Implications of the Creation of Islamic States in sub-Saharan Africa

Rachel Branaman
June 13, 2012

Image Credit: Unknown

Over the past century the religious landscape of sub-Saharan Africa has changed dramatically.  Preceding the twentieth century, the majority of Africans practiced traditional African religions and Muslim and Christian groups numbered among the minority religious groups. Since that time, the number of Muslims living between the Sahara Desert and Cape of Good Hope increased 20 fold, the population grew from approximately 11 million in 1900 to 234 million a century later. Traditional African religions plummeted from 76 percent of practicing Africans to 13 percent. Furthermore, one in five (21 percent) of Christians in the world call sub-Saharan Africa home. The present balance of Muslim and Christian groups is roughly 400 to 500 million followers each (“Tolerance and Tension,” Pew Forum). This radical theological change is the basis for an interesting dynamic, in which, the Arab Spring of northern Africa and the Middle East has come to poise a significant influence on Muslim majority countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

The presence of Islam in West Africa dates back to the eighth century but the spread of faith was a gradual process in regions such as Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, and Nigeria. Initial conversions were thought to be prompted by economic motivations, Islam’s spiritual message, as well as the influence of literacy and education in the state building process. However, what is clear is trade routes opened up opportunities for Muslim traders to move through the Saharan corridor with ease, therefore playing a significant role in the religion’s growth in East and West Africa (Hill, 2009).

Islam initially remained contained to certain regions and the trans-Saharan trade was the initial element that helped spread the religion.  Upon the arrival of the English, Muslims were firmly rooted in certain areas of West Africa. As colonial authorities became more prevalent in these regions they attempted to quash the political inclination of Islam and establish social order.  They also built new trade routes and created infrastructure that helped join countries through industry.  However, the added infrastructure had an unintended consequence; it helped Islam spread more rapidly into urban centers and regions as they were able to access modern communication and transportation. The eventual downfall of European occupation meant Muslims political power was somewhat muted in the early twentieth century but with their religious reach increasing they would be able to regain power in future generations (Hill, 2009).

Islam’s growing influence in Nigeria was perceivable when England sought to colonize the region.  Nigeria’s Hausa-Fulani people negotiated with the British in exchange for their support of their rule. Their savvy partnership enabled political Islamists to bolster their control of northern Nigerian and continue teaching and practicing Islam in that region. The Islamic community remained a minority faction during the decades of British control but Islamic fundamentalism resurged following independence and became more politically engaged when President Obasanio, a born again Christian from the South, rose to power. After playing a more engaged role in the government and military during the four decades of colonialism, Muslims felt sidelined by the new wave of Christianity taking over the government. In response, when a gubernatorial candidate from Zamfara State ran on a platform of restoring Shar’iah, he won in a landslide election.  Soon after, Shari’ah was introduced in 11 of Nigeria’s 36 states (Dickson, 2005). The seeds that took root in centuries past began to blossom in response to the desire of African Muslims’ to reassert their political prerogative.

The Arab Spring began December 18, 2010, and since that date popular revolutions forced rulers from power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. Uprisings and protests also broke out in Bahrain, Syria, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Lebanon, Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, western Sahara, and the borders of Israel (Arab Spring, These protests and revolutions ignited sub-Saharan African countries to action as they shared many of the same characteristics of their northern counterparts including, unemployment, high food prices, unrealized opportunities, and oppression at the hands of repressive regimes. In 2011 alone, sub-Saharan Africa saw presidential or parliamentary elections in 17 countries and the creation of South Sudan. Many of these elections were not peaceful; violence broke out over election results in Cote d’Ivoire, rebel forces overtook the government in Mali, and postponed Nigerian presidential elections were followed by deadly bombings by radical Islamists (Brune, 2011). While sub-Saharan Africa may not be prepared just yet for an African Spring, sentiments and general discontent amongst the West and East Africa populace may act as a primer for Muslim majority countries to adopt an Islamic State.

Mali recently saw a rise in the number of African groups dedicated to implementing their interpretation of Shari’ah in the northern region. The conflict began after angry low-ranking soldiers staged a coup in response to the government’s failure to stamp out a separatist rebellion in northern Mali. Within 24 hours they overthrew the elected government of President Amadou Tomani Toure.  Three weeks later, coup leaders agreed to relinquish power to an interim government but by then a longstanding Tuareg rebel movement incited mutiny in the North, which split the country in two.  A month after fighting broke out the rebels declared an independent state, Azawad, further solidifying the division between north and south Mali. What is unique about this rebellion is that the warring groups are made up of both secular and Islamist factions and it is the Islamist faction, Ansar Dine, who is seeking to impose Islamic law (“Northern Mali: An Islamic State?”,  As Ansar Dine’s political motivations and fundamentalist stance vary from the secular Islamist factions it is unclear how easily Shari’ah law will be adopted by both groups as well as by the Christian populace.

The Malian uprising was preceded by ongoing conflict in Nigeria, led by militant Muslim group Boko Haram, who use strings of bombings as a method to force an Islamic government.  In January of this year, Boko Haram issued an ultimatum for Nigerian southerners, primarily Christians, to leave the northern region. This came after President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the four states Borno, Niger, Yobe, and Plateau.  Borno, Niger, and Yobe are three of 12 Nigerian states where Shari’ah law has been imposed since 1999. These uprisings are attracting attention as dissidents attack not only the legitimacy of the state but are an indictment of the state’s failure to protect and serve its people (Adesoji, 2010). The uprisings in Mali and Nigeria are just two examples of radical Islamic groups attempts to implement Islamic ideology on a secular state. While parts of northern Nigeria operate under Shari’ah law, the rest of the country operates under English, common, and customary law. The question that must be asked is, what are the implications of the creation of an Islamic Atate in northern Mali, Nigeria, or other sub-Saharan African countries? The question remains, are these countries able to sustain a new political system?

Shar’iah law is a complex system of politics, religion, and theoretical concepts based on the Qur’an, which touches on virtually all aspects of life including banking, welfare, law, etc. Like the Islamic banking system, it is sound in theory, but in application, there are a number of issues in the implementation and execution process.  As the law and banking system are based on a religion and drawn from the Qur’an, which is thought to be the immutable word of God, much is left open to interpretation. In both the law and banking this can lead to potential issues in the implementation or execution of certain laws based on individual groups’ understanding of Islam.  Because Islam has no hierarchy all scholars are equally valid and their rulings are difficult to dispute.  Furthermore, the Qur’an only touches on a handful of issues pertaining to the law, which leaves a number of issues difficult to regulate.  These issues lead to a lack of standardization of Shar’iah rules and regulations because what one scholar deems permissible, another may consider forbidden (Khan & Crowne-Mohammed, 2009-1010).  As sub-Saharan countries consider the move to a Shar’iah based system it is important for them to consider the issues inherent within the system and if their country is able to overcome these matters of concern without falling back into conflict.

If these countries implement a new system they must also find a way to reconcile their civil society with an Islamic State. Many sub-Saharan countries contemplating Shar’iah law have a politically active Christian base, equal to its own Muslim base, that is motivated to see a secular civic society remain in power.  Once individuals are provided with basic human rights they are much less likely to give them up in accordance to religious law.  Iraq is struggling with a similar issue at the moment (Mattar, 2006).

On its face, the new Iraqi Constitution appears to be highly democratic, progressive, and within accordance to its human rights obligations.  In its unaltered state it provides more rights than the Iraqis were afforded under the previous totalitarian regime.  However, many aspects of the constitution are in direct violation of Shar’iah and, in response, Iraq is forced to add provisions to cover such issues. Islam is Iraq’s official religion, recognizes Islam as a source of legislation, and the state guarantees the Islamic identity of its majority (Mattar, 2006). As such, it is easier for Iraq to redefine its constitution within the legal constraints of Shar’iah as the country is moving from a repressive regime rather than from a democratic society that currently receives the benefits associated with a secular civil society.

Iraq’s civil and political rights include the right to equality before the law, the right to equal opportunity, the right to life, the right to privacy, the right to political participation, the right to freedom of religion, the right to be free from slavery, and the right to freedom of movement.  However, when additional provisions are incorporated to blend the constitution with Shar’iah values, these actions dilute the documents value and remove many of the basic human rights dictated within the original wording of the constitution. This is an especially problematic issue for women.  The constitution’s preamble states “the people of Iraq shall pay attention to women and their rights” and the constitution’s thirty-seventh article explicitly prohibits trade in women or children and the sex trade.  However, Iraqi’s eighth amendment only prohibits prostitution and does not reference trafficking for the purpose of prostitution, forced labor, or other forms of slavery (Mattar, 2006). Secular countries must consider the limitations of Shari’ah law and how defined the roles of women are within this society and what that means for feminism within its society.

Furthermore, Iraq’s constitution references women’s role in the family and prohibits all forms of violence and abuse. However, one interpretation of Shar’iah states that a Muslim man is allowed to beat his disobedient wife (Mattar, 2006). These variables create a situation in which the constitution cannot be taken at face value and is difficult to implement from both a judicial and law standpoint. While varied interpretations are common in any document, it is especially difficult for any new political system to gain footing when they cannot effectively prosecute crimes or maintain a judicial infrastructure. Because Iraq is already a Muslim State and maintains a majority it’s unlikely that these issues will rock the foundation of its government.  In sub-Saharan countries with evenly matched Islamic and Christian populations and weak governmental infrastructure, these issues may lead to further conflict and the inability to maintain an Islamic State.

In sub-Saharan Muslim countries, Islamic groups are eager to implement their interpretation of Shar’iah but with fundamentalists and moderate Muslims represented in these countries it’s unlikely that they will agree on law practice, customs, and procedures. Furthermore, the governments on which these new institutions are being built are weak. While democracy may have been absent in Arab Spring countries, the states, their militaries, and security forces were strong and maintained control of the country’s political and economic institutions and resources. For decades, these dictators and totalitarian regimes relied heavily on military might to intimidate the opposition. In contrast, many sub-Saharan countries are weak in their democratic procedures, educational attainment, and military strength. Corruption and fraud is rampant and their governments are characterized by a lack of administrative capacity and poorly functioning administrative states (Brune, 2011). While it may be easy to topple such a government it is a much larger task to build a new system in its place and exert control over distant areas.


Adesoji, Abimbola. The Boko Haram Uprising and Islamic Revivalism in Nigeria. 45 Africa Spectrum 2 (2010).

“Arab Spring.” Wikipedia. June 12, 2012.

Bassiouni, Cherif & Badr, Gamal M. The Shari’ah: Sources, Interpretations, and Rule-Making, UCLA Journal of Islamic & Near Eastern Law, 1 UCLA J. Islamic & Near E.L. 135 (2002).

Brune, Nancy E. “Sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab Spring.” World Politics Review. December 20, 2011. June12, 2012.

Dickson, David. Political Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Need for a New Research and Diplomatic Agenda. United States Institute of Peace Special Report 140. May 2005.

Hill, Margari. The Spread of Islam in West Africa. Spice Digest: Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. January 2009. reform_from_the_eighth_to_the_twentieth_century/. June 12, 2012.

Khan, Bilal & Crowne-Mohammed, Emir Aly. The Value of Islamic Banking in the Current Financial Crisis. 29 Review of Banking & Financial Law 441 (2009).

Mattar, Mohamed Y. Unresolved Questions in the Bill of Rights of the New Iraqi Constitution: How Will the Clash Between “Human Rights” and “Islamic Law” Be Reconciled in Future Legislative Enactments and Judicial Interpretations?, 30 Fordham Int’l L.J. 126 (2006).

“Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa.” The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. April 15, 2010. June 11, 2012.


The Integration of Women’s Rights into Islamic Governments and Their Constitutions
Rachel Branaman
June 25, 2012

Image Credit: Unknown

To date, the Arab Spring has forced rulers from power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. Tunisian President, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali sought asylum in Saudi Arabia; Egypt’s President, Hosni Mubarak, resigned after 18 days of protests, effectively ending his 30-year presidency; Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and killed in Libya; and President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed a power-transfer deal in which Abd al-Ray Mansure al-Hadi formally replaced him as Yemen’s president (Arab Spring,  As these countries shift from a state of dissent, to an unstable transitionary government, and eventually to a permanent executive power it will be the decisiveness of its leadership that will determine if women’s rights are at the forefront of change or if they will merely make halfhearted concessions amounting to little transformation.

Historically, women’s rights were in the vanguard of Islam, it is only through misinterpretation of religious works and the barriers of 7th century thought, that women continue to be subjugated by the religion. The Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet at a time when Arab society was populated by a polytheistic, patriarchal, tribal society. Customs of this era were considered Jahiliyyah, the period of ignorance, as the inhabitants took part in rituals including female infanticide, selling young girls into slavery, and committing young girls to marriage. Women had no human or legal rights during this period and it was only when the Qur’an was revealed that women were honored and treated as independent human beings. Women were afforded the same property ownership rights as men, permitted to manage their own finances, and given the right to refuse marriage. As a result of their new rights and improved status women began to play more prominent roles in religious, political, educational, legal, moral, economic, and military arenas. During the Prophet’s life, Islam took a step forward for women’s rights. Unfortunately this was a temporary phenomenon that ended with the death of the Prophet and in the decades and centuries following his death, his attempts to promote women’s rights were misinterpreted by conservative interpretation of Islamic law (Warren, 42-3). Without a doubt, the Prophet’s ideas and the Qur’an were revolutionary in 610 A.D., but in the following 1400 years, Islam has stagnated on issues such as women’s rights, in part because itjihad, or personal reasoning, is controversial and rarely practiced. Were the religion able to use itjihad to extend the principles contained in the Qur’an and other sources, Islam and its accompanying legal doctrine could have remained progressive and allowed women to ascend beyond misogynistic traditions.

Fourteen centuries later the Middle East is surrounded by turmoil and many Islamic women continue to fight for basic human rights in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions.  Women managed to obtain rights in the past century in more progressive Islamic countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, and even Iraq. However, 2004 marked the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime and while his totalitarian regime was over, the insecurity within the government opened a door to a new authority that had the capacity to revoke the few rights that women had earned in Iraq.  Following Hussein’s fall from power, as a U.S. led postwar administration began to assert itself, there was a vacuum of political authority that needed to be filled.  The state, as an institution, had to reestablish order, restore basic services, repair infrastructure, create jobs, and prevent infighting between ethnic and religious groups. The political framework had to be dismantled and transformed into a more equitable arrangement that represented all citizens’ interests. This would be accomplished by writing a new constitution for a future political order and holding democratic elections (Diamond, 9-10). During this period a constitutional commission was established and drafts of the constitution were developed. On October 15, 2005, Iraq’s constitutional commission approved a constitution, which was voted on by Iraqi voters who backed the new constitution with 78 percent of the vote.

Iraq’s constitution made key strides for Islamic nations as it sought to recognize the concept of women’s rights, however, as it also references Islamic Shari’ah and recognizes Islam as a source of legislation there are major discrepancies between how the constitution’s preamble dictates that the Iraqi people must consider women and their rights and reservations based on Islamic jurisprudence (Mattar, 127). The divergent goals of Iraq’s constitution reveals the difficulty the country had in harmonizing human rights with Islamic law.

Iraq’s constitution is divided into two parts; Part One lists civil and political rights as well as economic, social, and cultural rights; whereas Part Two references freedoms that are to be protected under the constitution. The rights outlined in Part One speak in broad terms that apply not only to women’s rights but to human rights, which seek to ensure that the government does not interfere with individuals’ constitutional rights as well as provide aid for the basic needs of the Iraqi people including work, social security, health care, and education.  Women’s rights are specifically addressed within three articles of Iraq’s constitution; Article 14 provides for the principle of equality before the law and prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, Article 20 provides for the principle of equality in political participation and grants male and female citizens the right to vote and be elected, and Article 49 guarantees that women must fill 25 percent of the seats in the Council of Representatives (Mattar, 127-30).  These strides forward would be considered particularly important for women who often receive unjust and unequal treatment under Islamic Shari’ah law if the Iraqi Constitution did not undercut their significance with multiple reservations that defer to Islamic law.

For instance, Article 16 provides for the equality of men and women in the right to marry, choose a spouse, and dissolve a marriage. However, according to Islamic jurisprudence, a Muslim woman may not marry a non-Muslim and unilateral divorce is generally reserved for the husband (Mattar, 138-139). As certain articles of the constitution are in direct contradiction of Islamic rulings, the constitution clearly pays lip service to women’s rights as it continues to curtail basic rights and freedoms in areas such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance.

The question remains, how can Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen’s burgeoning political institutions learn from the Iraqi constitution and successfully integrate women’s rights into their constitutional and political framework while also respecting their Islamic roots? Can Islam consider and support women as equal partners in a manner which they are able to fully participate in public life? There is no easy answer, as countries like Libya and Yemen had a dual system of civil and religious courts with a primacy towards Shari’ah law, meaning that civil laws must conform to Islamic law. In Yemen, all laws were codified from Shari’ah under which there were no jury trials and criminal cases were adjudicated by a judge rather than a jury (Libya/Yemen Constitution, Government & Legislation, Unlike Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, Egypt’s court systems consisted of a civilian court system of criminal, civil, administrative, and Supreme Constitutional court based on Napoleonic tradition. Tunisia’s courts, like Egypt, were made up of regular civil and criminal courts patterned after the French legal system (Egypt/Tunisia Constitution, Government & Legislation,  The variables between these countries may mean the difference between the reconciliation of women’s positions within the Arab world or the continued subjugation of women through wide, conservative interpretations of Islam.

In order for post-revolutionary countries to avoid a swing towards conservatism in the wake of a toppled regime it is important that they provide a diverse representation within their Parliament and judicial system.  Both majority and minority political parties must be represented to provide a greater representation of the country’s views. Furthermore, instituting a constitutional quota for female representation, like Iraq, is a strong first step but these countries must take it a step further and ensure that a diversity of representation among women and their political affiliations as well.

Since the ratification of Iraq’s constitution, many of the gains earned through modernization under the State have been lost and have hampered the process of female empowerment. Social Watch’s 2009 report on Women’s Empowerment reports that during this transition period, women are disproportionately affected by the shrinking of the State’s power, breakdown of economic growth, and political instability and insecurity.

  • In 2005 elections, women gained 87 out of 275 (31 percent) seats in the National Assembly and in local council elections gained 28 percent of seats.
  • In 2006, there were four female cabinet ministers and 342 high-ranking officials including under-secretaries, counsellors, inspectors general, directors general, and assistant directors general.
  • In the first eight months of 2006, 239 women were driven to set fire to themselves through the honor killing system.
  • In 2007, additional conditions were imposed in cases of polygamy, female circumcision was prohibited, and regulations concerning divorce were changed in favor to women.
  • In 2007, 30 percent of women aged 15 and up were illiterate compared to 14 percent of men. Combined school enrollment rates (primary, intermediate, and secondary) were 55 percent for females and 68 percent for males.
  • In 2007, women’s earned income was only 11 percent of men’s and they participated more in agricultural work, a field that is primarily unpaid and lower productivity. This field of work constituted 60 percent of women’s total working hours per week (versus men at only 22 percent).

In Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt, before the revolutions, women enjoyed more women’s rights than in the Gulf States but as the countries enter a delicate transition phase, women are worried that a new political party may hinder the development of women’s rights. Tunisia’s new constitution currently preserves the secular base and does not call for Shari’ah to be the source of legislation, which many conservatives wanted. While they plan to maintain the majority of their constitution, the increasingly vocal minority of ultraconservative Muslims continue to fight Tunisia’s progressive traditions (New Tunisian Constitution Won’t be Based on Shari’ah Law, Yet, their transition and progressive leadership may act as a model for Libya, Egypt, and Yemen as these countries construct their own permanent civil constitutions.

These transitional governments may choose to enshrine Islam as the official religion and basic source of legislation. As they struggle with the implications of Islamic law, the issue which remains is who will decide which religious rules and principles are the ones that shouldn’t be contradicted by the constitution.  As seen in the years since the ratification of the Iraqi constitution, the interpretation of law can reflect heavily on women’s rights. It is important that during this period of constitutional development that each country specifically indicates, within their constitution, who will decide which rulings of Islam will prevail.  Iraq’s constitution defers to the Supreme Court, made up of judges and experts in Shari’ah, to interpret the constitution. This may seem like a good compromise, but the Iraqi Parliament not only determines the method of choosing the Supreme Court, through nomination or election, but are empowered to make laws that fill in the constitution’s guidelines. Therefore, whoever controls Parliament determines which rulings of Islam will prevail (Lasky, 13).

It’s unrealistic to think that secular law can circumvent Shari’ah law in majority Islamic states. Rather than work outside of Shari’ah it is important to work within the confines of the various interpretations to promote women’s rights and equality.  This may be difficult due to the dozens of interpretations of Islamic rules and principles that vary from country to country. In the long term, female education may be the best way to advance the status of women (Lasky, 14). Countries affected by the Arab Spring should consider incorporating free and mandatory education, for males and females, at all levels. By creating a highly educated society it will be more difficult for conservative Islamist groups to engage in subjugation of women and their conservative principles and rules will be called into question.

As these new governments come to fruition, women, nonprofits, and liberal Islamist groups must take a stand and begin to play significant roles in the growth of a new society. In Iraq, women were the first to mobilize after Saddam Hussein’s regime fell to try to improve living conditions while advocating for their rights. They took a stand through workshops, conferences, sit-ins, and demonstrations to get their voices heard and to influence the political process (Lasky, 1). However, the difficulties of daily life may create a barrier for women to engage in the fight for personal rights.

“People are so preoccupied trying to stay alive and safe and just get to work and send their children off to school in the morning that the constitution is a minor thing… When your city is under fire, and you’ve been displaced with your family to some Red Crescent tent in the middle of the desert, the last thing you worry about is a constitution” writes Iraqi blogger Riverbend (Lasky, 15).

While these women try to remain afloat, it’s important for other groups to step in and take up the slack so that their chances for equality don’t sink. Nonprofits are an intermediary who can work with multiple groups to bridge the culture and religious gap. Seeds of Peace, an American nonprofit working to create a community between Israelis and Palestinians, showed how dialogue can break down barriers between groups. Noa Epstein, an Israeli was invited to speak in a Palestinian class about her experiences with Seeds of Peace and her vision for a future of Israelis and Palestinians living without occupation or violence.

One boy came up to [Sami Al Jundi] after her presentation. “If I had known in advance that there was an Israeli coming to the class, I would have left,” he said. “Two months ago, settlers killed my uncle. All Israelis were settlers and soldiers to me. I didn’t know that there are Israelis like this girl…She’s just like us.” Noa had planted a seed of peace in this boy’s mind. [Sami] hoped that it would have a chance to grow (Al Jundi & Marlowe, Loc 4373).

Most importantly, women around the world, especially Islamic women, should push to support reconstruction that will empower individuals in these countries, impart basic human rights, and provide women the freedom to choose their lifestyle.


Diamond, Larry. Building Democracy After Conflict: Lessons From Iraq. Journal of Democracy. Volume 16, Number 1. January 2005. Print.

Egypt Constitution, Government & Legislation. Jurist Legal Intelligence. June 24, 2012.

Jundi, Sami Al and Marlowe, Jen. The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker. Nation Books. 2011.

Lasky, Marjorie P. Iraqi Women Under Siege. Global Exchange and CodePink: Women for Peace. 2006. Print.

Libya Constitution, Government & Legislation. Jurist Legal Intelligence. June 24, 2012.

Mattar, Mohamed Y. Unresolved Questions in the Bill of Rights of the New Iraqi Constitution: How Will the Clash Between “Human Rights” and “Islamic Law” be Reconciled in Future Legislative Enactments and Judicial Interpretations? Fordham International Law Journal. Volume 20, Issue 1. 2006. Print.

New Tunisian Constitution Won’t Be Based On Shari’ah Law. USA Today. March 26, 2012. June 24, 2012.

Tunisia Constitution, Government & Legislation. Jurist Legal Intelligence. June 24, 2012.

Warren, Christie S. Lifting the Veil: Women and Islamic Law. College of William & Mary Law School Scholarship Repository. 2008. Print.

Shiash, Amal. Women’s Empowerment: A Misunderstood Process. Social Watch: Poverty Eradication and Gender Justice. 2009. June 24, 2012.

Yemen Constitution, Government & Legislation. Jurist Legal Intelligence. June 24, 2012.


The Psychology of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
By Rachel Branaman
July 16, 2012

Image Credit: Unknown

The beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be attributed to May 14, 1948, when David Ben-Gurion and U.S. President Harry Truman jointly proclaimed the establishment of the state of Israel in Palestine, favoring the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which recommended the establishment of Palestine as a national home for the Jewish people. However, historical precedence for the conflict can be traced back thousands of years. The ultimate choice of Palestine as the future Jewish State was determined by Biblical record and archaeological evidence that Jews conquered and settled the land of Canaan during the thirteenth century B.C.E. before being displaced by Assyrian and Babylonian empires (Tessler, 8). Palestinian Arabs, on the other hand, maintain they retain historical land rights as the first use of Palestine in historical documentation was fifth century B.C.E. and Palestinian Arabs consistently inhabited the land under the Islamic Empire since 634 C.E. In response, Jewish settlers maintain that the land’s ownership is disputed as Palestinian Arabs fought vying ruling interests in modern centuries; since 1832 Palestine was conquered by the Egyptians, Ottomans, and British (Palestine,

While England maintained power over Palestine from 1922 until 1948, they initially opposed the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine and unlimited immigration of Jewish refugees to the region. The British wanted to maintain good relations with Palestinian Arabs and their allies to protect the Commonwealth’s political, economic, and oil interests in the Arab world (U.S. Department of State, However, Zionist leaders from Western European countries, Theodore Herzl and Chaim Weizmann, convinced British imperialists that a Jewish State was in their best interest. In negotiations, Herzl was willing, at one point, to make Britain’s Ugandan colony (part of present day Kenya) a Jewish homeland, but intense debate and Zionist opposition led Herzl’s group to decline the offer (Lerner, Chapter 2, Loc 1291).

The alliance between Zionists and the British Commonwealth was a play to advance Jewish national interests and provide an outlet for European Jews to escape growing European antisemitism (Lerner, Chapter 2, Loc 1305). While the Jews collaborated with the British, Palestinian Arabs struggled to free themselves from colonial power and viewed Jews who came to Palestine, not as desperate refugees, but as Europeans introducing their Western assumptions, advancing economic and political arrangements, and extending the dynamics of European domination in the Middle East (Lerner, Loc 391). It was simply a matter of world events, transpiring in the early twentieth century, that led Jews and Palestinian Arabs to view one another as enemies (Tessler, 1).

The formation of Israel was tantamount to sustained colonialism for Palestinian Arabs; they saw Jews no differently than the British who ruled Palestine before Israel’s establishment. Even so, Zionists, fleeing antisemitism in Europe, built their national homeland from a feeling of despair, fear, and weakness, rather than a place of strength. Therefore, they could not understand how the Palestinian Arabs could equate their desire to move from a state of homelessness and statelessness to that of colonists (Lerner, Chapter 2, Loc 1305). In the coming years, Zionism and Palestinian nationalism would clash over land ownership, the right for self-determination, and statehood. The conflict continued to grow as the number of Jewish immigrants flooding into the former Palestinian nation increased (Rouhana and Bar-Tal, 762).

The formation of Israel was in direct conflict with indigenous Palestinians’ national identity. Jews and Arabs established a coherent political community long before modern nationalism and each community believed in Divine origins and a sacred mission as an expression of God’s will. Because of their parallel history, Jews and Arabs maintain a similar psychological outlook based on a belief their ancient identities and divine destinies are as relevant today as they were in centuries past (Tessler, 2-3). This shared conviction clarifies why both groups believe they are righteous victims. Rather than focus on points of agreement, Jews and Palestinian Arabs concentrated their disagreement on concrete issues; territorial ownership and statehood. This focus froze the conflict into an intractable confrontation and overlooked the possibility that both Jews and Palestinian Arabs might agree on an overall goal (Worchel and Lundgren, 7).  If Palestinian Arabs responded to Jewish refugees need for a haven, then they would have been in a stronger position to argue for one shared state. At the same time, had Zionists been able to understand Palestinian Arabs’ concern about losing their right to national self-determination they may have been able to establish arrangements that would prevent Israelis from fighting a battle of legitimacy for six decades (Lerner, Loc 612 and 2156).

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be explained by the clash of narratives between the two societies. Although both sides may agree on historical facts, the clash embodies the meaning and implications of these facts, further fueling conflict. Rouhana and Bar-Tal (762) evaluated the Israeli-Palestinian psychological dynamics for the American Psychologist Journal in 1998 and found, as with any intractable ethnonational conflict, the versions of the conflict’s evolution and causes diverge; in this situation, Palestinian Arabs and Israelis agree that Jews from all over the world came to Palestine to establish a Jewish homeland. From this point, their narratives diverge sharply and take on independent accounts imbued in conflict. This feud penetrates the societal fabric of both parties and fuses into the perspectives and expectations of individuals and institutions. An intractable ethnonational conflict, such as this, lasts a generation, and often, for many generations.

Worchel and Lundgren (3-4) recount the nature of conflict in the Hatfield-McCoy feud. In 1873, Floyd Hatfield drove a sow and her piglets into his pigsty. It was a couple of days later that the significance of his action would be realized. Randolph McCoy, brother-in-law to Floyd, stopped by Hatfield’s farm and saw, what he claimed were his pigs in Floyd’s pigsty. The two men had a series of minor disagreements but this was the final straw. Nothing Floyd could say would convince Randolph those were not his pigs. The dispute ended in court with witnesses split about the pigs’ ownership; possession being nine-tenths of the law, Floyd retained ownership. This relatively minor trial drew two states, Kentucky and West Virginia, into a confrontation as they tried to protect the rights of its native clan (McCoy’s of Kentucky and Hatfield’s of West Virginia). The feud over a sow lasted 55 years and killed more than 100 people. As the incident escalated into intergroup conflict, few participants remembered or cared about the events that started the dispute but anger and hatred persisted and grew. The Hatfield and McCoy incident was the result of “zero-sum conflict,” both Floyd and Randolph wanted the same pig and, in the end, only one man came away a winner. Societies embroiled in intractable ethnonational conflicts often perceive their own goals as essential for survival and do not detect room for concessions (Rouhana and Bar-Tal, 762). In a zero-sum situation the gain of one is exactly the loss of the other, and often, this perspective results in a situation where both parties are left with nothing to lose (Worchel and Lundgren, 5).

Much like the Hatfield and McCoy dispute, Israelis and Palestinian Arabs are unable to concede as they are invested in a battle where neither party has anything to lose. What was once a regional dispute, has escalated into an international dispute, with far-reaching implications and interests beyond those of Israeli and Palestinian Arab residents (Lerner, Loc 532). Rather than focus on rational solutions, the two parties are trapped in an escalating conflict that spirals into unnecessary terrorism. The common response to violence is a threat and rather than back down the other group responds with prolonged violence or a counter-threat. While threats are tactically simple, they result in a no yield solution where each side continues to threaten with weapons but will only concede if the other party makes a conciliatory gesture by reducing its offensive capacity (Worchel and Lundgren, 5-10).

As one elderly resident of Jenin, a Palestinian town in the northern West Bank, stated, “Every good Muslim understands that it’s better to die fighting than to live without hope.” It is a widespread Palestinian belief that martyrdom transforms despair into hope, thus reframing suicide as martyrdom and allowing for terrorism in the fight for Palestinian Arabs’ identity and land (Post et al., 19). Suicide terrorism is the epitome of zero-sum; it destroys an opponent by pulling apart the fabric of society, leaving a feeling of insecurity, escalating helplessness in the face of random violence, and increasing hatred. These feelings are not easily dissipated and many wonder how Palestinian Arabs and Israelis can come together to build a nonviolent movement in this climate (Lerner, Loc 2818-2843)

Ariel Sharon’s life can be seen as a metaphor for the Jewish State; besieged, beleaguered, traumatized, and striking out in self-defense. Sharon, an Israeli statesman and retired general, served as Israel’s eleventh Prime Minister. Sharon made decisions, guided by his own conflicted life, on behalf of Israel. At a young age his parents had a difficult marriage, his father beat him, and neighborhood children shunned him. Further trauma in his adult life included the death of his first wife, Gali, in a car crash, followed by the death of Gali’s younger sister and Sharon’s second wife, Lily, by breast cancer, and then his 11-year-old son’s death by accidental shooting. The hurt and rage cut deep and led to emotional instability and unchecked rage in his military career. In 1953 Sharon lead his unit to kill 69 Arab civilians, half of them women and children, in reprisal for Palestinian fidayeen who killed an Israeli woman and her two children. This response of escalated violence when provoked is conditioned in Sharon and the Israeli nation when Palestinian rockets and suicide bombs kill Israeli targets (Montville, 159-160).

Logic tells Israelis that Palestinian Arabs will overtake the Jewish population and negotiations for enduring peace are vital (Montville, 159-60). It is essential for Israel to move beyond zero-sum and focus on a resolution that will allow both groups to work towards a collectively optimal outcome. “Mixed-motive conflict” resolution would allow Israelis and Palestinian Arabs to face alternatives as they maximize their own gain and work towards the best solution for both parties. This tactic ensures Israelis and Palestinian Arabs win and lose; they concede points but walk away with tangible results (Worchel and Lundgren, 9). As Israelis and Palestinian Arabs believe they maintain a historical and religious imperative to the land, neither group has a full understanding of the significance of what the other has experienced; the trauma of mutual Diaspora, how this and religious convictions tie together to affect their collective psychological disposition, and how these narratives impede the reconciliation process. Ultimately, it is a psychological fixation reinforced by public narratives and the education system that prevents either side from coming to the table with peaceful coexistence in mind (Ben-Meir, In situations such as this, without a mindset for peaceful coexistence, the solution falls apart following negotiations because of a failure to coordinate and remain in accord. This may result in suboptimal settlements, delays and escalated antagonism (Drolet and Morris, 26-27). In order for a mixed-motive resolution to work, Israelis and Palestinian Arabs must build trust over repeated interactions. Without the restoration of trust conflict is difficult to resolve and one betrayal can reignite conflict. The adversary in this situation is not only the other party, but the state and the motives of its leaders (Worchel and Lundgren, 13).

One must ask if this dispute is really worth countless deaths, stateless Palestinian Arabs, and a contested Jewish State? The Israeli narrative based on the biblical connection of the Jewish people and their ancestors makes it painful to relinquish control of the West Bank (known as the ancient biblical lands of Judea and Samaria), inconceivable to surrender the Wailing Wall, and impossible to place Jerusalem under Palestinian Arab jurisdiction. From the Palestinian Arab perspective, no Arab leader will compromise on Jerusalem because it is tied to one of the holiest shrines of Islam, the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Many Muslim scholars believe Muhammad made his journey from Mecca to the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem before ascending to heaven. Like their Israeli counterparts, Palestinian Arabs have a psychological and emotional attachment to Jerusalem’s religious artifacts and are unwilling to compromise. This religious imperative is irrationally strong on both sides and complicates any solution to the future of a Jewish State (Ben-Meir, In the end, the issue is about the demonstration of power and self-esteem. Neither Israelis or Palestinian Arabs are willing to compromise or withdraw because to do so would suggest weakness and may create an advantage for the other. These two groups will likely remain in a self-defeating conflict and take unreasonably extreme stands to prove their power on an international stage (Worchel and Lundgren, 9-10).


Ben-Meir, Alon. The Psychological Dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. July 15, 2012.

Creation of Israel, 1948. U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian. July 15, 2012.

Drolet, Aimee L. and Morris, Michael W. Rapport in Conflict Resolution: Accounting for Face-to-Face Contact Fosters Mutual Cooperation in Mixed-Motive Conflicts. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Vol 36, 2000. July 15, 2012.

Lerner, Michael. Embracing Israel/Palestine: A Strategy to Heal and Transform the Middle East. Berkeley, CA: Tikkun Books and North Atlantic Books, 2012.  [Kindle iPad version].

Montville, Joseph V. Fratricide in the Holy Land: A Psychoanalytic View of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. The Middle East Journal, Vol 60(1), Winter 2006. ProQuest Central.

Palestine. Wikipedia. July 15, 2012.

Post, Jerrold M.; Ali, Farhana; Henderson, Schuyler W.; Shanfield, Stephen; Victoroff, Jeff; and Weine, Stevan. The Psychology of Suicide Terrorism. Psychiatry, Vol 72(1), Spring 2009. ProQuest Central.

Rouhana, Nadim N. and Bar-Tal, Daniel. Psychological dynamics of intractable ethnonational conflicts: The Israeli-Palestinian case. American Psychologist, Vol 53(7), July 1998. PsycARTICLES.

Tessler, Mark. A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Worchel, Stephen and Lundgren, Sharon. The Nature of Conflict and Conflict Resolution. New York, NY: The Guilford Press, 1991.


The Impact of Chinese Investment on Islam in Africa: Libya, Sudan, and Nigeria Country Studies
By: Rachel Branaman
August 1, 2012

Image Credit: Unknown

Africa is home to a majority of the world’s desperately poor and a lion’s share of the ‘bottom billion’ who have limited access to primary schools, clean water, sanitation, and opportunity. The reasons for Africa’s poverty, slow economic progress, and political instability are complex; innovations that enabled rural Asia to produce food surpluses have not been widely successful in Africa, governments are unable to provide job investment, and the vast majority of African countries lag behind the rest of the world in basic governance and rule of law (Brautigam, Loc 321-335). This slow development, in conjunction with China’s efforts to conduct a more active foreign aid program, created a foothold for China to invest heavily in Africa. Increased aid, debt cancellation, and Sino-African trade with a focus on oil and minerals, has been advantageous for both China and partnering African countries. By 2005, China had bilateral trade and investment agreements with 75 percent of African governments and embassies in 47 of Africa’s 54 countries (Tull, 459-64). As African nations appear to welcome Chinese economic and development incentives with open arms, it is necessary to investigate the impact of Sino-African trade on Islam and Muslim influence in Africa.

Chinese versus International Foreign Aid Policies

Much like its counterparts, China gives foreign aid for three reasons: strategic diplomacy, commercial benefit, and as a reflection of their ideologies and values. The accepted international foreign aid strategy is to target specific developing nations to funnel assistance based on personal self-interest. This is practiced by the ‘Big Three’ foreign aid donors; the United States, Japan, and France. America is particularly influenced by a country’s interest in the Middle East and earmarks approximately one-third of its total assistance to Egypt and Israel whereas France gives overwhelmingly to former colonies. Whereas, Japan’s aid is highly correlated with United Nations voting patterns and aligns its assistance with countries that vote in tandem with them. All three of these countries also make funding decisions based on a nation’s willingness to foster democratization and will increase aid, up to 50 percent more, to democratizing countries. Yet, there is little evidence to show that this foreign aid model is a factor in reduced poverty or economic growth (Alesina and Dollar 33-34, 55).

China’s foreign aid plan, on the other hand, is contingent only on the withdrawal of diplomatic relations with Taiwan. At one time, one-third of African nations who recognized Taiwan were African, now all but 6 African states have repudiated Taiwan in return for diplomatic relations with Beijing. In contrast to other international donors, China uses alliances in South America and Africa to enhance their global standing, counter Western influence, develop new export markets, and acquire natural resources. Furthermore, China does not offer grants but instead forgives borrowers’ debts and makes lower-interest, significant cash loans (Idun-Arkhurst and Laing, 7). China’s ultimate goals are quite effective as these partnerships increase its mineral wealth and open up new avenues for Chinese export and development while actively reducing poverty and increasing infrastructure in foreign states. Yet, the international community’s feelings on China’s success is mixed as its methods provide an outlet for corrupt and repressive regimes to skirt donor pressure for Western-style political reform. The jury is out on the matter of whether China’s policies are beneficial to recipient countries in the long-run (Idun-Arkhurst and Laing, 2-3).

Chinese Development in Africa

China formed a foreign aid program in the 1950s but its foreign investment became more strategic in the past two decades. Its international development focus narrowed in the early 1980s when merging its foreign aid and economic trade ministries. As its market economy came alive following the Cultural Revolution, China sent investors and business leaders abroad to seek profits and locate natural resources for export (Brautigam, Loc 348, 456). Former president, Jiang Zemin, shaped a natural alliance with developing nations as he portrayed China, not as an emerging economic superpower, but as a developing nation. In Zemin’s words, China, ‘the biggest developing country and Africa, the continent with the largest number of developing countries’ has a natural convergence of interests (Tull, 462).

This bilateral partnership serves both China and Africa well. By partnering with the second-largest economy in the world, Africa is able to gain from China’s human and economic investment in the region, whereas China gains from the continent’s mineral-wealth and export business (Brautigam, Loc 2145). China has become Africa’s major trading partner; its exports to Africa increased dramatically in 2011; thousands of exports from Africa received zero-tariff treatment and China cancelled significant debt as well as provided financial loans for capital investment and infrastructure demands (Ban Ki-Moon remarks, Secretary-general Office). China’s ‘traditional’ development assistance focuses primarily on human development and provides training for health personnel and scholarships for African students to study in China. Over the decades, China sent more than 15,000 medical workers to Africa and treated 170 million patients on the continent. In more recent years, it added sports development to international assistance and sent 38 coaches to 12 countries to build sports facilities and encourage African footballers to participate in the Chinese league (Idun-Arkhurst and Laing, 7). China is contributing to the world economy at a time when traditional drivers are in economic downturn. Despite the sluggish economy, China is generating opportunities for African countries to diversify economies, create jobs, and improve health care and education systems (Ban Ki-Moon remarks, Secretary-general Office).

The Sino-African relationship is unique and built on a measure of equality, unlike the Paris Club of donors and international financial institutions who exert monetary power as a means of applying pressure to create political and economic reform (Idun-Arkhurst and Laing, 7). China instead prioritizes its noninterference policy, which allows partner countries to shield themselves on human rights records and ensures autocratic rulers protection from international pressure to democratize political systems (Tull, 461,67). While these partnerships bring gains to both sides, it can be a double-edged sword as oppressive regimes receive large amounts of “no strings attached” aid that are often unaccounted for because Chinese banks do not maintain high standards of transparency or a proper accounting of funds (Brautigam, Loc 414). In the end, it is the African people who suffer the repercussions of their government’s use of financial aid while China looks the other way.

Islam in China and Africa

Commercial merchants traveling the Silk Road carried more than their trades; they brought the Prophet Muhammad’s words to China and helped Islam take root among the Hui, the largest Muslim group in China, the Uighurs, the fifth-largest minority nationality in China, and several smaller ethnic groups. China’s Muslim population is relatively small, two percent, compared to the overall population. Twenty-five to 30 million Chinese Muslims live under Chinese rule for the past 1300 years. In the late 1990s, China witnessed a number of bomb attacks associated with the reactionary Muslim separatist cause in Xinjiang, home to ethnic Turkic Uighurs. Even so, these fundamental Islamic separatists are small in number, poorly equipped, unsupported by other Muslim minority groups, and vastly outgunned by the People’s Liberation Army and Armed Police. Thus, their rebellion was quashed before it reached the intensity of other separatist campaigns (Gladney, 89-95). This rebellion against Chinese rule allowed China to develop a stronger understanding of Muslim separatists’ common vision for an independent Muslim State as it partners with countries with similar rival factions.

The presence of Islam in Africa dates as far back as the seventh century, where Muslim contact began on the Red Sea coast. Much like the spread of Islam in China, traders through the Saharan corridor brought the Islamic faith to East and West Africa. The spread of Islam was a gradual process in regions such as Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, and Nigeria. Initial conversions were thought to be prompted by economic motivations, Islam’s spiritual message, as well as the influence of literacy and education in the state building process. As colonial authorities became prevalent in these regions, they attempted to quash the political inclination of Islam and establish social order.  New trade routes were built and infrastructure developed to join countries through industry; however, colonists did not anticipate that an unintended consequence of modern communications and transportation would enable the rapid spread of Islam into urban centers. The eventual downfall of European occupation meant Muslim political power, muted in the early twentieth century, would regain strength in future generations (Hill,

It was not until the nineteenth century when the religious landscape of sub-Saharan Africa changed dramatically as Islam spread to central and southern Africa (Insoll, 4-5). The twentieth century saw Muslims, previously a relatively small minority, grow from less than one-eighth (11 million) of the sub-Saharan population in 1900 to 234 million a century later. Sub-Saharan African is currently home to 15 percent (one-in-seven) of the world’s Muslim population. Religion is an important concept in many African’s lives and nine-in-ten people say that religion is very important in their daily life (“Tolerance and Tension,” As a number of northern and sub-Saharan African countries witness a tide towards Islamist rule, China’s laissez-faire policies are on course to indirectly strengthen rogue regimes to the detriment of the African people.

Libya, Sudan, and Nigeria Country Studies

Libya, Sudan, and Nigeria are alike in three crucial aspects; each country has strong fundamental Islamic influence, each sustain major partnerships with China, and the political stability of each state is precarious. These three traits make Libya, Sudan, and Nigeria excellent candidates for an evaluation of how Chinese investment and development practices affect Islam within their nations.

Politically, Sudan is a constitutional democracy in form, but is recognized as an authoritarian state where all effective political power is possessed by President Omar al-Bashir and the ruling National Congress Party. Nigeria, a federal republic, modeled after the United States, is run by a president and operates under secular law. Since 1999, northern Nigeria has operated under Shari’ah law. In recent months Islamist group, Boko Haram, orchestrated violent uprisings to establish shari’ah law across Nigeria.  Libya, previously operated as a constitutional democracy, albeit under autocratic rule. Following the overthrow of Muammar al-Qaddafi the country has been under de facto administration governed by the Constitutional Declaration and only in recent days has Libya nominated members to the National Assembly (“Libya,” “Sudan,” and “Nigeria,”

All three countries are resource-rich in crude oil. Oil and gas exports account for more than 95 percent of export earnings and more than 80 percent of federal government revenue in Nigeria. Libya’s 2011 exports totaled $12.93 billion in crude oil, refined petroleum products, and natural gas with China as the second major market for trade. Yet, most of the country’s income has been lost to waste, corruption, acquisition of conventional armaments, attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction, and donations to developing countries to increase Libya’s influence in Africa. Although Libya has one of the highest per capita GDPs in Africa, Qaddafi’s mismanagement led to high inflation, increased import prices, and a decline in the standard of living. While Sudan has more modest reserves of oil it also has natural gas, gold, iron ore, and other industrial metals that make it an attractive partner to China, its major trade partner. The cessation of major north-south hostilities in Sudan with the creation of South Sudan is positive for the country’s economy and it is taking steps to transition from a socialist to a market-based economy, although the governing party remains heavily invested in the economy. As much of Sudan’s oil production came from what is now South Sudan, the country is suffering a dramatic decline in oil revenues. The government is targeting agriculture, mining, and enhanced oil production as sectors for development. It will be interesting to see how Sudan’s reduction in natural resources has an impact on it’s relationship with China as a key development partner and how it will engage other international donors considering its severe external debt burden (“Libya,” “Sudan,” and “Nigeria,”

Nigeria, Libya, and Sudan all maintain some level of Shari’ah law within the country’s borders and a wide array of mainstream to extremist Islamic views. Unlike Libya, which is made up a mixture of Arabs and Berbers, Nigeria and Sudan have large Christian factions who are determined to maintain a secular state. In Sudan’s case, the oppressed ethnic and Christian populations succeeded in creating a separate state, South Sudan. Sudan, itself, remains an Islamic State with traditional punishments drawn from Shari’ah incorporated into the penal code and Khartoum persists as a base for militant Islamist groups such as Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida. Nigeria won its independence in 1960 and each of its three regions retained a substantial measure of self-government.  Despite the political autonomy, regional tensions remained high. In a move to give greater self-determination to minority ethnic groups, the military divided the regions into states, which strengthened the political inclinations of both the Muslim and Christian populations. Libya’s Islamic influence has been in place since the seventh century B.C.E. and in following centuries most of the indigenous population adopted Islam and the Arabic language and culture. As a Mediterranean State in northern Africa, its politics and Islamic traditions were highly influenced by surrounding Muslim countries. Libya’s former political system under Qaddafi was a combination of socialist and Islamic theories that rejected parliamentary democracy and political parties. The justice system was nominally based on Shari’ah law and it is likely that in reconstruction it will maintain some, if not more Islamic influence, based on the incoming government’s politics (“Libya,” “Sudan,” and “Nigeria,”

Libya Country Study

Libya, before Qaddafi’s reign, maintained a relationship with Taiwan. Under his leadership it established diplomatic relations in 1978 although Chinese atheism affected Qaddafi’s view of China. Chinese companies began Libyan infrastructure projects in 1981 and in recent years the two countries have collaborated in the fields of oil, investment, infrastructure, and tourism. Under his regime the two states shared similar values and built up commercial projects, especially energy (Shinn, U.S.-China Economic Commission Testimony). When Qaddafi fell from power during the Arab Spring uprisings a valuable political ally and economic partnership for China destabilized. A year after the revolution, there is little law and order and armed militia fighters perpetuate violence rather than focus on national reconstruction. As there were no political parties for four decades, the only organized force is former interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril’s National Forces Alliance (Hill, Al The results of Libya’s National Assembly election are being finalized and its political party seats, 80 of the total 200, appear to have gone primarily (39 seats) to NFA, a moderate and secular group, with the next largest group of seats (17), won by Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction party.  While it seems as though the tide may turn against political Islam there is still a chance that assembly members unaffiliated with Jibril’s party or the Muslim Brotherhood could decide the direction of the National Assembly as two-thirds of its members must approve key decisions. Many of the 120 individual candidates elected were done so not because of ideology or policy positions but because of their role and prominence in their local communities. Therefore, these individuals remain an unknown force within the National Assembly and only time will tell what direction the country will head (Coleman, Council on Foreign Relations). Foreign policy analysts speculate that Jibril’s NFA will ally with smaller entities and numerous independents, which may allow Jibril to emerge as Libya’s leader once the new constitution selects a form of government. The elections, thus far, suggest a weaker performance for political Islam though Jibril and other conservative candidates reject being labeled secular leaving the future of possible reforms unresolved. In a highly conservative country, the election outcomes are unlikely to announce a new era of liberal reforms soon. However, the international community views Jibril, a well-known entity, as a safe gamble to rebuild the oil-based economy whereas many of the Muslim Brotherhood candidates were unknown (Gumuchian and Shuaib, Reuters).

China’s relationship with Libya will depend on the country’s ability to stabilize and reinitiate a partnership that is amenable to both governments. Since Jibril’s party took the lead in assembly seats, China made a statement welcoming the parliamentary elections and described it as an important step in the country’s political transition. Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Liu Weimin stated “we hope Libya can achieve long-term stability, prosperity, and development at an early date,” adding that China will make joint efforts with the new government to boost relations between the two countries (“Jibril calls for grand coalition,” China Daily). China’s partnership is significant for both countries, although Italy is still Libya’s biggest trade partner and with an unknown government it is possible that Libya may realign its trade partnerships and focus on other important Western clients such as France, Spain, and Germany, formerly Libya’s second largest trade partner before the revolution (Dontai, Reuters). As Libya’s future becomes clearer China will likely take a more active role in reasserting its dominance in the trade market.

Sudan Country Study

Islamic revival and nationalist pride derived under Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi, the Father of Independence, who united northern Sudan in 1881 and drove out foreign rulers. Mahdiyah imposed traditional Islamic law on Sudan and became the first modern Sudanese nationalist government; at the time, the Mahdist State was the only anti-imperialist, Islamic republic in Africa. In spite of his accomplishments, following al-Mahdi’s rule, imperialism took hold and Britain ruled Sudan for five decades until 1956. Upon liberation, the Muslim Brotherhood advocated for Sudan to become an Islamic State with shari’ah legislation. Southerners, primarily Christians, harbored a deep-seated fear of Islamization and Arabization as northern Arab militias marauded, kidnapped, took hostages, and brokered human trade deals (Fluehr-Lobban, 614-16, 22). In recent years, despite peace treaties, the Sudanese Liberation Army and Justice Equality Movement started attacking government police and military outposts. The Khartoum-based government retaliated by bombing villages in rebel-held areas in Darfur. It also provided arms and support to ‘janjaweed’ militias, nomadic militants who sweep through villages, burn families alive in their huts, hold women as sex slaves, and displace millions of Sudanese nationals (Brautigam, Loc 5308).

In the last decade China developed a highly strategic and controversial relationship with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. This relationship came under scrutiny as the West targeted China as the primary ‘enabler’ of Sudan’s participation in genocide. Rather than join the West in a divestment campaign to end violence in Darfur, China continued to purchase Sudanese oil, enabling Sudan to buy Chinese arms to supply military forces fighting Darfur rebels (Brautigam, Loc 5294).

While it is true China gave relatively little official development assistance to Sudan since the country initiated infrastructure to manage oil production, Chinese companies are the main investors in Sudan’s oil fields and for years China bought the vast majority of Sudan’s oil. Beijing also helped build munitions factories, supplied the bulk of Sudan’s small arms imports, and furnished military aircraft that played an integral role in military action against Darfur. China extended diplomatic support, as well, when it insisted that the United Nations get Khartoum’s permission before sending troops into Darfur. It also refused to impose economic embargoes and sanctions while the fights waged between the north-south boundaries and provided al-Bashir unbridled support. While China’s assistance was neither as significant nor as aggressive as Russia, it did hold leverage and it was slow to employ influence (Brautigam, Loc 5308). Its implicit support and policy of noninterference may not have caused the tragedy in Darfur but it was a factor in moving the conflict and intertribal fighting to a point where rebel groups violently escalated their actions.

In the case of Sudan, Chinese development in the region can be tied directly to its tacit support of radicalized and deeply conservative Islamist regimes. China explicitly states it understands the political and economic environments it partners with are not ideal and acknowledge it does not have to wait for everything to be satisfactory or human rights records to be perfect to make an economic impact through foreign investment (Brautigam, Loc 5353).

Since the south’s secession in July 2011, Sudan’s oil supply dropped by three-quarters as the majority of the oil is produced in the newly formed state. Yet, South Sudan, must send its oil exports through Sudanese pipelines and pay a transit fee to get it to a port. Crude oil is vital to the economic well-being of both African countries and while fighting is muted since the creation of an independent southern state, pressures are mounting as both vie for the region’s prized natural resource.  As South Sudan is primed to take over Sudan’s oil trade China’s economic development and investment may change focus in coming years. China is treading softly as it maintains good relationships with both states and encouraging the two parties to adopt active procedures to avoid further escalation and resolve their differences through dialogue and negotiations. This turn of events shows how China will break its noninterference policies when its access to crude oil is threatened (“China urges Sudan solution,” Upstream Online). Should China focus its development efforts in coming years on South Sudan, the balance of power may shift to greater Christian political influence in the region, changing the fundamental dynamics of eastern Africa.

Nigeria Country Study

Islam’s growing influence in Nigeria was notable when England sought to colonize the region. The Hausa-Fulani, a major Islamic ethnic group representing approximately 30 percent of Nigeria’s population, negotiated with Britain in exchange for their endorsement of colonial rule. This savvy partnership enabled political Islamists to bolster control of northern Nigeria as they continued to teach and practice Islam in the region. While the Islamic community remained a minority faction during the decades of British control, Islamic fundamentalism resurged following independence and became more politically engaged when President Obasanjo, a born again Christian from the South, rose to power in 1999. After playing a more engaged role in the government and military during four decades of colonialism, Muslims felt sidelined by the new wave of Christianity overtaking the government. In response, when a gubernatorial candidate from Zamfara State ran on a platform to restore Shari’ah, he won in a landslide election.  Soon after, Shari’ah was introduced in 11 of Nigeria’s 36 states (Dickson, 2005). The seeds of Islam, which took root in centuries past, blossomed in response to Nigerian Muslims’ desire to reassert their political prerogative.

Since July 2009, Nigeria has experienced violent attacks, riots, and protests led by Islamist group, Boko Haram, who use violence to impose a religious ideology on a secular society and have issued an ultimatum for Christian southerners to leave northern Nigeria. President Goodluck Jonathan has been unable to retain control of the situation and resorted to declaring a state of emergency in the Borno, Niger, Yobe, and Plateau states, areas in northern Nigeria where Shari’ah law has been imposed since 1999. Dissidents attack not only the legitimacy of the state but are an indictment of Nigeria’s failure to protect and serve its people (Adesoji, 96).

Oil revenue from Nigeria and other impoverished regions fund extremist madrasas to propagate a militant ideology in previously peaceful Muslim lands, where faith blended with local customs and became assimilated through contact with other cultures. The loss of Islamic ‘authenticity’ in these regions encouraged radical Islamists to gain a foothold and advocate violence to destabilize these countries’ secular societies (Kaylan, Wall Street Journal).

While Nigeria is a major trade partner for China, their bilateral trade is less significant than that of India, the United States, the Netherlands, Spain, and Brazil. Although China may not compete with others in the international community on crude oil exports, it makes major financial commitments to infrastructure projects in the rail and power sectors (Oyeranti, Babatunde, & Ogunkola, 188). The China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation was awarded a U.S. $8 billion contract to construct Nigeria’s railways after China made a loan of U.S. $2.5 billion to the Nigerian government (Idun-Arkhurst and Laing, 8). Furthermore, in 2006, China provided U.S. $3.5 billion towards the construction of six major hydropower projects, the largest of which was in Nigeria (Oyeranti, Babatunde, & Ogunkola, 189). Because the Christian-Muslim dynamic is reversed from that of Sudan, China’s influence has varied from its influence in East Africa. Although a few Chinese nationals were abducted by militia during the insurgencies, China largely remains uninvolved in the Boko Haram uprisings as the revolts have limited ramifications on the oil trade in the southern gulf.


China strategically invested in African countries to acquire key energy assets and capture under-exploited markets. Its investment in Africa will only grow in ensuing years as the country strengthens its stature as an economic superpower and anticipates increased demands for natural resources.  China’s eastern values align more closely with the conservative policies in many of these nations, making them an ideal trade alternative to the West. Also, because the country maintains a ‘hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil’ trade relations policy, it is willing to invest in any African country regardless of human rights and democratic records. Thus, China benefits from close partnerships with countries like Sudan and Libya, who would otherwise suffer from sanctions, trade restrictions, and regulated foreign aid monies from the international community.

China’s trade policies have remarkable intended and unintended effects on its African partners. Although a thorough cost-benefit analysis of projects involving Chinese firms has not been consistently or systematically conducted, there are clear short-term costs and return on investment. It will be interesting to forecast the long-term political, cultural, economic, and religious influence of Chinese investment on African nations. Economic benefits include the growth of domestic capital; the transfer of technology, knowledge, and skills; promotion of competition and innovation; and employment. The economic costs consist of anticompetitive and restrictive business practices, tax avoidance, closed hiring practices that exclude local experts, transfer of polluting activities and technologies, and maltreatment of workers (Oyeranti, Babatunde, & Ogunkola, 192-3).

Though the economic cost-benefits may balance out in the short-term, the political and cultural costs may outweigh these advantages in the long-run. Noninterventionist policies allow fundamental regimes to subjugate its people, quash antigovernment uprisings, and repress religious and ethnic minorities’ freedoms. On the other hand, this is a fixed policy standardly applied to partner countries regardless of political power or the ruling religious party. The only time China breaks its own policies is when its best interests are at stake; such as when it received economic pressure from the international community during the 2008 Olympic Games to intercede in the Darfur crisis or when its crude oil export was compromised due to tensions between Sudan and South Sudan. That said, the only explicit outcomes of Chinese capitalism and influence in Africa is economic.

Indirectly, China’s policies shape the culture and religious fundamentalism of partner countries. In Sudan, China’s refusal to divest from oil exports financially sustained President Bashir’s fundamentalist Islamic regime and empowered him to buy Chinese armaments to use against oppressed rebels. Now that South Sudan is an independent state China has the opportunity to transform the region by placing more economic resources into the new Christian majority nation, possibly destabilizing Bashir’s regime, and changing the fundamental religious dynamics of eastern Africa.

It is difficult to predict how these policies and China’s economic investment will ultimately impact African nations. While it may be there are long-term adverse consequences, it is questionable whether China’s influence on the continent is any more ominous than decades of Western imperialism and its resulting long-term repercussions, which still hinder African nations from reaching their maximum potential.


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