voting, Crisis in Mali, Ethiopia’s Meles on Corruption, and More

Algeria held elections on Thursday. The government reports turnout at 43%. The Islamist “Green Alliance” has alleged that fraud occurred. Results announced yesterday showed the government-allied parties the National Liberation Front and the National Democratic Rally taking, respectively, 220 and 68 seats in the 462-seat parliament.

The first round of Egypt’s presidential elections will take place on May 23 and 24, but expatriates voted yesterday, following Thursday’s presidential debate.

IRIN on a dying port project in Malawi.

Nigerian soldiers reportedly arrested a commander from the rebel movement Boko Haram in Kano yesterday.

Three articles on Mali: one on the junta’s continued political role (or control?), a US statement on the military “stalemate,” and a third piece on negotiations to free kidnapped Algerian diplomats.

Near the southern Somalian town of Hudur, battles are occurring between rebels from al Shabab and Ethiopian forces as the former attempt to block supplies to the latter.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on corruption in Africa:

“What is the poison that leaders face when you go to national palaces, and transforms people with vision sometimes into ordinary thieves?  Let’s start with the total amount of loot in Africa, and what our role as leaders in that loot[ing] is,” said Meles. “The vast majority of the loot[ing] is done by properly organized companies through all sorts of accounting gimmicks.”

Meles said African leaders are forced to be facilitators for foreign companies who demand favors in return for their investment that might means jobs for their people.

“It’s a difficult thing to manage because our bargaining cards are very limited,” he said. “We need these companies to create jobs, in order for them to come to Africa.  The image is very negative, so the risk is artificially spiked.  And if the risk is artificially spiked, the return has to be commensurate with the risk.  And so it’s difficult to attract them without extraordinary returns.”

What else is happening today?