Tag Archives: sharia

Will the UK continue its military support for Brunei’s shari’a regime?


Generally speaking, in the world of foreign affairs, even in east Asia, no one really thinks much about Brunei. brunei

It’s a tiny sultanate of just over 412,000 people on the coast of Borneo, an island that’s otherwise shared by Malaysia and Indonesia. Generally speaking, the population isn’t unlike that of the rest of Malaysia — it’s around 66% ethnic Malay and 11% ethnic Chinese. 

But for historical and governance reasons, the historical sultanate was never subsumed into Malaysia, either during or after British colonial rule. Today, it has sufficient oil and gas deposits (which account for around 90% of its GDP) to make it one of the wealthiest countries in the world, on  a per-capita basis. Think of it as southeast Asia’s version of Qatar, or a bizzaro Singapore, with resource-based wealth instead of finance and services.

Its sultan, Hassanal Bolkiahhe, who has ruled the country as essentially his own personal fiefdom since his coronation in 1967 (17 years before Brunei received its full independence from the United Kingdom), and whose personal wealth is estimated at $20 billion, announced in October 2013 that his government would introduce shari’a law, and the new stringent Islamic laws began to take effect today. Bolkiahhe, who has limited press freedom and outlawed political parties in Brunei, simultaneously serves as the country’s prime minister, finance minister and defense minister. 


But as it begins to transition toward a repressive version of shari’a, the world is certainly paying attention to Brunei now — and largely condemning the draconian nature of its new criminal penalties. 

Under the new laws, Brunei has criminalized insulting the prophet Mohammed, failure to attend Friday prayers, alcohol use and extramarital pregnancy, and strengthened punishments for violating those and other laws. Furthermore, a conviction for sodomy is now subject to death by stoning; as the shari’a regime gradually takes effect, a conviction for theft will eventually be subject to amputation.

Though neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia are known for their relatively relaxed Muslim societies, which feature greater social and religious tolerance than many Middle Eastern countries, Brunei has always been significantly more conservative — alcohol, for example, was always technically forbidden, and shari’a law played a role in some civil arrangements among Muslims, including marriage. But the new push for shari’a covers far more ground, leading to condemnation from the United Nations and other international human rights groups:

The UN’s human rights office said this month it was deeply concerned about the changes, adding that women typically bore the brunt of punishment for crimes involving sex.

“It’s a return to medieval punishment,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “It’s a huge step back for human rights in Brunei and totally out of step with the 21st century.”

Problematically, only about two-thirds of Brunei’s residents are Muslim — 13% of the population is Buddhist and 10% is Christian. Though shari’a technically applies only to Brunei’s Muslims, there are obvious concerns among the country’s non-Muslims and among many of the British and other multinational corporations that do business there.

That could put British prime minister David Cameron (pictured above, with Brunei’s sultan) in a tough spot, because of the unique relationship between the United Kingdom and Brunei.   Continue reading Will the UK continue its military support for Brunei’s shari’a regime?

Nigeria emerges as Africa’s largest economy


Earlier this month, Nigeria ‘recalibrated’ the way it calculates its gross domestic product to more effectively capture the real value of its economy.nigeria_flag_icon

It’s a step that many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are taking — including Ghana in 2010 and Kenya this year — as they refine the tools they use to measure GDP growth. Nigeria, for example, hadn’t recalculated its base since 1990. Perplexingly, e-commerce, telecommunications and the country’s growing film industry (‘Nollywood’) hadn’t previously been captured.

Not surprisingly, the recalibration caused Nigeria’s official GDP to leap by nearly 75% to around $510 billion, making it Africa’s largest economy. That shouldn’t come a surprise to anyone, in light of predictions that Nigeria would overtake South Africa sometime by the end of the decade. Nigeria is the epitome of the newly emerging Africa. Lagos, its sprawling port, is now Africa’s largest city, recently surpassing Cairo. Its population, already Africa’s largest at 173.6 million, could surpass the US population within the next three decades or so.

But Nigeria’s newfound status is more the beginning of a journey than its terminus, a journey that will become especially pertinent to global affairs throughout the 21st century as Nigeria’s impact begins to rival that of China’s or India’s.

But today, Nigeria’s GDP per capita, even after the rebasing, is just around $3,000. That’s less than one-half the level of GDP per capita in South Africa, which is around $6,600. Though the stakes of Nigeria’s relative success or failure will become increasingly important to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa and to global emerging markets in the years ahead, there’s no guarantee that Nigeria, 54 years after its independence, won’t succumb to state failure.

Nigeria spent its first decade stuck in a tripartite ethnic struggle that ended in a devastating civil war, followed by bouts of military rule from which it emerged imperfectly in 1999. Lingering security challenges, like those posed by Boko Haram, a Muslim insurgency from Nigeria’s northeast, continue to expose the country’s ethnic tensions and the religious and socioeconomic gap between the relatively prosperous Christian south and the relatively underdeveloped Muslim north. Incipient political institutions plagued by a culture of corruption for decades, with less than fully formed democratic norms, could easily erase the stability gains made since the 1999 return to democracy. Although oil wealth has since the 1960s given Nigeria a financial means to solve its lengthy list of developmental, educational, and environmental problems, the mismanagement of oil revenues have so far transformed the wealth into a classic resources curse.

Existential challenges

Ethnic Groups in Nigeria

Even before independence, British colonial rule divided what is today’s Nigeria into a Northern Protectorate and a Southern Protectorate, and the two parts of today’s Nigeria were governed, nearly until 1960, as discrete units. Continue reading Nigeria emerges as Africa’s largest economy

Morsi’s Egypt spirals further into chaos with apparent Dec. 15 constitutional referendum

It’s hard to believe that 10 days ago, Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi seemed firmly in control of events in the Arab world’s most populous country — he had just been instrumental in achieving a ceasefire between Palestinians in Gaza and Israel, and Egypt’s constituent assembly, despite some difficulties, was plodding its way toward the draft of a new constitution for a newly democratized nation.

Today, of course, Morsi stands at the most controversial point of his young presidency, defending the unilateral decree he announced on November 22 asserting extraordinary (if temporary) presidential powers, and hoping to push through a referendum in just 12 days — on December 15 — over a constitution rushed out by the constituent assembly just last week.

Morsi announced the referendum over the weekend, which means there will be no shortage of tumult in the days and weeks ahead.

I’ve not written much about the latest political crisis in Egypt, the latest act in what seems like an unending drama that began with the Tahrir Square protests in January 2011 that pushed longtime Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak from office, through over a year of military rule by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the 2011 parliamentary elections and their subsequent cancellation, even more parliamentary elections and their (second) disqualification, and a roller-coaster presidential election that ended with Morsi’s narrow victory over former Air Force commander Ahmed Shafiq on June 24.

Morsi, just over five months into his tenure as Egypt’s president, has argued that the decree is necessary to safeguard Egypt’s strides toward democracy, and if he wins his latest gambit, he’ll have pushed Egypt from the post-revolutionary phase into something more enduring, although at the cost of an Egyptian constitution that remains incredibly controversial and at the risk of having enacted it in a manner entirely inconsistent with democratic norms and the rule of law.

Pro-revolutionary forces took to Tahrir Square last week once again in opposition to Morsi, and pro-Islamist forces counter-protested over the weekend in favor of Morsi.  But with now, apparently, less than two weeks to go until the constitutional referendum, it’s worth taking a look at where each of the key players in the unfolding events stand.   Continue reading Morsi’s Egypt spirals further into chaos with apparent Dec. 15 constitutional referendum