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Islamist Extremism in North Africa

What countries constitute North Africa?

North Africans countries are situated above the sub-Saharan region, to which they are linked trough the Sahara. The region goes from Mauritania to Egypt and from Mali to Algeria and Morocco.

What is the difference between Islamic and Islamist?

The media tend to assimilate the words ‘Islam’, ‘Islamism’, ‘Islamic’ or ‘Islamist’ to describe an extremist ideology that aims at imposing its dogma to Muslims and non-Muslims through violence. Islam, one of the three monotheistic religions, has as its official text the Qur’an, and everything related to it is described by the adjective ‘Islamic’. On the other hand, Islamism is an ideology characterized by moral conservatism and the attempt to implement its beliefs in all spheres of life and to everyone. Groups such as al-Qaeda belong to these ‘Islamist’ organizations.

What is the AQIM?

AQIM stands for al-Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb and finds it roots in the Algerian civil war of the early 1990s. It is an affiliate group to al-Qaeda, an Islamist organization founded by Osama bin Laden in the late 1980s. The AQIM aims at overthrowing all governments of ‘unbelievers’ (such as Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania) while getting rid of any Western influence. It promotes a fundamentalist regime based on the Islamic law (Shari’a). It is also leading a war against France, Spain and the U.S, seen as the ‘far enemies’. Its revenues come from kidnapping, drug and cigarettes trafficking, but the group is also involved in other criminal activities.

The AQIM is actually fighting, with other Islamist groups, against the French troops in the northern part of Mali. Its influence in northern Africa is growing quickly.

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Who is the Muslim Brotherhood?

The Muslim Brotherhood is one of the most influential Islamist group of the world. It was founded in 1928 in Egypt and soon began involving in politics. Today, it is one of the main opposition parties present in many African countries. The Muslim Brotherhood of Mohammad Mursi have won the last democratic presidential elections in Egypt. Their goal is to use the Qur’an as the sole reference for all aspects of a Muslim’s life.

Are there any other Islamist groups in North Africa?

There are a lot more. Some have been recently in the news for their implication in Mali. Apart from the AQIM, two main groups have been involved: Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). In Egypt, the most powerful organization is the Muslim Brotherhood but there is also al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya.

What is the political situation in Egypt?

Egypt is a constitutional republic. After the 20-year reign of President Hosni Mubarak (1981-2011), presidential elections were held in Egypt in July. Mohammad Mursi from the Muslim Brotherhood was elected, and he has since then tried to increase his power. He tried dissolving the elected first parliament of the country shortly after his election.

What is the political situation of Mali?

The Republic of Mali is an old French colony, which obtained its independence in 1960. Its last President was Amadou Toumani Touré who was elected in 2002 and re-elected in 2007. He resigned after the military coup d’état of March 2012, which led to an armed conflict in northern Mali. In April, the Tuareg rebels took control of northern Mali and declared independence of a new state, Azawad, which no country has recognized yet. Tensions have since escalated, and conflicts have grown greater between the regular army and the rebels. This escalation has lead to intervention in January by international forces, lead by France.

 By Kelly Moffitt, Lora Vlaeva, Ben Nadler and Chelsea Stuart.

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