Women’s Rights and Islamist Parties: A Comparative Study of Egypt and Tunisia

By Theyab M. Al Darmaki


Women’s rights are relatively broad and contentious, and are heavily politicized throughout states. This contention is more pronounced within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) due to the emphasis on religion and culture. However, understanding the region’s debates over women’s rights as purely cultural and religious ignores many nuances. The MENA is a vast region and treating it as a single body ignores the notion that Islam is interpreted in varying ways and is not a monolith. As a result, my paper will tackle Egypt and Tunisia as case studies to cross-examine developments in women’s rights across the region. Moreover, the research question delves into how and why women’s rights developed varyingly in Tunisia and Egypt whilst under similar political Islamist rule. The purpose of this paper is to understand and analyze the circumstances that led to the contrasting development of women’s rights in Tunisia and Egypt under Islamist rule.

Women’s rights in post-conflict societies highlight an important reality, one where women’s political engagement and consequently their social and legal status, changes rapidly. This change threatens established social structures where traditional spheres of influence, public versus private spheres, are challenged during times of crisis (Campbell, 2005). This challenge is often found during revolutions or political crises where all members of society are mobilized, including women. Therefore, women’s participation in revolutions is needed to ensure the success and achievement of socio-political goals of the revolution. However, the trend recognized in most post-conflict societies is the re-marginalization of women after the revolution’s success as politics once again becomes dominated by men who call for women to reassume their domestic roles (Campbell, 2005). Understanding women’s socio-political roles during and after the conflict helps explain why women’s rights developed distinctly despite overlapping circumstances making post-conflict society the main concept in this paper.

Literature Review

There is an extensive body of literature on women’s rights in the Middle East and they span a wide array of subjects from feminist organizations to social movements. One of the fundamental changes to women’s status within society came through the concept of state feminism. White (2003) defines state feminism as a male-dominated state that made women’s emancipation part of its public policy. However, Hatem (1992) argues that state feminism functions within a conservative framework of top-down strategy that fails to address the underrepresentation of women and gender equality (Hatem, 1992). Charrad and Zarrugh (2014) underscore the importance of civil society groups in advancing women’s rights, highlighting that bottom-up collective action counters the failures of top-down state feminism. 

Brandt et al. (1995) touch on women’s rights in Tunisia, Egypt, and Bangladesh with regard to Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the role of religious movements in forming reservations (Brandt & Kaplan, 1995). The role of religion in Egyptian society was studied by Al‐Anani and Malik (2013), and they argued that Salafist movements in the 1970s dominated the religious sphere in Egypt (Al-Anani & Malik, 2013). Relevant to this paper, research done on the Arab Spring within a gendered framework has been produced since the beginning of the revolutions in 2011. One of the most extensive works on the Arab Spring and women’s rights is Empowering Women After The Arab Spring (Shalaby & Moghadam, 2016). Shalaby and Moghadam’s (2016) book discusses the challenges facing women in Tunisia and Egypt. Similarly, Moghadam (2018) examined the divergent outcomes of the Arab Spring in terms of gender and women’s mobilization. Moghadam (2018) identifies that women’s legal status, social positions, and collective action prior to the Arab Spring have contributed to shaping mass protests and influenced political and social outcomes (Moghadam, 2018). The beginnings of the Arab Spring were covered by Muhammed Özekin and Hasan Akkaş (2014), who identified economic stagnation and limited civil rights as the main drivers of the revolution (Ozekin & Azakin, 2014).

Focused research on Egypt has been conducted by Moghadam (2013) in which she examined the democratization process during the Arab Spring, both its successes and implications on women. (Moghadam, 2013). Rogowska (2018) addresses the gains and losses of overthrowing the Mubarak regime and the implication it had on Egyptian women under the Muslim Brotherhood and El Sisi’s military government (Rogowska, 2018). In Tunisia, the Jasmine Revolution was studied by Saidin (2018), who traced the developments of the Revolution and examined its causes (Saidin, 2018). Hamza (2016) traces the democratic transition in Tunisia and the challenges women face under Al Nahda party, reflecting on the long history of state feminism in Tunisia since 1956 (Hamza, 2016). 


This paper uses a comparative case-study methodology in which similar factors lead to different outcomes. Case-study is described by Thomas (2011) as an analysis of individuals, events, institutions, or organizations among other things, that are studied using several methods (Thomas, 2011). In his article, Thomas (2011) breaks down the methodology into (A) case — the subject in question that provides the analytical framework and (B) object —the analytical framework which is exemplified by the case (Thomas, 2011).

The second methodology is historic-comparative. Historic-comparative methodology in social sciences is often applied as an analysis but can be utilized as a methodology on its own. Skocpol (2015) describes the methodology as a tool to understand a number of historic phenomena with limited cases (Skocpol, 2015). Skocpol (2015) further elaborates that historic-comparative methodology is an expansion on multilevel analyses where many variables exist but limits cases. The methodology can be applied in two ways, the first is to examine the case and look at the causal factors, thereby establishing a valid association that exists between the two cases. The second approach is to contrast a case with a set of factors with another case where those factors are absent (Skocpol, 2015). 

This research will employ two methods, content analysis and multilevel analysis, which are necessary for analyzing qualitative sources. Content analysis for this research included sourcing constitutions of Egypt and Tunisia and analyzing the discourse of provisions. The provisions were compared with pre-Arab Spring constitutions to underscore the gains or losses with respect to women’s rights. This paper will use a combination of primary and secondary sources as the discussion of women’s rights in Egypt and Tunisia requires a qualitative approach that focuses on secondary data. Primary data will be used in the last section of this paper when examining the constitutions of post-revolution Tunisia and Egypt and statements by the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Historical Context

Historical context provides the necessary background on socio-political realties in Egypt and Tunisia, which heavily impacted the future development of women’s rights in both countries. Arab Nationalism and the rise of Salafist movements, as well as the rise of political Islamist groups, reveal the inconsistent development of women’s rights. This section will briefly introduce socio-political developments in the mid to late 90s, which drastically changed societies in Tunisia and Egypt. These developments can be conceptualized as critical junctures, a point in history that impacted future policymaking. Moreover, this section will employ a multilevel analysis which can be seen in the top-down state-feminist approach in Tunisia and the bottom-up Salafist movement in Egypt. The critical juncture lies between the two opposing approaches/movements where in Tunisia the change came at the state level compared to the grassroots Islamist Salafist movement in Egypt that laid the foundations for the Muslim Brotherhood’s to rise to power. 

Based on similarities between the two countries in terms of Islamist resistance and state feminism, it makes sense to compare and contrast the two countries which not only share similar colonial and religious struggles but have also undergone revolutions with similar demands in 2011. However, the divergent outcomes of the revolutions beg the question of why and how women’s rights developed distinctly under Islamist rule. The historical context will provide the necessary information to answer this question.


Tunisia’s history with regard to women’s rights can be traced back to 1956 with the major state-led reforms under President Bourguiba (Hamza, 2016). This period can be understood as state feminism which is when women’s movements and organizations secure state policies to improve the social status of women (Kantola & Squires, 2012). State feminism is not novel to the region during the Bourguiba period. In 1921, Turkey enacted the first state feminist agenda in the Middle East where the government gave women numerous rights which were non-existent under Ottoman law (White, 2003). The first state-led reform effort in Tunisia was the Personal Status Code of 1956, which gave women equal rights, banned polygamy, gave women the right to divorce, and gave women greater autonomy, all of which improved women’s status in Tunisia (Hamza, 2016). These legal amendments mark a shift away from Islamic jurisprudence to a more Western-centric legal framework. 

Despite these progressive improvements to the legal system, it is clear that these changes are top-down. This pattern of top-down reform persisted under the successor government of Ben Ali, which led to the second wave of major reform in Tunisia in 1993. The reform allowed mothers to become a source of jus sanguinis — the ability to pass citizenship based on blood relation (Sinha, 2011). Jus sanguinis is a vital amendment to the legal framework as the concept of citizen production is a gendered-raced concept (Hawkesworth, 2012). What this concept entails is creating and preserving the nation-state from “impure contamination” by restricting women’s legal ability to pass down citizenship, therefore the state restricts marriage across religious, ethnic, or racial lines. Preventing women from marrying a foreign man ensures the nation-state identity is pure and it also confines women to their reproductive duties, which is producing pure bloodlines of future citizens (Hawkesworth, 2012). From a gendered perspective, we find how citizenship laws are more than a legal status and with Tunisia revoking the kin-based social formations, it effectively improved women’s status (Sinha, 2011). Such improvements achieved by Tunisia can be deduced through the literacy rate of women which was 62% in 1984 and in 2014 reached 95% (World Bank, n.d.). Contrastingly, Morocco’s women’s literacy rate in 1982 was 17% and increased to 53% in 2014 (World Bank, n.d.). These changes in the laws highlight the success of state feminism in Tunisia. 


In Egypt, state feminism was enacted under President Jamal Abdel Nasser who took power after the 1952 Egyptian Revolution. Given that the Revolution was socialist in nature, it was driven by social justice issues within the economic, political, and social sphere and as such, gender equality became a core element of the Nasser government (Hatem, 1992). Nasser’s state feminism was enshrined in the 1956 Constitution, which gave women equal rights under the constitution and banned gender-based discrimination. Furthermore, it gave women reproductive rights, which included the prohibition of terminating labor contracts due to maternity leaves (Hatem, 1992). Despite this revolutionary progress, the Egyptian government sustained some conservative laws, including the personal status law from the 1920s which described women as dependents on men and emotionally unstable. thereby implying that they cannot be trusted with divorce (Hatem, 1992). Therefore, Hatem (1992) argues that women became independent of the family, to an extent, but dependent on the State for employment and other social services (Hatem, 1992). Furthermore, Hatem (1992) states that state feminism’s progress was not entirely progressive as it failed to challenge institutionalized patriarchy represented in the Personal Status Law of the 1920s (Hatem, 1992). Consequently, state feminism under Nasser made some commendable progress toward women’s rights, but failed to challenge institutional patriarchy which would impact women’s rights in Egypt in the long run. 

Another important historic juncture focuses on the Islamist Salafist movement in Egypt, which gained traction in the 1970s (Al‐Anani & Malik, 2013). The roots of the Salafiyya movement can be traced back to the 19th-20th century which embraced a modern and intellectual approach. However, the Salafist movement in the 1970s developed a rather fundamentalist-Wahabist ideology (Al‐Anani & Malik, 2013). The Salafists in Egypt spread their ideology through university talks, religious sermons in mosques, and publishing books but more importantly, the use of satellite television networks to spread their ideology (Al‐Anani & Malik, 2013). Al‐Anani and Malik (2013) note that the Salafist movement has changed the “religious sphere” in Egypt, making it fundamentalist and “less progressive” (Al‐Anani & Malik, 2013). The observation made by Al‐Anani and Malik (2013) exposes the foundations which have discouraged women’s rights policies to develop not only at the grassroot level, but also at the state level.

Egypt has long supported women’s rights at the state level. For instance, the legal reforms to family laws and personal status laws were initiated by President Anwar El-Sadat (Brandt and Kaplan, 1995). Some of these laws include banning veiling (both the hijab and niqab) in schools and requiring a written permit by parents. However, many of these laws were blocked by the Supreme Court which reflects resistance at two levels, the institutional and societal levels (Brandt and Kaplan, 1995). The Salafist movement has engulfed the Egyptian religious sphere to a point where their fundamentalist ideologies have shifted public opinion and also the views of institutional machinery like the Supreme Court. Therefore, Salafism challenged state feminism in Egypt, however, what reinforced the Salafist Movement was the economic liberalization in Egypt. 

The economic liberalization in the 1970s led to several challenges within Egypt. The challenges are represented by the retraction of state-owned enterprises, the rise of Islamist entrepreneurs linked with the Salafist Movement, and the eventual demise of state feminism. Under Nasser’s presidency, women joined the labor force in large numbers but most of them joined state-owned enterprises. With the shift to a free economy, the State, which was the main source of employment for women, was reduced (Hatem, 1992). Because of the retraction of state-owned enterprises, women lost their jobs, and the new private sector and entrepreneurs did not make women’s rights a priority (Hatem, 1992). Furthermore, the economic challenges at the time offered Islamist groups opportunities to provide economic solutions within strict Islamic jurisprudence (Hatem, 1992). This further catalyzed the Salafist Movement but more importantly, led to the demise of state feminism. 

These historical developments in both countries highlight shared features like state feminism, Islamist resistance, and the rise of Islamist political parties. Despite these overlapping features, the results of these developments resulted in different outcomes as seen in Figure 1. The Figure shows the shared features but also highlights how Egypt lost state feminism around the 1970s and revived it in 2014. In contrast, Tunisia sustained state feminism despite conflicts. These differences are most profound with the rise of the Arab Spring, which represented a major socio-political movement where women took the center stage and played an influential role in overthrowing authoritarian governments. Therefore, a critical analysis of the Arab Spring and its implications is needed to understand the effects of historic junctures on subsequent policies pertaining to women’s rights. 

 Figure 1

The Arab Spring 

The Arab world struggled with the 2008 Financial Crisis, rampant unemployment, and dissatisfied youth who had no job prospects. Problems related to corruption, increasing social inequalities, and limited civil rights continued to grow leading to massive dissatisfaction with Arab governments (Ozekin and Akkas, 2014). However, the tragic suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi is what triggered the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia and later spread across the Arab world (Saidin, 2018). Bouazizi’s death signified a rather painful representation of what brutal political repression, underdeveloped rule of law, and limited civil rights, can lead to public disapproval of long-standing regimes that took over Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and other Arab countries. Despite these uprisings, the outcomes of the revolutions varied, as some succeeded and others were plunged into civil wars, not to mention, many Islamist groups took over, which occurred in Tunisia and Egypt. In both countries, women participated actively in leading the revolution and Islamist parties also rose in popularity — Al Nahda in Tunisia and Muslim Brotherhood and Al Nour in Egypt.

Women in the Revolution


After the fall of the Zain Bin Ali regime in Tunisia, we saw the rise of a previously repressed Islamist group come to power, Al Nahda. Islamist groups and movements were brutally repressed throughout Tunisian history, especially Al Nahda which formed a political opposition to the authoritarian modernist governments under Bourguiba and Ben Ali (Brandt and Kaplan, 1995). The Arab Spring witnessed massive turnout of women of all statuses, Muslims and non-Muslims, conservative and liberal, literate and illiterate, which threatened the patriarchal structures in the Middle East and redefined social justice to include women’s rights (Shalaby and Moghadam, 2016). Tunisian women were one of the driving forces in the success of the Jasmine Revolution. Women’s presence in unions, associations, political parties, and demonstrations highlight not only the mobilizing power but an important factor in the protection and progression of women’s rights in post-revolution Tunisia. Despite the high turnout of women, the rise of Al Nahda party marked a threat to the established state-feminist structures.

The previously banned political Islamist party, Al Nahda, had risen to power which raised concerns regarding women’s legal rights in Tunisia. Although Al Nahda expressed their willingness to protect women’s rights, the language in the Tunisian constitution draft led to massive disapproval by civil society groups and women in secular parties. The constitution was developed with the help of civil society groups like the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD) (United Nations, 2014). Furthermore, the parliamentary system in Tunisia meant that Al Nahda had to work with Nidaa Tounes, a secularist party. Both factors contributed to the progressive constitution. There is a particular word used by Al Nahda which led to disapproval, the term was “complementary to men” rather than equal to men (Shalaby and Moghadam, 2016). Shalaby and Moghadam (2016) argue that such discourse reflects the threat of Islamist movements on women’s rights, particularly in post-conflict societies. Therefore, having institutional opposition through secular parties and grassroot opposition, the marginalization of women post-conflict is less likely to occur. Hence, Islamist fundamentalism at the state-level was countered with a robust organized civil society network at the grassroot level and secularist opposition at the state-level. 

The presence of civil society and other grassroot organizations is what secured and even progressed women’s rights in the transition process in Tunisia. The new constitution enshrined new rights that expanded on the old constitution to include provisions to end violence against women, increase women’s political representation at all levels, and equal rights in all social and legal spheres (Shalaby and Moghadam, 2016). Based on these developments, it can be argued that the historic junctures discussed earlier, have influenced policymaking in Tunisia, which is evident in the established feminist NGOs, strong state-feminist agenda, and the legal codes created post-colonialism, which have ensured the protection and progression of women’s rights in Tunisia. 


Contrastingly, Egypt’s transition was a setback to women’s rights. Despite the large turnout of women in Tahrir Square, the state response under Hosni Mubarak’s regime was brutal, especially towards women. Mubarak’s regime used sexual violence as a form of deterrence to discourage women from participating in anti-government protests and those arrested were subjected to virginity tests (Moghadam, 2018). After the fall of Mubarak’s regime, the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Nour party came to power thanks to the Salafist movement in the 1970s. Al‐Anani and Malik (2013) argue that the strong influence of the Salafist Movement popularized support of the Muslim Brotherhood, which led to their rise in power in 2012 (Al-Anani & Malik, 2013). The Egyptian elections in 2011 were dominated by Islamist parties with a small secular minority in Parliament (Moghadam, 2013). The election results have led to a regression of women’s legal rights as the new constitution was written with strong Salafist rhetoric and provided women with very few rights that were formulated broadly. The Egyptian constitution of 2013 only mentioned women four times and neither had a political commitment to improve women’s political representation nor social or legal rights (Egyptian Constitution, repealed 2013). Furthermore, women were already underrepresented prior to the Arab Spring and the women who won parliamentary seats post-Arab Spring worked to repeal the limited and fragile rights Egyptian women possessed (Moghadam, 2013). As Egypt seemed to slip back into the grip of Islamist authoritarianism, a second revolution took place.

Mohammed Morsi who was President of Egypt and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood had attempted to consolidate power and his failed campaign promises have led to the second wave of protests since the fall of Mubarak’s regime. Not surprising, women were part of the protests despite the many threats they faced and supported General Abdel Fattah El Sisi’s suspension of the constitution and takeover of the government (Rogowska, 2018). Despite the short-lived rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, it resulted in a deep regression of women’s rights. But shockingly, the military that came to rescue Egypt from the grips of Salafist ideology, was responsible for sexual violence against women (Rogowska, 2018). However, the newly formed constitution addressed a number of legal issues, which include citizenship, gender equality, economic and political rights, providing explicit and clear language regarding the rights accorded to women (Rogowska, 2018). Although the newly drafted constitution under El Sisi’s rule had reconciled some issues regarding women’s legal status, it remains unclear to what extent women’s political representation is protected. 

Therefore, Egypt’s brief democratic process led to authoritarian Salafist parties dominating the political landscape in Egypt, and the second wave of “liberation” post-Muslim Brotherhood had only put the military back into power. Unlike Tunisia, civil society groups and NGOs played no role in the drafting process of the constitutions. Furthermore, Egypt failed to consult grassroots independent civil society groups most of which were linked to Mubarak’s regime or were made up of Middle Class educated women who failed to form any solidarity with the general public (Shalaby & Moghadam, 2016). Despite the revival of state feminism under El Sisi’s presidency, the lack of strong oppositional parties in government, and a weak civil society network, state feminism failed. Egypt fits the post-conflict model discussed earlier where women’s participation is needed during times of crisis but once the government is formed, women’s rights seem to become marginalized once again. This is substantiated by the fact that El-Sisi’s government marks the return of state-military despite the efforts of the Egyptian government to rebrand it as a civil government. As such, under an authoritarian presidential government, opposition groups and civil society are less likely to form strong networks and can only function within state interests (Charrad & Zarrugh, 2014). Comparing the constitution of Tunisia with the constitution of Egypt will provide an informed understanding of the future of women’s rights in these two countries. 

Constitutional Gains and Setbacks 

As discussed in the previous section, the Arab Spring has produced varying results, which are rooted in historic junctures and affected by civil society. In examining the constitutions created post-Arab Spring, we can gauge the progress or regress of women’s rights in post-revolution countries. As a result, a comparison of the constitutions of Tunisia and Egypt will be made to underscore the development of women’s rights in post-revolution.

Tunisia’s constitution of 2014 was created by Al Nahda Islamist party which, as discussed previously, formed a coalition with secular parties. Moreover, the women’s rights organizations and civil society groups were included in the drafting process which explains the expansion of rights accorded to women. Two notable provisions will be examined in this section, Article 21 and Article 46 which highlight the gains women have made post-Arab Spring. Article 21 stipulates the following:

All citizens, male and female, have equal rights and duties, and are equal before the law without any discrimination. The state guarantees freedoms and individual and collective rights to all citizens, and provides all citizens the conditions for a dignified life (Tunisian Const. art. 21).  

Article 21 included the previously controversial term “complementary” to describe women’s legal rights which in the revised constitution has been addressed. This provision establishes that women are granted the same equal rights before the law but also in social, civil, and economic realms. Thereby, women have been assured the same rights as their male counterparts rather than “complementary” rights. Contrastingly, the pre-Arab Spring Tunisian constitution, which was covered under Article 6, stipulated the following: 

All citizens have the same rights and obligations. All are equal before the law (Tunisian Const. art. 6, repealed 2011).

The previous Article is formulated in broad terms and does not account for the gender biases that often exist in legal systems. Therefore, a clear and explicit legal discourse is vital in ensuring the legal rights of citizens, specifically, women, are protected in all realms of the public sphere.

The second provision is Article 46, and this particular provision is groundbreaking as it was never part of the previous constitution. Article 46 states: 

The state commits to protect women’s accrued rights and work to strengthen and develop those rights. The state guarantees the equality of opportunities between women and men to have access to all levels of responsibility in all domains. The state works to attain parity between women and men in elected Assemblies. The state shall take all necessary measures in order to eradicate violence against women. (Tunisian Const. art. 46). 

This provision states the commitment of the Tunisian government to protect women’s rights and develop them further, but also explicitly stipulates the state’s effort to ensure political representation of women not only in parliament but also in the run for the presidency, which is something that is found nowhere in the MENA region (Shalaby & Moghadam, 2016). Moreover, it ensures that the state will take effective measures to eradicate violence against women which, as stated earlier, has been common. Article 46 underscores the gains women have achieved in post-revolution Tunisia despite being under Islamist political rule. As stated previously, Tunisia’s parliamentary system has benefitted women’s rights by allowing secular parties to challenge the Islamist agenda when needed. 

Alternatively in Egypt, the developments are multifaceted. Under the Muslim Brotherhood rule, the Egyptian constitution of 2012 lacked any mention of women’s rights, and those mentioned speak in broad terms. For example, the only direct mention of women is under Article 10 which stipulates social welfare given to divorced women. Besides this Article, the Muslim Brotherhood made no effort to establish any provisions aimed at progressing women’s rights specifically like political representation and civil as well as legal protections. The complete disregard for women’s rights is not surprising since the Muslim Brotherhood have issued statements in 2013 against the 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and specifically the declaration ‘End Violence against Women.’ The Muslim Brotherhood consider the declaration “deceptive” and “contradicts established principles of Islam, undermine Islamic ethics, and destroy the family” (Ikhwan, 2013). The Muslim Brotherhood listed 10 points that they call “destructive tools”, and these points range from providing contraceptives to giving wives legal right to file complaints against their husbands in case of rape or sexual harassment (Ikhwan, 2013). However, as mentioned previously, protests started again, and the military took over and established a new constitution. 

The new constitution, which was ratified in 2014, introduced two notable provisions, Article 11 and Article 180. Article 11 stipulates the following:

The state commits to achieving equality between women and men in all civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution. The state commits to taking the necessary measures to ensure appropriate representation of women in the houses of parliament, in the manner specified by law. It grants women the right to hold public posts and high management posts in the state, and to appointment in judicial bodies and entities without discrimination (Egyptian Const. art. 11). 

While this provision is certainly an improvement on the previous constitution, scholars have raised doubts regarding the term “appropriate.” Furthermore Article 180 stipulates that women are accorded one quarter of the seats in local councils. The two articles both point to women’s political representation, yet they fail to provide a solution to women’s political representation. The term “appropriate” is worrisome as it is difficult to define the word in terms of representation as argued by Shalaby and Moghadam (2016). Therefore, it is evident that the political system in Egypt revived state-feminism, but it introduced shortcomings which are evident in Figure 2. The Figure underscores the gains made by the Egyptian constitution compared to the one drafted by the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Figure 2


Based on the aforementioned developments, women’s rights developed distinctly in Tunisia and Egypt under Islamist rule due to an already distinct set of circumstances that developed throughout history. These historic junctures are critical as they seem to continue the trend of how women’s rights developed post-Arab Spring. The influence of these historic junctures is underscored by how the post-revolutionary constitutions were forged with regard to women’s rights. The recent developments in Tunisia with the formation of a new government under the leadership of the Arab World’s first female Prime Minister, seem to highlight a commitment towards women’s empowerment. But whether these developments will translate into substantive representation rather than a descriptive attempt to hide the political turmoil, is yet to be examined. 


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The Birth of British Salafism Among the Pakistani Diaspora in Postcolonial Britain

By Eeman Ali


Before delving into the emergence of British Salafism and its appeal among much of the Pakistani diaspora in Britain, this paper begins by defining the term Salafism. The term Salafi or Salafiyah is used to denote the era of the Salaf, referring to the first three generations of the Prophet’s companions. This reformist branch of Islam brands itself as the “pure” and “authentic” interpretation of religion, placing overwhelming emphasis on adhering to the Quran (i.e., the holy book) and the Sunnah (i.e., the traditions and practices of Prophet Muhammad). It encourages the practice of tawhid (i.e., belief in the oneness of Allah), the avoidance of shirk (i.e., associating partners with Allah), and the avoidance of bid’ah (i.e., practicing innovations within the religion) (Hamid, 2020, p. 35). 

Salafism is by no means monolithic; various branches exist within Salafist thought. Tariq Ramadan identifies six visible Islamic tendencies with different levels of influence in the British context: scholastic traditionalism, Salafi literalism, Salafi reformism, radical or political literalist Salafism, Sufism, and liberal or rational reformism (Hamid, 2020). Salafi reformism interprets scripture based on maqasid (i.e., purpose and intention) of shari’ah (i.e., Islamic law) and believes that contextualized ijtihad (i.e., independent legal reasoning) is necessary. In fact, Salafi reformists seek to enact change by working within existing systems. Salafi literalism understands scripture in its literal form, rejecting any room for interpretation by the schools of jurisprudence (Hamid, 2020). Salafi literalists strongly oppose political involvement. Radical Salafism first emerged in response to the persecution of Muslims globally and rejects political cooperation with non-Islamic governments. Radical Salafis seek the violent overthrow of these governments and to re-establish the Islamic caliphate (Hamid, 2020). 

Although room for disagreement exists regarding the term “British Salafism,” the Salafism that emerged in Britain should be seen as a distinct religiopolitical development. To some degree, British Salafism can be viewed as a merger between South Asian Salafism and Saudi Salafism (Amin & Majothi, 2021). Both these forms of Salafism have followed different trajectories. The Salafism that emerged in the Indian subcontinent was a direct response to British colonialism, but the same does not hold true for the Arabian Peninsula. When referring to the brand of Salafism that developed in, and has been exported by modern-day Saudi Arabia, the term “Saudi Salafism” is used. This is because the term “Arab Salafism” can extend to regions such as Egypt, that have followed a trajectory similar to South Asia, developing their own brand of Salafism in response to British colonialism. 

Salafism first entered Britain as a reformist ideology brought by South Asian immigrants during the 1960s and 1970s. It subsequently evolved in different forms to adapt to the British context, and in response to external imports. While for most first-generation Pakistani immigrants, identifying with Islam was generally a more cultural choice than religious, second and third-generation Pakistani immigrants developed a different relationship with religion because of their growing identity struggle. With little to no connection to their ancestral home, and faced with social exclusion and marginalization in the British domestic realm, many were searching for a sense of belonging. During the 1980s and 1990s, rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in Britain, and Western military interventions in Muslim countries politicized the Muslim identity. This politicization saw many second and third-generation British Muslims begin to center their identity around Islam. Among those searching for a concrete sense of self from religion were those who joined and established local Salafi groups, as Salafism offered an interpretation of Islam that provided strong moral and ethical clarity (Hamid, 2020). 


Through a content analysis of peer-reviewed books, journal articles, and primary materials distributed by Muslim organizations in Britain, this paper seeks to trace the emergence and appeal of British Salafism among the Pakistani diasporic community in the UK. In the future, this research can be enriched by conducting interviews with first, second, and third-generation Pakistani immigrants in the UK to gain a greater insight into the individual experiences of the diaspora and their inclination towards or away from Salafism. 

Post-colonial Migration and the Origins of British Salafism

To contextualize the development of British Salafism and its relationship with first-generation British Pakistanis, it is important to examine the changing patterns of South Asian migration to the UK. Following World War II, Britain was in desperate need of cheap labor. The 1950s and 1960s saw a rapid influx of Pakistani men into Britain, to work as industrial laborers, having left the Indian subcontinent with little scope for productive labor. (Kalra et al., 2008). While India saw many professional men migrate, Pakistanis largely came from peasant-farming backgrounds (Kalra et al., 2008; Samad, 2014). Unlike their Indian counterparts, Pakistanis developed a blue-collar profile and experienced very limited social assimilation. Most Pakistani migrants worked under highly exploitative conditions, enduring long hours for low wages to earn and save for their families back home (Kalra et al., 2008). Although most of these men had moved with the intention of returning home, much of the local British population viewed the rapid wave of migration unfavorably. Growing anti-immigration rhetoric eventually encouraged the British government to pass the Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1962 (Lever, 2018). This Act was a form of restrictive immigration legislation that limited free movement between individuals from non-European countries and the Commonwealth. Ironically, this Act encouraged the wives and children of the men who had migrated earlier to settle with them. Here we see the first-generation Pakistani diaspora begin to establish themselves in Britain. This diaspora was soon faced with a still ongoing struggle to assimilate into the conservative population surrounding them. 

Originating in colonial India, the Ahl-e-Hadith played a particularly interesting role in laying the groundwork for British Salafism. Many Ahl-e-Hadith figures migrated from South Asia to Britain during the late 1960s and 1970s, establishing mosques and umbrella institutions that set the ball rolling for second and third-generation British Pakistanis. Their official Quran school was named Madrasa Salafiyyah, and the term Salafi was first adopted in the British context from the network’s organization Markaz Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith (MJAH)’s activities (Amin & Majothi, 2021). This Salafi reformist group emerged as an anti-colonial struggle and had thus been political from the beginning. From the onset, the Ahl-e-Hadith encouraged partaking in British politics and joined forces with more secular groups, providing them with platforms to raise awareness for British Muslim issues. First-generation members stayed connected to their South Asian heritage by retaining their language and dress code; they spoke in Urdu and wore shalwar kameez, and men even wore the Jinnah cap (Amin & Majothi, 2021). 

For most first-generation Pakistanis in Britain, Islam was more about ethnic identity than spiritual religiosity (Jacobson, 2005). However, growing concerns that after-school Islamic classes were insufficient to balance the “non-Islamic” influence children received from the state-based national curriculum, led them to challenge aspects of the British national curriculum. Parents held campaigns to withdraw their children from Christian assemblies, pushed against music lessons and mixed-gender physical education, and requested halal meat (Hamid, 2020).  To compensate for the lack of Islamic learning in schools, institutions inspired by the Indian Salafi group Jamaat-e-Islami were established. Among these institutions was the UK Islamic Mission (UKIM), established in 1963. Interestingly, the UKIM later aided the formation of a new localized reformist Salafi network, the Young Muslims, which developed during the politics of the mid-1980s (Hamid, 2020).

Second and Third-generation British Pakistanis and the Search for Identity 

The rise and evolution of British Salafism among second and third-generation Pakistanis in Britain can be traced to the beginning of British Muslim identity politics in the 1980s and 1990s. Increasing discrimination against Muslim immigrants—the largest percentage of whom were Pakistani—signaled that the local population would never truly consider Pakistanis as one of them. However, many of these individuals found it equally difficult to connect to Pakistan, having grown up in British culture. Struggling to see themselves as British or Pakistani, many second and third-generation Pakistanis were thus drawn to the emerging “Muslim” identity.

On a domestic level, the early 1980s in Britain were characterized by xenophobia towards immigrants. Controversy surrounding the provision of halal meat emerged in Bradford in 1983, which was the first major instance in which British Pakistanis felt alienated from the local population. After Bradford Metropolitan District Council started providing halal meat for Muslim children in schools across the city, widespread debate on the dangers of multiculturalism broke out on a national level (Lever, 2018). The right-wing aligned itself with animal rights activists in opposition to the provision of halal meat on the grounds that it was non-stunned meat. Xenophobic rhetoric only increased in the wake of the Honeyford Affair (1984), during which the headteacher of Bradford’s Drummond middle school, Ray Honeyford, published articles opposing multiculturalism and cultural diversity in education (Lever, 2018). Honeyford insisted on the need for “assimilation,” arguing that Muslims should not be granted special treatment on the grounds of cultural diversity, and should learn to assimilate into Britain. This discourse reinforced self-consciousness among British Muslims as a collective group and marked the beginning of what would become a wider identity struggle for British Pakistanis.

While the Honeyford Affair stirred controversy surrounding Muslim integration in Britain during the early 1980s, it was not until the Rushdie Affair (1990) that a newly politicized British Muslim identity was truly born. The publication of Salman Rushdie’s book Satanic Verses led to mass book burnings, widespread demonstrations demanding its banning, and calls for Muslims to be protected by blasphemy laws. Rushdie’s work was considered defamatory toward the Prophet Muhammad, his wives, and the Holy Quran (Ossowska-Czader, 2015). The British government responded to the demonstrations by highlighting a lack of loyalty on the part of British Muslims for resisting integration. Instead of granting concessions to the British Muslim community, the government emphasized the need for British Muslims to assimilate into mainstream British society. Most second-generation British Muslims did not read Rushdie’s book but simply hearing of it sparked widespread outrage that encouraged them to reconsider what Islam meant to them and begin to see themselves as part of a wider collective group of Muslims (Hamid, 2020). 

Wider imperial geopolitics only furthered the development of British Muslim identity politics in the 1990s. During this time, conflicts involving Muslims or Muslim countries— such as the Bosnian crisis, the 1991 Gulf War, and the unresolved conflicts in Kashmir and Palestine—played a role in politicizing the British Muslim identity (Hopkins & Gale, 2009). Second and third-generation Pakistani immigrants subsequently began to see themselves as part of a collective group persecuted by the non-Muslim West. The violence of Western intervention in Muslim countries was seen as a struggle for all Muslims, referred to as the ummah’s struggle (Hamid, 2020). Some responded to this development by aligning themselves with leftist movements, while others aligned themselves with religious movements. 

Prominent British Salafi Trends

British Salafi Reformism

In the wake of domestic and international crises in the 1980s, the Young Muslims developed as a British Salafi reformist organization that adapted itself to local culture. This Salafi group advocated political reform and embarked on a “re-Islamization” strategy that offered halal alternatives to recreational activities popular in Britain (Hamid, 2020). The Young Muslims appealed to many young second and third-generation British Pakistanis who sought a balance between religion and entertainment, and found other forms of Salafism too rigid. However, internal disputes about where the group was headed during the mid-1990s ultimately led to the organization’s disintegration (Hamid, 2020). 

British Salafi reformism might not be prominent as evident in the decline in the popularity of the Young Muslims, but the Salafi reformist concept of dawah (i.e., an invitation to Islam) persists to date. Dawah involves spreading the message of Islam to non-believers or misguided Muslims (Hamid, 2020). For instance, second-generation members of MJAH created the missionary project IslamWise, wherein they distribute dawah literature with a particular focus on converts and beginners (Amin & Majothi, 2021). Dawah street activism still exists in British Muslim society, as British Muslim organizations such as The Straight Path encourage “conveying the message of Islam to others” (see Appendix A). 

Globalization and the Import of Radical British Salafism

Originally founded in Jordan with its headquarters in Lebanon, Hizb-ut-Tahrir developed a branch in the UK during the 1980s after members were exiled from the Arab world and sought political asylum in Europe (Hamid, 2020). As a radical British Salafi group, their focus was re-establishing the Islamic caliphate, and they rejected political participation in British society altogether. Members of the group adopted a distinct look; women had to conform to a specific hijab style, while men had to have stubble and dress in blazers. Hizb-ut-Tahrir had a strong presence in over 50 universities and appealed to many in search of an internal identity. The makeup of this group was predominantly South Asian because of what has been colloquially referred to as the “Bobby and Abdullah syndrome.” This is a term that pokes fun at the identity crisis faced by many British Muslims who struggled to navigate their identity as non-Western people living in a Western country (Hamid, 2020). 

By the mid-1990s, radical British Salafism, as advocated by groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir, began to see a gradual decline in members. In addition to organizational disputes, many members shifted to more moderate British Salafi groups after the organization failed to capture state power anywhere. Calls for establishing an Islamic Caliphate were also no longer seen as relevant, when the group did little to acknowledge or address the day-to-day issues faced by British Muslims (Hamid, 2020). Thus, while Hizb-ut-Tahrir once attracted many second and third-generation British Pakistanis, its appeal was short-lived and soon to be replaced by the search for other means of connection to one’s Muslim identity. 

The Kingdom of Wahhabism and the Appeal of British Salafi Literalism

Saudi Arabia’s vested political interest in exporting Wahhabism abroad is central to contextualizing the development of British Salafi literalism and its influence among second and third-generation British Pakistanis. For its generally apolitical stance and emphasis on literalist interpretations, Saudi Salafism or Wahhabism can be understood as Salafi literalism. Saudi Arabia provided funds for popularizing their interpretation of Islam (Ghoshal, 2010). The main distinction between Salafism and Wahhabism is that while all Wahhabis are Salafis, not all Salafis are Wahhabis. Both religious ideologies advocate a return to what is considered “orthodox” Islam and are generally intolerant of other branches or sects of Islam (Ghoshal, 2010). While South Asian Salafism has historically been open to forming political alliances with secular groups for political purposes, Saudi Salafism is characterized by its particularly rigid and exclusionary ideals. 

As part of Saudi Arabia’s large-scale efforts to spread global Wahhabi dawah, many British mosques, religious institutions, and publications are rooted in Salafi literalism. Local Islamic bookstores throughout the UK are filled with Wahhabi literature, copies of which can be found abundant in comparison to that of any other British sectarian-based publication aimed at an English-speaking audience (Birt, 2004). As of March 2022, at the Mayfair Islamic Center in London, a book titled Realities of Faith by Umm Muhammad is shelved as a free gift (see Appendix B). This book was produced by the Abul-Qasimi Publishing House in Saudi Arabia (see Appendix B). Considering its emphasis on literalist interpretations of religious scripture, the book can be seen as a Salafi literalist product that reflects the extent of Wahhabi influence across Islamic institutions in Britain. 

Extensive Saudi funding of Wahhabism encouraged the development of British Salafi literalist groups and influenced the trajectories of other existing local Salafi networks. Generous scholarships were offered to foreigners to study at the Islamic University of Medina, which brought many British-born Pakistanis to Saudi Arabia, who later returned to the UK to spread Salafi literalism (Birt, 2004). During the mid-1980s, returnees from the university founded the Salafi literalist group Jamiat Ihyaa Minhaaj al-Sunnah (JIMAS). Abu Muntasir, often called the “father of Salafi dawah in the UK,” aided JIMAS’ development and was, interestingly, closely involved with the Ahl-e-Hadith (Birt, 2004; Hamid, 2020, pp. 95-99). JIMAS regularly held classes at MJAH branches, utilizing Ahl-e-Hadith spaces and connections to preach their version of Salafi Islam. Their annual conferences attracted several thousand attendees (Amin & Majothi, 2021). The group was popular during the early 1990s among those who found the Salafi reformism of the Young Muslims too “wishy-washy” and the radical Salafism of groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir too political (Hamid, 2020). Beyond popularizing localized Salafi literalism, the import of Saudi Salafism influenced the Ahl-e-Hadith, whose second and third-generation members have since become influenced by its principles (Amin & Majothi, 2021).

Initially, JIMAS adhered to Salafi literalism and refrained from open involvement in politics. However, following the 1991 Gulf War, the organization faced a major factional split stemming from political disagreements, which ultimately led to the group’s disintegration. After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Salafi scholars issued a fatwa (i.e., Islamic ruling), allowing the establishment of US military bases in Saudi Arabia. Salafi literalists were then divided over the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, a country seen as the heart of Islam (Birt, 2004). Three main divisions subsequently emerged within those following the Saudi brand of Salafism. The first group comprised of those who remained unquestioningly loyal to the regime, focusing purely on theological issues to deviate the discussion from politics. One of the chief advocates of this faction was Rabi al-Madkhali. The second group equally emphasized focusing on theology but was slightly more moderate than the regime loyalists in their opposition to political engagement. The final group adhered to what is referred to as political Salafism and became outspoken critics of the Saudi regime, as well as secular Arab governments (Amin & Majothi, 2021). 

Shifts in the British Salafi Landscape Since the 1990s

Divisions over the Gulf War fatwa eventually evolved into a broader debate surrounding the role of Middle Eastern scholars in guiding Muslims residing in the West, which has shaped much of the focus of British Muslims today. Increasing securitization and the rise of Muslim profiling following the events of 9/11 and 7/7 further politicized the British Muslim identity during the early 2000s (Elshayyal, 2017). This development pushed British Salafis away from relying on Middle Eastern scholars, whom they saw as having failed to address the struggles of Muslims living in the West (Hamid, 2020). Many British Salafi groups began to shift their focus to carving out an “Islam in the West” (Amin & Majothi, 2021). This shift was not confined to the British Salafi sphere, as the wider British Muslim population began indigenizing “British Islam” through various means. Q-News, a British Magazine that began in the mid-1990s, was one of the first popular media outlets that explored the lives of Muslims in Britain, their diverse communities, and their issues (Hamid, 2020). 

The inadequacies of Salafi trends, that have struggled with internal disagreement have since left a gap for a new religious approach that has slowly gained popularity among second and third-generation British Pakistanis: Sufism. Initially, Sufism was seen by many as a folkloric legacy of their parents. With the displacement of notable Salafi-based networks such as the Young Muslims, JIMAS, and Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the vacuum left is partly beginning to be occupied by the “Traditional Islam (TI) network, popularized by figures such as Hamza Yusuf (Hamid, 2020, p. 136). TI is much more Sufi-oriented, with its figures emphasizing spirituality over all else, an element missing in the alternate Islamic currents. The potential development of this phenomenon remains to be seen. 


Despite the broader geopolitical trend of religious fundamentalism, Salafism attracted second and third-generation Pakistanis in Britain because of the context of their ancestral migration. Although the Gulf is home to numerous Pakistani immigrants, the majority are blue-collar workers whose citizenship denial has led to circular migration and guest worker status (Samad, 2014). Therefore, the general migratory experience of the Pakistani diaspora in this region of the world has been considerably different. The class profile of North American Pakistani immigrants has also shaped their experiences in ways distinct from their British counterparts. Historically, the Pakistani presence in Britain has been inextricably linked to imperialism in a way that does not hold true for the United States. Most Pakistani immigrants originally came to the UK with low qualifications and soft skills. The Pakistani immigrants that first arrived in the US generally came from highly educated professional backgrounds and were later joined by their less qualified relatives (Samad, 2014). Thus, while Pakistanis settling in North America could integrate into Western society, those coming to Britain were from much poorer backgrounds, subject to a future of social exclusion, marginalization, and uncertainty. In this regard, the migratory context of British Pakistanis can be seen as having greatly influenced their relationship with Salafism, as many struggled to develop a strong sense of identity and found that in local Salafi groups. 


British Salafism and its relationship with the Pakistani diaspora in Britain is certainly not linear; it has evolved and continues to change in response to sociopolitical changes. Salafi reformism first developed in Britain due to the Ahl-e-Hadith, who brought their cultural and political brand of Salafism from the Indian subcontinent when they settled in the 1960s and 1970s. Although Islam was more cultural than it was spiritual for most first-generation British Pakistanis, many of their children and grandchildren grew up to view religion contrarily because of developments in the 1980s and 1990s. Struggling for acceptance in British society and holding little to no connection to their motherland, second and third-generation Pakistani immigrants grappled with neither feeling truly British nor Pakistani. During this time, rising anti-Muslim sentiment in Britain, and Western imperial intervention in Muslim countries politicized the British Muslim identity, paving the way for the formation of local Salafi groups. 

Among this period’s emerging British Salafi groups was the Young Muslims, a Salafi reformist network that proposed a counterculture for Muslim youth. The group appealed to many first and second-generation British Pakistanis until organizational disputes in the mid-1990s eventually led to their decline. Globalization brought radical Salafism to Britain, as seen in the development of the British branch of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, another Salafi group popular among British Pakistanis. However, growing disillusionment with the prospect of establishing an Islamic caliphate in Britain led to the loss of much of their support. Saudi financing of Wahhabism resulted in the formation of the Salafi literalist group JIMAS, established by returnees from the Islamic University of Medina. The group initially adopted a non-political stance, though this changed after the Gulf War fatwa. The infamous fatwa also sparked wider discourse surrounding the role of Arab scholars in dictating Muslims residing in the West. Since then, the Pakistani diaspora in Britain has been turning to alternative means of connecting to Islam, some of whom have recently been drawn to more Sufi-oriented groups. 


Amin, H., & Majothi, A. (2021). The Ahl-e-Hadith: From British India to Britain. Modern Asian Studies, 56(1), 176–206. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0026749x21000093 

Birt, J. (2004). Wahhabism in the United Kingdom. Transnational Connections and the Arab Gulf, 182–198. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203397930-16 

Elshayyal, K. (2020). Muslim Identity Politics: Islam, Activism and Equality in Britain. I.B. Tauris. 

Ghoshal, B. (2010). Arabization: The Changing Face of Islam in Asia. India Quarterly, 66(1), 69–89. http://www.jstor.org/stable/45072987

Hamid, S. (2020). Sufis, Salafis and Islamists: The Contested Ground of British Islamic Activism. Bloomsbury Academic. 

Hopkins, P., & Gale, R. (2009). Islamophobia in the construction of British Muslim identity politics. Muslims in Britain, 210–227. https://doi.org/10.3366/edinburgh/9780748625871.003.0012 

Jacobson, J. (2015). Islam in Transition: Religion and Identity among British Pakistani Youth. Routledge.

Kalra, V. S., Sayyid, S., & Ali, N. (2008). A postcolonial people: South Asians in Britain. Columbia University Press.

Kepel, G. (2003). Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam. Harvard University Press. 

Lever, J. (2018). Halal meat and religious slaughter: From spatial concealment to social controversy – breaching the boundaries of the permissible? Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 37(5), 889–907. https://doi.org/10.1177/2399654418813267

Ossowska-Czader, M. (2015). The Rushdie Affair – Politics, Culture and Ethnicity in Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album. Politeja, 31/2, 11–26. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24919773

Samad, Y. (2014). The Pakistani Diaspora: USA and UK. Routledge Handbook of the South Asian Diaspora. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203796528.ch23 


Appendix A: Leaflet by The Straight Path promoting ‘Street Dawah’ distributed at Leicester Square in London on March 19th, 2022

Appendix B: Realities of Faith by Umm Muhammad Shelved in Mayfair Islamic Center, London, as a “free gift”  A hand holding a green tablet

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Appendix C: Page 89 of Realities of Faith by Umm Muhammad

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K-pop: The Engine of South Korean Soft Power

By Nora Almaazmi


Nation states are increasingly pursuing soft power as a strategy to achieve their foreign policy goals. Soft power is a concept developed by Joseph Nye that describes the means through which states achieve their goals without having to use force or coercion, as is the case of hard power. For example, states seek to shape people’s and other states’ preferences by making a particular policy appear attractive. By using soft power, states refrain from the use of threats that pertain to deploying military operations or imposing sanctions. The concept of soft power was originally developed to describe U.S. foreign policy in the post-Cold War era. For goals where attraction is the desired outcome, strategies of soft power can be applied. This paper argues that South Korea fits well into the literature’s characteristics of soft power. After being a closed economy during the 1980s, the country opened its economy and welcomed foreign cultural products as imports. This also helped the country’s cultural products take the international stage in the form of exports. This paper reveals how the South Korean government has played a role in spreading Korean popular culture by pooling in investments and building up the department responsible for overseeing popular culture developments. Considering that many countries are pursuing soft power, this paper will focus on how South Korea benefited from the K-pop industry in generating soft power by posing the question: in what ways has K-pop been used as a form of soft power to enhance South Korea’s image? This research will analyze South Korea’s position today and determine if, indeed, it has been a successful strategy. K-pop has proven to be politically useful through its participation in diplomacy, advocacy for climate change, and economically beneficial through generating tourism. 

Literature Review

After first being coined by Joseph Nye in the 1980s, the term soft power has been interpreted in many ways and integrated into various expressions. It can be identified as an alternative power used by countries to attract other countries or make policy changes more attractive. Unlike the past, military coercion has now become exceptionally costly because states have become much more interdependent, and states do not take threats lightly. In the past, wars were heavily based on weapons and manpower and if that weren’t costly enough, today’s conflict costs are also high. Furthermore, states today are very interdependent. A conflict between two states can lead to a state choosing sides and threatening world order. In contrast, soft power is the ability to attract without coercion, and is the ability to influence institutions to make states amend policies in their favor. Military power and soft power are not mutually exclusive, it is necessary to establish soft power along with hard power. Joseph Nye explains how this strategy can help states pursue their security goals without scaring other states away. When attraction and ideas become successful in paving the way towards national interests, the carrot and stick method becomes unnecessary. Soft power is an investment that states make to satisfy their interests and meet their goals nationally and internationally. Achieving goals becomes possible when attraction towards a state is strong, which prompts states to pursue policies that are similar to what other states want to achieve. Simply, soft power is the power that “makes others want what you want.” The definition of soft power has remained constant over time while being incorporated into different realms of politics. Though it has been subject to change within the different aspects in which it is applied, soft power remains a term used to define the ability to attract others without coercion.

Soft power is a strategy either pursued explicitly or implicitly by states. Nonetheless, there are certain qualities of soft power that can be identified. Labeling soft power involves recognizing actions that are motivated by interests and these actions are the opposite of coercion. However, not every non-coercive action is considered soft power. In 2007, Chinese President Hu Jintao made it clear that China needed to invest in soft power. Numerous articles have been published addressing this mission. During John F. Kennedy’s administration, some realists believed that soft power was ineffective, and that true power was that of the military. However, during his term, President Kennedy believed that changing opinions and attracting others is also a form of power. Further, the administration under Roosevelt believed that security could not be achieved without a positive image portrayed to the foreign public. The US is said to have been investing in soft power during the Cold War. Two organizations were created to erode the faith in communism at the time, the Office of Wartime Information and the Office of Strategic Information. Both dealt with the spread of information and worked closely with Hollywood executives to filter out content in films and reconsider license issuing. Additionally, the international broadcaster Voice of America became very popular during the Second World War and the Cold War and was broadcasting in over 20 languages, including Russian. Its target at the time was to counter the ideological threats of communism. However, after the Cold War ended, investments in soft power declined. 

Seymour (2020) provides an analysis of soft power, its problems, and its application in the U.S. context. She states that because soft power is aimed at individuals, it becomes complex as each individual possesses different values and norms and therefore, reactions of different groups to a certain message would not be uniform. She brings forward a common critique of soft power and the idea that it is associated with propaganda. She adds how this critique is what ultimately led to the cancellation of the Shared Values Initiative launched by the U.S. in 2002 to attract Muslims and Muslim countries. 

Another problem that persists in the literature on soft power is that it is difficult to quantify in comparison to hard power. Feedback from the outcomes of hard power exercises is quantifiable and are received in almost real time, compared to the influence of soft power. Whereas Seymour (2020) identifies these characteristics as problems, other scholars elaborate on how soft power was never an easy form of influence. Gallarotti (2011) identifies the conditions under which soft power can be used effectively. First, he highlights the lack of attention placed on world politics and the effects of its changes on the theory of soft power. He argues that changes in world affairs have raised the need for soft power even more. Second, he asserts that there is a lack of attention on the decision-making conditions which leaders need to be familiar with to carry out soft power. Lastly, assessing the effectiveness of soft power should be based on the outcomes rather than the sources. This is due to what Gallarotti terms as “resource moral hazard,” where leaders might be accustomed to tangible sources of power or hard power. Ultimately, Gallarotti iterates that there should be a balance between the use of soft power and hard power. Nonetheless, the literature shows the effectiveness of soft power, except for U.S. hard power in Asia. 

Joseph Nye has described American soft power as having influenced countries in Asia. People in Japan, who have never set foot in the U.S., are seen wearing hoodies with the names of American colleges. The power of globalization is evident in Japan’s case and the continuous attempts to spread American culture elsewhere. However, it does not imply that the U.S. is a model nation. Instead, it signifies the effectiveness of the use of soft power around the world. This kind of power can quickly lose effectiveness. Due to its interference in Iraq, US soft power is said to be in decline, which implies a limitation to soft power capabilities in generating likeness among global community members. 

In the past, public diplomacy took place via radio broadcasting, while today, it is widespread on social media. Therefore, this overabundance of information can counter the original aim of generating soft power. Additionally, soft power can decline if there is a reason to believe that information being circulated is false. False information undermines credibility; therefore, even the most considerable amount invested in soft power will be insufficient so long as those are directed towards misinformation and the spread of fake news that may seem appealing only at first. For example, during his term, Donald Trump has been tweeting disinformation to spread propaganda. This had backfired when Twitter permanently suspended Trump’s account. How does this relate to soft power? Because soft power is the use of non-material tools to influence behavior; when the president of a country is said to have spread fake news, it undermines the country’s credibility and therefore hinders the quality of its soft power. 

Joseph Nye states that although soft power is a factor in political success, it is insufficient on its own. Soft power alone is not the solution to the number of problems that countries face. Soft power is not limited to being used only when countries face problems, however, it tends to be used when that is the case. For example, the United States was less interested in investing in soft power after the Cold War, but the interest resurfaced after the September 2001 terrorist attacks with the U.S. increasing its efforts to win support through public diplomacy. 

Nye also discusses public diplomacy regarding soft power. Because soft power arises from the values one country holds and expresses through its culture, these values can be mobilized through public diplomacy. This becomes effective when a country’s values attract another country’s people along with its government. Public diplomacy can take place by broadcasting and promoting cultural exchanges through government subsidies of cultural exports and other efforts sponsored by the government. However, as Nye explains, these exports must be very appealing in order to attract. Exporting products that go against another country’s values will result in repulsion. A distinction is made between two forms of culture as a resource for soft power: the first is a high culture which includes literature and art and attracts elites, and the second is a popular culture which attracts the masses. As long as it does not appear to be propaganda, the country can be prosperous in its soft power generation.

Joseph Nye further explains that soft power is not equivalent to propaganda. Soft power can stem from both culture and policies, promoting cultural products and the implementation of friendly policies. People have the upper hand in the process of gaining soft power. When governments intervene, it may look like propaganda. However, when people present their country’s cultural products, it often looks genuine. Regardless of who or what takes the lead in generating soft power, some scholars have critically assessed the use of soft power and identified its limitations. 

David Kearn criticizes the concept of soft power by describing it as a very vague term that can be transformed into a buzzword, like the term democracy. Kearn compares it to other terms which may carry a particular meaning to political theorists but a different meaning to the general public. David Kearn places conditions under which soft power can be effective in achieving political goals; this is because there are limitations regarding the implicit assumptions of the concept that are seldom addressed. For instance, an implicit assumption in the soft power theory is that when institutions have a positive role in generating soft power and the effect is recognized by other institutions, they share an interest that stems from previous interactions. Kearn also states that soft power will not be successful with common policy developments between states if there are preexisting conflicts and tension. Thus, a limit to soft power is that it cannot fully operate in a setting without a preexisting harmony of interests, making cooperation uncertain. China has also concentrated on generating soft power within its limited reach and scope.

China has adopted soft power as a strategy to gain regional influence in Asia. The country has been so successful in advertising its cultural values that it has been viewed as a potential competitor to the U.S. The country has set up a 24-hour radio station in Chinese that broadcasts in Asia to attract foreign students, promote the Chinese language, and declare its participation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). However, China’s soft power is limited within Asia due to regional conflicts regarding Taiwan and political corruption. Nonetheless, a survey done by the Pew Research Center in Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, Lebanon, Jordan, and India shows that positive reactions are emerging from China’s rise to power. The factors behind China’s rise in influence include its regional policy and its economic growth. China’s interest in generating soft power is said to surpass all other states. After Joseph Nye’s article Bound to Lead in 1992, the president’s chief advisor Wang Huning stressed the importance of strengthening soft power in China and its importance within U.S. Foreign Policy. Additionally, there were criticisms that the literature on soft power focused mainly on American use of soft power and demands rose for a theory more adjusted to China. When it comes to South Korea, the literature on soft power is more theoretical, although it sets the space for further research.

In addition, Watson (2012) describes both soft power in relation to South Korea and the cultural wave termed as “Hallyu.” He argues that the strategies taken by South Korea to use soft power may be counterproductive in that they might impair the way the nation is viewed by outsiders. Traditionally, state-led soft power by South Korea was mainly to counter competition against China and Japan. For example, the distribution of food aid to North Korea and contributions to the Official Development Assistance (ODA) can be described as a form of soft power pursued by the South for a possible reunification with the North. Watson adds to how these engagements with the North can result in a “spill-over of soft power” and friendly relations with North Korea. Nonetheless, there is a specific need for soft power in the country.

As part of his contribution to the development of the term soft power, Joseph Nye addresses the need for soft power in South Korea. Out of all the G-20 countries, South Korea ranked 9th in having solid hard power. However, for this form of power to be effective, it must be accompanied by soft power, of which the country ranked 12th at the time the book was established in 2019. It is said that South Korea’s capital has potential for soft power. Moreover, this has proven to be true, as will be seen further in the analysis. There has been a consensus among scholars in the existing literature that South Korea’s pop industry generates large amounts of wealth and has proven very successful in the recent decade. South Korean products, from cultural to technological, have been widely accepted with positive reactions.

Since the 1990s, South Korea has made efforts to pool its resources into developing cultural products both domestically and internationally. The use of soft power by South Korea has been a conscious effort made by the government and the associated departments established to manage and control the country’s cultural products, including music, film, technology, and video games. South Korean soft power does not only stem from K-pop but also from sources including technology, which as the world has seen with Samsung, has also proven to be very successful.


This research will analyze existing literature to understand the rise of K-pop and industry’s history and evolution. A range of secondary literature has been published on the concept of soft power and differentiates it from other forms of power, such as hard power. The paper will review and analyze the existing literature to identify soft power’s prominent features and connect them to K-pop. This paper aims to provide a comparative analysis to evaluate the success of K-pop as a source of soft power for South Korea. The original theory of soft power will be set as grounds for comparison with South Korean soft power. By having this frame of reference, a precise analysis can be made on the developments of K-pop strategies of soft power. Further, secondary literature on this topic regarding South Korea identifies the possible steps that it can take to generate soft power, which the study will compare to South Korean achievements up to today. A study done on North Korean defectors reveals the perceptions and influence of Korean media and K-pop on defection. This paper will also briefly analyze how the public, mainly the fanbases of K-pop, respond to the rise and popularity of K-pop groups such as BTS and Girls Generation with the short use of news articles and social media accounts. Further, through the speeches given by K-pop artists about climate change, this paper will determine how fanbases have been influenced to become more aware and take actions towards saving the environment. Through the use of secondary articles on diplomatic events, this paper will also evaluate how K-pop has been used as a friendly gesture during diplomatic meetings in embassies abroad. The paper will also incorporate the primary sources of the concept of soft power published by Joseph Nye, which assesses the connection of K-pop movements to soft power.

History of K-pop

K-pop has flourished with the help of the significant improvements made in the internet infrastructure. This has been taken as an opportunity for music industries to first set foot locally and then internationally. During the early 1980s, South Korean music was deeply conservative. By adhering to Confucian norms, the music produced was very traditional and slow, which made rock music and rapping seem very controversial and thus, became subject to bans. Music in South Korea was controlled by broadcasting networks where a few channels showed music talent shows during the weekends. The band Seo Taiji and Boys during the 1980s sought to break the existing norm and challenge the musical styles that existed at the time. The band performed at MBC TV’s talent show in 1992 and received the lowest score due to it being heavily based on hip-hop and rock. The band’s songs focused on addressing the pressures placed on teenagers in the education system and its high expectations. Because the band’s songs were highly relatable, it was accepted by the wider community, and future bands followed their lead. After 1987, when democratic reforms began to take place, changes were made in the music industry. However, a significant shift began to take place after the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997.

The Asian Financial Crisis that began in Thailand spread across most of Asia and drove South Korea to take a $57 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. President Kim Young-Sam called the day the country took out the loan the Day of National Humiliation due to the shame it brought to the country. Although the country repaid its debt, South Korea needed to rebrand itself. Before the crisis, South Korea was a closed economy and international investors were seen as enemies. The nation, however, had no other choice but to open up to the rest of Asia and the world. The crisis sent South Korea on a path to seek ways out of poverty. All industries were encouraged to innovate to compensate for the lost revenues, including entertainment. President Kim Dae-Jung, who became President a year after the crisis hit in 1997, had a plan to focus on pop culture. At first, it seemed like a senseless plan, but for a country with a lack of natural resources, it was a chance taken that later proved to be the start of something big.

In 1988, former President Roh Tae-woo’s government sought to end the authoritarian rule that existed previously. During the 1970s, South Korean former president Park Chung-hee’s regime banned all types of music that deviated away from the traditional norms the country held on to at the time. Furthermore, from being very reluctant to accepting foreign cultures in the 1990s, South Korea began to invest in creating artists that the rest of the world would appreciate by incorporating different non-local elements, such as naming group bands in English and songs containing English lyrics. However, well-known bands today pay great attention to Korean culture and incorporate it into their songs and music videos to show how influential their culture is to them and to further expand Korean culture to their fans.

Attraction Towards South Korea

The Korean cultural impact on the world cannot be ignored. The term “Hallyu” has been coined by the Chinese press to describe Korean cultural products’ sudden popularity in Asia and elsewhere across the world. The South Korean cultural impact picked up in Asia starting from the late 1980s and early 1990s and disseminated globally with the help of technology and the unquestionable talent of K-pop artists that dominate the international stage today. Indeed, technology is attributed to have helped spread the South Korean wave in North Korea. Chung (2018) describes how the Hallyu is a perfect example of South Korean soft power. Although Chung suggests that calling the spread of Korean culture soft power can still be controversial, she addresses the potential soft power Hallyu can have on cultural diplomacy. There has been a great deal of South Korean cultural influence, although reasonably similar, on North Korean consumers.

Additionally, Chung had conducted a study that incorporated surveys of North Korean defectors in South Korea. The survey involved questions about South Korean media consumption, including TV shows, music, and Korean dramas in North Korea. Seventy out of 127 defectors have confirmed that South Korean media has influenced their defection, claiming that it portrayed a free lifestyle that they mainly found appealing, while others were impressed with South Koreans’ freedom and the unrestrained exchange of foreign culture. Thus, the power of Hallyu in attracting foreigners to South Korea has proved to be strong. The attractiveness of culture is one of the three sources of soft power put forward by Joseph Nye alongside a country’s political values and its foreign policies. K-pop has been shown to project all three sources of soft power throughout the years of its success. People have become more and more invested in K-pop, fandoms have been established everywhere, merchandise is being sold globally, concert tickets run out in hours, and demand for tours has been rising.


Foreign policy and public diplomacy go hand in hand, but the definitions of public diplomacy vary. However, a standard explanation is that it is diplomacy aimed at public opinion, not just with foreign governments but also with NGOs and the public; it is about building long-term relationships that enable an environment for pursuing government policies. Further, it can be described as an instrument that state and non-state actors can use to influence and understand different cultures. When authoritarian governments are replaced, as with the case of South Korea, shaping public opinion becomes essential. One of the most prominent K-pop groups, BTS, has worked closely with the United Nations, particularly with UNICEF, to help raise money and contribute to ending violence and promote children’s well-being. The group has partnered with UNICEF since 2017. Working with a highly credible organization reflects a positive image onto the K-pop group and, in turn, on South Korea as a country, which further generates soft power. Nye states that credibility results in attraction. Indeed, there is competition among countries regarding credibility. Without credibility, public diplomacy will fail to work as an instrument to transform cultural resources into soft power. The successes of public diplomacy can be measured by changes in the mindsets of governments and the public. Moreover, when Nye discussed soft power concerning the Korean wave, he acknowledged the need for the country to focus on hosting international events and conferences that will reflect South Korea’s values and draw attention to their efforts to upholding these values. Moreover, promoting a country’s culture is indeed a source of soft power. 

One of the roles of South Korean ambassadors in foreign countries is to spread their culture and to promote bilateral agreements and relationships. During a meeting with the president of the Philippines in 2019, South Korean ambassador Han Dong-man handed the president a BTS album as a welcoming gesture. However, the relationship between South Korea and the Philippines stems back prior to the 1950s, a time when the Philippines supported South Korea in the Korean War; reemphasizing the argument put forward by David Kearn that soft power works better when countries have a long history of positive relations. Nonetheless, we see relations between South Korea and Japan growing at a languid pace, considering the nations’ deep-rooted tensions. From being invaded by Japan during the early 20th century and the ongoing disputes today over the Dokdo/Takeshima islands, South Korean and Japanese relations have been constituted by conflict. Although the South Korea-Japan normalization treaty has resolved the former conflict in 1965, lawsuits are still being submitted against Japan to compensate for the damage that ensued during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Also, the ongoing island conflicts revolve around claims over the island that date back years. Despite these political conflicts, Korean culture and K-pop have seeped through them and managed to attract Japanese consumers.

Tourism and Foreign Students 

When the Hallyu began to receive attraction in 2001, the number of foreign tourists in South Korea rose from 5 million to 17 million in 2019. K-pop bands such as BTS and Girls Generation have portrayed South Korea in a positive image in their music videos, social media, and advertisements. In 2017, Visit Seoul TV released a video on YouTube showing what life was like for BTS in its capital. The video follows BTS around Seoul, where they visit their favorite locations, including Namsan Park, one of the top 10 destinations in Seoul. Around 13 million tourists visited Korea in 2017; 800,000 were motivated to visit the country by their interest in BTS. South Korea’s tourism brings in tens of billions of dollars in revenue and these numbers increase each year. Also, a government-owned website in Korea provides a list of locations BTS has been to in order to encourage tourists to visit and explore South Korea. Further, in 2019 another video advertising South Korea also showcased BTS. The use of social media is becoming more and more of a tool for public diplomacy. BTS has over 34 million followers on Twitter and over 39 million followers as of today in comparison to another K-pop group, Girls Generation, which has less than 4 million. In addition to attracting many tourists, K-pop has managed to attract international students to pursue study abroad programs in South Korea’s top universities.

K-pop fans are changing universities’ demographics in South Korea by inviting more international students to study in Korea. The influx of international students in South Korea is nothing new, the country has been welcoming students since the early 2000s. Students from neighboring countries began to study in South Korea as K-dramas became popular, and today, large numbers of students from outside the region are rushing in. Similarly, university students in the U.S. have taken courses to learn the Korean language. A textbook titled “Learn! Korean With BTS” was published by the Hanguk University of Foreign Studies in collaboration with BTS. The professor teaching the course, Dr. Sahie Kang, reveals how the popularity of K-pop has driven students to learn the language either by interest in the K-pop group or the Korean language in general. 

The music composition of many K-pop groups is characterized by their multicultural method of production. Many of the bands combine both Korean and English language in their music, making it more appealing in the global market. K-pop performers are not always South Korean, they come from different countries, making the hybridization of K-pop more appealing. Foreign members of groups also speak different languages. The appeal, however, is not only from the hybridity of K-pop artists, but also from what is addressed in their music. The songs touch upon topics that are mostly relatable to the global youth in regard to some of the struggles they face. For example, Psy is an artist whose song Gangnam Style became an international hit. 

The song “Gangnam Style” by Psy refers to the district in Seoul named Gangnam. Upon its release in 2012, the song became a major hit across the globe and had over 49 million views on YouTube in 2012 alone (4 billion today). Beyond its addictive beats, the song carries a deeper meaning regarding the lifestyle in Gangnam. A deeper interpretation reveals that it is a song about class and wealth in South Korea, making it something very satirical and subversive. Since the mid 1990s, South Koreans have been living on credit and the high credit card rate was an issue underlined in the song. Gangnam is home to many luxury brands and the town accounts for 7% of the country’s GDP. The Gangnam lifestyle appears to be luxurious and pushes others to be one of Gangnam’s residents, when in reality everyone is in credit card debt. Addressing some of the issues many South Koreans face, especially by the youth, is taken up by other K-pop bands as well. Such factors make K-pop a special instrument of attraction.

Many of the BTS songs speak about the struggles of youth in South Korea. Issues of mental illness are rarely addressed in the country due to taboos. In their song Agust D: The Last, the band talks about the struggles of mental illness, something that is uncommon among the older generation. Another song talks about the burdens placed on students by their family’s high expectations that later takes a toll on their mental health. Similarly, K-pop artists have also shed light on issues of climate change to encourage fans to take action. 

Climate Change Advocacy 

K-pop groups have used their large fanbases to call for actions towards the environment. Bands have encouraged their fans to take the initiative in their regions to help reduce climate change. They further re-emphasized that climate change knows no boundaries, meaning a change in one area’s climate affects another area. Also, K-pop bands such as Blackpink and BTS have shed light on the importance of keeping up with the UN Climate Change conferences and the actions set to tackle the climate crisis. Additionally, Blackpink has also raised awareness about the 2021 UN climate summit, COP26, and it was named as a cultural ambassador of the summit. From then on, fanbases started to create online platforms and started campaigns to shed light on their hometowns’ environmental issues. How does this help South Korea? The country ratified the Paris agreement in 2015 as part of its climate change regime, where it has launched multiple acts directed towards lowering emissions and tackling climate change. Therefore, both the government and the bands’ contributions reflect positively on the overall county’s efforts. In addition, fans have also initiated funds for climate disaster reliefs. 

Fans have started campaigns such as Kpop4Planet and Save Papuan Forest, with the former aiming to raise awareness about climate change and its consequences, and the latter being a movement against the deforestations in Papua. K-pop bands have undoubtedly influenced a lot of positive responses from the local and international community. However, there are certain underlying issues within many K-pop music videos that could hinder their progress and potentially impede it from being a source of South Korea’s positive image. 

K-pop and Gender Inequalities

There have been many criticisms about how gender is portrayed within the music industry. K-pop can be seen as perpetuating gender inequality through its portrayal of women in the industry. Both men and women performers undergo the same long hours of training and practice. However, women become further impelled to behave in certain ways that are traditionally expected from women. Women are expected to act and behave in an ‘elegant’ and ‘innocent’ way. One way in which this stereotype of women is maintained is by using young performers; as a result, many women artists do not last long in the business. During their careers, these women are also advertised and promoted based on their looks and physical appearances. Additionally, this is also evident in music videos where the camera focuses on women’s body parts, almost stripping them away of who they are. 

Female artists are also more subject to criticism compared to male artists in the industry. The clothing is often criticized to be too revealing and inappropriate. However, these artists are often told how to dress and behave by their agents in order to be more attractive. Furthermore, the lives of female artists are carefully observed, with the possibility that any minor or major inconveniences can become a scandal sold to the news media. How they dress, how they behave, and their private lives tend to be scrutinized more compared to male artists. The objectification of women in musical performances and videos can reflect badly on the industry. Should the K-pop industry continue on this path, criticisms will grow and undermine their credibility, popularity, and all that they had accomplished throughout the years, eventually ending K-pop’s contribution as a major factor and source of South Korea’s soft power.


We have seen how governmental institutions played a role in assisting the spread of K-pop, which helped in the generation of soft power. K-pop as a music industry then became the hub by which South Korea planned to pursue its foreign policy goals and maintain a positive image within the national and international realm. Exports of the Korean music industry have seen an incredible rise in revenue from $8 million in 2000 to $196 million in 2011. This growth signaled to the government that K-pop could be a source of economic growth. The industry has driven the country into global consumer satisfaction with positive opinions about the country, a rise in economic growth, and increase in tourism. Beyond the attractions and calls for actions towards environmentalism and tackling climate change, K-pop has been criticized for the sexual objectification of women and perpetuation of gender inequalities, a criticism which could limit their popularity and influence. However, many females and artists have appeared to challenge the industry and normalize many of the practices that have once been judged to be non-traditional. Thus, with minor adjustment, K-pop has the potential to grow even larger.


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Child Marriage in Syrian Refugee Camps

By Mariam Alshamsi


Child marriage is a human rights violation and a form of gender-based violence under international law, because of the physical and psychological damage it causes to girls, such as long-term health issues and social and economic consequences. In the Arab world, one out of every five girls marry before the age of 18 (Chaban, 2018). Chakraborty (2019) explains that although the Arab region has made considerable progress in terms of reducing child marriage since 2010, escalating and persistent violence in the Arab world has hampered this development. As a result of conflicts, child marriage is used as a negative coping mechanism by many displaced and refugee families, especially in Syria. In such environments, the reasons why families choose to marry off young girls are complex. Chaban (2018) describes how the destabilization of the social and political order and militarization exacerbates vulnerabilities, leading to increased poverty and insecurity. There is also a fear of rape and sexual abuse/assault directed at women and girls, which becomes a gendered security issue. As a result, child marriage becomes a negative coping strategy with the expectation that a girl will be cared for and covered by her new husband or his family. However, Chakraborty (2019) finds that the effects of the marriage on the girl contradict this presumption and potentially expose girls to more abuse. Domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, severe reproductive health effects, sexually transmitted diseases, and emotional distress are common outcomes of this form of marriage. This paper explores how the low economic and social status, including lower educational attainment among Syrian refugee families, leads to an increase in the prevalence of child marriage in Syrian refugee camps. The paper will also demonstrate why child marriage has increased in the post-conflict period in Syrian refugee camps.

Literature Review

Violence against women has a long history, but the frequency and severity of such violence have varied over time and continue to do so today. Whether in society at large or in a personal relationship, such abuse is often used as a tool for the subjugation of women (Crowell & Burgess, 1996). Burn (2005) defines violence against women as any act of gender-based violence that causes or is likely to cause a woman any type of suffering including physical, sexual, or mental harm. The issue of gender-based violence has recently been officially recognized when the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (DEVAW), passed in in December 1993, acknowledged that violence against women infringes on women’s rights and fundamental freedoms and urged states in the international community to work toward its abolition (OHCHR). In 2005, KAFA, a feminist Lebanese organization based in Beirut and initiated by Lebanese women, aimed at eradicating legal, economic, and social discrimination against women. The name of the organization means “enough” in Arabic, and it aims to achieve comprehensive gender equality by using a variety of strategies, including lobbying for law reform and the implementation of new laws and policies; shaping public opinion, practices, and mentality; conducting research and training; supporting women and children who have been victims of violence; and providing social, legal, and psychological support (KAFA, 2018).

One of the most common forms of gender-based violence is child marriage because it denies girls their childhood and is a human rights issue, but it is also a health and safety issue, as girls typically have less control than their husbands and in-laws. Physical and sexual abuse, as well as sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, are risks for child brides (Burn, 2005). UNICEF (2013) defines child marriage as a marriage that takes place when either or both spouses are under the age of 18, where they enter a socially recognized arrangement for a conjugal marriage. This type of marriage can either be consensual or executed coercively and is triggered by a series of factors including social, cultural, economic, and religious reasons. Children, both male and female, are affected by child marriage, but it is not as common for males as it is for females (UNICEF, 2019). From an Islamic perspective, Baderin (2010) explains that the regulations relating to marriage and involvement in public affairs are of particular concern to Muslim women. Not only is there a right to marry freely and with complete agreement, but there is also a necessity that state parties take adequate efforts to ensure that the spouses’ rights and obligations are equal before, during, and after marriage. Baderin further notes that every citizen has the right and opportunity to participate in the conduct of public affairs without discrimination based on sex. This includes the right to vote and be elected, as well as equal access to public service in one’s country.

According to Burn (2005), while child marriage rates have decreased, eight countries have a prevalence rate of more than 50% including Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Guinea, Mali, Niger, and South Sudan. Furthermore, while the rate of child marriage fell by 15% in 2018, the number of women married before the age of 18 remains high. Approximately 650 million girls and women today were married before the age of 18, with 5% of them in the Middle East and North Africa (UNICEF, 2019). According to Monger (2013), in Arab culture, when a girl hits puberty at the age of 12 or 13, she is traditionally veiled. However, in other situations, she will be veiled around the age of 10 or 11 and cared for by older women to ensure that she does not lose her purity. The article shows that the veil is a symbol of a girl’s transition into womanhood, and every attempt is made to marry her as quickly as possible after she is veiled. Although outside forces have loosened some of the traditional veil restrictions, contact between the sexes is still frowned upon. Therefore, before the war took place in Syria, child marriage roughly accounted for 13% of all marriages (Alking, 2019). Child marriages violate human rights by exposing girls to domestic violence, hunger, increased health threats, and, in many cases, social exclusion and limited educational opportunities (Magnay, 2016).

 In the post-conflict period in any country, there are always people fleeing their homelands to find better places to live, but not everyone is able to escape conflict zones. Alking (2019) notes that many people become refugees and live in camps that are temporary facilities, intended to provide protection and assistance to people who have been forced to leave their homes due to conflict, violence, or persecution. Although camps are not meant to be long-term solutions, they do offer a safe haven where refugees can receive medical care, food, shelter, and other basic emergency services. Burn (2005) explains that when families are weak, forced marriage is more likely because a daughter’s early marriage may relieve some financial pressures for families living in poverty and experiencing financial instability. In reality, poverty is the best predictor of early marriages. 

Anderson (2014) explains that child marriages increased in Syrian societies after the war. Many mothers expressed their concern regarding their daughters’ early marriage. They claimed that if it were not for their fear of the high rates of rape and assault incidents taking place in the camps, they would not have married their daughters off at such a young age. The reason for this is that such incidents can result in the impregnation of the girl, and that would bring shame to the family (De Smedt, 1998). In addition, if the girl is not doing well in school, her parents are likely to think that her education is useless, so they marry her off instead (Anderson, 2014). 

In an interview conducted by Anderson (2014), the author interviewed a girl and her husband, Maha and Abdullah, a Syrian refugee who was only 13 years old when she married a 23-year-old man. Her circumstances and the reasons for her marriage are typical of many of the girls living in camps. Maha explains that because a rape case took place nearby, her father forced her to marry as he feared that Maha and her sister would suffer the same fate. Thus, he pushed her sister to get married first, and then he compelled Maha to marry shortly after (Anderson, 2014). Maha says that the marriage was forceful, and she did not have a choice between completing her education or getting married. She hoped to complete her education first but was unable to do so (Anderson, 2014). Abdullah, Maha’s husband, says he met her father through mutual contacts and married her since Maha’s father wanted her to marry even though she was planning to enroll in school, but there were a lot of rapes taking place in the camps (Anderson, 2014). Abdullah also mentions that it is extremely difficult for a Syrian to find work, and Maha’s father was struggling to pay his expenses and rent, while the humanitarian crisis in his native country had influenced societal customs (Anderson, 2014). He also adds that if they were in Syria, Maha’s father would not marry her off at this age, since 13 is too young to marry and no one marries off their daughters at this age in Syria (Anderson, 2014). Additionally, many other issues come with living in a refugee camp including economic, social, and educational factors (Chakraborty, 2019).


This paper is a critical analysis of the issue of child marriage in Syrian refugee camps. It begins by briefly describing the Syrian conflict of 2011 and how it contributed to the increase of child marriages in Syria in the post-conflict period. This paper will look at the positive and negative views on child marriage and why it has become prevalent in Syrian refugee camps specifically. It is a descriptive research paper that is based on cases, interviews, and statistics from refugee camps, which help explain the major factors that have contributed to the increase of this phenomenon. One limitation faced in this study is the lack of official marriage registrations, which made it difficult to obtain valid information about the prevalence of child marriage since many refugees did not have the documentation required to complete some of the initial registration steps. For example, Syrian refugees in Lebanon face a variety of obstacles when it comes to registering births and marriages, restricting their access to services including shelter and education (Chaban, 2018).

The Syrian Conflict (2011)

Blanchard et al. (2015) note that the fighting that took place during the Syrian conflict of 2011 continues today, pitting government forces and their foreign allies against a diverse group of anti-government militants, some of whom are also fighting among themselves. Since March 2011, the violence has forced over 2.6 million out of a total population of more than 22 million Syrians to seek shelter in neighboring countries. According to the article “11,000 children killed so far in Syrian conflict,” (2013) during the three years of war between the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad and the rebel groups, children as young as one, were subjected to torture and summary executions, and are referred to as Syria’s secret toll of child casualties. The article explains that the rest were “caught in the crossfire,” with their homes or schools being bombed or gassed and boys outnumbering girls by around two to one among the 11,420 children aged 17 and under who were killed, with those aged 13 to 17 being the most likely victims of targeted killings and executions. Thus, fighters on both sides should be educated on how to avoid endangering civilians (11,000 children killed, 2013).

 Blanchard et al. (2015) note that millions of Syrians are internally displaced and are in need of humanitarian aid, with the U.S. continuing to be the largest bilateral provider, with over $1.7 billion in funding reported. In the short term, neither pro-Assad forces nor their adversaries seem capable of consolidating their battlefield advances or achieving outright victory in Syria. The authors explain that the conflict between ISIS and other anti-Assad movements has escalated; local sectarian and political tensions in Lebanon and Iraq are being exacerbated by the Syrian crisis, thereby posing a danger to national stability. El Arab & Sagbakken (2019) found that the number of Syrian refugees fleeing to other countries has been steadily increasing. As of July 2018, there were 668,123 Syrian refugees registered in Jordan and 976,000 Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon, suggesting that these countries have the highest population density of refugees. 

According to Chaban (2018), conflicts that keep girls out of school increase the risk of child marriage. Girls who marry young are more likely to drop out of school, become unemployed, and suffer from serious health problems, in comparison to their unmarried peers. This process helps perpetuate a cycle of poverty, lack of education, and unemployment. Tasker (2018) found that in Lebanon, the number of displaced Syrian women who marry before they turn 18 has risen to 41% and the number of recorded child marriages involving Syrians in Jordan has increased from 12% in 2011 to 36% in 2018. Chakraborty (2019) reported that refugee families faced major obstacles because of conflict and displacement, leading them to live in poor conditions, poverty, and insecurity. War and migration, according to women, have exacerbated economic conditions, making everyday survival extremely difficult. In addition, most women complained that their living conditions were filthy and crowded, with many family members sharing small tents or apartments. The financial situation in the household was characterized as dire and likely to worsen, almost all girls preferred to work to help support their families and the majority of respondents expressed financial strains as a result of high rental costs, low wages, and a lack of secure or regular employment opportunities (Mourtada et al., 2017). One participant explained that they work for a day and then they stop due to inconsistency; living costs are high and the landowners take advantage of this fact by seeking higher rents, thereby making it harder for the workers to earn money (Mourtada et al., 2017).

Economic Factors

Alking (2019) explains that the Syrian conflict contributed to the rise of married children and on the economic front, poverty has grown as a result of widespread unemployment, job loss, and a reduction in income sources. Destruction, terror, murder, pillage, and rape have spread as a result of the security system’s failure and tragedies occur in the absence of stability, whether they are political, economic, social, or health related. Alking further reports that death, injuries, and refugees are not the only casualties of battle. Poverty, ignorance, societal disintegration, crime, and other social diseases spread during wars, and the Syrian war was one of the key reasons for child marriage practices in Syrian refugee camps. In addition, the number of child marriages rose from 12% of all marriages in 2011 to just under 32% at the beginning of 2014, whereas before the war (2000-2009), child marriages accounted for roughly 13% of all marriages in Syria. Although child marriage is not common in today’s Arab world, it has become more common in recent years because of the increase in conflicts and the need for security (El Arab & Sagbakken, 2019). 

El Arab & Sagbakken (2019) found that economic factors largely contribute to the increase of child marriages in Syrian refugee camps. In their study of female Syrian refugees, the authors discovered that many girls see early marriage as a way to escape poverty and unemployment. Chakraborty (2019) observed that, before the civil war, the majority of Syrian child marriages took place in poor and rural areas. However, as economic stability became a problem for all families following the refugee crisis, refugees in camps have had little to no job opportunities and are often denied work permits. Therefore, they are almost completely reliant on humanitarian assistance. 

As a result, families marry off their daughters so they can be counted under the category of the other family, thus reducing the number of mouths that require feeding for her original family (Chakraborty, 2019). El Arab & Sagbakken (2019) explain that since young girls have limited financial resources, the perception of a lack of safety is often linked to a lack of financial access. El Arab and Sagbakken also note that due to the war, these girls have been forced to relocate to Lebanon, where they have minimal schooling and educational opportunities, leaving them with only low-skilled job opportunities. Therefore, they choose an early marriage out of desperation, if they receive proposals from well-established men. In addition, conflict and displacement pose significant challenges to refugee family operations, as focus group participants identified dire living conditions, poverty, insecurity, and fear as potential motivators (Chakraborty, 2019). Given the desperate state of some families’ finances, marrying a daughter off at a young age can help alleviate a family’s overall financial burden (El Arab & Sagbakken, 2019). 

According to Izeldeen (2014), child marriage is seen as a survival tactic in rural communities or low-income households. The vast majority of the study’s participants were poor, unemployed, and married young. During an evaluation of refugee populations, El Arab & Sagbakken (2019) found that Syrian families in Jordan and Lebanon were in serious financial hardship. These hardships arise as it can be difficult to help the whole family because many family members depend on family savings and employment is scarce. Therefore, mothers assume that marrying off children is necessary because it increases the economic prospects of the girl child. According to the UN Women Study, economic reasons for marrying at a young age include women’s access to housing (20.1%) and offering options to mitigate financial problems (28.4%) (2019). Alking (2019) explains how families also fear for their daughters’ reputation if they go to work while also facing financial pressures and the inability of families to meet basic needs. As a result, child marriage is seen as a means of reducing the number of people in a family, as well as the associated economic burden of feeding, clothing, and caring for the child. One refugee explained that some people marry off their daughters at a young age because it is customary, while others do it to relieve financial stress. For example, some fathers are unemployed and must support five or six people, so marrying off a daughter would help to reduce the financial burden (Mourtada et al., 2017).

Human trafficking is quite prevalent in Syrian refugee camps as young girls between the ages of 8 and 17 are sold away to older men at varying price ranges depending on different factors (Mandić, 2017). Mourtada et al. (2017) found that bride prices (mahr) can be very low in Syrian refugee camps. Due to lower earnings and assets, the mahr is lower than it was before the war. The authors explain that the mahr has become highly dependent on the groom’s nationality and whether he is related to the bride. The mahr in the past varied by area in Syria, typically ranging between $100 and $500 and sometimes reaching $3000. The study goes on to describe that it was calculated to be $100 or less if the groom is Syrian and higher if the groom is not Syrian; however, most grooms are Syrian. For many families, the mahr was usually lower, and they were often removed entirely as many families are desperate to marry off their daughters. 

Social factors 

Chakraborty (2019) also found that social factors such as culture, greatly contribute to the increase in child marriages. In many cultures, there is a gendered division of labor in the household, with women typically performing unpaid labor, men being the breadwinners, and daughters being treated as burdens and married off. Habib (2018) explains that Syrian social norms differ by religion, gender, and between rural and urban areas, but the general essence of these norms often places women in secondary positions viewing them as a source of honor or shame for the family. The most severe oppression of women occurs in the home. For example, after school, girls are required to assist their mothers, while boys are free to do whatever they want. Even if both partners work the same hours, married women are still responsible for all household work. Habib also mentions that Syrian culture assigns many negative traits to women and many positive traits to men: women are seen as poor and oppressed, while men are courageous, compassionate, and hardworking. However, these examples cannot be applied universally to all Syrian families because Syrian culture is extremely complex, and not everyone follows traditional customs and norms. Additionally, the author suggests that many Syrian women value their independence and reject traditional social norms, particularly if they have familial support, even though they are not accepted by many segments of Syrian society.

Nonetheless, Chakraborty (2019) notes that poverty weakens these women and leaves them unable to make their own choices, leaving their fates in the hands of the family’s male head. When opposed to their safety and economic needs, it becomes clear that child marriage is the lesser of two evils for refugee families. However, when considering the long-term consequences of child marriage, this argument falls short. The study demonstrates that child marriage often results in the girl losing her freedom of movement and work, the legitimization of domestic and sexual abuse, and denial of her access to education. 

Child marriage is favored in some communities and families in these societies actively search for opportunities for their children to marry due to several social values that directly affect the behavior of individuals (Alking, 2019). The first two values are religion and honor, as they are of critical importance in Syrian society, and they need to be maintained (Chakraborty, 2019). These two social factors value “sutra,” which is an Islamic tradition of securing immunity from adversity. In order to protect her family’s integrity, the woman must uphold her chastity because the loss of a woman’s chastity harms the family’s reputation and her own. If she is raped, no one would consider marrying her as she will be considered a “used good” (Alking, 2019). As a result, El Arab & Sagbakken (2019) explain that marriage is seen as the only secure path to sexual intercourse and families strive to marry their daughters off at a young age to shield them from temptation and to protect the family’s integrity. Thus, it is important for girls to get married, before rape or assault incidents prevent them from marrying at all. Mourtada et al. (2017) also explain that because of the high prevalence and fear of sexual harassment and rape by men and guards of younger children in refugee camps, avoiding premarital sex is not easy. 

Many participants in one UNHCR study mentioned that the belief in “sutra” triggers child marriage. More specifically, young girls are encouraged to marry an older man to achieve “sutra” (Chakraborty, 2019). Therefore, Chakraborty states that child marriage is regarded as ideal in many regional interpretations of Islam, leading Syrian societies to regard their daughters’ early marriage as a sign of family honor (2019). An example of this would be the 14-year-old Syrian girl who married a 30-year-old man and said that she would rather be violated by one man than by all the men in town. 

Alking (2019) states that other social factors include the clan or tribe where members of Syrian tribes attempt to increase the number of members through early marriage and polygamy, since a large clan is seen as a means of social security and influence. Furthermore, parental authority is vital in Syrian culture. That is, the essence of the relationship between parents and children is marked by the father’s absolute authority and power over his children’s destiny. Therefore, the father does not involve his children in making life-altering decisions such as decisions regarding marriage. Finally, Alking posits that some families will consent to the marriage of their young daughters if the groom is a relative, believing that the girl will not be separated from her family and will not feel alone. Such decisions are mostly made without the girl’s consent.

Swan (2018) states that young women married to older men are often socially isolated and powerless, relying heavily on their husbands to protect their rights. Through interviews, Alking (2019) found that the most common issue was the inability to make decisions. One woman said that when her son became ill, she was unable to contact her husband, so they waited for him to come home until the next day because she was afraid that if they went to the hospital without his permission, he would be furious. Alking describes that not only are these women socially isolated, but many women claimed that their husbands were only concerned with fulfilling their sexual instincts and having children and were unconcerned about their wives’ wellbeing. El Arab & Sagbakken (2019) found that the reason why many women get married so early in their lives is because they view the lack of male care as a potential reason for early marriage and acquiring a male protector through marriage would be the best way to avoid possible attacks from strangers. The authors note that the belief that such men are incapable of providing adequate physical safety for the women and girls in their families, promotes the acceptance of early marriage, a pattern which revealed that marriage is used as a means of safety for girls in the community. 

Therefore, the belief that child marriage can improve a child’s physical safety is a major factor behind the rise in child marriages. El Arab & Sagbakken (2019) also found that in Lebanon and Jordan, several men believed that child marriage was a way to shield children from abuse and the possibility of sexual assault. The authors observed that owing to social rejection, girls who had been subjected to various types of sexual assault and harassment could find it difficult to marry later, thereby increasing the acceptance of the practice. As such, the parents’ decision to encourage their daughters to marry sexual predators may be hastened by the associated difficulties of being shunned by society. Thus, if a girl is raped, she is forced to get married.

Educational Factors

Alking (2019) notes that education is essential and the prevalence of child marriage in Syrian culture is both a cause and a result of a lack of education. Furthermore, child marriage is increased by a community’s lack of education, causing underage girls to drop out of school. Chakraborty (2019) elaborates, stating that child marriage is perceived as a straightforward solution to economic and social problems. However, it perpetuates a cycle of poverty, lack of jobs, and denial of children’s rights. The value of education, or the lack thereof, is an important, yet often ignored factor. Chakraborty found that over 40% of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon do not attend school, making child marriage a viable option for securing a future. As a result, women are trapped in a cycle of dependency because they are unable to acquire the credentials and skills necessary to enter the labor market and ultimately become economically self-sufficient. According to the study, education gives girls a stronger voice in the home by ensuring their freedom, and according to the World Bank, each year of secondary school decreases the likelihood of child marriage by 4% to 6%. Mourtada et al. (2017) mention that according to both mothers and service providers, one of the major challenges faced by teenage girls because of the Syrian conflict is the disruption of education. Young women, particularly unmarried women, were upset, claiming that the war had interrupted their education and jeopardized their future, as many had hoped to pursue a college education and a career before the war, but are now focused on finding a job to help their families, especially when male family members remained in Syria, died, or went missing. 

Many women may have been encouraged to marry before they turned 18 and many parents may have been pushed to marry off their daughters at a younger age, due to the lack of educational opportunities (Mourtada et al., 2017). Chakraborty (2019) states that child marriage causes problems for everyone, not just those who are in refugee camps. For example, child marriages are illegal in European countries and the laws are silent on what should be done with refugees resettled in Europe. Countries such as Germany have made it clear that they will not accept child marriages, but it is unclear what will happen to child brides and their children because family reunification laws may not apply to them, and the undocumented and illegal existence of their unions will jeopardize their hard-won legal status. Mourtada et al. (2017) interviewed a Syrian refugee mother who explained that many women said that they were “pro-education,” prioritized education over marriage, and they wanted their daughters to reach the secondary level at least. However, due to their displacement, they resort to early marriages in fear of the future, which was the case with this mother; she married off both her daughters after the war began, when one was 18 and the other was 12. The authors suggest that married women tended to be less concerned with education, possibly because they stopped attending school once they married or became pregnant and were required to care for their husbands and children.


In conclusion, child marriage is a human rights violation and a form of gender-based violence due to the physical and psychological damage it causes. Over time, it increased in the Arab world because of the increased conflicts that took place in the region. In Syrian refugee camps specifically, the main reasons behind this phenomenon are economic difficulties, social expectations, and the lack of education. Child marriage leads to greater exposure to domestic violence against child brides and also causes adverse health issues. Swan (2018) notes that the Syrian refugee community’s high levels of trauma have increased the risk of child spouses ending up in violent or exploitative circumstances. This is reflected in a study by Jordan’s Higher Population Council, which found that 60% of registered female victims of violence were forced or child brides (Swan, 2018). Tasker (2018) further notes that the biggest cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19 is pregnancy and other childbirth-related factors. Child marriage is proven to have detrimental consequences that can last a lifetime. Unfortunately, even after its recognition as a violation of women’s and girls’ rights, child marriage is still prevalent to this day and is perpetuated in impoverished areas, such as the Syrian refugee camps. For that reason, countries need to implement stricter rules and regulations regarding the issue and empower women and girls from an early age by educating them about the risks of child marriage.


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Double Victimization: Armenian Women in the Armenian Genocide

By Alya Alkhajeh


The Armenian genocide was the systematic killing of thousands to millions of Armenian men and boys by the Ottoman-Turkish forces. Along with the forced deportation of Armenian women and children to the Ottoman-Turkish community between 1915-1917 (Akçam, 2012). Randall explains that prior to the genocide, the Armenian population operated under the Ottoman Empire’s rule; however, their own cultural practices were maintained, this was not an issue until 1915. He further proclaims that World War 1 opened doors for weakened ties within the Ottoman Empire (Randall, 2015). Hence, as a means of maintaining its power and solidarity, the Ottoman Empire needed to expand, and this goal was achieved at the expense of the Armenians (Randall, 2015). According to Kurt, the Ottoman-Turkish forces attacked Armenia in 1915 with a transformative agenda that occurred throughout two phases (2016). The first phase dealt with destructing the Armenian community and preventing its perpetuation, whereas the second phase focused on constructing new identities (Kurt, 2016). 

Scholars of gender studies refer to the Armenian genocide as “gendercide,” implying the significant extent to which Armenian women were mostly under the risk of violence (Herzog, 2009). Harrelson claims that the Turkish forces used sexual violence as a form of ethnic cleansing during the genocide (2009). They began by massacring Armenian men and boys and then deporting Armenian women and girls to the Turkish Empire (Harrelson, 2009). Through the deportation journey, Turkish elites inflicted various forms of sexual violence on Armenian women and girls (Derdarian, 2005). Derderian claims the violence was imposed to emasculate Armenian men and capture Armenian women for reproduction (2005). Armenian females suffered from genocidal rape, sexual enslavement, and forced assimilation, which were all strategies adopted by the Turkish elites to develop their nation (Derderian, 2005). Through sexual exploitation and forced conversions, Turkish elites weakened the Armenian identity and produced new Muslim-Turkish identities (Kurt, 2016). According to Kurt, this cultural and religious transformation process is called “Turkification” and “Islamization” (2016).

After years of struggle under Turkish rule, in 1917, the Armenian leadership attempted to reform their destroyed community (Derderian, 2005). Their goal was to gather all Armenian survivors that were forcibly deported to the Turkish community during the genocide and bring them back to Armenia (Derderian, 2005). Unfortunately, the atrocious war wiped out the majority of the Armenian population settling in Turkish homes during the war, where the Armenian elites managed to return only 10% of their survivors (Tachjian, 2014). Tachjian claims that the Armenian leadership predicted a smooth integration process of their survivors during the nation’s reformation; however, it proved to be a challenge because of the different lives women pursued post-genocide (2014). 

The Armenian elites believed that the surviving Armenian women had dishonored their community when deported to the Ottoman Empire and no longer represented the ideal Armenian women (Tachjian, 2014). As noted by Tachjian, feminist scholars argue that these women were brave for finding survival techniques and managing to secure life after the war (2014). In contrast, he claims that the Armenian nation felt disgraced and blamed the women for identifying with their rivals (2014). For that reason, women were denied entry at first and only began to return slowly when the Armenian leadership realized that they were essential to the nation’s rebirth since they were needed to reproduce nationalist Armenian citizens (Ekmekçioğlu, 2013).

The Turkish forces victimized Armenian women through genocidal rape, sexual enslavement, and forced assimilation. The Armenian leadership failed to acknowledge that their women were victims of Turk treachery and instead accused them of breaking Armenia’s cultural norms. The Armenian women had to face social ostracization due to consistent allegations of hindering the re-establishing process of their country. They were accused of losing the Armenian identity and no longer truly representing the ideal Armenian woman. As a result of these accusations, it was perceived that the Armenian nation could not develop as quickly as it desired. Therefore, this research paper investigates (i) the Armenian women’s victimization at the Turks’ hands and (ii) how this led to them being accused by the Armenians for slowing down the Armenian community’s reformation in 1917. 

Many wars took place in the 1900s, and the Armenian nation was the first to deteriorate under the Ottoman-Turkish rule between 1915-1917 (Winter, 2003). According to Winter (2003), an estimated 1 million people were killed during the Armenian genocide. Many authors, including Ronald Suny, examined the varied explanations for the occurrence of the Armenian genocide and concluded that the dominant narrative was the weakening of the Ottoman Empire at the height of the first World War (2015). Winter claims that the Russians attacked the Ottoman-Turks during World War 1 (WW1), and the Turkish forces attempted to regain power and control over their empire by regulating their population (2003). The Ottoman Empire was ethnically divided, and the Armenians accounted for approximately 2 million of the empire’s total population (Kurt, 2016). Winter states that the Turkish elites accused the Armenian population of being loyal to the Russians and suspected Armenian efforts to support the Russians in undermining the Ottoman Empire (2003). To preserve the Muslim-Turkish national identity, the Turkish elites aimed to homogenize their empire and exterminate groups threatening their nation’s solidarity, i.e., the Armenians (Winter, 2003). Suny notes that the Ottoman-Turks succeeded in their attack due to asymmetric power, and subsequently, Armenia experienced the darkest times in its history (2015).

Suny notes that pro-Turk scholars deny certain aspects of the genocide or reject its occurrence entirely, claiming it was more of a civil war than a genocide (2015). In his book “What is Genocide?” Martin Shaw highlighted Raphael’s definition of genocide and how it was recognized as a crime against humanity in international law because of Lemkin’s efforts (2015). Shaw stated that the term genocide refers to the mass killing of an entire ethnic group and the deportation of surviving individuals. He also emphasizes that genocide is typically carried out to transform an entire community and homogenize another (2015). Pro-Armenian scholars like Kurt argue that this pattern was apparent in the Armenian genocide. He notes that the Ottoman-Turks’ attack was intended to eradicate the Armenian population and homogenize the Muslim-Turkish community (2016). Kurt and many scholars like him claim that the Ottoman Empire’s homogenization was a two-way process called Islamization and Turkification, which referred to the transformation of the Armenian identity religiously and culturally during the genocide (2016). Kurt states that the Islamization procedure represented the forced Islamic conversions and took form through an Islamic judge or a conversion office, followed by a new Muslim name. Additionally, he notes that the Turkification process was conducted through Turkish cultural classes and forced marriages (2016). These two processes combined were necessary to ensure a legitimate conversion and preservation of the Turkish national identity (Kurt, 2016).  

“Gendercide” is derived from the term “genocide”; however, the prefix “gender” implies that the killings are targeted towards a specific gender, typically women and girls (2009). According to Herzog, the Armenian genocide can be identified as a gendercide due to Ottoman-Turkish forces targeting Armenian women and girls, and rape used a weapon of war against them (Herzog, 2009). Randall states that scholars of rape and sexual assault claim that rape has various definitions depending on the assaulter’s intentions. She mentions that some believe rape happens due to the perpetrator’s sexual attraction or the desire to fuel their ego by dominating the victim (2015). However, many scholars, including Katharine Derderian, claim that rape is an unlawful sexual act that can be used as a tool to terrorize, dehumanize, and humiliate an individual or community (2005). Gzoyan and Galustyan stated that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has extensively elaborated on rape as a technique of genocide (2021). It considers it equivalent to, if not even more potent than traditional weapons of war because it disrupts a given ethnic group’s solidarity, weakens its national identity, and violates the rights of victims involved (Gzoyan & Galustyan, 2021). As such, Harrelson notes that rape claims a unique position in international law, where it is legally recognized as a destructive weapon of war used to eradicate or perpetuate populations (2009). It has revolutionized the way genocides are conducted and is officially termed “genocidal rape” (Harrelson, 2009). Examples of conflict-related sexual violence like rape can be traced back to 420 b.c.e and can even be depicted in modern history (Burn, 2005). For instance, in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, 250,000 to 500,000 Tutsi women were raped by Hutu men (Burn, 2005). Burn claims that conflict-related sexual violence has been overlooked for many years. She believes that its recent recognition in international law has been life-changing for many surviving victims of rape and urges the remembrance of the lost lives to sexual violence (2005). 

Feminist scholars commonly agree that genocidal rape is a crime against humanity and a violation of women’s and girls’ rights (Turpin,1998). However, Turpin claims that in terms of prostitution and forced marriages, feminist scholars have conflicting views (1998). Some believe prostitution and forced marriage are highly exploitative, while others argue that they are survival strategies, adopted to secure a living in post-conflict periods (Turpin, 1998). Turpin notes that 46 million people were displaced in the 20th century beginning from the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-1905 up to the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The author claims that women and girls accounted for approximately 36 million of these displaced individuals. She further notes that due to the gendered dynamics of war, men die on the battlefield, and women remain without protection or security; hence recovering from the post-conflict trauma solely becomes a tough act (1998). In such scenarios, Phoenix argues that prostitution and forced marriage becomes a method of recovery from war to overcome poverty (1999). Apart from it being economically driven, Tachjian claims that military bases can enforce prostitution and forced marriages during conflict. He argues that women are coerced to join brothels and forcibly marry for political and social reasons (2014). Feminist scholars affirming this view argue that prostitution and forced marriages become opportunistic during conflicts since soldiers take advantage of the governmental instability during war and sexually abuse women without facing allegations for their criminal actions (Tachjian, 2014). While other feminists believe that women are brave for finding survival techniques to overcome the burdening consequences of war and choosing to integrate themselves into new communities to attain shelter and protection for themselves and their children (Tachjian, 2014).

This paper is a critical gendered analysis of the Armenian genocide. The analysis presented in this paper is based on evidence gathered from both primary and secondary sources. The paper includes mentions of several eyewitness accounts and diplomatic reports highlighting the injustice done towards Armenian women during the genocide. Furthermore, secondary evidence has also been used to strengthen the arguments. Literary sources were critical in providing evidence of victimization at the hands of both the Turks and Armenians. A possible limitation to the outcome of this paper would be the lack of sufficient information on the Armenian government’s position towards surviving women during the country’s reformation. This issue can only be address by accessing the Armenian archives since the government has not disclosed much information in this regard.

Genocidal Rape

Scholars like Herzog recognize the Armenian genocide as a gendercide because of how it was conducted (2009). Peroomian notes that the Turks were strategic with their attack and did not kill people arbitrarily. She claims that the initial stages of the genocide involved the attacks of men and boys first and then the assault of women and girls through different forms of violence, demonstrating the gendered aspect of the genocide (2009). In terms of violence against women and girls, genocidal rape was one of the most prominent features of the Armenian genocide since it was used as a tool for ethnic cleansing and cultural perpetuation (Herzog, 2009).  Derderian states that the Turk’s rape of Armenian women and girls took place on a large scale to where it was considered “genocidal rape.” She also notes that Ottoman-Turkish forces maintained the Armenian community’s inferiority by raping Armenian women and girls collectively and individually in their family’s and relatives’ presence (2005). Their rape was a means of dehumanizing, terrorizing, and humiliating the Armenian population (Derderian, 2005). According to Harrelson’s (2009) research, the US Ambassador to Turkey between 1913-1916, Henry Morgenthau, claimed that the Turkish leadership ensured that the Armenians were defenseless before attacking them. Morgenthau states that the Turkish forces unarmed the Armenian combatants, mutilated, and killed them. However, he claims that the war’s effects were far more detrimental to Armenian women than men because men endured shorter sufferings due to quick death. In contrast, he argues that women continued to suffer after the war as the rapes continued even during deportations to ensure compliance with the Turkish authority’s rules and commands (Harrelson, 2009).

Randall notes that the Ottoman Empire was weakening during WW1, and the Turkish authorities had to take immediate action to save their nation, where their response to the effects of the war took place at the expense of the Armenian people, specifically the women and girls (2015). According to Harrelson, rape proved to be the most efficient destructive weapon used by Turkish forces in the ethnic cleansing of the Armenians (2009). Morgenthau claims that the Turkish authority’s rapes were not intended to harm the Armenian women directly; instead, it was executed to help achieve the Turk’s primary goal of undermining Armenian men’s power and self-identity (Harrelson, 2009). Derderian states that based on Armenia’s patriarchal ideals, women and girls were considered men’s property; hence, it becomes the father, brother, and husband’s duty to protect their women and girls in all circumstances. She argues that the rape of Armenian women was a mechanism to emasculate and punish the Armenian men by disrupting their masculine duties in protecting their women during the conflict (2005). Therefore, the Armenian men were depicted as weak and powerless for not performing their basic responsibility as “men” (Derderian, 2005). The Turkish leadership perpetrated sexual violence against women and girls and ordered it to be conducted publicly to increase the terror and intimidation among the Armenian population, specifically the men (Herzog, 2009). An anonymous Armenian survivor notes that Armenian men quit fighting the Turkish army at a certain point during the genocide because the more they attacked, the greater the harm inflicted on the Armenian women by Turkish gendarmes (Derderian, 2005). Most prominently, Turkish gendarmes exacerbated the sexual assault on Armenian women, which weakened the women and hindered the ability of the Armenian men to protect their women against these assaults (Derderian, 2005). 

According to Ekmekçioğlu, the emasculation and killing of Armenian men were the destructive components of the Armenian genocide; the constructive aspects were the biological reproduction and identity formation achieved through the rape of Armenian women by the Turkish gendarmes (2015). The Turkish authority aimed to eradicate the Armenian community and hinder its development by preventing reproduction between Armenian males and females (Randall, 2015). Instead, they promoted Turkish identity by targeting Armenian women and subjecting them to genocidal rape (Randall, 2015). Ekmekçioğlu states that even before the genocide took place, there were strict rules prevalent in the Ottoman empire that barred Armenian men from marrying foreign women; however, no such restrictions were imposed on Armenian women. She states that these rules were established to preserve the Turkish national identity (2015). Based on patriarchal logic, children acquire citizenship through the paternal line, which means that Armenian women raped and impregnated by Turkish men carry Turkish children (Harrelson, 2009). According to Randall, these forced impregnations had long-lasting consequences on Armenian women since they were expected to give birth to Turkish children and integrate themselves entirely into the Turkish community to become Turkish national citizens and abandon their Armenian identity (2015). Herzog notes that the process of creating new Turkish identities was highly abusive to Armenian women, according to an anonymous Armenian survivor. She claims that the Turkish gendarmes filtered Armenian women based on attractiveness during deportations and were less likely to reproduce with unattractive ones (2009). The unappealing women had their ears, nose, breasts, hands, and feet chopped off and thrown away. In contrast, the attractive ones were sexually abused and captured for marriage and reproduction (Herzog, 2009).

Sexual Enslavement

Ümit claims that Armenian women and girls endured all sorts of pain during the genocide, from starvation, exhaustion, illness to sexual violence. He notes that sexual enslavement thrived during and after deportations in the Ottoman Empire for two reasons (2012). Like genocidal rape, prostitution was a tool of genocide used by Turkish forces during deportations to threaten and humiliate Armenian men (Ümit, 2012). Ümit claims that after achieving the emasculation goal, Turkish gendarmes perpetrated prostitution for sexual satisfaction; hence, Armenian women were transformed from a mechanism of intimidation to sexual objects for male desire (2012). Derderian states that before assimilating the Armenian women into Muslim-Turkish households, the Turkish gendarmes benefited from the government’s instability and initiated temporary public brothels and auctions during deportations and sold Armenian women as sex slaves for economic gains (2005). Oral and written accounts suggest that women and young girls were auctioned publicly in batches of 300-400 in the presence of hundreds of Turkish men, ranging from the authorities to the mass public (2005). Ümit claims that the Turkish gendarmes were strategic in their abuse (2012). They initially stripped the women and girls for bidders to better judge the worth of their sex slaves and then stole all their belongings, including clothes and jewelry, and sold them to the public (Ümit, 2012). A German eyewitness notes that along with older women, young girls ages 8-9 were coerced to engage in the slave market and were mostly desired by Turkish clients because they were previously untouched (Harrelson, 2009). Additionally, the girls suffered physically from sexual abuse and struggled to function properly; thus, the Turkish gendarmes believed they had become useless and killed them (Harrelson, 2009).

Although the Turks coerced Armenian women and girls into sexual enslavement during deportations, others willingly resorted to prostitution as a survival strategy to secure life and support their children after the war (Kurt, 2016). Ümit notes that the genocide generated an increasing number of widowed Armenian women because of the systematic killings; hence, these women had to depart from their traditional roles and become heads of households to attain shelter, work, and education for themselves and their children (2012). According to Derderian, the Turkish gendarmes abandoned some women during deportations while forcing others to settle in Muslim-Turkish households after deportations. The author mentions that newly settled women attained their basic necessities from their new husbands, and the other unmarried women became servants and maids in Turkish homes without pay (2005). However, the neglected women had to survive independently and, unfortunately, failed to find jobs in the Turkish community accepting Armenian refugees, and the only accessible option was prostitution (Derderian, 2005). These women sold their bodies to men because of the desperate need for financial aid; hence, Armenian women of this type referred to prostitution as “survival sex” (Derderian, 2005). Ümit states that out of every 140 prostitutes in the Ottoman-Turkish Empire, 100 were Armenian women. He notes that German and American eyewitnesses reported that Armenian prostitutes worked under harsh conditions and were paid significantly less than Turkish prostitutes (2012). Hence, many women failed to sustain a basic living standard and died due to their atrocious lives, while others managed to survive under impoverished circumstances (Ümit, 2012).  

Forced Assimilation

Kurt notes that forced assimilation and religious conversions were critical to eradicating the Armenian population and its identity during the genocide (2016). Ümit claims that the Turkish leadership perceived Armenian women and children as lacking political personality and power; hence they were the easiest to target and transform into Turkish nationals (2012). Kurt stated that Armenian women and children’s assimilation were a two-way process called Islamization and Turkification (2016). To achieve these processes, Gzoyan and Galustyan claim that the Turkish authority established four assimilation policies during the Armenian genocide to efficiently integrate Armenian women and children into Turkish Muslim homes and ensure they absorb the Turkish identity entirely. Firstly, the authors note that there were voluntary conversions where the deportees had the opportunity to convert to Islam and integrate themselves into Muslim homes by choice. They claim that many Armenian women took this option to escape the genocide and secure life (2021). Secondly, Turkish hosts were permitted to select the Armenian women they desire to join their household, and the attractive Armenian women captured during deportations fell under this category of assimilation (Gzoyan & Galustyan, 2021). Thirdly, the Turkish authority forcibly imposed the Turkish Islamic culture on Armenian women and children; this category was the most popular and most violent out of all four assimilation policies adopted by the Ottoman-Turks during the genocide (Gzoyan & Galustyan, 2021). Fourthly, since the genocide generated thousands of Armenian orphans, Turkish dictators created government-based orphanages for Armenian children to learn about the Turkish lifestyle to become nationalist Turkish citizens (Gzoyan & Galustyan, 2021). It is worth noting that although many Armenian women were forcibly integrated into Turkish homes, other women willingly converted to Islam and married Turkish men (Tachjian, 2014). Tachjian claims that the purpose behind these marriages was for women to secure life for themselves and their remaining family members in the post-war period (2014).  

According to Kurt, the Islamization and Turkification processes coincided with each other. He claims that the Turkish officials believed that Armenian women and children could not fully absorb the Turkish identity if not converted to Islam or joined Turkish households. Additionally, the author notes that Islamization dealt with transforming the Armenian identity religiously from Christianity to Islam, and Turkification was achieved through forced marriages between Turkish men and Armenian women (2016). According to Ümit, it all began during deportations where Armenian women and children under Turkish rule were transferred from their homeland to the Ottoman Empire. The author highlights the story of an anonymous 15-year-old Armenian Survivor who documented the entire deportation trip in a diary, which revealed that the Turkish forces systematically abused Armenian women during deportations (2012). The atrocities began by exhausting and starving all women and girls until their conditions worsened, then forcibly converting them to Islam and distributing them to different Turkish provinces (Ümit, 2012). Gzoyan and Galustyan claim that most deportees initially refused to abandon their Armenian identity and convert to Islam; however, the Turkish gendarmes threatened them with death if they expressed disapproval towards their demands. They also note that women ended up converting since they believed it was the only viable option for survival at the time (2021). Ekmekçioğlu notes that conversion for survival was risky and troubling for some Armenian women because they were severely punished and jailed if suspected of insincere and temporary conversions. Hence to ensure compliance, the author claims that Armenian women were married off to Turkish men to monitor them and confirm that they are not secretly practicing Christianity, according to Danish missionaries (2013).  

Gzoyan and Galustyan reveal an official document released by the Turkish authority in December of 1915 that highlighted Armenian women and children’s fate after deportations. According to the authors, the document shows that Armenian children’s Islamization and Turkification processes mainly took place through governmental-based orphanages and public places where they were educated on the Muslim-Turkish culture. They claim that children were kept in orphanages for adoption, but the unadopted children ages 6-8 were distributed in factories, small shops, and farms for work (2021). On the other hand, the Armenian women’s integration differed as they were forced to marry Turkish men and adapt to the local customs by living in Muslim-Turkish households (Gzoyan & Galustyan, 2021). The document covered the government’s commands but failed to mention information about women and children’s protection against any form of violence, denoting that any harm inflicted on them will less likely result in penalization (Gzoyan & Galustyan, 2021). According to an anonymous 15-year-old survivor, teenage girls her age and older women were harassed severely during deportation; however, they agreed to join Turkish households to escape the genocide and the possibility of dying, considering that they had lost their families and left without protection (Ümit, 2012). Ümit also claims that their assimilation into the Turkish community was not a kind gesture on behalf of the Turks. Instead, he claims that forced marriage was a tool of genocide and was used to eradicate the Armenian race and expand the Muslim-Turkish community since women were perceived as reproducers of identity and perpetrators of culture (2012). Derderian notes that initially, not all Turkish men accepted to marry Armenian women, but the government persuaded them by granting them complete authority over the women’s lives and belongings (2005). Ekmekçioğlu states that women had difficulty adapting to the Muslim-Turkish lifestyle but forced themselves to adjust in order to survive the post-war period (2013).

Armenian Nation’s Reformation

Ekmekçioğlu notes that 1917 marked the end of the Armenian genocide and the beginning of the country’s reformation. She claims that the Armenian leadership attempted to rebuild the nation through steps that proved to be highly discriminatory towards Armenian women and girls (2013). According to Tachjian, the first task was to collect all the Armenian survivors, i.e., women and children found in Turkish households, and then identify the group eligible to return to Armenia and those who are not (2014). The Armenian leadership predicted a smooth integration process; however, Tachjian claims that it was complex because many Armenian women were denied entry into the Armenian nation due to the lives they pursued after the genocide. He argues that the Armenian leadership looked down upon the women and referred to them as immoral and unfaithful because they believed that they abandoned the Armenian identity and no longer represented the ideal Armenian woman (2014). The Armenians developed this problematic perception of their women because of the rape, prostitution, and mixed marriages that they underwent throughout and after the genocide (Tachjian, 2014). Ekmekçioğlu argues that the Armenian authority failed to realize that their women were victims of mass genocide and were left without family or protection (2013). Because of their situation, women had to find survival strategies to secure life after the genocide. However, it was assumed that they violated the Armenian culture’s social norms through their survival techniques, and their fate will be dependent on that (Ekmekçioğlu, 2013).

The Armenian authority silenced women throughout the entire reformation process and instead imposed solutions they assumed to be appropriate to integrate survivors back to the nation efficiently (Tachjian, 2014). Tachjian highlights the two major approaches taken by the Armenian leadership and the mass public towards the surviving women and girls. He claims that the first group was entirely against the integration of women back into the nation (2014). They believed that their women violated their social norms by sexually engaging with men outside their ethnic group and pushed the nation towards neglecting these women because they had dishonored the Armenian community through their shameful behaviors (Tachjian, 2014). They insisted that these women remain out of the nation’s boundaries without shelter or protection as a punishment for their wrongdoings (Tachjian, 2014). Tachjian notes that many Armenians of this type published writings about these women, referring to them as “fallen women” or “bad-hearted women,” which meant that these women are morally dead due to the life they chose to live after the genocide (2014). Hence, they can no longer reproduce a new healthy nationalist Armenian generation and should not be returned to Armenia (Tachjian, 2014). According to Ekmekçioğlu, this group not only disregarded the women but their children too, labeling them as “foreigners” (2013). They disapproved of them returning because their presence in the Armenian nation with their foreign children was assumed to weaken the Armenian identity (Ekmekçioğlu, 2013). Tachjian states that women like Arpuni, an Armenian survivor, were presented with the opportunity to return, under the condition of which she had to leave her children with her new husband in the Ottoman Empire and return alone. However, she chose her new life to avoid the stigma attached to Armenian survivors back in Armenia. Thus, Arpuni and other women like her were seen as a threat to the Armenian community because they refused to return and identify with the state’s new Armenian nationalist identity after the country’s reformation (2014). 

On the other hand, Tachjian notes that the second group represented the minorities that felt empathetic towards Armenian women and considered them the most affected by the genocide than the rest of the Armenian population. Unlike the first group, the author claims that this group recognized that these women were victims of mass violence and created shelters to provide them with basic necessities to help them re-adapt to their community during its reformation (2014). However, Ekmekçioğlu claims that some Armenian women refused to return and chose to remain with their abductors to avoid the stigma and humiliation during their reintegration into the Armenian community. She argues that it took Armenian women immense time and effort to adjust to their new lifestyles in the post-war period; hence, some women preferred not to exhaust themselves by repeating this process (2013). This group respected women’s decisions but believed that they were better positioned to determine women’s fate because they perceived them as vulnerable and incapable of managing their lives efficiently on their own (Tachjian, 2014). While settling in the shelters, this group aimed to reconstruct women’s identities and transform them into nationalist Armenian citizens to become more desirable for Armenian men (Tachjian, 2014). The number of women that returned was insufficient, so this group attempted to comfort women and persuade them to return to expand the Armenian community as quickly as possible (Tachjian 2014).  


During the Armenian genocide, the Ottoman Turks victimized Armenian women through genocidal rape, sexual enslavement, and forced assimilation. According to Derderian, women suffered severely under Turkish rule until the re-establishment of the Armenian nation in 1917 (2005). Tachjian claims that Armenia’s reformation involved reintegrating displaced survivors into the nation. However, he notes that most Armenians refused to reintegrate the women into their community because of their new lives in the post-war period. The author also argues that the Armenian leadership blamed women for their oppression during the genocide and criticized the survival techniques they adopted to secure life after the war; thus, women were accused of hindering Armenia’s reformation because of their disgraceful acts (2014). According to Tachjian, feminist scholars argue that Armenian women were not responsible for their oppression as many Armenians believed it to be (2014). If they had not adhered to the Turkish leadership’s commands, they would not have made it alive after the genocide (Tachjian, 2014). The survival strategies they adopted did not interfere with their Armenian identity; instead, they helped them overcome the detrimental consequences of the genocide and obtain a decent living standard (Tachjian, 2014). They argue that prostitution and forced assimilation were the only options for survival. Women’s efforts and survival strategies enabled many Armenians access to shelter and protection; otherwise, the Armenian community would have vanished immediately after the war (Tachjian, 2014). They also criticized the Armenian nation’s approach towards surviving women, deeming it exploitative and gendered since it depicted women as reproductive machines for cultural perpetuation, neglecting their impoverished situation (Tachjian, 2014). Hence, if the Armenian society is unwilling to acknowledge that their women were victims of a disastrous catastrophe striving to survive, it is unfair to accuse them of hindering the country’s reformation (Tachjian, 2014). Ümit sheds light on Armenian survivors like Fahriye Yıldırım, who became a prostitute and initiated a business out of her career to help support herself and other women. He claims that Armenians silenced such women and disregarded their existence entirely because they had dishonored their nation (2012). However, feminist scholars consider them agents for managing to survive and urge greater recognition for their efforts and determination (Ümit, 2012).


Akçam, T. (2012). The Young Turks’ Crime against Humanity: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire. Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctt7rt86. Retrieved from https://www-jstor-org.aus.idm.oclc.org/stable/j.ctt7rt86

Burn, S. (2005). Women across cultures: A global perspective (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Derderian, K. (2005). Common fate, different experience: gender-specific aspects of the 

Armenian Genocide, 1915-1917. Holocaust and genocide studies, 19(1), 1–25. Retrieved from https://worldcat.org/ILL/articleexchange/FileDownloadLogin/s8pcfJuo8

Ekmekçioğlu, L. (2013). A climate for abduction, a climate for redemption: The politics of inclusion during and after the Armenian genocide. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 522-553. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/23526015.pdf?casa_token=yjsSmHfUQ_8AAAAA:cxAt-n2U4IDnvLdFSjs56amO9FsHJ18Gfl4KGtOJ6KDdY7-fS9w3PPWnZfqR1AoeRF32dx3fNXfJ2bE15DlNB4SRW7s3UnGLAp83pngi8k5w1kydM48

Ekmekçioğlu, L. (2015). Scholarship on the Armenian Genocide as a gendered event and process. New Perspectives on Turkey, 53, 185-190. doi:10.1017/npt.2015.35 Retrieved from http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0896634615000357

Climate-Induced Migration in North Africa: A Case Study of Morocco

by Furqan Khan, Tayyaba Zaman Janjua
National Defence University, Pakistan.

Abstract: Climate-induced migration has become an imminent issue in the geographically diverse North African region. It is estimated that around 2.5 million people suffered climigration from the sub-Saharan regions to the coastal cities in Morocco along the Mediterranean, where the existing economic pressure is swelling up to threaten economic well-being and even social norms. Such climate-led migration is induced by water and food shortage resulting from the decline in soil fertility, salinization, desertification, and severity in temperature, especially in the sub-Saharan region. Therefore, the paper explores internal and external dimensions inducing climate change and its impact on migration in Morocco. The study uses the theory of the spillover effect to identify implications of climate-induced migration for economic, social, and political domains. It analyzes the policy actions of the Moroccan government in dealing with the Climate-induced migration. Finally, the research formulates certain policy recommendations that can help to mitigate threats of the climigration in North Africa in general and Morocco in particular.


North Africa, with direct and indirect implications of climate conditions, is increasingly becoming a hotspot for global climate change. Situated in proximity to the Middle East and Europe, the region is experiencing an increase in average temperature, water shortages, and rapid population growth. However, apart from being a problem in itself, climate change is driving other socio-economic, political, and security problems for the region and beyond. For example, climate change is causing migration within North Africa as well as across the Strait of Gibraltar

The conviction supporting climate change as the primary reason behind migration is widely contested. However, political discourse and academic research provide sufficient empirical evidence to support the nexus between migration and climate change. According to the latest World Bank report on internal climate migration in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, around 143 million people or 2.8% of the total population of the three regions together will migrate from areas with low productivity and pervasive climate conditions to productive and conducive areas by 2050.1 However, it suggests that North Africa will experience the highest rate of climate-induced migration.2

The existing literature mentions several rationales behind migration; ranging from the critical geographical characteristics of North Africa to insufficient adaptability. Morocco is considered to be predominantly vulnerable to severe climate conditions with abrupt temperature changes, low precipitation, water scarcity, and slow and rapid on-set processes that force people to migrate from rural areas to the cities on Mediterranean coasts and Europe with wider social, political, and economic implications. Therefore, the research takes Morocco as the case study to explain the general pattern of climate change in North Africa, the resulting migration, and its consequences for social, economic, and political domains.This paper is divided into six sections. In the first part, the theory of spillover effect explains the spiral impacts of climigration in different domains. The second part describes the climate conditions and its successive patterns in North Africa as a region and Morocco as the case study. The third portion underlines the slow-onset processes and sudden-onset disasters as the causes of migration. The fourth section examines the implications of climate-induced migration on the domestic, regional, and international levels. The fifth section identifies major policy initiatives taken by the Moroccan government at home, regional states in North Africa, and international initiatives in averting the negative implications of climate-induced migration. Finally, the paper identifies legal and normative gaps in the existing framework to suggest a viable recommendation for effective migration management.

Theoretical Framework – Spillover Effect Theory

The theory of the spillover effect explains the ripple effect of one domain and implications on other areas; the political, economic, social, and ecological. The theory originates from the neo-functionalism paradigm, where it serves to explain integration among states resulting from cooperation in one area and its spilling over to the others. The theory owes its origin to economics, where economic development at the macro-level spirals and expands resulting in either desirable or undesirable socio-economic consequences.3 Hence, it is important to note that the theory puts different variables into play where changes in intensity or degree of scope at the macro or micro level of one variable become stimuli affecting others. Such an effect creates overall changes to the system, from horizontal dimensions (across different domains at a particular level) to vertical (across the extended level of analysis).4

In vertical spill-over, climate change becomes a stimulus whose direct impact on migration does not remain limited to the domestic domain, but extends in scope to the regional and international level, but with variable correlative strength. For example, migration in North African countries, such as Morocco, happens more often internally rather than externally. Such internal migration at the domestic level takes place with two distinctive patterns; from rural areas to cities and in the form of mobile pastoralism.5 Similarly, the intra-continental migration in North Africa takes place more than inter-continental migration into Europe or elsewhere. UN officials estimate that out of a total of 17 million African migrants, a mere 3% reached Europe while 93.7% of migration took place within the region.6 The strength of the linkage between the three levels depends upon socio-economic conditions, the capacity of mobilization, and the adaptive capacity of the people across the three domains.

In horizontal spill-over, climate change induces migration which spills its effects over to other domains at domestic, regional, and international levels. the effects include socio-cultural changes, economic pressures, and political instability at the three levels. Mobile pastoralism, the traditional way of life of the Berber community in Morocco, is on the decline as Berbers have started to live in fixed communities like Arabs. The climate critical migration from rural areas adjacent to the Sahara Desert coastal cities, such as Casablanca and Rabat, intensifies employment demands and the need for other socio-economic imperatives. Moreover, climate-induced migration triggers political conflicts, especially affecting migrant’s management. Hence, the vertical and horizontal spill-over lens demonstrates and problematizes the issue of climate-induced migration in North Africa, particularly in Morocco. 

The Climate-Migration-Socioeconomic Correlation

Climate change is a threat multiplier with direct and indirect consequences on forced migration across the North African region in general, and Morocco in particular. Forced migration spills into the socio-economic and political spheres at the domestic, regional, and international levels. By exacerbating migration, climate change brings social changes, economic pressures, and political instability. For example, estimates from the United Nations International Migration Organization suggest that, by 2050, between 25 million to 1 billion people will be displaced purely due to environmental reasons.7

The causal link between climate change and migration can be explained by four main elements: changing climate conditions and their effect on the quality and quantity of natural resources, resulting effects on the ecological order; changes in standards of living due to migration, and changes in migration patterns and adaptability. The link between climate change and migration is also evident when looking at the interaction between the aforementioned elements and socio-economic factors at domestic, regional, and international levels. For example, while studying Ghana with controlled socio-demographic factors, no link was found unless socio-demographic factors were considered in a successive study by Ocelo.8 According to a national survey in which 28.1% of the displaced agricultural households were involved, 92.1% were believed to be affected by adverse climatic conditions in Morocco.9 Therefore, the socio-demographic factors are essentials to understand the direct link between Climate Change and Global migration. 

However, it is difficult to assess the number of climate-induced migrants. This is the reason as to why the data used in the research reflects upon the horizontal and vertical impacts of migration overall. Generally, experts believe that despite the considerable influence of climate change over migration patterns, the uncertainty of measurement and complexity of socio-economic and demographic rationales for migration makes it more difficult to establish whether or not migration is caused by climate change or by other push or pull factors. 

North African Pattern of Climate-Induced Migration 

North African climate generally varies across coastal and inland areas. Along the coasts, the Mediterranean influence induces a mild climate that is characterized by sufficient rainfall (400-600mm/year) with dampened winters and dry summers.10 The inland climate, however, are mostly semi-arid and arid desert climates, which are identified by extreme temperatures; cold winters, and hot summers with insufficient rainfall (semi-arid 200-400mm, deserts <100mm).11 The North African region is predominantly semi-arid or desert, therefore, it remains dry most of the year. The coastal regions, however, have frequent rainfall between October and March that usually end up with devastating floods and droughts, especially in the capital cities. Similarly, Sirocco is a special feature of the North African climate; a combination of sandy winds arising from the Saharan Desert which run towards the North and across the Mediterranean, eventually touching Europe.

These severe climatic conditions have become a major source of natural disasters in the region. During the last two decades, North Africa has suffered from 115 major climate-induced disasters which mostly include flood and riverine with a minimum of 5% droughts.12 These disasters led to immense human and material loss including killings of 275, 000 people from droughts of 1999, and loss of 295 million USD, while affecting 230, 000 others from 21 floods between 1995 and 2016.13 Such lingering climatic conditions adversely challenge the survivability of people in poor countries in the African continent, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore, North Africa is increasingly becoming a hotspot for climigration. North Africa, due to the bridging nature of its geographic location, is used as a transit route for the migration into Europe. For example, there were around 100,000 foreign migrants only in Algeria in which almost 40% saw the country as the final destination while the other 40% as a transit to Europe.14 

Trends across Morocco

The trend of migration in North African countries like Morocco can be explained in the context of both internal and external migration.The internal migration within Morocco is more than external migration to Europe. Inhabitants in the South and North are vulnerable to devastating environmental challenges, including low precipitation and droughts in the South while dry areas and low water availability in the North. The insufficient water supply hampers agricultural production which provides more than 40% of the employment opportunities.15 Resultantly, insufficient opportunities from the agricultural sector push people from rural areas, which consists of 70% population, to the urban areas which house 90% of the country’s industry. This puts more population pressure on urban areas where the rural to urban trend of migration creates multiple challenges for the Moroccan government. This is the reason why urbanization in Morocco has increased from 53-56% between 2000 and 2010. On the other hand, with the rise of the sea levels, the possibility of floods along the 3500km coastline is an emerging threat that can potentially induce future internal migration. 

Morocco, because of its proximity, acts as a transit for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa to Southern Europe. The nature of Moroccan migration continued to change over the decades, for instance, in the 1960s, most of the Moroccan migrants in Europe were guest workers which complemented family unification till the 1990s. It was after the 1990s that migration accelerated from Morocco into Europe, mainly because of increasing development in agricultural and construction sectors, complemented by the devastating climatic conditions at home.16 Most migrants from Morocco include regional migrants from the poor and climate affected countries of sub-Saharan Africa. According to a report by the Migration Policy Institute, there are around 700, 000 sub-Saharan migrants living in Morocco, a country with a small population of only 34 million. Most of these migrants try to flee to Europe and North America but often fail and are arrested. The UN Migration Agency estimates that some 45, 505 migrants used the sea to reach Europe out of whom 14, 680 reached Spain in southern Europe through the Mediterranean. 

Causes of Climate-Induced Migration

Morocco, like many regions of the world, is facing intense slow onset-processes and rapid onset-disasters which are causing numerous social, economic, and political changes, including mass migration as the only alternative.

Slow-Onset Processes

Due to extreme weather conditions, Southern Morocco is losing its aridity, resulting in droughts and desertification. Estimates suggest that around 90% of Morocco’s land is desertified posing consequences on the agricultural sector.17 Because of the positive relations between desertification and agricultural production, the Moroccan population migrates from the South to Mediterranean costs to earn their living.

Even in the 2175km long coastal region with 80% of the population and major industries, continuous soil erosion threatens the ‘low lying’ ecosystem of the coast, which the IPCC suggests is expected to erode with 0.1m by 2030 and 0.17m by 2050 with more major floods and storms. 18 Specifically, the Saidia and Tangier region, which houses 60% of the population, faces erosion of 2-3m which the IAEA says could be averted up-to 60% by using isotopes. 19 40% of Morocco’s vulnerable land is losing a 100 million tons of soil each year as well as reduced water reservoirs resulting in forced migration for survival. The extreme climatic conditions such as soil erosion, salinization, and shifting patterns of precipitation reduce the productivity of Moroccan land. For instance, salination will reduce 50% of production within the next 20 years, and the IPCC considers the decrease in tree density along the Western Sahel zone and semiarid parts of the country as the other reasons. Therefore, people dependent on agricultural production migrate to escape adverse environmental factors. 

Sudden-onset Disaster

In Morocco, a survey in 2009-2010 found that every fourth house was vulnerable to weather shocks.20 Such weather shocks like floods and droughts are the pushing factors for migration especially for agricultural households, as they affect agricultural production and revenues. In 2007, Spain arrested illegal migrants among whom two-thirds were farmers from the Khouribga in Morocco. 21 The 2016 floods in Morocco were the worst of the last 30 years costing 120,000 people their jobs and displaced thousands of others.The Moroccan government reported to UNFCCC the weather shocks, especially the thunderstorms and windstorms from the Atlas Mountains. For instance, in 2014, a series of storms relocated around 170,000 people against unfavorable environmental conditions. 22 Moreover, frequent earthquakes resulted in forced migration similar to those of the 1960s, which made 35,000 people homeless; the Al Hoceima earthquake that left thousands of people homeless in 2004. 23

Impacts of Climate-Induced Migration

1. Domestic Level

Displacement from climate-induced changes is a major issue in Morocco. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), almost 32,393 people were displaced due to sudden-onset hazards such as earthquakes, Tsunami, and high floods in Southern Morocco between 2008 and 2014.24 Such climigration has social, economic, and political impacts on the country. Socially, traditional nomadic life in Morocco becomes the primary victim, where Berbers have given up Mobile Pastoralism to live in fixed communities in urban areas like the Arabs, or have at least adopted Sedentary Pastoralism. Economically, because of Morocco’s heavy dependence on agriculture affected by climate change, the country faces severe economic pressures in coastal cities like Casablanca and Rabat. The World Bank estimates Morocco’s unemployment rate at 9.002% in 2019 and is increasing in cities with 80% of the total population. 25 IPCC identifies climigration as a threat to many aspects of human security. Political violence and unwelcoming situations for migrants cause political tensions in receiving cities or regions. Besides political division over the settlement of the migrants, migrants arrange for themselves political platforms to secure their rights in the state.

2. Regional Level

Morocco attracts more migrants from North Africa than other regional countries with around 7 Million migrants that either cross the Strait of Gibraltar into Europe, or end up as permanent immigrants in Morocco. The continuous migration pressures from North and sub-Saharan Africa cultivates xenophobic sentiments in the Moroccan society. The social racist stereotypes in Morocco cast Africans from the neighboring countries as criminals, drug dealers, and prostitutes.26 For example, the televised mockery of black immigrants by the Moroccan comedian attracted widespread critics. The Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases of police violence under Morocco’s National Immigration Policy. Despite these challenges, sub-Saharan migrants are using art and music as a mutual language to build social and cultural bridges with the Moroccan society. For example, the Ghanian Born Reuben Yemoh Odoi traveled all across the Saharan desert to reach Morocco, and made his name in “find[ing] the truth in [his] music and art”.27

Economic imperatives being a major push factor for climigration have increased competition, shared employment opportunities, and resources in the population, stressing the coastal areas of Morocco. Despite European financial support, Morocco faces, and will continue to face socio-economic challenges of climigration from the regional countries. To prevent migrants flow into Europe, European countries have provided financial cooperation to Morocco to manage migrants in the country. Resultantly, the migrants face issues with identity and legal status, which includes political subjectivization and basic human rights. 

3. International Level

Most migrants leave to Morocco to eventually arrive at their final destination; Europe. According to the Pew Research Centre Analysis, almost 1 million new migrants from sub-Saharan Africa have relocated between 2010 and 2017 (4.15 million total).28 Such cross-Mediterranean migration causes social stress due to occupation of resources and opportunities by outsiders; for instance, xenophobic behavior has developed in Britain towards the other European nationals, due to social values largely incompatible with European social realities.

Migration, and climate-induced migration in particular, brings multiple economic challenges and opportunities for sending and receiving states. The sending states lose technical and professional workforce but receive billions of dollars in remittances. For example in 2006, Morocco became the top remittance receiver in Africa with 5.2 billion US Dollars and 3 million migrants abroad. On the other hand, the receiving states feel economic pressures but also gain a cheap labor force. Insecurity from African migrants has cultivated special European political behavior towards the region. The European Union has provided financial assistance, politically pressurizing Morocco and other North African transit states in ensuring strict barriers to migration from Africa. Some migrants return with newly acquired norms and political values. The political spillover benefits the Western countries for their mature democratic and institutional setup that spills to impact political behavior across developing countries.

Policy Actions and Results

1. Domestic Policies

I. Plan Maroc Vert

Forty percent of the Moroccan population is directly or indirectly linked to the agriculture sector who, in turn, become the primary victims of climate changes in Morocco. Under the Plan Maroc Vert in 2008, a comprehensive strategy of 300 projects with USD 2 Million was designed, allowing farmers to use alternative crops which would be less sensitive to the volatile climatic stress. Hilal Elver, the UN Special Rapporteur, appreciated the plan for reducing poverty from 16% in 2010 to 10% in 2015 and its role in achieving the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 1 which is to halve the “proportion of hungry people”. 29

II. High Commission for Water, Forest and the Fight against Desertification

The HCWFD was established to devise national strategic responses to the increasing desertification and its influence over migration patterns. According to the HCWFD, 80% of Moroccan land is prone to desertification, making a large part of the country increasingly inhabitable. Morocco has devised a 10-year plan to fight desertification until the year 2024.30 Growing water scarcity and moving dunes pose significant challenges to the local population and forces them to migrate. The HCWFD plans to encourage reforestation and prevent forest fires that destroy 30,000 hectares each year.

III. National Initiative for Human Development (2005)

Poverty remains one of the outcomes of severe climatic conditions, affecting agriculture and spilling over to affect food security. Though the rate of poverty has decreased from 19% in 1999 to 15% in 2004, climate-led poverty as a push factor for migration has been growing over the past few years.31 The National Initiative for Human Development (NIHD) of 2005 was launched to achieve an “effective decentralized system of governance” and to contribute to “natural resource management”.32 The objectives of the initiative are consistent with the obligations held upon Morocco in the Rio Conventions. 

2. Regional Policies

III. AU Migration Policy Framework for Africa (MPFA)

In July 2001, the African Union Council of Ministers debated addressing the migration issues at the regional level, which later established the MPFA in 2006. The AU plan was revised in 2018 and it sets its sights to address the migration challenges at the continental level. The framework encompasses nine different areas which include labor migration, irregular migration, forced migration, and others.

III. National Initiative for Human Development (2005)

In addition, Morocco and Algeria have introduced legislation protecting migrant rights; thus giving them a reason to stay and not migrate to Europe. For example in 2017, Algeria announced plans for residency rights and work permits. Hence, the domestic legislation in-laws under a regional approach are essential to improve migration management in the region and provide opportunities for sub-Saharan states. 

3. International Policies

I. EU Regional Protection Programmes (RPP)

Migration from the third world, especially from North Africa, is a source of potential and danger for European countries. The European Union in its Immigration Pact of 2008 differentiated between potential and dangerous migrants; they pressured North African transit countries to prevent migrant flow into Europe. In December 2011, for instance, the EU launched it’s (RPP) in North Africa to encourage refugee management beyond European Borders.33 The program includes efforts to build the capacity of the North African countries in managing the refugee crisis in the region.

II. Valletta Summit – 2015

The EU in 2015 invited African states to the Valletta Summit which was aimed to “emphasize the principles of solidarity, partnership and shared responsibility for managing migration flows in all their aspects”.34 The Joint Action Plan formulated five main objectives to ensure cooperation between Europe and Africa that include addressing root causes, managing legal migration, ensuring asylum rights, preventing irregular migration, and resettlement of migrants.35

III. Marshal Plan with Africa

German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested developing Africa’s economic potential and infrastructural capacity to help them manage and accommodate migrants and reduce their influx into Europe. The “Marshall Plan with Africa” was introduced to address the humanitarian, socio-economic concerns, and other pushing factors for migration to Europe. Described as the ‘Golden Ticket’ and ‘Silver Bullet’ for African economic development, the plan boosts African social status and provides the luxuries of high-end trade with Europe.36 It offers Afrikaners with African solutions, providing them with new jobs, expanding their opportunities, and improving living standards. 

IV. Mobility Partnerships

Migration among EU countries is managed under the framework of the European Union, countries that are not part of the EU, or cannot be assimilated, are engaged through Migration Partnerships. This partnership includes financial cooperation such as the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (ETFA). The ETFA has spent almost 174 Million Euros between 2016 and 2017 on migration management between Morocco and other sub-Saharan countries, improving governance and social-economic conditions of migrants from North and sub-Saharan Africa. 37

African countries enjoy relatively low incentives, for example, European countries are interested in ensuring the resettlement of migrants and border control in Africa. However, African countries seek cooperation in the establishment of ‘legal channels’ for migration to Europe to provide better economic opportunities.38 Similarly, the Readmission agreement of 1992 between Morocco and Spain could not be materialized owing to its unpopularity in Morocco. Hence, conflict of interests coupled with different social, political, and economic realities reduce the degree of states’ willingness to cooperate over migrant management.


1. Expanding Migrant’s Legal Definition

Climate-Induced migrants hold no international legal identity to claim rights and duties. Their condition makes the ensuring of protection and rights difficult. The complexity of their circumstances and the diverse contexts in which they exist complicates the legal codification of environmental migrants.39 Further, the displacement by slow and rapid onset processes is associated with other factors that complicate the status of migrants as climate-driven. Among them are the quest for economic opportunities, poverty, governance, and conflicts. In addition, the coexistence of voluntary and forced migration, of internal, regional and international migration, and finally of slow-onset processes and rapid-onset disasters constitute impediment in formulating a legal framework to define environmental migrants.40 The terms environmental or climate refugee cannot be used given the criteria set by the Geneva Convention of 1951 (no persecution of migrants from the environment), therefore, the convention lacks instruments to protect climate affected migrants.

The United Nations definition for internally displaced people, which says that “persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or to avoid the effects of [. . .] natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border”, is sufficient for legal protection.41 However, the definition does not include migration due to slow-onset processes. Therefore, in absence of a legal definition for the environmental migrants, the protection of environmentally displaced individuals can be ensured by focusing on the rights of the individuals, not on the rationales behind migration or the factors causing displacement. 

2. Normative Gaps

Because of the lack of legislation and the inability of the 1951 Geneva Convention to protect environmentally displaced people, are neither refugees nor migrants, and they are entitled neither to the rights granted to the refugees that flee due to persecution or war nor are legally honored to the basic human rights. Climate change diminishes living opportunities, constrains the movement of action, and forcibly displaces people under pressures of slow-onset processes or rapid-onset disasters. Therefore, effective policy-making should be made to uphold humanitarian principles in dealing with environmental migrants by filling the normative gaps in migrant’s policy-making.

3. Strengthening of Empirical Evidence

Migration remains a multi-causal phenomenon driven by economic disparities, social vulnerabilities, political instability, and lack of access to natural resources, ethnic conflicts, wars, and adverse climatic conditions. Therefore, it is hard to differentiate between climate induced-migration migration and migration caused by other factors. Such intricate calculation and hazy determinism are attributed partly to the methodological issues with blurred definition and contextualization.42 Hence, “resilience, social variability, abject poverty, lack of adequate predictive models” makes the anticipated flow of migrants impractical to quantify, especially in Europe which is expected to get millions of ‘environmental migrants’ by the end of 2020.43

Therefore, it is important to develop a strong empirical link between the environment and migration. Such a link can be developed by drawing a defined context for migration with reasonable environmental rationales. Without such a defined contextualization and empirical link, academic boasting about climate-induced migration will remain irrelevant for policy and practice to mitigate the threats faced by climate-induced migration. 44

4. Avoiding Selective Mobility

The unequal treatment of migrants, based on their potential and capabilities, remains another hurdle in comprehensively addressing the issues of migration. For example, mobility partnerships with North African countries reflect the EU’s political management of the migrant’s issue. It seems interested in migrants who could become potential for its economic development as can be used as cheap labor, but also takes strict measures in border control; thereby inhibiting the flow of unskilled migrants. Therefore, the European Union should be convinced in its policies to the fact that the migration problem cannot be solved and illegal trafficking cannot be overcome unless a comprehensive management framework is developed for every type of migrant, irrespective of their status, potential, or origin.

5. Strong African Union with Integrated Approach

The Migration Policy Framework for Africa sufficiently defines nine different dimensions of migration across a multitude of domains at domestic, regional, and international levels. However, the suggestive nature of the framework reflects a broader weakness of the African Union in shaping the regional approach. Therefore, the Union should be granted legal powers to manage migration and address the socio-economic pushing factors. This is not feasible without a smart bargain between the African Union and the European Union, keeping the position of Europe in context as the popular migrant’s destination. Hence, more powers of legal pursuance at the regional level coupled with European cooperation on reconcilable terms can ensure an integrated approach on behalf of the Union to solve the climate-related problems in the continent.


Climate-Induced Migration is emerging to challenge the existing social, economic, political, and ecological domains at the domestic, regional, and international levels. The strength of the causal relationship among the three variables i.e. Climate, Migration, and Socio-economic factors, is identifiable to be considered for an integrated response from states, regional and international organizations. As evident across the distributive analysis of the horizontal domains and vertical levels of climate-induced changes, the inter-link between climate and migration turns out in strong relation to induce socio-economic and political implications.

Besides the strength of the causal relation, a clear identification of the cause itself is instrumental in understanding the climate-induced migration. Such causes range from slow-onset processes of gradual progress to sudden on-set disasters of weather shocks. Therefore, the location of the cause supported by strong empirical evidence is the key to half the solution to climigration. The twofold three-axis implications of climate-induced migration reasonably suggest a deeper link between Climate Change and the potential willingness to migrate within states, across North Africa and into Europe. The tri-level mobility is accompanied by implications of a multitude of dimensions that include social changes, economic impacts, and political impacts of a limited degree. 

However, there is no direct dissociative mechanism to individually engage climate change and migration that can lead to a viable solution. Instead, taking the Climate-Induced Migration as an intertwined problem and formulate integrated solutions to address the challenges faced of Climigration. Also, the insufficient empirical linkage inhibits the manifestation of the problem in the policy framework of states and international organizations. Therefore, experts should reflect upon the unnoticed linkage that exists across the Climate Change, Migration, and Socio-Economic implications and help it become an agenda for future policy formulation at domestic, regional, and international levels.


  1.  The World Bank. (2018). Report on Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/29461
  2.  Iman B. & Reinhart. (2018, April 24). Desire to Migrate Rises in North Africa. Gallup. https://news.gallup.com/poll/233006/desire-migrate-rises-north-africa.aspx
  3.  Trachuk, A. & Linder, N. (2019, February 7). Knowledge Spillover Effects: Impact of Export Learning Effects on Companies’ Innovative Activities. Current Issues in Knowledge Management. https://www.intechopen.com/books/current-issues-in-knowledge-management/knowledge-spillover-effects-impact-of-export-learning-effects-on-companies-innovative-activities
  4.  Ibid.
  5.  Julian S. T. & Mariam T. (2016, March). Environmental Migration in Morocco: Stocktaking, Challenges, and Opportunities. Policy Brief Series, 2(3). https://publications.iom.int/system/files/policy_brief_vol2_issue3.pdf
  6.  Kingsley, P. (2016, November 26). The Small African Region with More Migrants than all of Europe. Guardian Africa Network. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/26/boko-haram-nigeria-famine-hunger-displacement-refugees-climate-change-lake-chad
  7.  Basetta, F. (2019). Environmental Migrants: Up to 1 Billion by 2050. Foresight CMCC Observatory on Climate Policies and Future.
  8.  Marion B. et. al. (2019). Migration Influenced by Environmental Change in Africa: A Systematic Review of Empirical Evidence. Demographic Research. (41)18. pp. 491-544. https://www.demographic-research.org/volumes/vol41/18/41-18.pdf
  9.  Piguit, E. & Laczko, F. (2014). People on the Move in a Changing Climate: The Regional Impact of Environmental Change on Migration”, International Organization for Migration (IOM) Published by Springer. P.122. 
  10.  (2009, August). North Africa: Impact of Climate Change to 2030 (Selected Countries). A Commission Research Report by the National Intelligence Council, P. 8. https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/2009%20Conference%20Report_North%20Africa_The%20Impact%20of%20Climate%20Change%20to%202030.pdf
  11. Ibid.
  12.  Ruef, H. & Ariza, C. (2016, June). The Climate Change, Migration, and Economic Development Nexus in North Africa: An Overview. Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation Switzerland. https://www.weadapt.org/knowledge-base/sdc-climate-change-environment-network/the-climate-change-migration-and-economic-development-nexus-in-north-africa
  13. Ibid.
  14.  Wodon, Q. (2014). Climate Change and Migration: Evidence from the Middle East and North Africa. International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank. P. 43. 
  15.  Wodon, Q. (2014). P. 51.
  16.  Jill Jager et al. (2009). Environmental Change and Forced Migration Scenarios EACH – FOR Synthesis Project. http://rosamartinez.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Migraciones-y-Cambio-Climatico_EACHFOR.pdf
  17.  G. A. Heshmati. (2013, January 10). Desertification and Its Control on Morocco. Combating Desertification in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East: Prove Practices. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/286531029_Desertification_and_Its_Control_in_Morocco
  18.  Grant, P. (2011, July 13). Climate Change Financing and Aid Effectiveness: Morocco Case Study. OECD, P. 10.
  19.  Khouakhi, Abdou et al. (2013, March). Vulnerability Assessment of Al-Hoceima Bay (Moroccan Mediterranean Coast): A Coastal Management Tool to Reduce Potential Impacts of Sea-Level Rise and Storm Surges. Journal of Coastal Research, Special Issue. pp. 968-971. 
  20.  Cong Nguyen et al. (2014, June 29). Extreme Weather Events and Migration: The Case Study of Morocco”, Munich Personal RePEc Achieve (MPRA), P. 1. https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/56938/1/MPRA_paper_56938.pdf
  21.  Woden Q., Minh & Quentin. (2014). Climate Change and Migration: Evidence from the Middle East and North Africa. World Bank. Page 52. 
  22.  Julian & Hind. (2016). Assessing the Evidence: Migration, Environment, and Climate Change in North Africa. International Organization for Migration (IMO). P. 22. https://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/assessing_the_evidence_morocco_en.pdf
  23.  Ibid.
  24.  (2020, January 21). Country Information: Morocco. Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. https://www.internal-displacement.org/countries/morocco
  25.  (2019, December). Unemployment, total (% of the total labor force) (Modelled ILO Estimate) – Morocco. International Labour Organization Statistics, World Bank. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.UEM.TOTL.ZS?locations=MA
  26.  Bouknight, S. (2019, June 9). Acting against Racism and Xenophobia in Morocco. Inside Arabia Voice of the Arab People. https://insidearabia.com/acting-against-racism-and-xenophobia-in-morocco/
  27.  Rotinwa, A. (2019, June 3). As Morocco Swells with Migrants: Music is a Common Language. The Christian Science Monitor. https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2019/0603/As-Morocco-swells-with-migrants-music-is-a-common-language
  28.  (2018, March 22). At least A Million sub-Saharan Africans Moved to Europe Since 2010. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2018/03/22/at-least-a-million-The sub-Saharan-africans-moved-to-europe-since-2010/
  29.  (2015, November 13). Plan Maroc Vert – Spotlight on Morocco’s Agricultural Policy. Gro Intelligence.
  30.  (2015, April 24). Morocco Sets on 10 Year Plan to Hold back the Desert. Euro news. https://www.euronews.com/2015/08/24/morocco-sets-off-on-10-year-plan-to-hold-back-the-desert
  31.  (2011, April). Mainstreaming the GE Aspects in the Planning and Monitoring Process of the NHDI in Morocco. United Nations Development Program. https://www.adaptation-undp.org/projects/mainstreaming-ge-aspects-planning-and-monitoring-processes-nhdi-morocco
  32.  Ibid.
  33.  Sergio Carrera et al. (2012, August). EU Migration Policy in Wake of the Arab Spring: What Prospects for the EU-Southern Mediterranean Relations? European Commission Research Area MEDPRO, Technical Report. https://www.ceps.eu/system/files/MEDPRO%20TR%2015%20EU%20Migration%20Policy%20in%20wake%20of%20Arab%20Spring.pdf
  34.  (2015). What is the Joint Valletta Action Plan? Euro-African Dialogue on Migration and Development – Rabat Process. https://www.rabat-process.org/en/valletta/valletta-summit-follow-up
  35.  Ibid.
  36.  Jerven, M. (2018, September 27). Marshal Plan for Africa. TRT World. https://www.trtworld.com/opinion/a-marshall-plan-for-africa-19993
  37.  (2020, January 19). North Africa: Our Work. International Cooperation and Development European Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/regions/north-africa-our-work_en
  38.  Ibid.
  39.  (2014). IOM Outlook on Migration, Environment and Climate Change”, UN International Organization for Migration (IOM). https://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/mecc_outlook.pdf
  40.  Ibid.
  41.  (1998). Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement: introduction Scope and Purpose. United Nations. https://www.internal-displacement.org/sites/default/files/publications/documents/199808-training-OCHA-guiding-principles-Eng2.pdf
  42.  Stojanov, R. et al. (2014, October 28). Contextualizing Topologies of Environmentally Induced Population Movement. Disaster Prevention and Management, (23)5. pp. 508-523. https://www.academia.edu/25759569/Contextualising_typologies_of_environmentally_induced_population_movement?auto=download
  43.  Goff, L. et al. (2012). Climate-Induced Migration from North Africa to Europe: Security Challenges and Opportunities. Brown Journal of World Affairs, (18)2, pp. 195-213. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/24590873.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3Aababc28019fa74f9acecbf2992f81094
  44.  Ibid.

Climate Justice: A Framework for Addressing the Global Consequences of Climate Change

by Al Reem M. Al Ameri
Department of International Studies, Zayed University, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Abstract: Climate change is one of the most urgent transnational and transgenerational problems of our time. Although it requires global collective action, climate justice remains a “hushed- up” and untold story. This paper approaches climate change from the climate justice framework.


1. Nature of the Problem: The Definition and Background

For decades, people believed that it was questionable that human activities affected the climate. They thought that a “balance of nature”1 governs the environment. Then, several decades into the nineteenth century, the Western world witnessed an industrial revolution that relied heavily on coal in the beginning and later on oil and gas. However, it was not long before scientists began to sense changes in global temperatures. Especially during the 1930s, given the developments and progress in technologies and services related to the environment, meteorology, and climate, observers started to notice steadily rising temperatures and increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere; from that period, climate change has become a reality and a crisis that has begun to loom over the horizon. 

Nevertheless, knowledge of climate change and its impact, including rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, remained limited to scientific circles and environmental and climate scientists until the green movements and environmentalists appeared in the 1970s. They managed to bring the issue into the public sphere and have been able to include climate change on world governments’ agendas. The issue of climate change moving from closed scientific circles to the public sphere  engaged different groups beyond the environmentalists and ecologists. For example, it helps address climate change by examining critically the current economic activities that rely heavily on burning fossil fuels and depleting natural resources like water, air, and land. It led some scholars to formulate theories criticizing our modern and selfish economy, such as “the tragedy of commons”2 by Garrett Hardin. With his work in 1960, Hardin managed to draw public attention to the problem with modern economic style and anticipate future problems and the collapse of our environmental system as a result of our self-centred activities and overuse/overconsumption of the shared natural resources. Since the 1960s, there has been a “public recognition of the global environmental crisis”3 caused by human activity, which, of course, requires human intervention – government intervention and collective action – to tackle the problem that humanity faces and to mitigate its adverse effects to the greatest extent possible. 

In the early 1970s, the first major international conference on the environment was held by the UN in Stockholm, Sweden, marking the first international recognition of climate change. At the end of the decade, “Climate change was recognized as a serious problem by the First World Climate Conference in 1979.”4 Since then, an extensive series of meetings and international conferences on the environment and climate change have been held with broad international participation. Examples of such efforts include the Earth Summit in Rio (1992), during which the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted, Kyoto Protocol (1997), where participants agreed on emissions reductions, to the Paris agreements of 2015, which set out a global framework to deal with climate change in terms of mitigation, adaptation, and finance.

However, these international conferences and agreements on climate change are primarily framed by the liberal economic perspective that dominates global politics today. In other words, the liberal perspective tackles climate change from a material economic perspective and offers economical solutions, such as clean economy, renewable energy, and carbon coupons/carbon trade. Moreover, this liberal view argues that combating climate change needs a collective and equal responsibility for all nations. Therefore, there must be collective action and cooperation in solving climate change, and here lies the problem of this approach. The truth is that climate change is not the responsibility of all countries equally and not all countries are affected by climate change impacts on the same scale. Moreover, not all countries can afford climate change costs, mitigation costs, or costs adapting to climate change, which is known as the “adaptation capacity.” 5 Therefore, it is of paramount importance to approach the problem of climate change differently so that we can understand the reason as to why climate change solutions have so far failed and why the international community – both state and non-state actors – has not yet reached a consensus. This paper approaches climate change from the perspective of justice. It will describe and analyze two main principles of justice: 1) Distributive Justice: distribution of responsibilities and burdens inter-nations and inter-generations. 2) Procedural Justice: the participation of all who cause and are affected by climate change in international decision-making processes.

By examining climate change from an ethical point of view and as an issue of injustice, the paper answers the following questions:

• Can considering climate change as an urgent moral issue help in developing a comprehensive international agreement?  

• Can framing climate change as an ethical problem prevent climate negotiations from stalling or drifting endlessly?  

• How can calls for climate justice help us in addressing phenomena such as climate refugees and environmental racism?

2. The Voice of Morality: The Rise of Environmental Justice Movement

It is quite unfair to discuss climate justice without first shedding light on the environmental justice movement, especially given that some thinkers and academics consider that climate justice has been born out of this movement. For many, environmental justice movements and their affiliated organizations helped in conceptualizing, contextualizing, and shaping climate justice discourse. The issue of climate justice has always been embodied in environmental justice activities from the outset. The movement has led to approaching climate change ethically and morally. Additionally, it paved the way for the organization and establishment of climate justice principles, thereby striving to combat climate change by seeking justice in the first place. 

The environmental justice movement emerged in the mid-’60s, especially in marginalized communities of colour and in poor rural areas. Initially, the movement’s demands were environmental rights equivalent to those in prosperous communities and wealthier classes. It also called for equal protection from natural disasters and hazards, which have become more frequent and increasingly devastating. 

Simultaneous with the growth of civil rights movements in many regions of the world, environmental rights – the right to a healthy environment – were increasingly being viewed as an inherent human right. According to many scholars’ remarks, there was a merger between civil and environmental rights at around that time. This integration helped, to a great extent, shape the concept of environmental justice. 6 Since then, the environmental justice movement has been a pluralistic movement that embraced civil, political, social, and environmental rights. Most of the time, therefore, reflections on environmental justice are necessarily a process of consideration of human rights and dignity of all individuals. That is why “the concern for the relationship between the conditions of everyday life and the natural world, illustrates how a move from environmental justice to a concern with climate change should not be unexpected.” 7  

Perhaps the most remarkable influence of the environmental justice movement is that it has helped link our ecosystem and climate change issue with human rights concerns in all its aspects – national sovereignty, self-determination, social justice, the right to access resources, the right to protection from environmental dangers, and the right to sustainable development for current and future generations. Overall, the diversity of the environmental justice movement is reflected in climate justice approaches. Herein lies the importance of the environmental justice frame for a comprehensive understanding of climate justice development. It is essential to tackle climate change from such a holistic approach – Justice – which offers a way to encompass the full range of concerns.  

Climate (In)justice.  

1. Who should shoulder the burden, make decisions, and take action on climate change?8

So far, the paper has addressed the evolution of discussions on climate change from its beginning, when it was merely viewed as an environmental phenomenon, until a broad consensus has been reached on the fact that climate change is a problem caused by modern human activities. Then, the paper examined the integration and interaction between the environmental justice movement and concept of climate justice and explained how the movement’s grassroots activities and its organizations helped in formulating and enriching the climate justice approach. 

Indeed, there is no single exhaustive definition of climate justice. Instead, there are several definitions and explanations for the concept of “climate justice,” reflecting to a great extent the breadth and inclusiveness of this concept/approach. For example, Robyn Eckersley defines climate justice as the “fair distribution of the benefits and risks of social cooperation and, second, the minimization of those risks concerning an expanded moral community. 9 While the Mary Robinson Foundation, a pioneering organization in promoting the concept and the approach of climate justice, defines Climate Justice as follows: “Climate  Justice states that ‘climate justice links human  rights and development to achieve a human centred approach, safeguarding the rights of the  most vulnerable and sharing the burden and  benefits of climate.10 Moreover, one of the  definitions that profoundly expresses climate justice dimensions is the one mentioned in Organizing Cools the Planet booklet: “Climate  Justice is a vision to dissolve and alleviate the  unequal burdens created by climate change. As a form of environmental justice, climate justice is the fair treatment of all people and freedom from discrimination with the creation of policies and projects that address climate change and the systems that create climate change and perpetuate discrimination.11

Almost all these definitions of Climate Justice mentioned above have been translated from mere abstract words to practical reality. The definitions have also been institutionalized and operationalized mainly by non-governmental organizations, such as Climate Justice Now, Climate Justice Action, CAN International, and Environmental Justice Foundation. These institutions are working to strengthen the climate justice approach and frame the problem of climate change in a more comprehensive framework than other frames that seem unable to accommodate a problem of such magnitude. The ethical and moral stand is the starting point for these entities’ work, by considering that there is a problem of injustice and inequality between the contributors and those affected by climate change, a problem that is undoubtedly transnational and intergenerational. It also works on altering our consumer societies to sustainable societies and by shifting our high-carbon economy to a green economy for the sake of our planet and the human race’s existence.

This paper will be limited to examining the two most important elements/ principles in the Climate Justice Approach:  

• Distributive Justice.  

• Procedural Justice. 

1.1  Distributive Justice

Through the question of distributive justice – which deals primarily with the distribution of damages, benefits, and burdens of climate change between those who cause it and those affected by it – we see that there is inequity in the degree of vulnerability to climate change. The countries most affected by climate change are the least contributing to it, while the countries emitting the most greenhouse gas are the least affected by climate change and its effects. One of the main reasons for variation in the degree of vulnerability is that not all nations can mitigate climate change impacts nor do they have the same capacity to adapt to climate change and cope with its consequences. This undeniable fact makes the climate justice approach more necessary and relevant than ever before.

Table 1. The Climate Risk Index for the 2017, the most affected countries 12

Let us now look at some statistical figures that illustrate the distribution of climate change damages and related natural phenomena, such as droughts, floods, and storms. According to the latest statistics, 13 between 1999 and 2018, Puerto Rico, Myanmar and Haiti were the most affected and vulnerable to related climate risks and impacts; storms, floods, temperature extremes, mass movements, and heat and cold waves, etc. In 2017, “Puerto Rico, Sri Lanka, and Dominica were at the top of the list of the most affected countries, followed by Nepal, Peru, and Vietnam.” 14 As shown in Table 1, “eight of the top ten are developing countries; one is classified as an upper middle-income country (Dominica) and one an advanced economy generating high income (Puerto Rico).” 15

On the other hand, the main contributors to change are industrialized countries with major economies. For instance, data shows that the major emitters of Carbon dioxide – which is the most  significant contributor to human-induced climate change – are the US and China, followed by the  European Union, India, Russia, and Japan. 16 In  addition, “China and the US alone are  responsible for more than 40% of the world’s CO2  emissions, while the top 15 generates 72% of CO2  emissions, and the rest of the world’s 180 countries  produce nearly 28% of the global total; close to the amount China produces on its own.” 17 These statistics  show the extent of the disparities between countries that contribute directly to climate change and responsible for massive environmental devastation through their high-carbon economies and countries with modest economies with very low CO2 emissions. 

Table 2. The World’s top 5 CO2 Emissions-Generating Countries 18 (metric tons of carbon di oxide equivalent)

This data raises fundamental questions which should guide our thinking as we address climate justice problems such as: Who should bear the brunt of climate change costs today? How should the costs of climate change mitigation and adaptation be distributed between states? There are three mains known principles 19 to tackle these questions: 

1. Polluter Pays Principle: 

This principle states the following: Whoever has caused and brought about climate change ought to bear the burden of paying the costs and mitigating its impacts. 

2. Ability to Pay Principle: 

This principle points out that all should bear the burden, but in proportion to their ability to pay, since climate change is a global problem and each the country is affected, albeit to varying degrees. 

3. Beneficiary Pays Principle: 

This principle shifts the burden of climate change onto countries that benefit from using fossil fuels and relying on carbon-economies. Therefore, the more a country emits CO2 in the atmosphere, the more costs it must pay, the more burden it must bear. These principles can be applied separately or in combination. However, some will argue that only one of these principles must be followed to achieve a just distribution of climate change’s burdens. However, what matters here is that using the climate justice approach, we can take into consideration different principles and methods to achieve the desired equality and justice.

1.2 Intergenerational Justice

Another dimension of distributive Justice is intergenerational Justice. It is well known that climate change is a transcending crisis, as it moves beyond the geographical boundaries among nations and also straddles temporal boundaries across generations. Therefore, one of the main pressing issues in combatting climate change is how to deal with the trans-generational character of climate change. There are two issues we must consider in this regard. First, the burden on the current generation results from the activities and greenhouse gas emissions of previous generations. Second, future generations are expected to confront the severe effects of climate change and depend on our actions today.20  

It is through a climate justice approach that we are able to ask to what extent members of one generation can inherit moral obligations from the actions of previous generations? In addition, what are the obligations and duties that the current generation owe to succeeding generations?21  

In fact, there are no simple one-size-fits-all answers.  What is crucial in this regard is to guarantee human rights and intergenerational justice. Human rights treaties and climate change agreements set out obligations and duties to secure current and future generations’ rights. For instance, Article III of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) stipulates as follows: “parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, based on equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”22 In addition, the UN considers protecting the climate as a right of future generations, and this was asserted in the draft resolution “Protection of Global Climate for Present and Future Generations” that was submitted in the General Assembly in 2008.23  

The protection and assurance of human rights, including environmental rights, can be done by acknowledging the complexity of climate change and by critically assessing the proposed solutions. It can also be done by providing normative/ethical guidelines for sustainable resource management, transforming sustainable development, and moving to a green low-carbon economy. Moreover, it can be accomplished by global collective action that includes everyone and ensures everyone’s participation. This last point brings us to the second side/aspect of Justice, which is Procedural Justice through which distributive Justice can be achieved.

1.3 Procedural Justice

Procedural justice is often overlooked when addressing climate change. Indeed, there is a plethora of literature, research, and discussions on the distributive justice of burdens and climate change costs, whether mitigation or adaptation cost, where distributive justice can only be achieved through just procedures and fair processes. In the view of many scholars,24 a defect in procedural justice will affect the outcomes of any agreement on environmental and climate change, foremost among which is the endeavour to achieve climate justice. Herein lies the critical importance of considering both principles of justice, the procedures/procedural principle and then the distribution principle. Procedural Justice is mainly concerned with questions relating to actions, decision making processes, and parties involved. Therefore, we can raise some questions about which parties are entitled to participate in the decision-making processes or take part in drafting and designing climate treaties and agreements. Since climate change is a transnational global problem and All are Affected,25 it requires collective action, multilateral agreements, and international coordination to combat it. However, there are several principles/criteria to define who should participate in the decision-making processes.  

This paper examines a guiding principle of procedural  justice for participation in a climate change regime and to achieve climate justice, namely All Affected  Principle (AAP), which states “that a decision-making  process needs to offer some form of participation to those who are affected by the  outcome of the decisions that are made.”26 This concerns the fairness  of the processes by which substantive outcomes are agreed and relates to the level of participation and recognition of all the actors involved in decision making processes.”27 Although many scholars have criticized this principle for being vague and a simple solution to a complex problem, the next section will examine three justifications28 for considering this principle as a suitable way to achieve just participation and representation in climate change agreements: 

1. Intuitively Attractive Principle

The AAP principle provides an intuitive answer to who should participate in the decision-making process in a climate change agreement. Accordingly, all actors affected by an agreement’s outcome are entitled to participate or be represented in the agreement drafting process; any party affected by a decision must consider its interests while making the decision.  

2. The Epistemic Value of the All-Affected Principle: 

This justification, which is philosophical to some extent, assumes that the parties whose interests are affected by a decision are the best decision makers or the most suitable parties to make the right agreement/decision. As a result of all affected parties’ involvement in the decision-making process, the outcomes are expected to be more effective and equitable. 

3. Moral Justifications for the All-Affected Principle: 

The last justification for considering the AAP as one of the most suitable principles for achieving procedural justice in the climate change regime is that the AAP is upholding ethical values, which are:  

I. Moral Standing: Those who are affected by a decision should have an opportunity to influence a decision’s outcome. Otherwise, the international community will not achieve a state of justice and fairness regarding climate change agreements and procedures.  

II. Autonomy and Political Equality: The involvement of affected parties in the decision-making process allows them to achieve a degree of autonomy and self-determination. In contrast, some affected parties’ exclusion from a decision making progress will deprive them from realizing these values. 

All affected parties’ participation in the decision-making process will increase the effectiveness and compliance with climate change agreements. The closed-door policy and exclusion of a large segment of the international community are grave concerns that could obstruct and undermine the endeavour to reach a global consensus and achieve climate justice. 

Absence of Environmental Global Governance   

This last part will briefly highlight the harm caused by the lack of global governance in efforts to achieve climate justice. A global issue as climate change transcends arbitrary borders among countries and it becomes vital to have a global entity responsible for organizing collective efforts of states to ensure commitment and respect/acceptance of the environmental agreements policies. Although there are various environmental organizations at international and local levels and many conferences and summits on climate change, we still lack political will and commitment from states. The dilemma always remains the doctrine of state sovereignty, as no international organization can compel any country to act. Nonetheless, these international efforts are symptoms in developing global environmental governance to combat climate change.  Besides the need for global governance to ensure global climate justice, there are some phenomena related to climate injustice, and it cannot be addressed without supra international organization. 

One of these pressing issues, for instance, is climate refugees, the human cost of climate change. It is considered a relatively recent phenomenon, and there is no, as yet an official universal agreement or consensus on its definition. An increasing number of refugees migrate and flee their homes due to natural disasters caused by climate change. In most cases, it is forced migration, particularly from the impoverished Southern countries, affected by climate change severally, to migrate internally to safer places or internationally to the North – Europe or North America. Add to that some manifestations of environmental racism,29 such as industrial countries’ waste that ends up in Africa, causing toxic air and greenhouse gas emissions, ignoring the effects of the environmental impacts and the human health in these countries. In addition, factories are being transferred to the third world, where environmental laws are less strict or virtually non-existent in some countries. It seems as if the third world or Africa is the land that has no rights or as if it is terra sacer.30  

In this regard, these present issues and perhaps many other issues in the future will significantly drive towards a just and comprehensive approach to climate change. Besides developing global international governance, which will serve as a guarantor in an international environmental regime, Procedural Justice allows affected minorities to participate and be represented in the decision-making process that affects their future and rescues their homelands. This will ensure an equitable distribution of the costs of climate change, considering each nation’s abilities and capabilities. 


Climate change is a complicated and multifaceted problem that touches all aspects of human life: the social, economic, political, and environmental. It is a problem that exceeds all traditional frameworks, meaning that any limited and one-dimensional approach to the problem will not be sufficient and may not lead to any desired results. The climate justice approach, which has evolved and crystallized over several decades of human effort and activities, is the most comprehensive and holistic approach that does not exclude any aspect of life, does not exclude any part of the earth, does not marginalize any human group, and most essentially stems from an ethical and moral position. Also, through distributive and procedural justice, global climate justice can be achieved. While most of the focus has been on distributive justice, without proper consideration for procedural justice, the goal of achieving climate justice will be incomplete.


  1. Spencer R. Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008).
  2. Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons” Science 162(3859) (1968): 1243-1248. 
  3.  Stephen McGlinchey, Rosie Walters, and Christian Scheinpflug, International Relations Theory (Bristol, England: E-International Relations Publishing, 2017).
  4.  United Nations, UN Environment Programme  (UNEP), Climate change Information Sheet, (2001).  available at https://unfccc.int/resource/iuckit/cckit2001en.pdf
  5. Ellina Levina & Dennis Tirpak. (2006). Adaptation to Climate Change. Key Terms. Paris. https://www.oecd.org/environment/cc/36278739.pdf
  6.  Ibid.
  7.  David Schlosberg & Lisette Collins. (2014). From Environmental to Climate Justice: Climate Change and the Discourse of Environmental Justice. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 5, no. 3 (2014): 359-374.
  8.  Mathias Risse, (2008). Who Should Shoulder the Burden? Global Climate Change and Common Ownership of the Earth, HKS Working Paper No. RWP08-075, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1338257#
  9.  Robyn Eckersley, The Green State: Rethinking Democracy and Sovereignty (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004)
  10.  The Geography of Climate Justice An Introductory Resource. Mary Robinson Foundation (Ireland), 2011, www.ria.ie/climatejustice.aspx 
  11.  Hilary Moore and Joshua Kahn Russell, Organizing Cools the Planet: Tools and Reflections on Navigating the Climate Crisis (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2011)
  12.  Ibid. 
  13.  David Eckstein, Vera Künzel, Laura Schäfer, Global Climate Risk Index 2018. Germanwatch, 2017, https://germanwatch.org/sites/default/files/publication/20432.pdf 
  14.  Ibid.
  15.  Ibid.
  16.  Pollution by Country Population. (2019). Retrieved  2020-01-10, from http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/pollutionby country/
  17.  Sean Fleming Chart of the day: These countries create most of the world’s CO2 emissions. [online] World Economic Forum. Available at:  https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/06/chart-of theday-these-countries-create-most-of-the-world-s-co2- emissions/ [Accessed 7 Jan. 2020].
  18.  Ibid. 
  19. Simon Caney, “Distributive Justice and Climate Change” in The Oxford Handbook of Distributive Justice, ed. Serena Olsaretti (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2018), 664-688.  https://philarchive.org/archive/CANDJA
  20.  Ibid.
  21. Fabian Schuppert, “Climate Change Mitigation and Intergenerational Justice,” Environmental Politics, 20, no. 3 (2011): 303-321.
  22.  United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Kyoto Protocol, Kyoto, 19. https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/conveng.pdf
  23. UN General Assembly, Protection of global climate for present and future generations of mankind: resolution / adopted by the General Assembly, 22 December 1989, A/RES/44/207, available at: https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/813797?ln=en
  24.  David Schlosberg and Lisette Collins, “From Environmental to Climate Justice: Climate Change and the Discourse of Environmental Justice,” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 5, no. 3 (2014): 359- 374.
  25.  Luke Tomlinson, Procedural Justice and Climate Change: Defining Who Should be Included in the Decision-making Processes of a Climate Change Agreement. Unpublished paper (2011). https://ecpr.eu/filestore/paperproposal/6bd96d31- 936f459f-8b31-4c646b8d1511.pdf 
  26.  Ibid.
  27.  Ibid.
  28.  Ibid.
  29.  Environmental racism refers to the process and outcome of racial discrimination in the enactment and enforcement of environmental laws, rules, and regulations and in targeting minority communities for the siting of polluting industries.
  30.  The Sacer term in Latin means “the one who may not be sacrificed, yet may be murdered with impunity, a life that is worth neither saving nor killing”. The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben used the term in his book Homo Sacer/The Sacred Man, and here I borrowed it and used it to describe the lands of the Third World as Terra Sacer/The sacred land.

Coral Reefs and Climate Change in the GCC Region

by Aisha Almaazmi, Manaswi Madichetty, Riman El Sayed

Abstract: The aim of this research paper is to analyze the correlation between increasing temperature and the damage caused to coral reefs, the marine ecosystem, and its impact on human health in the GCC countries.


Climate change has affected multiple ecosystems across the globe; a critically important ecosystem that suffered the most due to climate change is the coral reefs ecosystem. The coral reef ecosystem is a marine ecosystem and it is a habitat to a variety of organisms and species, ranging from microbial algae to whale sharks. Moreover, the coral reef ecosystem overlaps with several other marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Nevertheless, the coral reef ecosystem is remarkably sensitive and fragile, where the smallest change could lead to destructive consequences. Therefore, the effects of damage to coral reefs will not be limited to coral reefs alone. In fact, damage to the coral reefs would produce a series of adverse consequences that would affect also marine life and humans. 

The most recognized form of coral damage is coral bleaching. Coral bleaching is when the corals lose symbiotic algae, known as zooxanthellae; this alga, along with the photosynthetic microorganisms, provide nourishment and pigment to the corals. Coral bleaching occurs due to various reasons, including but not limited to temperature variation, salinity and acidity variations, and introduction of toxins in water. Corals can survive weeks after the bleaching, but then they eventually die. If the condition that leads to bleaching, however, were reversed, the corals would be capable of recovering from bleaching.

 1. Impact of Temperature Variations on Coral Reefs

According to the National Ocean Service, on average, coral reefs grow at a temperature between 23°–29° Celsius. Although it may vary, generally speaking, the lowest temperature coral reefs can tolerate is 18° Celsius. Meanwhile, some coral reefs can tolerate up to 40° Celsius at most in terms of addressing high temperatures. Nevertheless, exposure to such a high temperature can be tolerated for brief terms of time only.  

Temperature variations impact coral reefs both directly and indirectly. The corals are affected directly when the change in temperature results in damaging their living tissue; in most cases these damages are irreversible. On the other hand, climate change can possess an indirect influence on corals. Different organisms that inhabit the same geographical area as the coral reef react in diverse manners and these reactions eventually stimulate a transformation in the surrounding environment of the corals. These transformations could have either a negative or positive impression on the coral reefs. In some instances, the impression could be neutral as well.

1.1 Warm Water Impact

The rising temperature patterns characterize a threat to corals in various aspects. When the planet heats up, so does the water. In water temperature higher than the threshold, the zooxanthellae and photosynthetic microorganisms will be released from the coral polyp. When the corals can no longer establish the mutualistic symbiotic relationship with the zooxanthellae, the coral will bleach, which will lead to death in several weeks from malnourishment. 

Rising water temperatures also negatively influence corals indirectly. In some instances, herbivore fish, like the parrotfish, will not be able to tolerate the high temperature of water; they either migrate or die. When no more herbivore fish are available in a geographic region, some competitor algae, called macroalgae, will nourish and rapidly reproduce, thus dominating over corals and putting them at the risk of bleaching. According to Coral Reefs Alliance, algae embody a threat to corals as algae are capable of “smothering them, blocking their access to sunlight and promoting the growth of harmful bacteria.” 

Climate change has also an indirect effect on corals. When the planet gets warmer, the oceans and water bodies will get heated as well, resulting in evaporation. When the heat evaporates the water in oceans, the natural habitat of coral reefs, solid material and particles will remain in the ocean, thus changing the salt concentration ad acidity levels of the water. Corals on average can grow and survive in water salinity that is between 32%-40% and the average salinity of the ocean is around 34.72%. Any disturbance in the salinity would result in irregular calcification, which will result in creating a barrier and blocking sunlight. Sunlight is essential for zooxanthellae in order to undergo photosynthesis and supply the corals with energy and nutrients. (Henkel, 2010).

1.2 Cold water Impact

Climate change threats on coral reefs are not limited to only higher water temperatures. A drop in the water’s temperature has a fairly negative influence on the coral reefs’ habitats.

Although the threshold temperature may vary depending on the geographical region, on average it’s 18°C. One of the most tremendous mortality rates of coral reefs due to a drop in water temperature took place in the coral reefs of Florida, United States (US). In January 2010, the Florida Reef Tract (FRT) experienced mass mortality of various coral reef colonies due to a spontaneous sharp drop in the water temperature that fell to 16°C. The drop in temperature continued for six days in a row and resulted in the death of 7.8% of all colonies in the FRT.

Similar to high water temperatures, low water temperature embodies a threat to the dinoflagellates and photosynthetic microorganisms that live within the coral reefs. When a disturbance in the homeostasis occurs, the efficiency in the endosymbiotic metabolism of these would decrease, and organisms won’t be capable of undergoing photosynthesis effectively, which leads to death. Once the dinoflagellates and other microorganisms are no longer providing photosynthetic products (energy and nutrients) to the corals, the corals will die due to malnourishment. Moreover, the cold water itself damages the living tissues of the corals. The living tissues will die and there is neither energy nor material and nutrients to repair with. 

In contrast to coral bleaching due to warm water temperatures, death due to cold water temperatures cannot be reversed when the water returns to its initial temperature. If corals were exposed to a temperature of 14 Celsius or less for barely nine hours, it would result in coral mortality. Meanwhile, in coral bleaching episodes, the corals can survive for weeks before they die due to malnourishment; and if the homeostasis was restrained again, the corals would be capable of recovering (Lirman, Schopmeyer, Manzello, Gramer, & Precht, 2011).

2. Impact of Corals on the Marine Ecosystem 

Coral plays an important role in the preservation of any marine ecosystem. It is crucial to analyze its impact on those that interact with it. Thus, the benefits of coral reefs are discussed in the following section, along with the impact damaged coral reefs have on the ecosystem and marine life. 

2.1 Benefits of Coral to Marine Ecosystem

Coral plays an essential role in marine ecosystems; its frequent presence indicates its importance for marine organisms. According to Coral Guardian (n.d.), there are three primary benefits of corals to marine life: coastal protection to increase ecosystem resilience, marine life habitat, and food sources. Firstly, many cities, communities, and countries are located within coastal regions, which means that they are within close proximity to the ocean or sea. Because of that, they are also prone to damages caused by storms, hurricanes, or tsunamis. Climate change has triggered the high frequency of these natural disasters, which puts ocean-side communities and countries in a vulnerable position. However, coral reefs act as natural barriers, protecting the coast from powerful waves and destruction from natural disasters. Coral reefs function as dissipators of wave energy, in which they “break” waves through friction, which protects the coasts from floods (van Zanten, van Beukering, & Wagtendonk, 2014). Not only do coral reefs protect coastal communities through breaking waves, but they also protect marine life from the consequences of storms and floods. When the coast is protected by coral reefs, the resilience of the marine ecosystem increases; therefore, marine life becomes less affected by damages. Healthy coral reefs are necessary for coastal protection; many coastal communities have been able to avoid damages. On the other hand, unhealthy or almost non-existent coral reefs pave the way for costly destruction to the coastal region. For example, due to the dying coral reefs in certain areas of the Maldives, a wall costing about 10 million US dollars was built in order to protect the coastline. Strong waves are caused by hurricanes and storms, which results in flooding; this causes severe damage to economies that rely primarily on the ocean. Economies that prosper due to activities such as fishing benefit the most from coastal protection, because fishermen are able to catch fish and sell them for money (NOAA, 2019). The coast protection offered by coral reefs is considered as a hidden cost; coastal communities are able to protect their economies and food sources without realizing the immense protection being offered to them. 

Second, healthy coral reefs provide a habitat for marine life. Over a million different species of plants and animals inhabit coral reefs; it serves as a means of protection from predators (Coral Guardian, 2014). Coral reefs can grow up to 45 meters from the ocean surface, which is why they are a popular living spot for marine organisms. Even though corals only make up 1% of the ocean floor, they house about 25% of marine species (KDE Santa Barbara, n.d). Sea urchins, fish, sharks, sea stars, shrimp, lobster, octopus, snails and many marine organisms find shelter in the brightly-colored reefs. Because of the diversity in species, coral reefs have been nicknamed “rainforests of the sea.” Just as there is a diversity in the species of fish, there is also a diversity in the types of coral. Different coral reefs house different kinds of fish, who choose their habitats according to their convenience. Coral reefs serve as a base for living, feeding, breeding, spawning and growing, which is why marine organisms choose reefs that are the most suitable to their needs. This demonstrates the commonality of having a differentiation in niche preference between different marine species, which shows the crucial relationship shared between coral reefs and marine species. Some species are shown to have a higher dependency on the coral reefs they inhabit when compared to other species. For example, smaller fish utilize the colors and massive structures of some reefs to hide from predators, as well as find tiny pieces of plankton to eat (Messmer et al, 2011). Coral comes in many shapes, sizes, and colors; however, they themselves are marine animals known as polyps. According to NOAA Fisheries (2019), polyps take root on the ocean floor, forming strong, sturdy caves made out of calcium carbonate. 

Lastly, coral reefs serve as a food source for both marine organisms and humans. Because many coral reefs are located close to shore, coastal regions and communities largely depend on protein-filled seafood from coral reefs, such as fish, shrimp, oysters, and lobsters. According to Coral Guardian (2014), well-maintained and healthy reefs yield about 5 to 15 tons of fish and marine invertebrates, which means around 1.42 million tons of seafood from coral reefs. Ten million people rely on seafood as a primary source of protein, calcium, iron, and vitamins A, B, and C. Because coral reefs provide a massive food source for humans, marine species are constantly reproducing to maintain a balance in the ecosystem. Coral reefs are never short of inhabiting species; fish and other species reproduce multiple times throughout the year while other species reproduce seasonally. Because of the diversity of ocean species, many species are constantly reproducing, which creates balance, especially when humans also use coral reef species as a food source (Woods, 2018).  In the case of coral reefs being a food source for other marine organisms, coral can be consumed when it is young or fully grown. When it is young, coral floats around in the plankton, where it can be eaten by some small marine animals. Even when coral is grown, they are eaten by many fish, snails, and worms, despite possessing a skeleton (Knowlton, 2019). 

2.2 Damaged Coral Reefs and Their Impact on Marine Ecosystems

As discussed in the previous section, coral reefs serve a great purpose in the marine ecosystem, as well as greatly benefiting marine organisms. Some of their main benefits to the marine ecosystem are offering coastal protection and resilience to marine ecosystems, providing a diverse habitat to marine species, and providing a food source to both humans and marine species. However, none of the benefits discussed above can be of any significance if coral reefs are damaged. In the past decade, the impact of climate change on ecosystems has become dangerously common. The increase of storms, hurricanes, and rising sea levels are common factors of climate change. Climate change also causes rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification, which are two factors that trigger the decline of coral reefs. Coral is prone to stress from such factors that leads to coral bleaching and possible death.

Coral bleaching is a process caused by unusually warm temperatures in oceans (most commonly caused by climate change), which causes coral to turn white due to the absence of algae (NOAA, n.d). Algae and coral have an endosymbiotic relation with coral reefs, which means that their relationship is a mutual one between a host organism (coral reefs) and an internal organism (algae). When they are stressed, coral reefs forcefully release zooxanthellae, the algae that reside in coral and gives it its color and brightness. This process can eventually lead to coral reef death if ocean temperatures remain warm. The problem of bleaching is severe also because once corals die, they have a significantly lower chance of coming back. When there are no coral reefs, the remaining coral finds it more difficult to reproduce, which decreases the coral reef population. More importantly, when there are fewer coral reefs, marine organisms lose their habitat, food source, and protection (WWF, n.d). Frequent inhabitants of coral reefs such as fish, snails, sea stars, lobsters and more will struggle to find security against large predators. Some species have already reached the brink of extinction due to the death of coral reefs. This cycle will eventually cause an imbalance in marine ecosystems, which will not only impact marine life, but also human communities that benefit from coral reefs.

One of the most recent events of coral bleaching occurred during the years of 2014-2017, in which ocean water temperatures were extremely warm. Around 70% of coral reef ecosystems worldwide were affected, along with areas like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in which over 100 miles its coral was bleached. In 2005, the University of Newcastle upon Tyneled led a research team to investigate a sample of 50,000 coral reefs in some of Seychelles’ inner islands to compare the conditions of the reefs since 1994. The research team studied the impact of global warming on the coral since their first study and discovered that in 1998, ocean temperature increased, which caused the death of almost 90% of the inner island coral. Unfortunately, these coral reefs could not reseed or regrow, which caused a massive habitat problem for the marine species in that area. Due to the heavy effects of bleaching, there was a decrease of almost 50% of the area’s fish community, four fish species went extinct, and six fish species became critically endangered (Anonymous, 2006). 

With damaged coral reefs, there is no coastal protection or increase in resilience for marine ecosystems. Coasts have a higher chance of getting damaged due to the lack of protection offered by reefs. In addition, marine ecosystems are more susceptible to damage caused by hurricanes and storms, which weakens their survival mechanism. Moreover, damaged coral reefs leave no room for marine species to inhabit coral reefs, which puts their protection, food source, and breeding habits at a risk. Finally, food sources for both humans and marine species are compromised when coral reefs are at risk. Coral reefs and their inhabitants have become the prominent victims of climate change.

3. Impact of Damages to Marine Ecosystem on the GCC      

The damage to the marine ecosystem(s) is not limited to the sea creatures, it also affects humans since the sea and coral reefs are essential for humans’ survival. The sea provides food security, jobs for local communities, and supports the economy through tourism and economic activities. The GCC region’s economy is significantly supported by a marine water body, the Arabian Gulf (a.k.a. Persian Gulf). In the GCC region, the Gulf is mainly important for supporting fisheries and tourism. However, due to climate change, the coral reefs are decreasing in population and are at risk of extinction. Of course, any disturbance in the coral reefs’ ecosystem would lead to a disturbance in the marine ecosystem, which would be reflected on the human society and economy. Therefore, the GCC region is taking actions and establishing policies to prevent further damage to the coral reefs and marine ecosystem and support the recovery of their ecosystems. 

3.1 Impact of Damages to Marine Ecosystem on Human Society 

Climate change has resulted in an unprecedented damage to the coral reef ecosystem(s) that influenced further destruction in the various marine ecosystems. The affected marine ecosystem(s) would impact human daily livelihood; even if the consequences were not observed in the short term, they exist and would take place unless immediate actions were taken. Coral reef ecosystems hold immense importance for millions of people around the world. Sectors that are directly impacted include natural shoreline protection barriers, food providing fisheries, income, and jobs for local communities. Other benefits provided by the coral reef ecosystem include tourism, recreation, and foreign income. Concerns are being raised by researchers about the increasing levels of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, which is degrading coral reef ecosystems and generating global environmental risks for people that depend on them (Pendleton et al., 2016).

Some of the biggest plots of continental coastlines in the world can be found in the Middle East, specifically, in the GCC region. However, the Middle East, precisely the GCC region, is faced with some of the fastest-growing populations as a result of immigration and tourism (World Resources Institute, 2011). Coral reefs are a direct tourism attraction for many activities such as diving tours and fishing trips. There are also multiple restaurants, hotels, and many other businesses that surround the coral reef areas that generate large sums of income all around the world. Thus, the losses associated with the degradation of coral reefs are large. For instance, according to the Australia Institute, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia could lose one million annual visitors and lead to the loss of ten thousand jobs (Haines, 2017). According to another study in 2003, total annual earnings of coral reefs in the world is $29.8 ​​billion (Cesar, Burke & Pet-Soede, 2003). All of these studies highlight the importance of coral reefs to the tourism sector. The studies further elaborate on how the slightest damage to the tourism sector would impact the economy of a country with it. Most of the GCC countries’ economies rely on the tourism sector. For example, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), the tourism sector has experienced a remarkable growth by 150% from 2006 and 2014 (Ben-Romdhane et al., 2020). The majority of the tourists stated scuba-diving and observation of coral reefs as the main aims of their trip. This indicates how crucial coral reef tourism is for UAE’s economy, and also for other GCC countries. Studies suggest that coral tourism brings around one hundred billion dirhams (100B Dhs) annually. As a result of the profit the coral reef tourism industry brings to the country, the UAE government planned to have 14% percent of the marine regions protected by 2019. That was done in order to preserve the coral reefs while creating more diving destinations, which would increase tourism in the UAE (Wasmi, 2017). 

One of the most important and direct forms of human dependence on reefs is fisheries. This dependence plays an important role in providing food, income, employment, and creates a drive towards poverty alleviation. Worldwide, over 275 million people live within 10 kilometers from the coast and 30 kilometers from a reef (Burke & Institute, 2011). For these people, fisheries are supposed to be a sustainable source of food, but with the degradation of coral reefs, their sustenance is put at risk. Unsustainable fishing has been the cause of this issue. According to the University of British Columbia (UBC), one-third of marine species could be extinct by 2090 if immediate action is not taken. “We did not consider the interactions between other human activities in addition to climate change,” said William Cheung, Associate Professor at UBC.  “Thus, considering the rapid development of the marine environment in the region, it may be worse. I think besides mitigating the damage, there is an urgent need to reduce carbon emission. In the longer term, this will be the ultimate solution to the problem” (Zacharias, 2018). The GCC countries’ economy and culture depends significantly on fishers. Therefore, the GCC governments are constantly working on increasing the growth of the fishery sector. According to one report, it is projected that the production of fish would increase by 7.2% between 2020 to 2025. This growth, however, may be limited by the climate change impact on coral reefs and marine biodiversity. Any reduction in coral reefs will lead to a decrease in fish population, and the marine biodiversity will be adversely affected. As a result, the fisheries would be damaged and result in a shortage in food security and a higher unemployment rate. In order to conserve the economy and the fishery sector, while continuously exporting fish, the GCC governments started investing in aquaculture. Remarkable major investments have been made despite the project(s) being in its early stages. For example, in Oman, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries had made a huge investment which is estimated to be one billion dirhams (1B Dhs) in order to develop 15,000 hectares of land for aquaculture.  Based on this investment, it is expected that Oman would produce two hundred thousand (200,000) metric tons of fish between 2030 and 2040. Another country that had planned and invested in supporting aquaculture, due to the damage inflicted on the fishery industry by climate change, is Saudi Arabia (KSA). KSA had produced sixty thousand (60,000) metric tons in 2017. Currently, KSA is working on surpassing the production of six hundred thousand (600,000) metric tons by 2030. It is noteworthy to point out that KSA’s investments in expanding the aquaculture and fishery industry is primarily driven by a need to meet the domestic demand and maintain food security for the public (Markets, 2020). All these efforts and investments further highlight how crucial the fishery industry is for GCC countries and the importance of preserving it and supporting the recovery of marine ecosystem. 

3.2 Efforts to combat Coral Extinction due to Climate Change

The GCC countries acknowledge the threats climate change has on the environment and coral reefs, and how it affects the public’s livelihood. Therefore, numerous efforts have been made to combat climate change and reduce the damage inflicted. One of the most remarkable efforts made was creating institutions and organizations to protect the environment and monitor climate change. These include the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment in the UAE, Environment Public Authority in Kuwait, and the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, GCC countries are currently studying the production of clean energy and switching to renewable energy instead of fossil fuels in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. Some of these efforts include UAE Energy Strategy setting an agenda to have 50% of the energy used as clean energy by 2050, where 44% of it would be generated from renewable sources. Moreover, KSA is planning to generate over 27 GW of clean power by 2023 and more than 58 GW by 2030 (Nagraj, 2020). 

Investing in eco-friendly projects and establishing studies to limit the impact of climate change on coral reefs is crucial. However, it would not be effective unless it is paired with educating the public about the climate change threats and enlighten them about the importance of our natural resources, especially the coral reefs. Therefore, in order to understand whether the impacts of coral reef degradation are recognized by the UAE community, we conducted a simple two-question survey. The results of the survey indicate that the majority of the population does recognize the coral reef degradation as a threat to their health and economy. To explore the opinions of the percentage of individuals that did not address this as an issue, we approached them to find out their reasoning. Most of the respondents who responded negatively did not recognize the economic benefits of a country’s coral reef or they did not realize that their main protein source in the form of fish is endangered. Considering the lack of awareness regarding this issue, the positive response percentage from among the 65 respondents is surprising (Appendix A).


Despite the abundance of research that discusses the importance of coral reefs in multiple ways, the awareness around the issue is not as elaborate. Our coral reefs, once damaged, are extremely difficult to regenerate completely, which would lead to a loss in marine life and habitats, thereby losing its value as a tourist destination. 

At an individual level, precautions one can follow to protect the reefs could be to simply follow the local rules that are set by the government regarding the reefs, adopt sustainable fishing, research the sourcing of the fish one consumes, avoid physical damage to coral reefs, and spread awareness in communities by starting mini-campaigns to explain the do’s and don’ts regarding coral reefs.

Other actions that need to be taken include implementing sustainable fishing and tourism, partnering with a local committee to spread the rules and regulations pertaining to coral reefs, and enforcing the penalties for violating rules regarding coral reefs. The most important suggestion is to take climate change efforts as a priority because of the multitude of adverse effects it has on coral reefs and other parts of the Earth as well. 

Appendix A 

These are the questions we included in the survey and the results we obtained. 


Anonymous. (2006). Global warming may have damaged coral reefs forever. Sea Technology47(6), 59–60. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.aus.idm.oclc.org/docview/198576500/fulltextPDF/8D3CD18609D149A4PQ/1?accountid=16946

Ben-Romdhane, H., Jabado, R., Grandcourt, E., Perry, R., Al Blooshi, A., Marpu, P., . . . Ghedira, H. (2020, June 15). Coral reefs of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: Analysis of management approaches in light of international best practices and a changing climate. Retrieved February 16, 2021, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2020.00541/full#B120

Burke, L. M., & Institute, W. R. (2011). Reefs at Risk Revisited. Retrieved from https://pdf.wri.org/reefs_at_risk_revisited.pdf

Cesar, H. S., Burke, L. M., & Pet-Soede, L. (2003). The Economics of Worldwide Coral Reef Degradation. Retrieved from Cesar Environmental Economics Consulting website: https://www.wwf.or.jp/activities/lib/pdf_marine/coral-reef/cesardegradationreport100203.pdf

Connell, D. W. (2018). Pollution in Tropical Aquatic Systems. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Coral Guardian. (2014, January 9). Why are coral reefs so important? Retrieved from https://www.coralguardian.org/en/coral-reef-important/

Coral Reef Alliance. (n.d.). Coastal Protection. Retrieved from https://coral.org/coral-reefs-101/why-care-about-reefs/coastal-protection/

Coral Reef Alliance. (n.d.). Local Threats to Coral Reefs. Retrieved from https://coral.org/coral-reefs-101/reef-threats/direct/

Haines, G. (2017, February 21). Great Barrier Reef could lose one million visitors annually if coral bleaching continues. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/oceania/australia/articles/coral-bleaching-could-cost-australian-tourist-industry-616-million-annually/

Henkel, T. P. (2010). Coral Reefs. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/coral-reefs-15786954/

KDE Santa Barbara. (n.d.). Coral Reef. Retrieved from http://kids.nceas.ucsb.edu/biomes/coralreef.html

Knowlton, N. (2019, August 22). Corals and Coral Reefs. Retrieved from https://ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/invertebrates/corals-and-coral-reefs &nbsp;

Lirman, D., Schopmeyer, S., Manzello, D., Gramer, L. J., Precht, W. F., Muller-Karger, F., . . . Thanner, S. (2011). Severe 2010 cold-water event caused unprecedented mortality to corals of the Florida reef tract and reversed previous survivorship patterns. PLoS One, 6(8) doi:http://dx.doi.org.aus.idm.oclc.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0023047

Markets, R. (2020, June 12). 2020 GCC fisheries and AQUACULTURE SECTOR analysis – production of fish in the GCC region is projected to grow at a rate of 7.2% During 2020-2025. Retrieved February 16, 2021, from https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/2020-gcc-fisheries-and-aquaculture-sector-analysis—production-of-fish-in-the-gcc-region-is-projected-to-grow-at-a-rate-of-7-2-during-2020-2025–301075034.html

Messmer, V., Jones, G., Munday, P., Holbrook, S., Schmitt, R., & Brooks, A. (2011). Habitat biodiversity as a determinant of fish community structure on coral reefs. Ecology, 92(12), 2285-2298. Retrieved January 18, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/23143887

Nagraj, A. (2020, April 30). The climate crisis: Is the gcc doing enough in the sustainability space? Retrieved February 16, 2021, from https://gulfbusiness.com/the-climate-crisis-is-the-gcc-doing-enough-in-the-sustainability-space/

National and Atmospheric Administration Oceanic. (n.d.). Coral reef ecosystems. Retrieved from https://www.noaa.gov/education/resource-collections/marine-life-education-resources/coral-reef-ecosystems

NOAA. (2019, December 5). Shallow Coral Reef Habitat. Retrieved from https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/habitat-conservation/shallow-coral-reef-habitat

National Ocean Service. (2017). In what types of water do corals live? Retrieved from https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coralwaters.html

Pendleton, L., Comte, A., Langdon, C., Ekstrom, J. A., Cooley, S. R., Suatoni, L., … Ritter, J. (2016). Coral reefs and people in a high-co2 world: Where can science make a difference to people? PLOS ONE, 11(11), e0164699. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0164699

Reef Resilience Network. (n.d.). Importance of Reef Fisheries. Retrieved from https://reefresilience.org/coral-reef-fisheries-module/coral-reef-fisheries/importance-of-reef-fisheries/

Woods, R. (2018, June 26). How Do Fish Mate: The Ultimate Guide. Retrieved from https://www.fishkeepingworld.com/how-do-fish-mate/#More_Unusual_Ways_Fish_Mate

World Wildlife Fund. (n.d.). Everything You Need to Know about Coral Bleaching-And How We Can Stop It. Retrieved from https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/everything-you-need-to-know-about-coral-bleaching-and-how-we-can-stop-it

World Resources Institute. (2011). Reefs at risk revisited: Middle East. Retrieved from https://www.icriforum.org/sites/default/files/factsheet_reefs_middle_east.pdf

van Zanten, B. T., van Beukering, P. J. H., & Wagtendonk, A. J. (2014). Coastal protection by coral reefs: A framework for spatial assessment and economic valuation. Ocean & Coastal Management, 96, 94–103. Retrieved from https://www-sciencedirect-com.aus.idm.oclc.org/science/article/pii/S0964569114001434

Zacharias, A. (2018, June 17). Third of Gulf’s marine life could be extinct by 2090, study finds. The National.  Retrieved from https://www.thenational.ae/uae/third-of-gulf-s-marine-life-could-be-extinct-by-2090-study-finds-1.741271

Globalisation’s Facilitation of Environmental Violence

by Roa Daher

Abstract: Globalisation has shaped many aspects of modern life, including the state of our environment. This paper approaches the topic of environmental violence through the lens of globalisation by arguing that globalisation and its by-products, like the media, have had an undeniable role in the rise of environmental violence, which is a form of environmental activism.


Environmental violence, or green violence as it is sometimes called, has been defined by Büscher & Ramutsindela (2016) as “The deployment of violent instruments and tactics towards the protection of nature” (p. 10). This form of radical environmental activism surged in the 1970s as a response to the ineffectiveness of environmental organisations (Cianchi, 2015). Decades later, this environmentalist sentiment is still present as demonstrations have emerged to protest the observed bureaucratisation of environmental organisations, like Greenpeace, as they move away from radical action and more towards lobbying and working with governments (Cianchi, 2015). The aforementioned shift does not necessarily mean the elimination of environmental violence: in 2012, a Greenpeace ship was heading towards an Arctic oil rig in an effort to stop its operation but was interrupted by security forces (Walker, 2013). However, that does not seem to be enough, as radical environmentalist groups involved in green violence have seen unprecedented growth partly due to individuals’ frustration with the lack of government-led action in the face of climate change. Moreover, the typical political climate protests have been viewed as seemingly futile with very few considerable wins (Bartlett, 2017). As consequences of climate change become more palpable than ever before, activists may resort to green violence (Kaplan, 2020). Environmental violence, often committed by activists, is a relatively new phenomenon that emerged in recent decades, but it has been amplified by globalisation due to increased social interconnectedness, which has also given rise to “ecoterrorism.” In order to fully explain the connection between globalisation and the rise in environmental violence, the paper will first review the history of environmental violence, the role of the media and activism in a globalised world, and finally the emergence of ecoterrorism.

A Historical Overview of Environmental Violence

While environmentalism as a fleeting concept had been occupying the minds of individuals for many decades, a historical examination of radical environmentalism in its birthplace, the United States, begins in the 1960s with the rising popularity of environmental politics (Woodhouse, 2018). The new environmental movement was created as a result of the public’s awareness of the harmful effects of nuclear tests that were being conducted. Sills (1975) explained how Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962, acted as a major wake up call for millions of individuals in Western societies about the far-reaching harmful effects of DDT, which was a commonly used pesticide. At that point, the public began to realise that human health and the environment are irreversibly intertwined, which pushed environmentalism to the forefront of their minds and drove them to act (Mihaylov & Perkins, 2015). The public’s efforts seemingly came to fruition in the 1970s as environmental concerns were beginning to be taken seriously by the United Nations and governments worldwide, as seen by the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US in 1970 (Sills, 1975). This development did not satisfy the whole spectrum of the environmentalist movement. Instead, it arguably led to the emergence of radical environmentalist groups that utilised different forms of environmental violence.

The first radical environmentalist organisation, Earth First!, was formed by a group of conservationists in the 1980s because of the democratisation and ineffectiveness of mainstream environmental organisations (Woodhouse, 2018). Thus, Earth First! adopted an uncompromising position that prioritised, as the name suggests, the Earth’s condition and favoured violent action over political lobbying (Woodhouse, 2018). Since then, the proliferation and growth of radical environmentalist organisations has shown no signs of slowing down; it has been estimated that Radical Environmentalist and Animal Rights (REAR) cells occupy a minimum of 25 countries and have committed more than 1,000 criminal acts in the United States between 1970 and 2007 (Bartlett, 2017). The increase in the size of radical environmentalist movements would not have been possible without globalisation and the enhanced social interconnectedness it presented. In fact, Dalton & Rohrschneider (1999) found that the formation of multinational environmental groups that spanned across continents and shared resources and information is indicative of the creation of a Transnational Social Movement concerned solely with environmental issues.

Media and Organising in the Age of Contemporary Globalisation

The intensification of contemporary globalisation that has occurred over the last forty years has played a key role in creating a global imaginary and the strengthening of social connections (Steger, 2017). One phenomenon that paved the path for the emergence of the global imaginary is the spread of media, both mass media for the public’s consumption and social media for personal use (Karat, n.d.). Mass media has created a global imaginary with access to more information than was ever available before. Therefore, the public has become more aware of global developments due to the mass media’s coverage. One such issue where media coverage is significantly influential is climate change, as Boykoff (2011) explains that “People throughout civil society rely upon media representations to help interpret and make sense of the many complexities relating to climate science” (p. 3). The mainstream media clarifies the significance of climate change and some of its potential impacts, like the creation of tens of millions of climate refugees (Taylor, 2017). As the headlines increase in urgency, there could be a global rise in the number of individuals who could be mobilised in the fight against climate change, meaning that more people could be willing to commit environmental violence as a response to the dire climate situation.

In addition to mainstream and mass media usage, the use of social media facilitates the creation of social linkages which has implications for the global activism. In the age of contemporary globalisation, the growth of social movements presents an intersection of global and local activism, which forms a global-local nexus of transnational activists who interact with the state, local and foreign groups, and communities (Alonso, 2009). Ironically, while analyses of globalisation have actually anticipated the demise of global protest movements, including radical environmentalist groups, global movements continue to grow in size (della Porta et al., 2006). One notable example of a current global social movement is the climate strikes, which were initially started by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and now involve millions of students protesting for the sake of the climate and their future every Friday (Taylor et al., 2019). The climate strikes exemplify the global-local nexuses created by protesting for the same globalised issues in different localities as part of a larger global movement. Furthermore, while the climate strike is non-violent, it shows the impact of globalisation on the growth of social movements, especially those related to the environment, as can additionally be seen by the importance of the environment within the Global Justice Movement (Steger & Wilson, 2012). Although not all environmental movements condone the use of violence, the general growth of environmental movements may increase exposure to the concept, and justification, of green violence.

The Birth of ‘Ecoterrorism’

As green violence becomes more prevalent, there are rising concerns about the phenomenon termed as ecoterrorism. The Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States (FBI) defined ecoterrorism as “The use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally-oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature” (Hirsch-Hoefler & Mudde, 2014, p. 588). In light of the FBI’s definition, it is of significance to note that no individuals have been murdered in the name of radical environmentalist activism (Brown, 2019). Yet, as Taylor (1998) explains, law enforcement officials are using the Unabomber’s expressed sympathy for radical environmental groups as evidence of their terrorist nature. In order to evaluate the validity of ecoterrorism, the alleged terrorist actions should be assessed: in addition to large-scale civil disobedience demonstrations, radical environmentalists commit acts of tree spiking, powerline sabotage, and arson that do not cause any harm to humans (Taylor, 1998). 

Therefore, it becomes clear that the concept of ecoterrorism was created for other reasons. In fact, it may show the intersection of political and ecological dimensions of globalisation, such that the term ecoterrorism is a direct product of modern-day politicisation of climate change. After all, Fletcher (2018) states that the “ecoterrorist” label was created because the actions of radical environmentalists pose a direct challenge to the state’s own monopoly on the use of legitimate violence. Thus, the phenomenon of so-called ecoterrorism shows how destruction resulting from the ecological dimension of globalisation could empower individuals enough to take action that the state perceives as a threat to its sovereignty and security. In fact, Vanderhein (2018) argues that the creation of the word “ecoterrorist” serves the sole purpose of “directing the increased law enforcement powers of the US ‘war on terror’ against this form of resistance and conflating in the public mind a tactic that inflicts only property damage with one that aims its violence against innocent persons” (p. 299). Thus, there is no tangible difference between environmental violence and ecoterrorism as they both refer to the same thing, but one term is heavily politicised and created by the state while the other one is not, as all of the components that facilitated environmental violence culminated in the appearance of ecoterrorism.


There is a strong argument to be made that globalisation has amplified environmental violence by looking at the various dimensions of globalisation and how they affect radical environmentalist groups. An examination of the history of green violence uncovers its roots to show that it was born out of the inadequacies of the mainstream environmental movement which alienated some of its followers by the lack of radical action. Thus, environmental violence uses tactics that neither injure or kill humans as a way to draw attention to the cause nor threaten any environmental harm. Furthermore, the multiplication of social connections, partly due to different forms of media, has resulted in greater awareness of activist circles and the creation of a global imaginary participating in social movements. This gives the radical environmentalist groups greater exposure and a larger platform to promote green violence. Lastly, because of the increase in incidents of green violence, the FBI has used the term “ecoterrorism” to refer to certain acts of environmental violence despite its misleading meaning. Therefore, the intensification of globalisation and the consequences of the political and ecological dimensions of globalisation have ultimately resulted in the growth of the environmental violence movement.


Alonso, A. (2009). Hybrid activism: Paths of globalisation in the Brazilian environmental movement. IDS Working Papers, 2009(332), 1-49. doi:10.1111/j.2040-0209.2009.00332_2.x

Bartlett, J. (2017). The next wave of extremists will be green. Foreign Policy. https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/09/01/the-green-radicals-are-coming-environmental-extremism/

Brown, A. (2019). The green scare: How a movement that never killed anyone became the FBI’s No. 1 domestic terrorist threat. The Intercept. https://theintercept.com/2019/03/23/ecoterrorism-fbi-animal-rights/ &nbsp;

Boykoff, M. T. (2011). Who speaks for the climate?: Making sense of media reporting on climate change. Cambridge University Press. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/aus-ebooks/detail.action?docID=807126.

Büscher, B. & Ramutsindela, M. (2016). Green violence: Rhino poaching and the war to save Southern Africa’s Peace Parks. African Affairs, 115(458), 1–22. doi: 10.1093/afraf/adv058

Cianchi, J. (2015). What is nature doing?: Radical environmentalism and the role of nature. In: Radical Environmentalism. Palgrave Studies in Green Criminology. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137473783_2

Dalton, R. J, & Rohrschneider, R. (1999). Transnational Environmentalism: Do Environmental Groups Cooperate Globally? UC Irvine: Center for the Study of Democracy. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/4fm4m4m6

della Porta, D., Andretta, M., Mosca, L. & Reiter, H. (2006). Globalization from below: Transnational activists and protest networks. University of Minnesota Press.

Fletcher, R. (2018). License to kill: Contesting the legitimacy of green violence. Conservation & Society, 16, 147-156. DOI: 10.4103/cs.cs_16_148

Hirsch-Hoefler, S. & Mudde, C. (2014). ‘Ecoterrorism’: Terrorist threat or political ploy? Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 37(7), 586-603. DOI: 10.1080/1057610X.2014.913121

Mihaylov, N. L., & Perkins, D. D. (2015). Local environmental grassroots activism: Contributions from environmental psychology, sociology and politics. Behavioral Sciences, 5(1), 121–153. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs5010121

Karat, S. (n.d.). Media. Globalization 101. https://www.globalization101.org/uploads/File/Media/media.pdf

Kaplan, S. (2020, January 22). What does ‘dangerous’ climate change really mean? The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2020/01/22/what-does-dangerous-climate-change-really-mean/?arc404=true

Sills, D. (1975). The environmental movement and its critics. Human Ecology, 3(1), 1-41. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4602309

Steger, M. (2017). Globalization: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press.

Steger, M., & Wilson, E. (2012). Anti-Globalization or Alter-Globalization? Mapping the Political Ideology of the Global Justice Movement. International Studies Quarterly, 56(3), 439-454. doi:10.1111 /j.l46&2478.2012.00740

Taylor, B. (1998). Religion, violence and radical environmentalism: From Earth First! to the Unabomber to the Earth Liberation Front, Terrorism and Political Violence, 10(4), 1-42. DOI:10.1080/09546559808427480

Taylor, M. (2017, November 2). Climate change ‘will create world’s biggest refugee crisis’. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/02/climate-change-will-create-worlds-biggest-refugee-crisis

Taylor, M., Pidd, H. & Murray, J. (2019, November 29). Hundreds of thousands of students join global climate strikes. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/29/hundreds-of-thousands-of-students-join-global-climate-strikes

Vanderheiden, S. (2008). Radical environmentalism in an age of antiterrorism. Environmental Politics, 17(2). https://doi.org/10.1080/09644010801936248

Walker, S. (2013, September 20).  Greenpeace activists could be charged with terrorism after ship stormed. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/sep/20/greenpeace-ship-stormed-russian-coastguard

Woodhouse, K. (2018). Introduction. In The Ecocentrists: A History of Radical Environmentalism (pp. 1-10). New York: Columbia University Press. doi:10.7312/wood16588.4

INSpire Call for Papers

Our journal welcomes undergraduate research in any Humanities and Social Science discipline and welcomes interdisciplinary submissions.

You can submit your paper at any time: the editors will review your submission and issue a decision within 90 days.

Accepted papers will be published in the next issue, no later than within six months of submission.

To submit your paper, please format it according to our guidelines and send it to contactusatinspire@gmail.com.

Head of Department’s Letter

Dr. Vernon Pedersen

I am delighted to introduce to you the inaugural issue of the International Studies on-line journal, INSpire.  The International Studies department is multi-disciplinary incorporating Anthropology, History, Philosophy, Political Science and Sociology with-in a single major program.  The Department is also home to the new Psychology major allowing International Studies students to take electives in psychology. The diversity of specializations and perspectives inspires our students to expand their horizons and investigate subjects from many different perspectives, as you will discover in this issue of the journal.

In the pages below are articles about how the British influenced the patriarchal system in Kerala and how they in turn were changed by Indian cuisine.  Other articles explore women’s roles in Lebanese politics, the propaganda efforts of the Taliban and ethnic conflict in the Caucasus.

Whichever subject you choose to read about be assured that, thanks to the high standards of our faculty and the hard work of our students, the article will be well written, meticulously researched, and peer-reviewed.

This journal would not be possible without the efforts of a dedicated team of student editors who worked under the supervision of two of our faculty members.  Their work exemplifies the dedication and sense of community that makes the International Studies Department a dynamic and exciting place to study and work.

The Consolidation of Patriarchy in Kerala as a Consequence of British Colonial Influence

By Ashwati Kartha


“Women… always had a voice; and in Kerala, a woman knew how to make herself heard” (Jeffrey, 1992). The rise of feminist consciousness in India has sparked new tangents within the discourse about the conditions of women within the subcontinent. Kerala, located in Southeastern India, currently boasts of exemplary statistics in gender parity indicators, such as highest female literacy rate, longest life expectancy, and lowest infant and maternal mortality rates. Most notably, Kerala boasts of a sex ratio of 1084 females per 1000 males, as opposed to the national average of 946. Kerala’s developmental processes has been rather unique, as displayed by excellent performance in Human Development Indicators despite persistently low GDP per capita (Jeffrey, 2004). Further research on the “Kerala model” of development allows researchers to delve into the rich culture of matrilineal inheritance followed by large sections of the Keralite population. Within the context of feminist consciousness, Keralites, particularly Nair families, describe their matrilineal system with great pride.  

The joint-family matrilineal inheritance system, called the marumukkatayam system, is a practice in which family property is passed down through the female line. It is markedly different from the rest of Kerala, which followed patrilineal and patrilocal systems of family governance. However, the significance of the system diminished sharply under British colonial rule. Today, the system has been abolished legally, and the joint family system is rarely ever practiced. This paper contends that British influence led to the decline of matriliny through shifting legal, economic, and social systems away from pre-colonial modes of governance, and through popularizing the patriarchal family structures. The paper begins by throwing light on the functioning of the matrilineal system, thereby establishing a base upon which the rest of the argument stands. The second section of the paper describes the reasons for the shift away from the marumukkatayam system towards a patrilineal inheritance system. Finally, the paper traces the legal reforms which led to the breaking up of joint families and the dissolution of matrilineal practice in Kerala.

Historical Background

The matrilineal system in Kerala, according to some historians, grew out of the martial significance of the Nair (Kshatriya) caste. It is hypothesized that this unique system of family governance grew out of an extended war between the Chola and Chera dynasties (11th century CE) (Jeffrey, 2004). The Kshatriyas gained training in the art of warfare from the age of eight until their (preferred) demise on the battlefield, which left little time for familial engagements. The men would conduct visits purely for sexual purposes (called sambandhams) and become fathers while continuing to focus on their military training. As a result, the children would be under the sole care of the mother, and property would thus be passed down through the generations through the female line (Jeffrey, 2004; Pillai, 2016).

This marumukkatayam system meant that the freedom experienced by women in Kerala was unlike any other community or region in India. Women possessed the unique ability to manage their affairs largely independent of male influence. Women were not dependent on their husbands and were not considered transient members of their families, as they had the security of their familial home (their mother’s house) throughout their lives (Saradamoni, 1999). They were further allowed a degree of sexual freedom, as displayed by the acceptance of polyandry and termination of sambandhams (Jeffrey, 2004).

The system followed in Kerala, however, was not matriarchal. The karanavan (the senior male of the family) controlled the assets of the joint family as though he was the sole owner (Menon, 2012). Originally, the broader decision-making authority was often split between the senior women of the family and the karanavan. Age was the determining factor in shaping the power relations within the family. If the karanavan was the son or younger brother of a senior woman, she would be the head of the family (or the karnavatti); otherwise, it would be the male (Gough, 1961; Pillai, 2016). The karanavan, in this case, was extremely important to the family structure and exercised extensive social and economic control over his nieces and nephews (Menon, 2012). The karanavan’s children, however, lived with their mother, outside the realm of his influence. However, this system was in no way limited to Nair families. In an effort towards upward social mobility in the caste system, people of lower castes would also imitate higher castes. Prior to colonization, the matrilineal system had turned into a cultural tradition of the Malabar region, followed by a diverse group of individuals, including Muslims, such as the Mapillas[1] (Jeffrey, 2004; Menon, 2012). The matrilineal system was thus seen as a Malabar custom, largely free of religious affirmation (Saradamoni, 1999). “At the end of the nineteenth century, … 56 per cent of all families in Travancore, regardless of religion, were matrilineal. The proportion in Cochin and Malabar would have been at least that high. Obviously, the majority of Hindu families were matrilineal” (Jeffrey, 1992). Christians, however, exclusively followed the patriarchal system.

Pre-Conditions for the Shift to a Patrilineal Structure

This section of the paper traces the history of matriliny in Kerala’s society, particularly in the case of Hindu Nair families, and the systematic destruction of the marumukkatayam system as a result of shifting familial structures brought about under British rule. It first describes the way in which British influence led to rigidity in political and social structures that were previously fluid and dynamic, thereby causing issues that may have naturally been circumvented. Next, it describes the economic reasons for the decline of the matrilineal system, owing to British policies of development and economic administration. Finally, this section discusses the effect of cultural imperialism by the British in shifting popular opinion in favor of a patriarchal system, similar to that of England between the 18th and 20th centuries.

Rigid Legal System

British theories of jurisprudence that gained significance during the Enlightenment were in stark contrast to the pre-colonial Indian legal system. While the British focused on rationality and a codified system of rules and regulations, Indians focused on a more contextual and discretionary approach (Jeffrey, 2004). The Malabar region of India was governed primarily by the Houses of Cochin and Travancore, where the rulers, internal administration committees in each village, or people of higher castes would be involved in the arbitration of disputes and provision of justice. This was done on a case-by-case basis, keeping in mind the unique cultural traditions of each family (Jeffrey, 2004; Pillai, 2016; Galanter & Dhavan, 1989). The British, in turn, attempted to centralize the earlier modes of dispute arbitration into a multi-tiered judicial system. British rule, as well as British influence in the princely states, worked towards the systematic codification of laws pertaining to the governance of Indians, which was to be used in dispute arbitration along with customary law. In fact, it is theorized that a written legal text may not have come about if not for colonial perceptions of proper jurisprudence (Derrett, 1968).  As a consequence, a series of changes were made in the Kerala joint families’ modus operandi. For example, as described in A Treatise on Malabar and Aliyasantana Law (1922),

While the law of property among the marumakkatayis was based entirely on usages, British exponents of the law allowed little weight to the views of the people and were guided by their own notions of a perfect system of marumakkatayam law. (p.13)

Thus, this codification led to rigidity in legally accepted methods of functioning. An example of this rigidity was the colonial-era law related to the division of the joint family. Prior to the law, large taravads (matrilineal joint families)would split into fragments as the number of members grew to a point where family affairs became difficult to control. The new law, however, required that matrilineal joint families are “impartible” units, where “no member can claim any specific part or share of it as his own”. This put immense pressure on taravads, as all members of the family had to agree unanimously upon the mode of division of assets (Jeffrey, 2004). This made the matrilineal joint-family system highly impractical, as such issues could easily be circumvented by a shift towards a nuclear family system.

Further, the codification was often done within the context of British ideals of gendered power differences and “morality,” which changed the power relations within the taravad. During the latter half of the 19th century, the Madras High Court issued a decree legitimizing only male control of the taravad, effectively stripping karnavattis of their authority. This was done as a testament to Western ideals of the “natural dominance of males.” In fact, according to Arunima (1995),

A landmark judgement of 1855 argued that it would be a “violent interference” on the part of the court to “allow a precedent for women” to head households, as there was insufficient proof to determine the authority of a female over a male. (p.160)

Arunima further explains that this law served as an avenue for exploitation, in which “petty disputes flared up into legal cases”. Thus, this decree led to turbulence in the natural functioning of the taravad system where custom and legislation were in opposition to each other. Thus, the new rigid laws about the “perfect” matrilineal joint family system made the rather contextual working of this system difficult, which facilitated a shift towards the patrilineal system of inheritance.

New Economic System

The shifting economic structures further highlighted the futility of the matrilineal system, owing to the preponderance of salaried administrative jobs (Jeffrey, 2004). There were two primary modes of income for Nairs: military service and land revenue. Nair men would often be paid in cash by kings in exchange for military service. Landed income was also crucial to the maintenance of the joint family system. Traditionally, Nairs derived most of their income as land managers (long- term, non-cultivating tenants of land), who would receive rent from agricultural laborers and pay a smaller sum as rent to land owners, often Nambudiri Brahmins or kings. They would sometimes be outright owners of land. In this way, the economic situation of Nairs mandated that all members were jointly dependent upon the karnawan (or the karanavatti) and land for their material needs. However, there was a significant shift to a capitalist structure in the 19th century, due to British efforts to expand their centers of manufacturing, and to increase their trade. This period was characterized by wage occupations and a variety of jobs in the rising industrial and agricultural occupations. These forms of salaried occupations allowed multiple people within the taravad to earn an income, which facilitated the split to smaller nuclear families. Nairs often found jobs in different towns, and their sole income allowed them to buy or rent houses and land, where they would live with a small section of the family that was dependent on them as the sole provider (Gough, 1952).  The joint taravad system no longer held the same level of significance.

Further, a shift in Nair males’ primary modes of employment from warriors to salaried occupations allowed them to live with their families and raise their children. The earlier need for a matrilineal system of property inheritance had declined considerably. Men now wanted their share of the ancestral property, as well as their individual property, to go to their children rather than their sisters’ children. This was carried out in practice from time to time, but the idealized British notions of the marumakkatayam system considered this to be “against the law” (Jeffrey, 2004). This, particularly in cases of disputes, symbolized a new need for the legal recognition of patriliny in the Malabar region.

Cultural Imperialism

Finally, this period was characterized by an imposition of Enlightenment-era reasoning of correct family structures onto the Indian population. Enlightenment thinkers in Europe believed strongly in the natural dominance of males, which automatically put female-headed households in an inferior position. They also believed strongly in monogamy and the consecration of marriage, which was in direct contrast with Kerala women’s sexual freedom, and the practices of polyandry and “divorce” (termination of sambandhams), followed by pre-colonial Keralites. There was also intense discourse about the proper place of women, which was believed to be in service of the surrounding males, which directly contrasted with Kerala women’s independence (Hawkesworth, 2012). These schools of thought were brought to Kerala through the aid of Christian missionaries, who had grown in prominence and had begun to conduct sermons in an attempt to bring patriarchal family structures into the “backward” Keralite system of family governance. Their influence cannot be discounted as being aimed towards a select portion of Kerala’s population, as they had set up schools which were attended by a large section of the people. Literacy had always been an integral part of Kerala’s society, as even women received an education. It was in these schools that children were taught that matriliny is an abomination which would earn its practitioners a place in hell (Jeffrey, 1992). Thus, the blow to the matrilineal system through Christian influence in schools had been severe. However, matriliny was not only ridiculed by those under British influence. Hindus from other states and provinces who followed a patriarchal system were also highly critical of the marumukkatayis. Nairs were forced to deal with criticism from other caste-Hindus as well, who would say that “[Nairs’] wives are concubines and [their] sons are bastards” (Jeffrey, 1992).

Colonial influence in Kerala, in combination with the influence of other Hindus, constructed contemporary notations of morality and barbarity, which were slowly integrated into Nairs’ identities. By the end of the 19th century, the Nairs’ matrilineal kinship system began to take on negative connotations to the Nairs themselves. In line with the English ideology, Nair men too began to believe strongly in the importance of the family as a conjugal unit, characterized by control of female sexuality. Within the context of a newfound significance of women’s chastity and consecration of monogamous marriage, women also supported a shift towards the patrilineal structure, asserting that this would improve the “self-respect” of the Kerala woman (Jeffrey, 1990). The patrilineal inheritance system became popularly accepted as the proper method of kinship, and significant efforts were made to shift from the “barbaric” matrilineal system towards the “modern” and “progressive” patrilineal system (Arunima, 1995). In fact, one of the main goals for the Nair Service Society, a caste-based advocacy group, was the abolition of the matrilineal system in Kerala (Jeffrey, 1990). Thus, Christian European influence, combined with the other factors, served to convince large sections of the young population of the need to shift away from matrilineal systems to the system of patriarchy.

Legal Dissolution of Matriliny

Even after Indian independence in 1947, the rigid legal system and the negative attitudes towards marumukkatayis persisted. Numerous efforts had been made, by the Nair elites as well as the courts of Independent India, between the 19th and 20th centuries to reform Kerala’s family law. As the matrilineal system came under scrutiny within the context of the larger system of family structure, efforts were made to “legitimize” sambandhams. One of the earliest instances of legal reform can be traced back to 1896, when the Malabar Marriage Act was passed, which allowed couples to register legally their marriage. However, this Act had little impact, as less than 100 marriages were actually registered (Arunima, 1995; Jeffrey, 1990). Those who practiced matriliny had little reason to begin registering their sambandham, except for particular cases of legal dispute. Thus, the Nair elites’ effort to make matriliny “respectable” again had failed. The Travancore Marumakkattayam Act, or Nair Regulation Act I of 1912 was the next legal step towards the propagation of a nuclear, patrilineal family system, against the marumukkatayam system of bequeathal of assets in the princely state of Travancore. It describes laws for marriage as recognized by the state, the children’s right to the succession of their father’s separate or self-acquired property, and legal guardianship of the father to his minor children, and husband to his minor wife (Puthenkalam,1966). In 1914, Mannath Padmanabhan founded the aforementioned Nair Service Society (NSS), which advocated for further action on legal recognition of patriliny, legal rights to family property, and the abolition of the “evils” of the matrilineal practice. The NSS served as an organized front for the Nair community to engage in activism, particularly in a legal context. A second bill was set to be passed as per the request of what seemed to be the “community as a whole.” As a result, the Nair Regulation Act II of 1925 was passed in Travancore, which facilitated the partition of the joint family into smaller units. Every adult member was now guaranteed a right to individual partition, with safeguards such as separate shares based on the number of children per nuclear unit. This Act was extremely successful to their cause. During the period of 1925 to 1947, over 100,000 partition deeds had been registered in Travancore (Puthenkalam,1966). The Malabar Marumakkatayam Act of 1933 then allowed men to claim their share of the ancestral property in the rest of the Malabar region. On 1st December 1976, the Kerala Joint Hindu Family System (Abolition) Act was passed, which considered joint families as simply co-tenants of land (Jeffrey, 2004). Thus, patriarchy in Kerala was fully consolidated.

It is crucial to reiterate the point that legislation passed during the British rule only solidified and consolidated this decline. It was not an imposition of legislation that signaled the customary end of the matrilineal system. Rather, the legal consolidation of the patriarchy was a consequence of Hindu efforts to counteract the negativity surrounding the matrilineal system, by shifting to the more widely accepted (and respected) system of patriliny (Jeffrey, 1990). Further, perhaps as a natural succession to matriliny, daughters were given the same right as sons to be inheritors of their father’s property – a privilege unavailable to a large proportion of women in the rest of India until 2005.


In conclusion, this paper explains the ways in which British influence led to the systematic destruction of the matrilineal system in Kerala. First, British rule led to the imposition of rigid codified laws of the ideal type of the taravad system, which highlighted, if not created, impracticalities of a matrilineal kinship system. Further, the British expansion of their economy into Kerala had the effect of changing economic systems from joint income to individual salaried occupations, which allowed taravad systems to break down into smaller nuclear units. Finally, cultural imperialism by the British shifted public opinion away from matriliny towards the system of patrilineal kinship. In an effort to reform the system of family governance in Kerala, Nairs began to advocate for the legal dissolution of matriliny. Gradual systematic reforms were passed by the concerned legislative bodies, both in. Travancore and Malabar prior to independence and by the Kerala High Court after independence. These factors contributed to the consolidation of the patriarchy in Kerala, as Nair families today follow a patrilineal inheritance system.


[1] Mapillas are members of the native Muslim community in Kerala.


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Arunima, G. (1995). Matriliny and its Discontents. India International Centre Quarterly, 22(2/3), 157-167.

Derrett, J. D. M. (1968). Religion, law and the state in India (pp. 242-263). London: Faber & Faber.

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Jeffrey, R. (1992). Politics, women and well-being: How Kerala became “a model.” Springer.

Jeffrey, R. (2004). Legacies of matriliny: The place of women and the “Kerala model”. Pacific Affairs, 647-664.

Menon, V. (2012). Matriliny, Patriliny and the Postmodern Condition: Complexities of “Family” in Kerala. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 43(1), 41-51.

Pillai, M. S. (2016). Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore. Harper Collins.

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Saradamoni, K. (1999). Matriliny Transformed: Family, Law and Ideology in Twentieth Century Travancore. London: Sage and Altam

Women’s Political Representation in Lebanon: An Ongoing Struggle Amid a Consociational State and a Patriarchal Society

by Natasha Nazi

Abstract: The reasons behind the mismatch between women’s economic and educational triumph and staggering low political participation rates in Lebanon have been debated extensively. They have been a focal point for many scholars who, in light of the achievements of Lebanese women in other sectors, consider Lebanon a fertile ground for women to succeed similarly in the political arena. However, the Lebanese political system is structurally inhospitable to women. A sectarian electoral system breeds hegemonic sectarian leadership, clientelist networks, and a patriarchal society. Various electoral reforms have been debated and applied, yet all have failed at addressing gender inequality. This paper argues that Lebanon’s electoral law needs reform, and that the familial-political scene and patriarchal principles must be challenged. Based on all the factors hindering women from reaching political leadership, the paper suggests quotas as a way to remove the obstacles to a more gender-equal political scene in Lebanon. 


Amongst the several political predicaments Lebanon faces today, low political representation of women is one that withstood historical, cultural, and political developments. The existing dilemma is reflected in the disparity present between high levels of economic participation and educational levels amongst Lebanese women, and drastically low political representation.

This matter has become a focal point for many scholars who consider Lebanon ready for women to be effectively represented in the political arena (Sharif, 2017). However, despite the triumphs of Lebanese women in other sectors, adequate representation of women is the political sphere has yet to be realized.

The sectarian political system is one of the main reasons for the marginalization of women. Further factors include the patriarchal society and the familial affiliations that define Lebanese politics. It is important to note that during the most recent parliamentary elections of May 2018, the government reformed the electoral law to make the electoral process more democratic and inclusive. This came in the form of a major shift from the former majoritarian system to a new tailored proportional system (Lebanese Republic, 2017). However, the reform neglected to introduce much-debated reforms such as a quota for women and lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. Still, the latest election showed the eagerness of Lebanese women for expanded political representation: a striking 111 women ran for office, as opposed to 12 in the preceding elections of 2009.

However, despite this desire for participation, women’s representation did not increase significantly. Women in Lebanon are still alarmingly restricted from entering the political sphere: without reform, no substantial change is likely to take place. The purpose of this paper is to suggest solutions.

Discrimination against Lebanese women within formal politics is a function of a sectarian electoral system and patriarchal and familial political culture. This structure is amplified and sustained by the consociational power-sharing elitist formula which supplements sectarian divides and sectarian leadership. This paper argues that Lebanon’s sectarian electoral law, its familial-political scene, and its patriarchal principles help sustain an alarming gender inequality in politics. Based on the intricate system in place, this paper will suggest the introduction of a reserved seat gender quota to raise the low representation of women in the next election and to accustom the Lebanese society to women in political leadership. For the same purpose, it will also suggest the introduction of a voluntary party zipper quota.


This paper will approach the analysis by answering the following questions: what are the most significant political reforms proposed in the literature? In what ways would they work? How would they address gender-bias in the electoral system? What are other impediments to Lebanese women’s political participation in formal politics? These questions will be answered from an analytical feminist perspective In particular, the paper will utilize Farid Jalalzai’s framework to analyze the challenges that women face when attempting to enter formal politics, which are institutional, structural, cultural and historical (Jalalzai, 2009).

Historical Overview/ Background

Lebanon’s political and electoral systems have been historically based on sectarian patronage. With the tai’f reform agreement of 1990, the electoral law aimed to stabilizing the country after a long and bloody civil war (Najem, 2012). The ta’if agreement focused exclusively on reinforcing sectarian representation rather than anything else, including gender equality in political representation (Salloukh et al., 2015, p.22).Parliamentary seats are assigned based on sects (Salloukh et al., 2015, p.22). The Lebanese parliament consists of 128 parliamentary seats, of which 64 are assigned to Christians, and 64 to Muslims. Within these two primary groups, seats are further broken down into religious subgroups. Muslims seats are split between Shiites (27), Sunnis (27) Druzes (10) and the ‘Alawis (2). Christian representation is much more dispersed: with Maronites making up the largest group with only 34 seats (Salloukh et al., 2015, p.22). Historically, Lebanon had been divided into 26 districts (qadaa), however, for the May 2018 elections, the number was reduced to 15. Within these districts, seats are distributed based on the number of citizens and their religious affiliations. Another reform introduced for the May 2018 elections was the replacement of the majoritarian system (winner-takes-all) by a proportional system combined with preferential voting.

Despite the reform and a ten-fold increase in the number of women candidates in the May 2018 elections, few women candidates were elected. The results can be explained by the lack of any specific attempt to address gender inequality as part of the reform. No quota system was introduced, and most major political parties did not implement voluntary party quotas either, hence no real change was seen. The issue has been extensively discussed by party leaders and in parliament, but no action was taken, suggesting that the discussion was geared toward maintaining a modern public image.

After being unrepresented for thirty years, women in Lebanon have held parliamentary seats uninterruptedly since 1992 (Abu-Zayd, 1998). Nevertheless, elected women have frequently played a descriptive role as part of continuing a family legacy or ask tokens within their political parties. Historically, the percentage of women in the Lebanese parliament has never exceeded 5%, which does not reflect the reality of women’s active economic and social presence (Abu-Zayd, 1998). Within the Middle East, Lebanon stands out as a country that enjoys relative political and social openness, religious liberty, and partial press freedom, and yet it has one of the lowest representation of women in politics in the region and the world (Henderson, Nelson & Chemali, 2015). For example, Algerian, Jordanian, Iraqi, and Moroccan women gained suffrage over a decade after Lebanese women, yet their countries have notably higher numbers of political representation of women (UNDP, 2017).  Today in Lebanon, women account for 4.6% of the members in parliament, namely six women out of 128 members. Moreover, they account for only 13% of the ministers in the council of ministers, with four women out of thirty ministers.

The Sectarian Context

“There is an inextricable connection between women’s discrimination and the sectarianism system” said Dr. Saadeh, a Lebanese professor of History. Many scholars agree this connection is a major obstacle to women’s political participation (Kingston, 2011). With parliamentary seats molded into sectarian fronts, hegemonic sectarian leaders present themselves as the protectors of the sect and dominate elections. Such patterns have been continuous since the formation of Lebanon. Both Saadeh and Kingston (2011) argue that the lack of a civic identity in Lebanese politics makes non-confessional political parties and movements powerless, and entrenches sectarian identities within political parties. In turn, gender equality issues have been neglected, in the face of sectarianism and the sustenance of the sectarian system which is deemed as “existentialist” (Sharif, 2017).

Political parties have been inhospitable institutions for women in Lebanon; indications such as the exclusion of women from decision-making positions point to gender equality not being a main concern (Kingston, 2011). Kingston further explains that the sectarian electoral system in Lebanon works to reproduce the existing order because of the “locally based nature” of representation, which ties families and male figures in a “patron-clientelist” manner.

Moreover, democratic gaps within the existing majoritarian electoral system have been a subject of debate in the literature. The existing law was deemed as “outdated and controversial,” undermining democracy, and exacerbating sectarian tensions (El Machnouk, 2017). Reforms to the Lebanese electoral law have been implemented since the formation of Lebanon in 1943 (El Machnouk, 2017). However none have addressed gender equality and women’s low representation in parliament. In the May 2018 election, the electoral system shifted to a proportional law, which also granted voters a preferential candidate vote. Nevertheless, although many parties campaigned for the idea of introducing a quota for women, the reformed law did not include one, and women and women’s issues remain marginalized in the political scene. Over the years, several reforms have been proposed, however, none publicly endorsed a gender quota. The main proposals included a mixed-member proportional law, an orthodox gathering proposal, and a nationwide PR proposal, all of which centered on sectarianism.

The orthodox gathering law, which was initially approved by the major Christian political parties in Lebanon, is said to have emerged from the roots of Christian grievances (El Machnouk, 2017). Based on the proposal, Lebanon would comprised one large district where every sectarian group would elect candidates from its own sect to parliament regardless of their district affiliations. The system calls upon a proportional law while preserving regional sectarian quotas. The Orthodox proposal has been characterized as “morally questionable” as it is seen as drowning Lebanon further into ethnic and sectarian divides. It would probably intensify tensions based on sectarianism by incentivizing candidates to “play the ethnic and sectarian card” while appealing to voters (Reilly, 2002, p. 156). Overall, the proposal is reflective of the preoccupation with sectarianism and neglects to address the gender inequality.

The abolishment of the sectarian system, as suggested by the nationwide PR proposal, was faced with backlash as it was said to aggravate sectarian and ethnic tension in a community ingrained in sectarianism such as the Lebanese community (El Machnouk, 2017). The nationwide PR proposal suggested an electoral reform whereby the proportional law would be applied to Lebanon as one district with no sectarian quotas in place. This proposal embodies the longing desire to abolish the contemporaneous sectarianism within the Lebanese political and electoral systems. Nonetheless, the proposal is not free from sectarian ambitions as it would benefit Muslim-majority groups present in Lebanon today (El Machnouk, 2017). Due to the rising share of the Muslim population in Lebanon accompanied by the Shia’ religious parties large influence, this proposal falls into Lebanon’s sectarian whirlpool. According to the literature, this system would help the main ethnic or sectarian community become hegemonic (Reilly, 2013, p. 1). In short, the nationwide PR reform, while masked as a way to leave the historical sectarian hole Lebanon has been trapped in since its formation, would leave Lebanon worse off, possibly on the verge of a new civil war.

Lebanon’s deep-rooted sectarianism is usually debated as a chicken or the egg dilemma: should sectarianism be overcome by law, partly as suggested by the nationwide PR electoral law, or should it be eradicated from everyday life and people’s self-segregation first? The literature suggests that one cannot entirely precede the other (El Machnouk, 2017), as the “complex, multi-directional system of causality” ties institutions and the culture in complex ways (Almond, & Verba, 1989, p.35). With people beginning to move away from the religious divides, with, for example, relative openness indicated by higher-level mixed religious marriages, now it might be a good time to reduce the sectarian composition from the house of parliament. This would come as the first step in a long journey of eradicating one of the major factors contributing to various difficulties Lebanon faces today, one of which is gender inequality.

Sharif (2017) explains “Attaining women’s full rights in Lebanon would threaten the basis of the sectarian system and the correlation between sectarian and political interests.” As such, gender equality and sectarianism are in divergence in Lebanon. Lebanese women lack full citizenship, as they are not sanctioned to pass their citizenship to their children and partners. This is due to the historical fear of Palestinian settlement which would “endanger the demographic distribution that the sectarian system is founded upon.” Hence, Lebanese women are not given the same rights as Lebanese men. Sharif (2017) points out that “excluding women who would be competent at delivering change from high decision-making positions is arguably “safer” for maintaining the current political sectarian system and status quo”.

The Patriarchal Society and Familialism

Patriarchal practices within societies worldwide have detrimental impacts on women and men. Patriarchy can be understood as “the privileging of males and seniors and the legitimating of those privileges in the morality and idiom of kinship.” (Sharif, 2017). The centrality and domination of the “father figure” stems from the notion that the father is the head of the family and the household, thus responsible for all members of that family and their affairs (Library of Congress, 2004). Younger males are also reared to grow up and adopt such characteristics dictated by societal gender roles (Sharif, 2017). In the Lebanese context, some patriarchal practices which marginalize women’s rights are clear in the political arena, as well as in personal status laws and religious institutions.

Jalazai explains that women’s participation is bound to sets of challenges which restrict them from entering formal politics; such challenges include institutional, structural, cultural and specific views, and historical factors (Jalalzai, 2009). All of these restricting factors exist in Lebanon and obstruct Lebanese women’s paths into political careers. Institutional factors are based on electoral systems as explained by Jalazai. The impediment of women’s participation is clearly linked to the electoral system in place. Institutionally, with the system being governed by sectarianism, women and other marginalized groups in society do not have equal opportunity in representation. “Most men and women suffer from the sectarian system’s disciplinary techniques, women far more extensively and violently than men” (Salloukh et al., 2015, p.7). Women, even if present as candidates on electoral lists, are usually positioned in unwinnable seats.

“Gender assessment identified the structural constraints that carry the seeds of discrimination and women’s vulnerability, as rooted in laws and regulations, sectarian dynamics, socio-cultural values, decision-making structures, and public policies and development strategies ongoing conflict and security problems, and a rise in social conservatism” (Avis, 2017). In other words, structural constraints are rooted in various fundamental areas in Lebanon. Although the majority of people believe it is time for women to step into political roles (UN Women, 2017), in practice women are still discriminated. Jalalzai (2009) explains that “even when women’s education and professions fit the background of politicians, women are still less likely than men to run for office, often feeling unqualified.” Furthermore, women face additional pressures as part of the traditional “family demands” which often put a political career out of reach. In Lebanon, 92% of women say they are the ones who perform most of the household work, putting them at a disadvantage from perusing a political career (UN Women, 2017).

“The longer women have been habituated in political roles, the more likely they will be political contenders” Jalazai (2009) explains. Historically, women have never occupied more than six seats in the Lebanese parliament. As such, the continuous underrepresentation of women fosters continuous underrepresentation.

Helou argues that Lebanese political parties mirror the country’s patriarchal and sectarian social characteristics. Most parties have a “central, patriarchal figure, who is the leader of the party” which reinforce patriarchal practices (Helou, 2011). Parties are viewed as a reproduction of the social system present in society. Familial-type loyalties which are present within the parties reflect society’s male-controls. She explains that the social system gives males a privilege, especially those who are older and thus subsequently discriminating against women and the youth. Wafaa’ Dikah Hamzeh, a former Lebanese minister remarked that gender stereotypes form a “key obstacle to women in politics”; especially since traditionally society does not assign women the role of political agents (Sharif, 2017). Kingston (2011) explains that the personal status laws and religious courts reflect the patriarchal notions present in Lebanon, which hinder women from having their full rights. Such practices along with institutionalized patriarchy are culturally obstructing women from making their way into the political arena.

The nature of Lebanon’s political familialism factors into the historical exclusion of women in politics. Suad Joseph (2011), defines “political familialism” as:

“The deployment of family institutions, ideologies, practices and relationships by citizens to activate their demands in relation to the state, and by the state actors to mobilize moral grounds for governance based on a civic myth of kinship and a public discourse that privileges family.”

Political familialism is exercised within political parties in Lebanon, where political positions are inherited, they are passed on from father to son, sometimes through more than one generation. Some examples include the Harriri family, the Frangieh family, the Gemayel family, and the Jumblatt family. In the absence of a male heir, a son-in-law, daughter, wife, or sister might step in to ensure the continuation of the political and familial legacy. In the Lebanese context, it is generally presumed that political positions will be passed down within the family which “institutionalizes political familialism within the state apparatus and promotes electoral familial politics” (Joseph, 2011). Political familialism could be exemplified with the Gemayel family, whereby Pierre Gemayel founded a political party, after which both his sons, Bachir Gemayel and Amine Gemayel, followed in his footsteps and took politics as a career, becoming presidents of the Lebanese Republic. Following Bachir Gemayel’s assassination, his wife Solange Gemayel took on a political career and became a member of parliament. Today, Pierre’s grandchildren Samy Gemayel and Nadim Gemayel are also members of parliament and continue to hold the highest positions in the political party, established by their grandfather.

The case of Solange Gemayel, a widow continuing on the political legacy of her husband is not a unique case. “Women in Lebanon often come to power in mourning clothes, stepping into a seat vacated by an assassinated father or spouse” (Iborscheva, 2012). A former member of parliament Nayla Tueini campaigned under the slogan “My father gave his life for the freedom of the country so I decided to continue and try to accomplish what he wanted” (Biedermann & Fifield, 2009). Women like Solange Gemayel and Nayla Tueini often play a descriptive role when in political leadership positions as they are merely centered on keeping the husband’s or the father’s legacy alive rather than constructing their own (Iborscheva, 2012). As such, even when women reach high political positions they often do not represent women, rather they represent their family and male relatives’ goals. Lebanese women hailing from political families are regarded as “household names” continuing the long historical establishment of their family in political affairs (Iborscheva, 2012).


Women’s political participation is one of the indicators of gender equality within a country. Despite being relatively open in its societal social practices, Lebanon ranks very low on the political indicators of women’s participation because of a sectarian electoral system, patriarchal practices, and political familialism. Based on the influence of political parties in Lebanon, voluntary party quotas following a zipper system would make the most impact especially in parties which win high numbers of seats. The zipper system is defined by Hawkesworth (2012) as a system ensuring “men and women alternate from the top to the bottom of the list”. Voluntary party quotas of 30%, which is the critical mass for women to represent a substantive role, alongside a zipper system is most likely to create the most substantive tip in the gendered political scene. Kingston explains political parties are “embedded within the country’s political system” as such could play an intricate role in promoting gender equality. Being parts of the problem, political parties would transform to become part of the solution. Helou explains that parties, as well as men within these parties, have the responsibility to promote such internal quotas to raise the number of women involved in the Lebanese political life (Helou, 2011).

Alongside the voluntary internal quota, the literature points toward reserved seats quotas which would ensure a rise in the number of women representatives in the next election. Saadeh (2011) highlights the importance of “demolishing sectarianism” which is tied to women’s advancements. Moreover, she suggests a quota system granting women a minimum level representation. A reserved seat quota may be beneficial to implement in Lebanon, however, only if the seats exceed 30 to 35% of the total number of MPs to reach a critical mass.  Women in reserved seats are inclined to be more loyal to the men who appointed them than to an electorate. This, therefore, undermines chances of substantive representation for women (Hawkesworth, 2015, p.199). Thus, critical mass is needed to see a difference in women’s behavior in political affairs. (Jalalzai, 2009). Although a reserved seat quota would ultimately lead to the promotion of women tied to political families into power, a critical mass of women in parliament could ensure otherwise. Moreover, the representation would accustom the Lebanese society to women in positions of political power, hence continuing the device of this representation with the election of substantive candidates in preceding elections. Furthermore, “women support policies that are beneficial to women and minority groups” (Jalalzai, 2009). As such, the inclusion of women, even if playing descriptive roles at first, would ultimately benefit the country’s gender equality status.

Given that the main reason for women’s underrepresentation in formal politics in Lebanon is the sectarian and electoral system in place, reform to the system on a structural and institutional level is the main solution to the issue of gender biases as well as other biases that affect people’s representation in parliament (Salloukh et al., 2015). Reform of the electoral law would be the most transformational since even if a quota system is applied with the echoes of the sectarian system and the corruption currently in place it is doubtful that it would produce sufficient result by itself. A new and reformed non-sectarian electoral system is the way Lebanese women among other marginalized groups would get the chance to join the political life (Salloukh et al., 2015, p.176). Decentralization alongside other institutional and structural reforms would also be necessary to reach a “new kind of Lebanon” (Salloukh et al., 2015, p.176). Namely a Lebanon with a more open electoral system and a less sectarian approach to politics. However, as quotas have worked in other part of the world to raise the numbers of women in politics, quotas would be reasonable in the Lebanese context as an initial step towards resolving the issue in place.


Article seven of the Lebanese constitution states that “All Lebanese shall be equal before the law. They shall equally enjoy civic and political rights and shall equally be bound by public obligations and duties without any distinction” (The Lebanese Constitution, 1997). The dilemma Lebanon is facing today is one that displays a mismatch of the relative freedom it enjoys in both its democratic political system and its culture. As such, the question of why openness is not translated into formal politics with a high number of women’s representations is one that is critical. All the reforms suggested to the electoral laws are fixated on coinsurance of the elite to keep their political standing rather than on serious suggestions for better representation of the people, including women and the youth. As such, and with the electoral system, the patriarchal practices and the familialism preventing women’s advancement, quotas seem to appropriately disentangle women’s low representation in Lebanese politics. Through quotas such as the voluntary party quota, or the reserved seat quota a change could transpire.


Abu-Zayd, G. (1998). In search of political power: Women in parliament in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. Women in Parliament: Beyond Numbers.

Almond, G., & Verba, S. (1989). The civic culture: Political attitudes and democracy in five nations. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Avis, W. (2017). Gender equality and women’s empowerment in Lebanon.

El Machnouk, S. (2017). Electoral System Reform in Lebanon: Dilemmas of a Consociational State. Ethnopolitics.

Hawkesworth, M. (2012). Political worlds of women: Activism, advocacy, and governance in the twenty-first century. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Helou, M. (2011). Emerging Voices: Young Women in Lebanese Politics. International Alert.

Henderson, T., Nelson, C., & Chemali, Z. (2015). Increasing Women’s Political Participation in Lebanon: Reflections on Hurdles, Opportunities and Hope. Journal of Politics and Law, 8(4), 233. doi:10.5539/jpl.v8n4p233

Iborscheva, E. (2012). Peeking Through the Looking Glass: A Comparative Analysis of Women, Politics and Media in Lebanon and Bulgaria. Middle East Media Educator, 1(2), 19-29.

Jalalzai, F. (2009). Political Development and Women’s Status around the World. Women and Politics around the world: a comparative history and survey.

Joseph, S. (2011). Political Familism in Lebanon. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.

Kingston, P. (2011). Emerging Voices: Young Women in Lebanese Politics. International Alert.

Lebanese Republic. Parliament. (2017). Law on the election of members of the House of Representatives.

Library of Congress. Federal Research Division. (2004). Lebanon: A country study (Kessinger publishing’s rare reprints). Whitefish, M.T: Kessinger Publishing.

Najem, T. (2012). Lebanon: The politics of a penetrated society (The contemporary middle east). London: Routledge.

Reilly, B. (2002). Electoral systems for divided societies. Journal of Democracy, 13, 156–170.

Reilly, B. (2013). Identity politics: Democratic institutions in ethnically divided states. World Politics Review, 9.

Saadeh, S. (2011). Emerging Voices: Young Women in Lebanese Politics. International Alert.

Salloukh, B., Barakat, R., Al-Habbal, J., Khattab, L., & Mikaelian, S. (2015). Politics of sectarianism in postwar Lebanon. London: Pluto Press.

Sharif, H. (2017). The origin of women’s segregation in Lebanon’s political life between patriarchy and consociational democracy (Master’s dissertation, Saint Joseph University, Beirut).

The Lebanese Constitution. (1997). Arab Law Quarterly, 12(2), 224-261.

UNDP. (2017). Women’s Quota Parliamentary Elections 2017.

UN Women (2017). Understanding Masculinities. Retrieved, from http://www.unwomen.org//media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2017/images-mena-multi-country-report-en.pdf?la=en&vs=3602

‘T’ is for ‘Topak’: How the Taliban are Winning the Propaganda War

By Rija Habib

Abstract: September 2017 marked sixteen years since the start of the War on Terror, America’s longest war. In 2001, US-led coalition forces successfully toppled the Taliban government and ended the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Many years later, despite the continued American presence in the country, the Taliban have managed a remarkable resurgence and their territorial control is strengthening. This paper argues that the insurgency’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda efforts, including the effective exploitation of dominant Pashtun and Islamic principles, have largely contributed to their resurgence. The paper uses content analysis to study the effectiveness of propaganda methods used by the insurgency including madrassas, poetry, and shabnamas (night letters) as well as the underlying themes of their messages. Findings suggest that Taliban propaganda is extensive and continues to adapt to the changing social and political conditions of its target population—the Pashtuns. American and Afghan anti-Taliban propaganda efforts, on the other hand, have been limited and often culturally and religiously insensitive, leading to further backlash against foreign intervention and the Afghan government.


Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the regime’s remnants have persevered and made significant efforts to re-establish themselves as a political and military force. The war in Afghanistan has become the longest war in U.S. history. The Taliban have returned to power in many parts of the country from which they had been earlier expelled. Reports from The Long War Journal, an agency reporting on the War on Terror, show that as of September 2017, the Taliban control areas in 16 of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan (refer to Appendix 1). The Taliban have managed not only to survive after the fall of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan but also steadily expand their influence and authority over the Afghan population, despite continued American military presence.

The economic and political conditions in Afghanistan have empowered the Taliban and facilitated its resurgence. James Fearon and David Laitin have argued that financially, structurally, and politically weak governments assist the rise of insurgencies due to weak local control or inept counterinsurgency practices.[1] Similarly, Kareem Kamel pointed out that the rise of the Taliban can be partially attributed to the failure of state-building and the inability of the Afghan government to secure and stabilize the rural areas of the country in order for development and reconstruction to proceed.[2] Instead, Tim Foxley argued that Pakistani financial and military assistance as well as strategic planning from the Pakistan Inter-Services intelligence (ISI) (as part of its attempts to sustain influence in Afghanistan) have played a crucial role for the survival and resurgence of the insurgency.[3]

At the core of an insurgency is a battle of wills and determination to retain power and not military might. In most conflicts, effective use of media to advance and promote goals, activities, and intentions can be key in winning the population’s support. Retired British general, Rupert Smith, argued that most contemporary battles are primarily about winning the will of the people on whose land a conflict is being fought.[4] The Taliban have realized this and devised a sophisticated propaganda operation that capitalizes on local frustration toward foreign presence and the corrupt Afghan government. They have also exploited the weakening support for future involvement in Afghanistan among the public opinion of the countries involved. The Taliban insurgency has been able to survive due to its ability to garner genuine support for its mission, notably from villagers in rural areas of Afghanistan willing to sacrifice themselves for its cause.[5] The tone and narrative of the Taliban propaganda also resonates with pre-existing values and traditions (Pashtunwali) of the Pashtun people—the target audience of Taliban propaganda.

Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group of Afghanistan and have been the dominant ethno-linguistic group for more than 300 years. The Pashtun language, Pashto, is one of the official languages of Afghanistan. The majority of Pashtuns are followers of Sunni Islam and adhere to pakhtunwali, their traditional lifestyle or ethical code. 

There are several key components of pakhtunwali that are widely practiced and strictly followed. Melmastia (hospitality) entails the providing of hospitality to all visitors, regardless of race, religion, national affiliation, or economic status. Nyaw aw badal (justice and revenge) refers to seeking justice or taking revenge against the wrongdoer.  Turah aw sabat (bravery and loyalty), according to which a Pashtun must be loyal to his country, family and tribe, and must defend them from incursions.[6] Groh (faith) entails a wider notion of trust or faith in god (ibid.). Disloyalty to any of these principles results in shame for any non-abiding individual and his family

Tribal culture is very strong in Afghanistan and the shifting of allegiance by powerful tribes and warlords can be crucial to determining victory and influencing people’s perceptions and support for the Taliban. Crucial to the shaping of popular opinion is the manner and nature of the Taliban’s efforts to communicate their goals, views, and values. This paper analyses the message Taliban propaganda seeks to present and the means used to do so. It also evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the Taliban’s efforts to communicate with and influence local Pashtun communities, both supporters and opponents alike. The paper argues that Taliban propaganda in the Pashtun regions of Afghanistan has evolved with increasing sophistication and has adapted its message to evolving local conditions by taking into account the political, economic, and socio-cultural predicaments of its intended audience.

Literature review

The Taliban insurgency has a complicated past with many successes and failures. Gohari traces the origins of their ideology to the madrassas of Pakistan during the 1980s. Gohari’s discussion of the hardships that Afghan refugees faced during the Soviet invasion has helped understand the conditions that allowed the Taliban to gain a strong footing amongst the Afghan population in its early days. The author describes the miserable state of refugee camps and the lack of schools and employment opportunities in refugee areas which led to radicalization of Afghans and growing hatred toward foreign military presence and interference in Afghan affairs.

Kareem Kamel argues that Taliban’s success lies in their capacity to act as resourceful ethnic entrepreneurs through selective usage of dominant Pashtun and Islamic mythomoteurs (constitutive myth that gives an ethnic group its sense of purpose) in the process of symbolic cultivation. He shows the ability of the Taliban to adapt their propaganda means and fine-tune their messages to appeal to local sensitivities and grievances. In addition, the report by the International Crisis Group “Taliban Propaganda Winning the War of Words” sheds light on both the messages the Taliban wish to convey to the public and their media strategies. Thomas Johnson has showed how the shabnama have a long history in Afghanistan and are still effectively used today to deliver threats and instill fear. Johnson’s discussion of Taliban poetry identified several themes present in their chants and poetry. He also highlighted the Afghan government’s failure to address these efforts and its naïve dismissal of these poems as simply “entertainment.” To the contrary, the Taliban exploit these inexpensive but effective tools to successfully spread their propaganda. Of a different opinion is Tim Foxley who argues that Taliban propaganda is neither particularly complex nor even effective, but appears so because of the inefficacy of both foreign and government propaganda.

Means of Propaganda

Since the rise of the Taliban in 1996, propaganda means have evolved over time. From the use of traditional methods targeting limited audiences to adopting more advanced approaches reaching larger numbers of people in Afghanistan and the world over, the Taliban have shown increasing sophistication in their media tactics. The Taliban issue print magazines but also operate their own website and social media accounts, including Twitter and Facebook. However, high rates of illiteracy in rural areas compel the Taliban to rely on more traditional means of communication, such as issuing pamphlets, delivering sermons in mosques, teaching Taliban ideology in madrassas, issuing of threats in shabnama, and circulating poetry.[7] 


In the 1980s, hundreds of Afghan refugees in Pakistan enrolled their male children into madrassas or religious schools. According to Neamatollah Njoumi, attending these schools provided a source of income for many refugee families as they offered free rooms, daily meals, and a monthly stipend, which the students used to support their families.[8] Since refugee camps were often located far from town, finding jobs was almost impossible and families relied on this type of income.[9] Over the course of the Afghan conflict, mujahideen groups such as Hezb-e-Islami and Jamaat-e-Islami became involved in these schools and even opened their own.[10] Gradually, madrassas became affiliated with the war effort and provided military training to students, who often went on to fight in Afghanistan against the Soviets.[11]

The ideological formation of the Taliban has historical roots in the emergence of thousands of madrassas across Pakistan. Like other mujahideen groups, members of the Taliban including the senior leadership such as the former supreme commander Mullah Mohammad Omar, have received their education and training in these institutions.[12] When the Taliban came to power in 1994, public schools were shut down and replaced with madrassas and it was declared that students of these schools would be entrusted with the duty of jihad-fi-sabeelillah (War in Allah’s path).[13]

Although the Taliban initially banned girls from attending classes and threatened any individual who would teach girls privately, they have softened their stance in recent years. Women and girls now attend segregated classes at these madrassas or in separate schools for girls.[14] Their curriculums are typically limited to Quran memorisation, the study of Hadith, Islamic law as well as languages such as Arabic and Pashto[15].

In most rural areas, madrassas are the only form of institutionalized education and a critical means to promote Taliban ideology. Since secular knowledge is unavailable and literacy rates are low in these regions, children easily absorb these schools’ teachings. Additionally, for the poorest families, it is the added benefits of free daily meals and basic provisions that make these institutions attractive for their children.

Poetry and Chants

Poetry and chants form a strong component of Pashtun culture; throughout history they have been a means of entertainment, art, and storytelling. Even during Taliban rule, despite the ban on several forms of entertainment and media (such as music and television) poetry and chants were permitted – in particular religious chants and taranas oremotional, martial, nationalistic songs without musical accompaniment.[16] Over time, these became a powerful Taliban tool for “instructing” and intimidating the Afghan population.

The Taliban regularly compose powerful lengthy poetry and chants on a variety of topics, including the importance of jihad, the long and honourable history of Afghanistan’s struggle  against foreign “infidels,” Pashtun traditions, Islam, and even love.[17] While some poetry points directly to Taliban activities, others aim to intensify and applaud resistance to foreigners and appeal to nationalism. Since Taliban members are primarily Pashtun, these poems and chants are mostly composed in Pashto (and sometimes in Dari), thus making them easily accessible to the population.[18]

Johnson and Waheed described Taliban chants as melodic with catchy tunes; often with repeating sections that have a tendency to persist in people’s consciousness.[19] The authors claim that the catchy rhymes, rhythm, and lyrics of the chants are easily memorized and passed on as they are one of the key sources of entertainment in communal gatherings and celebratory events. As such, poetry has become a crucial means of promoting propaganda, especially for the illiterate. According to Johnson and Waheed, several local singers and musicians have also decided to sing Taliban chants, thereby further increasing their popularity. They have also come to the attention of an increasing number of Pashtun youth, especially in areas where the Taliban have a substantial presence.[20]

The Taliban have been able to keep up with the modernizing population by ensuring that these chants and poems are widely available to rural and urban populations through a wide variety of mediums such as poetry books, Taliban magazines, CDs, audio cassettes, websites, and YouTube. Chants are now also available as downloadable ringtones on the internet.[21]


Shabnama (night letters) are a traditional means of communication in Afghanistan. These letters consist of printed or handwritten pages delivered to targeted individuals, distributed throughout towns and villages, or even blanketed over entire provinces. The letters are usually posted to the walls of mosques, government buildings, or other important landmarks, and promise death to anyone who disobeys their threats and instructions.[22] Night letters were a particularly useful technique employed by the mujahideen to influence and intimidate their recipients chiefly during times of turmoil, such as during the Soviet invasion. Nelofer Pazira, in her book A Bed of Red Flowers, describes the use of night letters to coordinate shop closings or similar activities intended to generate solidarity among the Afghan population in their anti-Soviet conflict.[23]

The Taliban adopted this highly cost-effective means to deliver threats to warn villages of the “wrath” they would face if they cooperated with international forces or the government. Often the targets of these letters are the villagers seen talking to ISAF soldiers, or the victims of local Taliban settling old tribal scores. While such methods do not win the hearts of local villagers, they are successful in instilling fear and making villagers reluctant to engage with the international community or the Afghan Government.[24] The Taliban rely on the educated populace to communicate the shabnama to illiterate villagers. Typically, shabnama are directed to figures of authority and supporters of the current government and often read as the following: “Once this government falls, we will be in power. We have your documents, your names and your addresses. We will come and punish you.”[25]

Night letters are often accompanied by direct action, such as school burnings and the execution of locals accused of spying for American forces. There have been countless cases of Taliban beheading villagers and innocent children for “spying for the government.” For instance, in 2013, the Taliban beheaded two boys aged 10 and 16 as a warning to villagers not to cooperate with the Afghan government.[26] The increasing use of such means demonstrates the Taliban’s ability to learn from other insurgent groups and benefit from the growth of local industries for the  production of audio-visual propaganda.

Themes and Messages of Taliban Propaganda

While the means of propaganda is important to reach the intended audiences, it is ultimately the message that will determine whether intentions will turn into actions. There are clear recurring themes within Taliban’s propaganda that are directed toward the local population, including the call to jihad, resistance to foreign forces, and the local government. The Taliban use their interpretation of Islam as a basis to back their ideology and claims.

Foreign Presence and Afghan Government

The Taliban promote the notion that it is the Islamic duty of Afghans to attack the foreign military presence thus undermining the legitimacy of foreign presence and boasting its ability to attack it.[27] Exaggeration and distortion on the following issues are commonplace: (a) the numbers of casualties inflicted on foreign forces, (b) the numbers of casualties inflicted on Afghan civilians by foreign forces, (c) claims to have brought down foreign aircraft, (d) kidnappings or capturing of military personnel, and (e) weapons systems available to the Taliban.[28]

The following is an extract from an online publication on the Taliban website and entitled “Intelligence Ploys of the Enemy, a Sign of their Despair and Failure,” published on October 2, 2017:

We want to remind America and their stooges that when you had 150,000 troops in Afghanistan in 2010-2012 and turned to all kind of terror and brutalities, did any leader of the Islamic Emirate seek asylum in any other country? Did they abandon their resistance? It is to be mentioned that all leaders of the Islamic Emirate have been refined and hardened in the furnace of time. Have your generals not admitted many a times that defeating Taliban is not an easy task. They are resilient, always emerging with new tactics to confront us. Therefore, do not waste your money on such failed intelligence efforts and meaningless wars anymore. It is not worth it.

Readily, America seeks to extricate herself of due financial share in the NATO and the United Nations under one pretext or the other because of economic problems. This is the result of your meaningless wars in Afghanistan and other Islamic countries which have made you weak and discredited to such an extent… So, there is still time to realize and abandon your imperialistic schemes before you face the same fate of the former Soviet Union.[3]

The publication includes several significant messages directed toward the American government, but also to the local population. Firstly, it aims to commend the strength and resilience of the Taliban for not abandoning the fight despite the heavy presence of foreign soldiers. Secondly, it hopes to make apparent the growing weakness of the Americans by revealing their reluctance to financially contribute to NATO and the UN as a consequence of their “meaningless wars.” Lastly, the publication seeks to remind the Americans and more importantly the Afghan population, of its earlier victory against the Soviet Union in an attempt to further illustrate the nation’s success against foreigners.

Taliban strength is also demonstrated in their poems.

wali pa gondo shwali?
sar pa narido shwali?
ta kho wel che za super kuwat pa tol jahan ki yem
nan kho sta makhi ta watalei nagyalei Talib,
har chata warzi da nangyali Talib.[30]


Why did you go to your knees?
Began to drop on your head?
You claimed you are the superpower of the world.
Today, you encountered a young Talib,
Facing everyone proudly, this young Talib.

The poem is from the viewpoint of a talib (single of Taliban) fighter and is addressed to an American soldier who drops down to his knees in agony upon the death of his comrade. The talib asks the Americans why they drop to their knees after claiming to be all-powerful. He further explains that it is because the soldier saw a Talib, who courageously faced him and brought him to his knees.

Figure 1: A page from a fourth grade Pashto textbook used by the Taliban

Anti-foreigner propaganda is also present in madrassas, where textbooks used by the Taliban are filled with violent messages and images, exposing children from an early age to a culture of violence. Figure 1 shows a page for the letter “K” from a Pashto alphabet book. The text reads “K” for Kor (house/home), Afghanistan is the home of Muslims. Kaafirs are the enemies of our religion and our nation. We will not let enemies enter our pure home.”[31]

The Taliban perceive the Afghan governments succeeding their rule as “puppets” of the Americans and have devoted much of their efforts to shifting local support and opinion against the government. The Afghan government, particularly under Karzai was presented as corrupt, as run by non-Muslims who are directing Afghanistan toward un-Islamic western values. This is further evident from the highly degrading language used by the Taliban when referring to government forces. Members of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) are labelled munafiq (hypocrite), and other members of the administration are called ghulam (slave/servant), ajir (agent), and gawdagai (puppet)[32].

The Taliban seeks to portray itself as resolute and its violence as legitimate. The growing discontent with corruption within the government further fuels grievances and presents the Taliban as a viable alternative, even to people who do not like the Taliban. The Taliban have realised this and have created parallel governments that enforce Sharia law and established Islamic courts to solve disputes among residents.[33] Taliban courts are perceived as quicker, fairer, more effective and less corrupt than the secular courts, a further proof of the Afghan government’s inability to impose law and order, and its negligence of the rural areas.[34]

Figure 2: A Taliban shabnama threatening an individual seen to be cooperating with foreigners

Taliban shabnama are also used to threaten any individuals, groups or organizations that are cooperating with foreign forces. Figure 2 shows a shabnama with the Taliban seal on the top of the page. The shabnama is addressed to Neamatullah Rekazai, working for an aid organization, “ABM,” which helps women find work.[35] The text threatens Neamatullah to stop cooperating with foreigners or “face the consequences.” It further clarifies that the Taliban are aware of where he lives and works. In a culture that emphasizes loyalty to the state and tribe, such public shaming of individuals is an effective tool for the Taliban.

Jihad and Islam

Another major topic of discussion in Taliban propaganda is jihad and the duty of every Afghan and Muslim to perform it. The Taliban present jihad as a vital part of one’s belief in Islam and an “honor” for a Muslim. Figure 3 is a page discussing the letter “T” from a children’s Pashto textbook used in madrassas. The text reads “T” for “Topak” (weapon/gun), “My uncle has a gun. He does jihad with the gun.”[36] Figure 4 shows a page from a mathematics book which teaches children to count using images of Kalashnikovs, handguns, knives and bullets.[37] Such messages are specially designed to instil a culture of violence in young minds and teach children from a young age their “duty” as a Muslim and an Afghan.

Na ba Jari grani mori sta zakhmuna me che giri,
Za shahid pa Shariat yet pa winu ke lat pat yam,
Janaza ta me ratel ka spin pagrei and stergei ye tori.
Handagha khafar de bad dei,
nan sa ham na dei hawas dei,
Ghbargi hoori mi tarsang di,
pa ma kri da zulfo syuri[38].


Don’t cry my dear mother when you see my red scars,
I am shaheed (a martyr) by Shariah all covered in blood,
Gather white turbans and black eyes for my funeral,
This is enough pride for you,
Today isn’t a day of sorrow it is a celebration,
There are Hoori around me,
their long hair is giving me shade.

Jihad and Islam are also strong themes in Taliban poems and chants. Poem 2 is a chant from a talib fighter’s viewpoint telling his mother not to cry because he is a shaheed (martyr) in the name of Islam. The mention of “red scars” and “blood” is intentional to instill a sense of pride a soldier or martyr should feel from their battle wounds. The soldier tells his mother that his martyrdom or jihad should be a cause for celebration and that he is now in paradise surrounded by hoori, the women of heaven.

Evaluating Taliban Propaganda

Reliable information in Afghanistan is scarcely available and high levels of illiteracy coupled with poor access to modern media lead to reliance on messages spread through word of mouth. This means that information is often imprecise, out of date, and second hand. For such an audience, any claims of military success by the Taliban will be deemed credible. Secondly, the Taliban have dominated the narrative as its spokesmen reach out to journalists and media outlets with detailed accounts of insurgent attacks in real-time while the Kabul government stays silent.[39] Bureaucratic lethargy often prevents Afghan officials from issuing timely responses to Taliban claims. Government forces cannot publish photos and videos from the battlefield and must follow formal approval procedures prior to any publication, which limits their ability to contest Taliban’s claims. Their prompt responses along with their ability to threaten journalists, allow the Taliban to claim attacks and present exaggerated accounts of incidents to their benefit.[40] 

In addition, the Taliban benefit from the damage and civilian casualties resulting from foreign military operations and from the perceived lack of respect for local people, property and tribal customs by Western military tactics. The Taliban publish monthly reports detailing the number of casualties per day along with the location and a brief description of each incident. The following is an excerpt from a post on the Taliban website titled “War crimes of savage foreign invaders and their internal mercenaries” for the month of September 2017:

“On Wednesday 13th September, main gates of civilian houses were blasted in bombs; the houses were thoroughly searched out; local people were badly beaten; their valuables were stolen; and eventually 4 innocent villagers were taken away as prisoners during a brutal raid of the savage foreign invaders escorted by their internal stooge forces in Abu-Bakar village of Wazir area in Khogyani district of Nangarhar province.”[41]

Often the figures in these reports are highly exaggerated in an attempt to create resentment toward the foreign forces. These reports are not only published on the Taliban websites but also in the Taliban magazines and broadcasted on Taliban run radio stations.

Taliban propaganda has shown to adapt to the changing conditions within Afghanistan and address contemporary issues, in particular on the role of women. Mullah Omar guaranteed that the new Taliban regime would “respect the rights of all people in the country, including women.” Accordingly, in Taliban controlled regions, the number of girls’ madrassas has been growing. Jelani Zwak, an Afghan political analyst who studied Taliban propaganda stated that “these days their propaganda has changed. They are not only talking about the occupation and civilian casualties. They are acting like an alternative to this government.”[42] Referring to the Karzai administration, which many Afghans perceived as corrupt, Mullah Omar had vowed that the Taliban would also “bring about administrative transparency in all government departments.”[43]

Although Taliban propaganda has evolved and strengthened over time, it does have its limitations. The message is often inadequate and lacking clear insight as little effort is made to appeal to a wider Afghan and western audience. Though the means used reach a wide international audience, the message is nevertheless directed toward the local Pashtun population. While the Taliban have gradually embraced modern communications technology, they struggle to modify and develop their message. Most importantly, the Taliban do not appear to propose any clear political or governance ideas and policies and seem to lack a broad strategic overview.[44] There seems to exist minimal interest in, or understanding of, wider global issues that could potentially assist them. As medical and food aid as well as reconstruction efforts reach larger parts of the country, the Taliban argument which claims foreign and government forces seek to cause destruction in Afghanistan are beginning to lose weight amongst the population. In addition, the messages are often muddled and contradictory. A spokesman would claim an attack only to have another spokesman counter the claim, particularly if the incident resulted in civilian casualties. In June 2005, then Taliban spokesman Hakimi, denied that the group had carried out a suicide attack at a funeral in Kandahar that killed at least 20 Afghans. He instead falsely claimed that the Taliban had only assassinated one target at the funeral, the man for whom the funeral was being held.[45]

However, little effort has been made to counter Taliban propaganda, particularly in rural regions. Opposition propaganda (chiefly American propaganda) has only assisted to further the Taliban’s cause as it is severely limited in terms of both quantity and quality. American anti-Taliban propaganda has often backfired, where any efforts to portray a negative image of the Taliban have instead resulted in insulting Islam or local values, something the Pashtun people cannot tolerate. For instance, in early 2017, American forces distributed leaflets to homes in Parwan province (north of Kabul). The leaflets depicted a lion representing the American-led coalition forces, chasing a dog (an animal considered impure in Islam) wrapped in the Taliban flag. The writing on the flag is the shahada, the most sacred of texts in Islam, the foundational declaration of faith in God. The leaflets worked in the favour of the Taliban, sparked anti-American anger and violence, and led to the suicide bombing at the American air base in Bagram[46].

Arturo Munoz, studied American anti-Taliban propaganda in Afghanistan and found that most efforts produced no significant results. Munoz argues that early propaganda disseminated in 2001, immediately after the War on Terror was declared, attempted to justify the war to the Afghans but failed to gain local support as they felt Al-Qaeda was to blame and not the Taliban. The Afghans held the “Arabs” accountable and felt the war was unjust. American propaganda then evolved to include pictures of the plane crashes of September 11. Munoz states that due to lack of televisions and other media outlets, many Afghans had never seen tall buildings before and could not comprehend the images. Furthermore, the concept of commercial airplanes did not resonate with the locals who had largely seen American fighter planes in their skies. Therefore, many Afghans were perplexed as to why American fighter planes were crashing into their own buildings. Eventually American anti-Taliban propaganda sought another approach by portraying pictures of the Taliban crossed out with bright red ink or images of rockets directed toward a talib. Figure 6 shows an American anti-Taliban leaflet where Afghan men are seen to be buried in underground caves due to American missiles. The images do not distinguish these men as Taliban fighters and to the average Afghan it seemed like the Americans were targeting ordinary Afghan men. Several variations of these leaflets emerged with images of Taliban members however, since the locals had not seen the faces of any of the Taliban members, they could not recognise them, and the leaflets were misinterpreted[47].

However, the opposition’s costliest propaganda mistake had been made before the Taliban even came to power. Beginning in the 1980s, the Americans spent millions of dollars to produce anti-Soviet textbooks for Afghan children, which served as useful propaganda against the Soviets during the cold war.[48] The very books examined previously in the paper under “messages of Taliban propaganda” became part of the core curriculum of Afghan schools and encouraged a jihadist outlook against Soviet “infidels.”[49] They were produced with the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development by the University of Nebraska at Omaha and smuggled into Afghanistan through networks built by the CIA and ISI, Pakistan’s military intelligence agency.[50] The very tools created by the Americans to influence Afghan opinion on the Soviets were later used by the Taliban to shift public opinion against Americans. The Taliban continue to use the millions of copies still circulating in the madrassas they control.


The Taliban have demonstrated remarkable success in projecting themselves as much stronger than they actually are in terms of numbers and resources. The group seem to be learning from its mistakes and is quick to exploit the weaknesses of its opponents. The Taliban are increasingly controlling more land and constructing a parallel administration, while Afghans in conflict-hit areas are evaluating options amid a sense of insurgent momentum.

American and Afghan government forces tend to view information operations as complementing military operations, whereas for the Taliban information objectives tend to drive military operations:  most military operations are designed to influence attitudes or perceptions. The American War on Terror has focused on military victories and neglected the fight to win Afghan hearts and minds. The Americans are highly capable of producing effective propaganda as demonstrated by the extensive textbook program of USAID. However, recent efforts have been careless and ineffective. The Taliban, on the other hand, cannot win on the battlefield, but they do not have to. All they must do is wear out their opponents and influencing perceptions at home and abroad are a vital component of this strategy.[51] For the Taliban, the battle for the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan is one worth fighting, and all efforts are directed toward achieving this goal.

The Taliban have proved skilful at fuelling existing grievances and uncertainties in their attempt to turn the Afghan people against the “puppet” government and its international supporters. However, the Afghan government and American forces did not make much of an effort to exploit Taliban weaknesses and winning over the population. The Taliban must be confronted to explain their actions, tactics and intentions as well as their authority and interpretation of Islam.  The Afghan government must be truly accountable and act in the best interests of the people. It must work on development of institutions and provide services and security in the rural areas which will garner public support and thus deny any opportunities for insurgents to exploit local frustrations and grievances.

Simply increasing military troop numbers is pointless if there is not a strategic plan in which building local capacity is the priority. US President Donald Trump recently announced that he will be sending more troops to Afghanistan as part of his strategy to “win” the war. Trump stated that “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.” Such a policy is bound to create further destruction and instability as well as alienate the rural population even more.[52] International forces must also demonstrate accountability to the public for their actions and create more transparency in investigating civilian casualties. If this is not achieved, talks of long-term foreign military presence will only feed into nationalistic resistance and further strengthen Taliban support.

Afghans are a pragmatic people and flexible with their allegiances, therefore their assessment as to the strength of the Taliban is crucial in determining whether they will take a pro-, anti- or neutral stance towards them. The focus must shift from a military victory towards a battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.


[1] James Fearon and David Laitin, Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War, American Political Science Review.97, no. 01 (2003): 85.

[2] Kareem Kamel, Understanding Taliban Resurgence, 2015, p. 3.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Tim Foxley, The Taliban’s Propaganda Activities, (Stockholm, SIPRI, 2007), p. 2.

[5] Kamel, Understanding Taliban, p. 3.

[6] Erinn Banting, Afghanistan the People. (Crabtree Publishing Company, 2003), p. 14.

[7] According to the 2018 statistics provided by UNESCO, literacy rates in Afghanistan are as low as 13.3% for individuals aged 65 and above and 42% for those aged 15-65 years. http://uis.unesco.org/country/AF.

[8] Neamatollah Nojumi, The Rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan (New York, Palgrave, 2002), p. 126.

[9] Home Office, Country Policy and Information Note Afghanistan: Unaccompanied children, 2018, p.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Human Rights Watch, Afghanistan: Taliban Child Soldier Recruitment Surges, 2016.

[12] Ibid., p. 128.

[13] Mohammad Gohari, The Taliban: Ascent to Power, (Karachi, Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 101.

[14] Lianne Gutcher, Turnaround by Taliban Gives Girls a Chance: News, (The Times Educational Supplement Scotland , 2219:11, 2011). https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.ucl.ac.uk/docview/881110471?accountid=14511.

[15] Nojumi, The Rise, p. 128.

[16] International Crisis Group, Taliban Propaganda; Winning the War of Words?, (Kabul, ICG, 2008), p. 21.

[17] Strick van Linschoten et. al., Poetry of the Taliban, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012).

[18] Ibid.

[19] Thomas Johnson and Ahmad Waheed, Analyzing Taliban Taranas (Chants): An Effective Afghan Propaganda Artifact, 2011, p. 4.

[20] Ibid., p.3

[21] Ibid., p. 6.

[22] Thomas Johnson, The Taliban Insurgency and an Analysis of Shabnamas, 2007, p. 321.

[23] Ibid., p. 320.

[24] Foxley, The Taliban, p. 16.

[25] Johnson, Shabnama, p. 321.

[26]  Reuters, Taliban beheads two boys in southern Afghanistan, (Kabul, 2013).http://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-beheadings/taliban-beheads-two-boys-in-southern-afghanistan-idUSBRE9590PA20130610

[27] International Crisis Group, Taliban Propaganda, p. 18.

[28] Foxley, The Taliban, p. 8.

[29] Al-Emarah, Intelligence Ploys of the Enemy, a Sign of their Despair and Failure (2017).

[30] Strick van Linschoten et. al., Poetry of the Taliban, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), p. 109.

[31] Syed Hazrat, Pashto for the fourth grade, (Afghanistan: Ministry of Education, 1999).

[32] International Crisis Group, Taliban Propaganda, p. 17.

[33] Foxley, The Taliban, p. 10.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Abubakar Siddique, Afghan Aid Worker Not Blind To Taliban Threats, Radio Liberty, 2017. https://www.rferl.org/a/afghan_aid_worker_not_blind_to_threats/24312830.html.

[36] A.H. ‘Not Yet History’, (Bamyan, The Economist, 2012), https://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2012/11/textbooks-afghanistan.

[37] Strick van Linschoten et. al., Poetry of the Taliban, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), p. 115.

[38] Ibid., p. 157.

[39] Jason Motlagh, Why the Taliban Is Winning the Propaganda War, (Kabul, The Times, 2009). http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1895496,00.html

[40] Rod Nordland, Taliban Threats to Afghan Journalists Show Shift in Tactics, The New York Times, 2015. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/19/world/asia/taliban-threats-to-afghan-journalists-show-shift-in-tactics.html

[41] Al-Emarah, War crimes of savage foreign invaders and their internal mercenaries, (Kabul, 2017).

[42] Londono, Ernesto. Taliban steps up propaganda war. The Washington Post. 2010. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/01/AR2010100107298.html

[43] Dorronsoro, Gilles. “Taliban Narratives: The Use and Power Of Stories In The Afghanistan Conflict.” Politique Etrangere, no. 4 (2018), p. 27.

[44] Foxley, The Taliban, p. 14.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Mujib Mashal, Afghan Anger Simmers Over U.S. Leaflets Seen as Insulting Islam, The New York Times, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/08/world/asia/afghanistan-leaflets-islam-american-military.html

[47] Arturo Munoz, U.S. Military Information Operations in Afghanistan: Effectiveness of Psychological Operations 2001-2010. (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2012), pp. 44-112.

[48] News Rescue. Genesis of Islamic Radicalism: The US Textbook Project That Taught Afghan Children Terror, 2012. http://newsrescue.com/genesis-of-islamic-radicalism-the-us-textbook-project-that-taught-afghan-children-terror/#axzz4xD14hbbe

[49] Joe Stephens and David Ottoway, From U.S., the ABC’s of Jihad; Violent Soviet-Era Textbooks Complicate Afghan Education Efforts, The Washington Post. (2002). ttps://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2002/03/23/from-us-the-abcs-of-jihad/d079075a-3ed3-4030-9a96-0d48f6355e54/?utm_term=.b47f5aacbbba

[50] Ibid.

[51] International Crisis Group, Taliban Propaganda, p. 33.

[52] David Nakamura and  Abby Phillip, Trump announces new strategy for Afghanistan that calls for a troop increase. The Washington Post. 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-expected-to-announce-small-troop-increase-in-afghanistan-in-prime-time-address/2017/08/21/eb3a513e-868a-11e7-a94f-3139abce39f5_story.html?utm_term=.05af673ea94e


A.H. The Economist. “Not Yet History”, 2012. https://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2012/11/textbooks-afghanistan.

Al-Emarat. Intelligence Ploys of the Enemy, a Sign of their Despair and Failure. Kabul. 2017.

Al-Emarah, War crimes of savage foreign invaders and their internal mercenaries, (Kabul, 2017).

Banting, Erinn. 2003. Afghanistan the People. Crabtree Publishing Company.

Dorronsoro, Gilles. “Taliban Narratives: The Use and Power Of Stories In The Afghanistan Conflict.” Politique Etrangere, no. 4 (2018).

Fearon, James D, And David D Laitin. Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War. American Political Science Review.97, no. 01 (2003): 75-90.

Foxley, Tim. The Taliban’s Propaganda Activities How Well Is the Afghan Insurgency Communicating and What Is It Saying? Stockholm: SIPRI, 2007.

Gohari, M. J. 2000. The Taliban: Ascent to Power. Karachi: Oxford University Press.

Gutcher, Lianne. 2011. “Turnaround by Taliban Gives Girls a Chance: News.” The Times Educational Supplement Scotland (2219) (Jun 17): 11. https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.ucl.ac.uk/docview/881110471?accountid=14511.

Haltiwanger, J. (2018). America’s ‘war on terror’ has cost the US nearly $6 trillion and killed roughly half a million people, and there’s no end in sight. [online] Business Insider. Available at: https://www.businessinsider.com/the-war-on-terror-has-cost-the-us-nearly-6-trillion-2018-11?r=US&IR=T.

Hazrat, Syed. 1999. Pashto for the fourth grade. Afghanistan: Ministry of Education.

Home Office, ‘Country Policy and Information Note Afghanistan: Unaccompanied children’, 2018.  https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/697275/Afghanistan_-_Children_-_CPIN_-_v1.1__April_2018_.pdf

Human Rights Watch, Afghanistan: Taliban Child Soldier Recruitment Surges, 2016. https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/02/17/afghanistan-taliban-child-soldier-recruitment-surges

International Crisis Group. 2008. Taliban Propaganda Winning the War of Words? Asia Report, No. 158. Kabul: International Crisis Group.

Johnson, Thomas H, and Ahmad Waheed. 2011. Analyzing Taliban Taranas (Chants): An Effective Afghan Propaganda Artifact.

Johnson, Thomas H. 2007. “The Taliban Insurgency and an Analysis of Shabnamas (Night Letters)”. Small Wars & Insurgencies 18 (3): 317-344.

Kamel, Kareem. “Understanding Taliban Resurgence: Ethno-Symbolism and Revolutionary Mobilization.” Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism 15, no. 1 (2015): 66-82.

Kolhatkar, S., & Ingalls, J. Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, warlords, and the propaganda of silence (Seven Stories Press 1st ed.). New York: Seven Stories Press. (2006). 

Londono, Ernesto. Taliban steps up propaganda war. The Washington Post. 2010

Motlagh, Jason. Why the Taliban are Winning the Propaganda War. Kabul, The Times. 2009

Mujib Mashal, Afghan Anger Simmers Over U.S. Leaflets Seen as Insulting Islam, The New York Times, 2017.

Munoz, Arturo. 2012. U.S. Military Information Operations in Afghanistan: Effectiveness of Psychological Operations 2001-2010. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation.

Naheed Bashardost. 49,000 girl students enrolled in Kabul-based religious schools. Kabul, Pajhwok News. 2016.

Nakamura, David and  Phillip, Abby. Trump announces new strategy for Afghanistan that calls for a troop increase. The Washington Post. 2017

Nojumi, Neamatollah. The Rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan: Mass Mobilization, Civil War, and the Future of the Region. 1st Ed. ed. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

Roggio, Bill. Afghan Taliban lists ‘Percent of Country under the control of Mujahideen’. Long War Journal. 2017.

Siddique, Abubakar. “Afghan Aid Worker Not Blind to Taliban Threats”. Radio Liberty, 2017. https://www.rferl.org/a/afghan_aid_worker_not_blind_to_threats/24312830.html.

Stephens, Joe and Ottoway, David. “From U.S., the ABC’s of Jihad; Violent Soviet-Era Textbooks Complicate Afghan Education Efforts.” The Washington Post A.01 (2002): 01.

Strick van Linschoten, Alex, Felix Kuehn, Mirwais Rahmany, Hamid Stanikzai, and Faisal Devji. 2012. Poetry of the Taliban. New York: Columbia University Press.


A map from a Taliban report which accurately replicates results as those from the Long War Journal depicts the extent of Taliban control in Afghanistan.

Source: Roggio, Bill. Afghan Taliban lists ‘Percent of Country under the control of Mujahideen’. Long War Journal. 2017.