“Good fences make good neighbors”?

Writing about her visits to the West Bank, the author shares with us her impressions of the separation wall.


By Margaret McKenzie, 5th July, 2014.

It will have been a decade on July 9 since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) passed its advisory opinion saying Israel must cease construction of the Wall and dismantle sections, compensate for damage caused; and, return Palestinian property or provide compensation if restitution is not possible. The Wall has always been contentious with radically polarizing opinions, exemplified by the many different terms for the Wall depending on who you speak to – “Separation Fence”or “gader hafradeh” in Hebrew, “Apartheid Wall” or “al jidar al azil” in Arabic, are just a few terms used to describe the Wall separating the West Bank from Israel. The Wall depicted in the photos below around the West Bank is illegal under international law.

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Jihad 2.0: How Social Media Supports Islamist Agendas in Syria

Based on primary information from forums, communiqués and social media activities, this article offers an insight into the online activity of political jihadists and shows how online platforms are being used to support the jihadist cause in Syria.

By Camille Maubert, 4th September, 2013

The notion that the internet is a strong asset for international terrorist groups is not new. Forums have long been acknowledged as the main channel for Al Qaeda to reach out to its followers and articulate its goals and ideology. However, changes in the online environment and the fast development of social media as a preferred way of communication have altered the nature of the jihadi activities online.

Despite complaints by some ideologues that forums are being abandoned by their followers in favor of other medias, these platforms remain an essential part of jihadi media strategies. Some of them, such as Shumukh al-Islam and Ansar al-Mujahedeen, have been active for years and thus benefit from an great credibility with their audience. They are also direct links between AQ central and its supporters, featuring messages from famous jihadi writers and clerics the most prolific of which include Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Tahawi, Sheikh Abu Basir al-Tartusi, Abu Ubaydah and of course AQ’s current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Aside from official propaganda, forums enable groups and individuals alike to diffuse contents, post comments and share links with other bloggers in a relatively safe environment, ensuring cohesion within the jihadi community. However, developments in the Syrian crisis have created new needs which forums could not fulfill. As a matter of fact, Syria has been described as the first Youtube war, where every unfolding event is reported live by individuals using camera phones and posting images and videos online instantly. Such level of democratization and reactivity cannot be replicated in forums which are by definition restricted to members and censored by an editorial board. As a result, militants have turned to other platforms, namely Twitter and Facebook.

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Iran Should Not Allow the Talks to Be a “Success” If …

In this post, Shirin Shafaie offers a policy recommendation paper for Iran ahead of the Moscow talks between the P5+1 and Iran.


By Shirin Shafaie

Iran should not allow the Moscow talks (18 June, 2012) to be announced, declared or referred to as “successful”, “positive”, “constructive” or even “promising” by the other party or the Western media in the absence of absolutely concrete and tangible concessions from the West in terms of sanctions relief and normalisation of Iran’s nuclear file in the IAEA. I explain why.

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Addressing the Asymmetry in Negotiations between Iran and P5+1: a critical review of Oxford Research Group’s briefing

In this article, the author presents a critical review of the briefing, “Iran´s Nuclear Impasse: Breaking the Deadlock”, published by the Oxford Research Group on 1 May 2012. As negotiations over Iran´s nuclear programme stall, the author criticises the lack of neutrality of the briefing by the Oxford-based think tank, and calls for a review of the same in order to avoid some of the mistakes of the past, when pro-war think tanks played a key role in manufacturing consent for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.


By Mehrnaz Shahabi, 10 July 2012

The Oxford Research Group’s briefing, Iran’s Nuclear Impasse: Breaking the Deadlock (1 May 2012) [1], published before the second round of negotiations between Iran and P5+1 (permanent Security Council and Germany) in Baghdad on 23 May, whilst proposing some positive principles for a successful outcome of the negotiations – such as Iran’s right to enrichment, “reciprocity”, “defining endgame”, and “taking regime change off the table” – suffers serious drawbacks, which have become even more glaringly clear with the result of the recent Moscow negotiations.

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Is Mali the ‘next Afghanistan’?

This article is a re-publication of a piece by Andrew Lebovich on his website, al-Wasat.  It analyses the popular attitudes on the security situation in northern Mali to look at the potential risks to international security and the risks that are, at present, overstated.

Mr. Lebovich is a contributor to the popular foreign policy blog The Washington Note, and his work has appeared at ForeignPolicy.com and The Atlantic Online. He also writes a formerly weekly, and now twice-weekly brief with Foreign Policy on legal issues in the struggle against terrorism, the Legal War on Terror (LWOT).


By Andrew Lebovich, 13th June, 2012.

The title of this post is a question I’m seeing more and more, and it reflects the growing concern in Washington, Paris, and African capitals that the security situation in northern Mali is spiraling out of control. In this kind of environment, bad news tends to echo loudly and quickly. The most recent example of this is the strong reaction in the international press to an interview Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou gave to France 24 this week, in which he said that Afghans and Pakistanis were in Mali training fighters, in addition to confirming that French hostages held for nearly a year and a half by AQIM were in “good health” and still alive. This news has garnered quite a bit of attention, especially in the Francophone media, though it should be noted that RFI reported the presence Pakistani trainers in Timbuktu and in Kidal a month ago, to considerably less attention. Still, this and other signs of the degradation in the security environment in northern Mali and the growth of AQIM have spurred speculation about whether or not northern Mali was becoming a “West African Afghanistan“, a new Somalia, or a jumping-off point for terrorist attacks elsewhere.

While I think some of this concern is warranted, I think some of this language and concern may be, for the moment, a bit overwrought, as I will explain in this piece. This post is my attempt to sort through some of the current popular attitudes about the security situation in northern Mali, the very real risks to regional and international security that may be looming in the north, and the equally real constraints on militant groups attempting to impose shari’ah in northern Mali or project force beyond Mali’s already porous (or nonexistent) borders.

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Non-Proliferation: Are we heading in the right direction?

In this article, the author reports from the first session of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee conference being held in Vienna, Austria. The international community, including Iran and the US, have gathered at the IAEA headquarters to discuss next steps while non-participants Israel, India and Pakistan follow the progress of the conference from the comforts of distance.


By David J. Franco, 2nd May, 2012

Ignored by the mainstream media, the world’s nuclear weapons and energy problems are being tackled by the international community gathered in Vienna. Attended by a gallant but tiny band of NGOs the meeting witnesses states from Iran to the US engaged in the debate, while the non-participants Israel, Pakistan and India cast a shadow over the proceedings.

On Monday, Ambassador Libran Cabactulan, of the Philippines, declared open the first session of the Preparatory Committee of the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. Ambassador Cabactulan led a successful process that culminated in the 2010 NPT Action Plan agreed with the consensus of all states parties to the NPT. After his opening statement, in which he emphasized the need to build upon pass success, Ambassador Cabactulan declared elected Ambassador Peter Woolcott, of Australia, as the Chair-designate for the first session of the 2015 NPT review conference cycle.

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The UN Human Rights Council Resolution on Sri Lanka’s Alleged War Crimes

In this article, the author explores the resolution’s impact on Sri Lanka, and its probable implications with reference to Sri Lanka.


By Rithika Nair, 3rd April, 2012

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) judgment on Sri Lanka’s efforts at post-conflict reconstruction, invited an abundance of opinions and debate globally. Newspapers cried out country decisions to the US sponsored resolution with regard to their foreign policies, domestic policies and moral policies. In lending an ear to all the global justifications and rationalizations, the importance shifted away from what Sri Lanka had to say with regard to the resolution and its possible impact on the island.

In 2010, the Government of Sri Lanka created the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) suo moto, to look into the causes of the conflict, its consequences on the people, and to promote national unity and reconciliation. The LLRC, though criticized for overlooking the violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by the Sri Lankan army, stated that there were “considerable” civilian casualties. This was opposed to the government claims, which insisted on a zero-casualty rate.

The international community had already begun to push Sri Lanka to begin its post-conflict reconstruction agenda.  The LLRC report increased this demand for the Sri Lankan government to act – prosecute those who were accountable for civilian massacres, and bring relief to those displaced and devastated by the war.

This never happened.

The disappointing LLRC report largely exonerating the government, and the subsequent government inaction to suggested accountability procedures encouraged the international community to act.

In March 2012, the US submitted a resolution at the 19th session of the UNHRC, urging the Sri Lankan government “to address serious allegations of violations of international law by initiating credible and independent investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for such violations.” The resolution, after being slightly amended to word that the implementation of any external advice or investigation by the Human Rights Commissioner or Special Procedures must unfold only “in consultation with and the concurrence of ” the Sri Lankan government, was passed with 24 votes in favour, 15 against, and 8 abstentions.

The closing of Sri Lankan embassies in Europe, the threats to human rights defenders and the anti-Americanism in Sri Lanka are some of the immediate effects of the resolution. But it’s long-term implications – constructive and destructive, are nothing but analytical renderings as of now.

The resolution with its honorouble intentions could be a possible check on the quasi-dictatorship of Mahinda Rajapaksa. It could be the warning hand on the back, reminding Sri Lanka of what it had promised to deliver three years ago, a paternal gesture offering assistance if needed. It could imply that dialogue and soft diplomacy may harden, and the whispers of a ‘South Asian Spring’ may jump to reality with an international demand for the removal of Rajapaksa from his throne. With the Sri Lankan Tamils still dissatisfied with their government’s empty promises of reconciliation, and Sinhalese human rights activists being called traitors if they stood up for the Tamils, it would not be long before Sri Lanka could walk the line with Maldives, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. If such a future be predicted, then the precautionary resolution – a very fair and balanced one, has been passed at a very appropriate juncture.

The resolution may have been a UN step to avoid being blamed for not taking action. Perhaps the UN was guilty of its own lack of action while the crisis unfolded over 26 years. Then, the resolution is but a ticking pendulum, softly but notably reminding Sri Lanka of its obligations and responsibility – and in doing so, delivering rehabilitation and hopeful justice to the victims of the war – the people of Sri Lanka.

On the other hand, the resolution placed the ball back in the Lankan court, and it ordered the multi-faced Lankan king to finish what he had promised to do. It asked him to submit an action plan detailing what he had done, and will do to implement the LLRC recommendations, and to address all matters that violated international law.

The king, with all ten heads, rejected the resolution.

Neither he nor his court thought that it added any value to the humanitarian and justice implementation process in Sri Lanka. They felt the resolution was ‘counterproductive’, ‘ill-timed’, and ‘an unwarranted initiative’. They perceived the supporters and sponsors of the resolution to be LTTE sympathizers – those who underestimated the violence and trauma that the LTTE had unleashed upon them. They felt that the unpunished situations in Afghanistan, Iraq and India removed the moral legitimacy of the resolution.  Lobbying against the vote in Geneva transcended into anti-America lobbying, and human rights activists and defenders of the resolution were threatened in Sri Lanka. In such circumstances, the significance of the resolution is undermined.

This resolution should not and cannot be rejected by comparing them to conflict situations where deeds committed by the sponsors and supporters go unchecked. This matter pertains to and reflects on Sri Lanka, and Sri Lanka alone. This does not mean that this case supersedes any of the other situations, but the current context is Sri Lanka, and that should be respected. If the world and its leaders were to act and re-act following the policy of every eye for an eye, and every tooth for a tooth, the vicious cycle of blame and revenge would never stop spinning.

However, as the ambassador for Bangladesh very prudently stated at the Council session, if Sri Lanka is not on board, then the resolution will have a very limited impact. Without the Sri Lankan nod to implement efficient rehabilitation and accountability measures, the resolution is but an empty bell with no sound.

What is Happening in Nigeria? Blood and Oil (Subsidies)

In this article the author looks at the current wave of political and economic turmoil sweeping Nigeria.  With a potential oil shutdown sending waves of panic across Brent Crude prices and terrorism forcing the closure of the borders the state is facing its largest crisis since its return to civilian rule in 1999.

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by Jack Hamilton, 14 Jan, 2012

In 2010 the BBC released the controversial docudrama: ‘Blood and Oil’. It depicted a Nigeria crippled by corruption, protests and terrorism and was slammed for the tropes of endemic sleaze and violence. Executions, inhumane oil politics and the collusion of leading politicians in these atrocities were seen to reflect the Nigeria of the past. This is now the Nigeria of the present and it could be about to get a lot worse.

Occupy Nigeria

Naija Rising

This week the country closed its borders following counter-terrorism advice from the UN and a popular strike threatens to entirely shut down oil and gas production (accounting for over 90% of the export market) on Tuesday if demands are not met. There have been two crucial ultimatums:

1. Boko Haram has threatened to kill all Southerners (read: Christians) in the north if their demands of religious reform are not met. The attacks have already begun.

2. Occupy Nigeria has threatened to grind Nigeria’s export economy to a halt if their demands to maintain the fuel subsidy are not met. The deadline has been extended until Tuesday.

Facing a potential civil war and economic collapse, the Federal Government of Nigeria must act decisively.  There is no quick-fix.

There Might Be Blood – Subsidy Strikes

Who is Drinking Nigeria's Milkshake?

Nigerian oil and gas workers have threatened to shut down the Nigerian oil market, deepening the strikes against the withdrawal of petrol subsidies.  The government and unions are locked in talks which have been extended by two days as of today.  This leaves the government until Tuesday to find a solution or face economic meltdown.

The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (Pengassan) have put all production platforms on red alert in anticipation of a shutdown. This demonstrates the lack of optimism in resolution being reached in time.

The crisis in Africa’s largest oil exporter has already had an international impact. Oil prices have already risen in anticipation of the shutdown and Nigeria’s export reserves would only last for six weeks.

Brent Crude prices have risen by $1 per barrel in a single day and in a global crude market already shaken by conflict in the Middle East and North Africa, a shutdown in Nigeria could have expansive ramifications. In an election year the last thing a US incumbent would like to see is a pinch at the pumps.

While the true international impact of the crisis is yet to be fully realised, it has already had a devastating impact domestically. The price of fuel has already more than doubled and the prices of other goods, including food, are skyrocketing. People are struggling to get to work, to put food on the table and to run their electricity generators. If the strike turns violent it is these people who will suffer.

Subsidies are seen to be the only benefit most Nigerians receive from the vast oil riches of the country. The argument for their removal is that they cost the state $8 billion per year in funds that could be better used on infrastructure and development. In a country in which government corruption is rife and the trust in the state is dangerously low it is clear that the people would like to see the money conferred through subsidies rather than pilfered by the ‘1%’.

The subsidy involved a huge amount of corruption but its removal does not equate to the removal of the corruption. It is merely a relocation.

Spreading Terror

The north of Nigeria is ‘sliding towards a full-blown guerrilla war’ according to The Economist. Boko Haram bombing campaigns have intensified since the Christmas Day attacks and acts of retribution have been carried out in the Christian south. The burning of a mosque in Benin City, southern Nigeria, demonstrates the dangerous roadmap the northern insurgency could instigate.

Fears abound over the potential links between Boko Haram, a small cult whose primary objective is the removal of secular education, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.  Assertions of a broader terrorist network were originally purported by sources in the American military (AFRICOM) and the Algerian Government but on Tuesday this fear was also echoed by the United Nations.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has stated that ‘concerns will increase’ as the popularity of Boko Haram grows. The alleged sophistication of the attacks, especially the bombing of the UN in Abuja, has provided some substance for these assertions but the most recent activities reflect burgeoning brutality, not capability.

Goodluck Jonathan has responded to the fears of a vast terrorist network by closing the borders of the country. Nigeria’s international borders are now operating on high alert as the latest measures demonstrate the degree of force the Federal Government is willing to use to achieve peace and stability across the country.

Elevated force does not necessarily provide a solution for the state.  They are fighting a guerrilla organisation, galvanised by support from those who fear the encroachment of an over-zealous central government.  Memories of egregious state violence mean that heavy state mobilisation is likely to increase rather than diminish the allure of the Boko Haram message to those who feel alienated from the state.

Will Things Fall Apart?

The Occupy Nigeria protests and Boko Haram attacks are entirely separate movements with the common theme of opposing the Federal Government of the country. With opposition to government threatening the security and the economy of the nation questions abound over the future of Nigeria.

Jonathan has announced palliative measures the mass production of buses to ease the transport issues in the country as well as reducing government salaries by a quarter (although they remain obscenely high in such an impoverished nation).

The most recent response to Boko Haram has been a change in language. Jonathan has acknowledged that the support base may be more than purely criminal. In his speech on Monday he admitted that there may even be members of his government that identify with the organisation.

Talks with Occupy Nigeria have been extended by two days but there is a general lack of optimism for a rapid resolution. Boko Haram are intensifying their attacks and flickers of retribution have begun in the south. At present neither crisis shows signs of abating and the Federal Government is floundering.

Nigeria is being plunged into a future which looks ominously similar to its past. In this scenario ‘Blood and Oil’ appears rosy.

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For more on the recent crises in Nigeria and terrorism across West Africa see these articles on InPEC:

The State of Terrorism in Nigeria: The Rising Threat of Boko Haram

Photo Essay: 6 Reasons Terrorism is Gaining Momentum in Northern Nigeria

Securing Emptiness: The Sahara Desert and the Global War on Terror