A Selected Survey of the Muslim World
by Tarek Elgawhary
This past year was a Dickensian best-of-times-worst-of-times situation. The world has largely moved on from the devastating social and economic effects of COVID. Country after country has reduced or repealed COVID protocols that left many of us crippled and immobile for so long. Even with new strands floating about and new potential viruses like Monkeypox, the world has had enough and is fatigued with pandemic news. Everyone, overall, is looking to move on and countries are opening their boarders, their markets, and hoping for better days ahead. Accordingly, bright spots and happy stories abound, and in the pages that follow you will read about some of them as they relate to the Muslim world. At the same time, however, there are still systemic issues facing the Muslim world that, while delayed due to the two-year global pandemic, have remerged either as is or with new mutations and variants of their own.
If there is a lesson in this, it is the need for us to reflect. While it is indeed a relief that COVID is behind us, we should welcome this reprieve as an opportunity to fix what was wrong with our world before. Too many of our co-religionists continue to be mired in problems that can be and should be fixed. If we do not reflect and improve, we will only fulfil the prophecy of George Santayana who wrote in The Life of Reason “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Only then can we escape the inevitable historical cycle and follow Toynbee’s iteration of Santayana when he commented in The Role of the Americas in History
“We are not doomed to make history repeat itself; it is open to us, through our own efforts, to give history, in our case, some new and unprecedented turn. As human beings, we are endowed with this freedom of choice, and we cannot shuffle off our responsibility upon the shoulders of God or nature. We must shoulder it ourselves. It is up to us.”
PART I: MUSLIM WORLD SURVEY
MIDDLE EAST & NORTH AFRICA
This past year was full of elections, anniversaries, and new challenges for the Middle East and North Africa. On the back of higher oil prices and a stronger global economic environment, the Middle East generally returned to economic growth with a number of governments taking the opportunity to implement long-term plans aimed at diversification and modernisation. Following a year in which economies in the Middle East contracted due to the fallout of COVID, the region experienced a positive economic rebound with the IMF predicting that the region as a whole would expand by 2.7 percent this year.
Looking more closely at the GCC, the World Bank estimated in December that the six-member bloc would record an aggregate growth rate of 2.6 percent for the year. Bahrain is forecast to have grown by 3.5 percent, followed by Qatar and Oman (3 percent), the UAE (2.7 percent), Saudi Arabia (2.4 percent) and Kuwait (2 percent).
A key factor as stated in this growth is the rise in oil prices. After starting 2021 at just over $50 a barrel, the price of oil increased to yearly highs of more than $85 in October of the same year and reaching a peak of slightly over $120 in March 2022. Towards the end of the year prices fell again; however, the effect of rising oil prices has been felt throughout the world.
Yet, other large Muslim majority nations in the region continue to deal with systemic issues.
In July 2022, Iraq marked a record 290 days without a government. Following elections in October 2021 no president or prime minister has so far been chosen. With no new government agreed, the existing President, Barham Salih, and Prime Minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, remain in place.
The Iraqi presidential election of 2022 was scheduled to be held on 7 February 2022 as outgoing President Barham Salih is eligible for re-election. The vote has been postponed due to the boycott of parliamentary sessions by the majority of deputies. Elections were scheduled again for 6 April 2022 to elect by indirect suffrage the President of Iraq for a four-year term but failed due to the quorum not being met. Some members of parliament also protested against the decision of the Supreme Court to rule out the candidacy of Hoshyar Zebari, who is supported by the main winning parties of the elections of October 2021. Elections were once again postponed to 26 March 2022 but delayed further due to the quorum also not being met. On 30 March it was postponed yet again to the quorum not being met once again.
Perhaps the main factor in shaping Iran’s international ties this past year was its nuclear program. After a five-month hiatus that started before the Iranian presidential election in June 2021, a new nuclear negotiating team from the Ebrahim Raisi administration sat down with the remaining signatories of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). During the seventh round of talks between 29 November and 3 December 2021, Iran walked back a proposal agreed upon by the previous administration of Hassan Rouhani and offered less for less: more sanctions relief than what was promised in the 2015 accord and less nuclear compliance. As Future of Iran Initiative Director Barbara Slavin explained, “Some in Iran are understandably ambivalent about reviving the JCPOA given the ease with which the Trump administration quit—when Iran was in full compliance—and the fact that no US administration can guarantee the actions of its successor.”
On 16 September 2022, a 22-year-old Iranian woman named Mahsa Amini, who was arrested a few days prior for incorrectly wearing her hijab in public, died in police custody. Up until the time of this writing there are no details of what transpired while in custody, nor the precise details of her detention. However, her death has sparked a series of nationwide protests. While the immediate incident of Mahsa Amini is their catalyst, these protests also highlight other grievances such as a weakening economy, alleged government corruption, and isolation from the international community.
While there have been protests in Iran in the past, something feels different about these. Women have been tossing their headscarves in bonfires and dancing bareheaded before security agents. Protestors, largely women, have even at times physically engaged and fought with security forces. More than two dozen have been arrested so far, and several female protesters have been killed. It is too early to say where these protests are going, but this is certainly something we are watching closely and monitoring.
Aside from officially changing the spelling of its name from the outdated Turkey to the more accurate Türkiye, the nation’s volatile currency has worsened the humanitarian crisis in northern Syria and raised the cost of Ankara’s governance responsibilities there. The Turkish lira’s recent volatility and Türkiye’s high inflation rates pose significant problems for not only those living in Türkiye, but also in Turkish-controlled northern Syria, where Türkiye has built extensive financial networks and introduced the use of its currency. The Turkish lira lost up to 40 percent of its value over 2021 as a result of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s unconventional monetary policies. The lira’s value has improved slightly and stabilised since December 2021, but price hikes on basic goods will likely remain, disrupting the purchasing power of Turks and Syrians alike.
Türkiye’s economy grew 11 percent in 2021, the fastest among the G20 countries, as COVID-related measures were gradually relaxed in Türkiye and abroad. Although Türkiye’s interest-rate cuts from September supported demand, they also amplified macro-financial instability which, combined with spillovers from the Ukraine-Russia war, will lower 2022 growth to 1.4 percent. Rising energy and food price inflation will hurt the poor the most, compromising a gradual employment-driven, post-pandemic poverty recovery.
In August 2022, an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between the Israelis and the Palestinians took effect in a bid to end nearly three days of violence that killed dozens of Palestinians. The flare-up was the worst fighting between Israel and Gaza militant groups since Israel and Hamas fought an 11-day war last year and adds to the destruction and misery that have plagued blockaded Gaza for years.
Israeli strikes and militant rockets continued in the minutes leading up to the beginning of the truce, and Israel said it would “respond strongly” if the ceasefire was violated. Israeli aircraft also pummelled targets in Gaza while Palestinian Jihad fired hundreds of rockets at Israel in response. The risk of the cross-border fighting turning into a full-fledged war remained as long as no truce was reached. Israel says some of the dead were killed by misfired rockets.
Israel launched its operation with a strike on a leader of the Islamic Jihad and followed up with another targeted strike on a second prominent leader. The second Islamic Jihad commander, Khaled Mansour, was killed in an airstrike on an apartment building in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza, which also killed two other militants and five civilians. Mansour, the Islamic Jihad commander for southern Gaza, was in the apartment of a member of the group when the missile struck, flattening the three-story building and badly damaging nearby houses.
Israel’s Defense Ministry said mortars fired from Gaza hit the Erez border crossing into Israel, used by thousands of Gazans daily. The mortars damaged the roof and shrapnel hit the hall’s entrance, the ministry said. The crossing has been closed amid the fighting. The Rafah strike was the deadliest so far in the current round of fighting, which was initiated by Israel with the targeted killing of Islamic Jihad’s commander for northern Gaza. Israel said it took action against the militant group because of concrete threats of an imminent attack, but has yet to provide much detail as to the intelligence used for their actions. Caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who is an experienced diplomat but untested in overseeing a war, unleashed the offensive less than three months before a general election in which he is campaigning to keep the job. In a statement Lapid said the military would continue to strike targets in Gaza “in a pinpoint and responsible way in order to reduce to a minimum the harm to non-combatants”. Lapid said the strike that killed Mansour was “an extraordinary achievement”.
The UN Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting on the violence. China, which held the council presidency at the time, scheduled the session in response to a request from the United Arab Emirates, which represents Arab nations on the council, as well as China, France, Ireland, and Norway. “We underscore our commitment to do all we can towards ending the ongoing escalation, ensuring the safety and security of the civilian population, and following up on the Palestinian prisoners file,” said UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, in a statement.
The Israeli army said militants in Gaza fired about 580 rockets toward Israel. The army said its air defences had intercepted many of them, with two of those shot down being fired toward Jerusalem. Islamic Jihad has fewer fighters and supporters than Hamas. Air-raid sirens sounded in the Jerusalem area for the first time since last year’s Israel-Hamas war.
Jerusalem is typically a flashpoint during periods of cross-border fighting between Israel and Gaza. Hundreds of Jews, including firebrand ultra-nationalist lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir, visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The visit, under heavy police protection, ended without incident, police said.
Such demonstrative visits by Israeli hard-liners seeking to underscore Israeli claims of sovereignty over contested Jerusalem have sparked violence in the past. The holy site sits on the fault line of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is central to rival narratives of Palestinians and Israeli Jews.
Since the last war, Israel and Hamas have reached tacit understandings based on trading calm for work permits, and a slight easing of the border blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt when Hamas overran the territory 15 years ago. Israel has issued 12,000 work permits to Gaza labourers and has held out the prospect of granting another 2,000 permits.
At the time of this writing, tensions remain high in Jerusalem and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque as dozens of Israeli settlers stormed through the mosques courtyards to mark the occasion of the Jewish New Year. Eyewitnesses reported that Israeli police officers were deployed in the courtyards and on the roof of the Qibli prayer hall and apparently allowed dozens of illegal settlers to storm the mosque through the Maghribi Gate. Fighting between Palestinians protecting the mosque and settlers ensued, and arrests, as to be expected, were made. Again, it is too soon to see where this will lead to, but we continue to monitor the situation.
Driven by a combination of higher commodity prices, the relaxing of lockdowns and a recovery in global trade, Africa has had some success in overcoming the recession provoked by the coronavirus pandemic and returned to growth this past year. In its most recent outlook, released in October, the IMF predicted that the continent, as a whole, will see the growth of 5.1 percent this year, with North Africa expanding by 6 percent and sub-Saharan Africa at 3.7 percent. The global average is slated to be 5.9 percent.
However, the World Bank has emphasised that the recovery is a fragile one, particularly in light of the continent’s vaccination rates, which remain low despite the efforts of national and international bodies over the course of the year. For example, in April the African Development Bank (AfDB) approved a $10bn COVID response facility to help countries reinforce their health care systems.
Elsewhere, the Covax initiative—run by the World Health Organization (WHO)—has recently intensified its efforts to ensure a flow of vaccines reaches Africa. To date, over 90 million donated doses have been delivered to the continent through Covax and the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust. But this is still far below the required quantity. According to a recent report from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, only five of the continent’s 54 countries are likely to reach a WHO target of fully vaccinating 40 percent of the population by the end of this year. The report attributed this to the shortage of vaccines, although it also highlighted issues including weak healthcare systems, underdeveloped infrastructure and limited civil registration capacities.
A further issue is widespread vaccine hesitancy, although many countries are adopting strategies to address this. Mauritania provides an example of regional best practices in this regard. The country’s second vaccination program launched in June, on the back of a rather ineffectual first program earlier in the year. In order to boost uptake, the government launched awareness campaigns, mobilising national media, religious leaders and youth associations. In addition, it opened more than 900 vaccination centres in public sites, including mosques, ministries and the exit routes of major cities. These efforts resulted in a notable uptick in people receiving vaccinations.
The discovery of the Omicron variant in southern Africa has given rise to claims that the continent’s low vaccination rates could facilitate the emergence of new coronavirus variants. It remains to be seen what effect this variant will have on the region’s recovery.
Elsewhere, structural reforms were carried out in various countries in response to the pandemic. Among them, the World Bank has praised the unification of exchange rates in Sudan, fuel subsidy reform in Nigeria and the opening to the private sector of the Ethiopian telecommunications sector.
Another significant shift has been a growing emphasis on the importance of renewable energy, with many countries in the region demonstrating an appetite for boosting the sector. For example, Egypt aims to generate 42 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2035. However, only two African countries—namely South Africa and Malawi—have committed to net-zero by 2050.
The biggest news from Pakistan this past year was the ousting of Prime Minister Imran Khan due to a no-confidence vote against him on 10 April 2022. Since the Pakistani Prime Minister is subject to the confidence of the majority of the lower house of Parliament, numerous opposition parties joined forces in a slow build-up of resistance since November 2021 to remove him from power. Imran Khan is the first Prime Minister in Pakistani history to be removed from office in this manner.
The decision to file a no-confidence motion against sitting Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan Tereek-e-Insaf (PTI) – who had held the position since the 2018 election – was taken at a summit of the opposition parties, united under the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) alliance. The leader of this opposition, Shehbaz Sharif (who later was elected Prime Minister and himself is brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif now living in exile in the UK) said the motion of no-confidence was presented because of the government’s poor performance in economic and social indicators during the four years of Khan’s premiership. In the leadup to the no-confidence motion, Khan’s PTI also faced defections from some lawmakers within its own ranks, which emboldened the opposition’s move to file the motion
Although opposition towards Khan began as early as November 2021, things became serious for him when on 8 March 2022, representatives of opposition parties filed the motion against Khan in the National Assembly, seeking to remove him from office, while accusing his alleged hybrid regime of poor governance, political victimization of opponents, and mismanaging the economy and foreign policy. It is alleged that these factors also contributed to Khan’s falling out with Pakistan’s military establishment, which had remained a key backer of his government.
Since his removal, however, Khan has not remained silent. Once removed he immediately called for a mass rally, with PTI calling for nationwide protests on the night of the 10 April 2022, following the vote of the National Assembly. Large demonstrations were held at Karachi, Peshawar, Malakand, Multan, Khanewal, Khyber, Jhang, Quetta, Okara, Islamabad, Lahore, and Abbottabad, while protests were also held at Bajaur, Lower Dir, Shangla, Kohistan, Mansehra, Swat, Gujrat, Faisalabad, Nowshera, Dera Ghazi Khan and Mandi Bahauddin. Hundreds of thousands of people attended these demonstrations. In Karachi alone, 200,000 people attended. The crowds consisted mostly of young Pakistanis. Some news outlets reported that a total of 10 million people attended the protests collectively. There were even overseas protests by Pakistani expats in places like Dubai, Sharjah, London, and Melbourne.
Khan continues to assert that his removal was instigated by his removal to support the United States in their policies towards Russia and China. He claims that this is a form of punishment and in so doing, implicates the current Pakistani government of being controlled by outside interests. In exchange for his continued resistance, Khan is coming under extreme pressure from the Pakistani judiciary for allegations of corruption and contempt. This cycle of political-legal pressure on one side, and the call for mass protests on the other continue up until the writing of this survey and will be a matter of great concern in the coming year.
This past year witnessed numerous developments that decisively shaped the contours of social, economic, political, and security affairs of the world. Pakistan was not immune to this and remained proactively engaged in pursuit of its foreign policy goals and objectives through various modes of diplomatic initiatives at inter-state, regional, and global level.
However, there is another story from Pakistan that perhaps trumps everything this past year and will continue to shape things in the coming year: massive flash floods resulting in unparalleled damage and loss of life.
Pakistan received 60 percent of total normal monsoon rainfall in just three weeks since the start of the monsoon season. Heavy rains resulted in urban and flash floods, landslides, and Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) across Pakistan, particularly affecting Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Sindh provinces.
Heavy monsoon rainfall and floods have affected some 2.3 million people in Pakistan since mid-June, destroying at least 95,350 houses and damaging some 224,100 more. Sindh and Balochistan are the two most affected provinces in terms of human and infrastructural impact. Over 504,000 livestock have been killed, nearly all of them in Balochistan Province, while damages to nearly 3,000 km of roads and 129 bridges have impeded access across flood-affected areas. At the request of the Balochistan Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), a multisectoral rapid needs assessment was undertaken in ten districts of Balochistan to identify priority needs and gaps across sectors. Humanitarian partners are supporting the Government-led response in affected areas, redirecting existing resources to meet the most urgent needs while working to further scale up the response
Swaths of the country are now underwater, after what United Nation officials have described as a “monsoon on steroids” brought the heaviest rainfall in living memory and flooding that has killed 1,162 people, injured 3,544 and affected 33 million since mid-June. To put this number in perspective, this is more than the population of Sri Lanka and Australia combined.
As US troops began their final withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, Taliban militants swept into Kabul, overthrowing the government of President Ashraf Ghani and restoring their hard-line rule over the country. Although the group pledged to moderate its views on women’s rights, minorities, and freedom of expression, many of the repressive practices that marked its previous rule between 1996 and 2001 have returned. The US, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have frozen Kabul’s access to billions of dollars in aid and assets until the Taliban changes ideological course. Amid a severe drought and mass displacement, Afghanistan is heading for humanitarian disaster.
The departure of the remaining American military personnel and diplomatic staff from Kabul, which closed the curtain on a two-decade-long US engagement in Afghanistan, came as a great relief to most Americans. The US had finally been freed of the heavy military and financial burdens assumed in its failed efforts to secure and nurture a flawed democratic government. American policymakers were now thought free to refocus their attention and resources on global theatres with greater strategic value. Many regretted the manner of the US departure and having left loyal Afghans to the mercy of the Taliban but felt that it was time for Afghans to begin sorting out their own issues.
Now, a year after the Taliban seized power, the US finds itself unable to shake off its long encounter with Afghanistan. The US withdrawal helped trigger a major food crisis for a country chronically in need of international humanitarian assistance. While some of the worst fears of mass starvation and refugee flight have thus far not materialised, they have been averted only through an international community intervention in which the US has assumed a leading role. Working though international agencies and non-government organisations to provide food and many basic services, the US led all countries in its humanitarian assistance, committing $774 million in aid between August 2021 and July 2022.
It is generally agreed that the fastest and most effective way of addressing Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis is by putting money into the hands of the people. Withdrawing foreign financial assistance and freezing financial reserves in the wake of the Taliban seizure of power crippled an economy that had grown accustomed to having three-quarters of the government budget covered by foreign donors. The US is especially well-positioned to help relieve Afghanistan of the resulting severe liquidity crisis. With $7 billion of Afghan assets currently frozen in US banks, their release could contribute mightily to the recapitalisation of Afghanistan’s banking system and the revival of its economy.
This past year was another challenging year for Indonesian foreign policy. The country faced numerous strategic challenges, some new and some the extension of pre-existing challenges discussed in previous reviews.
Despite the growing risks of the COVID pandemic this year, the Southeast Asian region was troubled by the severe political crisis in Myanmar. The country’s military forcefully deposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration on 1 February 2021 and cracked down violently against those protesting the coup. The spotlight immediately turned to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the hope that the regional body might take rapid and appropriate measures in response.
In addition to condemning and expressing its concerns about the coup, Indonesia took the diplomatic lead within ASEAN, inviting the organisation’s foreign ministers to talks aimed at building a concerted regional response to the country’s crisis. In April, with the strong endorsement of Indonesia and the ASEAN Secretariat, the bloc’s leaders held a summit and agreed on a Five-Point Consensus designed to deescalate Myanmar’s political situation. Among the points of consensus were the demands for immediate cessation of violence, peaceful dialogue between the contending factions, the provision of humanitarian assistance, and the appointment of an ASEAN Special Envoy to lead the bloc’s efforts. But few of these were implemented, raising questions about ASEAN’s ability to handle the crisis in Myanmar, and Indonesia’s ability to lead the bloc in the direction of its choosing.
In 2021, Indonesia has arguably moved closer to the United States than it has been in some years. A series of high-level interactions between the two nations shows the extent to which the Biden administration has come to value Indonesia amid its competition with China. The milestones included the US-led COVID Summit and Forum on Energy and Climate in September, the side-line meeting between Biden and President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo at the COP-26 in November and, lastly, the visit of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to Jakarta.
Within just a few months, the two states have committed to expand their cooperation on COVID recovery, infrastructure investment, renewable energy, and the reform of multilateral institutions. In Jakarta, Blinken laid out America’s Indo-Pacific vision and praised Indonesia for its leadership in the region, particularly in maintaining the rules-based international order. The reinvigoration of the Indonesia-US partnership nonetheless remains in its early stages and will require practical consolidation in the coming years.
Indonesia’s president was actively involved in two of the year’s biggest multilateral forums. At the end of October, Jokowi attended the G-20 Summit in Italy, which had several ambitious goals, such as to strengthen global health architecture, promote a sustainable financial ecosystem, and advance financial inclusion. Jokowi also proposed the reactivation of global connectivity efforts, firstly on COVID vaccine supply and distribution and in the longer run in the areas of transport logistics, economic production and services, and infrastructure investment.
The G-20 in Italy had a special significance for Jakarta, as Indonesia is taking over the chairmanship in 2022. Indonesia chose the theme of “Recover Together, Recover Stronger”, emphasising the values of inclusion, collaboration, and resilience. Indonesia has the political and diplomatic advantages of being a non-aligned, active, and strategic middle power that can potentially drive more impactful and actionable G-20 resolutions.
Perhaps the biggest news from Malaysia this past year is that the country’s former Prime Minister Najib Razak is now in prison having lost his appeal after a 2020 conviction, a first for the country. Razak, whose father and uncle were the country’s second and third Prime Minster, respectively, was caught up in the 1MDP financial scandal. This sudden turn of events is also impacting his political part, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO). The UMNO had traditionally been assured the support of the country’s ethnic Malay majority and had headed the National Front coalition government since the country became independent of Britain in 1957.
Najib set up the 1MDB state investment fund shortly after taking power in 2009. The US Justice Department and other investigators alleged that at least $4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB by associates of Najib between 2009-2014 and laundered through layers of bank accounts in the US and other countries to finance Hollywood films and extravagant purchases that included hotels, a luxury yacht, art works and jewellery.
Najib had once cast himself as a liberal and reforming leader of the predominantly Muslim country of over 33 million people. He speaks impeccable English with a posh accent, has his own blog, and has a strong social media following. However, revelations after his downfall unveiled a serious taste for luxury, particularly on the part of his wife, Rosmah Mansor, who has also faced criminal charges and found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
As both Finance Minister and Prime Minister, Najib guided his country through the global financial crisis of 2009, abolished draconian colonial-era security laws and reached out to ethnic minorities with a “1Malaysia” campaign. Then-President Barack Obama praised him as a “reformer with much to do”. There is no doubt that this recent turn of events will have a lasting impact on Malaysia for years to come.
In March 2022 the French Senate voted 160-143 in favour of banning women and girls from wearing hijab while playing sports—showing the world once again that when it comes to further politicising, targeting, and policing European Muslim women, especially their clothing choices and bodies, France is in a league of its own. The amendment was proposed by the right-wing Les Républicains, which argued that the hijab could risk the safety of athletes wearing it while playing sports.
The proposed ban is opposed by Emmanuel Macron’s government and French lawmakers expressed “regret” over the government’s “lack of will” to put a stop to what they describe as the “development of Islamism in sport”. This was one of the main backdrops to the 2022 French presidential elections held on 10 and 24 April 2022 where Macron ultimately defeated Marine Le Pen.
France is home to roughly 5.7 million Muslims and the largest Muslim population in Europe. As of 2019, 31 percent of French Muslim women were wearing hijab, so this sports ban will have a profound impact on many women. Yet again, French lawmakers have chosen to continue on a dangerous collision course with the country’s Muslim population and especially French Muslim women.
PART II: MAJOR ISSUES FACING THE GLOBAL MUSLIM POPULATION
In late May 2021, hundreds of Rohingya living on a remote silt island known as Basan Char took part in demonstrations that were met with police violence and coincided with a visit by UNHCR —the UN’s refugee agency—from mainland Bangladesh. After the construction of crude shelters on the island accelerated in 2019, the Bangladeshi government has forcibly relocated more than 18,000 Rohingya refugees to Basan Char, where refugees are banned from leaving and communications and access by UN agencies and rights groups is severely restricted. Basan Char is only a few metres above sea level and prone to dangerous flooding and cyclones, underscoring the continued fragile conditions that Rohingya refugees face in host countries.
On 19 June 2022, tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees protested in Bangladesh, demanding their repatriation to Myanmar, where they fled a deadly military crackdown five years ago. Thousands of Rohingyas joined a peaceful march in front of the Balukhali 18 camp in-office charges, brandishing the Myanmar national flag, placards, and festoons with various demands. The demonstration was held on the first day of the “Let’s Go Home” (Bari Cholo) campaign, which was launched in 23 camps: 21 in Ukhia and two in Teknaf upazila.
Five years on from the horrors of 2017, 600,000 Rohingya continue to suffer at the hands of the military while neighbouring states host large numbers of refugees—in particular, Bangladesh, which is hosting over a million refugees.
The Rohingya people who remain in Rakhine State continue to face systematic discrimination; they are denied citizenship, and they have no access to education and healthcare. So, there is an urgent need for reform of discriminatory legislation, which creates this permissive environment for atrocity and crime.
The military coup in Myanmar on 1 February 2021 has raised fears in neighbouring Bangladesh that the new regime may not honour commitments to repatriate Rohingya Muslim refugees currently in Bangladesh. The Myanmar government has been very reluctant to take back their nationals, the Rohingya, despite the robust diplomatic endeavours of the Bangladesh government regarding repatriation.
Despite Bangladesh’s sincere efforts, Rohingya repatriation could not be started in more than three years after some 750,000 Rohingyas fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
The reality suggests that the presence of about a million Rohingyas in limited space has become risky. It left the local livelihood, environment, and socio-economic situation under threat. There were also security challenges in the crowded camps.
Five years on, there is an urgent need for international action to take back the Rohingyas in their homeland. Myanmar military can’t remain silent in this regard. They think that the world and the international community would forget their misdeed and the plight of the Rohingyas. COVID, the Ukraine crisis and the Afghan crisis make Myanmar military to some extent reluctant to this issue because international focus has shifted towards the crisis. But this time Rohingyas started to raise their voice against the injustice they are facing.
Though Myanmar does not accept them as citizens, it wants to take certain some steps to lessen international pressure. Bangladesh is bound to comply despite being aware of the real picture. Human rights organisations too are inert when it comes to the criminals in Myanmar. Myanmar wants to create an illusion before the world that despite a delay they finally have started repatriation. It has a great symbolic value for them.
Almost one million Rohingya Muslims are confined to bamboo and tarpaulin shacks in 34 filthy camps in southeast Bangladesh. Thousands of Rohingyas organised a peaceful rally in Ukhia, Cox’s Bazar on 19 June 2022 to tell the world especially Myanmar military that they want to return to Myanmar, a day before World Refugee Day.
Previous attempts at repatriation have failed, with the Rohingya refusing to return until Myanmar provides guarantees of rights and security to the predominantly Muslim minority.
Many in Myanmar regard the Rohingya, who speak a dialect similar to that of Chittagong in southeast Bangladesh, as “illegal immigrants”, a label that the minority rejects.
Rohingya say they want to return to their own communities in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, not to the government-built camps for internally displaced persons. “We are not Bengalis; we are Rohingya.” “We want full rights restored and repatriation.” They do not want to “die a refugee, we want to be able to exercise our rights, we want to go home and study and plan for the future.”
There is huge international pressure on the Myanmar military now regarding democratic movements following the 2021 coup and the Rohingya refugee issue. If Myanmar resolves the crisis, it could benefit with Bangladesh bilaterally through cementing trade ties. Thus, it’s in the Myanmar military’s own interest to resolve the crisis as soon as possible. The message is clear that Rohingya refugees don’t want to stay in Bangladesh anymore as refugees, and neither do they want to tolerate the injustice committed by the Myanmar military. It’s time to take back the Rohingya in Myanmar: this is the clear message of the Rohingya to the Myanmar military government through this massive rally.
It’s been four years since a committee of United Nations’ experts called attention to “credible reports” that more than 1 million Uyghur and other Muslim minority peoples were interned in extrajudicial camps in Xinjiang in north-western China for “re-education” and indoctrination. However, since that moment in August 2018, the international community has done little on the basis of those reports within the UN. Countries in the UN’s main human rights body have not agreed to any formal call for a probe, while appeals from UN experts for China to allow for rights monitoring have been met with fierce denials of wrongdoing from Beijing and no invite for free access to come and see for themselves.
Now, a report by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet could bolster the push for accountability and elevate the voices of survivors and their families in a way the UN system has not previously done—creating the potential for a turning point for how the international community, and top UN officials, have handled these accounts. However, the report is bogged down in review, following what’s already been months of delay, with Bachelet recently saying her office was “trying” to release it before the end of her term on 31 August as promised in June, but they are still reviewing “substantial input” from China, which she said was granted access to make “factual comments” as per standard procedure.
Earlier in her term, Bachelet said she sought “full access to carry out an independent assessment of the continuing reports pointing to wide patterns of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions”, but while she did not gain unfettered access in her eventual trip this past May, she has said the report was updated following that trip.
China’s Foreign Ministry has already publicly decried the report calling on the High Commissioner’s office to “respect the serious concern of the Chinese people and everyone speaking for justice in the world, stand on the right side of history and reject publishing an assessment on Xinjiang based on false information and false accusations.” The statement did not confirm if Beijing had seen the forthcoming report at that time or elaborate on which parts he believed would be “false”, though China has patently denied all rights abuses.
At the Human Rights Council, the UN’s foremost rights body, Beijing continues to counter efforts by countries to call it to account, using “incessant lobbying” and leverage such as access to vaccines, according to a Geneva-based Western diplomat.
The allegations are that China has interned more than 1 million Uyghur and other Muslim minorities across all ages and walks of life in a network of heavily fortified detention centres and re-education camps, where there are reports of torture, sexual violence and forced sterilisation. However, exact figures of how many in Xinjiang, home to 11.6 million Uyghurs, have been affected are difficult to assess.
Multiple governmental bodies have condemned the alleged abuses in recent years, with the European Parliament in June saying evidence constitutes “a serious risk of genocide”, a term the US has also used. China, which originally denied the existence of the camps, later said it had established “vocational education and training centres” as a way to counter “extremism” in a region where ethnic riots in 2009 resulted in the deaths of 197 people, according to officials, and there have long been Communist Party fears about terrorism and separatism.
Beijing has called allegations of rights violations, genocide and forced labour in the region “the lie of the century”. In May, during Bachelet’s official trip to China—the first by a top UN rights official in 17 years—the high commissioner said the government assured her the “vocational education and training centre” system was “dismantled”.
But academics and advocates say the oppression goes on, though it is now being absorbed into the prison system and transformed into a forced labour apparatus and a culture of fear and surveillance.
Back in September 2021, Bachelet said her office was “finalizing its assessment”, while a spokesperson in December said they hoped to publish in the coming weeks. When asked during a recent press conference why the report was delayed, Bachelet said she “wanted to prioritise” visiting the country and “convey directly those allegations” to officials—and her office in early March reached an agreement with Beijing for a visit. The trip, which she described previously as “an opportunity to hold direct discussions”, not the investigatory mission she had long called for, was decried by advocates and leading scholars on Xinjiang at the time. In the wake of that visit, more than 200 Uyghur, human rights and interest groups jointly called for her resignation, and several dozen leading scholars slammed her for “ignoring and even contradicting” academic consensus about violations in the region. A group of UN independent experts acknowledged dialogue with the Chinese government has merit but stressed it could not “replace the urgent need for a complete assessment of the human rights situation in the country.”
Experts say the standard for verification of specific claims is high for such reports, while key details like scale of atrocities may be difficult to corroborate—especially as China has blocked all meaningful access for investigators, and those with direct knowledge may fear retribution from Beijing for going on the record.
Many observers say that even a strong report from the High Commissioner would be unlikely to change the reality of China’s sway in the UN system, where Beijing’s emissaries have recently solicited support among countries for a letter calling on Bachelet not to release the document, according to a report from Reuters, who saw a letter from Chinese officials and confirmed by diplomats from three countries who received it.
Finally, on her last day in office, Bachelet and her team finally issued the 45-page report. The report confirms that:
Serious human rights violations have been committed in XUAR in the context of the Government’s application of counter-terrorism and counter-“extremism” strategies. The implementation of these strategies, and associated policies in XUAR has led to interlocking patterns of severe and undue restrictions on a wide range of human rights. These patterns of restrictions are characterized by a discriminatory component, as the underlying acts often directly or indirectly affect Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim communities.
The systems of arbitrary detention and related patterns of abuse in VETC and other detention facilities come against the backdrop of broader discrimination against members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities based on perceived security threats emanating from individual members of these groups. This has included far-reaching, arbitrary and discriminatory restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms, in violation of international norms and standards. These have included undue restrictions on religious identity and expression, as well as the rights to privacy and movement. There are serious indications of violations of reproductive rights through the coercive and discriminatory enforcement of family planning and birth control policies. Similarly, there are indications that labour and employment schemes for purported purposes of poverty alleviation and prevention of “extremism”, including those linked to the VETC system, may involve elements of coercion and discrimination on religious and ethnic grounds.
It is still early to determine what will happen as a result of this report and we are hopeful that in next year’s Muslim World Survey there will be much positive news to report, inshaAllah.
This past year Islamophobia in Europe was draped in government policy in several nations. I already highlighted the French Hijab ban above, but in late July/early August 2021 France’s lower house accepted the ‘anti-separatism” bill, which outwardly is a bill to help the growing threat of extremism. However, many Muslim advocacy groups are concerned that this bill amounts to a type of locality pledge by Muslim organisations and leaders. Specifically, it is geared to outlawing many practices French-Muslims engage in, which they believe is an afront to their freedom of religion.
Also in France, and along the same lines, early last year President Macron had tasked the French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM), the de facto representative of Muslim faith federations to the French government, with drafting a charter of allegiance to republican values. This charter sets out a framework for Muslim faith leaders to transform Islam in France into an “Islam of France”. This charter is also meant to go hand-in-hand with the creation of a National Council of Imams (CNI), responsible specifically for the training of imams and their certification as compliant with the charter—or not. Eventually renamed the Charter of Principles, the document’s ten articles set out the republican values to which all imams in France should subscribe.
In Austria, similar policy enactments also fuelled concern of an increase of Islamophobia. Following on its Operation Luxor in 2020, this past year the Austrian government created a registry for imams as well as a National Map of Islam. The mandate was one of several new measures Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s government adopted after a 2 November 2020 terror attack in Vienna. Four civilians were killed and 23 injured after a 20-year-old gunman opened fire in the centre of the Austrian capital. Austria continues its call for the European Union to adopt the registration of imams, the worship leaders of Mosques in Muslim communities.
While such policies in and of themselves are standard and in fact similar to how many Muslim majority countries manage their religious establishments, European Muslims continue to be concerned that these policies target them as “problem populations” and increases that amount of hate crimes towards them throughout the continent.
THE UNITED STATES
The United States also experienced an increased level of Islamophobia, particularly inside the federal government. Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert repeatedly targeted Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar with anti-Muslim slurs, such as calling her “pro Al-Qaeda”, a member of the “jihad squad” (a slur that also plays on the “the Squad” label given to Rep. Omar and her fellow three progressive congresswomen), and a terrorist. Following Boebert’s remarks, Omar received a sizeable increase in hate mail, making public some of the more aggressive and violent ones.
Such incidents further the reputation of the Republican Party as harbouring xenophobic and Islamophobic candidates within its ranks, especially since party leadership failed to take action against Boebert and offered no public condemnation. Boebert herself refused to publicly apologise to Omar, and even doubled down on the anti-Muslim harassment and bullying, claiming Omar was “playing the victim”. One recent study found that 54 percent of Republicans surveyed would vote for an anti-Muslim candidate, and separately noted that a 2020 YouGov survey found that 37 percent of Republicans approved of discrimination against Muslims.
In attempts to counter this, House Democrats passed a bill in December 2021that would establish a new special envoy position at the State Department to monitor and combat Islamophobia worldwide. The bill is slated to go to the US Senate for a vote next, but it is uncertain how the vote will go.
There were other political victories for Muslims in America this past year. In New York Shahana Hanif became the first Muslim woman elected to NYC council, while in Boston, MA, Tania Fernandes Anderson gained her council seat by defeating her opponent who had relied heavily on anti-Muslim rhetoric in his campaign Other successful campaigns in Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey and Pennsylvania also put Muslims in key local offices, with the city of Hamtramck in Michigan electing the country’s first all-Muslim city council. Further, President Biden nominated, and the Senate confirmed the appointment of Rashad Hussain as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom (IRF).
Nothing captures the extent of India’s growing state-driven Islamophobia than the video from a three-day rally in mid-December 2021 attended by influential religious leaders, right-wing Hindu activists, and members of the BJP. The viral footage showed hundreds of attendees raising Nazi-style salutes and declaring, we all pledge, that until our last breath, we will make India a Hindu nation. We will fight and die and, if required, kill.
Throughout this past year, Indian Muslims continued to witness a massive increase in Islamophobic fuelled acts of hatred and violence that seems to only embolden right-wing Hindu nationalist actors. The right-ward shift in the subcontinent also led many commentators and experts in the region to fear that Modi’s rule was leading to decay in the world’s largest democracy as journalists critical of the government were targeted and imprisoned and counter-terror legislation was used to silence critics.
A July 2021 Intercept piece found that Hindu vigilante groups were working alongside law enforcement enforce the “love jihad” law in Uttar Pradesh. Further, the claims of Muslim plots to overtake the country through other means like “economic jihad” and “narcotics jihad” continue to abound.
It’s not only Indian Muslims who are facing increasing hostility as there has been a drastic increase in the persecution of Christian minorities as well. In December 2021 the Karnataka state assembly passed an anti-conversion legislation, making it the tenth state in India to enact the so-called “Freedom of Religion” law, which “bars religious conversions, except when a person ‘reconverts to his immediate previous religion’”—a clause that critics say is aimed at enabling India’s many Hindu supremacist groups to convert Muslims and Christians into Hindus. The ruling BJP has claimed the bill aims to stop “the illegal and large-scale conversion of Hindus to Christianity”, a claim that has yet to be proven. In addition to such legislation, Indian Christians have been targeted by Hindu vigilantes who’ve attacked churches, convent schools, and Christmas celebrations. From January to September 2021, the country experienced 305 attacks on the Christian community and their places of worship, with the real number being much higher given that many cases go unreported.
In Assam, land disputes having their origins in the state government’s decision to free government lands from encroachment on nearly 25,666 acres it is currently seizing for agricultural purposes continues to displace mainly Muslim families in the thousands. In September 2021 tensions reached a peak where police shot, killed, and maimed the body of a Muslim man. The photographs of the incident went viral causing an uproar throughout the Muslim community.
In addition to Assam, anti-Muslim violence flared up in a number of other regions in the country, such as Tripura and Gurgaon. In the state of Tripura, right-wing groups launched attacks against the Muslim population, viewed as revenge attacks for anti-Hindu violence occurring in neighbouring Bangladesh. At least ten incidents of violence were reported in four days at the end of October this year, as mobs targeted mosques and properties owned by Muslims. Reporting on Tripura riots noted that the violence occurred following a rally attended by over 3,000 individuals and led by “the hard-line Hindu organisation, Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP)—a close ally of the BJP.” In Gurgaon, a city just southwest of New Delhi, Hindu hardliners led harassment campaigns against Muslims by targeting public prayer spaces and publicly declaring Muslims would not be allowed to hold Friday prayers. The campaigns of harassment and intimidation continued for weeks as Hindu groups disrupted Muslim prayers by smearing cow dung in the public space or holding their own Hindu religious events, with one being attended by BJP’s Kapil Mishra.
It is important to remember that much of the violence that has occurred is catalysed through the role of social media in the growing polarity in the region. While social media platforms have played a role in documenting anti-Muslim violence, specifically videos of brutal violence and harassment going viral, questions have also arisen as to the role of social media in amplifying hate. For Facebook, India remains the country’s largest market, but the platform is marred with hate speech, misinformation, and celebrations of violence. According to leaked internal documents this year, “Facebook did not have enough resources in India and was unable to grapple with the problems it had introduced there, including anti-Muslim posts.” Further, reports showed that “bots and fake accounts tied to the country’s ruling party and opposition figures were wreaking havoc on national elections.” While Facebook in India is aware that its platform has been used to spread conspiracy theories, including claims of “love jihad”, internal documents revealed that the social media giant has done little to act on it, and that “political sensitivities” are part of the reason that the company has chosen not to ban Hindu nationalist groups who are close to India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Perhaps the biggest news of this past year was the death of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri on 31 July 2022. He was killed in a drone attack conducted by the US Central Intelligence Agency targeting the Sherpur neighbourhood in Kabul where he was staying in a house reportedly owned by senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. Even though responsibility of the attack was denied by the US Department of Defense at first, American President Joe Bidden confirmed it with a public statement indicating he authorized the operation.
There are also significant updates which you will find below based on regions.
Since the beginning of 2022, there have been a recorded 699 terrorist attacks that resulted in 5,412 deaths across Africa. In terms of monthly trend, the month of March recorded the highest number of attacks (21 percent), followed by June (19 percent). Again, in terms of resultants deaths, March recorded 24 percent of the total deaths, while June recorded 20 percent of deaths for the reported period. In comparison to the first half of 2021, the first half of 2022 witnessed rather a marginal decline in the number of terrorist attacks, but a sharp rise in the total number of deaths. The first half of 2021 registered 950 attacks that resulted in 3,883 deaths, while the first half of 2022 recorded 699 attacks that resulted in a total death of 5,412. When comparing the preceding period (2021) to the current (2022), there was a marginal decline of 26 percent in terrorist attacks, but a sharp increase of 40 percent in the number of deaths, demonstrating the increasing brutal nature of attacks within the period.
The Sahel Belt of West Africa became the hotspot of complex and sophisticated attacks for the period under review. The complexity of attacks within the tri-border area of Mali-Burkina Faso-Niger (Liptako-Gourma) contributed largely to the increased terrorist activities in the region. The Liptako-Gourma region – an area covering the Tillaberi region of Niger; the Mopti, Gao, and Menaka regions of Mali; and the Sahel, Nord, Est, and Boucle du Mouhoun regions of Burkina Faso – remains the driving force behind the rising violent activities in the Sahel. The rampant terrorist attacks in the Liptako-Gourma and more precisely in the Gao region (around the commune of Tessit) demonstrates the freedom of movement that terrorist groups, JNIM (the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims) and the Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS) enjoy within their mobility corridors. In this area, inhabitants of several villages such as Tadjalalt, Tinagghy, Bakal or Kaygouroutan have been forced to flee their homes.
The withdrawal of the Barkhane troops Takuba Forces from Mali has created a security vacuum and bolstered the moral and impetus of terrorist groups to intensify their operations that might result in ease of movement. Undoubtedly, terrorist attacks are expected to continue apace or even increase. Ostensibly, the decrease in military pressure will further cause a rise in militancy while a decrease in military pressure against the hegemony of JNIM and ISGS will allow the groups to further consolidate their control and complicate efforts by the State Security apparatuses to re-establish control of the affected areas. In order to reverse the trend, the affected States may have to develop the ability to alter the strategic trajectory of the terrorist groups by operational raids, targeted strikes, and other military operations to serve as tactical and operational disruptors to militant groups. An innovative and out-of-the-box thinking approach that has the propensity to nip terrorism and violent extremism in the bud could help at this crucial moment.
Al-Shabaab remains the most active terrorist group with occasional attacks from the Islamic State in Somalia (ISS) in this part of Africa. The technological capabilities of Al-Shabaab to manufacture sophisticated IEDs have aided the group to perpetrate complex attacks which clearly manifested during the period under review. Pre-deployment CT training and counter-IED training for the deployed troops serving under the African Union Transitional Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) as well as the various National Armies in the region appear to be effective strategic approaches to degrading the IED manufacturing capabilities of Al-Shabaab. That notwithstanding, the resumption of Counter Terrorism operation activities by United States (US) Africa Command Forces, the enhanced capacity of the Somalia National Army with determination to defeat terrorist groups, as well tactical operational activities of AMISOM/ATMIS have limited the movement of terrorist groups within their operational zones.
Terrorism in the region is predominantly dominated by Islamic State (IS)- linked Al Sunnah Wal-Jummah (ASWJ) operating in the northern Mozambican Province of Cabo Delgado with spillovers into southern Tanzania. Within the period, insurgents advanced into the southern districts of Cabo Delgado province, launching attacks in areas previously unaffected by the nearly five-year old insurgency. Ancuabe and Chiure districts within Cabo Delgado began witnessing attacks in June 2022. Further, Nampula province suffered its first attack since the start of the conflict, when insurgents attacked a village and beheaded a civilian. The movement of insurgents into new operational corridors could be pressure from counter terrorism offensives hence the group retreats to these areas for havens. The fear, however, is that if the terrorists succeed in Mozambique, they can use the country as a launchpad to attack other countries in the region. Mobilising the political will to contain the terrorist threats in Cabo Delgado should, therefore, be treated as urgent priority among the political leadership in the region.
Despite the series of counter terrorism operational successes of the Mozambican security forces and intervening forces, the on-going insurgency seems to be buoyant. The fact that insurgent groups appear to enjoy apparent freedom of movement within Northern Mozambique reflects a minimal level of strategic coordination between the deployed international forces, and the National Armed Forces that are each responsible for their own operational areas.
Coordination between Rwandan security forces, Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) Forces, and Mozambican forces operating whether within the same theatre or different, must be enhanced. With the presence of multiple foreign military deployments in Mozambique, establishment of a Joint Command and Control Centre could assist in enhancement of coordination and prevention of duplication of efforts. The AU pledged during its Extraordinary Summit on Terrorism held on 28 May 2022 in Malabo, to deploy African Standby Force (ASF) in Northern Mozambique. Within the period also, Italy, Sweden, and Lithuania joined the European Union Military Training Mission in Mozambique in the context of the fight against terrorism thus increasing the number of EU countries in Mozambique to fourteen. These kinetic militaristic approaches if combined with local community-based violent extremism prevention initiatives could help defeat terrorism in Northern Mozambique.
THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
There is resurgence of Islamic State (IS)-affiliated groups’ activities across the region. The Libyan National Army (LNA) continues to battle IS cells in southern Libya amid repeated attacks from the group in different parts of the country. Libya is at a perilous crossroad owing to a protracted political impasse which has weakened the coordinated efforts required to fight IS groups. Terrorist activities were recorded in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula with Islamic State-affiliated militants orchestrating their deadliest attack on the army in two years, killing a dozen soldiers. For instance, on 7 May, in Qantara, Bir al-Abd located in the Sinai Peninsula, IS-affiliated militants attacked a military post killing at least seventeen soldiers and injuring five others. Also, on 11 May, in Rafah, Sinai Peninsula, IS operatives attacked an army checkpoint, killing at least 12 soldiers.
The Sinai Peninsula has been relatively calm for several months. The Egyptian Army succeeded in significantly weakening the group, which translated to the near failure by IS elements to launch significant attacks in Sinai for several months. Nevertheless, the latest attacks and kidnappings give rise to fears that IS could escalate its atrocities. There is an urgent need to interrogate the recent resurgence to understand what is emboldening the group’s momentum and resilience. The Egyptian government has rigorously bidden for investment in the Sinai in an effort to encourage the population that had fled the area due to IS activities to return. The resurgence, if not reversed, could derail the efforts of the government, and put local economic development initiatives in shambles. In Tunisia, a suspected armed terrorist opened fire on police near National Guard Barracks located in Kairouan on 20 March 2022. Security forces repulsed the attack, and no casualty was recorded.
Algeria, which has so far been largely successful in its strategic counter terrorism operations, begun witnessing attacks believed to have been perpetrated by Al-Qaeda affiliate group – Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). On January 28, 2022, two (2) Algerian soldiers were killed in a fight with suspected AQIM militants in Hassi Tiririne region near the border with Niger. Similarly, on 20 March, three (3) Algerian soldiers were killed in a clash with a terrorist group on the border strip of Timiaouine region in Bordj Badji Mokhtar, a village along the border with Mali. Despite the long-term gradual decline of AQIM’s capabilities as a result of the military destruction of terrorist cells and arrest of terrorist elements leading to recovery of large volumes of ammunitions and equipment, the militants continue to have the ability to acquire military grade arms within the country. This ability could be linked to several factors including vast and porous borders that the country shares with Mali, Libya, and Niger. This borderline constitutes an integral perforated strip that facilitates the movement of arms smugglers and proliferators
THE ISLAMIC STATE (IS)
Since, unfortunately, the pseudo-Islamic State (IS) is a growing force in the space of extremism, I decided this year to add a separate section regarding their activity as it is something we continue to monitor.
The United States continues to lead the global fight against IS and since the beginning of 2022 they have killed four major jihadi leaders operating in and around northern Syria. These attacks are as follows:
03 February 2022: U.S. Special Operations Forces carried out a raid that led to the death of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Qurayshi, also known as Hajji Abdullah. U.S. intelligence tracked Qurayshi to rebel-held Idlib province in north-western Syria.
16 June 2022: U.S.-led coalition forces carried out a night-time raid that led to the capture of ISIS leader Hani Ahmed Al-Kurdi in Syria’s northern province of Aleppo. Al-Kurdi was known to be an experienced bomb maker and operational planner for ISIS.
27 June 2022: U.S. forces carried out an airstrike in Syria’s northwest Idlib province that killed Abu Hamzah al Yemeni, a senior leader of the Al-Qaeda-aligned group, Hurras Al-Din. Al-Qaeda supporters founded Hurras Al-Din in 2018.
12 July 2002: U.S. forces carried out an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) strike near the town of Jindayris in northwest Syria, targeting two senior ISIS officials. The leader of ISIS in Syria, Maher Al-Agal, was killed in the strike. Agal was also known to assist in developing ISIS networks in Syria and Iraq.
Aside from the drone strike against Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawhiri in July 2022, the most significant news vis-à-vis extremism in Afghanistan is that finally in early October 2022, the United States resumed direct talks with the Taliban. The Biden administration sent the CIA’s deputy director David Cohen and the top State Department official responsible for Afghanistan to the Qatari capital of Doha for the talks with the Taliban delegation which included their head of intelligence, Abdul Haq Wasiq.
While the Taliban maintains ties with Al-Qaeda, they are facing an insurgency from the Islamic State offshoot known as ISIS-K. The group has routinely targeted the Hazara ethnic minority in Afghanistan. At least 25 people, primarily young women, were killed in a suicide attack in the beginning of October 2022 at an education centre in a predominantly Hazara neighbourhood in Kabul. No one immediately claimed responsibility.
ISIS-K now poses an internal Afghan threat, to the Taliban and to sectarian stability given ISIS-K’s focus on killing Shias, but there is some reasonable concern that ISIS-K could ultimately turn its sights on external plotting if the Taliban is unable to contain them.
It seems that the Taliban are in need of assistance with this this internal conflict and hoping the Americans can help in exchange of much needed aid. Last month the Biden administration announced it had set up a $3.5 billion “Afghan Fund” with frozen Afghan money to promote economic stability. The funds have yet to be released because the US does not believe there is a trusted institution to guarantee the funds will benefit the Afghan people.
Instead, it will be administered by an outside body, independent of the Taliban and the country’s central bank.
US government administration officials have also repeatedly raised the plight of women and girls in their conversations with the Taliban. The United Nations rapporteur for human rights in Afghanistan last month called the regression of women and girls in Afghan society “staggering.”
PART III: REFUGEES
By the end of 2021, more than 84 million people had been forced from their homes around the world. This represents an increase from both 2019 and 2020, which were record-breaking years in and of themselves. This increase of global displacement, the majority of whom are Muslim, has been coupled with an unprecedented restriction of global movement due to the global pandemic which continued to cast its influence on travel throughout much of this previous year. While not the focus of our Muslim world review, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine lead to millions of Ukrainian refugees fleeing their country this past year and spilling into neighbouring countries. Since Ukraine continues to align itself with Europe politically and culturally, one effect this is happening in the western world is raising awareness to the plight of refugees worldwide.
In Africa, the multiple conflicts found in the eastern part of the continent has caused many people to be displaced. Some of the affected are: Central African Republic, Darfur, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso, and Ethiopia. Like Ukraine, these are not necessarily the displacement of large Muslim populations, but m any of these refugees are Muslim or connected to Muslim communities in East Africa.
By the end of 2021, the East and Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region hosted 4.9 million refugees and asylum seekers, as well as 12 million internally displaced people. Nearly 200,000 people became refugees, driven by conflict, drought, flooding, food shortages, insecurity, and localised violence.
2021 saw a widespread relaxation of COVID restrictions; however, asylum restrictions remained in force in some countries and prevented some asylum requests and registrations from going ahead. Some refugees moved onward, in often risky conditions, towards the Mediterranean or southern Africa. Refugee status determination was slow and costly, with a long-standing backlog of 180,000 asylum applications pending adjudication. Several countries made progress on pledges relating to statelessness, including Rwanda which published a new nationality law facilitating naturalisation.
The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan worsened significantly this past year. Prior to the Taliban’s takeover of power there was an overall reduction in displacement. However, since the Taliban has come to power, this past year saw a displacement of 777,000 people (57 percent children and 21 percent women), bringing the total number of people displaced by conflict inside Afghanistan to 3.5 million as of December 2021. The conflict diminished and humanitarian access to many parts of the country improved after the Taliban takeover and the announcement of an interim government, but there was deepening poverty, exacerbated by drought, COVID and food insecurity. With ongoing restrictions and systematic exclusion, women and children faced heightened protection risks including intimate partner violence and child marriage. Since August 2021, women have largely been excluded from the workforce both as a result of the economic crisis and restrictions imposed by the de facto authorities. In the public sector, exceptions were made in some cases for women working in health care and primary schools, as well as for a very small number of civil servants. Limitations on freedom of movement negatively impacted other aspects of women’s lives, including access to health services. The closure of many women’s protection shelters left women at risk. Justice systems established to deal with cases of gender-based violence were largely non-functional.
Of course, the largest refugee crises remain amongst the Syrians and Rohingya. Since I covered much of the Rohingya above, let me use the space here to highlight where things stand with the Syrian refugee crises and both Turkey and Jordan who continue to absorb the majority of refugees within their borders.
In Türkiye the more than 3.7 million Syrian refugees, including 1.8 million children, as well as 330,000 refugees and asylum seekers of other nationalities, of whom at least 140,000 are children, remains challenging. Türkiye also remains a leading transit country for registered and unregistered refugees and migrants on the move. During the first quarter of 2022, nearly 4,500 people—20.2 percent of whom are from Afghanistan—successfully crossed by sea and land from Türkiye into the EU. In addition, more than 55,000 people were rescued or
apprehended by Turkish authorities, amongst them more than 27,000 Afghan nationals. Recent developments in the sub-region neighbouring Türkiye, especially in Afghanistan, are posing increased risks of new population movements towards Türkiye.
In Jordan more than 2.7 million refugees, including 1.3 million Syrians, of whom 674,268 (50 percent children) are registered with UNHCR. Currently, 132,005 Syrian refugees live in camps: 81,242 refugees in Za’atari camp, 44,064 in Azraq camp and 6,699 in the Emirati Jordanian camp. The majority of refugees have been welcomed into host communities, located primarily in the northern governorates and in Amman.
The protracted nature of the Syria crisis is increasing vulnerabilities of refugees in Jordan and has contributed to an environment of prolonged vulnerability for children and young people affected by the Syria crisis face multiple deprivations—poverty, profound stress, limited access to quality education and some 20 percent of children in the country being multidimensionally poor. The COVID pandemic also continues to have far-reaching socio-economic consequences, beyond its immediate health impacts, on already vulnerable groups, including refugees and the estimated 4.8 million children residing in Jordan.
There are several open-ended issues from the survey above that make it difficult to stop here, what with the explosive situation in Iran, the shocking UN report on the Uyghurs in China, the recent breach of Israeli settlers of the Al-Aqsa mosque, and the devastating floods in Pakistan. These are all issues we will continue to monitor closely and report on in our following issue, inshaAllah.
At the time of this writing, the global Muslim population is around 1.8 billion. In addition to its rapid growth, this number also represents another reality: within the next 30-50 years, Islam will become the dominant religion on earth, surpassing Christianity. This means that the issues discussed in the survey above are of vital importance not only to Muslims, but to the global population as well. This too, is something that deserves our reflection.
Dr Tarek Elgawhary is a scholar of Islam and comparative religions having studied at both Princeton University and al-Azhar Seminary. His writings and thoughts on life, Islam, and mindfulness can be found at www.makingsenseofislam.com.