Adonis Diaries

Archive for April 14th, 2012

Boko Haram: Another radical Islamic movement in Nigeria?

Nigeria is a vast country and the most populous State in Africa of about 160 million. Nigeria is mostly composed animist tribes, but Moslem are more concentrated in the northern half and the Christian sects in the southern half.

As in every underdeveloped State, there is always a fracture in drastic inequalities of government investment in particular region of the country.  Nigeria has a Federal system with many States. The Federal budgets were mostly allocated to the  States of the Capital Abuja in the middle of the country, and to the south-western States around the economic capital of Lagos.

For example, 60% of the population, in the south-eastern States by the Niger Delta (rich in offshore oil production) and the northern States are surviving under poverty level of less than $2 a day. The 12 northern States are the least developed and inequalities have deepen since 1999, during the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo.

The main States in the north are: Borno, Kano (capital of the north), Kaduna, Jos, Banchi, Yobe, and Maiduguri…

Two-third of the citizens in the State of Borno live under the level of poverty: 2% of infants under 15 months are vaccinated, 83% of the youth are illiterate, 50% of the kids have no access to the school system…

For example, 35% of Moslems have never been to any school, not even toa Coranic school. And the State of Borno is the stronghold of the radical Islamic movement of Boko Haram (Forbidden Book). Boko Haram is actually named the Community of disciples for Islam Holy War (Jamaa Ahlu Sunna Lidda Awali wal Jihad).  The members are known as the “Yusufiyas”, after their late assassinated leader Ustaz (teacher) Muhammad Yusuf.Boko Haram is anti-western culture and products…

Yusuf studied Islamic theology in Saudi Arabia at the city of Medina (the first Islam city-State). Consequently, Yusuf is a follower of the Saudi most obscurantist Wahhabi sect.

In the year 2000, and at the age of 30, Yusuf started opposing another Islamic movement lead by late Abubakar Gumi (a Hanbali sect called Yan Izale). Apparently, the Islamic sects in north Nigeria were more rooted in political interests and cohabitation with the military as the Islamic Shariaa (laws) was applied in the 12 States since the year 2000.

In the 80’s, the Islamic sects were at the throat of one another and many mass killing and violence were witnessed in the cities of Kaduna, Kano, and Maiduguri…The military repressed Maitatsine movement in 1084 and killed over 3,000 of its members in Kano.

In 2003, the police forces attacked the “celestial city” of Yusuf in the city of Kannamma in the State of Yobe…In reaction, the Boko Haram conducted offensive raids and retreated to the State of Maiduguri.

In 2004, Boko Haram attacked a convoy of 60 policemen near the borders with Chad. President Obasanjo was then more concerned with the rebel uprising in the Niger Delta.

In 2009, mayor Sherif of Maiduguri assassinated 15 members during a funeral. The reaction of Boko Haram was swift: banks and police headquarters were attacked.  The Federal army was dispatched and killed 800, extra-judiciary style, and Yusuf was among the assassinated. Images of the massacres were disseminated over the Internet.

In 2010, Boko Haram freed 700 prisoners in the city of Banchi. The State of Jos or the Plateau State in the middle of the country was then heavily infiltrated by Boko Haram.  Boko Haram has a council of 10 members of Shura as a substitute to a central command.

Abubakar Shekau focused his operations on policemen, political leaders, and “faked” Imams. The operations are financed by robbing banks, which apply “usury on transactions”.

The International branch is headed by Mammar Nur.  This branch was formed of the refugees from the 2009 massacres, and are linked to world “jihadists”. Mammar Nur specializes in suicide operations against the UN compound in Abuja, the Christian churches, and 8 attacks were launched against police posts and security forces in Kano in 2012.

Boko Haram is credited for 164 attacks of all kinds, resulting in the killing of 935, mostly Moslems. The new wave of attacking Christians seems a political manoeuvring in coordination with the Nigeria Federal government.

Note: The post was inspired from a study by Alain Vicky in the French monthly “Le Monde Diplomatic” #697

The Arab Spring and the Saudi-Led Counter-revolution, by Mehran Kamrava

The Arab Spring has provided an opening for the Gulf Cooperation Council as a group and for Saudi Arabia, as a longtime aspiring leader of the Arab world, to try to expand their regional influence and global profile. An already weakened Arab States system, has
been once again weakened by the sweeping wave of rebellion.

“With its final chapter to be written, the Arab Spring of 2011 is likely to go down in history as a season of profound political
changes that swept across the domestic politics of the Arab world. Even at this preliminary stage, that much is clear. What remains unclear is how political change sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa is likely to alter the international relations of the Arab world in general and, in particular, the larger regional position and specific policy preferences of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Important considerations include the GCC’s posture and profile vis-a`-vis the Arab Spring, its collective reaction to the region-wide movements for political change, and its delicate relationship with its two troubled neighbors to the north, namely Iran and Iraq.

While the Arab Spring is unlikely to result in meaningful changes in Iran and Iraq’s relationships with the GCC, it has fostered two discernible trends in the larger Arab world:

First, Saudi Arabia has sought to reassert its position of prominence and leadership within the GCC. In fact, the kingdom
has positioned itself as the chief architect of a counter-revolution to contain, and perhaps to even reverse, the Arab Spring as much as possible.

Second, and an outgrowth of the first development, is the GCC’s attempt to solidify its identity and mandate through the inclusion of additional Sunni monarchies such as Morocco and Jordan as counterbalance.

What is the GCC Reaction to the Arab Spring?

The overriding concern of the GCC States has been to contain the Arab Spring both within the borders of its own member States and, whenever possible, across the Arab world. Long preoccupied with regime security in both domestic and foreign policy pursuits,
the conservative monarchies of the Persian Gulf find the Arab Spring a cause for real and immediate concern.

The rulers of these countries see these uprisings as their most serious crises since the Iranian revolution threw the region into chaos in the early 1980s. Their response has been two-fold:

First, addressing the crisis internally, through a combination of heightened repression and additional economic incentives;

Second, and regionally, shoring up alliances and bolstering otherwise faltering Arab States.

Domestically, across the GCC an authoritarian retrenchment and narrowing of political space has emerged. This reassertion of the state’s dictatorial authority has, of course, taken different forms across the region depending on the state’s overall societal posture.

In Qatar, for example, where anti-state sentiments are conspicuous in their absence, there have not been any discernible changes in the domestic political environment.

In the United Arab Emirates, however, the space provided to civil society organizations has been steadily narrowed by the state since the beginning of the regional unrests including a few high-profile detentions.

Abu Dhabi’s ruling Al-Nahyans are reported to have hired a foreign mercenary army to ensure their hold on power
should the need arise.

In Saudi Arabia, the same State that once looked the other way when women flouted the law by getting behind the
steering wheels, now hands out severe jail sentences to innocuous challenges to the prevailing orthodoxy.

In Bahrain, the State’s reaction to opposition, most of it by the country’s Shia majority (70%), has been brutal and uncompromising.

At the same time, as GCC states have resorted to heightened levels of repression to ensure their political survival, they have also sought to strengthen their rule by pumping massive amounts of money into the economy.

Across the Middle East, authoritarian states have historically maintained their power through a combination of promising to provide for national security, spreading fear and intimidation, and promising economic progress.

With the Arab Spring in the background for much of the GCC, and very much in the foreground in Bahrain, moves to placate through economic concessions have been afoot in Kuwait, Bahrain, and especially Saudi Arabia.

Beginning in February 2011, before troubling protests broke out in several cities in the kingdom’s predominantly Shia Eastern Province, the Saudi absolute monarchy began spending $130 billion to pump up civil servant salaries (paying two extra months’ salaries), promising to build 500,000 additional units of low-income housing, and substantially increasing its financial support for religious organizations.

In Kuwait, at around the same time, the State increased civil servant salaries by 115 percent at a cost of more than $1 billion, and at an additional cost of $5 billion, gave a cash handout of Kuwaiti Dinar (KD) 1000 to its citizens and promised free distribution of foodstuffs for fourteen months.

For similar reasons, the GCC promised $20 billion for purposes of sponsoring ten-year development projects in its two less prosperous—and politically more troubled member states such as  Oman and Bahrain.

Operating under a similar assumption that financial strength might save the Mubarak regime from its impending collapse, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah is reported to have threatened to underwrite President Mubarak’s administration if the United States
withdrew its support from its long-time ally.

The Arab Spring has also brought significant changes to the GCC states’ collective foreign relations. Perhaps one of the most important of these changes has been a reassertion of Saudi leadership within the GCC when upstarts Qatar and the UAE have consistently challenged Saudi preeminence within the Arabian Peninsula.

Saudi Arabia has long ascribed to itself the role of a ‘‘regional coordinator’’ and an intra-Arab consensus-builder through a
proactive diplomacy.

The Arab Spring has given this diplomatic activism a new sense of urgency, driven primarily from two related realizations, one
related to U.S. foreign policy and the other to domestic Saudi politics. First, with the United States voicing concern over human rights violations in Bahrain and elsewhere—half-hearted as they may be—the Saudis appear to have decided that their traditional American allies cannot be fully counted on.

Within the GCC, Saudi Arabia’s counter-revolutionary leadership has enhanced its role and is slowly pushing it into the position of prominence that it assumes it rightly deserves. How lasting is this?

Not very lasting, it seems. And, as with so many of the other developments in the Middle East and the Arab world in recent years, it appears that Iran and Iraq are somehow involved.

The Arab Spring and GCC’s Relations with Iran and Iraq

In the long run, the Arab Spring is unlikely to usher in significant changes to the fundamentals of GCC–Iran relations. Pragmatism, which is the guiding principle of the GCC states’ foreign policies, both collectively and individually, is the primary reason for this continuity in GCC–Iran relations despite the eruption of the Arab Spring. As the underlying premise of GCC foreign policies, survival strategies require an innate pragmatism that mitigates the pursuit of exclusivist objectives.

At some level, all GCC states need to resort to omnibalancing between Iran and its regional security and political ambitions on the one hand, and their own and the United States’ interests on the other.

At the end of the day, atmospherics and diplomatic posturing notwithstanding, pragmatism rules the day in the GCC—a pragmatism translated into a calibrated mixture of superficial cooperation and watchfulness. Certain variations in bilateral relations exist between Iran and its Persian Gulf neighbors to the south.

Oman, for example, has consistently maintained friendly relations with Tehran, even during the tense days of the revolution and the Islamic Republic’s war with Iraq.

Qatari–Iranian relations have been similarly warm and cordial.

But these relationships remain only skin-deep. They are rooted more in brotherly declarations and summitry rather
than military and security cooperation, joint venture projects, or even meaningful trade and investment.

At one level, GCC–Iran relations range from friction over disputed islands (UAE and Iran) to frequent state visits and grand
declarations. At a more substantive level, there is a wary consistency of the revolutionary Shia giant to the north with its seemingly endless supply of radical, undiplomatic leaders. But the Arab Spring is not likely to change perceptions or substance in Persian Gulf relationships.

When the dust of the ongoing spring cleaning is settled, GCC–Iran relations most likely will continue to exhibit many of their current features: a mixture of suspicion and cooperation; maintenance of superficial ‘‘fraternal’’ ties combined with a wary eye; and hopes for the continuation of Iran’s managed tensions with the United States.

It is far too early to predict the likely changes in the current foreign policy orientations among individual Arab countries arising out of the ongoing political changes. But even wholesale regime changes in Libya and elsewhere are unlikely to drastically alter prevailing foreign policy orientations.

The new rulers of Egypt and Tunisia, and certainly Libya—whose fight against Qaddafi owed much to financial and military assistance from Qatar and the UAE—are keenly aware of their continued indebtedness to the Persian Gulf’s conservative monarchies.

As one observer has recently commented, Egypt’s new leaders have inherited Mubarak’s dilemma—how to realize the country’s
aspiration to lead the Arab world without angering its Saudi benefactors. For this reason, the Egyptian-Iranian rapprochement will yield more photo opportunities than tangible results. On opposite sides of religious and ethnic divides, a close bilateral
relationship would seem unlikely under even the best circumstances.

And, with Egypt in need of massive financial aid to offset the economic losses caused by its February revolution, its leaders can ill afford to alienate the Saudis, who view Iran, not Israel, as the gravest threat to regional stability.

The Arab Spring is likely to bring Iran neither closer to nor further from the GCC. Even the possible loss of its Syrian ally, while perhaps consequential in relation to Lebanon, is unlikely to substantially alter the Islamic Republic’s relations with its immediate neighbors to the south.

A similar continuation of the status quo is likely to mark the GCC’s relations with Iraq in the aftermath of the Arab Spring—at least in as much as there is a status quo in Iraq’s fluid political environment.

For some time now, the Sunni Wahhabi sect monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula have apprehensively watched
the political ascendance of the Shia in Iraq, and Iraq’s attendant steadily friendlier relations with Iran.

With Bahrain’s aborted rebellion increasingly couched in sectarian terms by the kingdom’s leaders, both Iraq as well as Iran were officially portrayed as responsible for the upheavals.

The Saudis, and by extension the Bahrainis, whose foreign policy is frequently closely aligned with that of their much larger neighbor, view Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki with deep suspicion because of his close ties to Iran. Maliki’s criticism in
March 2011 of the Saudi intervention in Bahrain did not endear him to either of the two kingdoms, prompting them to successfully press for the postponement of the May 2011 Arab League summit meeting.

The 2011 worsening of relations between Iraq and the GCC, especially with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, is likely to give way in the future to more pragmatic approaches of nuanced cooperation and suspicion. Just as the GCC states prefer the continuation of managed tensions between Iran and the United States, such concerns keep the Islamic Republic too preoccupied with its security to cause mischief in the Arabian Peninsula, preferring a weak Iraq that will not reassert itself in the same way as in the 1980s and the early 1990s.

As much as possible, the GCC would like to draw Iraq farther from the Iranian orbit. This does not extend, however, to going so far as to bring Iraq within the GCC fold; the country’s ethno-sectarian make-up, with a majority being Shia, make the GCC’s northward expansion far too risky for any of the conservative monarchies to the south to undertake. If the Arab Spring has done anything to GCC–Iraq relations it is to make the “sheikhdoms” all the more conservative in their assumptions about and their approach to the northerly Shia.

For the foreseeable future, the GCC’s uneasy relationship with Iraq and Iran is likely to continue unchanged.


All the various GCC states resort to omnibalancing to ensure that they account for both domestic as well as outside pressures in crafting their foreign policies. This serves as a natural inducement to pursue more pragmatic policies that are likely to enhance regime security as opposed to overtly doctrinal or one-sided ones that may arouse domestic or regional tensions.

Despite deep-seated suspicions about both Iran and Iraq, GCC States, both collectively and individually, have pursued largely pragmatic policies toward their northern neighbors. The Arab Spring is unlikely to change the underlying premises of these relationships.

Nonetheless, the Arab Spring has provided an opening for the GCC as a group and for Saudi Arabia as a long-time aspiring leader of the Arab world to try to expand their regional influence and global profile. An already weakened Arab state system, with a gradually rehabilitated Egypt under Mubarak’s leadership, has been once again weakened by the sweeping wave of rebellion.

Saudi Arabia sought to seize the initiative, by not only containing the rebellion close to its shores in Bahrain but by also leading a region-wide counter-revolution. The kingdom’s extension of $4 billion to Egypt to shore up the post-Mubarak state was part of a calculated strategy to buy influence and ensure prominence

Note: Mehran Kamrava is Director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar. His most recent works are “The International Politics of the Persian Gulf (2011)”, and “”Innovation in Islam: Traditions and Contributions (2011)”.




April 2012

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