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As Africa Faces More Terrorism, Experts Point to Saudi-spread of Fundamentalist Islam – Voice of America

As Africa Faces More Terrorism, Experts Point to Saudi-spread of Fundamentalist Islam

By Salem Solomon

June 20, 2017

On June 5, Saudi Arabia and its allies, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing it of funding extremist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic State.

In response, Qatar said it was the victim of a policy of “domination and control” by its larger neighbor and that Saudi Arabia was, in fact, the one responsible for backing extremism.

FILE - A view shows Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque in Doha, Qatar, June 9, 2017.

FILE – A view shows Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque in Doha, Qatar, June 9, 2017.

So what is the truth? Fundamentalist strains of Islam, including Saudi-born Salafism and Wahhabism, form the ideological bedrock for most terror groups. According to a study by Leif Wenar of King’s College London based on the Global Terrorism Database, three out of four terror attacks in the last 10 years have been conducted by people espousing Salafist ideology.

Wenar said Saudi Arabia is the chief exporter of Salafism around the world, spending tens of billions of dollars to build mosques, fund madrassas, finance preachers and offer scholarships to students to study the rigid form of Islam.

FILE - Muslim boys rest their heads on their desks during a language class at Al-Haramain madrassa at the Islamic Complex in Cameroon's capital Yaounde.

FILE – Muslim boys rest their heads on their desks during a language class at Al-Haramain madrassa at the Islamic Complex in Cameroon’s capital Yaounde.

The effort is possibly the most expensive ideological campaign in human history, Wenar told VOA.

“Saudi Arabia is not the only factor, of course, in the spread of violent extremism. But for 50 years Saudi Arabia has been funding schools and mosques and radical preachers worldwide who have set down their particular narrow and puritanical version of Islam, which has in many places mutated into the violent extremism we see today,” Wenar said.

FILE - Muslim pilgrims make their way at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, Sept. 9, 2016.

FILE – Muslim pilgrims make their way at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, Sept. 9, 2016.

Saudi Arabia said it has changed, stating publicly that it wants to take a hardline stance against radical Islam. In May, it welcomed 50 world leaders to Riyadh to commemorate the opening of a new Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology. It said it has also increased oversight of charitable organizations that may be linked to terrorism.

Ali Shihabi, executive director at the Arabia Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, said that since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011, Saudi Arabia has become a world leader in fighting terror.

“It is extremely, actively involved in police and security measures in the region against terrorism, and it is using its religious establishment now to fight terrorism,” he said. “It is turning this whole infrastructure that it has, this whole religious, what some people even call Wahabi, infrastructure, into a tool to fight terrorism.”

FILE - A Muslim holds Prayer beads outside a mosque in the town of Koui, Central African Republic, April 27, 2017.

FILE – A Muslim holds Prayer beads outside a mosque in the town of Koui, Central African Republic, April 27, 2017.

Shihabi draws a line between the “quiet Salafism” spread by Saudi religious organizations that teach respect for authority and rejects violence and the “revolutionary Salafism” that promotes attacks on authorities and non-believers.

“There’s a fundamental disconnect between Salafism as it is practiced in Saudi Arabia and the Salafism that terrorists have used or misused for their own purposes,” Shihabi said.

Exporting religion to Africa

The impact of Saudi Arabia’s support of conservative Islam is felt across the African continent. Hussein Solomon of the University of the Free State in South Africa has studied the phenomenon and said Africa’s traditional Sufi form of Islam has been steadily pushed out of some countries in favor of Salafism.

This has given an ideological backing to terror groups who reject Sufi mysticism and forbid things like secular music, Western-style clothing and women speaking to unrelated men.

In some countries, such as Mali, Salafists have conducted attacks against non-Muslims or Muslims they consider to be heretics.

FILE - Soldiers attend to wounded and casualties in the aftermath of a suicide bomb attack who ripped through a camp grouping former rebels and pro-government militia in troubled northern Mali left 40 people dead on Jan. 18, 2017 in Gao.

FILE – Soldiers attend to wounded and casualties in the aftermath of a suicide bomb attack who ripped through a camp grouping former rebels and pro-government militia in troubled northern Mali left 40 people dead on Jan. 18, 2017 in Gao.

“We are seeing a tremendous escalation of terrorist attacks,” Solomon told VOA. “We actually are seeing three terrorist attacks per day on the African continent, and [they] are linked directly to Wahabi ideology.”

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates offer scholarships to young Africans to attend religious schools in the Gulf states. According to a report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, the number of East African students enrolled in Gulf state universities has grown from several hundred in 2010 to nearly 10,000 in 2014.

Solomon said he has interviewed parents whose children have returned home from these schools with radically changed, hardline views.

One Malian boy came home and denounced his father for listening to music and smoking cigarettes, and his mother and sisters for not wearing a full hijab. “It caused tremendous ruptures just inside the family,” Solomon said.

Saudi Arabia has also built hundreds of mosques around the continent. Solomon said the divisive form of Islam taught in these mosques has caused tension between Muslims and Christians in areas where they live side-by-side.

“Part of the deal in terms of the construction of the mosques is that the Imam either comes from Saudi Arabia or [is] trained by the Saudis and is given a syllabus in terms of what to say and what to preach, and, of course, this is an ill-effect to a continent like Africa which is multi-ethnic, multi-racial and certainly multi-religious,” he said.

Wenar said he has also reviewed textbooks published in Saudi Arabia that compared Christians and Jews to animals and taught children that they are prohibited from befriending infidels.

“This really is quite an archaic and extreme ideology that the Saudis have been sending, and it seems [that] to check it, we should make the world more aware of what’s going on,” he said.

Fighting extremism

Shihabi said the rise of Islamic extremism in some African countries is not a result of textbooks or what is preached at Saudi-funded mosques. Mainly, he believes, extremists twist religious doctrine to fit their own local, political purposes.

“And people realize that if you want to be a revolutionary today and you want to attract attention, you put on this Islamic cloak, and it gets you much more attention than if you just package yourself as a domestic player with no transnational reach,” he said.

In a recent New York Times story, William McCants, a Brookings Institution scholar, accused Saudi Arabia of being “both the arsonists and the firefighters” when it comes to Islamic extremism.

Shihabi argues that is no longer the case. “Saudi Arabia may have been… an accidental arsonist in ways in the past if part of its ideology was misused, but now it has certainly become a very dedicated fireman, and it’s been doing that for the last fifteen years.”


This article is taken from the Voice of America Website.

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Intelligence and its failures in preventing and combating terrorism – Dr. Anneli Botha


Intelligence and its failures in preventing and combating terrorism

By Anneli Botha

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 13(June 2017)

In the aftermath of every terrorist attack, from 9/11 to the recent attack targeting Muslims after leaving the Finsbury Park mosque after prayers to the recent attack in Mali, the public and policy makers demand explanations from the intelligence communities as to why these attacks were not prevented. Although every intelligence officer and larger agency is driven to prevent each and every attack, these agencies need to be correct every time. The unfortunate reality however is that the enemy (terrorists) need to be right only once in achieving their objectives. Since the public is not prevue to hear or even learn more of potential or foiled attacks – for a multitude of reasons – the impression is that these agencies failed to protect the public. Although I will later briefly discuss the reasons for intelligence failure, I’m starting addressing the impression that the majority of the public have no idea what needs to go into every operation to prevent an attack.

To start of this discussion intelligence comes in many forms, most notably: Imagery intelligence that refers to the study and analysis of photos, videos and satellite images; Signals intelligence that refers to the study and analysis of signal communications, particularly radios, phone intercepts; Measurement and signature intelligence that includes the study and analysis of unique signatures produced by objects on the ground (obtained through aerial reconnaissance); Human intelligence – possibly the most important source of information – that refers to the collection and analysis of information gathered by human sources, such as informants and agents; and Open-source intelligence that refers to the study and analysis of information available in literature, the press, or the Internet, etc. Each of these have a unique role and will be applied depending on the specific needs in forming a ‘picture’.

Although human intelligence is the most valuable, it is also the most difficult to attain, as a person already in the organization or cell needs to be recruited (turning against the rest of the cell or organization) or security agents need to infiltrate the cell or broader organization. To be even able to recruit or infiltrate a small decentralized cell consisting of family members or close friends (the preferred structure used to execute recent attacks) is an obvious challenge in itself. Leading to an associated obstacle, even if the particular person raised concern to decide when to arrest a suspect is not as straight forward as what is expected for the following reasons: Arresting a suspect without evidence or arresting a suspect too soon without identifying all actors involved in the plot will not count as a victory for the following two primary reasons: For investigators to show their hand too soon, the suspect will be able to determine what authorities know while being released. Secondly, those part of the plot who were not already identified will disappear (going underground) allowing them to either continue with the existing plot or plan another. Another challenge the public is seldom aware of is that gathering information and turning it into intelligence (through the intelligence cycle that includes analysis) is extremely expensive and time consuming. Although a person in a cell can be approached and ‘turned’ for many incentives with money as the most popular, building a relationship of trust between the handler and source or an agent infiltrating a cell or organization to be trusted and included in discussions takes time. It is also for this reason that intelligence operations cannot be turned ‘on’ or ‘off’ when needed.

To know where to look agencies conduct regular risk, vulnerability and threat assessments. This requires a positive relationship with the public, but also for the security agencies not to fall out of touch with realities on the ground. It is especially for this reason that security agencies (including intelligence agencies) need to be representative of the community, to enable it to understand its sub-culture, values and conduct. At the same time, it is critical that the right officer is recruited with objectivity being paramount.

Understanding why intelligence failures will always be a reality, despite everything done to prevent it, one needs to briefly stand still with the process information is transferred into intelligence. From planning, collection, processing, analysis and dissemination, intelligence failure can occur at each of these steps. While not being able to address every potential risk of failure, the following will only present the most prominent:

One of the reasons is a result of ignorance, or underestimating a potential threat which can also be described as the perception that ‘it will never happen to us’. This also occurs when intelligence personnel, despite being warned, disregard information that points to a threat. It also happens when intelligence agencies inform the political leadership of a state of a potential threat, and the latter refuse to act on this information. The second reason for intelligence failures is overconfidence as a result of above, but when intelligence personnel are convinced that they have sufficient information on a particular threat – and the resources to properly process this information are not being utilized. This also manifests in an attitude on behalf of intelligence officers that they know ‘everything’ and nobody can make them any wiser. It is therefore vital that intelligence agencies develop and encourage an institutional culture that always strives to know and learn more from all available sources. Manifested in the 9/11 report, the third reason for failure is as a result of a lack of communication within and between agencies. Rooted in the institution due to a lack of clear lines of reporting and sharing of information, the biggest reason is as a result of human nature in not trusting or ‘liking’ his or her counterpart, inter-personal resulting in inter-agency competition for better resources etc. Restrictions on the circulation of sensitive information can often result in information becoming entirely unavailable as a result of over classifying.

Furthermore, when a threat is underestimated it invariably leads to insufficient resources being made available to enable the gathering of information. It might also lead to analysts not concentrating on a particular threat on a full-time basis. For example, as a result of being overstretched by the threat presented by Islamist extremists and returning foreign fighters, British intelligence agencies did not focus on a home-grown right wing reactionary threat. As mentioned earlier, intelligence gathering and analysis cannot be done for limited periods. Policy makers are often the most responsible for this failure due to not making sufficient resources available or influencing intelligence agencies to rather concentrate on areas ‘they’ identified as a threat to their regime security. Consequently, intelligence agencies no longer serve the interests of the public, but rather the interests of a political party against legitimate political opposition parties. Recent developments in Crime Intelligence in South Africa points to this concern.

The last reason to be referred to deals with a failure ‘to connect the dots’, particularly as a result of the situation described in the preceding point, occurs when those responsible for transforming information into intelligence do not have the ability, training or experience to do so. To put this differently, information comes from different sources and in bits and pieces over a period of time. Although computer software exists to assist analysts, this function cannot rely on a computer program.

To conclude, the saying ‘information is power’ is true, but then this valuable resource need to be utilized to identify those presenting a threat to the safety and stability of a country, but also beyond a country’s borders, track down suspects, and their operational and logistical networks, warn against potential acts of terrorism, without creating panic, manage an actual or potential crisis by providing information in time to decision makers, provide tactical information essential to carry out counter-terrorism operations and lastly to disrupt the operations of terrorists, including command and control, recruitment, etc.

Announcement of Collaboration between RIMA and the Greek-based Center KEDISA


Announcement of Collaboration between RIMA and the Greek-based Center KEDISA

June 2017

The Think Tank for the Research on Islam and Muslims in Africa (RIMA) announces its collaboration with the Greek-based Center for International Strategic Analyses (KEDISA).

The mission of KEDISA is to analyze International Relations and Global Security issues; to study energy security and pipeline diplomacy issues; to scrutinize EU migration policy issues; to examine the complex South Eastern Europe (SEE) and Middle East & Northern Africa (MENA) security environment; to analyze the EU external relations with NATO, the US and the BRICS countries as well as to organize and implement a series of educational programmes, that promote the Centre’s scientific mission. All these issues are of particular interest to RIMA due to the overlapping and complementary areas of research.

The collaboration between KEDISA and RIMA will focus on cross-posting of articles and publications, as well as on organizing joint conferences and seminars and the conduct of joint research projects.

The Founder and President of KEDISA is Mr. Andreas Banoutsos, who holds a BSc in Economics from the Athens University of Economics and Business and an MA in Intelligence and Security Studies from Brunel University. Currently he is a PhD candidate in Intelligence and Security Studies at the University of Buckingham. He is also a Founding Partner and Deputy Secretary General of the Hellenic Chinese Center for Entrepreneurship (HCCE) and a co-founder of the blog RIMSE (Radical Islam Monitor in Southeast Europe).In the past he served as General Director of the Federation of Attica and Piraeus Industries (2001-2004) as well as a special advisor to various Greek ministries (2004-2009).

An Interview of Professor Hussein Solomon to the Program on the Edge with Steve Marqs on Radio Telhai

An Interview of Professor Hussein Solomon to the Program on the Edge with Steve Marqs on Radio Telhai 

Hussein Solomon is a senior Professor of Political Studies at UOFS and a senior research fellow at RIMA, based in Jerusalem.
We discuss the recent terror attacks in Europe and Australia and the South African terror scenario.

ECOWAS invites a Zionist to address its conference – Dr. Glen Segell


ECOWAS invites a Zionist to address its conference

By Glen Segell

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 12 (June 2017)

It took amazing courage for the 15 African nations of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to invite Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as the first non-African leader to address its conference.[1] He is an Israeli citizen, a Jew and an ardent Zionist.

The invitation and his address indicate that times are changing in sub-Saharan Africa. Some of the ECOWAS leaders are Muslims and some of the states are Islamic. No other forum in the world would have made such an invitation. It is a first for Africa and for relations between African Muslim leaders and the Zionist state.

Diplomacy is like a coin as it has two inseparable sides. On the side of this coin is Israel and on the other ECOWAS, where there were mutual objectives and where both of which benefitted from Netanyahu’s address.

On the Israeli side of the coin, is the leader. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is also Israel’s Foreign Minister. Wearing two hats is not an exception and has become the rule in the Israeli Cabinet. The first Prime Minister after independence in 1948 David Ben Gurion was also Defence Minister. Doing two jobs is not just functional and practical but is also cost effective. Africa is of personal significance for Netanyahu, his brother having commanded the freeing of hostages from a hijacked Air France aircraft on 4 July 1976 in Entebbe Uganda, and having been killed in the operation.[2]

The practical and functional side of doing two jobs comes when the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister (the same person) wish to achieve the same goals (two birds with one stone). One “bird” is tackling Iran and its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah and the other “bird” is gaining recognition of Israel as the Jewish national homeland.[3] So this week Netanyahu travelled to western Africa and became the first non-African leader to address 15 African nations at the ECOWAS conference. There he met like-minded states who also wished to tackle Iran, but for different reasons.

In doing so the visit marks a new watershed in Israel’s relations with Africa and with and for Islam and Muslims in Africa. A brief note on why this is a watershed is spelt out by a spot history of Israel and Africa as a problematic friendship.[4]

From 1948 to 1967 Israel had good relations with post-colonial African states providing assistance including agriculture, education, military and construction. The relationship was close as both Israel and the African states had just achieved independence hence there was a shared understanding of a post-British rule world and as developing countries. However after the 1967 war many African states broke off diplomatic relations with Israel. There was strong coercion from the oil rich Arab world.

During the 1980’s after the peace treaty with Egypt and the return of the Sinai Peninsula, Israel strove to make strong headway in re-establishing ties. Although the process was slow it achieved its objectives. For example last year Guinea, a Muslim-majority country that was the first African nation to sever ties with Israel following the 1967 Six-Day War re-established diplomatic ties after a 49 year break.[5]

Every bit helps for Israel! Though most ECOWAS African states are small and poor compared to other states such as the G7, such diplomatic ties chip away at the boycott, sanctions and disinvestment (BDS) movement; and at the Middle East anti-Israel Islamic bloc in the United Nations. In this bloc Shia (Iran led) and Sunni (Saudi Arabia led) bury their differences to initiate debates, motions and votes against Israel.

Closing the gap in relations and isolating Iran is an important process for both Israel and for the ECOWAS states.This week’s visit was not Netanyahu’s first to Africa. Last year he visited the continent as the first sitting Israeli prime minister in 29 year to do so visiting Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda and meeting the presidents of Somalia and Kenya. This was of particular significance as those later two countries severed diplomatic relations with Iran in January 2016. Somalia received substantial aid from Saudi Arabia the day it severed the ties. Clearly Africa has become a proxy battleground between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia; giving further commonality with Israel.[6]

Looking closely at these visits of Netanyahu and his policy shows that the objectives of Israel’s focus towards Africa are no different from Israel’s foreign policy objectives towards all states and indeed those of the foreign policy of ECOWAS states in the international arena. It is therefore not surprising that Netanyahu was invited as the first non-African leader to address its conference even if he is an Israeli citizen, a Jew and an ardent Zionist.

At the top of the list for both Israel and ECOWAS states is recognition as independent sovereign states by all others; an aspiration of all post-colonial states after they threw off the colonial yoke of European imperialism.

For Israel implementing this policy includes improving the outcomes for the Jewish state in U.N. votes, expanding economic cooperation, curbing Iranian influence in Africa, establishing diplomatic relations with Muslim-African states and isolating Israel’s enemies such as Iran and its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah.

Turning to the other side of the coin begs the question “But what did the ECOWAS nations gain specifically by inviting Netanyahu other than symbolism?”No doubt that this is back to the future for 2017 looks like 1961 where Netanyahu at the ECOWAS conference offered Israel collaboration with African states in agriculture, desertification, trade, education, health, homeland security, cyber and communications, energy, culture and science, and the military, including terrorism. Some of these already started for example Israel for some years has become ever closer to Ghana, Mali and Niger in agricultural cooperation.[7] Hence as with most diplomatic appearances of this kind, it is sometimes informing the world of an ongoing process and testing the water for adverse reactions.

The importance of the ECOWAS address by Netanyahu cannot be understated. Listing the audience clearly shows states with an Islamic majority: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. For some terrorism also features prominently as do religious strife for example in Nigeria. Here Israel will be able to provide substantial experience.[8]

However not all went according to plan. The one country in Africa which has the closest historical ties to Judaism in contemporary times was not happy; and because of Netanyahu’s presence, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI cancelled plans to attend the ECOWAS conference.[9]

The cancellation shows that Africa is split demographically even though geographically it is one continent. This means that Africa is Africa but prompts the question about North Africa.It is sometimes known as the Maghreb due to its closer Islamic ties with the Middle East than sub-Sahara Africa. No doubt that the Zionist state will find that winning the hearts and minds of Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya and turning them against Iran will show that sub-Sahara ECOWAS-easy.

So while sub-Saharan African Muslims and Islamic states are more willing to accept Zionism as there is a common affinity of post-colonial nationalism and as developing states, the Maghreb North African states are more reluctant to do so. The Islamic African states in ECOWAS can assist in narrowing this gap for Israel and have the potential to provide Israel with backdoor diplomacy to Persian Gulf states. Diplomatic ties with Persian Gulf states will also prove once and for all Israel is the Jewish national homeland.

This begs the final somewhat polemic question regarding Netanyahu’s address to the ECOWAS conference “Despite the common ground between ECOWAS and Israel in countering Iranian influence and despite Israel’s aid – will these be sufficient?” Whatever the answer it is clear that sub-Saharan African Islamic states portray a different view to Zionism and express it compared to Maghreb North African Islamic states.




[2] Operation Jonathan,

[3] Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs,

[4] Joel Peters, Israel and Africa: The Problematic Friendship, (I.B. Taurus, 1992)

[5]Israel and majority Muslim African country to establish ties. The Jerusalem Post, 20 July 2016.

[6] Somalia received Saudi aid the day it cut ties with Iran, Reuters, 17 January 2016.

[7] West African countries fertilize Israel relations through agriculture, Niger Capital,

[8] Nigeria now third most terrorized country in the world. 21 November 2015.

[9] Morocco king boycotts Africa summit over Netanyahu invite. The New Arab, 2 June 2017.

Responding to Mali’s Islamists: Why simplistic counter-terrorism and deradicalization measures will not work – Professor Hussein Solomon


Responding to Mali’s Islamists: Why simplistic counter-terrorism and deradicalization measures will not work

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 11 (June 2017)

On the 1st of June came news of yet another attack on French soldiers in Mali – this time in Timbuktu. Paris has deployed approximately 1600 troops as part of Operation Barkhane to rid the Sahel of the Islamist threat. These French troops, in turn, are cooperating with the UN mission in Mali or MINUMSA. In response to the June attack, the French have launched several offensives in which scores of jihadists have been killed. In truth, however, these deadly cat and mouse games between intervention forces and the Islamists in Mali have been going on since 2013 – the year Islamists were ousted from their northern Mali stronghold by a French-led intervention force.

Whilst such military operations are an important element at ending the Islamist threat in Mali, more long-term measures are needed to eradicate the scourge of terrorist violence. Some measures which have already begun include deradicalization – focusing on promoting tolerance and respect for the proverbial other whilst embracing a more moderate Islam. The noted Dutch counter-terrorism expert, Alex Schmidt, however reminds us of the limits of such an approach:

“A number of analyses have observed that the study of radicalization on the micro-level has, to some extent, become a substitute for a fuller exploration of the causes of violent extremism and terrorism. So long as the circumstances that produce Islamist radicals’ declared grievances are not taken into account, it is inevitable that the Islamist radical will often appear as a `rebel without a cause’. It appears that by excluding potentially politically awkward factors like `counter-productive counter-terrorism’ from research – especially government-funded research – too much weight has been put on the `radicalization’ of individuals and the micro-level as an explanatory variable”.

To put it differently, not much attention is being paid to the structural reasons giving rise to the radical Islamist phenomenon. With regards to this, consider the fact that the post-independent Malian state has been dominated by the Bambara dominant ethnic group. Indeed, the Bambara effectively control all levers of government – resulting in other ethnic groups feeling left out. This was echoed in a study by the Rand National Defense Research Institute which noted that other minority groups feel left out of Malian national identity. An Arab community leader, for instance, stated, “We need a new definition of the nation that includes us”. This sense of alienation is also felt amongst the Songhai who have formed various organizations to promote their ethnic community interests in opposition to the Malian state. The sense of alienation is felt most acutely amongst the KelTamasheqTuaregs who were construed as the “savage other” in the narrative of the dominant Bambara and Mande.

In such circumstances is it any wonder that these Tuaregs seek to create their own independent homeland of Azawad. In the absence of an overarching Malian national identity, is it any wonder that minority groups have begun to stress that which affirms their own unique identity – ethnic and religious markers. The spread of Islamism can thus be better explained by means of these structural considerations as opposed to radicalization on the micro-level.

The prevailing counter-terrorism and deradicalization discourses also seem oblivious of how a state gains the loyalty of its citizens. Service provision, the Rand study opines, is the primary means by which states legitimize themselves. The failure of Bamako to enhance the socio-economic lives of its citizens therefore is one of the primary reasons for its loss of legitimacy in northern Mali where poverty levels is highest. In this context, Islamists in the form of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa have made great advances as they provide rudimentary services in the areas they control.

Unless greater attention is paid to these structural issues, any intervention force no matter how well-resourced or how robust their mandate will fail to eject the Islamists from Mali.

Is Egypt relevant to Islam and Muslims in Africa? – Dr. Glen Segell


Is Egypt relevant to Islam and Muslims in Africa?

By Glen Segell

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 10 (May 2017)

Posing questions and attempting to answer them about Islam and Muslims in Africa must look towards Egypt as a starting point or even the focal point, as a case separate from others. This is not because Islam is different in Egypt. This is because Egypt is unique in many aspects relating to its demography, geography, and the spotlight on domestic rather than foreign affairs. The answers of many questions would no doubt find that Egypt is inwards rather than outwards focused when considering matters of religion. This is maybe due to the Sahara desert and maybe due to the enormous task relating to governance of its large population.

Demographically Egypt with a population of 92 million is the most populous country in North Africa and the Arab world, the third most populous in Africa and the fifteenth most populous in the world. Worship is well depicted in the ancient hieroglyphics, though those religions have fallen by the wayside. The Abrahamic (belief in one G-d) religion in Egypt is more recent; being well written upon as Moses in the Jewish Bible and the Christian Old Testament.[1] The Islamization of Egypt occurred following the conquest by the Arabs led by Amr ibn Al-Aas in 640 AD.[2] However there are no significant Islamic sites for pilgrimages from other states at the level of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

The 2006 Census in Egypt, counted religion, and informs that over 90% of all Egyptians are Muslims and the vast majority of these are Sunni. A significant number follow Sufi orders, while less follow Ahmadi and even less Mu’tazila orders. Only about 8% of the population is Christian and the rest are Shia Muslims or other faiths such as Jews, and Baha’i. Most Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, an oriental orthodox church.[3]

It is these minorities and the changing political leadership that are in the spotlight of domestic religious affairs in government policy. Similar to other states in the Middle East, the late 1970s and early 1980s were a turning point towards Islamization. Egypt was a more of a secular country until 1980 when Islam was introduced as the state religion through an amendment to the Constitution. The Constitution also states that all new legislation must conform to Islamic law.[4] There is no indication of sponsoring missionary activities outside of Egypt’s borders.

The constitution offers freedom of religion to the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). [5] In reality policy is not always put into practice; and extremist and radical elements in society don’t necessarily accept government policy; while officials also sometimes turn a blind eye to their activities. Proportionally non-Muslims are minimally represented in public office and are discriminated against in the workforce. Freedom of religion and worship are limited by quasi-government intervention and sectarian conflict. Even since the Arab Spring of 2010 conversions to Islam are accepted but not the reverse; while the majority of prison charges relating to religion are to Christians followed by Shiite Muslims and then atheists.[6]

Slander of the Jewish faith and its adherents is a fixture of contemporary Egyptian life. Anecdotal and statistical evidence puts Egypt in the running for the world’s most anti-Semitic nation: with 98 percent of the public expressing unfavorable opinions of Jews, it exceeds even the accomplished records of its Arab neighbors.[7]

Geographically Egypt is located at the link between Africa and Asia. The most important and closest of Middle East neighbors is Saudi Arabia, the home of the two most important sites in Sunni Islam (Medina and Mecca). The relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia extend back centuries; that between Egypt Eyalet in the Ottoman Empire and the earlier manifestations of Saudi/Wahhabi power in the Arabian Peninsula (Emirate of Diriyah).[8]

The relations have not always been cordial and differences of opinion in the political arena have been seen in Cold War allegiances of Egyptian Abdel Nasser to the Soviet Union, Sadat’s peace with Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood of Morsi, the current Syrian civil war and support of factions in the Yemen conflict. The important point is that Saudi Arabia hasn’t tried to impose its Sunni values on Egypt; the Islamization of Egypt and its policy on religion have been domestic inspired. Clearly the link between religion and politics in the two states can be summed up as “while religion and the religious establishment influence Saudi policy, religion in Egypt is confronted by a revolutionary order.”[9]

Historically Egypt has been an important link between the spread of Islam through Africa through trade including slaves. However the bottom line today is that Egypt is not showing an interest or displaying intent to project Islam or radical or extremist groups into African countries as a government policy or as a policy of any religious group based in Egypt. Maybe the vast expanses of the Sahara desert to the south are a factor. Nevertheless there are extremist groups in the west of Egypt active in Libya and in the Sinai Peninsula.[10]

That leaves Egypt’s significance to Islam and Muslims and Africa as its own demography as the most populous country in North Africa and the Arab world. The overriding concern about Egypt is the persecution of Christian Coptic population.


[1] E. Padilla, P. Phan (ed) Theology of Migration in the Abrahamic Religions, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)

[2] Abd al-Basit Ahmad, Amr Bin Al-‘Aas Radiya Allah ‘anhu, (Darussalam, 2000)

[3] Egypt. al-Jihāz al-Markazī lil-Tabiah al-Āmmah wa-al-Ihsạ̣̄, Statistical Yearbook, Arab Republic of Egypt, Volume 48, (Cairo: Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics, 2008)

[4] Egypt Government, Constitutions of Egypt: Constitution of Egypt, (Cairo: General Books LLC, 2010)

[5] Egypt Government, Constitutions of Egypt: Constitution of Egypt, (Cairo: General Books LLC, 2010)

[6] Moha Ennaji (ed), Multiculturalism and Democracy in North Africa: Aftermath of the Arab Spring, (New York: Routledge, 2014)

[7] Oren Kessler, “Egypt’s Religious Freedom Farce”, The National Interest, May 21, 2015,

[8] Jake Wien, Egypt-Saudi Relations, (Rand Corporation 1980)

[9] Baha Abu-Laban‏ and Sharon MacIrvin Abu, The Arab World: Dynamics and Development, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1986)

[10] Dave Dilegge and Robert J. Bunk , Al-Qaeda and Islamic State State Networks, (Small Wars Foundation, 2014)