How Real Is for Aliyev the Threat of Islamists Returning From the Middle East?
With the defeat of extremist groups in Syria and Iraq, Islamists began to return to their countries. According to various information, they are instructed to create "sleeping cells" on the ground, involving new members, expanding resources to become active when needed. This means that the threat of Islamic extremism is more real in those countries whose citizens are fighting in the ranks of extremists in Syria and Iraq. It should be noted that neighboring Azerbaijan is also one of these countries; among the terrorists fighting in Syria and Iraq there are about 1000 citizens of Azerbaijan.
About the seriousness of the problem of the return of terrorists also speak the fact that among the reasons for the sudden early presidential elections in Azerbaijan was the factor of the return of Islamists from the Middle East.
It should be noted that, despite the secular nature of Azerbaijan, in the recent years the influence of the Islamic factor has increased significantly among the Azerbaijani society. This is evidenced by the results of various surveys, as well as recent legal trials against Islamists.
The spread of Islamic sentiments in Azerbaijani society is due to a number of factors. Thus, after independence from the Soviet Union, various Islamic organizations financed by Iran, Turkey and the Gulf monarchies, including Salafian and Wahhabi, were granted the opportunity to work actively in Azerbaijan. In the conditions of social injustice and repression in Azerbaijan, Islamic ideologies, propaganding social justice, began to spread rapidly.
At the same time, since independence, the Azerbaijani society is in active search of its national identity. The lack of a clear answer in this matter, the Azerbaijani society began to perceive religion as part of the national identity. Aliyev's active policy on the representation of Azerbaijan as part of the Muslim world promotes the spread of this perception.
Although the Azerbaijani authorities pursue a rather cautious policy towards Islamic organizations, regularly pressuring on Islamic organizations, prohibiting their activities, but the above mentioned factors continue to provide fertile ground for the spread of Islamist sentiments among Azerbaijani society.
In the conditions of repression against political opposition, many Azerbaijanis began to perceive Islamic organizations propaganding social justice as an opposition to the current government.
In such circumstances, Islamists who return from Syria and Iraq have a real opportunity to spread their ideology and gain a lot of supporters. This is a serious threat for Aliyev's regime, because Islamic ideas about social justice have already proved by the example of the countries of North Africa and the Middle East, that they can raise the people's waves and lead to the overthrow of the regimes that existed for decades.
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