As violence continues over control of the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray, Ethiopia’s future remains unsettled, even if the conflict ends soon. Achieving the federal government’s security objectives in Tigray is unlikely to resolve both new and entrenched political challenges, and already delayed national elections, now expected in 2021, may prove a severe test of Ethiopia’s political order, and consequently affect broader regional stability. Reconciling the electoral process with efforts for reconciliation and national dialogue is now even more imperative.
Persecution on account of religion or belief confronts every community somewhere around the world—and it is an increasing trend. Challenges range from terrorist violence against minorities, such as ISIS’ depravations against Yazidis, to persecution by authoritarian governments, with China’s targeting of all faiths a prime example. To organize a defense of freedom of conscience and belief, the United States convened the Ministerial to Advance Freedom of Religion or Belief in 2018 and 2019, bringing together a virtual congress of nations and civil society activists from around the world. The third ministerial, organized by Poland, was held virtually in mid-November. Discussions identified challenges but also solutions. One consistent answer to the vexing problem of persecution was proffered: educating youth about human rights and pluralism.
The Taliban’s tactic of running out the clock on the U.S. troop presence may bear fruit after the announcement on Tuesday that U.S. forces will reduce to 2,500 by January 15. The Trump administration successfully created leverage by engaging directly with the Taliban to meet their paramount goal of a U.S. withdrawal in exchange for genuine peace talks and counterterrorism guarantees. This strategy brought about unprecedented negotiations between Afghan government representatives and the Taliban in Doha. A walk down a conditions-based path to peace, long and winding as it may be, had begun.
Libyans have taken an uncertain step toward ending nearly a decade of civil war, agreeing in U.N.-mediated talks to hold national elections in December 2021. The discussions, in the neighboring capital, Tunis, fell short of yielding a transitional government to oversee the elections and the establishment of a new constitution. The talks are shortly to resume. From Tunis, USIP’s Nate Wilson notes that the step is positive for a country that began 2020 with a surge in warfare and the involvement of foreign forces. Making this peace effort effective will require restraining that foreign involvement, he says, and will need to ground the talks in grassroots support.
The al-Hol camp in northeast Syria—which holds tens of thousands who were living among ISIS before its territorial defeat—has presented the region and international community with a host of thorny challenges. What to do with the camp’s residents has particularly bedeviled the Kurdish authorities who run the camp as well as the governments of countries where residents came from. On October 5, Kurdish authorities said they would release the Syrians in the camp, where conditions have become increasingly unsustainable. But, nearly half of the camps’ 65,000 residents are Iraqis, and their prospect for return remains deeply uncertain. USIP’s Sarhang Hamasaeed discusses the situation facing Iraqis in al-Hol and the challenges ahead if they indeed return.
As the conflict in Syria approaches its 10th anniversary, a holistic political settlement encompassing the entirety of the country is unlikely in the near to medium term. More than eight years of diplomatic initiatives have yielded only limited results. The two principal tracks—the Geneva and the Astana/Sochi processes—are running up against the complexity of the conflict and an emboldened Assad regime; neither process is sufficient on its own to generate momentum toward a lasting political settlement for the whole of Syria. However, creatively bridging these two processes could bring greater stability to those areas of Syria still beyond the Assad regime’s control, assuaging the suffering of some Syrians, and potentially serving as a building block for a longer-term settlement.
Violent conflict between the federal government of Ethiopia and the federal state of Tigray, in the country’s north, began November 4 and quickly escalated. USIP’s Aly Verjee and Susan Stigant discuss the crisis and identify what could be done to avoid further violent conflict in east Africa’s most populous country.
Accounts of global religious restrictions and hostilities have, unfortunately, become a regular feature of today’s news cycle. India’s passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act, which uses religious identity as a criterion for citizenship, and its violent crackdown against protesters made headlines at the turn of year. The Chinese government’s detention of more than a million Uyghur Muslims, increased surveillance, and other religious regulations in Xinjiang continue to garner much attention. And, increasingly more concern has been given to the ongoing attacks on Christian communities in Nigeria. While these examples are, of course, worrying and must be addressed, a deeper dive into the data reveals that many of the assumptions we hold about the state of global religious freedom need further unpacking.
The ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) is expected to win Myanmar’s general elections on November 8, but the 2020 race is much more hotly contested than 2015. The growing political frustration of the country’s non-Burma ethnic nationalities is fueling insurgencies and the military-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Party, and its armed forces patrons, are criticizing the government and attacking the country’s feeble electoral institutions. The way Myanmar’s ethnic nationalities experience the process will have major implications for peacemaking efforts moving forward.
In a year of Iraqi turmoil, including protests that ousted a government and rivalry between Iran and Turkey, Iraqi tribal and community leaders are strengthening a new peace agreement in a locale that has seen some of the worst brutality of recent years—the northern city of Tal Afar. Civic, tribal and government leaders recently agreed to a pact that can open a path for more than 60,000 displaced residents to return home and rebuild following the war with ISIS. The accord also will help curb ISIS’ effort to revive. And in a startling change, it was negotiated in part by women.