The CSS Blog Network

“Soldiering Through”: A Preliminary Assessment of Serbia’s OSCE Chairmanship

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini shakes hands with Serbia`s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacic. Image: European External Action Service/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Security and Human Rights blog of the Netherlands Helsinki Committee on 2 December, 2015.

When in December 2011 Serbia – together with Switzerland – put forward its candidacy for the OSCE Chairmanship, it was seeking wider international affirmation and influence. Belgrade wanted to prove itself as capable of sustaining a serious, committed service to European security, and also hoped to bolster its chances for EU membership. The fact that 2015 presented an important milestone – 40 years since the signing of the Helsinki Final Act – was not without significance. » More

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Armenia: Church, State Joining Forces Against Western Religious Groups?

St. Hripsime church, one of Armenia’s oldest churches. Image: Travis K. Witt/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by EurasiaNet.Org on 24 November, 2015.

As Armenia readies for a controversial December 6 referendum, public attention has tended to focus on proposed constitutional amendments that would alter the country’s political system. But another, less discussed amendment is generating concern among some who question whether the country’s religious minorities, often deemed purveyors of “perverse” Western values, could suffer.

Wariness of so-called “sects” — a euphemism for primarily evangelical Christian denominations, including Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses — has long existed in Armenia. The state-financed Armenian Apostolic Church, believed to be the world’s oldest Christian institution, is widely seen as a major pillar of national identity.

Currently, the constitution provides for church-state separation. Constitutional amendments proposed by a commission working under President Serzh Sargsyan’s office would provide for freedom of religion and ban religious discrimination, yet article 41 stipulates that such freedom could be restricted “with the aim of protecting state security, the public order, health and morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.” » More

Reigniting Somalia’s Political Transition: Q&A with Ken Menkhaus

President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud. Image: AMISOM Public Information Photo Stream/Flickr

This interview was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 25 November, 2015.

Recent pushback against Al-Shabaab extremists and a partial easing of tensions between central and state governments have increased hopes for a stable democratic future in Somalia, as it continues to recover from the civil war of the 1990s and 2000s.

Nonetheless, Professor Ken Menkhaus of Davidson College—an expert on the country’s ongoing political transition—said much work was required to recapture momentum from the 2012 establishment of a new federal government, which brought in new political and security expertise, international support, and financial investment. “Finishing a lot of transitional tasks left from the pre-2012 era is essential if the country is to move forward: to have a constitution; to have full elections,” he told International Peace Institute (IPI) Senior Adviser John Hirsch, at a recent IPI forum on 21st century peacebuilding. “Since then, a number of things have not gone terribly well. We’ve seen a prolonged period of political paralysis in the government, with a lot of in-house fighting,” Dr. Menkhaus said. He said the international community was deeply involved in Somalia, providing development and military aid, as well as applying pressure on the country’s leaders to continue their transitional tasks. This includes pushing for an election on a new head of state and a referendum on a new constitution, which had been expected next year. This interview has been edited for clarity and length. » More

Book Review: Jerusalem: The Spatial Politics of a Divided Metropolis by Anne B. Shlay and Gillad Rosen

The old town of Jerusalem. Image: Kyle Taylor/Flickr

This book review was originally published by the LSE Review of Books on 25 November, 2015.

Jerusalem: The Spatial Politics of a Divided Metropolis. Anne B. Shlay and Gillad Rosen. Polity Press. 2015.

Violence has come to Jerusalem, again. It erupted during the Jewish and Muslim holidays, which virtually coincided this year. Since the beginning of October, at least 44 Palestinians and eight Israelis have lost their lives. From my home in East Jerusalem, the tension is palpable and the fear is pervasive. How can one move past the shocking headlines to an engaged and thoughtful analysis of the city?

In Jerusalem: The Spatial Politics of a Divided Metropolis, Anne B. Shlay and Gillad Rosen have written a book that attempts to convey the complexity of the city, whilst remaining accessible to a wide audience. This book is about the politics of space and the ‘constellation of competing interests’ over it (13). Shlay and Rosen, a sociologist and geographer respectively, explore the various geographic dynamics of Jerusalem and how the conflict plays out in specific locations. Their goal is not to ‘inflame or incite but to analyze and inform’ (15). It is a worthy goal. In this review I argue that the authors accomplish it, mostly. » More

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan’s Evolving Alliance

The Saudi-financed Shah Faisal Masjid Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan. Image: Imrankw/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by The National Interest on November 19, 2015.

In early November, Pakistan’s chief of army staff, General Raheel Sharif, made an important visit to Saudi Arabia. The general met with King Salman and other top officials in Riyadh, where he stressed Islamabad’s commitment to ensuring the safety and protection of Mecca and Medina, as well as Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity. The Saudi officials, in turn, called for peace and stability in Pakistan and praised the Pakistani military’s efforts to fight terrorism in the ongoing Zarb-i-Azb campaign. Dignitaries from both sides issued a joint statement emphasizing their “responsibility towards Muslim ummah” and mutual fears stemming from the plethora of ongoing regional security crises. » More

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