HTS 2041: The Modern Middle East

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Conflict in Mali

Although taking place slightly outside the standard geographic definition of the Middle East, the current political disturbance in Mali engages several of the major themes discussed in recent readings, notably nationalism, sectarianism, and imperialism, and echoes other recent experiences of Western military involvement in the Middle East, and of ethnic warfare in the Sahel.

The polity now known as the Republic of Mali achieved independence from France in 1960; events in 2012 saw its democratic government overturned by a military coup. Since the state’s independence 60 years ago, it has also been the scene of a secular, nationalist independence movement by the Tuareg, the majority ethnic group in much of the country’s Sahara region. The current face of the Tuareg rebellion, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, declared Azawad an independent state in 2012. In addition to the government(s) of Mali, the MNLA has also engaged in combat against Ansar al-Dine, a Salafi-aligned Islamist group with the aim of implementing a harsh Salafist interpretation of Shariah in the region. In recent years, Ansar al-Dine has cooperated with Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, an international organization with similar goals. The presence and aggression of AQIM precipitated the French intervention; the humanitarian crisis brought about by their assumption of control in much of the north, the potential for northern Mali to serve as an incubator for terrorism, as well as requests for assistance from Mali’s under-equipped military, were seen as adequate grounds for involvement.
Since beginning air strikes less than a month ago, France recently declared that their occupation of the north has succeeded, and the primary military threat mitigated. Revenge killings of suspected militants by civilians continue, and evidence is beginning to emerge that huge numbers of the same have been executed by the Malian armed forces without trial.

The event seems bizarre in that it possesses many of the external characteristics of sectarian violence as described in Gelvin, but the actual antecedents are much less clear. Even though a former imperial power became involved, it seems extremely unlikely that it did so in order to protect an imperialistic economic sphere of influence in the region. The nationalism of the historically oppressed Tuareg is unsurprising, but the fervor of the Salafi militants in the absence of an overt ‘politicization’ of them by a foreign state seems unlike anything we’ve discussed in class so far.




  1. marymsherman says:

    Given the time stamp on this post, I understand why you didn’t add your resources. However without them it’s very hard for me to factcheck what you’re saying. I’ve read a few things about the conflict in Mali, and I would agree with your conjecture that there is an economic interest. Much of it reminds me of America’s involvement in Iraq. I know that my knowledge base is from western news sources though, and I was hoping that you could give me more insight with a deeper investigation this blog expects. Maybe some more enlightenment can be brought in class discussions.

  2. flambert3 says:

    I have some questions as well for instance how did the coup overturn this government and if civilians are so opposed that they are killing of militants how did this all come about. Was there some event that allowed for a weakened state and no political protest before these killings.

  3. Kaitlyn Johnson says:

    Unfortunately I am in agreement with Mary. I think the article is interesting but I would have liked to read about opposing interpretations of these events. Secular violence is apparent but it might be too early to in these events to see what the underlying issues are. But it is great food for thought and I’m glad you brought this issue to attention.

  4. I remember from a article half month ago pointed that the Algerian hostage case is related to the French air strikes. Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the Algerian hostage case’s leader, declared that he kidnaped those foreigners in response to the French air strikes. Here is the link:

  5. Interesting article as I have never heard of this issue before. The main paragraph was a little hard for me to follow so I did a little online research myself about the issue. I will agree and see why outside forces are intervening, since Islamic forces are trying to take over Mali.

  6. akranc3 says:

    The French getting involved in northern Mali due to the rise of Al Qaeda in the region is reminiscent of the United States activities in Iraq and Afghanistan during the last decade. Both involve a major world power operating in an area where there are clear economic opportunities for them, but denying that these opportunities had any reason for their involvment. In regards to the suspected militant killings by civilians, I don’t think I have ever heard of this happening before. I would be very interested in hearing more about this in class.

  7. sstephenson3 says:

    I haven’t heard much on this issue before this article, but it seems to me that France’s involvement here has far less to do with exploitation of an indigenous populace and far more to do with the dealing with an Al-Qaeda cell that set up shop in Mali. Whether France intends to occupy Mali as a means to quash this terrorist issue, which in effect turns Mali into a colony of sorts, or whether they simply seek to remove a terrorist power base from their locality remains to be seen. Either way, I would not put it past either side to cry foul on this issue to the UN and I expect both sides to alter the facts in their favor. In other words, it is perhaps too early to make a definitive judgement as to the veracity of France’s claims of validity for this conflict and Mali’s history of resistance to French involvement of any sort makes them biased in this case.

  8. nathenj65 says:

    i agree with stephenson in that i also hadn’t had the chance to hear about too many facts in this story. But i also believe that France, like him, was more interested in dealing with Al-Qaeda then a war torn country. I don’t believe that Mali is anyway being seen as a colony in this case.I do however believe that the UN will end having to play a good part in this conflict otherwise things could definitely get out of hand even farther quickly with two sides that are out for blood. But it remains to be seen how these events lead to the future.

  9. shaimsn says:

    For those of you who said that you’d like to know more about this situation, I’d recommend you to check out Mali’s Wikipedia page.

    In my opinion, it’s a bit biased but it gives a pretty good intro to this conflict.

  10. mjuren3 says:

    BBC also has many articles on the crisis in Mali including one which came out today.

    I also do not believe that France is trying to take over Mali for economic reasons or otherwise. I think their main objective is to repress the terrorist activity in the country. However unless they have a clear objective for their mission in Mali they could become entangled in a messy and indefinite conflict like the U.S. is in with Afghanistan and Iraq.

    • mjuren3 says:

      I would like to clarify my last sentence as I just realized it seems to contradict my previous statement. What I meant is that unless France has a clear purpose with specific goals for what they are trying to accomplish in Mali it could be difficult for them to disengage from conflict now that they are involved.

  11. mitch7991 says:

    Methinks that a lot of this has to do with the maturity of the government. It still has a lot of growing up to do in terms of uniting its people and integrating its state into the world economy. Yet there is an obstacle to that process posed by other free radicals who want to take advantage of the developing government by starting extremist movements in order to have their share of influence. Basically, Mali is asking their former ruler to help them gain control over their own country. I think this is a good idea, provided that France is truly trying to help. But it will be interesting to see the relationship that arises between them in the years to come.

  12. kledbetter6 says:

    This is a really interesting discussion, particularly because it ties into our discussion of Islam but covers a geographic area that we do not usually discuss. We discussed this situation in my seminar class, and someone pointed out the timing with which France entered the conflict. It will be interesting to see how this conflict plays out and how the Western powers become involved.

  13. mnicholas6 says:

    It’s interesting to note that these issues aren’t limited to the Middle East. I think Mitch has a good argument when it comes to these being relatively young governments. You can’t wipe out the effects of colonialism in a couple decades.

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