Political and Sectarian Polarization May Spark a New Phase of the Egyptian Revolution

Andrew McGregor

June 27, 2013

One year into the presidency of Muslim Brother Muhammad al-Mursi, Egypt finds itself consumed by economic deterioration, severe energy shortages, labor unrest, domestic insecurity, sectarian divisions and rumors of imminent coup attempts. The nation’s political crisis threatens to come to a head on June 30, when massive demonstrations are scheduled to call for Mursi’s resignation and an end to rule by Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood. Leading members of the Brotherhood, including the president, have been observed moving out of their homes to temporary residences before the demonstrations begin (al-Tahrir [Cairo], June 19).

Sisi and MursiLieutenant General Abd-al-Fattah al-Sisi and President Muhammad al-Mursi

In a June 26 televised speech intended to deter the massive demonstrations planned for June 30, the president admitted making mistakes, but remained consistent in blaming Egypt’s troubles on “enemies of Egypt”:

There are many reasons for what we are suffering now. We should admit that. As a president, I have exerted painstaking efforts, sometimes I did it and sometimes I made mistakes and mistakes can happen, but rectifying these mistakes is a must… The enemies of Egypt have left no stone unturned in sabotaging the democratic experience in Egypt. There are some people who have illusions that the state of corruption, oppression and injustice will come back” (MENA, June 27).

The military responded to the impending demonstrations and possible violence with a statement issued on June 23 by Minister of Defense and Military Production and Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Abd-al-Fattah al-Sisi, who insisted the army would “not accept, approve of or allow Egypt’s entry into a dark tunnel of conflict, clashes, civil war, distrust, sectarian strife or the collapse of state institutions” (al-Ahram [Cairo], June 24; June 25). Al-Sisi called on all parties to work towards conciliation in the few days remaining before the June 30 anti-Mursi protests. The statement was closely examined by political analysts in Egypt, who searched it for clues as to whether the military was ready to retake power despite recent signs that it was prepared to remain on the sidelines of the political dispute so long as its privileges were guaranteed. In the meantime, Egyptian military forces are reinforcing bases near major Egyptian cities with armor and additional troops in anticipation of the June 30 protests. Interior Minister Muhammad Ibrahim has said Egypt’s police would not favor any political trend in the streets on June 30, but would take measures to prevent attacks on public property or police stations (al-Jumhuriyah [Cairo], June 20; MENA, June 24). Some 200,000 police are expected to be available to provide security on June 30.

The broad aim of the opposition, which includes liberals, Coptic Christians, leftists and others, is to call for Mursi’s resignation, the appointment of the Supreme Court president as an interim president, the creation of a national salvation government to guide Egypt into new elections and the formation of an assembly to draft a new constitution (al-Masri al-Youm [Cairo], June 21).

Most of the Salafist fronts do not seek a change in leadership at the moment despite their significant differences with the Muslim Brotherhood politicians. In general, they have also adopted the language of democracy (which they rejected as un-Islamic before discovering it offered a pathway to government) in asserting Mursi’s right to continue as president as mandated by Egypt’s voters. The Salafist Nur Party (Egypt’s largest Salafist political party) has announced its intention to sit out both the pro-government demonstrations and the anti-government protests, saying it rejects the current political polarization (MENA [Cairo], June 25).

Muhammad Abu SamraMuhammad Abu Samra

However, in a recent interview with a Cairo daily, Muhammad Abu Samra, the secretary general of the political wing of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, declared that party members would not support President Mursi or the Muslim Brotherhood in the streets on June 30, but rather warned that if any attempt is made to storm the presidential palace or proclaim a new president, the movement’s “hundreds of thousands” of jihadists would interpret this as the “zero hour”:

If President Mursi falls, we shall immediately declare the launching of the Islamic Revolution. We have our justifications, the most important being that we accepted democracy as a system for the rule, even though many of the jihadists reject it. Since we have accepted it everybody must respect it. But toppling Mursi means that they have rejected democracy and even stomped on it with their shoes. Here any legitimacy collapses, in which case we shall declare our Islamic Revolution and will call on the people to take to the streets to support us… If the Republican Palace is stormed and a President other than Mursi is declared, as some are circulating, that will be the zero hour. We shall immediately go out on the streets. But this does not mean that we approve of Mursi or the Muslim Brotherhood… The first ones that the Islamic Revolution will be directed against are the Muslim Brothers, for they have not enforced sharia as they pledged and have reneged on all their promises (al-Akhbar [Cairo], June 11).

For this purpose, the movement has postponed the departure of jihadists to Syria until after June 30. With Salafist groups giving their approval for Egyptian jihadists to travel to Syria, the first batch of fighters had been scheduled to leave this month (al-Masri al-Youm [Cairo], June 18). If Mursi is forced from office, Abu Samrah suggests that the choice of the Salafists would be Shaykh Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, a populist Islamist politician who was forced from the presidential race due to his mother’s dual Egyptian-American citizenship.

Members of the Egyptian opposition believe Mursi’s supporters have adopted a façade of democratic adherence only to allow Mursi enough time to entrench members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements in Egypt’s power structure. A recent round of gubernatorial appointments saw regional demonstrations against the appointment of Islamists, most notably in the Luxor region, where Adel Muhammad al-Khayat, a member of the Gama’a al-Islamiya organization that killed 58 tourists there in 1997, was inexplicably appointed governor and charged with a mandate of increasing tourism. The bizarre choice of governor for Luxor, home of ancient Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, resulted in the immediate resignation of Tourism Minister Hisham Zazou (though his resignation was not accepted). The regional and national outrage over the appointment, which seemed designed to discourage rather than encourage international tourism in a country heavily reliant on tourism as a means of income and source of foreign currency, resulted in the new governor’s resignation only a few days after his appointment.

The Brotherhood has been organizing what it calls “million-man marches” in support of Mursi using the slogan “No to Violence, Yes to Legitimacy” (Amal al-Ummah [Alexandria], June 21; Egyptwindow [Cairo], June 21; MENA, June 21).  Pro and anti-Mursi demonstrators have increasingly come to blows across Egypt in recent weeks, raising the possibility of widespread violence on June 30. Following major clashes between opposition forces and Muslim Brotherhood supporters in the Sharqiyah, Fayyum, Minufiya Gharbiya and Kafr al-Shaykh governorates, Brotherhood media outlets have blamed the violence on the Tamarud (“Rebels”) movement, the Dustur Party of Muhammad al-Baradei, the Popular Current (a political coalition led by Neo-Nasserist Hamdin Sabahi), the Black Bloc, Christians and assorted “hooligans and dangerous criminals”  (Amal al-Ummah [Alexandria], June 19; Egyptwindow, June 19; al-Jumhuriyah [Cairo], June 19; Ikhwan Online [Cairo], June 20).

Tamarud has also been the target of attacks, with Molotov cocktails being thrown at the movement’s offices in Cairo on June 7. Tamarud (“Rebels”) is trying to collect 15 million signatures on a petition to force an early presidential election and claim to have 10 million signatures so far (Xinhua, June 7).

President Mursi’s speech appears to have had little impact on the mounting tensions in Egypt, where inflammatory Islamist rhetoric is matched only by the determination of the opposition to bring enough people out into the streets to force the president’s resignation. With elements of both groups believing provocations could force intervention by security or military forces on their side, there is a serious risk the June 30 demonstrations could mark the beginning of a new and more violent phase of the unfinished Egyptian revolution.

This article first appeared in the Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor on June 27, 2013

Sudanese President Declares South Sudan’s Oil Will Never Pass Through Sudan Again

Andrew McGregor

June 27, 2013

Only three months after a long and bitter dispute over South Sudanese oil flows through Sudan was resolved, the pipeline from the South is in danger of being cut off once again, to the mutual disadvantage of both states. The earlier dispute, which saw oil flows from South Sudan suspended for 16 months, was based on a dispute over pipeline fees. Now political considerations have come to the fore, with Khartoum demanding that South Sudan stop its alleged support of forces belonging to the rebel Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) in the Darfur, Kordofan and Blue Nile regions.  Khartoum’s decision comes at a time when it has been unsettled by rebel advances in North Kordofan province that could eventually open the road to a strike on the capital itself.

South Sudan PipelineRoute of Proposed New Pipeline (ENR)

In a June 8 rally in Khartoum, Bashir announced he had told his oil minister to “direct oil pipelines to close the pipeline and after that, let [South Sudan] take [the oil] via Kenya or Djibouti or wherever they want to take it… The oil of South Sudan will not pass through Sudan ever again” (Sudan Tribune, June 17). The Sudanese government has said the pipeline must be shut down in a gradual 60-day process and that all oil within the pipeline are already in Port Sudan will be shipped out as usual (Sudan Tribune, June 15). The affected oil shipments belong to the China National Petroleum Corporation, India’s ONCG Videsh and Malaysia’s Petronas.

Even if the current dispute was resolved quickly (which looks unlikely), it will still have the result of encouraging plans to develop a new pipeline to carry South Sudan’s oil to Djibouti or Kenya’s Lamu Port instead of Port Sudan. The planned pipeline to Lamu Port would be joined by another new line from Uganda, which has been determined to have a commercially viable three billion drums of oil (Daily Nation [Nairobi], June 18).

However, for the pipeline to Lamu Port to become a reality, new oil discoveries are needed in South Sudan. Most of these hopes are centered on potential discoveries in the massive but promising Jonglei B Bloc that was formerly a concession of French oil firm Total. The B Bloc has now been divided into three parts, with Total joining in a partnership with U.S. Exxon Mobil and Kuwait’s Kufpec in at least two of these blocs (Reuters, June 4). Unfortunately, eastern Jonglei is the home of the Yau Yau rebellion, an obstinate challenge to South Sudan’s success that Juba believes is supplied and organized by Khartoum (for rebellion leader David Yau Yau, see https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=278 ).  South Sudan president Salva Kiir Mayardit is reported to have discussed construction of the new pipeline with the Toyota Corporation of Japan during a visit to that country (al-Sharq al-Awsat, June 20).

Nafi Ali Nafi 2Sudanese Presidential Advisor Nafi Ali Nafi (Sudan Tribune)

The previous dispute over oil transfers was solved by a Cooperation Agreement signed in September, 2012 and implemented in March that covered oil and other issues, such as border security, citizenship, trade, banking and even the creation of a buffer zone between the two nations. Following Khartoum’s decision to suspend the Cooperation Agreement with South Sudan, Washington postponed an already controversial visit to the U.S. capital from Sudanese presidential adviser Nafi Ali Nafi, one of the most powerful men in the regime and a possible future presidential candidate, but also a figure many believe should be charged by the International Criminal Court for his role in various human rights abuses (al-Sanafah [Khartoum], June 19).

Efforts to reconcile the two Sudans have been led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, currently chairman of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel. China, which stands to lose a major source of oil over the tensions between Khartoum and Juba, has joined the AU in seeking a resolution to the dispute. Khartoum has indicated its acceptance of an African Union proposal that would see the re-implementation of the cooperation agreement once the South Sudanese army was removed from the demilitarized zone between the two nations, but with both Khartoum and Juba still accusing the other of maintaining proxy forces within their respective territories, there are still important issues to be resolved if South Sudanese oil is to continue being pumped to Port Sudan after the two-month warning period ends in early August. South Sudan vice-president Riek Machar has been assigned to visit Khartoum to discuss means of resolving this latest crisis, but a date for the visit has yet to be set (al-Sahafah [Khartoum], June 16; al-Sharq al-Awsat, June 20).

South Sudan’s Foreign Minister, Nhial Deng Nhial, insists that his government is ready to fully implement all the conditions of the Cooperation Agreement: “The Republic of South Sudan does not support rebels fighting Khartoum. It is in our interest not to destabilize the government of Sudan” (Sudan Tribune, June 23). Deng Alor, minister of cabinet affairs of South Sudan, remarked: “We do not want to enter into a military confrontation with Khartoum; not owing to weakness, but in order to maintain peace and its achievements… However, this does not prevent us from exercising our right to self-defense” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, June 20).

On June 20, the Khartoum government announced sweeping changes to the military leadership, including the top positions in the army, air force, navy and intelligence service. The new chief-of-staff is Lieutenant General Mustafa Osman Obeid Salim, who succeeds Colonel General Ismat Abd al-Rahman. While government sources described the replacement of 15 senior officers as routine, it is widely believed the broad changes in the command structure reflected a lack of confidence in the existing commanders, who were unable to prevent the Sudanese Revolutionary Front from taking the town of Abu Kershola in South Kordofan and attacking the North Kordofan town of Um Rawaba in a lightly-resisted spring offensive that embarrassed government leaders.  The SRF even fired four shells on a military airbase outside the North Kordofan capital of Kadugli on June 14, though the shells actually fell on part of the facility used by the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), killing one Ethiopian peacekeeper and wounding two others (Sudan Tribune, June 14; Akhir Lahzah [Khartoum], June 18).

Military developments in North Kordofan have clearly alarmed the regime in Khartoum, which has set up 27 checkpoints at entrance points to the capital to prevent the infiltration of SRF fighters (al-Sharq al-Awsat, June 20). Nafi Ali Nafi made an unusual public criticism of the army afterwards, saying its low combat capability meant it was struggling to deal with the rebels and was in need of new recruits. His remarks were taken poorly by the Army, whose spokesman Colonel al-Sawarmi Khalid Sa’ad proclaimed that “if it wasn’t for the Sudanese Army… these [rebel] movements would have now seized the city of Khartoum and the regime would have totally collapsed” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, June 20; Sudan Tribune, June 20). Nonetheless, the president’s adviser appears to have come out on top in this struggle – most of the officers newly appointed to command positions are believed to be Nafi loyalists. The widespread changes to Sudan’s military leadership also appear to have weeded out some senior officers whose loyalty was suspect after being charged and then pardoned by the president in connection with an alleged coup attempt last November. [1] Only a few of those detained remain behind bars, including Major General Salah Ahmed Abdalla and Lieutenant General Salah Abdallah Abu Digin (a.k.a. Salah Gosh),a former head of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS)  known for his political rivalry with Nafi Ali Nafi and his close cooperation with the CIA in counterterrorism matters.


  1. For the coup, see Andrew McGregor, “Sudanese Regime Begins to Unravel after Coup Reports and Rumors of Military Ties to Iran,” Aberfoyle International Security Special Report, January 7, 2012, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=141.

This article first appeared in the Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor on June 27, 2013.

Time for a Different Approach to the War on Terror in Africa? Or Fighting Terrorism in a Hall of Mirrors

Andrew McGregor

A speech delivered to the Egmont Royal Institute for Foreign Relations, Brussels, June 18, 2013

Egmont Introduction: This paper addresses the question of terrorism in Africa and the role of international and regional organizations in dealing with this phenomenon in Africa specifically and the larger world in general.

This is an important topic at a time when every Western nation is looking to reduce its military and security budget, making it essential to develop less reactive and more pre-emptive means of coping with emerging terrorist groups.

hall-of-mirrors-1Jihadism Is Not New in Africa

In the African context, it is often difficult to distinguish between terrorism and insurgencies. Many groups use both sets of tactics. We should also recognize that Jihadism and terrorist tactics are not new in Africa, nor are the latter the preserve of African societies as any student of colonial history could tell you. Even the global element of Jihadism is not new; see 19th century Sudanese Mahdism, which intended to convert the world. What is new is the shift from Sufi-Jihadism to Salafist-Jihadism, a gradual development in Africa but something that has happened fairly quickly elsewhere, such as Chechnya, where the transition occurred largely between the Chechen-Russian war of 1994-96 and the beginning of the second Chechen-Russian war in 1999. Older forms of jihadism were often inspired by religious study in the Hijaz or Yemen. In this sense Somalia’s Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, the Sudanese Mahdi, the Libyan Grand Sanusi and other Sufist jihad leaders of the past are all much like Iyad ag Ghali, the Tuareg Ansar al-Din leader who was first brought to conservative Islam by Tablighi missionaries in Mali and then made contacts with Salafi extremists while working as a diplomat in Jeddah.

Disenfranchised or impoverished populations are rarely “the root cause” of terrorism, but such populations are easily recruited to form the mass needed to occupy territory as in northern Mali. International attention tends to focus on economic threats to foreign interests while regarding society-destroying tactics such as mass-rape as local problems of secondary interest. This approach is ultimately an illusion – shattered societies are breeding grounds for religiously-inspired terrorist groups.

Key Role for Regional Organizations

Financial surveillance as a means of tackling terrorism is as important as aerial surveillance, but here the view is obscured by corruption in the banking and regulatory systems of less-developed countries (again, not a purely African phenomenon). Nonetheless, such surveillance is essential as self-financing terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb evolve. A great deal of detailed, expensive and economy-slowing work has been done to regulate international money transfers to cut off sources of terrorist financing, but all this work is quickly undone when nations pay enormous cash ransoms for their kidnapped nationals. Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s financing doesn’t come from the Gulf, it comes from Europe and Canada.

Development remains the best way to engage diverse populations in economic pursuits rather than political violence, but development needs to be handled in a cooperative international fashion. This is where regional economic groupings like IGAD and ECOWAS can play important roles. One such example is the unilateral decision of Ethiopia to build a series of enormous dams on the Blue Nile. What might have benefited the entire region is instead seen as a provocative and hostile action that could lead to a general war or a proxy war using terrorist organizations or insurgent groups.

hall-of-mirrors-3In August 1914 the Ottomans issued a call for jihad against the Allied Powers that would have serious implications for Africa

In tackling terrorism, there needs to be a greater emphasis on regional blocs rather than UN activity. Neighbors will tend to understand each other and have greater commitment to eliminating sources of instability that might threaten them eventually. UN missions have too many chiefs and extended chains of command in which military decisions require approval from civilian authorities in New York. UN intervention or peacekeeping operations often consist of polyglot forces from nations of “professional peacekeepers” like Fiji, Colombia or Bangladesh that have little to offer in terms of military skills but join any mission going in order to take advantage of the financial compensation and military materiel available. Regional partners tend to perform better as they have a national interest in the success of the mission.

Rapid reaction forces formed by each regional grouping might be “adopted” by a Western power, perhaps monitored by an international committee and/or a regional political grouping to prevent the growth of a “sphere of influence.”

All too often, the more inclined we are to make intervention efforts international, the less likely they are to work. Successful interventions tend to revolve around one capable military force that dictates the rate of progress and dominates the upper levels of the command chain. See, for example, France in northern Mali, or Uganda in Somalia. As in the latter case, these forces do not necessarily have to be Western, but would still benefit from Western financial, logistical and intelligence support.

Nonetheless, impartial assessments of national military capabilities are necessary before deployment on joint missions. See for example Nigerians showing up in Mali without food or ammunition when they were supposed to be the core of the force. Aside from Chad and Niger, who operated in close cooperation with the French independently of the rest of the African contingents, the ECOWAS force has contributed little and may even have drawn off resources that could have been better applied in the intervention. In other words, rhetoric that calls for “African solutions to African problems” can itself be a problem. Creating “feel-good” alliances is not the same as creating effective military alliances. Sober assessments free of political considerations must be conducted to determine where limited security resources can be most advantageously applied.

Rethinking International Interventions

In struggling societies that are enduring economic collapse, environmental degradation and government corruption, people typically develop alternative methods of survival, and there is often little difference between terrorism, jihadism, narco-trafficking and smuggling. All these activities are mutually supportive and all require international cooperation to combat. The existence of trans-national criminal networks can be easily adapted to the needs of terrorists. As the jihadists fight a borderless war, one of the greatest advantages they have in Africa is the existence of national borders. In Africa, the jihadis are able to exploit the failure of nation-states to cooperate fully on security issues by sharing intelligence or mounting joint efforts at border control.

There is a need to reassess international military programs such as the U.S.-sponsored Operation Flintlock, which created an elite cadre in the Malian Army that used its training to overthrow a democratically elected government (flawed though it may have been) rather than combat terrorism. Training is all very well, but there needs to be even closer engagement. How can Malian troops defend national sovereignty when they are sent to the front without sufficient ammunition because funds have been diverted? What’s cheaper – a full scale, year-long military intervention or a shipment of ammunition? Escalation of conflicts can often be avoided by small measures such as making sure security forces are actually paid on time.  Many members of terrorist organizations are not ideologically committed – see Somalia, where there has been steady movement of fighters between al-Shabaab and government armed forces according to which group was actually meeting their payroll. Peacekeeping troops or security forces that go unpaid quickly turn to selling the most valuable assets they have on hand – their weapons.

Reintegration as a component of conflict resolution also needs to be rethought. Too often, it is a means for defeated rebels to train, re-equip and re-arm before launching a new rebellion – see for example the M23 mutineers of the DRC and the Tuareg rebels of Niger and Mali, some of whom have gone through the desertion/rebellion/reintegration process several times. Reintegration is a survival tactic that preserves not only lives and military formations, but also unwittingly provides an available pool of trained fighters to supply tomorrow’s insurgencies with manpower.

Combating arms proliferation would seem to be an area that could benefit immensely from international cooperation, but it is the same nations that profit most from the arms trade that ironically would be the most capable of controlling it. Such conflicts of interest prevent effective measures from being taken. There are no guarantees in the arms trade – today’s secure arsenal easily becomes tomorrow’s arms bazaar (see Libya), or arms provided for counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism work today may be turned on civilian populations tomorrow in a type of “state terrorism.”

hall-of-mirrors-2Eliminating Terrorism: A Conflict of Interest?

And finally, there must be some recognition that we’re not all on the same page in the international community regarding the means or even desirability of eliminating terrorism. A great deal of what we describe as terrorism is in fact proxy warfare. There are very few terrorist groups that survive their first year of operations without clandestine external support or internal support from “deep state” elements or even rogue elements of the security services. One might look here to the long and continuing run of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa, which, despite a near total absence of ideology or authentic local support, has still managed to terrorize the region for decades as a proxy of the Sudan in its political struggle with Uganda.

In addition, many states find a certain level of instability in their neighbors (a level they would probably describe as “containable” if pressed) to be a useful means of exerting influence or preventing the emergence of a national unity or purpose that might prove threatening to their interests. In this case one might examine Ethiopia’s intervention against al-Shabaab in Somalia – while Ethiopia by no means aids or abets this terrorist group, it also has little interest in allowing Somalia to become a unified and cohesive state that could resume its pursuit of irredentist activities at Ethiopia’s expense, as it did in the 1970s. Other states may find a controlled level of internal instability to be useful as a tool of state preservation as they say, “Without us, look at who would take over the state” or to borrow Louis XV’s apocryphal warning; “Après nous, le deluge.”

When we examine all these tendencies simultaneously, it becomes apparent that international groupings will ultimately choose the path of action that is the least offensive to their membership rather than choosing the most effective solution every time.

Now while we are on relatively firm ground in dealing with the economic, social and political aspects of terrorism, all of which are areas that can be measured, analyzed and understood in some rational fashion, there is also the religious dimension, especially in the African context, which is instead a matter of faith. Much of the terrorist activity we are witnessing in Africa at the moment is the result of the growth and spread of Salafist Islam in Africa. Salafism is in itself not a terrorist movement, and is not illegal in most nations – indeed, it would be folly to make it so. However, I think it is fair to say that Salafism often acts as a gateway to Takfirism, the phenomenon of believing that only you and your associates possess the correct interpretation of Islam based on the works of a very selective group of scholars, such as Ibn Taymiya and his followers. Being possessed of this righteous interpretation of scripture and scholarly analysis, the Takfiri must then counsel others to follow that interpretation or condemn them as apostates with all the requisite punishments that accompany that declaration. In this way, the inflexibility of Salafism fuels religious and political extremism. Religious movements, like shifts in social attitudes, are much harder to contain than armed groups. Insurgent groups based on purely political motivations, such as extremists of the right or left, can usually be extinguished with some permanency – not so, however, with religiously motivated extremists, who may rally to form an immediate replacement for groups that have been successfully eradicated, often using that eradication as their inspiration. It is difficult to define a role for international organizations in stemming the growth of Takfirism, which, being an ideology, cannot be controlled in the way arms flows or financial transactions can be interdicted and controlled.

 It is necessary to conduct an honest examination of our own national and economic motivations and desires if we are at all sincere in addressing the phenomenon of international terrorism. In this quick look at a few aspects of the international community’s approach to terrorism in Africa, I’m reminded of the famous phrase uttered by a character in the satirical American comic strip Pogo, whose eponymous leading character was fond of saying “We have seen the enemy, and he is us!”

This speech was delivered at the Egmont Royal Institute for Foreign Relations symposium Time for a New Approach on Terror in Africa? held in Brussels on June 18, 2013. A transcript appeared in Jean-Christophe Hoste and Julie Godin (ed.s), Time for a New Approach on Terror in Africa?, Academia Press, 2014, pp. 65-69.

The Mobile Threat: Multiple Battlefields Ensure Instability in the Sahel/Sahara Region

Andrew McGregor 

June 14, 2013

There are signs that the scattered remnants of the Islamist coalition that occupied northern Mali for nine months are beginning to use their financial resources and pre-planned alternative bases to regroup in the Sahel/Sahara region in order to carry out new operations against their targets – the “apostate” governments of the region, local security infrastructure and the considerable French economic interests and personnel found in the region. Though the Islamist took heavy losses in the French-led intervention that drove them from northern Mali, the extremist groups were not trapped and destroyed in the hastily conceived operation. Rather, they have been relieved of a strategic disadvantage, the fixed occupation of certain territories, and regained their number one tactical asset – mobility.

Sahel MapThe Sahel

An examination of the regional and international aspects of the ongoing struggle in the Sahel/Sahara helps shed some light on the direction the battle between the Islamists and African states is taking at the half-way point of 2013.

Southern Libya: A Hub for Terrorism?

Southern Libya remains in turmoil, with frequent clashes between African Tubu nomads and Arab tribes preventing effective security measures from being implemented. According to Jouma Koussiya, a Tubu activist, one of the main problems is the government’s reliance on northern militias and northern commanders to provide security in the region, a policy that is actually weakening government control in southern Libya: “They know nothing about the region and they ultimately fail. Now tribes are working together to form a unified military council in order to secure the region, instead of the government” (AP, June 3).

There are also unforeseen dangers to be encountered; on Libya’s southern border with Chad, five members of the Martyr Sulayman Bu-Matara Battalion doing border patrols were recently abducted during a prolonged firefight by gunmen believed to be from Chad (al-Hurra [Benghazi], June 2; al-Tadamus [Benghazi], June 1; May 30). One of the main problems in securing the south remains the unwillingness of northern troops and militia members to serve in the harsh and unfamiliar conditions prevailing in the Libyan Desert. To remedy this, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has announced that bonuses of $1200 will be paid out to soldiers and militia members willing to work in the region. The announcement is part of a new government strategy to secure the towns and cities of the region first before beginning a second phase of operations to secure and monitor the vast border regions of the south (AFP, June 2).

Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan insists claims that the attackers who struck a military barracks in the Nigérien city of Agadez and a French uranium facility near the Nigérien town of Arlit on May 23 came from southern Libya are “without basis,” saying that the export of terrorism was a practice of the Qaddafi regime but would not be tolerated in “the new Libya” (AFP, May 28). Defense Minister Muhammad al-Barghathi also denies that there is any security crisis in Libya, suggesting the situation is “stable,” asserting that the militias are doing important work under the control of the Defense Ministry and refuting reports that French security services are tracking al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) elements in southern Libya by claiming that “the al-Qaeda organization does not exist in Libya” (al-Jadidah [Tripoli], May 28; June 2).

Prime Minister Zeidan’s “no problems here” approach to the security crisis in southern Libya has been strongly criticized by some observers within Libya who maintain terrorists have created bases in southern Libya (al-Watan [Tripoli], May 28). Usama al-Juili, the defense minister in the Libyan Transitional National Council that preceded the current General National Congress (GNC) government, has expressed a different view of the security situation in the Libyan south:

The terrorists who had been moving from Libya toward Mali are currently reversing course. Which is to say that they are now heading from Mali toward Libya. So I am not astonished that southern Libya has been turned into a new sanctuary for the terrorists fleeing north Mali. Algeria was right when the country spoke out against the war in Mali. It knew the consequences of it. Algeria, though, has the resources to cope with a new geographic reconfiguration of terrorism after the military offensive in north Mali. As for Libya, it does not have these resources… Closing borders is something useless (Le Temps d’Algerie, June 13).

The disarray in the Libyan security structure prevents effective measures from being taken to secure the south, with the anomalous inclusion of largely independent militias within the security structure creating confusion and insecurity throughout Libya.

Libyan army chief-of-staff General Yusuf al-Mangush, generally viewed as a supporter of the militias, resigned under popular, military and governmental pressure following the June 8 massacre of protesters calling for the disarmament of the Libyan Shield militia that left 31 killed (including four members of the army’s Thunderbolt Special Forces unit who arrived to quell the violence) and 60 wounded. The new acting chief-of-staff, General Salim al-Qnaidy, has warned that “patience is running out with the militias” as he attempts to implement a GNC decision to “end the presence of all brigades and illegal armed formations in Libya even if the use of military force is required” (Quryna al-Jadidah [Benghazi], June 12; Libya News Network, June 9). The Libyan Shield-1 headquarters in Benghazi has since been occupied by government troops belonging to the al-Sa’iqah Special Forces and their heavy weapons seized (al-Watan [Tripoli], June 9). The Libyan Shield-1 commander, Wissam bin Hamid, has taken to the airwaves to denounce the protesters as Qaddafi loyalists and traitors to Libya even as other Libyan Shield bases are scheduled to be occupied by units of the national army (al-Tadamun [Benghazi], June 9; al-Watan [Tripoli], June 9).

The approach of the Libyan political leadership reflects the difficulty of the new Libyan government in asserting its writ in that nation – acknowledging that the government is incapable of controlling its own security situation is to admit the government does not have sovereignty over Libya and is in need of foreign intervention.

A French Role in Libya?

 French foreign minister Laurent Fabius indicated two weeks ago that France must “make a special effort on southern Libya,” presumably in excess of the modest Libyan requests for advice and training and equipment for border guards (Libya Herald, June 2). Despite Libyan signals that it intends to grapple with its deteriorating security situation by itself, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian appeared to hold out the possibility that French forces could be available for a mission in southern Libya if Tripoli desired it: “Libya is a sovereign country that is responsible for its own borders. It has to decide whether it wants extended support from the French or any other European country to secure its borders” (AFP, June 2). Rumors in Libya of an imminent French military intervention in the south prompted a denial from French President FrançoisHollande, who cited the absence of a UN mandate or a request from Libyan authorities for military assistance (AFP, May 31).

President Hollande, who is struggling to gain control of a French African foreign policy that has traditionally been in the hands of a select group of military and business interests, has described a new three-track policy in Africa that will include military training and support, environmental preservation and an emphasis on development that could involve opening European markets to African exporters (Fraternite Matin [Abidjan], June 6). Hollande has also signaled French willingness to provide military assistance at the request of regional governments.

However, a growing military commitment in Africa does not necessarily fit with new cuts to the French military budget that will see a reduction in the number of troops, reduced helicopter capability and a cut in the number of armored vehicles amongst other measures. General Jean-Philippe Margueron, the army second-in-command, has warned that a planned reduction in training raises the possibility of mission failure and the production of “cannon fodder” rather than combat-capable troops (Le Monde [Paris], June 11).

France is now looking to purchase 12 MQ-9 Reaper drones from the United States, with two of these to be permanently deployed in Africa to replace the aging Harfang drone systems currently based alongside U.S. drones in Niamey (AFP, June 11). While the Reapers are the choice of the French Air Force, the defense ministry has said Israel will be looked at as an alternative provider if a deal cannot be made with the United States. France is certain to seek weaponized versions of the Reapers, though Washington has so far been reluctant to provide armed drones to any purchasers, including its NATO allies (Defense Industry Daily, May 31).

Niger – The Latest Target

According to Nigérien President Mahamadou Issoufou, there is little doubt that the suicide bombers that struck a military base in Agadez and a French uranium plant in Arlit on May 23came from southern Libya: “For Niger in particular, the main threat has moved from the Malian border to the Libyan border. I confirm in effect that the enemy who attacked us… comes from the (Libyan) south, where another attack is being prepared against Chad” (AFP, May 28; RFI, May 27). [1] The Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to Issoufou’s statement by saying it “did not serve the interests of the two countries” and there was “no evidence of the participation of Libyan elements” (al-Manara, May 27).

Malian security officers say the attacks may actually have been planned by radical Islamists in Tarkint, a town in the remote Tilemsi Valley, which has served as a stronghold for the extremists (RFI, May 31). However, there are also reports from sources in Niger that the May 23 attacks were planned in Derna, a Cyrenaïcan Islamist stronghold on the Mediterranean coast (Jeune Afrique, June 9). The Nigérien intelligence service claims that the jihadists who escaped from Mali are now concentrated in the Ubari and Sabha Oases region of southwest Libya (Jeune Afrique, June 9).

Rhissa ag Boula, formerly a leading Tuareg rebel in northern Niger and now a special adviser to the Nigerien president, says that: “The south of Libya, where anarchy reigns, has become a safe haven for the terrorists hunted in Mali” (AFP, June 1). Another veteran Tuareg rebel leader and current MNLA spokesman Hama ag Sid’Ahmad confirmed the Malian and Libyan origin of the attackers, who belonged to the AQIM-related Movement for Unity and Justice in West Africa (MUJWA) and operated under the coordination of Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s al-Mua’qi’un Biddam Brigade (“Those Who Sign in Blood”):

The terrorist groups got to that region through the Malian and Libyan borders. It’s not complicated; the borders are real sieves. Since [Mokhtar] Belmokhtar is the main organizer, without his presence and that of certain drug barons, MUJWA would not exist…  Even if the terrorist leaders no longer have major military resources and they are having mobility difficulties, they have money. They are quietly trying to reorganize, forget the leaders’ quarrels, and unite in order to fight together. It’s the presence of the French Special Forces that is preventing them from reorganizing quickly… (Le Temps.d’Algerie, May 27).

So long as Niger refuses to meet Libyan demands for the extradition of Mu’ammar Qaddafi’s son Sa’adi (who lives under house arrest in Niamey) and several other ex-members of the Qaddafi regime, little can be expected in the way of security cooperation between the two nations. Tripoli has indicated its unhappiness with the Nigerien approach by repatriating thousands of Nigeriens working in Libya whose remittances helped support many citizens of this deeply impoverished nation. With nothing in the way of employment waiting for them in Niger, these returnees may eventually pose a new security threat in Niger.

Niger is also having trouble hanging on to terrorists it has under detention; on June 1, 22 prisoners, including several convicted terrorists, were freed from a high-security prison in Niamey by three gunmen. One of those who escaped was Alassane Ould Muhammad “Cheibani,” a Gao region Arab with a history of prison escapes. Cheibani was serving a 20-year sentence for the December, 2000 assassination of William Bultemeier, a U.S. Embassy defense official in Niamey and the 2009 murder of four Saudi Arabians in northern Niger. Cheibani is also a prime suspect in the 2008 kidnappings of Canadian diplomats Robert Fowler and Louis Guay (RFI Online, June 4). [2]

Mali – Between Stabilization or a New War

In northern Mali’s Kidal region there is still no resolution to the differences between the Tuareg rebels of the Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA – a secular separatist movement) and the central government in Bamako. The situation is growing critical as Malian troops continue their slow progress towards Kidal, which they have announced they are determined to enter despite the MNLA’s promise to oppose their entry. Mahamadou Djeri Maiga, the vice-president of the MNLA’s political wing, has promised that: “If we are attacked, it will be the end of negotiations and we will fight to the end” (AFP, June 4).

With the Malian army looking for revenge against the MNLA and their supporters for the January 2012 massacre of Malian troops taken prisoner in Aguel Hoc, there are signs that renewed clashes are inevitable. Most notable of these indications was the heavy fighting between MNLA rebels and Malian government troops that took place near the village of Anefis on June 5. This time, the MNLA withdrew, but once they are pinned up against the Algerian border in Kidal they will have to choose between further resistance or the abandonment of their cause (and the consequences that will follow).  The Malian troops, under the command of two of Mai’s most capable officers, Colonel Didier Dacko and Colonel Hajj ag Gamou, were accompanied by roughly 100 French troops, though it was uncertain whether they were there to aid the Malian army or to impede the outright defeat of the MNLA, which worked closely with French forces in finding and destroying Islamist elements hiding in the Idar des Ifoghas mountains.

A Malian government spokesman denounced what he described as “ethnic cleansing” in Kidal on June 4, promising that Malian troops would enter Kidal soon (L’Essor [Bamako], June 4). The charge of “ethnic cleansing” was in response to the MNLA’s arrest of dozens of Black Malians (mostly Peul/Fulani and Songhai) in Kidal during a hunt for “infiltrators” sent to the city by Malian military intelligence (RFI , June 3; AFP, June 3). Tensions in the city were reflected in a suicide bomber’s attempted assassination on June 4 of an MNLA colonel believed to have close ties to the French military (AFP, June 4).

The MNLA and the Malian government are once more at the negotiating table in Ougadougou, with Bamako working from the position presented in a UN Security Council resolution that the MNLA must lay down its arms and allow the Malian military to enter Kidal in return for negotiations by the next president regarding the status of Azawad. The MNLA believes it has already made sufficient concessions by abandoning its demand for independence and accepting the July elections (RFI, June 8). There is internal pressure in Bamako to press the administration to carry on the return of the Malian army to Kidal. Malian members of parliament declared in early June that they would not participate in the July elections if the Malian army was not present in Kidal (Info Matin [Bamako], June 4). The High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), founded in Kidal on May 19, largely from former members of rebel groups, has joined the MNLA in presenting a single position in the Ouagadougou negotiations.

Tuareg negotiators have indicated they are ready to sign a document advanced by the Burkina Faso mediators that would allow Malian troops to enter Kidal in advance of the planned July elections, but Bamako’s representatives have indicated they have reservations about the agreement, which would see rebels be confined to cantonments with their weapons in return for a “special status” for Azawad (northern Mali – a term Bamako does not wish to see in the document). Bamako is seeking complete disarmament and the pursuit of the arrest warrants issued for many Tuareg rebel leaders accused of various crimes before and during the Islamist occupation of northern Mali (AFP, June 13).

KazuraGeneral Jean-Bosco Kazura

The African troops currently deployed in Mali are expected to be absorbed in several months by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), a 2,600 man force under the command of General Jean-Bosco Kazura of Rwanda, with a second-in-command from Niger and a French chief-of-staff. Though Chad was looking to take command of the mission, a poor interview by the Chadian candidate for command appears to have precluded this possibility and with it, the possible participation of Chadian forces (RFI, June 11). Additional troops may come from China, Bangladesh, Burundi, Honduras, Norway and Sweden, with a 1,000 man French rapid reaction force (Jeune Afrique, June 13).


Chadian president Idriss Déby has warned of the threat posed by terrorist groups now based in southern Libya, not only to his own country, but also to Europe, and has called for an international intervention to enable Libya to form a secure and functioning state that is not a threat to its neighbors.  There is a danger of seeing this struggle as consisting of several different theaters defined by national boundaries, when this is contrary to the jihadist conception of this conflict, which is essentially borderless. AQIM, which was once largely restricted to activities within northern Algeria, has expanded into a number of related movements with operatives in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Libya and the potential to ally with other groups such as Boko Haram and Ansar al-Shari’a. With their mobility restored, the Islamist Jihadists of the Sahel/Sahara will continue to take advantage of regional political rivalries, under-equipped militaries and fears of neo-colonialism to rebuild their movement. Libya’s inability to secure its restless south and its readiness at the highest levels of government to ignore terrorist infiltration present the most immediate and most important challenges in restricting jihadist operations. Unless real international security cooperation can be established, the Islamist extremist groups may soon emerge with the upper hand in the struggle for the vast territories of northern Africa.


  1. For the attacks in Arlit and Agadez, see Andrew McGregor, “Niger: New Battleground for North Africa’s Islamist Militants?, Jamestown Foundation Hot Issue, May 29, 2013, http://www.jamestown.org/programs/hotissues/single-hot-issues/?tx_ttnews[tt_news]=40932&tx_ttnews[backPid]=61&cHash=7c12e2e7bda14085101f67dc09adf5fa

2. U.S. Embassy Bamako Cable 09BAMAKO106, February 23, 2009.


This article was first published in the June 14, 2013 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

South Africa May Deploy SANDF Peacekeepers in Uranium Fields

Andrew McGregor

June 14, 2013

As rising insecurity in South Africa’s lucrative platinum mining sector begins to have a significant impact on the national economy, South African Labor Minister Mildred Oliphant has proposed deploying “peacekeepers” (likely drawn from the South African National Defense Force [SANDF]) to restore order.

LonminSouth African Security Forces during the Massacre at the Lonmin Mine at Marikana

South Africa’s mining industry, which represents 20 percent of the national economy and 60 percent of its exports, has been riven by assassinations and bloody battles between rival unions and security forces, all fueled by the deep involvement of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) in the mining sector’s labor strife. The proposal to deploy South Africa’s unionized military as an intervention force comes at a time when the SANDF is struggling to meet internal obligations and multiple foreign deployments on a shrinking budget.  The violence at the platinum mines is partly responsible for a decline in South Africa’s economic growth, which hit a new low of 0.9 percent in the first quarter of the year (AFP, June 4). Some 80 percent of the world’s platinum reserves are found in South Africa.

At the heart of much of the strife in the platinum mines is a struggle for control of unionized workers between the ANC-associated National Union of Miners (NUM) and the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which has made impressive inroads on the membership of the NUM, a traditional source of funding and support for the ANC.  The mining sector is the largest private employer in South Africa and many of the mining unions have, until this point, been tightly tied to the ANC. AMCU members increasingly see South Africa’s police as allies of the NUM, creating an atmosphere in which labor tension could easily degenerate into political violence.

According to Mamphela Ramphele, a former managing director of the World Bank and a former chair of Gold Fields Limited (a major South African gold mining company), the crisis in the platinum fields is exacerbated by the ANC’s alliance with the NUM, a relationship that is manifest in an NUM office doubling as the local headquarters of the ANC: “How do you become an honest broker when one of the parties is your ally? It’s very difficult to be unbiased… That for me is a violation of good governance…” (AFP, June 6). Ramphele has recently formed a new political party to challenge the ANC called Agang (“Build”).

Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu clearly identified ANC and NUM interests as identical in a May 24 speech in which she likened the pressure on the NUM to the conservative forces that destroyed the British mining unions in the Margaret Thatcher era:

You are under siege by forces determined to use every trick in the book to remove you from the face of the earth. [They want to make sure] that no progressive trade union will be permitted in the mining sector. It is only those who are willfully blind who cannot see that the agenda is to defeat and drive the African National Congress from power and reverse the gains of the national democratic revolution (Business Day [Johannesburg], May 24).

The NUM has already lost its majority status at works belonging to Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum and is now in a bitter and increasingly violent fight to retain its status at the Lonmin mines, where 70% of the workers now belong to the AMCU. With the AMCU now demanding recognition as the majority union at the Lonmin mines in Marikana and the expulsion of the NUM from local union offices, a South African labor court has given the NUM until July 16 to prove it is still the majority union or be expelled from their offices at the Lonmin works (majority status is defined as 51 percent) (AFP, June 4). AMCU leaders have complained for months that the NUM has been fraudulently listing AMCU members on NUM rosters to restore their membership and claim membership dues, a position seemingly validated by Lonmin’s June 4 announcement that it had suspended eight employees, some of them NUM shop stewards, for alleged union membership fraud (SAPA, June 5).

The AMCU’s aggressive recruitment campaign has been led by Joseph Mathunjwa, an emotional leader who frequently resorts to dramatic gestures and biblical allusions to promote his union in the face of what he regards as an alliance between the NUM and the ANC (Business Day [Johannesburg], June 7). South African platinum miners are looking for major increases in their wages and have turned to the AMCU to deliver on these demands rather than the more conservative NUM, which is perceived to be more cooperative with management. In the meantime, the turmoil in the mines has led to frequent and debilitating work stoppages.

A high-profile inquiry is ongoing in Pretoria to discover the facts behind the massacre of 23 striking mine-workers by security forces at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana on August 16, 2012. The deaths followed a week of violence that saw an additional ten people killed, including two policemen and two security guards (SAPA [Johannesburg], June 7). Testimony was heard recently from Major General William Mpembe, who was in charge of security operations at the time and has been blamed by many in the security sector for the deaths of the two policemen (SAPA [Johannesburg], June 7). Police have since been withdrawn from the Marikana region for their own safety, leaving a security vacuum in the area.

After a NUM shop steward was murdered and a NUM treasurer wounded on June 3, a spokesman for the Congress of South African Trade Unions noted that 60 people had been killed over the last year as a consequence of disputes at the Lonmin and Impala platinum mines (SAPA [Johannesburg], June 4). The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), a powerful government-allied trade union federation representing nearly two million workers, warned that the “anarchy” in the platinum mining region had created a “prevailing sense of insecurity… No one is being arrested and not a single person has been convicted for any of these [most recent] murders” (AFP, June 4).

With only three to four months left before South Africa’s major platinum producers are required to finish negotiations on new contracts for their employees, it seems essential that the dispute between the rival labor unions must be resolved quickly to avoid further violence and the possible shutdown of a large part of South Africa’s platinum-mining industry. While the deployment of “peacekeepers” from the hard-pressed SANDF may be able to put a temporary damper on the violence at the mines, it will not be able to address the union rivalry that is at the core of the crisis, particularly if they are seen as favoring the government-allied NUM. Even if the AMCU succeeds in displacing the NUM, it will have to satisfy the considerable expectations of its membership if it is to avert a NUM comeback or challenges from new labor groups claiming to be able to satisfy workers’ demands.

Muslim Brothers’ Spiritual Leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi Condemns Hezbollah

Andrew McGregor

June 14, 2013

There are few more prominent preachers in the Islamic world than Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian Islamic scholar now based in Qatar, where he hosts a religious issues program on al-Jazeera with a viewership of 60 million and acts as the senior scholar for the popular website Islam Online. Often viewed as the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaradawi, like many Sunnis, was deeply impressed by the resistance the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement offered to an Israeli invasion force in 2006. However, Hezbollah’s decision to aid the Syrian regime, its military ally, in repressing Syria’s largely Sunni armed opposition, has seen its support in the Sunni community largely evaporate. Most damaging has been the reversal in opinion of al-Qaradawi, who has abandoned his former support for the movement to publicly denounce Hezbollah as the servants of Satan.

QusayrSyrian Troops Battle for Qusayr

For al-Qaradawi, the last straw was Hezbollah’s successful 17-day assault on the town of Qusayr, near the Syrian border with Lebanon. The recapture of Qusayr was a devastating blow to Syrian opposition forces that, while not necessarily decisive, may still represent a turning point in Syria’s internal struggle as it restores government control of the Damascus to Aleppo highway and access to the Alawite heartland on the Syrian coast.  Hezbollah deputy leader Shaykh Na’im Qassim described the battle as “a severe blow to the American-Israeli-Takfiri scheme,” reflecting Hezbollah’s belief that anti-Shi’a Sunni extremists are being funded and armed by Israel and the United States as part of an effort to topple the Syrian regime and thus weaken resistance to a renewed Israeli assault on Lebanon and the destruction of the Palestinian cause (Naharnet [Beirut], June 6).

In a May 31 sermon at the Umar bin al-Khattab mosque in Doha, al-Qaradawi called on all Muslims with military training to make themselves available to the Syrian opposition. Describing Hezbollah (“the Party of God”) as Hizb al-Shaytan (“the Party of Satan”), al-Qaradawi suggested that the Lebanese Shiite movement was acting as a proxy for Iran, which desired “continued massacres to kill Sunnis.” The Egyptian preacher went on to ask the Sunni community: “Iran is pushing forward arms and men [in support of the Assad regime], so why do we stand idle?” Al-Qaradawi went on to acknowledge he had made a critical mistake in defending Hezbollah against attacks against it by the religious leadership of Saudi Arabia after 2006 in the belief that Shiites and Sunnis must present a unified resistance to Israel: “It seems that the clerics of Saudi Arabia were more mature than me” (Naharnet [Beirut], June 2; al-Arabiya/AFP, June 2).

Saudi Grand Mufti Shaykh Abd al-Aziz al-Ashaykh thanked al-Qaradawi for his public reversal of opinion and adoption of the approach taken to Hezbollah (“this detestable sectarian movement”) by the Saudi religious leadership, noting that Hezbollah did not respect “ties of kinship or the covenant with the believers [i.e. Sunni Muslims]” (Arab News [Jedda], June 7).

The contradictions inherent in al-Qaradawi’s simultaneous support of Hezbollah and the Syrian opposition had gradually become apparent as the Syrian crisis worsened. On May 4, the Egyptian preacher denounced Hezbollah and Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for their support of al-Assad and called on the Syrian army to defect to the opposition Free Syrian Army (al-Sharq Online [Doha], May 4).  Though he did not mention Hezbollah by name, al-Qaradawi had warned supporters of the Syrian regime of the consequences of their actions later in May during a controversial visit to Gaza: “Those who are arrogant on this earth, Bashar al-Assad, his followers and all those who support him with funds, weapons and men, from all countries, will be taken by God” (al-Aqsa TV [Gaza], May 10).

However, al-Qaradawi’s about face on the relationship with Hezbollah appears to have put him at odds with the leadership of the Izz-al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Sunni HAMAS movement that rules Gaza. According to reports carried an Islamist-sympathetic daily, the HAMAS military command sent a message to the movement’s Political Bureau rejecting al-Qaradawi’s approach, saying that the movement had benefited from the arms and military support it had received as a consequence of its alliance with Hezbollah and Iran, while “Arab money” from Saudi Arabia and Qatar had done nothing to advance the liberation of Palestine in comparison (al-Quds al-Arabi, June 6).

In April, the Syrian Ba’athist Party’s website denounced “the devil of sedition in Egypt, the named Yusuf al-Qaradawi” for issuing a fatwa calling for jihad in Syria and allegedly inciting assassins to kill Dr. Muhammad Sa’id Ramadan al-Buti, a noted ethnic-Kurdish pro-regime religious scholar who opposed Salafist ideology and was a noted critic of al-Qaradawi. Al-Buti was killed in a March 21 suicide bombing that left at least 41 other people dead inside a Damascus mosque (al-Ba’ath Online [Damascus], April 10).

In his May 31 Friday sermon in Doha, al-Qaradawi, using a pejorative term for the Syrian Alawites, described the “Nusayris” as non-Muslims, referring to the 1318 fatwa issued by the controversial Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyah (1263-1328), who said:

These people named “al-Nusayriya”… are greater disbelievers than the Jews and Christians. Nay, they are greater disbelievers than most of the polytheists, and their harm to the Umma (community) of Muhammad is greater than the harm of the disbelievers who are at war with Muslims, such as the Tartars, disbelieving Europeans and others” (Fatwa 35/145). [1]

Hajj Amin al-HusayniHajj Amin al-Husayni

In making this statement, al-Qaradawi chose to overlook the 1936 fatwa issued by Hajj Amin al-Husayni, the Mufti of Jerusalem, which ruled that Alawis were indeed Muslims, though there are indications this ruling was politically motivated rather than the result of research into the beliefs of the Alawis, a minority sect that has dominated the Syrian government and military since independence.

Last October, al-Qaradawi included Hezbollah in a list of “enemies” who threatened Syria and the “Arab nation” as a whole: “Iran is also our enemy, the enemy of the Arabs. Those killed in Syria have been killed by the Iranians, the Chinese, the Russians, and the Syrian army. The Iranians stand against the Arabs in order to establish a Persian Empire… The same applies to Hezbollah, which sends its men to fight in Syria, and come back in boxes” (al-Quds al-Arabi, October 18).  Al-Qaradawi repeated his description of Russians as “enemies to Muslims” in his May 31 Friday sermon delivered in Doha   (al-Arab [Doha], June 1).

These remarks brought condemnation from Iranian and Shiite sources, in which al-Qaradawi is routinely described as “the NATO Mufti.” Further criticism came from leading pro-Kremlin members of Russia’s Muslim community, including Mufti Mukhammedgali Khuzin, who said: “It is no secret that this man is a puppet in the hands of reactionary political circles displeased with Russia’s foreign policy” (Interfax, November 30, 2012). Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov suggested that “Qadarawi, as a scholar, would be well-advised to take up educational activities and not dabble in politics, leaving it to professionals” (Interfax, November 12, 2012).


1. Yvette Talhamy, “The Fatwas and the Nusayri/Alawis of Syria,” Middle Eastern Studies 46(2), 2010, pp. 175–194.

This article first appeared in the June 14, 2013 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor