Political Islam: Various links


Here are a few links for those interested in political Islam in different Middle Eastern states. The first link is to a study of Shi’a militias in Syria and their regional impact. It is from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Like much of WINEP’s material, it is arguing that Iran is the greatest threat to US and Israeli security in the region. Whether you buy into that argument or not, there is some interesting details in the study, particularly organizational charts.
The second group comes from a series produced by the Brookings Institute. In addition to the links below, there are further studies on Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan and South East Asia.

Washington Institute for Near East Policy
“The web of Iran-backed Shiite proxies is exceedingly complex, with much overlap and many changing aliases. In this new Institute study…. exploring topics such as the narrative of pan-Shiite jihad, the range of Shiite clerical views on the jihad, recruitment techniques, and weapons used.”

The Brookings Institute
Egypt: http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Research/Files/Reports/2015/07/rethinking-political-islam/Egypt_Brooke-FINALE.pdf?la=en
Steven Brooke, University of Texas at Austin
Since July 3, 2013, Egypt’s government has embarked on an extensive campaign to dismember the Muslim Brotherhood’s formidable network of social services. With electoral participation, civic activism, and social service provision now foreclosed, street activism has become the lone vehicle for Brotherhood mobilization. This paper uses the lens of the Brotherhood’s schools and medical facilities to show how regime repression and the rise of alternative models of social service provision are incentivizing the Brotherhood to adopt more confrontational methods of opposition.

Tunisia: http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Research/Files/Reports/2015/07/rethinking-political-islam/Tunisia_Marks-FINALE.pdf?la=en
Monica Marks, University of Oxford
A series of regional and local challenges—including the rise of Salafi-jihadism, the 2013 coup in Egypt, and local suspicions over its aims—have prompted Tunisia’s Ennahda party to narrow its range of political maneuver and rethink the parameters of its own Islamism. Ennahda has assumed a defensive posture, casting itself as a long-term, gradualist project predicated on compromise, a malleable message of cultural conservatism, and the survival of Tunisia’s democratic political system.

Morocco: http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Research/Files/Reports/2015/07/rethinking-political-islam/Morocco_Spiegel-FINALE.pdf?la=en
Avi Spiegel, University of San Diego
Moroccan Islamists have proven resilient in the wake of the Arab Spring and have offered a different model of Islamist participation that partly reflects the country’s unique monarchical context. The Brotherhood-inspired Justice and Development Party (PJD) has secured a foothold in government through an accommodationist posture towards Morocco’s monarchy, while the anti-monarchical popular movement Al Adl Wal Ihsan has sustained its appeal and access through non-violent activism.

Syria: http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Research/Files/Reports/2015/07/rethinking-political-islam/Syria_Lefevre-FINALE.pdf?la=en
Raphaël Lefèvre, Carnegie Middle East Center
After 30 years in exile outside of Syria, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has become an important component of the western-backed Syrian opposition. Despite its influence, the expansion and radicalization of the Islamist scene in Syria challenges the legitimacy of the Brotherhood’s gradualist approach and constrains its presence on the ground.

Yemen: http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Research/Files/Reports/2015/07/rethinking-political-islam/Yemen_Yadav-FINALE.pdf?la=en
Stacey Philbrick Yadav, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
After the country’s uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s multi-factional Islamist party Islah enjoyed new opportunities for institutional power, joining a coalition government in December 2011. But, while the Muslim Brotherhood faction within Islah initially seemed ascendant, it has since found itself targeted by the Houthi movement, weakened in relation to other factions within the party, and increasingly dependent on external actors to retain its political relevance.

Libya: http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Research/Files/Reports/2015/07/rethinking-political-islam/Libya_Ashour-FINALE.pdf?la=en
Omar Ashour, University of Exeter
Libya’s diverse Islamist actors played a substantial role in the 2011 armed revolution against Moammar Gadhafi and the subsequent collapse of Libya’s democratization process into armed conflict. The advances of ISIS in Libya and the breakdown of Brotherhood electoral activism in neighboring Egypt, however, present an ideological and recruitment challenge to Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi factions.

Saudi Aarbia: http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Research/Files/Reports/2015/07/rethinking-political-islam/Saudi-Arabia_Matthiesen-FINALE.pdf?la=en
Toby Matthiesen, University of Cambridge
Saudi Arabia’s fragmented Islamist field has displayed a diversity of responses to the coup in Egypt, the conflict in Syria, and the Saudi-led war in Yemen. While a group of younger Saudi Islamists and intellectuals have embraced elements of democracy, the war in Syria, the authoritarian political system, and domestic sectarian tendencies have rallied support for the ISIS model of violent political change.

How Is The War Against The Islamic State Going? 10 Expert Opinions -Musings on Iraq


10 experts interviewed on the state of the Islamic State as of August 2015, courtesy of the always interesting blog, Musings on Iraq. Each of the 10 have something insightful to say. Overall, they seem to agree that ISIS has gained a little territory in some places, but lost it in others. They are on the defensive for the most part, but no where near defeated and still capable of taking new territory. In short, its a stalemate with no clear momentum going one way or the other.
One particularly interesting set of comments came from Michael Knights of WINEP, who suggested that the government in Baghdad is likely satisfied with its military accomplishments “..the defense of Samarra, Baghdad and Karbala as major successes. The liberation of Jurf as-Sakr (which overlooks Shia pilgrim routes), Tikrit and other areas will likewise be viewed with pride. There will be optimism about the unfolding battles in Ramadi and Haditha.” and are concerned about the growing influence of some Shi’a militias, which it sees in some cases as rivals.
This is exactly the opposite of the narrative one hears in the west, which is that the Iraqi military is a complete disaster and that they have given up control to Iran, who arms and trains the militias. Knights does not offer specific evidence to back up either of these claims but they should be considered seriously. Baghdad may have a very different understanding of success in the conflict than the West (or the Sunnis and Kurds for that matter) and it would be an oversimplification to treat the Shi’a as a homogenous group. There is likely a lot of jockeying for position between Tehran, the Abadi government in Baghdad, and the various Shi’a militias.


Enduring repression and insurgency in Egypt’s Sinai -BBC


A good analysis of the violence in the Sinai:

“Between 2004 and 2015, the Sinai insurgency has grown from mainly an urban terrorism campaign of bombing soft targets (such as the Taba Hilton in 2004) to a structured, low-to-mid level insurgency, aiming primarily for “hard” targets (such as Battalion 101 Camp in el-Arish, the HQ of the military campaign, dubbed “Sinai’s Guantanamo” by locals).”


Overlapping contests and Middle East international relations: The return of the weak Arab state – pomeps.org

Interesting article examining the gaps in realist explanations of Middle Eastern international relations exposed by the Arab Spring.
“The popular uprisings intensified the interplay between the domestic and regional levels in the making of Middle East international relations. Security and ideational threats are intertwined as regimes scramble to defend both their geopolitical interests and their domestic political order from a mix of domestic, regional and transregional actors and ideologies. Whether this long enduring interplay has found itself into IR theory is another matter, however.”
Overlapping contests and Middle East international relations: The return of the weak Arab state – See more at: http://pomeps.org/2015/08/12/overlapping-contests-and-middle-east-international-relations-the-return-of-the-weak-arab-state/#sthash.wA4XWIiC.dpuf

Tehran may be planning a foreign policy reversal -The National


As this article suggests, Iran’s support for Shi’a groups in the region has deepened since the Arab Spring. There are signs that it is starting to reach out to its Sunni neighbors in an effort to re-balance its foreign policy. This is in part a function of the Rouhani government and also because it is in a strong enough position to seek accommodations on good terms. Nevertheless, it is not clear that the region has settled enough to let this happen. Iran may feel secure enough to compromise at this point, but do its Sunni neighbors?


Kurdish Role in Fighting ISIS in Syria Is Crucial to U.S., but Is Alarming Turkey -NYTimes


“…Turkey agreed to join the fight against the Islamic State, it immediately began bombarding the mountain camps of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or P.K.K., an insurgent group in Turkey and Iraq that is allied with the Y.P.G.

The Turkish deal with the United States sets up an “ISIS-free” bombardment zone along a 60-mile strip of the border region that features another exclusion: At Turkey’s request, it is also explicitly a zone free of the Kurdish militia, even though the Kurds had begun advancing toward the area to start battling the Islamic State there.

Despite cooperating with American forces for months, the Syrian Kurds are now starting to worry that their success might not outweigh Turkey’s importance to the United States.

“There is only one group that has consistently and effectively battled ISIS in Syria, and that is the Y.P.G.,” said Redur Khalil, a spokesman for the militia who says it has grown to include 35,000 soldiers, about 11 years after its start as a self-defense force in a single town. “Opening another front in the region — as Turkey has by attacking the P.K.K. — will make the forces fighting ISIS weaker,” Mr. Khalil said. “Which in turn makes ISIS stronger.”


Research Paper: ISIS-Turkey List -Huffington Post


Here is a long list of the allegations that Turkey has been supporting ISIS and other Islamic groups in Syria. Each point is linked back to the original source. Some of the sources are more credible than others, and some of the allegations are a little vague, such as “supplied weapons to terror groups” or basically amount to Turkey has done a very poor job of securing its border with Syria, which could be an issue of competence rather than intent. Nevertheless, the list is long, and some of the allegations are very specific and if true clearly demonstrate support for ISIS.