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04 October 2019  

The Africa-Palestine Conference: Why South Africa must lead the way

on Palestine

By Ramzy Baroud On 16 September, I visited South Africa, a country where many Palestinians have always felt welcomed, if not overwhelmed by the degree of genuine and meaningful so...

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14 September 2019  

Tunisia’s presidential elections: A fragmented field

on Tunisia

  By Larbi Sadiki The Tunisian presidential race is heating up. With several front-runners and twenty-six candidates, the upcoming early elections on 15 September reflects a...

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06 September 2019  

The war ahead: Netanyahu's election gamble will be costly for…

on Israel

By Ramzy Baroud On 1 September, the Lebanese group Hizbullah, struck an Israeli military base near the border town of Avivim. The Lebanese attack came as an inevita...

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04 September 2019  

Budding frenemies: The complicated US-Turkish relationship

on Turkey

When Donald Trump was elected the forty-fifth president of the USA in November 2016, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was among the first world leaders to congratulate ...

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14 August 2019  

Syria's security reshuffle highlights Russia's consolidation of power

on Syria

July began with a major shake-up in the Syrian military and intelligence apparatus. In an attempt to consolidate power after regaining territorial control over most of the country...

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30 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

Sudan lies in the hotbed of the Horn of Africa, a region that has been plagued by decades of instability and ruin as a result of intense conflicts perpetuated by post-colonial vest...

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04 October 2019  

The Africa-Palestine Conference: Why South Africa must lead the way

on Palestine

By Ramzy Baroud On 16 September, I visited South Africa, a country where many Palestinians have always felt welcomed, if not overwhelmed by the degree of genuine and meaningful so...

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14 September 2019  

Tunisia’s presidential elections: A fragmented field

on Tunisia

  By Larbi Sadiki The Tunisian presidential race is heating up. With several front-runners and twenty-six candidates, the upcoming early elections on 15 September reflects a...

Read more

06 September 2019  

The war ahead: Netanyahu's election gamble will be costly for…

on Israel

By Ramzy Baroud On 1 September, the Lebanese group Hizbullah, struck an Israeli military base near the border town of Avivim. The Lebanese attack came as an inevita...

Read more

04 September 2019  

Budding frenemies: The complicated US-Turkish relationship

on Turkey

When Donald Trump was elected the forty-fifth president of the USA in November 2016, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was among the first world leaders to congratulate ...

Read more

14 August 2019  

Syria's security reshuffle highlights Russia's consolidation of power

on Syria

July began with a major shake-up in the Syrian military and intelligence apparatus. In an attempt to consolidate power after regaining territorial control over most of the country...

Read more

30 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

Sudan lies in the hotbed of the Horn of Africa, a region that has been plagued by decades of instability and ruin as a result of intense conflicts perpetuated by post-colonial vest...

Read more
More from this category

04 October 2019  

The Africa-Palestine Conference: Why South Africa must lead the way

on Palestine

By Ramzy Baroud On 16 September, I visited South Africa, a country where many Palestinians have always felt welcomed, if not overwhelmed by the degree of genuine and meaningful so...

Read more

06 September 2019  

The war ahead: Netanyahu's election gamble will be costly for…

on Israel

By Ramzy Baroud On 1 September, the Lebanese group Hizbullah, struck an Israeli military base near the border town of Avivim. The Lebanese attack came as an inevita...

Read more

04 September 2019  

Budding frenemies: The complicated US-Turkish relationship

on Turkey

When Donald Trump was elected the forty-fifth president of the USA in November 2016, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was among the first world leaders to congratulate ...

Read more

14 August 2019  

Syria's security reshuffle highlights Russia's consolidation of power

on Syria

July began with a major shake-up in the Syrian military and intelligence apparatus. In an attempt to consolidate power after regaining territorial control over most of the country...

Read more

23 June 2019  

Strategic implications of the 'deal of the century' and the…

on Palestine-Israel

Aisling Byrne interviews Abdel Bari Atwan Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ (DoC) - whether in its actual or conceptual form - is ushering in a new strategic era, providing cov...

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14 June 2019  

Postponed: Unveiling of Trump's 'deal of the century' frozen as…

on Palestine-Israel

Touted by its architects as the ‘deal of the century’, US president Donald Trump’s plan for Palestine and Israel has had to again be kept hidden as Israel heads back to elections a...

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23 October 2018  

Jamal Khashoggi, small spark for a large fire

on Saudi Arabia

By Hassan Aourid Until last Saturday, I was hopeful that the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at his country’s consulate in Istanbul was not more than a case of c...

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19 October 2018  

Khashoggi murder: Killing dissent even from within

on Saudi Arabia

The gruesome murder of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul was designed to be a clear and firm message for Saudi dissidents, and reflected th...

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08 July 2018  

As Hudaida falls to Saudi-Emirati coalition, peace for Yemen seems…

on Yemen

The recent and ongoing Saudi-Emirati offensive on the Yemeni port city of Hudaida will render UN special envoy Martin Griffiths’s ‘new’ solution to the five-year-long Yemeni crisis...

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18 May 2018  

Beyond Tradition and Modernity: Dilemmas of Transformation in Saudi Arabia

on Saudi Arabia

By Madawi Al-Rasheed Introduction The dominant narrative through which many observers understand Saudi Arabia depicts a progressive and modernist leadership struggling to gra...

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27 April 2018  

Chaotic Yemen: The deconstruction of a failed state and regional…

on Yemen

by Helen Lackner Yemen remains in the grip of its most severe crisis ever: the civil war between forces loyal to the internationally-recognised government of President Abd Rabbuh ...

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12 December 2017  

How the Saudis Escalated Yemen Struggle Beyond All Control

on Yemen

By Justin Podur Yemen is a small, poor country in a region empires have plundered for centuries. This civil war is a local struggle that has been escalated out of control by the a...

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14 September 2019  

Tunisia’s presidential elections: A fragmented field

on Tunisia

  By Larbi Sadiki The Tunisian presidential race is heating up. With several front-runners and twenty-six candidates, the upcoming early elections on 15 September reflects a...

Read more

30 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

Sudan lies in the hotbed of the Horn of Africa, a region that has been plagued by decades of instability and ruin as a result of intense conflicts perpetuated by post-colonial vest...

Read more

30 July 2019  

The December 2018 revolution and Sudanese professionals in the diaspora

on Sudan

WE LEFT SUDAN In drovesIn the late 80’s and 90’sIndeed, my generation of educated Sudanese professionals are scattered around the globe(Out of 200 medical graduates from Khartoum ...

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29 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

By Zeenat Adam 17 July 2019 Sudan lies in the hotbed of the Horn of Africa, a region that has been plagued by decades of instability and ruin as a result of intense conflicts per...

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17 April 2019  

Bashir falls but the security apparatus maintains control

on Sudan

Since the military ouster of Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir, early on Thursday, 11 April, after three months of protests, different military factions have been jos...

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16 April 2019  

Haftar's march on Tripoli

on Libya

Khalifa Haftar’s 4 April announcement declaring his march on Tripoli, and the subsequent attack on the Libyan capital by his forces, threaten to gravely impact the a...

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12 October 2018  

Ethiopia, Eritrea: An unlikely peace deal in a fractious region

on Ethiopia

The recent peace deal between Ethiopia and Eritrea, signed 16 September 2018, is set to have lasting consequences for both countries and for the Horn of Africa ...

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06 April 2017  

Ensuring Somalia remains in conflict: Trump’s expanded ‘war on terror’

on Somalia

By Afro-Middle East Centre The 29 March decision by the administration of US president Donald Trump declaring Somalia an ‘area of active hostility’ will likely ensure an escalatio...

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10 October 2016  

South Sudan: Beyond the logjam of UNSC Resolution 2304

on South Sudan

By Majak D’Agoôt and Remember Miamingi No country is entirely self-contained or lacking in interdependencies. These interlocking interests form the critical part of any country’s ...

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28 April 2015  

Nigeria’s elections and future challenges

on Sub-Saharan Africa

By Afro-Middle East Centre The election of General Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s president will see a renewed focus by the government on domestic challenges posed by endemic...

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26 September 2013  

Kenyan hostage crisis: The desperation of al-Shabab

on Sub-Saharan Africa

By Afro-Middle East Centre The hostage drama at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi over the past week has raised a number of questions about the Somali organisation al-Shabab. After the...

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23 January 2013  

French military intervention will add to Mali’s problems

on Sub-Saharan Africa

By Afro-Middle east Centre   The north of Africa was plunged into yet another international conflict with France’s invasion of Mali on Friday, 11 January. Without im...

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23 April 2019  

India in Kashmir: Risking peace as an antidote to war

on South Asia

By Ranjan Solomon On 14 February 2019, a convoy of vehicles carrying security personnel on the Jammu Srinagar National Highway was attacked by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber ...

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28 August 2015  

Does Pakistan’s refusal to join Saudi Arabia in Yemen indicate…

on Pakistan

By Afro-Middle East Centre Allegedly, the current Saudi-led onslaught on Yemen has already caused destruction that resembles the destruction wrought in Syria over the la...

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31 March 2012  

The feasibility of a continued United States presence in Afghanistan

on South Asia

By Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn Recent events in Afghanistan have fuelled speculation over the ability of international forces to continue their presence in the coun...

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28 February 2012  

Dangerous uncertainty in Pakistan

on South Asia

By Junaid S. Ahmed With relations between Pakistan's civilian government and military incredibly tense, speculation is rife in the Pakistani and international media of a looming m...

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30 May 2011  

Pakistan-USA relations in the post-Usama era

on South Asia

By Junaid S. Ahmad The assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan by US Special Forces was supposed to have been a landmark triumph that would bring peace and stability to the r...

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13 December 2010  

Kashmir and Obama's Indian appeasement

on South Asia

By Mohammad Abdullah Gul Obama's recent jive with school children in Delhi symbolises the nature of the new relationship that is emerging between India and the United States of Am...

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26 April 2017  

IS reorganising to face new challenges

on Political Islam

Reports in January 2017 that the leader of the Islamic State group (IS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had been killed, reports that he had been captured by Russian troops in Syria, and th...

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07 March 2017  

IS in Africa: Containment and fragmentation

on Political Islam

By Afro-Middle East Centre With the Islamic State group (IS) losing territory in Syria and Iraq, many believe that the group will use the territory it controls in Africa as a fall...

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14 May 2016  

The Paradox of Survival and Expansion: How the Islamic State…

on Political Islam

Omar Ashour This paper examines the reasons for the military steadfastness of the Islamic State group (IS) in the face of local and international forces that are larger in numbers...

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19 December 2015  

ISIS in Africa: Reality far different from IS propaganda

on Political Islam

By Afro-Middle East Centre The revelation that the alleged mastermind of the 13 November Paris attacks claimed by the Islamic State group (IS) was of Moroccan descent, the tur...

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20 July 2015  

Remaining and expanding: Measuring the Islamic State group’s success in…

on Political Islam

By Afro-Middle East Centre Since its declaration of a ‘caliphate’ on 29 June 2014, the Islamic State group (IS), the brutal successor to al-Qa'ida, has gone from stren...

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31 January 2012  

The rise of 'Ikhwanophobia': Fear of the Muslim Brotherhood

on Political Islam

By Dr. Mohsen Saleh Introduction Fear of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwanal-Muslimoon), the leading Islamist movement, has gained unprecedented international prominence since the b...

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18 February 2018  

Africa and the problem of foreign military bases

on 'War on terror'

At the establishment of the African Union (AU) in May 2001, discourses about human security and counter terrorism were ubiquitous both globally and on the continent. In Africa, the...

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21 November 2015  

The Paris attacks: Aftermath and the Islamic State group’s future

on 'War on terror'

By Afro-Middle East Centre The terror unleashed on Paris streets on 13 November reverberated throughout the world. From the G20 summit in Antalya to social media debates about how...

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28 May 2010  

Al-Qaeda in the New National Security Strategy

on 'War on terror'

By Mark Lynch The Obama administration's new National Security Strategy has been released today. It goes a long way towards providing a coherent framework for American foreign pol...

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16 February 2010  

Pakistan’s attitude towards Obama’s plan to negotiate with the Taliban

on 'War on terror'

By Dr. Ijaz Shafi Gilani U.S. President Barack Obama's plan to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan has generally been welcomed in Pakistan. It is being seen as a vindication...

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07 February 2010  

Mission Absolute: American hegemony in space

on 'War on terror'

By Sourav Roy Come April 2010, officials from the sleepy Polish municipality of Morag will be gearing up for perhaps their most critical assignment in the new decade. Their job wi...

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Will Al-Shabab recover from a major defeat?

By Osman Abdi Mohamed

al-shabaabIn recent months Al-Shabab has been suffering successive losses at the hands of Somali government forces fighting alongside the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). It has lost strategic cities and towns in central and southern Somalia with little or no resistance at all. While these losses might not be complete game-changers, they are a clear indication that the group is in bad shape, at least at the moment. A greater and more devastating loss for Al-Shabab, even more so than the loss of ground, is the loss of all credibility with the larger Somali public.

For a while, Al-Shabab has been suffering declining popularity as the group is perceived as attempting to indoctrinate Somali society's uneducated youth. It has also been accused of using controversial techniques in its endeavour to earn the loyalty of different groups. For example, Al-Shabab has gone so far as to label some clans as 'friends of Islam', and others, 'the affiliates of the enemy' prompting political and religious questions and suspicion.

On another charge, the group has been accused of conducting extrajudicial punishments. Its executions and public floggings have been criticised for lack of due process. It is accused of assassinating public figures who have showed contempt for Al-Shabab's 'skewed' interpretation of Islamic injunctions. Its constant threats to purge clerics who refute the group's views have also incensed the public. For all intents and purposes, Al-Shabab has, in an understated way, alienated the people whose trust and support they relied on during the struggle against the Ethiopian invasion. Now that the organisation seems outgunned, it has been calling on the public to help 'protect' the country from the 'enemy', exposing its vulnerability even at its weakest.

Successive failure

Ever since Al-Shabab took full control of the majority of southern Somalia, the group has ignored the voices of the elders and ordinary people in their decision-making. This together with the accusations outlined above have led to the group losing the public's trust, a trust that they earned in 2008/2009 when the organisation portrayed itself as a nationalist organisation defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia. There was much that the Al-Shabab leadership could have done to retain this trust, such as identifying with those at the grassroots. Instead, they adopted an uncompromising zero-sum policy that punished anyone who opposed their plans.

When they began to feel the pressure of AMISOM, they truly lost their way. Instead of distinguishing the innocent from their enemy, they resorted to collective punishment. A classic example is the bombing of Hotel Shamow in which more than twenty-five medical students – whose services were badly needed by the nation – were killed. Their justification: the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was presiding over the graduation. This was followed by the bombing of a group of high school children who came to check their results in which more than seventy-six students died. Their justification: there were spies among the children. Numerous other heinous incidents followed including the bombing of the national theatre in which sports figures and civilians were killed.

All these incidents were in the name of fighting the enemy of Islam yet the victims were all innocent Muslims. As a result, anger against Al-Shabab flared both inside and outside of the country.

Al-Shabab suffered yet another blow when Ayman Al-Zawahiri, leader of Al-Qaeda, confirmed that the group is in fact an Al-Qaeda outfit in Somalia. The confirmation reified that the group served interests other than that of the desolate Somali nation. Al-Zawahiri's statement was as crucial for the government as much as it was a strategic blunder for Al-Shabab. It drew the attention of the international community and hardened the resolve of the forces fighting alongside its troops. Ultimately, it affirmed the existence of Al-Qaeda cells in Somalia.

Despite this, Al-Shabab remains strong and heavily armed and could still crush the government forces. But they are not fighting the government forces alone; the attack is coming from three directions: the AMISOM, the Ethiopian and Kenyan forces. Combined, these allied forces cannot only inflict on them a heavy blow but also put their very survival at stake.

Survival at Stake

There is little contestation about the fact that Al-Shabab has lost support through seclusion from the people. This seclusion is both symbolic and rhetoric. While Al-Shabab focuses on Somalia, it has little or nothing to do with Somali national identity. The group carries a black flag, they sing songs foreign to the Somali ear and vow allegiance to Al-Qaeda leadership raising the question of whether they regard Somalia as a freestanding country and Somalis as the ones to determine Somalia's interests, or they view it through the prism of Al-Qaeda's envisioned map of an extremist world. Either way, the very existence of Al-Shabab questions the sovereignty of Somalia.

Secondly, for a large part of the five years Al-Shabab has been in control of central and southern Somalia, the group has gained more enemies than friends. It has showed hostility to all views save the views of its own members. This is evident in not only how they have failed to tolerate Hizb-ul-Islam and other jihadi groups but also how they have responded to lone voices: hostile and intimidating in word and in action. If the government emerges a victor in its current struggle against Al-Shabab, it will solidify its legitimacy by annihilating all insurgent groups – chief of which will be Al-Shabab.

Thirdly, one of the largest institutional errors Al-Shabab made was failing to establish an active civilian or political wing. They concentrated wholly on their military capability. The problem with such an asymmetrical structure is that their military strategy determines every facet of the organisation's outlook, be it social or political. As we know, history repeats itself and, structurally, an organisation of this nature is not the first of its kind in Somalia. Al-Etihad of the 1990s was a jihadi organisation led by hawkish leadership rather than strategic political minds. Even though it is a disservice to Al-Etihad to compare it with Al-Shabab, successive failures resulted in the organisation's collapse not because its chain of command was poor but because it lacked civic and political dimensions. Al-Shabab will likely follow suit.

However, the biggest threat to Al-Shabab comes from within. Uncertainty and fear of defections, desertions and factions are the most destructive forces the organisation is facing yet. Hizb-ul-Islam, an organisation that joined Al-Shabab in 2010 has broken away. This defection dealt a heavy blow to Al-Shabab. It is, however, premature to claim that the centre cannot hold for the group. There is also a suspected presence of intelligence agents or collaborators within its inner circles. The presentation of a gallery of photos of the top Shabab leadership whose identities have been masked from even the militants themselves for so long, leads to the conclusion that there is a source leaking this information and a traitor among them.

Available options

Considering all possibilities, the chances that Al-Shabab will recover from a major defeat is minimal. As of now, there is limited information to shed light on what exactly the group intends to do. Guerrilla warfare is a possible option but not a viable one for long-term survival in Somalia.

Somalia is not as mountainous a country as Afghanistan, nor is it densely forested as the Great Lake region where the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) has been hiding for decades, nor is it as expansive as the Sahara desert that camouflages Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). It has a variety of landscapes none of which is a suitable permanent base for a militant group such as Al-Shabab. It is a small arid and semi-arid country that has little to offer to hide an insurgent group for a long period of time.

Besides the terrain, the guerrilla style of the group is not conducive to the Somali people. Somalis, weary of war, are unlikely to host an insurgent group determined to continue conflict. There is no religious motivation that tells them to choose war over peace. More importantly, the ideological disparity between them and Al-Shabab will not permit the people to support a war whose vision they can barely decipher.

Another option available to Al-Shabab is to surrender. Of course there will be no quick surrender considering that there are bounties placed on the heads of the leading figures of Al-Shabab. A piecemeal defection might do. Already, the winds of change have touched the hearts of some Al-Shabab members. Somali television channels recently showed a group of Al-Shabab defectors. This will probably continue and split the organisation into those who embrace the change, abandon violence and seek amnesty; and those who fail to compromise and seek refuge elsewhere.

Of the above two options, it is too early to tell which one Al-Shabab will pursue. In the meantime, the group will continue to stage deadly attacks in the form of guerrilla warfare, suicide bombings, roadside bombings and assassinations. Again, how long this can continue is open for debate.

If the pressures on Al-Shabab continue to mount, it is the beginning of the end for the group that wanted to re-design the future of Somalia.

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16 September 2019  

An Evening With Ramzy Baroud - Journalist /…

He has just recently written a book "The Last Earth - A Palestinian Story" which tell the stories of dispossession, exile, and loss of ordinary Palestinians.... but it is also about hope and residence...

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22 July 2019  

Sudan Seminar: Sudan struggling for democracy resisting…

Events in the Sudan since the ouster of long-time ruler Omar Al-Bashir have developed into a stalemate as protesters and military jostle for control.  With the army increasing using violence against t...

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14 June 2019  

Conference on Migration that AMEC co-hosted with the…

Throwback to May 15, when IFAS-Recherche had the pleasure to organise a conference hosted by specialists of migrations in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle-East.The first panel composed of Tanya Zack ...

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