Bangladesh faces threat of sectarian violence as leaders jockey for power

The prime minister of Bangladesh surrounded by military and police officers attends a mourning ceremony
Dhaka, July 4, 2016: Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (C) pays tribute to hostages killed in the Holey Artisan Bakery terrorist attack (source: dpa)

Growing religious extremism could roll back progress made since the restoration of democracy in 1991

Bangladesh halved its poverty rate between 1990 and 2015, according to the Asian Development Bank

Now the Muslim nation has become hostage to a rivalry between two powerful women who lead the main political parties

On July 1, 2016, during the dinner time rush hour, the Holey Artisan Bakery, a popular cafe in the upmarket Gulshan neighborhood of Dhaka, was seized by five young men – most of them educated and from well-to-do local families. During the siege that followed, these Islamists killed 22 hostages in cold blood, 18 of them foreigners.

The terrorist act attracted international headlines. Normally, unless it gets ravaged by a natural disaster, Bangladesh does not show up on the global media’s radar screens. The rise of militant Islam in the south Asian nation there went unnoticed outside the region. In the past three years, however, some 70 people have been assassinated in Bangladesh in a series of targeted killings of intellectuals, media workers, LGBT activists and critics of Islamic fundamentalism.

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