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Global Islamism Monitor - No. 45

Edited by Ilan Berman and Diana Biya
September 18, 2017

The Islamic State's growing foothold in Southeast Asia could get significantly bigger, and soon. Regional authorities are raising the alarm over a new video released by the group in late August, which calls on supporters to assist it in waging holy war in the Philippine city of Marawi, where the group has manifested a growing presence in recent weeks. "This video is powerful and moving," notes Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, the counter-terrorism chief of Malaysia's Special Branch intelligence service. "It will inflame passions and inspire IS followers in Malaysia, Indonesia - all of Southeast Asia - to go to southern Philippines to wage jihad."

In fact, according to Ayob, such a mobilization is already starting to take shape. "Since the Marawi siege started, we have seen increased activities from IS cells in Malaysia trying to enter into the southern Philippines," the intel chief has told reporters. "Their preferred route is Sandakan, Tawau and Lahad Datu in Sabah." (
Channel NewsAsia, August 23, 2017)


As part of his country's ongoing political evolution, the government of President Beji Caid Essebsi is seeking to elevate the status of women in Tunisian society. In a mid-August speech marking the occasion of National Women's Day, Essebsi called for the creation of "full gender equality" for Tunisian women. This would include "equal inheritance rights" (female inheritance shares are currently only one-half those of male shares, as per Islamic law), as well as a removal of the ban prohibiting marriages between Tunisian women and non-Muslims, together with a number of other improvements to the country's Personal Status Code.

Within the country, the reaction to these proposals has been mixed. While some have decried the measures, others - including scholars from the country's religious ethics authority, the Diwan al-Ifta - have hailed them as "a step forward in promoting the status of women and guaranteeing gender equality in line with Sharia law and international agreements signed by Tunisia." Regional observers, however, don’t agree. Tunisia's efforts have drawn the ire of Islamic clerics from Egypt's powerful Al-Azhar University in Cairo. "Islamic texts, including verses from the Holy Quran on inheritance, are fixed provisions," Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, announced in an official statement. "Al-Azhar categorically rejects any attempts to change them." According to el-Tayeb, "interpreting Islamic texts is solely and strictly the responsibility of religious scholars who have studied Sharia" - a clear reference to what he perceives to be Essebsi's usurpation of authority. (
Al-Monitor, August 24, 2017)


As the tide of battle continues to turn against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Russian authorities are increasingly bracing for an influx of "alumni" from the Syrian civil war back into the Russian Federation. The looming phenomenon, in turn, has touched off a vigorous public debate among scholars and researchers in Russia regarding how best to counteract the dangers posed by such returnees.

Rais Suleymanov of the Institute of National Strategy, for example, has warned that, although Russian authorities are likely simply to prosecute and incarcerate any suspected militants, by doing so they "will fill its prisons with a large contingent of Islamists with great combat experience." Mikhail Roschchin of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, meanwhile, has suggested beefing up Russian security by creating "black lists" of known militants that would aid the country's border guards in identifying and apprehending known militants who had previously traveled to Iraq and Syria. (
Svobodnaya Pressa
, September 8, 2017)