As China, Eritrea, Iran and more extend repression beyond their own borders, we must do better

In November last year, Ken McCallum, the Director General of the UK’s Security Service known as MI5, claimed that his agency had identified “at least ten” potential threats to kidnap or even kill British or UK-based individuals perceived as enemies of the Iranian regime. He added that the Iranian intelligence services “are prepared to take reckless action” against opponents in the West, including by luring individuals to Iran.

Coming at a time of intense civil unrest in Iran following the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for incorrectly wearing her hijab, McCallum’s comments highlighted a concerning issue that applies to several of the countries CSW works on: repressive regimes are becoming increasingly unafraid to reach beyond their borders.

China

Perhaps one of the most obvious examples is China, a global superpower which regularly uses its economic and geopolitical influence to shape decisions in international fora such as the Human Rights Council, and routinely metes out sanctions against Western parliamentarians and others who openly condemn the widespread violations taking place in the country.

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Understanding religious extremism in the Middle East and North Africa

Terrorism has been one of the main sources of global insecurity over the past three decades, often fuelled by sectarianism and religious extremism, as the individuals and groups responsible use religious doctrine to justify their actions.

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the rise of political Islamist movements, which reached their zenith with the emergence of Islamic State (IS), is arguably the main cause of religiously-motivated terrorism, and is likely to remain so for a long time. In other parts of the world, however, extremism related to Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism has also resulted in acts of terrorism.  

While it’s clear that religiously-motivated terrorism is not confined to any one religious group, the approach to tackling this threat often focuses on one solution: security.

When it comes to understanding terrorism in the MENA region, however, there are often multiple factors at play. These include economic, theological, political and even psychosocial narratives which exploit feelings of victimhood, exclusion, and injustice to manipulate and galvanise potential recruits. Therefore a solution must also be multifaceted.

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Far-fetched and fantastical? One aspect of Squid Game could be all too real

Netflix’s hit dystopian drama – with deadly playground games, anonymous masked henchmen and a giant murderous doll – is far-fetched to say the least. And yet, arguably, one storyline underplays the grim reality.

In just four weeks, Squid Game, the Korean production where contestants play children’s games and the losing players are killed, became Netflix’s most popular series ever and number one in 90 countries.

In one storyline, guards take the bodies of losing contestants and operate on them, removing vital organs while the subjects are still alive. These organs are then rushed to be sold to Chinese traders.

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Sudan’s military coup: lessons from Egypt and the wider region

In February 2021, CSW warned that slow progress in ushering a new era for Sudan risked derailing the inclusive national vision that had united so many of its citizens in protest, and which led to the fall of the al-Bashir regime and the creation of a transitional government. Our blog post pointed to the need to learn from neighbouring Egypt’s experiences.

On 25 October 2021, the transitional council was overthrown, and the military seized power in a coup. Once again there are lessons to be drawn from Egypt, and the wider region, in understanding the challenges to democracy in Sudan today.

Both Sudan and Egypt have a complicated history of the involvement of the military in politics. One of the key differences in the two nations’ relationship with the military, however, is one of ideology.

In the immediate post-Mubarak era, the military effectively paved the way for a Muslim Brotherhood electoral victory.  However, when the army intervened in political affairs for the second time, it set out to control the excesses of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, positioning itself as the guardian of the Revolution and assisting in the overthrow of the government following mass protests.  

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Living in exile: “I am not less than any other human. I just want to be heard and seen”

Ali* is an Iranian Christian convert who was reported to the police after some of those close to him discovered he had changed his religion. In 2015 he fled to Cuba via Armenia because it was the easiest place for him to get a visa as an Iranian.

Ali hoped to be resettled quickly in an anglophone country because of his fluency in English. He has been recognized as a refugee by the UNHCR and is in the resettlement process, but this has been slowed significantly because of political issues and the COVID-19 pandemic. CSW spoke with Ali who told us of his experiences of living in exile.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

“I’m a young Iranian Christian citizen who has been stuck in long and exhausting limbo against my will for more than half a decade in Cuba. I’m a refugee, away from all the loved ones and abandoned in a foreign land with no sense of ‘belonging.’ I’m a university graduate with an impressive background in sales and business management that has been achieved with dedication and hard work at international companies in my country.

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