New at Brill in Open Access: Encyclopædia Iranica Online


Encyclopaedia Iranica is the most renowned reference work in the field of Iran studies. Founded by the late Professor Ehsan Yarshater and edited at the Ehsan Yarshater Center for Iranian Studies at Columbia University, this monumental international project brings together the scholarship about Iran of thousands of authors around the world.




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Encyclopædia Iranica Online Now Freely Accessible at Brill

The Ehsan Yarshater Center for Iranian Studies at Columbia University, New York, and Brill are delighted to announce that the Encyclopædia Iranica Online is now freely accessible at Brill’s Reference Works Platform. Encyclopædia Iranica is the comprehensive academic reference work dedicated to the study of Iranian civilization in the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent.

Ancient Iran Series Added to Brill’s Publishing Portfolio

As part of their growing portfolio in Middle East and Islamic Studies, Brill has signed an agreement for the take-over of the book series Ancient Iran Series. With its coverage of ancient, pre-, and early-Islamic Iran, this book series complements other book series with a more modern focus on this geographical area, as well as the various other journals and encyclopaedias Brill publishes in this field.

Read an interview with Geert Jan van Gelder

The longstanding series Handbook of Oriental Studies. Section 1: The Near and Middle East recently reached its 150th volume by publishing the special Prominent Murder Victims of the Pre- and Early Islamic Periods Including the Names of Murdered Poets. We caught up with Geert Jan van Gelder, editor and translator of the volume.


Acquisitions Editors


Maurits van den Boogert

Nicolette van der Hoek

Abdurraouf Oueslati

Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht

Jehona Kicaj

Middle East and Islamic Studies

In 2004 Niger maintained a fair degree of political stability. The multiparty democratic system was further consolidated by successful presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections. Cause for concern was a series of attacks by armed Tuaregs on civilians and army personnel in the north, and the activities of the ‘Groupement Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat’ (GSPC) in the country's frontier zones. The government maintained macroeconomic stability as a result of tight fiscal policies, a robust growth rate estimate and the financial assistance of the donor community. Agricultural output, however, declined as a result of poor harvests. Social stability remained precarious, while occasional government action against journalists underlined the limits of press freedom.

The government charted its way through the minefield of challenges posed by the war between Islamist groups and French-led forces in neighbouring Mali and Boko Haram’s revolt in Nigeria. Although Niger was seen by the outside world as a beacon of relative stability, the country’s vulnerability showed itself in attacks on a military base and uranium mine by Islamists driven out of Malian territory, as well as in a jail-break in the capital, Niamey, involving Boko Haram fighters. A boost in defence spending was followed by massive troop deployment along the Malian border, the dispatch of soldiers to assist in the French- and Chadian-led reconquest of north-east Mali, and the closure of the border with Nigeria. The attacks in Niger heightened popular anxiety and led to new security measures. In August, the appointment of a government of national unity led to the first political crisis since President Mahamadou Issoufou had taken office in 2011. Defended as a security measure, the reshuffle was part of the manoeuvring between Issoufou and his main coalition partner, National Assembly chair Hama Amadou, ahead of the 2016 presidential polls. Insufficient rainfall further compounded the fragile food supply. Uranium output suffered from the attack on mining installations. With its contract set to expire on 31 December, French nuclear energy group Areva got involved in tense negotiations with the government over the renewal of the agreement. Talks had not been concluded by year’s end. Fresh delays in the completion of the hydro-electric Kandadji dam, in addition to the worst power failures in years, exposed the country’s rickety infrastructure.

Politics remained conflict-ridden and subject to unpredictable changes in political alliances. Thus, the 2013 rupture between President Mahamadou Issoufou and National Assembly chair Hama Amadou led to a complete disintegration of their relationship in the run-up to the 2016 presidential challenge. Ultimately, Issoufou came out of this conflict as the stronger party as Amadou lost his Assembly presidency and appeared to be heading for the political wilderness. The government put the heat on opposition elements, and the country’s image was tarnished by demonstration bans, attacks on politicians’ residences and arrests of opposition supporters. By year’s end, the situation had calmed down. The realignment of forces led to a rapprochement between Issoufou and Mamadou Tandja (the former president who had been overthrown by the military in February 2010 after refusing to step down after two terms in office). This had the potential to permanently incorporate elements of Tandja’s divided party, the ‘Mouvement National pour la Société de Développement’ (mnsd), into Issoufou’s camp. Negotiations with French nuclear energy group Areva on a new uranium contract finally led to an agreement that largely met government demands. This reinforced the domestic standing of the president, who also boosted his international reputation as a key partner in the regional battle against Sahel jihadists. There were a couple of attacks on Nigérien targets, which must be seen as spill-over effects from the Malian theatre. Concern rose over the worsening violence of Nigeria’s Boko Haram. Rains led to flooding but stopped prematurely. As in the previous year, this resulted in a deficient cereal harvest.

The capital Niamey was struck by religiously inspired violence. Riots started in the central-eastern cities of Zinder and Maradi in protest against a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in the French magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’ after Islamist gunmen killed cartoonists in Paris. Christian churches, bars and other establishments owned by non-Muslims were the targets of attack. Not necessarily related to this, the war against Boko Haram in the south-east began in earnest, marked by a spate of attacks, killings and counter-guerrilla operations. The flow of refugees and idps grew to record levels, leading to a serious humanitarian crisis in the south-east. Tension between the government and opposition mounted ahead of the 2016 presidential and legislative polls. The main opposition candidate for the presidency, Hama Amadou, who had fled to France in 2014 after being charged with involvement in a baby-trafficking scandal, returned to Niger in November to prepare for his campaign. He was immediately detained. With political temperatures rising and the country facing mounting security threats, media freedom came under pressure. The rough evacuation of civilians from Boko Haram operation zones worsened the picture. Towards year’s end high-ranking army officers were arrested, accused of plotting to overthrow the government. Food security was precarious owing to the previous year’s poor harvests and compounded in the south-east by the Boko Haram crisis. gdp growth declined because of depressed uranium and oil prices.

President Mahamadou Issoufou and his ruling ‘Parti Nigérien pour la Démocratie et le Socialisme’ (pnds) consolidated their grip on power, though not without pushing to absurd levels the unorthodox measures by which they hoped to strengthen their position. Opposition leader Hama Amadou of the ‘Mouvement Démocratique Nigérien’ (Moden-Lumana), who had been arrested in 2015 for alleged involvement in a baby-trafficking scandal, remained in detention. He was allowed to contest the 2016 presidential elections from his cell. Issoufou emerged victorious, though not without an unexpected run-off. The parliamentary polls allowed the pnds to boost its position in the National Assembly. Although the elections took place in an atmosphere of calm, they were marred by authoritarian interventions, including the arrest of several members of the opposition. The ‘Mouvement National pour la Société de Développement’ (mnsd) of Seini Oumarou had to cede its leadership of the opposition to Amadou’s Moden, which ended ahead of the mnsd in the Assembly. In August, the mnsd joined the presidential majority, which did not bode well for the possibility of political alternation in the future. National security was tested by frequent attacks by Boko Haram fighters in the south-east and raids by insurgents based in Mali. While the humanitarian situation in the south-east worsened, the army managed to strike back and engage in counter-insurgency operations together with forces from Chad, Nigeria and Cameroon. Overall, the country held its own, despite being sandwiched between security challenges that caused some serious losses. Rains were deficient, leading to a cereal deficit that would mean earlier shortfalls in 2017. Economic performance was affected by depressed oil and uranium prices.

Mahamadou Issoufou continued his second term as president unopposed, exploiting his political advantages to the full. With the country squeezed between Islamist insurgencies, Issoufou remained a favourite collaborator for Western powers. His profile as interlocutor on migration and terrorism issues delivered funds to prop up budgets stretched by security spending and depressed commodity prices. Issoufou also made use of the impotence of the opposition, which had disintegrated in the wake of the 2016 elections. The price was embittered opponents, who had to leave meaningful opposition to civil society groups (relatively strong in Niger), who took to the streets, focusing discontent on the 2018 budget bill. Security threats remained substantial, notably because of the power vacuum in parts of Mali and Burkina Faso, with which the government tried to improve cooperation. Insurgent groups staged various attacks from Malian territory. In one incident casualties included four members of us special forces. The war against Boko Haram was marked by a fall in civilian casualties but could not prevent occasional attacks and kidnappings of civilians, including dozens of girls and adolescent boys from a village north-east of Diffa. Relations with France, under new President Macron, remained close, centring on security concerns. Economic growth, which had suffered from low uranium and oil prices as well as recession in Nigeria, recovered somewhat. Infrastructural improvements were impeded by budget constraints and other difficulties. Heavy rains led to the worst floods since 2012, while resulting in good harvests.

Two years into president Mahamadou Issoufou’s second term, relations with the opposition were as poor as ever, despite a brief improvement during talks on electoral reform, as administration hardliners were determined to neutralise opposition leader Hama Amadou for good, in part tied to manoeuvring ahead of the 2021 elections. The opposition aimed to strengthen its position with a new platform and boost its international standing by posing as the moderate alternative to Issoufou’s implacable government. However, its marginality left a void that was filled by civil society groups, which mobilised continuing discontent over 2017/18 budget measures. The administration dug in its heels and, after several demonstrations, cracked down on ngo leaders, using the threat posed by armed jihadists as an excuse to ban protest. With regard to the latter problem, the armed forces held their own, benefiting from Western hardware and collaborating with the French and us military. The foreign military presence (object of popular displeasure) only grew. Niger now harboured the second largest us presence on the continent. Western powers continued to see Niger as a key interlocutor on migration and terrorism, to the point of ignoring social discontent and administration heavy-handedness. Donor aid continued to stream in. In the north-west and south-east, attacks by insurgent groups continued intermittently. The situation in the west was compounded by declining security on the border with Burkina Faso, now also an operational zone for jihadist groups. Insurgents kidnapped a German aid worker and an Italian missionary. In the south-east, violence by Boko Haram forces increased during the last quarter. As in the previous year, several women were abducted and taken to hideouts in Nigeria or Chad. Economic performance benefited from higher oil prices and a rebound in Nigeria. New taxes, applauded by the imf and eu, were introduced to tackle the growing deficit. Both at the Algerian border and in the east, new oil wells were struck. Heavy rains led to floods, destroying houses, fields, and cattle and damaging infrastructure, including the Arlit-Agadez-Niamey motorway, vital for the country’s uranium exports.

The security situation worsened substantially. From March, Boko Haram ramped up attacks in the south-east, where humanitarian conditions deteriorated sharply. Civilians, including women and girls, fell victim to killings and kidnappings. The greatest threat to security emanated from the north-west, where government forces began losing terrain to militant groups staging increasingly violent attacks from Mali. Traditional chiefs were assassinated, which deprived the government of intelligence. Niger’s army experienced rising casualties and in December suffered the deadliest attack in its history. The political scene was marked by manoeuvring ahead of the presidential elections in 2020. The finance minister was suspected of preparing for his candidature and sacked. President Mahamadou Issoufou speeded up the nomination of the interior minister, Mohamed Bazoum, as the candidate for the ruling ‘Parti Nigérien pour la Démocratie et le Socialisme’ (pnds). These manoeuvres strengthened Bazoum’s electoral chances and reinforced the position of the pnds as the dominant political group. Hama Amadou, leader of the ‘Mouvement Démocratique Nigérien’ (Moden-Lumana), Niger’s main opposition party, continued in the wilderness. Having been sentenced to a one-year prison term for alleged involvement in a baby-trafficking scandal, the exiled Amadou returned to Niger upon the death of his mother in November. He was forced to serve the rest of his sentence. Civil society groups protested against the presence of Western military in the country. The cereal harvest was extremely poor and food security remained precarious. Macroeconomic prospects were good, driven by foreign investment tied to international aid projects and exploitation of hydrocarbon resources. The government secured funding for the resumption of work on the long-running Kandadji Dam project. One of Niger’s two uranium mines had nearly exhausted its deposits and would close down.

The political scene was dominated by the elections scheduled for December. As President Issoufou promised to respect the constitutional term limit, they held the potential for a peaceful political transition – the first in the country’s history. However, Issoufou had groomed his right-hand man, interior minister Mohamed Bazoum, to succeed him, and the constitutional court declared main opposition leader Hama Amadou ineligible. Thus, although opposition parties managed to establish an electoral alliance, the prospect for real change remained limited. The battle for the presidency was fought in conjunction with legislative polls and was preceded by municipal and regional elections. At year’s end, provisional results showed a head start for Bazoum, though he fell short of the 50% benchmark required to avoid a run-off the following year. The ruling Parti Nigérien pour la Démocratie et le Socialisme (pnds) scored a good 48% of the votes for the national assembly. Issues that dominated electoral debates included the results of a government audit that uncovered embezzlement in defence procurement contracts. The security situation remained precarious. In the south-east Boko Haram forces staged erratic attacks, and in the north-west jihadist forces wreaked havoc in the border regions with Mali and Burkina Faso. Western ngo staff were murdered while on an outing in the Kouré national park famous for its giraffes. France declared all of Niger a ‘red zone’, save the capital Niamey. This compounded the downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which depressed oil prices and turned growth forecasts negative. Food security was precarious as a result of the cereal shortfall the preceding year. Rains were abundant and augured well for the next harvest, though torrential rains and flooding destroyed crops in several localities.

The security situation in the north-west massively deteriorated as jihadist forces in the frontier regions with Mali and Burkina Faso began targeting civilians. This was in revenge for the formation of civilian defence militias but the change in tactics also involved efforts to drive peasants out of the countryside – insurgent forces often being drawn from pastoralist (Peul) communities that had become increasingly embroiled in conflicts over land. The escalation of violence led to record casualties. Peasants working their fields, people attending mosque or funerals, and children were targeted. As a result, anti-French sentiments erupted into the open as the population became increasingly frustrated over their ally’s (and their own government’s) inability to re-establish security. In March, just after the presidential run-off won by Mohamed Bazoum and before his investiture, army officers attempted a coup d’état which was put down by presidential guards. Bazoum managed to consolidate his grip on government. Foreign relations continued to be dominated by security issues. Growth rebounded somewhat despite the closure of one of the uranium mines. Cereal harvests were poor as a result of insufficient rains and rural insecurity.