Northern Stalemate Opens Space for Islam in Mali’s Politics

Northern Stalemate Opens Space for Islam in Mali’s Politics

When Mali announced the formation of its latest transitional civilian government on Aug. 20, the new cabinet pointedly excluded representatives of the Islamist coalition that controls much of the territory in the country’s north. The new government, which retains interim President Dioncounda Traore and interim Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, has made fighting the Islamist rebels -- including the Tuareg-led Ansar al Din movement, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Qaida offshoot the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) -- a top priority. However, the government and external actors face barriers to success on the battlefield, creating a military stalemate but also leading to some diplomatic ingenuity on the part of Mali’s civil society.

Can the government defeat the Islamists? The Malian press (French) reported over the weekend that the army is preparing a northward push. Yet those who doubt Mali’s capacity to retake the north by force argue that its troops lack sufficient numbers, training and equipment.

Regional powers are keen to resolve the crisis. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has conducted negotiations with northern rebels. And Mali’s neighbors Mauritania and Algeria, though not members of ECOWAS, are also potential parties to mediation efforts in northern Mali.

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