All analyses in chronological order - Afro-Middle East Centre

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The recently-signed agreement between sections from Libya’s warring factions will likely have little impact as most Libyan political players and militia groups oppose it, and because local initiatives and views were ignored during its conceptualisation.  The deal could increase fragmentation in the already gridlocked Libyan political situation, and provide more space for the growth of the Islamic state group (IS). Further, foreign intervention, under the guise of supporting the new ‘Government of National Accord’ (GNA), is becoming an increasingly distinct possibility, and was key in informing the international community’s support for the deal.

 

 

The agreement, signed in the Moroccan resort of Skheirat, ends a year-long negotiation process. The negotiations followed the reconvening of the General National Congress (GNC) in Libya in August 2014 in opposition to the internationally-recognised House of Representatives (HoR) based in the eastern city of Tobruk. The deal envisages the creation of a seventeen-member government, led by the little known Faez Serraj as prime minister, and deputies representing the provinces of Fezzan, Tripoli and Benghazi, who will be based in Tripoli. The internationally recognised House of Representatives (HoR) will play a legislative role, while the GNC will play an advisory role. Only members from both institutions who had signed the deal will, however, be regarded as being members of the two bodies.

 

Initially a bottom-up process which sought to incorporate civil society and lower level political actors such as mayors and town councillors into a process of finding solutions, the ‘negotiations’ have become a diktat from foreign powers.  Diplomats have threatened sanctions for ‘spoilers’, refused to recognise the results of internal negotiations between the GNC and HoR, and stated that the agreement is unalterable. Further, the credibility of the UN has been tarnished by its partiality in the negotiations process. At the core of this heavy-handed attitude is the fears of foreign powers, particularly the USA and European Union, of migration and the growth of IS. Libya is viewed as a transit hub for African migrants seeking to enter the EU through Malta, a fear amplified by IS’s consolidation in the port city of Sirte. Western states regard Libya as a growing alternate IS base, and thus see intervention as inevitable. Already US and French aircraft have carried out operations in Libya, and Britain and Italy are likely to deploy ground troops in the country. These states therefore seek the formation of a Libyan government which will sanction and coordinate such intervention. It is expected a UN resolution will soon be passed, declaring the new entity as the only recognised Libyan government.

 

The agreement has therefore been criticised by the leaders of both the GNC and HoR as a foreign imposition. Less than half of the members of both institutions (eighty of 180 HoR members, and fifty of 136 GNC members) have signed the agreement – in their personal capacities, critics claim. Further, on the 6 December, the GNC and HoR signed a declaration of intent in Tunis, which envisages the creation of two ten-member bodies to form a unity government and draft a new constitution. This would pave the way for the holding of elections in two years.  The UN’s special envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, dismissed this local process by saying the ‘train had already left the station’, asserting that the UN deal was the only one that would be considered, and imploring all factions to sign it. Consequently, the UN deal is unlikely to be respected by the GNC and HoR, and it is difficult to see the new ‘government’ operating out of Tripoli. Further, militia leaders were not involved in the negotiations, and are even less supportive of the agreement than the GNC and HoR. Thus, foreign security will likely be required to protect the new government, weakening its already diminished legitimacy and adding another centre of power into the current civil war. The power of the GNC and HoR will thus be denuded, allowing IS to gain more ground, especially as it begins to create institutions to govern areas it controls, and locals become disillusioned with the failure of the mainstream political actors abilities to govern and provide services.

 

The current situation is a throwback to what Libya faced in April 2011, when the UN and NATO continued  to  advocate regime change even after the Gadhafi regime had accepted the African Union’s road map which would have allowed  for  the development of a local political solution. The failure to involve local, influential actors in the process is a big reason the country currently finds itself in a situation of political gridlock and spiralling insecurity. The UN seems to have failed to learn these lessons. However, the agreement can still be saved if the UN is more flexible and willing to incorporate the local process, which on 14 December saw the heads of the GNC and HoR meet for the first time in an attempt to broker a solution. The UN would also need to stave off calls for foreign intervention and airstrikes – at least until a legitimate political solution incorporating all major players is concluded.

 

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The revelation that the alleged mastermind of the 13 November Paris attacks claimed by the Islamic State group (IS) was of Moroccan descent, the turmoil in Libya, and the general strife in numerous African countries such as Nigeria and Somalia that is being attributed to IS and Al-Qa'ida has sparked speculation that IS is likely to expand within Africa, and even in South Africa.

However, most of these assertions are the result of hurried summaries rather than sober analysis. One news outlet, for example, carried two contradictory headlines on the IS threat in Libya within two days of each other. One claimed IS was ‘struggling to expand in Libya’ and the other that IS ‘could expand from Libya’.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The terror unleashed on Paris streets on 13 November reverberated throughout the world. From the G20 summit in Antalya to social media debates about how only the suffering of white or western bodies is highlighted, the attack continues generating much debate. The most important questions arising from the Paris bombings concern the French response, and what, if anything, the incidents might tell us about the Islamic State (IS) group’s future strategy.

The French government’s response has been multi-faceted. At the domestic level France began investigating the planning and execution of the attacks, and the parliament approved a three-month state of emergency. The French parliament amended the 1955 law governing states of emergency to concentrate power in the hands of the government, and has given wide latitude to police in a manner that undermines human rights and civil liberties in France – similar to laws passed in the USA after the 2011 attacks. Police have been empowered to detain people in their homes without trial, search houses without warrants, break up meetings, impose curfews, and block websites at their whim. The army may also be deployed in French cities. France also worked with Belgian authorities to follow up links the attackers might have had in Belgian. France also announced with Russia that the two states would coordinate their aerial attacks in Syria, after France claimed to have hit IS targets in Raqqa, which IS considers its capital.

Afraid that questions will be raised about their inability to prevent attacks such as the Paris bombings from occurring, no state waging war against IS seems willing to admit that the operation should not have been a surprise, and that more are possible soon. Instead, demands are being made by governments for a freer hand in ‘fighting terrorism’. UK prime minister David Cameron is still attempting to convince the British parliament to approve air strikes inside Syria, and Belgium’s prime minister, Charles Michel, asked parliament to implement stricter measures – such as extending the time for detention without charge to 72 (from 24) hours; the authority to shut down mosques that ‘preach hate’; and to approve an additional 400 million Euros for state security.

While refugees entering Europe have not yet been targeted after the IS attacks, they will likely occasion a growing European military role in the global coalition against IS, and stricter border policies. Such reactions will likely attract the ire of IS and its global sympathisers. Therefore, attempts at duplicating the Paris attacks could continue after IS members realise the great deal of fear created in France, and the potential for such attacks to unleash Islamophobia in the West, both of which are tactical objectives for IS.

The Paris attacks raise the question of whether this is a new phase in IS’s evolution, and whether the group has adopted a new strategy of carrying out terrorist-type operations rather than the insurgency which won it victories in Iraq and Syria a year ago. It is unlikely that IS is substituting one strategy for another. It needs to control and govern territory, otherwise it will be another al-Qa'ida-like entity, after having eclipsed its parent entity as the biggest world enemy. From a strategic perspective, it would not want to invite the wrath of western powers to the extent that will undermine its ability to hold territory. Therefore, the Paris attacks, rather than representing a strategy change, can be explained differently. IS regional affiliates are decentralised, with broad directives to engage in operations in targeted areas; the precise timing and coordination is left to local operatives. France is a target because of its bombing campaign against IS in Syria. Hence, the timing of the attacks in France is probably not significant.

How the IS strategy unfolds in the next few months will provide important hints for the group’s future. Its leaders do not all hold the same views on its strategic objectives. Many are pragmatists, more concerned with fighting an insurgency and controlling territory than undertaking terrorist attacks in western countries. Therefore, it can be expected that high-ranking IS members are not all in favour of operations such as that in Paris because of tactical and strategic considerations, and the fear of eliciting reactions that might be difficult to bear.

Whatever the exact reasons behind the attacks in Paris, which the IS claim of responsibility does not fully explain, it is possible that Paris might not be the last city that IS and its sympathisers will target in the countries whose governments are maintaining a war against it in Iraq and Syria.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Beginnings

Hizbullah was established in 1982, at the height of Lebanon’s fifteen-year civil war, to protect Lebanon’s Shi'a community which, at the time, was one of the country’s most disadvantaged communities. Its main objective was opposition to Israeli aggression against Palestinians and Lebanon, and it hoped to engender a more favourable view of Iran. The party’s most concrete advances occurred after the 1990 Saudi-brokered Taif Accord which ended the civil war. Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon allowed Hizbullah to retain its weapons, unlike other militia groupings which were largely disarmed and incorporated into the country’s formal political and military systems. Hizbullah’s effective guerrilla campaign forced Israel to withdraw from Lebanon in 2000, and the party began playing a more active role in Lebanese electoral politics. Its providing civil services to its mainly Shi'a constituency, and Lebanon’s consociational system which allocates government and the military positions on a sectarian basis, allowed it to punch above its weight. Following the May 2008 Beirut clashes, which saw the deaths of around seventy people, and during which Hizbullah violently and successfully opposed scrutiny of its telecommunications network, the party negotiated a ‘blocking vote’ which allowed its March 8 alliance a third of cabinet seats, and decisions of ‘national importance’ could only be passed with a two thirds majority. This blocking vote has been largely removed in the current government’s working, but Hizbullah is still able to block decisions that negatively affect it through quorum rules.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The outcome of Turkey’s 1 November snap election was an unexpected surge in support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) which will comfortably dominate parliament with 49 per cent of the vote (up from 41 per cent in the June election) and 57 per cent of parliamentary seats. This is in stark contrast to the results of the June election that had produced a hung parliament and led to five months of political and economic instability. This latest outcome sets a different scene for the country’s future social, political and economic agendas as the AKP takes 317 of the 550 parliamentary seats.

With large numbers of refugees arriving in Turkey daily, the Syrian crisis certainly influenced the the socio-economic environment and the election, but there is little doubt that the resumption of violence between the state and the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) was extremely crucial in how votes would be cast. While opposition media, particularly those aligned to the Gulen/Hizmet movement, portray the outcome as a personal victory for the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the results highlight the collective weakness of the three main opposition parties, underlined by the spectacular losses suffered by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) – which shed 40 parliamentary seats – and the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) – with a decrease of 21 seats. Both parties could have been king-makers in a coalition government after June but, like the AKP, they gambled on securing more seats in the second election. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) maintained its position, losing only two seats.

The AKP’s revival as majority party with four million votes more votes than in June can be attributed mainly to a popular desire for ‘stability’ which, many voters believed, can be delivered only by the ruling party. Further, the Kurdish issue and related violence loomed large, and coalition governments in Turkey have historically failed to help in resolving the Kurdish question. Turks became instinctively distrustful of coalition governments after the turbulent 1990s when frequent military interventions into politics became the norm. This week’s outcome can, thus, also be read as an attempt by voters to prevent a situation where Turkey can only be governed by a coalition. Five months ago analysts and exit polls predicted the AKP’s decline as a result of internal and external pressures, particularly because of contestation between the party and its former ally, the Fethullah Gulen movement. The Gulenists’ withdrawing support from the AKP in June strongly influenced the party’s poor showing.

In five months the HDP, which celebrated in June for the 13 per cent of the vote it had received, lost three per cent, while its leadership aimed for 20 per cent. To voters for whom stability was a priority – especially conservative Kurdish voters, the HDP’s unwillingness to distance itself from and condemn the PKK was a major factor for its losses. Votes that the HDP received in June from those who viewed a strong HDP as a check on the AKP’s exercise of power, especially in light of corruption allegations against AKP officials, now switched to the AKP. Some observers suggest that the shock decline in AKP votes in June was a result of punitive voting because of a stagnant economy and rising instability brought on by the Syrian crisis. And nationalists wanted to punish the AKP for its seemingly-dovish approach to the PKK. Images of armed PKK members at check points in Kurdish areas such as Cizre stirred anti-AKP sentiment even within its traditional support base.

But the return of violence on a daily basis – with bombings in Turkey’s major cities, and the Turkish army at war with both the PKK and Islamic State group and with deaths on both sides of the state-Kurdish conflict – turned a large number of voters away from the HDP back to the AKP. Most HDP votes this week came from Turkey’s east, suggesting that Kurds in other areas switched their votes back to the AKP. The ruling party seems to be considered by many as a safe bet during tumultuous times. Some critics argue that the AKP manufactured ‘instability’ in the past five months in order to return precisely the result that this election did, that while the government has not been responsible for all the violence, it created the conditions for it and helped paint the PKK (and politicised Kurds more generally) as Turkey’s enemy – in order to win back the parliament.

If this criticism is correct, it is possible the AKP might consider reviving talks with the PKK now that it is again politically secure. Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK’s imprisoned leader, will likely face increased pressure from Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT), which will want him to support a political solution to the conflict. If he is unwilling or unable to do so, the assumption would be that the PKK strategic leadership centre had shifted to the commanders in the Qandil Mountains, and that Ocalan had become irrelevant.

HDP leaders will face similar pressures. To continue to be recognised as the political voice of Turkish Kurds (at least by the state), they will be expected to distance themselves from the PKK. It will also have to consider how it might strengthen its appeal both to Kurds and to Turkish leftists who supported it in June, but might have deserted it in November. As with all parties, the HDP’s survival partly depends on the Turkish economy. This will be a critical factor for the HDP which won most seats through votes obtained in the east where the economy has been particularly hard hit as a result of the government-PKK battles. To complicate matters further for the HDP, it will have to navigate its ‘debt’ to the Gulen movement whose members voted for the HDP as a way of blocking the AKP and opposing Erdogan.

But with the Kurdish question again becoming the most pressing domestic issue – especially with the renewed war between the state and the PKK, the government will want a strong Kurdish political partner that can be an interlocutor with the PKK and encourage it back to the negotiations table. The AKP will likely see the HDP as such a partner and will want to change that adversarial relationship into one of cooperation.

Paradoxically, the AKP also retained votes from supporters who had been critical of the party’s negotiations with the PKK, but who did not shift their votes to the hardline Turkish nationalist MHP; and it won the votes of MHP nationalists who were encouraged by the government’s recent (deadly) confrontations with the PKK. The MHP’s identity-based policies are viewed by many as incapable of dealing with the new reality, including that of Kurdish parliamentarians, and is losing even leaders because of this. The AKP, then, succeeded in winning the votes of both conservative Kurds (from the HDP), and nationalist Turks (from the MHP) – even though that seems counter-intuitive.

Another factor contributing to the AKP’s success was the revision of its candidate lists since the June election. Many well-known leaders who had reached their three-term limit were unable to stand in June, but, having ‘missed’ an election, became eligible again. In a period of uncertainty the electorate seems to have taken comfort in personalities from the past who are tried and trusted.

While in most elections a weak economy results in the incumbent ruling party losing support, in Turkey it has meant that voters supported the incumbent because they believed it could rescue the economy – as it did over a decade ago.

While the Syrian war is ever-present for all Turks – especially since Turkey hosts two million Syrian refugees who have been partly blamed for the country’s economic woes – it and other foreign policy issues were less important in this election than the PKK issue.

With the question of parliament’s make-up settled for another term, there have been two broad perspectives on a future under the AKP. The optimistic view is that the government, with a secure majority, will be able to deal with the economic, foreign policy and Kurdish issues. The other is that the vote was unfair because of repression, and that the AKP will become more authoritarian, further restrict free expression and increase polarisation.

Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s prime minister and AKP’s chief, acknowledged in his victory speech that polarisation was a problem, and he pledged to form a government that will embrace all Turks. Will he seriously address the problem? Will he reflect that pledge in a new cabinet that includes members of other parties? For many critics of the AKP, the big concern is what they see as Erdogan’s authoritarian tendency and his desire to change Turkey’s political system into a presidential one. Whether this desire or Davutoglu’s pledge will trump will have long-term implications for Turkey.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The recent uprising in East Jerusalem and the Palestinian West Bank points to a clear disillusionment among Palestinian youth, largely caused by Israel’s occupation, its Judaisation of Jerusalem, and the complicity of certain Palestinian political parties.

The intensification of the conflict since the beginning of October, which has caused the deaths of over sixty Palestinians and ten Israelis, was ignited by increased Israeli government sanctioning of visits of nationalist, religious Jews to the Aqsa Mosque, many of whom seek the compound’s destruction. Israel has also severely restricted Muslims access to Al-Aqsa, and increased its monitoring of Muslim groups operating at the compound. In late August and September, Israeli police prevented Palestinian women and men under fifty from visiting the mosque before noon, and in September the Murabitun and Murabitat, informal groups of men and women who offer religious classes and attempt to ensure the ban on Jewish prayer is observed, were declared illegal.

These measures have contravened the ‘status quo’, a situation that has been in place since the eighteenth century, and in terms of which the Aqsa compound will be controlled by Muslims; people of other faiths will be allowed access to the compound but will not be allowed to pray there. This status quo has been repeatedly ratified and upheld over the past two and half centuries – even after Jerusalem was occupied by Israel in 1967, and annexed to Israel in 1980. The 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan commits Israel to ‘respect the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem’. Currently, by mutual agreement between Jordan and Israel, the Aqsa Mosque compound is administered by the Jordanian Waqf. This body also, supposedly in consultation with Israel, monitors Jewish access to the site. Israeli Jewish groups entering the compound are supposed to be accompanied by police, and Waqf guides are to ensure no Jews pray on the site.

The status quo has been violated by Israel numerous times in recent years. For example, Israel often restricts Muslim access to the Aqsa Mosque compound, ranging from completely closing the Old City for Muslims to imposing age limits on those wanting to attend Friday prayers. There are also certain permanent restrictions that are less well-known. A recent privately commissioned report claims that the Israeli government has instructed that when there are Jews present in the compound, Muslim men and women under the age of 50 should not be allowed to enter. Since Israeli groups tour the compound throughout the week, this means that Muslims under 50 are not allowed access to the site every morning from Sunday to Thursday.

Further inflaming the situation, cabinet ministers, including agriculture minister Uri Ariel, who previously advocated the building of the Third Temple on the cite, visited the compound in recent weeks. This raised the ire of many Palestinians who fear the mosque is threatened with partition, as happened to Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque after Zionist fundamentalist Baruch Goldstein massacred twenty-nine worshippers in February 1994 while they were praying. The latest Israeli violations resulted in protests, then running battles inside the compound between Palestinian defenders and Israelis, and culminating in a series of into lone wolf knife attacks on Israeli soldiers and settlers.

The Israeli army responded in its usual, heavy-handed way, and Israel’s defence minister, Moshe Ya’alon, called for a shoot first policy on ‘stabbers and stone throwers’. Neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem have been blockaded by Israeli occupation forces; extra police reservists and civil and border police have been deployed; and the homes of alleged attackers have been destroyed. This further worsened the situation, and the protests and attacks on soldiers have spread to other areas in the West Bank.

These incidents take place within a context of Israel’s increased and intensified control over East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Settler numbers have increased from 150 000 during the Oslo negotiations in 1993 to over 500 000 in 2015, and, to protect these, Israel has instituted measures such as restrictions on Palestinian movement and a minimum ten year jail term for Palestinian’s convicted of stone throwing. Palestinians in the West Bank have also increasingly become victims of settlers’ ‘price tag’ attacks, with little or no repercussions for the perpetrators. The Israeli NGO Yesh Din reports that convictions are obtained in less than two per cent of cases and that over eighty-five per cent of cases are closed before the indictment stage.

Adding to Palestinian frustration, the Palestinian Authority has become increasingly ineffective. Corruption, a lack of political will, and security coordination with Israel (a requirement of the Oslo Agreement), mean that many Palestinians view the PA as part of the problem. Many Palestinian youth – born around the time of the Oslo negotiations or thereafter– have become disillusioned with the PA’s broken promises, causing them to seek different means of articulating their dissatisfaction. This has been compounded by a cynicism among Palestinians about the role of the international community and Arab states. With negotiations non-existent, Palestinians see no end in sight for the Israeli occupation as the region’s and the world’s attention is consumed by the growth of the Islamic State group (IS), and conflicts in Syria, Libya and Ukraine.

Most major Palestinian parties have responded in a haphazard and even contradictory manner. Fatah has called for calm, and deployed its security apparatus to quell the protests in some areas, leading many to accuse it of complicity. Later, it attempted to co-opt the protests, arguing that they were against the occupation. Hamas, on the other hand, expressed support for the protests, advocating the formation of a unified Palestinian position to defend and escalate the uprising. There is little chance, however, that Hamas will want to militarise the uprising from Gaza. It has been accused by some Palestinians of wanting to benefit from the crisis, and its hands-off approach – while repeatedly calling for unity – is likely so that it does not give the impression that it wants to take control of the uprising. It is noteworthy that no party has yet sought to take the lead and formally support the protests, especially the stabbings of Israeli soldiers and settlers. The uprising, thus, is largely a leaderless revolt of Palestinian youth.

Questions over whether this may herald the beginning of the Third Intifada abound, particularly since the people’s anger is similar to that which preceded the first two intifadas, and the lives of Palestinians are more miserable now, especially considering the dire socio-economic conditions of ordinary Palestinians. Compounding this is the hopelessness caused by the lack of leadership. However, the absence of a coherent national movement and established party support raises questions about the sustainability of the protests. It is debatable whether Palestinians will be able to continue the current protest actions and endure its consequences long enough to realise substantial change without the support of established political parties. Furthermore, political fragmentation and the impact of neoliberalism have prevented ordinary Palestinians from being able to formulate a unifying vision.

The Israeli government, supported by Jordan and the Middle East quartet (the USA, EU, Russia and UN), has announced that the status quo at Al-Aqsa will remain in force, and that surveillance cameras will be installed at the compound in an attempt to prevent the protests from spreading. However, this is a disingenuous attempt to deflect attention from the fact that Israel has already been working to alter facts on the ground.

In 2014, over 11 000 Jewish religious nationalist visitors were allowed into the compound, twenty-eight per cent up from the previous year and almost double the 2009 figure. Further, the frequency of these visits increased from bi-weekly in 2012 to around twice or thrice a week in 2014. In August, the head of the notorious Third Temple Movement, Yehuda Glick, privately met with Netanyahu, and subsequently claimed the government was attuned to the needs of fundamentalist Jews regarding Al-Aqsa. The struggle over protection of the compound is thus likely to further intensify and these provocations will ensure that protests endure. This is especially since the protests over Al-Aqsa are a reflection of dissatisfaction with the larger problem of Israel’s occupation, the corruption of the PA, and the lack of political leadership.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Russia’s military involvement in Syria, from the beginning of its aerial bombing on 30 September until the launch of cruise missiles its ships in the Caspian Sea on 7 October, has raised numerous questions about its intentions. Is Russia’s aim in Syria totargetpthe Islamic State group (IS) and pre-emptively eliminate IS Chechen fighters before they return to their homes, as it claims? Or has Russia entered Syria simply toprotect and bolster the Damascus government? And, if Russia continues its military activities in Syria at this level, could its intervention turn into another quagmire like Afghanistan was for the Soviet Union.

The question of whether Russia’s primary objective is to target IS or bolster the Syrian government is based on a false binary from the Syrian and Russia perspectives. Russia has repeatedly ridiculed the idea that there are ‘moderate’ rebels, and has labelled all insurgents as ‘terrorists’, as has been the Syrian government position since the uprising began in 2011. Russia even asked USA to share intelligence on rebels that might be battling IS, ostensibly to avoid targeting them.
Perhaps more important than determining Russian intentions is pondering how otherprotagonists in the Syrian conflict will respond to the latest Russian move. Russia’s bravado is on display; what is unclear is how countries that make up the broad coalition against the Syrian regime – the USA, Turkey, Saudi Arabia (and, to a lesser extent, Qatar, UAE and Jordan) – will respond to Russia’s intervention. Will these states support the Syrian rebels in a manner that will allow them to resist the renewed spirit in the Syrian Arab Army (and various other pro-regime militias), reinvigorated as they are by Russian support?
US response
If Ukraine is any precedent, and considering the general tendency of the US Obama administration in this second presidential term, the USA will not respond to Russian aggression by significantly increasing its support for the rebels. In fact, with all its talk about ‘deconfliction’, the USA is more interested in keeping out of Russia’s way in Syria, while attempting to develop an alternate strategy to confront IS, after having spectacularly failed previously.
Turkey’s response
Following the Russian entry into the Syrian battlefield, Turkey will have to rethink its role and re-evaluate whether it can support the Syrian insurgency in a manner that the latter might be able to confront the Russians. Despite Turkey having been at odds with Russia for a large part of their history, the ruling party, the AKP is in a precarioussituation with a new parliamentary election in less than a month, and an electorate that has to be won over. Further, it is dealing with a renewed Kurdish insurgency led by Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) that has the potential to destabilise parts of Turkey. Also influencing Turkey’s deliberations will be economic and energy ties with Russia that strengthened recently. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hinted that he is willing to reconsider the agreement with Russia on its building the first Turkish nuclear power plant, and also hurting it economically by refusing to buy natural gas from Russia. However, though a change on either of these issues will hurt both Russia and Turkey, the latter will be affected much more than the former. But most importantly, even if Turkey does scale back its economic relations with Russia, it is not clear that this will translate into a greater military commitment towards the Syrian rebels.
Saudi Arabia’s response
Saudi Arabia is in a different situation to Turkey. Since it does not share a border with Syria, its support for Syrian rebels depends on its coordination with Turkey and Jordan over what these countries are prepared to allow along their borders with Syria. Any stronger Saudi rhetoric about supporting Syrian rebels needs, therefore, to be checked against this reality. Second, Saudi Arabia, like Turkey, is tackling numerous problems domestically – such as an increased IS threat within its borders, and the Houthi insurgency in Yemen which, even if pacified in Yemen’s south, will continue to pose a threat along the Yemeni-Saudi border. These factors will likely undermine the Saudi appetite for further fuelling the Syrian insurgency.
But herein lies another dilemma for Saudi Arabia. If it does not increase support for the insurgency, Saudi IS and al-Qa'ida sympathisers will likely be swayed by the argument that their government is an ‘apostate’ regime, and that they are obligated to fight ‘jihad’ against the Russians (also, Syrians and Iranians), thus creating a greater security threat within Saudi Arabia. There are already opinions being voiced in this direction. On the other hand, if Saudi Arabia increases its support for Syrian rebels, such support must be effective enough to force the Russians to withdraw, and to topple the Asad regime. Anything less than that will effectively be a victory for the Syrian regime. With Russians now backing the Syrian government, a rebel victory requires Saudi Arabia to either involve its own military in Syria or sufficiently equip the rebels with anti-aircraft weapons that can be effective against Russian aircraft. Neither of these is realistic, and, therefore, it will not be a surprise if Saudi Arabia accepts the Russian campaign as an invitation to de-escalate its support for the Syrian insurgency.
Conclusion
This, obviously, does not mean that the Syrian rebels will put down their weapons, even if their foreign backers, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and USA cease their support. What it means is that the Russian initiative to form a Syrian contact group – which would include USA, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – might lead to some political reconciliation in which the militarily exhausted rebel groups will be included in a transitional process to give the impression that the Syrian conflict is winding down.
This, however, presupposes that the rebels’ foreign supporters, especially Turkey and Saudi Arabia, are looking to reduce the bloodshed in Syria. That has not, thus far, been the predominant tendency with any of the protagonists in the Syrian conflict; most parties have been bent on bleeding their adversary into submission. It therefore remains to be seen whether the Russian intervention in Syria will force a change in this calculus or entrench the current sensibilities even further.

By Nick Rodrigo

On 1 September, Alejandro Maldonado was installed as Guatemalan president. The choice was controversial due his role in nullifying the conviction of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, who had been sentenced for acts of genocide during the civil war. This thirty-six year war was a particularly brutal episode in Guatemala’s troubled postcolonial history and still leaves deep wounds, particularly on the collective psyche of the country’s Mayan population. Israel’s support of Guatemala government forces during this time is an example of Zionist foreign policy at its most calculated.

During the 1960s the entrenched status of servitude and poverty for Guatemala’s Mayan peasantry led to a series of armed and unarmed insurrectionary movements in the countryside. The state responded with unbridled brutality, attacking anyone deemed to be a dissident, including Mayan activists and trade unionists. In 1982, a coup brought Rios Montt to power; in the same year an Inter-American Human Rights Commission issued a report pointing the blame at the Guatemalan government for thousands of illegal executions and missing persons in the 1970s, particularly against campensinos and Indians. The following year Montt deployed the “Firjoles y Fusiles” (beans and guns) campaign which was essentially a scorched earth military programme against “unruly” villages. Taking on the tactics of his predecessors, Montt entrenched agricultural resettlement schemes into the military’s counterinsurgency plans. His successors emulated his pacification techniques in an attempt to destroy indigenous life and rural existence, replacing it with agricultural cooperatives that maintained the feudal status quo. By the time that the UN had brokered peace in 1996, the http://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/migrate/uploads/mos_en.pdf" target="_blank">UN-backed Historical Clarification Commission estimated the total number of deaths at around 250,000. The report, in line with the findings of a Catholic Church-sponsored truth commission, found that the state’s military operations had a disproportionate toll on indigenous communities, including https://www.ictj.org/our-work/regions-and-countries/guatemala" target="_blank">more than 600 massacres, but also incidents of torture, rape and forced displacement.

Rios Montt finally faced justice on 10 May 2013. Convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, he was sentenced to 80 years in prison. Dozens of survivors gave testimony at his trial; some were women who had been raped repeatedly, others were children when the Guatemalan forces attacked their villages. The killings, displacement and disappearances carried out under Montt and other Guatemalan leaders could not have been conducted to such effect without the special relationship that the country enjoyed with Israel, which extended from agricultural assistance to counterinsurgency techniques.

Beans, guns and training: Zionist support of Guatemalan state repression

Six years before the “Beans and Guns” campaign ripped through Mayan village life, the Israeli government initiated a two-year programme for Guatemalan officials to study agricultural schemes in Israel. The Kibbutzim pioneer culture of Zionism shares much with the Gaucho frontierism of colonial and postcolonial Latin America, and in the 1978-1979 period, about 1,000 Guatemalans were trained by Israeli settlement study centres in Rohovot and other areas. When the Guatemalan congress gave Israel its highest honour in 2009, the speaker commented, “If there is thriving agriculture, it’s an Israeli contribution.” In reality, there is no thriving agriculture which benefits Guatemalans today, with hundreds of thousands of rural families dependent upon aid.

By the late 1970s, reports of human rights abuses by US-trained and armed Guatemalan soldiers were causing headaches for the Carter administration in Washington; the US http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/News/ronald-reagan-finance-genocide-guatemala/story%3Fid=19179627" target="_blank">congress subsequently suspended military aid in 1977. Within months, Israel had stepped in to fill the void with President Ephraim Katzir signing an agreement for military assistance. According to the Stockholm Institute for Peace, Israel supplied Guatemala with $38 million worth of arms during the civil war period. This included Arava aircraft, artillery pieces and gunboats. The Galil assault rifle, an Israeli-made weapon, was standard issue for the Guatemalan army by 1980, with the state owned small-arms production facility in Alta Verapaz producing its ammunition under Israeli licence. Indeed, corporate enterprise was a significant aspect of Israel’s involvement in the Guatemalan civil war, with a number of Israeli firms active on Guatemalan territory, providing services ranging from military equipment to radar control systems to water development projects. Israel also utilised its shadowy arms industry to avoid embarrassing the US, often shuttling arms to Guatemala through intermediaries, normally retired generals and “securocrats” with dual nationalities. In June 1977, Barbados customs agents discovered a shipment of 26 tons of arms and ammunition destined for Guatemala from Israel in an Argentinian cargo plane; similar shipments were discovered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Reagan’s election in 1979 and his http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/11/the-first-principles-of-ronald-reagans-foreign-policy" target="_blank">policy of containment in Central America were exploited by Israel. The late Ariel Sharon engineered a relationship with the US in which Israel would carry out much of its dirty work in the region, in a bid to cement a closer relationship and align the countries’ geostrategic interests. This included funnelling weapons to Nicaragua and El Salvador. In a special report by the New York Times in 1983, it was noted that Israel had a role in supplementing US strategic interests.

Israel had contributed considerably to Guatemala’s counterinsurgency programme by the late 1980s, with at least 300 retired and Israeli government affiliated trainers active in the country, passing-on expertise on everything ranging from computer tracking of insurgents and activists through complex snooping techniques, to training elite troops known as “Kaibiles” for the rural pacification programme.

Nicaragua vs USA: The framework for reparations from Israel

In the International Court of Justice case Nicaragua vs USA, America was forced, due to its military and paramilitary acts in Nicaragua, to pay compensation to the Nicaraguan people. There are a number of merits from this ruling which could be used to draw up a case against Israel. Under paragraph 220 of the case it notes that states are obliged to refrain from encouraging a party to commit violations or provide concrete assistance: “The United States is thus under an obligation not to encourage persons or groups engaged in the conflict in Nicaragua to act in violation of the provisions of Article 3 common to the four 1949 Geneva conventions.” http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/RemedyAndReparation.aspx" target="_blank">Under the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation, it states:

4. In cases of gross violations of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law constituting crimes under international law, States have the duty to investigate and, if there is sufficient evidence, the duty to submit to prosecution the person allegedly responsible for the violations and, if found guilty, the duty to punish her or him […]

Israel’s work in providing Guatemala with military advisors and technical assistance to Rios Montt could constitute such “assistance” for a Guatemalan to conduct genocide and violations of international humanitarian law.

Solidarity of rights

What is most remarkable about the tactics used by the Guatemalan government against the indigenous communities is how much they emulate strategies used by Israel to control and break those under its military occupation. Development towns and forced displacement are official policy used by Israel against its Bedouin population; a http://www.csmonitor.com/1998/1215/121598.intl.intl.5.html" target="_blank">scorched earth policy was deployed in South Lebanon; counterinsurgency techniques used by the Shin Bet are deployed to stifle popular protest by Palestinians. Truth, reconciliation and reparations are amongst the hardest of socio-legal programmes to implement. It has been a long and torturous process for Guatemala’s impoverished and marginalised communities to extract confessions from those guilty of atrocities committed during the war. Any admittance of guilt from Israel, in complicity with Guatemalan state crimes, will be difficult to ascertain. Israel’s intricate web of lobby groups, as well as one of the strongest legal defence teams in the world, would make the task difficult. Nevertheless, by bringing a case to the ICJ, a deeper bond of solidarity between Guatemala’s oppressed peoples and their natural allies in Palestine could well be fostered.

* This article was first published inthe Middle East Monitor

By Nick Rodrigo

Bolivia’s 35-plus indigenous nations make up over 60 per cent of the country’s population and have a long history of struggle with the state. This has linked material grievances to the ethnic segregationist system, which emerged after the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. Palestinians, who are witnessing the plundering of their natural resources, particularly water, by a military occupation with overt commercial interests, could learn much from the Bolivian indigenous movement, which defeated a move to privatise water in 2000.

Infrastructure of dissent

The emerging feudal economy in postcolonial Bolivia centred on the mining industry and the seizure of indigenous lands by a rapacious hacienda creole class. In order to facilitate the incorporation of indigenous peasants into the emerging mining economy, rigid racial categories arose in which indigenous peoples were deemed eligible only as labourers, with no access to membership of the full citizenry. This contributed to the emergence of an indigenous class movement in Bolivia, which centred on a crystalizing infrastructure for dissent. This informal infrastructure was based upon the multi-faceted institutions of the tin-miners’ movement/indigenous agrarian class, and was informed cognitively by an Andean culture of insurrection, drawing on the memory of King Tupaj Aamuru’s gallant stand in the face of Spanish colonial forces. Radical ideologies began to blossom from this infrastructure, which drew on facets of Marxism and indigenous anarchism, fastening a renascent indigenous identity politics onto material realities. This indigenous dissent manifested itself at varying moments across the 20th century.

The water wars

By 1999, the neoliberal counter-revolution of the 1980s had consigned vast swathes of Bolivia’s indigenous peoples to abject penury, with 80 per cent of Quechua living in poverty. Financial accountability to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) through structural adjustment loans meant the infiltration of a market logic into Bolivia’s domestic politics. In 1999 the multi-billion dollar international corporation Bechtel drew up the Aguas del Tunari, with local Cochabamba officials. Bechtel and its co-investors were granted control of Cochabamba City’s water company for forty years and guaranteed an average profit of 16 per cent for each of those years. The resultant 43 per cent increase in water rates for the poorest families pushed the unions and indigenous peasant class over the edge. In 2000 a series of pitched battles, strikes and walkouts by trade unions and other organisations was staged which came to be known as the Cochabamba water war. The central organising actor was the Coordinadora, a coalition of irrigators, coca growers and coca cutters. One of the central tactics used by the Coordinadora was roadblocks, one which had been part of the resistance repertoire of the miners’ unions during the 1970s. After months of coordination, demonstration and state retaliation, representatives from Bechtel fled the city and then the country, and President Banzer was forced to cancel the contract. Cochabamba reacted with jubilation, with Coordinadora leaders flying back from remote prisons in Bolivia’s interior to a heroes’ welcome.

Grassroots mobilisation had faced down the government of a dictator, and overcome the power of one of the world’s largest corporations. It also brought the insurrectionary nature of indigenous politics into sharper focus, and more coordination. By 2002, Evo Morales, leader of the coca growers’ unions, ran for the national presidency as head of MAS (Movement towards Socialism). Linking neoliberalism to the regulation of access to resources for Bolivia’s poorest made him a standout candidate, and he was duly elected in 2005

Four years later, the long battle for equal access to natural resources secured a legislative victory with the passage of Bolivia’s “plurinational” constitution. This guaranteed the right to water on the “principles of solidarity, complementariness, reciprocity, equity, diversity and sustainability”, whilst also passing provisions relating to the equitable and sustainable use of Bolivia’s resources and the reacquisition of land for indigenous use.

Water in the West Bank

In the occupied and colonised West Bank, one manifestation of the apartheid reality for the 1.7 million Palestinians and 628,000 Israeli settler-colonists who live there is the unequal access to water. On average, a settler lives on 350 litres of water per day, whereas Palestinians live on an average of 73 litres; for the 113,000 Palestinians not hooked up to the water grid, it can be as low as 20 litres. Access to water is monitored tightly by the occupation regime, which has intertwined with the economics of occupation to limit Palestinian access.

Under Article 40 of the Oslo Accords, Israel recognised Palestinian water rights in the West Bank, but it did not take into account the excessive allocation of water to the 179 West Bank settlements, with no cap on their water supply. Oslo allocated 80 per cent of the water pumped from one of three underground water reserves to Israelis, and only 20 per cent to the Palestinians. The deal also created the Joint Water Committee (JWC), an Israeli-Palestinian body in charge of every water project (Palestinian and Israeli) in the West Bank; it is subject to the power imbalances which characterise the PA’s relationship with Israel since the former’s inception. Israel has effective veto over any water project, a veto not accorded to the Palestinians. This has resulted in a high number of Palestinian water projects being delayed and rejected between 1995 and 2010; only one Israeli project was rejected during this time.

Delays and rejections are carried out at the behest of an array of complex military orders, which have governed the West Bank since 1967. Military Order 92 transferred full authority over all water concerning issues in the West Bank from various local utilities to an Israeli official appointed by the military commander for “Judea and Samaria”. Military Order 158 introduced a permit system for all water projects; permits must be obtained when approaching the JWC. Finally, Military Order 291 declares all water resources to be the property of the State of Israel.

Privatising water: a free drink for the occupation

In 1982, Israel’s Mekorot water company took over responsibility for the water resources in the West Bank; by 2007, the company was state-owned. For Palestinians not linked to the water grid, mostly in Area C, water must be obtained from Mekorot filling stations. The most common form of dependency is through Mekorot-supplied Palestinian water institutions. The 80:20 water supply means that Palestinian water institutions have to purchase water from Mekorot in order to supply their customers; the water is often from aquafers in the West Bank. In short, Palestinians are buying their own water. “The lack of availability of Palestinian water resources has led to chronic shortages among Palestinian communities in Area C and a dependence on Mekorot” commented a UNHCR report. “Mekorot supplies almost half the water consumed by Palestinian communities.” Not surprisingly, Mekerot’s equity stands at $1.58 billion.

Infrastructure of dissent and the possibility of a “water intifada”

Since Oslo, the infrastructure for dissent which has characterised Palestinians’ relationship with Israel has become disaggregated, with the leadership class falling in line with the occupation through micromanagement of its most egregious consequences. The impending environmental security crisis which faces Palestinians over their access to water, is unprecedented; in the Gaza Strip, the situation is even worse.

Power must be reclaimed at a grassroots level, through the resurrection of the ideals of “Sumud” (steadfastness), which drove the first intifada. Fastening these ideals onto the seizure of water by the Israeli occupation could galvanise a new movement, which brings other material realities into the forefront of contemporary Palestinian resistance. The indigenous movement in Bolivia ground the state to a halt by reacting to a new phase in their centuries-long oppression — the privatisation of their water. By resurrecting the ideals of insurrection, which has characterised contemporary Palestinian nationalism, a new phase in Palestinian resistance could emerge; one which links the occupation to the fundamentals of life in Palestine.

* Nick Rodrigo is a research associate at the Afro-Middle East Centre in Johannesburg; his writing has appeared in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed

* This article was first published in the Middle East Monitor

Bolivia’s 35-plus indigenous nations make up over 60 per cent of the country’s population and have a long history of struggle with the state. This has linked material grievances to the ethnic segregationist system, which emerged after the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. Palestinians, who are witnessing the plundering of their natural resources, particularly water, by a military occupation with overt commercial interests, could learn much from the Bolivian indigenous movement, which defeated a move to privatise water in 2000.

Infrastructure of dissent

The emerging feudal economy in postcolonial Bolivia centred on the mining industry and the seizure of indigenous lands by a rapacious hacienda creole class. In order to facilitate the incorporation of indigenous peasants into the emerging mining economy, rigid racial categories arose in which indigenous peoples were deemed eligible only as labourers, with no access to membership of the full citizenry. This contributed to the emergence of an indigenous class movement in Bolivia, which centred on a crystalizing infrastructure for dissent. This informal infrastructure was based upon the multi-faceted institutions of the tin-miners’ movement/indigenous agrarian class, and was informed cognitively by an Andean culture of insurrection, drawing on the memory of King Tupaj Aamuru’s gallant stand in the face of Spanish colonial forces. Radical ideologies began to blossom from this infrastructure, which drew on facets of Marxism and indigenous anarchism, fastening a renascent indigenous identity politics onto material realities. This indigenous dissent manifested itself at varying moments across the 20th century.

The water wars

By 1999, the neoliberal counter-revolution of the 1980s had consigned vast swathes of Bolivia’s indigenous peoples to abject penury, with 80 per cent of Quechua living in poverty. Financial accountability to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) through structural adjustment loans meant the infiltration of a market logic into Bolivia’s domestic politics. In 1999 the multi-billion dollar international corporation Bechtel drew up the Aguas del Tunari, with local Cochabamba officials. Bechtel and its co-investors were granted control of Cochabamba City’s water company for forty years and guaranteed an average profit of 16 per cent for each of those years. The resultant 43 per cent increase in water rates for the poorest families pushed the unions and indigenous peasant class over the edge. In 2000 a series of pitched battles, strikes and walkouts by trade unions and other organisations was staged which came to be known as the Cochabamba water war. The central organising actor was the Coordinadora, a coalition of irrigators, coca growers and coca cutters. One of the central tactics used by the Coordinadora was roadblocks, one which had been part of the resistance repertoire of the miners’ unions during the 1970s. After months of coordination, demonstration and state retaliation, representatives from Bechtel fled the city and then the country, and President Banzer was forced to cancel the contract. Cochabamba reacted with jubilation, with Coordinadora leaders flying back from remote prisons in Bolivia’s interior to a heroes’ welcome.

Grassroots mobilisation had faced down the government of a dictator, and overcome the power of one of the world’s largest corporations. It also brought the insurrectionary nature of indigenous politics into sharper focus, and more coordination. By 2002, Evo Morales, leader of the coca growers’ unions, ran for the national presidency as head of MAS (Movement towards Socialism). Linking neoliberalism to the regulation of access to resources for Bolivia’s poorest made him a standout candidate, and he was duly elected in 2005

Four years later, the long battle for equal access to natural resources secured a legislative victory with the passage of Bolivia’s “plurinational” constitution. This guaranteed the right to water on the “principles of solidarity, complementariness, reciprocity, equity, diversity and sustainability”, whilst also passing provisions relating to the equitable and sustainable use of Bolivia’s resources and the reacquisition of land for indigenous use.

Water in the West Bank

In the occupied and colonised West Bank, one manifestation of the apartheid reality for the 1.7 million Palestinians and 628,000 Israeli settler-colonists who live there is the unequal access to water. On average, a settler lives on 350 litres of water per day, whereas Palestinians live on an average of 73 litres; for the 113,000 Palestinians not hooked up to the water grid, it can be as low as 20 litres. Access to water is monitored tightly by the occupation regime, which has intertwined with the economics of occupation to limit Palestinian access.

Under Article 40 of the Oslo Accords, Israel recognised Palestinian water rights in the West Bank, but it did not take into account the excessive allocation of water to the 179 West Bank settlements, with no cap on their water supply. Oslo allocated 80 per cent of the water pumped from one of three underground water reserves to Israelis, and only 20 per cent to the Palestinians. The deal also created the Joint Water Committee (JWC), an Israeli-Palestinian body in charge of every water project (Palestinian and Israeli) in the West Bank; it is subject to the power imbalances which characterise the PA’s relationship with Israel since the former’s inception. Israel has effective veto over any water project, a veto not accorded to the Palestinians. This has resulted in a high number of Palestinian water projects being delayed and rejected between 1995 and 2010; only one Israeli project was rejected during this time.

Delays and rejections are carried out at the behest of an array of complex military orders, which have governed the West Bank since 1967. Military Order 92 transferred full authority over all water concerning issues in the West Bank from various local utilities to an Israeli official appointed by the military commander for “Judea and Samaria”. Military Order 158 introduced a permit system for all water projects; permits must be obtained when approaching the JWC. Finally, Military Order 291 declares all water resources to be the property of the State of Israel.

Privatising water: a free drink for the occupation

In 1982, Israel’s Mekorot water company took over responsibility for the water resources in the West Bank; by 2007, the company was state-owned. For Palestinians not linked to the water grid, mostly in Area C, water must be obtained from Mekorot filling stations. The most common form of dependency is through Mekorot-supplied Palestinian water institutions. The 80:20 water supply means that Palestinian water institutions have to purchase water from Mekorot in order to supply their customers; the water is often from aquafers in the West Bank. In short, Palestinians are buying their own water. “The lack of availability of Palestinian water resources has led to chronic shortages among Palestinian communities in Area C and a dependence on Mekorot” commented a UNHCR report. “Mekorot supplies almost half the water consumed by Palestinian communities.” Not surprisingly, Mekerot’s equity stands at $1.58 billion.

Infrastructure of dissent and the possibility of a “water intifada”

Since Oslo, the infrastructure for dissent which has characterised Palestinians’ relationship with Israel has become disaggregated, with the leadership class falling in line with the occupation through micromanagement of its most egregious consequences. The impending environmental security crisis which faces Palestinians over their access to water, is unprecedented; in the Gaza Strip, the situation is even worse.

Power must be reclaimed at a grassroots level, through the resurrection of the ideals of “Sumud” (steadfastness), which drove the first intifada. Fastening these ideals onto the seizure of water by the Israeli occupation could galvanise a new movement, which brings other material realities into the forefront of contemporary Palestinian resistance. The indigenous movement in Bolivia ground the state to a halt by reacting to a new phase in their centuries-long oppression — the privatisation of their water. By resurrecting the ideals of insurrection, which has characterised contemporary Palestinian nationalism, a new phase in Palestinian resistance could emerge; one which links the occupation to the fundamentals of life in Palestine.

Nick Rodrigo is a research associate at the Afro-Middle East Centre in Johannesburg; his writing has appeared in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Relations between the two countries were non-existent since the 1979 Islamic revolution and the subsequent US embassy hostage crisis which resulted in the deaths of around fifty Americans. The USA then militarily and financially supported Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in a war against Iran. It also maintains a trade embargo on Iran, and has spearheaded sanctions – including secondary sanctions – against the country. Considering the US strategic relationship with Israel, and its support for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, it was expected that it would be difficult for the administration of US President Barack Obama to win the Senate vote. The powerful pro-Israeli lobby in the USA, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) spent over 30 million dollars in the past few months lobbying US Congress and senate members to support the motion rejecting the deal. However, Obama secured the votes required to filibuster the motion in the week before the debate on it, and was able to successfully withstand two other attempts to pass similar motions.

Despite this victory for the deal, it will not significantly alter US-Iranian relations, and the US trade embargo on Iran will continue. The USA will now permit ‘international’ companies to trade with Iran using the US financial system, thus allowing EU and Asian oil trade to resume and investment into the Iranian economy to dramatically increase. But a US embassy will not be opening in Tehran anytime soon, nor is Iran rushing to despatch an ambassador to Washington. The nuclear deal is an arms control treaty whose language and details have much to do with technical specificities, compliance mechanisms and inspection details. It is, according to both the USA and Iran, transactional. The Obama administration has called it a solution to ‘one of many problems’ associated with the Islamic Republic, while Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei promoted it as ‘heroic flexibility’ necessary to extract concessions from the USA. While US policymakers are concerned about Iran’s support of proxies, and its attempts to undermine US interests, many in Iran fear the deal is aimed at weakening the regime and that too many concessions had been made to achieve it.

Future US-Iranian relations arising out of the deal will likely be similar to relations between China and the USA following US President Richard Nixon’s agreement with China in 1972. After the communiqué about the agreement between the two states had been issued, the Chinese government increased its support to Viet Cong forces fighting US troops in Vietnam; the Cultural Revolution continued; and Beijing maintained its support to guerilla groups in Africa and Asia.

Only seven years later, in 1979, under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping did China begin to rethink its foreign policy. Although China is now fully integrated into the international system, it still opposes US interests. It is employing its military might to secure resource-rich disputed islands in the South China Sea, has utilised its UN Security Council veto to protect its allies – including Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, and is currently involved in around a dozen WTO disputes with the USA over alleged infringement of intellectual property and trade violations. The evolution of US-Iranian relations will follow a similar path. Iran is unlikely to simply comply with and accede to the US worldview and interests, especially as US power is waning compared to China, which has a different view on intra- and interstate relations and the nature of the international system.

With the Iran deal having passed through the potentially difficult process in the US Congress, the winner of the 2016 US presidential election will be irrelevant to the future of the agreement. Although the USA is, theoretically, able to unilaterally sanction Iran, it will be extremely tough to implement more nuclear-related sanctions, especially if Iran complies with the stipulations of the agreement. Moreover, the accord was between Iran and the P5+1 (USA, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany), and a unanimous UN resolution gave effect to it once it was concluded. Any US attempts, then, to undermine it will be shunned by the international community, especially by the European Union, meaning that the USA will have to institute sanctions on its own, drastically reducing their effectiveness.

With little opposition to the deal being expected from Iran, especially since it has largely been supported by Khamenei, it will take full effect in January 2016, and will quickly become irreversible, with Iran being the biggest winner from it. However, it is not an indicator of broad rapprochement between Iran and the West; indeed, by allowing Iran greater flexibility in its operations in the Middle East region, the agreement may in the short term even allow the Islamic republic to undermine western interests in the region, especially in Syria and Iraq.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The refugee crisis currently affecting Europe has elicited comparisons to the refugee crisis resulting from the Second World War. This comparison, while worthwhile insofar as it has helped mobilise sections of the European community to assist the refugees, misses a key point: the Middle East and African regions are confronting the refugees crisis to a far greater extent than Europe. Europe is seeing merely a fallout of the crisis that is catastrophically affecting Lebanon, Turkey and certain other Middle East nations. Refugees making their way to Europe represent barely 0.068 per cent of the total European population, while over 25 per cent of the residents of Lebanon are refugees.

Refugees seeking rehabilitation in Europe are from many countries, with the largest group being from Syria. As Eurostat illustrates, the number of people seeking asylum in Europe from Syria numbered 130 000 in 2014, far more than the next largest group – from Afghanistan – numbering 40 000. The ‘refugee crisis’ is, then, primarily the result of four years of protracted war in Syria.

Unfortunately, the focus only on refugees distracts from the larger need to urgently resolve the Syrian crisis, and there is no concrete effort in this regard. Thus, even though some sections of European society have redeemed themselves with great humanitarian gestures and the acceptance of refugees  – Germany’s Angela Merkel and Catholic leader Pope Francis stand out amongst these, the ongoing refugee crisis is a deeper indictment of the global political elite, whether in the UN Security Council or in capital such as Damascus, Tehran, Istanbul and Riyadh, from where the war and violence in Syria has been fuelled without an end since 2011.

This indictment is at two levels. First, it relates to their inability to limit the spread of violence within the Middle East and Africa. And if the chaos of Syria, Iraq, Libya, Eritrea, Central African Republic, Nigeria, South Sudan and Somalia was not enough, the misery of the Yemeni people from March also lies at their doors. Second, it points to the shambolic handling of the refugee crisis resulting from the wars the region has experienced in the past few years.

A bigger picture of the refugee crisis is necessary, as illustrated by the following facts. For 2015, the UNHCR has appealed for more than $4.5 billion just to address the needs of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and the rest of North Africa. This does not include the six million Syrians internally displaced in their home country, and who the UN cannot access. However, only thirty-seven per cent of these funds have been made available to the UN agency. Further, even with the global outpouring of grief for the refugees who died in the Mediterranean, especially after the widespread publication of pictures showing drowned babies like Aylan and Galip Shenu, UK prime minister David Cameron could promise to accept only 20 000 Syrian refugees over the next five years, in a radical departure from the greater goodwill exhibited by Germany. Also, Gulf Arab countries, without whose financial and logistical support the Syrian war could not have been sustained for almost five years, have refused to resettle refugees in their countries, citing concerns about demographic disproportionality and their financial assistance for refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Such data show the effective apathy of the global political elite to the suffering of these dispossessed refugees. This is compounded by another factor: the tendency of the global media and audience to take notice of an issue only when it affects white Europe or North America. While the refugees struggling to make their way into Europe are part of the media splurge witnessed from USA to Australia, and including South Africa, there is still insufficient attention being paid to refugees who are struggling to find inhabitable spaces within the Middle East and Africa. Especially noteworthy in this regard is the movement of Yemeni refugees to the Horn of Africa. The bombing of Yemen has already created 1.5 million refugees in less than six months, but is getting barely a mention in the global fixation on the ‘European refugee crisis’. The International Organization for Migration estimates that almost 60 000 refugees have arrived in Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia from Yemen since March. It is a fair question to ask why these refugees do not get as much attention as the ones who have drowned in the Mediterranean or have been held back in Hungary.

This oversight highlights the Eurocentrism that still plagues the humanitarian concern that is driving the discussion over the ‘European refugee crisis’. Indeed, this very label should be changed, and, since it is a result of the Syrian civil war, it should be called the the ‘Syrian crisis’ instead. Further, the discussion should be broadened to include refugee crises affecting other parts of the world; if the world’s concern is the well-being of refugees, then it must be understood that there are other places that also need drastic humanitarian assistance. Above all, this refugee crisis should not become a reason to detract from the political failings of the global political elite, which can and should do more to stop wars, rather than simply bandaging some wounds created as a result of their actions.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Allegedly, the current Saudi-led onslaught on Yemen has already caused destruction that resembles the destruction wrought in Syria over the last four years. However, the war in Yemen, like the Syrian crisis, cannot simply be viewed through a domestic Yemeni lens,  for Yemen has become a playground for various regional forces carving out their alliances and rivalries within the matrix of the greater Middle East cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. These alliances, rivalries and the intentions of the various actors – including those who are geographically only peripherally attached to this regional system – must be understood within the framework of this confluence of multiple aims and objectives.
Two of those peripherally-attached countries are Turkey and Pakistan. While Turkey straddles the boundaries between the Middle East and Europe and Central Asia, and Pakistan occupies the area separating the Middle East from South Asia, both countries are often inextricably drawn into the conflictual Middle East regional system, usually despite their best efforts. The war in Yemen is illustrative of these dynamics. Pakistan’s response to the Saudi war on Yemen is a good recent case to explore these machinations.
Pakistani-Saudi relations
 
The history of Pakistan-Saudi Arabia relations is long, and has frequently been described by roleplayers in both countries as strong and dependable. The close collaboration between the two states in the 1980s against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan is often cited to substantiate this point. Additionally, the Pakistani ruling party and its prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, also enjoy exceptionally close ties with the Saudi royal family. When Sharif’s government was overthrown in 1999 by the then-military chief General Pervez Musharraf, Sharif chose Saudi Arabia for his exile, and has since benefited from Saudi largesse, both in his personal capacity and on behalf of Pakistan during his current tenure as prime minister. Examples range from 200 tonnes of dates gifted to Pakistan to a $1.5 billion loan to support the Pakistani economy – both in 2014.
The general Pakistani population also holds the kingdom in high regard, and a recent survey showed that ninety-five per cent of Pakistanis view Saudi Arabia favourably. The prestige that Saudi Arabia claims for itself as the caretaker of the two holiest Islamic sites no doubt plays a significant role in this sentiment.Military cooperation between the two countries is also decades old. Pakistani pilots flew Royal Saudi Air Force jets in 1969 to repel incursions from South Yemen; more than 15 000 Pakistani troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s and 1980s; and Pakistani troops were deployed to protect the kingdom from Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf war in 1990. Pakistan also assisted Saudi Arabia in providing trainers and anti-aircraft and anti-tank weaponry to Saudi-backed rebels in Syria. And there is much speculation that Pakistan, the only Muslim state with a nuclear arsenal, could include Saudi Arabia under its nuclear umbrella in the event of Iran becoming a nuclear weapons power, or that it might transfer nuclear weaponry or weapons technology to Riyadh.
It was therefore not far-fetched to assume that Pakistan would support Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Expectations for such support were bolstered by Saudi and other Gulf officials, and by a visit of the Pakistani defence minister, Khawaj Asif, to Riyadhas the Sharif government mulled over the level of support it could offer to the Saudis in Yemen. Arab media, especially the Saudi Al-Arabiya channel, were reporting that Pakistan would despatch jet fighters and warships to take part in the Yemeni campaign, Operation Decisive Storm. However, after various high level delegations from Pakistan, including military officials, cabinet members and the Pakistani prime minister had visited and assured the Saudis of Pakistani support, Sharif put the matter to the Pakistani parliament for a decision. In aunanimous decision, the parliament decided to turn down the Saudi request for assistance in Yemen, fearing that it could spark Shi'a-Sunni sectarian violence inside Pakistan. Parliament was also concerned about stretching the army too thinl by engaging in a foreign war while Pakistan itself faced multiple internal insurgencies.
Saudi and Gulf anger
 
That the Saudis were upset by Pakistan’s stance was obvious to most observers of the two countries, despite Saudi attempts at suggesting that they regarded the Pakistani decision as anissue internal to Pakistan. In contrast, the sharp outburst by the UAE foreign minister, Anwar Gargash, calling Pakistan’s decision to withhold troops ‘contradictory, dangerous and unexpected’ indicated that senior decision-makers within the Gulf Cooperation Council, especially Saudi Arabia, were bitterly disappointed by Pakistan. Thereafter, diplomatic initiatives between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia over the former’s support for the Saudi war in Yemen came to a standstill, despite a meeting between Pakistani president Mamnoon Hussain and the Saudi king, Salman bin Abdul Aziz. The meeting was, at best, symbolic rather than a real effort to evaluate and reinvigorate bilateral relations.
It remains unclear whether Pakistan’s decision on Yemen indicates the country inclining toward Iran as the latter furthers its reconciliation with western countries, and whether a new Pakistani-Iranian relationship will be at the expense of the South Asian state’s previous cosy relationship with Saudi Arabia. It is possible that the decision was simply a demonstration of Pakistan’s desire to chart an independent foreign policy formed solely in its national interests – particularly its concern to contain sectarian tensions internally, as parliamentarians suggested during their five-day deliberations on Yemen. Certain Pakistani commentatorswould certainly prefer their country to act simply on the basis of its own interests, and not to become embroiled in battles between other Muslim states.
Iran replacing Saudi Arabia?
 
Caution must be exercised with respect to the question about Pakistan’s allegiances. From the perspectives of the two antagonists – Saudi Arabia and Iran – the battle over Pakistan is most likely azero-sum game, with Pakistan being forced to choose one over the other. After all, Iran freed from sanctions would be able to provide similar kinds of support to Pakistan as Saudi Arabia, especially in terms of oil concessions and economic aid. With Iran expected to receive around $100 billion just from funds held in escrow from past oil sales, it is likely to be able provide cheap oil and aid to Pakistan.
The Pakistan foreign ministry welcomed the Iranian nuclear deal, expressing its desire to expand trade between the two countries, and to continue with the Iran-Pakistan pipelineproject, which will likely run from Asalouyeh in the Iranian Southern Pars gas field, through the Pakistani provinces of Balochistan and Sindh, to Karachi and Multan. Multan might also become the site from where the pipeline will extend towards Delhi in India. The pipeline project will go a long way in helping Pakistan solve its energy needs, and will also build on Pakistani collaboration with China, which seems willing to step in and bolster Pakistan in the event of a Gulf or Saudi withdrawal. China is busy constructing the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that will link southwestern Pakistan to northwestern China, playing a crucial role in regional integration of China, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Myanmar. Mushahid Hussain, a senior Pakistani political figure and chair of the Pakistan-China Institutedescribed the project as an integration of South Asia and East Asia into a ‘Greater South Asia’. He provides a window into how the Pakistani foreign policy establishment might be calculating a decreasing dependency on Gulf and Arab partners.
Another, more important, factor that might push Pakistan closer to Iran is security. Pakistan shares a 904 kilometre-long border with Iran which has seen them cooperate in addressing the Balochi insurgency affecting both countries for decades. Further, because of Iran’s influence in Afghanistan and among politicised Shi'a groups in Pakistan, it represents a force that Pakistan would not want to convert into an enemy. The same cannot be said of Saudi Arabia. While it does have influence over certain Sunni militant groups in Pakistan, most of them depend on logistical support from within the Pakistani security establishment. In other words, between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the former is more capable of negatively affecting Pakistan’s security. Iran has a ready network of suppliers to funnel weapons into Pakistan through Balochistan, a route that is not available to Saudi Arabia.
It should, therefore, not come as a surprise that Pakistan might begin inclining more towards Iran than in the past. Saudi Arabia could play the card of drying up Pakistan’s foreign remittances – as it has done with Yemenis and Somalis previously – by forcefully repatriating Pakistani workers in the kingdom. Their wages remitted to Pakistan represent nearly one-third of its total remittances. Together with remittances from Pakistanis in the UAE, the combined amount accounts for half of the country’s annual total of $18.4 billion in remittances. But it is doubtful whether Saudi Arabia would be ready for such a shock to its economy; Pakistanis represent the second largest group of foreign workers employed in the kingdom after India.
Another indicator that might give a better sense of how Pakistan is juggling its relationships with Iran and Saudi Arabia is the level of diplomatic activity with Iran. While Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have had no high profile exchanges – except for the meeting between Salman and Sharif – since the Pakistani decision to remain neutral on Yemen, the Iranian foreign minister, Javed Zarif, visited Pakistan in April as well as early August; the April visit was while the Pakistani parliament was deliberating on whether to support the Saudi campaign in Yemen. And, earlier this week, on 25 August, a technical delegation from Iran’s commerce ministry landed in Pakistan to explore the possibility of increasing the bilateral trade between the two countries to $5 billion.
Conclusion
 
Pakistan’s decision to stay out of the Yemen conflict is not simply based on concerns that Shi'a-Sunni sectarian tensions might increase within its populace, or that it could not afford to distract its security apparatus away from the various insurgencies within its borders. Rather, it represents a larger regional shift that will likely see Pakistan pivot away from Saudi Arabia into Iran’s embrace, a move that will also be supported by China. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies must be sensing this shift. What steps Saudi Arabia will take to counter this possibility in Pakistan and other countries as Iran grows in confidence remains to be seen. Within the Middle East regional system, the Saudis have played on the hackneyed fault lines of Arab-vs-Persian and Sunni-vs-Shi'a in order to rope in countries such as Jordan and Egypt, as witnessed in the Yemen campaign. Is this a viable option, however? Instead of visiting destruction upon a country, as in Yemen, in order to gain the upper hand in its cold war with Iran, Saudi Arabia might be better off engaging Iran directly. Pakistan seems to be choosing a less hostile course – even if it is not a preferred method of Saudis policymakers. If other countries in the region, especially Turkey, follow the same course, Saudi Arabia might quickly find itself running out of options in its bid for regional hegemony over and against Iran.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Allegedly, the current Saudi-led onslaught on Yemen has already caused destruction that resembles the destruction wrought in Syria over the last four years. However, the war in Yemen, like the Syrian crisis, cannot simply be viewed through a domestic Yemeni lens,  for Yemen has become a playground for various regional forces carving out their alliances and rivalries within the matrix of the greater Middle East cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. These alliances, rivalries and the intentions of the various actors – including those who are geographically only peripherally attached to this regional system – must be understood within the framework of this confluence of multiple aims and objectives.
Two of those peripherally-attached countries are Turkey and Pakistan. While Turkey straddles the boundaries between the Middle East and Europe and Central Asia, and Pakistan occupies the area separating the Middle East from South Asia, both countries are often inextricably drawn into the conflictual Middle East regional system, usually despite their best efforts. The war in Yemen is illustrative of these dynamics. Pakistan’s response to the Saudi war on Yemen is a good recent case to explore these machinations.
Pakistani-Saudi relations
 
The history of Pakistan-Saudi Arabia relations is long, and has frequently been described by roleplayers in both countries as strong and dependable. The close collaboration between the two states in the 1980s against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan is often cited to substantiate this point. Additionally, the Pakistani ruling party and its prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, also enjoy exceptionally close ties with the Saudi royal family. When Sharif’s government was overthrown in 1999 by the then-military chief General Pervez Musharraf, Sharif chose Saudi Arabia for his exile, and has since benefited from Saudi largesse, both in his personal capacity and on behalf of Pakistan during his current tenure as prime minister. Examples range from 200 tonnes of dates gifted to Pakistan to a $1.5 billion loan to support the Pakistani economy – both in 2014.
The general Pakistani population also holds the kingdom in high regard, and a recent survey showed that ninety-five per cent of Pakistanis view Saudi Arabia favourably. The prestige that Saudi Arabia claims for itself as the caretaker of the two holiest Islamic sites no doubt plays a significant role in this sentiment.Military cooperation between the two countries is also decades old. Pakistani pilots flew Royal Saudi Air Force jets in 1969 to repel incursions from South Yemen; more than 15 000 Pakistani troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s and 1980s; and Pakistani troops were deployed to protect the kingdom from Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf war in 1990. Pakistan also assisted Saudi Arabia in providing trainers and anti-aircraft and anti-tank weaponry to Saudi-backed rebels in Syria. And there is much speculation that Pakistan, the only Muslim state with a nuclear arsenal, could include Saudi Arabia under its nuclear umbrella in the event of Iran becoming a nuclear weapons power, or that it might transfer nuclear weaponry or weapons technology to Riyadh.
It was therefore not far-fetched to assume that Pakistan would support Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Expectations for such support were bolstered by Saudi and other Gulf officials, and by a visit of the Pakistani defence minister, Khawaj Asif, to Riyadhas the Sharif government mulled over the level of support it could offer to the Saudis in Yemen. Arab media, especially the Saudi Al-Arabiya channel, were reporting that Pakistan would despatch jet fighters and warships to take part in the Yemeni campaign, Operation Decisive Storm. However, after various high level delegations from Pakistan, including military officials, cabinet members and the Pakistani prime minister had visited and assured the Saudis of Pakistani support, Sharif put the matter to the Pakistani parliament for a decision. In aunanimous decision, the parliament decided to turn down the Saudi request for assistance in Yemen, fearing that it could spark Shi'a-Sunni sectarian violence inside Pakistan. Parliament was also concerned about stretching the army too thinl by engaging in a foreign war while Pakistan itself faced multiple internal insurgencies.
Saudi and Gulf anger
 
That the Saudis were upset by Pakistan’s stance was obvious to most observers of the two countries, despite Saudi attempts at suggesting that they regarded the Pakistani decision as anissue internal to Pakistan. In contrast, the sharp outburst by the UAE foreign minister, Anwar Gargash, calling Pakistan’s decision to withhold troops ‘contradictory, dangerous and unexpected’ indicated that senior decision-makers within the Gulf Cooperation Council, especially Saudi Arabia, were bitterly disappointed by Pakistan. Thereafter, diplomatic initiatives between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia over the former’s support for the Saudi war in Yemen came to a standstill, despite a meeting between Pakistani president Mamnoon Hussain and the Saudi king, Salman bin Abdul Aziz. The meeting was, at best, symbolic rather than a real effort to evaluate and reinvigorate bilateral relations.
It remains unclear whether Pakistan’s decision on Yemen indicates the country inclining toward Iran as the latter furthers its reconciliation with western countries, and whether a new Pakistani-Iranian relationship will be at the expense of the South Asian state’s previous cosy relationship with Saudi Arabia. It is possible that the decision was simply a demonstration of Pakistan’s desire to chart an independent foreign policy formed solely in its national interests – particularly its concern to contain sectarian tensions internally, as parliamentarians suggested during their five-day deliberations on Yemen. Certain Pakistani commentatorswould certainly prefer their country to act simply on the basis of its own interests, and not to become embroiled in battles between other Muslim states.
Iran replacing Saudi Arabia?
 
Caution must be exercised with respect to the question about Pakistan’s allegiances. From the perspectives of the two antagonists – Saudi Arabia and Iran – the battle over Pakistan is most likely azero-sum game, with Pakistan being forced to choose one over the other. After all, Iran freed from sanctions would be able to provide similar kinds of support to Pakistan as Saudi Arabia, especially in terms of oil concessions and economic aid. With Iran expected to receive around $100 billion just from funds held in escrow from past oil sales, it is likely to be able provide cheap oil and aid to Pakistan.
The Pakistan foreign ministry welcomed the Iranian nuclear deal, expressing its desire to expand trade between the two countries, and to continue with the Iran-Pakistan pipelineproject, which will likely run from Asalouyeh in the Iranian Southern Pars gas field, through the Pakistani provinces of Balochistan and Sindh, to Karachi and Multan. Multan might also become the site from where the pipeline will extend towards Delhi in India. The pipeline project will go a long way in helping Pakistan solve its energy needs, and will also build on Pakistani collaboration with China, which seems willing to step in and bolster Pakistan in the event of a Gulf or Saudi withdrawal. China is busy constructing the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that will link southwestern Pakistan to northwestern China, playing a crucial role in regional integration of China, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Myanmar. Mushahid Hussain, a senior Pakistani political figure and chair of the Pakistan-China Institutedescribed the project as an integration of South Asia and East Asia into a ‘Greater South Asia’. He provides a window into how the Pakistani foreign policy establishment might be calculating a decreasing dependency on Gulf and Arab partners.
Another, more important, factor that might push Pakistan closer to Iran is security. Pakistan shares a 904 kilometre-long border with Iran which has seen them cooperate in addressing the Balochi insurgency affecting both countries for decades. Further, because of Iran’s influence in Afghanistan and among politicised Shi'a groups in Pakistan, it represents a force that Pakistan would not want to convert into an enemy. The same cannot be said of Saudi Arabia. While it does have influence over certain Sunni militant groups in Pakistan, most of them depend on logistical support from within the Pakistani security establishment. In other words, between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the former is more capable of negatively affecting Pakistan’s security. Iran has a ready network of suppliers to funnel weapons into Pakistan through Balochistan, a route that is not available to Saudi Arabia.
It should, therefore, not come as a surprise that Pakistan might begin inclining more towards Iran than in the past. Saudi Arabia could play the card of drying up Pakistan’s foreign remittances – as it has done with Yemenis and Somalis previously – by forcefully repatriating Pakistani workers in the kingdom. Their wages remitted to Pakistan represent nearly one-third of its total remittances. Together with remittances from Pakistanis in the UAE, the combined amount accounts for half of the country’s annual total of $18.4 billion in remittances. But it is doubtful whether Saudi Arabia would be ready for such a shock to its economy; Pakistanis represent the second largest group of foreign workers employed in the kingdom after India.
Another indicator that might give a better sense of how Pakistan is juggling its relationships with Iran and Saudi Arabia is the level of diplomatic activity with Iran. While Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have had no high profile exchanges – except for the meeting between Salman and Sharif – since the Pakistani decision to remain neutral on Yemen, the Iranian foreign minister, Javed Zarif, visited Pakistan in April as well as early August; the April visit was while the Pakistani parliament was deliberating on whether to support the Saudi campaign in Yemen. And, earlier this week, on 25 August, a technical delegation from Iran’s commerce ministry landed in Pakistan to explore the possibility of increasing the bilateral trade between the two countries to $5 billion.
Conclusion
 
Pakistan’s decision to stay out of the Yemen conflict is not simply based on concerns that Shi'a-Sunni sectarian tensions might increase within its populace, or that it could not afford to distract its security apparatus away from the various insurgencies within its borders. Rather, it represents a larger regional shift that will likely see Pakistan pivot away from Saudi Arabia into Iran’s embrace, a move that will also be supported by China. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies must be sensing this shift. What steps Saudi Arabia will take to counter this possibility in Pakistan and other countries as Iran grows in confidence remains to be seen. Within the Middle East regional system, the Saudis have played on the hackneyed fault lines of Arab-vs-Persian and Sunni-vs-Shi'a in order to rope in countries such as Jordan and Egypt, as witnessed in the Yemen campaign. Is this a viable option, however? Instead of visiting destruction upon a country, as in Yemen, in order to gain the upper hand in its cold war with Iran, Saudi Arabia might be better off engaging Iran directly. Pakistan seems to be choosing a less hostile course – even if it is not a preferred method of Saudis policymakers. If other countries in the region, especially Turkey, follow the same course, Saudi Arabia might quickly find itself running out of options in its bid for regional hegemony over and against Iran.

By Al-Jazeera Centre for Studies

 

Late on Sunday, 25 January 2015, hundreds of protests broke in various Egyptian cities and towns, followed by attacks on public administration buildings and branches of the Interior Ministry; the burning of dozens of police and security vehicles; blocking of roads and railways all over the country; and even armed attacks on security patrols, with security personnel being ambushed and attacked at roadblocks. Some of these activities continued well into the following morning, with the death toll including more than twenty-five civilians and four security personnel, and with hundreds injured and hundreds more in custody.

This article is an initial reading of the events of that day, and their implications for the futures of both the popular opposition and the regime. It also discusses how regional and global forces view the regime.

Growth of the popular movement

Given the sheer number and spread of protests around the country, it would be nigh on impossible to estimate the number of participants in the popular movement with any measure of accuracy. It is clear, though, that Egypt last week witnessed the largest popular anti-regime gatherings since the sits-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda squares were quelled in August 2013.

There are various reasons behind this escalation by the opposition, not least of which is the prevailing political climate in the country more than one and a half years after the birth of the 3 July 2013 regime. It has also became apparent just how big a reversal Egypt has suffered, from an unstable but free democratic situation to one of oppression, where the iron fist of security routinely slams down on opposition and strangles political freedom, with no sign of stability on the horizon. The acquittal, and subsequent release, of several figures of the Mubarak regime, including Mubarak and his two sons, only reinforce the general feeling that Egypt is rapidly slipping back under the old regime, even if the names of those at the helm have changed. Moreover, the devaluation of the Egyptian pound and the continuing deterioration of the economy have resulted in the strengthening belief that the regime, despite considerable financial support from certain GCC states, is no longer able to contain the runaway economic crisis.

In this climate, different sectors of the population are increasingly joining the opposition movement. But the situation is not confined to growth in the popularity of the movement. In the larger cities, especially Cairo, there are growing signs that some political groups, such as the April 6 movement, the radical left, and opposition student movements have become more willing to take to the streets and participate with the anti-coup National Alliance Supporting Legitimacy in popular demonstrations.

On the other hand, the successive changes in the leadership structure of the Muslim Brotherhood, both within the country and abroad, have boosted confidence among the Brotherhood’s rank-and-file, bolstering the ability of the movement and its sympathisers to mobilise, and reinvigorating its determination to continue its activities against the regime.

However, despite the massive mobilisation, and the sheer number and spread of the demonstrations, it would be premature to suggest that the balance of forces between the opposition and the regime has tilted in favour of the former. A significant majority of Egyptians is still wary of participating in the opposition, either out of fear of the regime and its oppressive machine, out of a collective desire to see a return to stability, or because of support for the regime. Some have been disillusioned by the lack of a viable alternative after the failure of the first attempt at democratic change and the crumbling of the revolutionary masses, while others actually support the regime fearing that Islamists might return to power. In other words, large swathes of the population have yet to reach a sufficient level of discontent to prompt them to go out to the streets and demand the downfall of the regime.

The armed option

The change in the disposition of the popular movement opposing the 3 July 2013 regime is undeniable. Even though the Muslim Brotherhood (the main force behind the anti-coup alliance that has led the opposition throughout the past nineteen months) and its partners in the alliance have adhered to completely peaceful methods in their opposition to the regime, there are some groups in various parts of the country that are resorting to different methods. The subtle indicators of this shift began to appear about a year ago, but by 25 January 2015 they had grown so strong that they can no longer be ignored.

These indicators fall into two main categories:

  1. Vandalism and the destruction and arson of government institutions, police and security stations and vehicles, telecommunications towers, and electric power transformers, as well as the cutting off of roads and railways. More recently, the banking sector was targeted, with calls for people to withdraw their money from various banks.
  2. Organised armed attacks on police and security stations and checkpoints, and attempts on the lives of security officers, judges, prosecutors and informers thought to be involved in the crackdowns.

The goal of the first category is to compromise the regime’s ability to govern and to cripple the state, while the motives of the second are revenge and settling of scores.

There are three groups that have openly claimed responsibility for such actions at different times. The first, Ajnad Misr (Soldiers of Egypt), went public a year ago with a black flag that resembles that of the Islamic State (IS) group. If a relationship, whether direct or indirect, between Ajnad Misr and IS can be confirmed, the group, which operates mainly in the governorates along the Nile Valley, would be the second to declare its allegiance to IS and its jihadi-oriented interpretation of Islam. The first was Ansar Bait al-Maqdis (Supporters of the Holy House), which is active in northern Sinai.

The second group, Harakat al-Iqaab al-Thawri (Revolutionary Retribution Movement), announced itself on 24 January 2015, claiming to have active cells in fifteen of Egypt’s twenty-seven governorates. Despite the obvious difficulties in verifying that claim, the wording of the announcement seemed free of the usual hallmarks of jihadi discourse, suggesting that the group has no jihadi leanings. However, the sheer magnitude of operations for which the group has claimed responsibility is astounding, since these occurred throughout the country, including in Cairo, Alexandria and cities along the Suez Canal.

Both Ajnad Misr and Harakat al-Iqaab al-Thawri appear to have no qualms about carrying out deadly attacks and bombings using triggered devices and time bombs, either targeting specific people or randomly killing security and police personnel. Despite the glaring contrast in discourse between the two, they clearly share the belief that armed violence is part and parcel of dealing with the regime, and that violence is the only course of action to bring about change in Egypt.

The third group, Al-Muqawama al-Shaabiya (Popular Resistance), emerged about six months ago. The wording of its statements suggests a generally jihadi leaning, with close ties to the popular movement. Al-Muqawama al-Shaabiya is inclined more towards vandalism and road-blocking. To date, it is not known to have executed any armed attacks on security forces, even though it has been known to protect protesters from attacks by groups of thugs and criminal gangs believed to be affiliated with the regime’s security apparatus.

Unlike northern Sinai, which has witnessed almost open warfare between the armed forces and Ansar Bait al-Maqdis since the 3 July coup, the magnitude and frequency of vandalism and armed attacks in the governorates along the Nile Valley have not yet reached sufficient intensity to be described as an armed struggle. Unlike in Syria, where the popular movement receded as the armed struggle escalated, armed resistance in Egypt has not even reached a level that it could cripple the state or negatively impact the popular movement. Nevertheless, the magnitude and scale of events that took place on 25 January 2015 did cause the regime’s leaders serious concern.

The illusion of stability

The military officers who led the 3 July coup, and most of the civilian politicians who supported them, were hardly oblivious to the fact that they were desecrating the democratic process, nor were they unaware that their actions were – at least at the time – unwelcome to Egypt’s US and European allies. Washington and various European capitals certainly wanted to tame the rule of President Muhammad Mursi, but they also wanted the change to come about legally and constitutionally. On the other hand, the leaders of the 3 July regime were betting on the huge financial, economic and political support of some GCC countries, especially Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as Israel’s welcoming of the coup. The generals gambled on the probability that these countries would eventually help change the western stance and build legitimacy for the regime. They also wagered that they would quickly be able to establish stability, thus providing a climate for continued Arab support and a gradual shift in the western stance. It would be safe to say that that objective of achieving stability as rapidly as possible became such a high priority for the regime that it made the ill-advised decision to brutally break up the Rabaa and Nahda sits-in in an attempt to end the manifestations of popular opposition and social discord.

During the past eighteen months, the pro-regime GCC governments have pumped more than US$40 billion into the Egyptian treasury and economy. With support from the West, these countries helped the regime to gradually normalise its relations with the USA and Europe. Over the past few months, the regime appeared to be slowly but surely achieving its aim of building an image of stability for the country, despite the repressive actions of the security sector and the tyranny of the judiciary which is aimed at quelling the opposition. But the events of 25 January 2015 demonstrate that the dream of stability is far from being a reality, that the regime is no longer capable of breaking, or even containing, the popular political opposition, and that the country is entering a phase of worsening tension that could be far more destructive than anything it has witnessed over the past year-and-a-half.

Western media outlets have generally displayed substantial interest in that Sunday’s events. Spokespersons for the US State Department, the European Union and a number of European countries expressed concern over the death toll among protesters. The impression of instability will make European governments hesitant to offer Egypt direct financial or economic assistance. Likewise, there are growing signs that the enthusiasm with which some Gulf countries offered direct financial assistance to Egypt has waned since a year ago, either because of the proverbial black hole of corruption that exists deep within the structure of the Egyptian state (as the UAE believes), or due to the rapid, successive changes in the country’s political leadership (as Saudi Arabia has just experienced), or because of the dramatic decline in oil prices (as Kuwait fears). The decline in direct financial support is the only explanation behind the Central Bank’s inability to keep propping up the value of the national currency, and the subsequent dramatic freefall of the Egyptian pound’s value against the US dollar.

Losing control

Since 3 July 2013, the Egyptian regime has repeatedly gambled on the security option to quell opposition and impose stability, and on the financial support of some GCC states to shore up the economy. However, at the fourth anniversary of the uprising, it finds itself staring down the barrel of instability, with more and more segments of the populace trying to cripple the state’s control of the country, and with a rapidly dwindling cash lifeline from the Gulf, which has weakened the Egyptian pound, causing buying power to drop and prices of imported goods to skyrocket, and making the lives of ordinary Egyptians increasingly difficult.

The bottom line is that the growing violence of the opposition and the state’s dwindling ability to build a popular base will inevitably lead to more unrest and lawlessness, which in turn will chip away at the state’s institutions and pave the way for violence to tear into the very fabric of society.

 

*This article was published in terms of a partnership agreement between Al-Jazeera Centre for Studies and AMEC

 

 

By Tariq Dana

According to a recent survey, as many as eighty-one per cent of Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) believe there is corruption in Palestinian Authority institutions. These perceptions are reinforced by the recently-launched annual report of the Palestinian Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN), Transparency International’s Palestinian chapter. These perceptions persist despite much-touted state-building efforts by former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to root out corruption, and are at variance with international reports that suggest there is animprovement in governance.
Corruption has become structural to the Palestinian body politic, and pre-dates the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The problem needs to be tackled at its roots, and cannot be addressed through conventional measures used in other countries, particularly against the background of prolonged Israeli colonisation and occupation and the way in which Israel both reinforces and exploits corruption.[i]

Deconstructing corruption: The patron-client system

Corruption in PA institutions should not be perceived as merely a matter of administrative and financial wrongdoing committed by irresponsible individuals whose behaviour is driven by greed and personal interests.[ii] The scandals that Palestinians hotly debate from time to time – such as embezzlement of public funds, misappropriation of resources, and nepotism – are an outcome of long-standing corruption embedded in the underlying power structure that governs the Palestinian political system, and that were rooted in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) before the Oslo process.
Recent efforts to fight corruption have largely been ‘technical’ in nature, and have focused on such actions as drafting codes of conduct, improving recruitment procedures, and developing preventive measures to deal with specific violations. While such measures are necessary they cannot be sufficient if the political root causes of corruption are ignored. The nature of PA-specific corruption needs to be understood in order to tackle it effectively.
PA corruption is, in effect, a self-enforcing system. Perhaps the primary factor in reproducing and maintaining the corrupt nature of the Palestinian polity is ‘patron-clientelism’.[iii] In Palestine, patron-clientelism is rooted in the social values of kinship and familial ties, which are in turn shaped by factional politics. These social and political ties provide the ruling elite with a strategic tool to control constituents and expand the network of supporters by redistributing public resources in order to buy political loyalties, which in turn helps the ruling elite to preserve the status quo and maintain its dominance over political and economic assets.
Patron-clientelism also contributes to the climate of corruption by arbitrarily favouring incompetent loyal political constituents and excluding skilful people. It thus fosters rivalry among clients who compete to demonstrate their loyalty to the ruling elite. Corruption is further reinforced because one way in which patrons reward loyal clients is by tolerating their financial malfeasance.[iv]
Patron-clientelism has historically characterised the relations between the PLO executive and national institutions and political constituents.[v] The inner circle of the PLO leadership used patron-client networks systematically for multiple purposes: to extend influence over political constituents, to exclude other political forces, and to implement its political agenda unopposed.
For example, during the 1980s, the PLO leadership used the Sumud (steadfastness) Fund in the OPT – which was formally channelled through the Palestinian-Jordanian joint committee – to reward their supporters and exclude others.[vi] This approach encouraged manipulation and monopolies and introduced corrupt practices and duplication of development projects. It also contributed to expanded client networks to serve the political projects of Fatah and the Jordanian leadership. While the Sumud Fund’s stated objective was to support education, agriculture, health and housing, in reality the main beneficiaries were ‘the big landlords of the Jordan Valley, the industrialists, the Jordanian civil service (in the West Bank), and professional groups who received generous housing loans’.[vii]
After the Oslo Accords, the patron-client regime was unsurprisingly inherited by the PA and constituted the backbone of its institutional base. Instead of carrying out a merit-based institution-building process, patron-clientelism became a defining feature of the PA institutional structure, and a powerful tool of exclusion and inclusion. This was associated with the personalised and unaccountable style of governance of the late PLO chair, Yasser Arafat, and the Palestinian political leadership.[viii]
The PA has managed to secure loyalties among constituents largely by offering access to resources for economic survival rather than by persuasion for its political, economic and social programmes. In particular, the large PA public sector has been a vital instrument for creating dependency and securing loyalties. This contributed to the institutionalisation of corruption in the PA public sector, playing into the hands of the Israeli government whose intention in signing the Oslo accords was to create a client state that it could control through rents distributed to the PA via international donors, coupled with a strategy of territorial fragmentation and containment.[ix]
The PA public sector currently employs over 165 000 civil servants who are fully dependent on salaries guaranteed by international aid to the PA. The security sector is the largest with 44 per cent of total PA employment, absorbing between 30 and 35 per cent of the annual PA budget, thus receiving a bigger share than vital sectors such as education (16 per cent), health (9 per cent) and agriculture (1 per cent).
The dysfunction of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and the complete absence of legislative monitoring of the governmental budget have freed the presidency and the executive from institutional checks and balances and public accountability. This has bolstered executive control over public spending and the executive’s ability to control constituents by using the stick and carrot strategy. This has, consequently, enhanced irregularities and violations of employment rights.
Indeed, employment in the PA public sector does not necessarily imply job security. If employees criticise PA policies they are likely to be forced into early retirement,denied salary payments, or arbitrarily removed from their posts. They may also face a series of punitive measures, including denial of promotions or transfers to distant areas.
Furthermore, given that much of Palestinian society is based on tribal/clan/family social relations, the PA has sought to accommodate large families in order to ensure their loyalty. When the PA established its Ministry of Local Government, it included a special department concerned with tribal/clan affairs. The Ministry recognises mukhtars (heads of tribes or clans) and authorises them to speak on behalf of their families. Whereas tribalism had been marginalised by the rise of the national movement, in the 1990s the PA appointed some representatives of prominent families to ministerial posts based on tribal considerations. These ministries were subsequently largely staffed by the ministers’ relatives and friends. After recent ‘state-building’ reforms, employment based on family considerations was reduced. Instead, some ministers have surrounded themselves with cronies.[x]
The patron-client system has also been used to co-opt and neutralise political opposition. Several political leaders – independents, leftists and Islamists – were incorporated into the PA project that they initially claimed to reject. They were offered privileges, advantages, and access to prestigious public posts in exchange for political loyalty. Some of those co-opted personalities subsequently became key actors in PA politics.

The money and power of elites

The corruption embedded within the Palestinian political system is best exemplified in the interplay between power and money at the highest level of political authority. This is the most prevalent form of corruption, and yet it is the most difficult to trace because the elites often enjoy social, political or legal immunity. Moreover, the complexity of the way in which money changes hands, and its transnational character – which can involve money laundering, black markets and foreign bank accounts – also makes this form of corruption particularly hard to trace.
Elite corruption generally comes to light only in times of internal conflicts within elite circles, and mutual accusations of large-scale embezzlement then dominate news headlines. For example, former Gaza security strongman Mohammed Dahlan accumulated much of his wealth from monopolies over key imports to Gaza during the 1990s. After he was expelled from the Fatah Central Committee due to allegations that he was planning to oust PA President Mahmoud Abbas, more accusations of corrupt practices were levelled against him, such as creaming off tax revenues used for his businesses in London and Dubai.
Similarly, Mohammad Rashid, former economic advisor to Arafat and a key Dahlan ally, was sentenced in absentia fortransferring millions of dollars out of the Palestinian Investment Fund and setting up fake companies. In response, Rashid revealed that Fatah had a secret bank account in Jordan that was run by Abbas and two of his associates. In each case, revelations of corruption are the result of a power struggle rather than serious efforts to combat corruption.
The misuse of official positions for personal gain is another facet of elite corruption. Cases that were exposed included unauthorised personal use of public resources, illegal public-private deals, and theft of public property. Such practices were a regular occurrence during the 1990s and negatively impacted local and international perceptions of the PA. According to the first Palestinian audit conducted in 1997, nearly 40 per centof the PA budget – approximately US$326 million – had been misappropriated.
Despite attempts at PA reform in recent years, there does not appear to have been substantial improvement in fighting this phenomenon. According to the 2008 AMAN report, the abuse of public positions for the misappropriation and waste of public property can be clearly seen in the allocation of state lands to individuals or firms. The AMAN 2011 report reveals the continuation of this trend, with the waste of public funds remaining the most prominent visible form of corruption.
Another means of self-enrichment by the political elite at the expense of the rest of the population can be seen in the excessive income inequality in Palestine. The Global Gini Index pointed to extensive inequality in income levels between high-ranking officials and other PA employees in 2013. According to recent reports, some public sector officials earn a monthly salary of more than $10 000, and enjoy other privileges. By contrast, two-thirds of PA public sector employees earn between $515 and $640 monthly.

Corruption under occupation

Israel has repeatedly contributed to and exploited corruption in the PA in order to blame Palestinians for their economic ills, and to distract attention from the devastating impact of its colonial policies on Palestinian social and economic development. Although PA corruption is undoubtedly harmful economically, it is worth noting that its effects are a distant second to the impact of systemic Israeli destruction of the Palestinian economy.
There are many ways in which Israel is a key actor in fostering corruption and protecting the corrupt. The public-private monopolies controlled by individuals high in the PA bureaucracy and their partners in the private sector would not have been possible without the collusion and collaboration of Israeli businesses and the consent of the Israeli political and security establishment.
Another example is Israel’s direct involvement in the so called ‘secret accounts’ established in the 1990s by some Palestinian officials around the world, including accounts held in the Bank Leumi in Israel. Much of the money came from taxes on Palestinian imports that Israel had collected, which it directly transferred to these accounts. Between 1994 and 1997, Israel transferred $125 million into these accounts; in 1997 alone, Israel reportedly transferred $400 million into Palestinian accounts in Israeli banks.[xi] While Israel’s role has become less visible in recent years, it still offers a safe haven for the corrupt.
At the same time, Israeli propagandists actively exploit PA corruption, and uses accusations of Palestinian corruption for political gain. During the Second Intifada that began in September 2000, Israel used the corruption card as part of a broader strategy to remove Arafat and impose an externally sponsored ‘reform’ process to suit its own agenda. In particular, Israel exploited the international preoccupation with ‘terrorism’ by accusing Arafat of using PA resources to finance terrorism. It successfully pushed an internationally-sponsored restructuring of PA institutions, weakening Arafat through the creation of the new position of prime minister, and the restructuring of the ministry of finance.

How Palestinians respond to corruption

Palestinians living under Israeli occupation believe that corruption is one of the most serious problems they face, second only to the occupation itself. A 2014 opinion poll found that 25 per cent of Palestinians surveyed believed corruption was a serious problem, second after the problem of occupation and settlements, which stood at 29 per cent of those surveyed. This is unsurprising, given that corruption siphons off scarce Palestinian resources and breeds a wide range of social problems, contributes to inequality and harms the social fabric, and corrupts the struggle for national liberation and the pursuit of Palestinian rights.
The first domestic challenge to PA corruption was in 1997 when the PLC released a report in the wake of the first audit cited above. The report revealed widespread corruption in PA institutions and contained a damning indictment of all ministries.
The report was crucial as it opened the Palestinian public’s eye to the existence of systemic corrupt networks within the PA. In response, Palestinians mobilised and demanded reforms and transparency. In 1999, twenty prominent figures – including academics, intellectuals and members of the PLC – signed the ‘The Nation Calls Us’ manifesto, which accused Arafat of ‘opening the doors to the opportunists to spread corruption through the Palestinian streets’. PA security forces arrested many signatories and accused them of threatening national unity.
By 2004, growing popular dissatisfaction with PA corruption erupted in street protests over government appointments of some notoriously corrupt personalities. Due to the increasing internal and external pressure on the PA, Arafat acknowledged that there was corruption and promised that the culprits would be prosecuted.
Popular anger at corruption was also a main factor in Hamas’s overwhelming electoral victory in the 2006 parliamentary elections. For many people Hamas offered an alternative, and had earned respect for its efficient service delivery, particularly among the poorer people. However, after the formation of the Hamas-led government in 2006, it began to establish its own brand of clientelism by appointing and promoting supporters in various government posts. This contributed to the power struggle and political rivalry between Hamas and Fatah. To this day, Hamas-Fatah competition over appointmentsconstitutes a significant impediment to the reconciliation process between the two factions. Meanwhile, Hamas’s years in power in Gaza have led the public to level similar allegations of corruption against Hamas as they have against Fatah, especially after Hamas began making massive profits from thetunnel economy between 2007 and 2014 together with a lack of transparency in dealing with the receipts.
Partially in response to public dissatisfaction, the PA founded the Palestinian Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) in 2010, which was tasked with receiving public complaints and ensuring that corruption cases were dealt with speedily and effectively. Although the PACC is portrayed as an independent commission, financially and administratively, its chairperson was appointed by presidential decree, and many of its advisory board members include former ministers, ambassadors and presidential advisers. Some cases of corruption have reportedly been brought to justice, but press reports as well as interviews I conducted indicate that the investigations are selective. Furthermore, public opinion polls indicate increased public mistrust in the PACC, and a perception of systematic interference in its work by the presidency, security services and political parties.
Popular campaigns against corruption have largely diminished in recent years due in part to growing PA authoritarianism and increasing repression by its security services. This has includedblocking websites that reveal stories of PA corruption.

Uprooting corruption

Effectively ending corruption requires a structural response that involves the entire political system, including an effective legislative monitoring system, institutional checks and balances, and an independent and well-functioning judiciary. Immunity would be withdrawn from any person, regardless of position, in case of direct or indirect misuse of political power and public resources. Civil society representatives would play an effective role in monitoring public institutions and resources. Because the international aid industry provides fertile ground for corruption and lacks accountability, the existing aid system would need to be reformed to ensure it does not assist to foster corruption.
However, it is difficult to see a situation in the near future where these measures are agreed upon and implemented. Palestine has no sovereignty, and its people are barely surviving under a prolonged occupation of nearly fifty years, and a siege of nearly a decade. Most Palestinian people are outside the OPT, living as exiles and refugees in very difficult conditions, or as second-class citizens of Israel. Corruption is a major contributing factor to the Palestinian national movement’s inability to achieve its objectives, and also serves the objectives of Israel’s occupation. Yet corruption will remain endemic within the PA as long as Palestinians themselves do not begin restructuring their national institutions according to democratic principles and standards of accountability as part of a broader strategy to pursue self-determination and Palestinian national rights, including freedom from occupation.
 Tariq Dana is a Senior Research Fellow at the Ibrahim Abu-Lughod Institute of International Studies, Birzeit University. He also teaches courses on global political economy.

 

 
[i] I thank Al-Shabaka Program Director Alaa Tartir for his insights, feedback, and support in the preparation of this brief, and the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation’s Palestine/Jordan Office for their partnership and collaboration with Al-Shabaka in Palestine. The views expressed in this policy brief are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation.
[ii] It should be noted that while neither the private nor the non-governmental sectors are immune to corruption, they are not the focus of this paper. In addition, it should be noted that this paper does not cover Gaza and Hamas, although this is an important area for future study.
[iii] Patron-client relations are based on inequality whereby a patron monopolises the centres of power and resources to contain the client within his sphere of influence. See Shmuel N Eisenstadt and Luis Roniger (1984). Patrons, clients and friends: Interpersonal relations and the structures of trust in society,Cambridge University Press.
[iv] Rex ‪Brynen (1995). ‘The Neopatrimonial Dimension of Palestinian Politics’, in Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 25, No. 1, 23-36.
[v] As’ad Ghanem (2010). Palestinian Politics After Arafat: A Failed National Movement, Indiana University Press.
[vi] The Sumud Fund is different from Samed, the economic institution of the PLO established in 1970.
[vii] Salim Tamari (1991). ‘The Palestinian Movement in Transition: Historical Reversals and the Uprising’, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol 20, No 2, 63. See also: Khalil Nakhleh (2004). ‘The Myth of Palestinian Development: Political Aid and Sustainable Deceit’, Jerusalem: Passia.
[viii] Ghanem (2010).
[ix] Mushtaq Husain Khan, George Giacaman and Inge Amundsen (eds) (2004). State Formation in Palestine: Viability and Governance during a Social Transformation, Routledge.
[x] Information collected in author’s interviews in Palestine in 2015.
[xi] For further information, see: Cheryl A Rubenberg (2003).The Palestinians: In Search of a Just Peace, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 256. See also: Jamil Hilal and Mushtaq Khan, ‘State Formation under the PNA: Potential Outcomes and their Viability’ in Khan, Mushtaq, et al (2004). 64-119.

By Al Jazeera Centre for Studies

On Thursday, 13 August, after a short meeting between Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish Prime Minister and leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), and Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Davutoglu announced the collapse of talks between the parties to form a coalition government. Following several weeks of marathon negotiations, last week’s meeting was expected to be decisive. Three days earlier, Davutoglu had met Kilicdaroglu for more than four hours to attempt to bridge the earlier gap. The leaders had agreed to meet again after briefing their respective leadership councils. It is now clear that it was impossible to bridge the gap.

Within hours of the announcement, the Turkish Lira fell to its lowest level against the US dollar in more than a decade, and the Turkish stock index fell significantly. This week, after a meeting between Davutoglu and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli, the MHP also rejected a coalition with the AKP. Clearly, Turkey faces a political crisis. Why did the negotiations for a coalition government with the CHP fail, despite the climate of optimism? And where is Turkey headed politically, considering that the only certainty now seems to be another parliamentary election?

Possibility of coalition government

Between 1960 and 2002 Turkey experienced twenty coalition governments, with the longest lasting three-and-half years. The last was from 1999 to 2002 when the Democratic Left Party, led by Bulent Ecevit, failed to obtain the majority that would qualify it to rule independently; it therefore formed a coalition with the MHP and the Motherland Party. The legacy of coalition governments has, however, not always been positive or reassuring. On the contrary, they have been overwhelmingly unstable and not reflective of good governance. Some dragged the country into complex economic and political crises, while others led to military intervention.

After nearly thirteen years of political stability under the AKP, the current need for a coalition government resulted from the AKP failing to achieve a sufficient majority in the June parliamentary election, which could have allowed it to govern on its own. The ruling party won 41 per cent of the vote, giving it 258 seats in the new parliament – 18 seats less than a parliamentary majority. The CHP won 25 per cent of the vote (132 seats), the MHP received 17 per cent (80 seats), and the HDP 13 per cent (80 seats). Clearly, the Turkish people wanted to send a message of protest to the AKP, which had appeared confident of victory, and whose leaders and cadres had become accustomed to winning at low cost.

The main change (and surprise) in the election was the success of the pro-Kurdish HDP – which contested elections for the first time – after it crossed the critical ten per cent threshold necessary to enter parliament. With the HDP getting 80 seats it is more difficult for the AKP to obtain half of the seats in the Turkish parliament, the Grand National Assembly. The HDP’s resounding success was not only because of Kurdish voters, but also because of the votes of many non-Kurds who sought to prevent the AKP from obtaining a parliamentary majority. Without this majority the AKP cannot govern alone, nor is it allowed to draft a new constitution – one of the objectives of the AKP in its attempt to change the political system to a presidential one.

On 9 July, after new members of parliament were sworn in and after the election of the parliamentary speaker, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan requested Davutoglu, as leader of the largest parliamentary bloc, to form a government. Constitutionally, a government must be formed within forty-five days. If the party requested by the president to do so fails to form a government comprising a sufficient parliamentary majority, the president must declare new parliamentary elections within ninety days thereafter. The deadline to form a new government is, thus, 23 August.

Why coalition-building attempts failed

Davutoglu’s efforts to form a coalition government included meeting with leaders of the other three parties. Given links between the HDP and the PKK, which the Turkish state regards as a terrorist group, and that the HDP’s position on the Kurdish peace process and disarmament of the PKK is unclear, the option of forming a coalition government with the HDP was not initially on the table for the AKP, and the HDP had also indicated that it would not entertain such an option.

On the other hand, the MHP was unwilling to join a coalition government and preferred new parliamentary elections, hoping that new elections will result in the exit of the HDP from parliament. The Kurdish question occupies a central place in the MHP’s platform. It opposes the Kurdish peace process and negotiations conducted by the AKP government with Kurdish leaders, especially PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. The MHP demands an end to the process and seeks, instead, to crush the ‘terrorists and Kurdish separatists’. This issue thus prevented the MHP and AKP coming together because of the AKP government’s engagement in the peace process.

The AKP’s only choice, therefore, was a coalition with the CHP. However, there are substantial differences between the two parties, in terms of both domestic and foreign policies. The parties formed delegations for detailed policy discussions. Although their meetings took place in an atmosphere of optimism and were marked by a desire for convergence, their views on education and foreign policy were too divergent. The CHP wanted the education portfolio in a future government, and expressed its intention to make radical changes in the structure of the educational process and in the curricula. It also wants radical change in Turkish policy towards Syria, Egypt and Israel – seeking Turkey’s withdrawal from the Middle East in favour of a greater involvement in Europe.

For the AKP, the divergence between the parties’ positions widened to the extent that it believed a stable coalition government to be unachievable. Davutoglu thus proposed ​​a short-term coalition government to the CHP leader, who rejected the proposal, leading ultimately to the collapse of the talks, with no hope for a new round.

The Erdogan factor

The CHP’s explanation for the failure of the talks differed significantly from the AKP’s, however. Kilicdaroglu and other party leaders placed the greatest responsibility for the collapse of negotiations on Erdogan. The CHP argues that Erdogan continues to exercise considerable influence in the AKP, and that he does not want a coalition government because such a government would end his exercising an extra-constitutional role. Erdogan’s only opportunity to continue doing so, or to revive the project for a new constitution, is early elections. The president hopes new elections would give AKP the majority it lost in June, and thus allow it to govern alone. The CHP, supported by the liberal-secular media, claims that Erdogan encouraged the recent sudden escalation in the confrontation with the PKK – inside Turkey and in Iraq – as a means of restoring the popular support lost by the AKP.

Erdogan was open, especially in his own circles, about his desire for new elections. His close associates have said that the June results convinced him of the need for a presidential system. Erdogan believes the presidential system is most suitable for this phase in Turkey’s history, and that it would protect the country from a descent to instability or uncertainty, as created by the June election. He referred to the presidential system in a speech on 14 August, after the collapse of AKP-CHP talks.

However, even before the announcement that AKP-CHP talks had failed, it seemed negotiations were on track to certain failure, irrespective of Erdogan’s influence within the AKP or his desire for early elections. The problem was not only related to the parties’ diverse ideological and cultural backgrounds, but also to the strategic nature of the issues in dispute. The AKP regards the educational system founded in 2011 as a huge legislative achievement of its administration. Accepting structural changes to the educational system would mean abandoning one of the party’s most important visions for Turkey’s future. Further, no AKP leader will accept CHP demands for strategic change in Turkish foreign policy, particularly regarding Syria, and in the Middle East as a whole.

Future of the crisis

In his media conference, Davutoglu did not refer to early elections unequivocally or decisively, but as only a possibility. The Turkish media were quick to point out that elections were inevitable after the talks had failed. In reality, Turkey still faces two paths: another attempt to form a government – regardless of whether it is a coalition or a minority government, and early elections.

Immediately after his announcement of failed talks with the CHP, Davutoglu requested a meeting with MHP chairperson Devlet Bahceli, who agreed. The meeting, a last-ditch attempt by the prime minister to form a coalition government, took place on Monday, 17 August, and Davutoglu proposed an AKP-MHP coalition. Bahceli refused. He insisted on various MHP positions: that talks with the PKK must end (though in reality they have, after Turkish attacks on the PKK in the middle of August); that Erdogan and his family must be investigated for corruption; and that Erdogan’s aspirations for a presidential system must be curbed. He also said his party opposed any amendment to the first four articles of the constitution – which include clauses about Turkey as a secular state, and states that Turkey’s language is Turkish (thus denying language rights to Kurds and other linguistic minorities).

Davutoglu indicated that he would consult with the president before resigning his position as prime minister. Erdogan will have to call new elections, to take place within ninety days from his announcement, and will have to agree with the parliamentary speaker on the establishment of a caretaker government, in which all parties in parliament will be represented proportionally. The HDP’s participation in such a government will cause great dissatisfaction to the MHP, which has rejected the participation of Kurdish nationalists in any government. How the two parties will cooperate in a caretaker government remains to be seen. It is possible that the MHP will refuse to exercise its right to join the interim structure.

Expectations

The question now is whether the election will significantly change the proportions of seats in parliament, and whether it will open the way for the AKP to attain a parliamentary majority. Some recent polls indicate that the AKP will receive just over forty-four per cent of the vote – up from forty-one in June, giving it a small parliamentary majority, but insufficient for it to form a government. Opinion polls, of course, do not always provide a definite indication of trends in public opinion in democratic systems. Also, opinions can easily change in ninety days.

Those who argue that the new election will benefit the AKP suggest that Turkish voters wanted to send a warning to the AKP, but that the message was too strong. Thus, a large number of those voters, concerned about instability and a resurgence of violence in the conflict with the PKK will return to vote for the AKP. A number of AKP voters switched to the HDP and MHP, some because they believed the AKP had not gone far enough in negotiations with the PKK; others because they opposed those negotiations.

The other view argues that even if the election does not provide an adequate parliamentary majority for the AKP, it will emphasise to all parties that future governance in the country will require coalitions, and that parties must abandon political manoeuvring in their negotiations with each other, and seriously work to form coalitions. The problem with the AKP not receiving a clear majority, however, is that the current stalemate will likely be repeated after another election, laying the ground for a serious political crisis.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The Islamic State (IS) group’s bombing of the Turkish town of Suruc on 20 July, resulting in the deaths of thirty-two students, introduced a new and complex dynamic to an already inflamed region. The most immediate impact of this deadly attack has been a dramatic change in Turkey's policy towards IS, and towards the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey has long been criticised for its lack of military action against the former – and has even been accused of assisting or facilitating IS actions, despite several incidents on the Turkey-Syria border, and many see the recent events within Turkey as a wake-up call for the government. Turkey and the USA began coordinating airstrikes against IS targets in northern Syria after the Turkish government granted the US military and its coalition partners access to the Incirlik Air Base.

By Na'eem Jeenah

Last week, Brics leaders formalised the establishment of the New Development Bank (NDB), which will use its $100 billion (R1.24 trillion) in initial capital to fund infrastructure and sustainable development projects both at home and overseas.

The NDB will not only bind these countries together in common purpose but will introduce something not seen since the dawn of contemporary multilateralism: competition to the Western-dominated international financial system.


Despite the best intentions of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, the existing international financial institutions have consistently fallen short of their aim to provide development assistance to the most marginalised nations.

With their often-problematic loan conditions, they have at times impeded rather than promoted equitable development.

The NDB could change this. As a bank created in and by the global south, and for the global south, the Brics bank could be revolutionary.

It could, for example, provide critical development assistance to middle-income countries whose economic status has prevented investment by traditional donors.

Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt are reeling from the knock-on effects of the war in Syria, now in its fifth year.

They have taken in 98 percent of the refugees, with drastic repercussions for their own economies and societies. The war has already cost Lebanon $20bn – almost half of its annual gross domestic product – and Turkey $12.5bn.

But the World Bank, with reserves more than four times as much as the NDB’s committed capital, considers these countries too rich to be assisted with its more generous loans at lower or zero interest rates.

The UN estimates that Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt will collectively need $5.5bn this year alone to fund their response to the Syria crisis.

So far, slightly more than one-fifth of that plan has been funded by the international community.

This abandonment perhaps gives rise to another acronym that we could employ to describe Syria’s neighbours: the Jilted.

If the Brics bank were operational today, it could fund part of the regional plan and have plenty left over.

Brics member states, despite their limited reserves, have already provided development assistance to Syria. Brazil, for example, pledged $5 million at a recent international pledging conference on the Syrian crisis.

But what the NDB offers is a unique, collective initiative with the potential to both amplify and institutionalise this assistance at the multilateral level.

This is a great opportunity for Brics countries to step in where traditional donors will not or cannot, thereby demonstrating their collective leadership on behalf of other emerging economies.

Supporting the response in the Middle East would also be in line with the policies espoused by individual Brics governments, who acknowledge a correlation between development and sustainable peace.

Peace and stability in the region are global public goods. By supporting development in Syria’s neighbours, the NDB could increase stability across the entire region and make peace more likely. This would be in everyone’s interests.

Furthermore, Brics member states have abundant development expertise, especially in livelihood support, agriculture, water and sanitation and health.

The NDB could harness the wealth of experience of its members to help Syria’s neighbours cope by improving their water, sanitation, hygiene and electrical infrastructure.

The advent of the NDB is exciting for those who have long lamented the inertia and bias of the current global financial system.

Through the NDB, the Brics can redefine what development assistance means and how it works, and ensure that the most marginalised communities benefit from it.

Syria and the crisis it has caused in the region is the most pressing humanitarian disaster of our time. In this, the NDB has an opportunity to take the lead and guide the international response that has so far been woefully inadequate. And as an institution dedicated to the public interest, it must ensure that its operations in the region are transparent.

Strong accountability mechanisms must also be put into place.

Shortly before he left office, one of the founding members of the Brics, Chinese President Hu Jintao, detailed his vision for the bloc as “defenders and promoters of developing countries and a force for world peace”.

Brics nations have an opportunity to show that they are different, people-centred and determined to do right not just by their own people but by everyone living in fragile states or feeling the negative effects of a struggling economy.

The NDB could be an exciting realisation of Hu’s dream if it succeeds in mobilising much-needed funds for the humanitarian and regional spillover of the Syrian crisis.

Na’eem Jeenah is executive director of the Afro-Middle East Centre, a research institute dedicated to studying relations between the Middle East and Africa.

This article was published first on the following websites: Independent Online, Brazil Business today, Russia Direct and Caixin Online

Edited with Online HTML Converter.

By Al Jazeera Centre for Studies

On Friday, 26 June, Tunisia witnessed the deadliest armed attack in its history, leaving thirty-eight people, mostly British tourists, dead, and thirty-nine injured. This attack came three months after the Bardo National Museum attack, in which many foreign tourists were killed. The June attack, in Sousse, raised glaring questions about the efficacy of measures taken by the security forces to prevent attacks after Bardo.

The Sousse attack marked a new approach by armed groups in which they target Tunisia’s most vital economic sector – tourism, which provides employment for about half a million people. The attack coincided with a severe political crisis, due to the government’s inability to resolve various severe challenges facing the country. Its actions after the Sousse attack will increase the severity of the political and social crisis.


Security failure: Seeking to regain the initiative

Tunisia is experiencing a crushing socio-economic crisis in the context of a difficult democratic transition exacerbated by a fragile security situation. After the assassinations of two political opposition leaders – Shukri Baleid in the middle of 2013 and Mohammed Brahmi later that year – security has become am overwhelming factor in the Tunisian crisis.

The security crisis has deep-seated causes, mostly because the functions of the security apparatus have changed radically since the 2011 uprising and the beginning of the democratic transition process. These changes shook the core of the security doctrine as a result of the instability resulting from the rapid change of governments, and the multiple centres of power established by the January 2014 constitution. The previous core security doctrine, which had been adopted during the reigns of former presidents Habib Bourguiba and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was characterised by extremely centralised decision-making and the brutal suppression of dissent. Training, procedures and techniques were all geared towards the fulfilment of this doctrine.

However, the two high-profile assassinations and subsequent armed attacks were a new experience for the security establishment, which clearly lacked the capacity to respond adequately, despite its previous success in thwarting attacks and arresting members of insurgent cells. The armed groups seemed to be a step ahead of the security forces, outmanoeuvring and outrunning them with ease, and able to cause much damage. Furthermore, the insurgents had the luxury of choosing their targets, which ranged from military and security personnel targeted by small, mountain-dwelling armed groups in the west to major government and economic centres in cities.

Some in government believe that the proximity of the conflict in neighbouring Libya is a cause of the growing Tunisian insurgency. However, this notion fails to recognise the evolution of the phenomenon of armed violence in Tunisia, making it a Tunisian product exported to Libya and other neighbouring countries. Thus the phenomenon’s fundamental causes are local and fed by poor economic policies and inherited social crises. This is manifested by a disconnect between the state and a considerable portion of the Tunisian people.

A survey in the country’s poorest region, the north-west, just after the Bardo attack indicated that five per cent of young Tunisians openly support the Islamic State group (IS), and over half are willing to join IS if allowed to. It is noteworthy that most residents of the north-west part of Tunisia had voted for Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia) in the parliamentary elections and for President Beji Caid Essebsi in the presidential elections. Another study, by a state institution, the Observatoire National de la Jeunesse (National Observatory for Youth), found that a third of young Tunisians sympathise with the Salafi movement’s ‘advocacy and charitable aspects’. Knowing that more than half of Tunisia’s population are youth, these revelations are alarming.

Despite widespread international sympathy for Tunisia after the Bardo and Sousse attacks, actual international cooperation with the country in the face of violence remains weak. Available data shows that the USA intensified its intelligence cooperation with Tunisia to track down armed groups by increasing the use of drones, which occasionally roam the Tunisian skies. However, a controversial agreement signed by the two countries in Washington, DC on 20 May was less helpful than hoped for. The Tunisian government suddenly found itself in a brutal war against armed groups, in addition to facing a crisis with its western neighbour Algeria, which had reduced security cooperation with Tunisia in response to the Washington agreement.

Government measures put into place after the Sousse attack sparked much doubt about its ability to cope with future attacks. The government announced the closure of eighty mosques, and a plan to protect hotel facilities and monitor parties and associations that violate the constitution and laws. The military summoned reservists to support the security effort, intensifying raids ‘to keep track of suspicious elements’. Days after, however, it was revealed that the plan had done nothing to allay public fears. On 9 July the United Kingdom asked its nationals to leave Tunisia immediately, citing poor security; Denmark followed suit a day later. No one, least of all the government, has confidence in the efficacy of these measures. Perversely, some pro-government media outlets embarked on a campaign against human rights defenders, who some call ‘the fifth column of terrorism’, raising concerns that the campaign against armed groups may be used as a cover for systematic human rights violations.

Over the past few weeks there have been rumours that bearded men and veiled women were being watched by police, and that security officers were abusing their authority. These rumours give credence to activists’ concerns about the threat to freedom and the undermining of the constitution. In a media conference on 7 July, Prime Minister Habib Essid announced a wall would be built along the Tunisia-Libya border ‘to stop the flow of weapons and insurgents’. However, many politicians know that smuggling rings bring a considerable amount of weapons into Tunisia through official border crossings, with huge caches already stored in the country. Thus there are serious doubts that a wall can achieve a breakthrough in the overall security situation. However, the economic impact of the wall will be huge. The government knows that smuggling is the main economic activity in the country’s south. Since the government has neither the economic capacity nor the vision to replace this informal economy with a structured, legitimate one, the decision to build a wall is bound to worsen the already dire economic crisis in the south in particular, and throughout the country in general. The government will be hard-pressed to find compensatory solutions in a short time.

Social conditions fuel security crisis

The severity of the security crisis shows that the opposition’s accusations against the previous government of inaction in the face of armed groups were just political propaganda. Although a significant part of Nidaa Tounes’s electoral platform focused on security and the promise to expeditiously end violence, many Tunisians remain pessimistic about achieving a quick solution to the crisis after witnessing a general lack of progress, with violent attacks increasing in frequency and ruthlessness.

On the economic front, the government lacks the financial means to accomplish a rapid victory over the insurgents, who are now based in major cities. Despite promises of funding by regional and global forces before the election, little materialised, and the government is unable to cope with rampant unemployment. Social unrest, especially in Gafsa’s mining areas, exacerbate the situation, depriving the government of the cash generated by the phosphate industry for months.

The government has a limited understanding of the armed groups, and lacks awareness of their recent development. Further, it has failed to understand the social, political and economic context in which these groups gain new supporters. Instead, government has adopted an ineffective, deficient doctrine based on security alone. A considerable part of the political elite is out of touch with the frustrations of young Tunisians who are growing increasingly disillusioned with the democratic process, and whose hopes of social justice and equal opportunity wear thin. This will likely strengthen the armed groups.

Further, the armed groups seek to further weaken government’s ability by striking at the pillar of the economy: tourism. This will worsen the social crisis as more people grow desperate, and will allow easier recruitment by extremist groups.

The lack of resources, and rising costs, leaves the government unable to solve the crisis. Moreover, the coalition government is incapable of significantly changing the economic structure even if it wanted to. International institutions are also increasing pressure on Tunisia to further liberalise its economy. Such a move could cause a social explosion. Several indicators show that the government cannot endure into next year. This is backed up by frequent complaints about its performance, especially that of the majority party, Nidaa Tounes.

Winter has often been unstable for Tunisia. Every social uprising has occurred winter, including in 2010-2011. Economic observers predict that the current government will be unable to achieve more than one per cent growth by the end of 2015, an indicator of how dire the situation is.

The government, supported by the presidency, is fighting for survival, as indicated by the recent decision to impose a national state of emergency. Observers know this decision, all its constitutional and legal violations notwithstanding, will have little, if any, impact on the fight against violence. At best, it will leave Tunisians shaken up; at worst, it could result in crippling strikes that disrupt the economy.

Thus, talk about changing the current government is growing. Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes, the two largest parties, are poised to form a new government before the end of the year, in what could possibly be a show of ‘Islamist-secular solidarity’ that may break the polarisation between the two currents – a trend that already began with the previous ‘Troika’ government. Leaders of the two parties do not believe, however, that a change of government can achieve the desired outcomes. There is a general consensus that a stalemate is on its way, especially now that the Tunisian General Labour Union, the country’s national trade union with more than half a million members, declared – in response to requests for a national ‘truce’ - that it did not intend ending demands for wage increases.

At the regional level, the government is fraught with numerous diplomatic failures on key issues, such as Tunisia’s declining influence in Libya and its worsening relationship with Algeria. In addition, it has failed to make progress on international cooperation, leading to a significant decline in foreign investment. There is a general consensus that business and the Tunisian Union for Industry, Commerce and Trades (UTICA) are not doing enough to absorb unemployment. On 10 July, UTICA went as far as to demand a freeze on the right to strike, enshrined in Article 36 of the constitution.

Conclusion

Tunisia is plagued by violence while battling crushing social and economic crises that resulted from a long, cumulative history of poor policies that marginalised a significant number of people. Exacerbating the situation is the lack of an objective understanding of the violence by those in power and their ineffective actions. The security apparatus is not prepared to address the situation, and the political structure is in disarray, rendering the government unable to win this war. Though there might be a new government by the end of the year, it will not be able to resolve the complex security, economic and social development problems.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Since its declaration of a ‘caliphate’ on 29 June 2014, the Islamic State group (IS), the brutal successor to al-Qa'ida, has gone from strength to strength. Short of an indiscriminate air bombing campaign whose victims will include civilians and militants, a wide and well coordinated rebellion within IS ranks and/or the civilian population under its control, or a massive troop deployment and ground invasion by the United States or a regional hegemon such as Turkey or Iran, IS is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

It has become common among some commentators to describe IS as losing ground and being on the defensive as a result of the US aerial bombardment in Syria and Iraq. While the control of territory in some places is often fluid, this assertion is not true. Such habitual arguments may stem from a tendency within the Anglophone world to (re)circulate stock claims and media releases of the US government. Or, it might be attributed to the retaking of Tikrit from IS control in Iraq, or IS’s loss of Tal Abyad and Kobane in Syria. But such cherry-picking of facts must also consider that while IS loses territory, it also gains control over other areas, such as the crucial ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, and the provincial capital Ramadi in Iraq’s Anbar province. Further, even in the case of cities where it has lost ground after weeks of sustained US air support in favour of IS opponents, the group has not entirely given up on these cities, as proven by recent clashes in Kobane and Ayn Issa in Syria and fighting near the Iraqi city of Baiji. As for the latest offensive mounted against IS in the Anbar province, it is too early to predict how it might develop, though it must be noted that the recent record of the Iraqi army and its allies does not inspire much confidence.

A better understanding acknowledges that while IS has not been able to add to its rapid advances from last year in Iraq, it now controls about half of Syria’s land mass. Though this does not mean it exercises control over a majority of the population – and includes that part of the Syrian population, such as some tribes on Syria’s eastern edge, that was only nominally connected to the central authority in Damascus, – it is incorrect to suggest that IS is on the defensive or losing territory in Syria.

It should have been evident to any cursory follower of the region that IS would not, at least in the short term, be able to expand much beyond the Sunni regions it already controls in Iraq. To use this fact to suggest that IS is on the defensive represents a misunderstanding of a fundamental part of IS’s strategy which is, first, to capture, and, second, to hold and build the areas it captures. Thus, a prognosis on the organisation cannot be given by looking at the lack of growth in its territorial control. Rather, it is essential to analyse the success or failure of the second phase of IS strategy: its management of territory that it already controls, the activities of its affiliates outside Iraq and Syria, and the influx of foreign fighters into its ranks.

On all these counts, despite occasional problems, IS is faring sufficiently well. First, consider the management of territory it already controls – probably the most complex of the three indicators. A plethora of pro-IS videos point to the group’s establishment of schools, construction of roads, provision of medical and welfare services, setting up of courts and resolution of disputes, along with the formation of police forces to maintain public order (which for IS ranges from the fair use of weights and measures to regulating the modesty of mannequins outside clothing stores). Similarly, ‘immigration (hijra) guides’ issued by IS to those planning on moving to and settling in IS lands mention how the Islamic State will provide adequate housing and salaries for all those who wish to migrate. For example, the South African citizen with the moniker Abu Hurayrah al-Afriqi, who migrated to IS territory last year, joked that internet services there were better than in South Africa.

While it is tempting to dismiss these assertions as pro-IS propaganda, much of it has been verified by other sources. One problem that is frequently raised as confronting civilians under IS control is that of electricity. It is clear the delivery of electricity has been a problem in certain areas, creating resentment amongst locals. However, complainants often also mention IS efforts to provide generators. This is not to suggest that all is well in territories within IS control, or that there is no dissatisfaction among civilians under its control. After all, IS did kill over three hundred members of a single Iraqi tribe last November. Similarly, there are reports of some Syrian tribal leaders becoming dissatisfied with IS because they are no longer able to collect taxes. However, as long as IS maintains a stranglehold over the information coming out of its territories, and the civilian population under its control is unable to arm and organise itself, it will be very difficult to estimate the level of antagonism it is breeding within.

IS’s service delivery is also ‘subsidised’ by the Iraqi and Syrian governments, which have continued paying salaries to state employees living under IS control, especially in Mosul and Raqqah. Presumably, the respective governments want to use the salaries as leverage over civil servants (especially if these areas are recaptured), and because they do not want to create further antagonism against themselves. This has been useful for IS, but could become a problem if the two governments decided to cease salary payments. To what extent the drying up of these monies could affect IS coffers is difficult to establish. What is clear, however, is that this situation allows IS some financial leeway in not having to pay some of those providing municipal and other services. A huge issue that is alienating many people is IS brutality and conservatism, even though some see it as necessary to maintain peace and order in a time of war. And there is the often-repeated criticism that IS discriminates against its local recruits in favour of foreigners by giving the latter higher salaries and more benefits.

Despite these – often serious – problems, in order to survive, IS just needs to ensure is that the population living in its territories likes it better than the alternatives. And the alternatives, for many, are not appealing. In Iraqi areas controlled by IS, where many people are still stinging from their perceived betrayal at the hands of Baghdad after they had helped defeat IS’s predecessor, al-Qa'ida in Iraq, a common sentiment among the people is that while IS is bad it is the least of the evils besetting them.

The second indicator of IS’s health is the activities of its affiliates outside Iraq and Syria. With the announcement of certain prominent organisations such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, sections of the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, and the Caucasus Emirate in Russia pledging their allegiance to IS, the group’s international profile is on the rise. While some seasoned jihadi leaders – such as the recently deceased Nasir al-Wuhayshi of al-Qai'da in the Arabian Peninsula, and the Jordanian Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi – have not accepted IS, and have condemned it for causing divisions among jihadis, even they do not simply dismiss the group.

More crucially, with the recent high profile attacks in Afghanistan, Yemen, Kuwait, France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia being linked to IS sympathisers, IS does not seem like an actor that is restricted to the Syrian and Iraqi theatres. While it is unlikely that the IS central leadership in Iraq or Syria was directly involved in or gave its blessings to these specific operations, there is definitely an exchange of personnel and tactical information between IS's provincial groups – such as those in Chechnya, Libya and Egypt – and the centre in Iraq and Syria. This is another way of understanding IS’s claim of it ‘expanding’; its expansion cannot only be measured in terms of an increase in territorial control within Syria and Iraq, but must consider the spread of its tentacles in the rest of the world.

Our third indicator is the inflow of foreign fighters into IS’s ranks. The group’s propaganda and battlefield exploits are succeeding in attracting an increasing number of sympathisers and the number has increased in the last few months. While most Muslim organisations and scholars have condemned IS and its brutal methods, it cannot be denied that there is a tiny minority that finds IS’s claim that it is building an Islamic utopia, or challenging the global order through its perverse sense of retribution, quite appealing. The total number of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq has already surpassed the number of fighters attracted by the nearly decade-long 1980s conflict in Afghanistan. Though it is unclear what percentage of this has joined IS, it can be assumed that of the fighters going to Syria, an increasing percentage is linking with IS.

*IS then, contrary to some claims, is far from exhausted. Indeed, it would not be far-fetched to suggest that it will survive into the foreseeable future. Its slogan, ‘remaining and expanding’, is bearing fruit, even if that does not translate into taking over all of Syria or Iraq and the continuation of its lightning advances from 2014. IS strategists have an evolving understanding of what ‘remaining and expanding’ entails. At this stage, they do not see it as necessarily involving a quick stretch of sovereignty over all of Syria or Iraq. The measure of success is simpler: continued existence as a pseudo-state, providing services to the population under their control, and increasing sympathy throughout the world, whether through more immigrants, regional affiliates, or lone wolves willing to carry out attacks in its name.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Since its declaration of a ‘caliphate’ on 29 June 2014, the Islamic State group (IS), the brutal successor to al-Qa'ida, has gone from strength to strength. Short of an indiscriminate air bombing campaign whose victims will include civilians and militants, a wide and well coordinated rebellion within IS ranks and/or the civilian population under its control, or a massive troop deployment and ground invasion by the United States or a regional hegemon such as Turkey or Iran, IS is here to stay for the foreseeable future.


It has become common among some commentators to describe IS as losing ground and being on the defensive as a result of the US aerial bombardment in Syria and Iraq. While the control of territory in some places is often fluid, this assertion is not true. Such habitual arguments may stem from a tendency within the Anglophone world to (re)circulate stock claims and media releases of the US government. Or, it might be attributed to the retaking of Tikrit from IS control in Iraq, or IS’s loss of Tal Abyad and Kobane in Syria. But such cherry-picking of facts must also consider that while IS loses territory, it also gains control over other areas, such as the crucial ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, and the provincial capital Ramadi in Iraq’s Anbar province. Further, even in the case of cities where it has lost ground after weeks of sustained US air support in favour of IS opponents, the group has not entirely given up on these cities, as proven by recent clashes in Kobane and Ayn Issa in Syria and fighting near the Iraqi city of Baiji. As for the latest offensive mounted against IS in the Anbar province, it is too early to predict how it might develop, though it must be noted that the recent record of the Iraqi army and its allies does not inspire much confidence.

A better understanding acknowledges that while IS has not been able to add to its rapid advances from last year in Iraq, it now controls about half of Syria’s land mass. Though this does not mean it exercises control over a majority of the population – and includes that part of the Syrian population, such as some tribes on Syria’s eastern edge, that was only nominally connected to the central authority in Damascus, – it is incorrect to suggest that IS is on the defensive or losing territory in Syria.

It should have been evident to any cursory follower of the region that IS would not, at least in the short term, be able to expand much beyond the Sunni regions it already controls in Iraq. To use this fact to suggest that IS is on the defensive represents a misunderstanding of a fundamental part of IS’s strategy which is, first, to capture, and, second, to hold and build the areas it captures. Thus, a prognosis on the organisation cannot be given by looking at the lack of growth in its territorial control. Rather, it is essential to analyse the success or failure of the second phase of IS strategy: its management of territory that it already controls, the activities of its affiliates outside Iraq and Syria, and the influx of foreign fighters into its ranks.

On all these counts, despite occasional problems, IS is faring sufficiently well. First, consider the management of territory it already controls – probably the most complex of the three indicators. A plethora of pro-IS videos point to the group’s establishment of schools, construction of roads, provision of medical and welfare services, setting up of courts and resolution of disputes, along with the formation of police forces to maintain public order (which for IS ranges from the fair use of weights and measures to regulating the modesty of mannequins outside clothing stores). Similarly, ‘immigration (hijra) guides’ issued by IS to those planning on moving to and settling in IS lands mention how the Islamic State will provide adequate housing and salaries for all those who wish to migrate. For example, the South African citizen with the moniker Abu Hurayrah al-Afriqi, who migrated to IS territory last year, joked that internet services there were better than in South Africa.

While it is tempting to dismiss these assertions as pro-IS propaganda, much of it has been verified by other sources. One problem that is frequently raised as confronting civilians under IS control is that of electricity. It is clear the delivery of electricity has been a problem in certain areas, creating resentment amongst locals. However, complainants often also mention IS efforts to provide generators. This is not to suggest that all is well in territories within IS control, or that there is no dissatisfaction among civilians under its control. After all, IS did kill over three hundred members of a single Iraqi tribe last November. Similarly, there are reports of some Syrian tribal leaders becoming dissatisfied with IS because they are no longer able to collect taxes. However, as long as IS maintains a stranglehold over the information coming out of its territories, and the civilian population under its control is unable to arm and organise itself, it will be very difficult to estimate the level of antagonism it is breeding within.

IS’s service delivery is also ‘subsidised’ by the Iraqi and Syrian governments, which have continued paying salaries to state employees living under IS control, especially in Mosul and Raqqah. Presumably, the respective governments want to use the salaries as leverage over civil servants (especially if these areas are recaptured), and because they do not want to create further antagonism against themselves. This has been useful for IS, but could become a problem if the two governments decided to cease salary payments. To what extent the drying up of these monies could affect IS coffers is difficult to establish. What is clear, however, is that this situation allows IS some financial leeway in not having to pay some of those providing municipal and other services. A huge issue that is alienating many people is IS brutality and conservatism, even though some see it as necessary to maintain peace and order in a time of war. And there is the often-repeated criticism that IS discriminates against its local recruits in favour of foreigners by giving the latter higher salaries and more benefits.

Despite these – often serious – problems, in order to survive, IS just needs to ensure is that the population living in its territories likes it better than the alternatives. And the alternatives, for many, are not appealing. In Iraqi areas controlled by IS, where many people are still stinging from their perceived betrayal at the hands of Baghdad after they had helped defeat IS’s predecessor, al-Qa'ida in Iraq, a common sentiment among the people is that while IS is bad it is the least of the evils besetting them.

The second indicator of IS’s health is the activities of its affiliates outside Iraq and Syria. With the announcement of certain prominent organisations such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, sections of the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, and the Caucasus Emirate in Russia pledging their allegiance to IS, the group’s international profile is on the rise. While some seasoned jihadi leaders – such as the recently deceased Nasir al-Wuhayshi of al-Qai'da in the Arabian Peninsula, and the Jordanian Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi – have not accepted IS, and have condemned it for causing divisions among jihadis, even they do not simply dismiss the group.

More crucially, with the recent high profile attacks in Afghanistan, Yemen, Kuwait, France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia being linked to IS sympathisers, IS does not seem like an actor that is restricted to the Syrian and Iraqi theatres. While it is unlikely that the IS central leadership in Iraq or Syria was directly involved in or gave its blessings to these specific operations, there is definitely an exchange of personnel and tactical information between IS's provincial groups – such as those in Chechnya, Libya and Egypt – and the centre in Iraq and Syria. This is another way of understanding IS’s claim of it ‘expanding’; its expansion cannot only be measured in terms of an increase in territorial control within Syria and Iraq, but must consider the spread of its tentacles in the rest of the world.

Our third indicator is the inflow of foreign fighters into IS’s ranks. The group’s propaganda and battlefield exploits are succeeding in attracting an increasing number of sympathisers and the number has increased in the last few months. While most Muslim organisations and scholars have condemned IS and its brutal methods, it cannot be denied that there is a tiny minority that finds IS’s claim that it is building an Islamic utopia, or challenging the global order through its perverse sense of retribution, quite appealing. The total number of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq has already surpassed the number of fighters attracted by the nearly decade-long 1980s conflict in Afghanistan. Though it is unclear what percentage of this has joined IS, it can be assumed that of the fighters going to Syria, an increasing percentage is linking with IS.

IS then, contrary to some claims, is far from exhausted. Indeed, it would not be far-fetched to suggest that it will survive into the foreseeable future. Its slogan, ‘remaining and expanding’, is bearing fruit, even if that does not translate into taking over all of Syria or Iraq and the continuation of its lightning advances from 2014. IS strategists have an evolving understanding of what ‘remaining and expanding’ entails. At this stage, they do not see it as necessarily involving a quick stretch of sovereignty over all of Syria or Iraq. The measure of success is simpler: continued existence as a pseudo-state, providing services to the population under their control, and increasing sympathy throughout the world, whether through more immigrants, regional affiliates, or lone wolves willing to carry out attacks in its name.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme concluded this week seems to be an example of the benefits of concerted diplomacy. Once it is ratified by the US Congress and Iranian Supreme National Security Council, the agreement will improve relations between Iran and western countries, and will undoubtedly also have a significant impact on the regional level.

Egypt moves closer to the abyss

  • 04 July, 2015
  • Published in Egypt

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Egypt’s cabinet passed new draconian ‘anti-terrorism’ laws on Wednesday, in the wake of Monday’s assassination of the prosecutor general, Hisham Barakat. The new laws drastically reduce the already-short trial and sentencing process by eliminating second appeals for ‘national security’ trials, and increasing the punishment for involvement in ‘terrorist-related’ activities. This legislation, together with the war with the Islamic State group (IS) in Sinai, and the Wednesday assassination of thirteen Muslim Brotherhood (MB) members which resulted in the movement warning of possible violent retribution, mean Egypt is being driven closer to a state of chaos.


There is much speculation about the killing of Barakat, the most important state official to be killed in decades. Barakat demanded mass death sentences; is responsible for 41 000 arrests; and provided legal justification for the Raba’ massacre of over 1 000 protesters in August 2013. Many blame the assassination on IS; the government blames the MB – which condemned the attack; and some have even suggested it was carried out by people within the regime who are opposed to President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. Others claim the regime might have done it as an excuse to increase repression to halt ongoing protests since Mursi’s ouster. No one has claimed responsibility for the murder.

The regime has already used the assassination to increase repression – which is already at alarming levels. Amnesty International estimates that over 41 000 dissidents were arrested in the past two years; thousands have been killed; around 800 have been sentenced to death in trials that lack basic standards of integrity; and torture, rape by security officials and disappearances of opposition figures have become common. With the new laws the atmosphere of repression will become more severe.

This week’s events could also signal another change – in the strategy and tactics of the opposition. Resistance to the 3 July 2013 coup has continued in various forms over the past two years. Protests are held almost daily, with a diverse group of people involved; bombings have become commonplace; and the insurgency in north Sinai reached critical levels this week, driven in part by IS, despite the army using aircraft and heavy artillery against militants. On Wednesday, IS launched a coordinated attack in Sinai, killing over sixty soldiers, the largest number killed in a single operation since the 1973 Egypt-Israel war. The attack saw over twenty positions simultaneously attacked, especially in the Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid where security installations witnessed an eight hour siege. The coordinated and sophisticated attack bore the hallmarks of IS’s activities in Syria and Iraq, and is the largest operation the group has launched outside its Syria-Iraqi sphere of activity.

The new laws, expected to be ratified imminently, could ensure the death penalties handed to former president Mohamed Mursi and other senior MB leaders – including its supreme and deputy supreme guides, as well as other opposition figures, will be rapidly carried out. Sisi suggested this when he referred to Barakat’s assassination being planned by people ‘behind bars’. Executions of such high-profile leaders could push the Egyptian opposition in an increasingly confrontational and even violent direction.

The MB has hinted at such a development. This week, thirteen MB officials who were, the organisation insists, meeting to plan assistance to families of imprisoned leaders were killed by security forces in a Cairo flat. The MB’s angry response called on Egyptians to revolt, and said a point had been reached that would lead to a drastic escalation. ‘El-Sisi is initiating a new phase during which it will not be possible to control the anger of the oppressed sectors who will not accept being killed in their own houses…. Come out in rebellion and in defence of your country… Destroy the citadels of his oppression and tyranny and reclaim Egypt once more,’ its statement said. Previous MB statements were tempered, called for peaceful protests and eschewed violence. The killings may have forced it to rethink its position, and this statement, although ‘denouncing violence and murder’, warns that people’s anger is becoming uncontrollable and that a turning point has been reached.

The Brotherhood has largely managed to hold on to its support base of around a quarter of all Egyptians. However, over the past two years it has struggled to constrain some younger members from resorting to violence. As a result, a few members have opted for more violent alternatives, such as IS. If the MB now pronounces violence as an acceptable tactic, there could be a much greater resort to armed resistance, and, coupled with the war in Sinai, could result in parts of Egypt (beyond Sinai) becoming ungovernable.

The military, with the help of the security apparatuses, maintains control of the country. However, further escalation from the regime, especially Mursi’s execution, could lead to massive protests, increased violence and augmented support for IS.

By Kamal Al-Kusayyar

Libya is the Islamic State (IS) group’s third largest bastion after Syria and Iraq. The group’s actual head count in the country notwithstanding, its presence there is a major contributor to the ‘caliphate’ doctrine, the very legitimacy of which cannot be dependent only on its acceptance in the Levant. In Libya, IS found an ideal haven in which to expand and operate, especially considering the environment of rampant instability and an absence of a state.


While Libya’s sectarian homogeneity is an obstacle for the expansion of IS, which effectively leveraged sectarian rifts and societal discord to establish itself in Iraq and Syria, its quest in Libya is made easier by continued failures of the state, the ongoing political and security void, and the inability of warring factions to reach a political solution. IS set up operations in October 2014 in the Mediterranean coastal town of Derna, a stronghold for jihadi and takfiri thought, and expanded to Sirte. It has its sights set on other strategic cities as it continues to fight its way across Libya’s coast.

From emergence to omnipresence

A milestone of IS’s presence in Libya was the declaration of allegiance by the Islamic Youth Shura Council (IYSC), a militant group that had controlled Derna, to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and to Ansar al-Sharia in October 2014.

The protracted crisis in Syria drew fighters from all over the Maghreb – who had fought in Syria – to Libya, which became their gateway into neighbouring Arab countries and the rest of Africa. They reformulated their strategy, and – around 2013 to 2014, as an increasing number of Maghrebi fighters began to return from Syria, a debate began on whether those fighters should be redirect against their own homelands. The fighters had formed their own militias in Syria. One such group of fighters formed al-Battar Brigade, a vicious group that fought with IS against other Syrian rebels. In the first half of 2014, a number of Battar’s fighters returned to Libya and formed the Islamic Youth Shura Council. An IS delegation, including Yemeni Abu Al-Baraa el-Azdi and Saudi Habib Al-Jazrawi, visited the IYSC in Derna and convinced it to pledge allegiance to Baghdadi. Soon thereafter, the IYSC declared the eastern part of Libya an IS province and called it Wilayat Barqa (Cyrenaica province).

Strategically, the purpose of IYSC activity in Libya is not only to expand internally. It is, rather, to build a base for IS expansion in North Africa, and to reach out to other extremist groups in the Sahara and North Africa’s coastal regions that can be incorporated. The group’s decision to expand throughout the Libyan coastal highlands, from Derna to Sirte, and including Misrata, was deliberate. It formed part of the overall strategy to gain control of areas where human trafficking is active, to ensure a steady supply of foreign recruits.

Given the group’s propensity to capture oil production facilities, it is likely that it will continue sweeping across the coastline to gain control of as much of Libya’s oil as possible. As in Syria and Iraq, oil is its preferred source of funding in Libya, with Sirte being a major prize on the ‘Petroleum Crescent’.

Despite a few recent victories, it would be difficult for IS to approach Tripoli. Such a move will provoke direct intervention by Europe, especially Italy. Furthermore, it would require IS to be sufficiently powerful to defeat the Libya Dawn forces headquartered in Tripoli. IS is currently positioned between General Khalifa Haftar’s forces in the east, and Libya Dawn forces in the west and south. Even in Derna, it is having a tough time battling fighters of the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council; it will not want to open up another front as yet.

The importance of controlling the coastline has not been lost on either the Islamic State or the Europeans. The latter realise that IS control over Libya would be a serious threat to European interests, especially with regard to illegal immigration. ‘Libya has a long coastline facing southern Europe, making it easy for us to target the crusading countries, even with a makeshift dinghy,’ said IS leader Abu Arhim al-Libi.

Another milestone in IS’s short history in Libya was the capture of the coastal city of Sirte in late May, in a narrative very similar to Mosul in Iraq. The Tripoli-based General National Congress had tasked Battalion 166 to protect Sirte from IS. Instead, IS forced the battalion out of the city, and it subsequently also lost al-Ghardabiyabase, where the city’s international airport is located, twenty kilometres from downtown Sirte.

IS found a haven in Sirte, a former stronghold of murdered Libyan leader Muammar Qaddhafi. Islamist militants in the city – some of whom had been Qaddhafiloyalists – changed brands and adopted IS. The group is highly pragmatic, capable of gaining recruits from diverse backgrounds and using them with remarkable efficiency.

Merely changing brands to that of IS is also what Ansar al-Shariah’s fighters did. Miftah Marzouq, the president of the Sirte elders and Shura council said: ‘The group that is keen on calling itself Islamic State in Sirte is the very one that used to be Ansar al-Shariah. Most of them are young men from the city, whose families we know by name.’

Sirte is located at the heart of Libya’s major oil facilities. Thus, if IS is able to hold the city and secure its presence there, it will have a new source of funding, enabling it to pay its fighters through oil trading. Many reasons have been advanced for why Battalion 166 pulled out of Sirte. The lack of funds to pay soldiers has been cited as a possible reason.

The group also took over the town of Harawa (seventy kilometres east of Sirte), but by mutual accord with tribes in the area. Meetings between IS leaders and tribal elders in the vicinity of Nawfaliah (127 kilometres east of Sirte) led to an agreement that IS fighters would enter Harawa unopposed. The two sides will meet at a later date to agree upon a ransom that Harawa residents would pay the group as blood money in exchange for the latter’s casualties during earlier hostilities in the town.

Beyond al-Qa'ida’s rationale: More attainable goals attract the young and gullible

IS differs from al-Qa'ida in that it has a more definite agenda and a clear-cut mode of operation: Fight locally, then build institutions – no matter how fragile – to establish control. This contrasts with al-Qa'ida’s more haphazard model in which attacks must be carried out abroad in order to sell the al-Qa'ida brand locally. IS took a different approach. Its media highlight daily victories and short-term, attainable objectives – no matter how small – that can immediately be felt by fighters in order to attract potential recruits. Al-Qa’ida approach is to wage a long-term war against the West, focusing on operations that target western interests everywhere. It’s a strategy that requires patience, longevity and stamina.

IS regards areas – outside of Syria and Iraq – in which it has a presence as ‘wilayat’ or ‘provinces’; the most recent are Barqa, Tripoli and Fezzan. These are not provinces in the true sense of the word, but are part of the group’s propaganda attempt to use geography and history to create a political and military status quo. Between late 2014 and early 2015, IS developed its vision for Libya’s division on the idea that the country, historically, consisted of three provinces: Cyrenaica (modern-day Barqa), which currently encompasses the entire eastern part of the country; Tripoli in the middle and west; and Fezzan in the south.

Wherever it expands to, IS is eager to reshape life according to its laws and ideology, and to disseminate certain practices. ‘Hisba’ – the enforcement of public morals – includes burning cigarette packs, tearing down statues and shrines, calling on Muslims in public places such as mosques to pledge allegiance, propagating Islam (da'wah), offering aid to the poor and sweets and presents to children. IS also carries out ‘hard’ activities. In Barqa, for example, Tunisian journalists were executed.

IS’s main strategic objectives for Libya

IS has two main objectives for its expansion in Libya. The first is to eradicate the borders between Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, as IS leader Abu Muadh al-Barqawi stated in his essay ‘Join the Realm of the Caliphate’. The second is to turn Libya into a strategic gateway for IS. According to Abu Arhim al-Libi: ‘There are some who do not realise the [strategic] importance of Libya, which encompasses sea, desert and mountains, and provides access to Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria and Tunisia.’

Misrata is a priority strategic target for the group’s expansion within Libya. Taking Misrata will give it control over the entire Libyan coast. In late May 2015, IS militants targeted the city with an attack on a nearby checkpoint, leaving six dead. According to IS supporters their militants attacked the Abu Grin gate in the city’s east on 7 June 2015, killing four locals. Misrata is vital to thwarting the expansion of, and defeating, the Islamic State. Even though well-trained, well-armed forces thwarted the group’s ambitions there, that didn’t stop it from mounting a two-pronged propaganda campaign: one ideological and the other political. Barqawi called on Misrata’s youth to sacrifice themselves for God, and not for the sake of democracy by supporting Libya Dawn. He also warned the governments in Tripoli and Tobruk in a message titled ‘Message to the people and youth of Misrata’. ‘To the parliament in Tripoli and Libya Dawn,’ he said, ‘I say be aware that just as the Islamic State took al-Bayda and Tobruk with God’s grace, it can take Misrata and Tripoli. You have seen some of our deeds in Tripoli.’

The bombing of the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli in late January 2015 indicates the presence of scattered sleeper cells and splinter groups that form the IS frontline all the way to Tripoli. Their task is to achieve one, clear tactical objective: to create chaos – the same mode of operation that IS uses in Iraq, such as bombings in Baghdad immediately preceding an impending attack. The Corinthia bombing was dubbed ‘the Abu Anas al-Libi Incursion’, in response to the latter’s death in a US prison – even though he was an al-Qa'ida leader. The group later claimed responsibility for the bombing and published pictures of the perpetrators. The Corinthia bombing had definite political and military objectives. Omar al-Hassi, then the National Salvation Government’s prime minister, had been at the hotel around the time of the attack. The group also claimed responsibility for a bombing that targeted the Iranian embassy in Tripoli in February 2015.

The group have already spread into the ‘Fezzan province’. Al-Furqan Foundation for Media Production, an IS media arm, broadcast a video showing the execution by shooting of so-called ‘subjects of the cross of the belligerent Ethiopian church’ in April 2015.

Infighting helps IS expand

In one way or another, every one of the warring parties in Libya attempted to use IS’s presence to its advantage. They all somehow forgot that IS could expand and use the infighting between the two largest political and military groups in the country to its advantage.

Initially, Libya Dawn and the National Congress believed that the existence of IS and its fight against Haftar’s forces were to their benefit, and they did not attempt to confront IS. However, developments on the ground – especially the defeat of Battalion 166 – and the group’s move to secure Sirte with a gigantic show of force – with fighters, vehicles and anti-aircraft weapons, followed by an announcement of its future goals, have forced Libya Dawn to rethink its military options.

On the other hand, Operation Dignity – the military campaign launched by Haftar in May 2014 – painted the group as a gang of terrorists in an attempt to attract international support. IS’s targeting of Misrata will weaken Libya Dawn, to the advantage of Operation Dignity. The latter is betting that the more convinced the international community is that IS’s presence in the country is a threat, the more likely is foreign intervention, even though previous attempts at international air intervention in Iraq and Syria have not been as effective on the ground as hoped. IS not only sprung back into action immediately air strikes stopped, but it also took new territory in the midst of the following each wave of air strikes.

The National Congress and Libya Dawn know full well that Operation Dignity is using terrorism and fighting IS as trump cards to its advantage. When IS claimed responsibility for the Corinthia Hotel bombing, then-prime minister Omar al-Hassi quickly denied that IS had anything to do with the attack. The National Salvation Government claimed the attack was an attempt on Hassi’s life, accusing Haftar’s loyalists and their foreign supporters, while the parliament in Tobruk as quickly demanded that Libya be included in the global war on terrorism, reiterating that IS was behind the bombing.

Recruiting local fighters

In addition to the moderate amount of funds the Libyan IS receives from Syria, it also draws military trainers from there, too, according to US Pentagon officials. Before reverting to its preferred method of building its forces’ numbers – bringing foreign fighters into Libya and involving them in military operations – it recruits fighters from other militias. Some reports say Baghdadi had sent representatives to Libya to explore possible alliances with local groups.

As time passed, IS succeeded in usurping Ansar al-Sharia. Abu Abdullah al-Libi, the religious leader and supreme judge of the ‘Islamic Court’ of Ansar al-Sharia, pledged allegiance to Baghdadi, and the news was spread through social media. A Libya television channel said Libi had announced the pledge in an audio recording published on jihadi websites.

The same trend can be seen in Barqawi’s infamous message to the people of Misrata, with which he attempted to lure the city’s young men to join IS. He called on them to ‘make sacrifices for Libya, let your sacrifice be in the name of God, not in the name of the National Congress that rules by democracy.’ He also ‘excommunicated’ Qaddhafi and his loyalists, members of the Tobruk parliament and the security forces working for it, Haftar, the National Congress in Tripoli and those associated with it, ‘and all those who fought in the name of ‘democracy, secularism and liberalism’. He also warned Libya Dawn that ‘just as the Islamic State took al-Bayda and Tobruk, they can take Misrata and Tripoli’.

In January 2015, Barqawi had written an article titled ‘No [other] organisation [can exist] under the Islamic State’. By ‘other organisation’ he probably meant al-Qa'ida; he asked in the article: ‘What is keeping you, the soldiers of Ansar al-Sharia, from meeting your duty of pledging allegiance to the caliph Ibrahim [Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi]?’

The essence of the danger of IS in Libya lies in how capable it is of recruiting fighters from other jihadi factions, especially given the fact that those fighters tend to be vulnerable to IS ideas, and especially if IS succeeds in securing larger sources of funding.

Conclusion

While the current environment in Libya plays into IS’s hands in the political and military aspects, the country is not yet ready to accept it into its political and social structures. IS’s expansion hinges on whether the warring sides in Libya can reach a political resolution, and integrate the warring factions into legitimate institutions. Apart from IS’s difficulty in finding societal acceptance, its other challenge is to meet the ever-growing demand for relief, aid and the social services in areas it takes control of. Should a political solution to the Libyan crisis fail to materialise, Libya might become a frontline for IS operations in North Africa. Despite uncertainty about the group’s actual power in Libya, when the huge number of militant groups in the country is considered, the threat posed by IS cannot be underestimated, much less ignored.

* Kamal Al-Kusayyar is a researcher on Maghreb affairs at Al Jazeera Centre for Studies

** This article was originally published in Arabic by Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, and was translated into English by Afro-Middle East Centre

Edited with Online HTML Converter.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The results of Turkey’s 7 June parliamentary election is expected to have lasting consequences for the country’s domestic politics and foreign policy. The performance of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) signals the formal entrance of leftists and leftist agendas into parliamentary politics, and will impact negotiations with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Kurdish question, while the Islamist Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) decline will stymie President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s aspiration to convert the country’s political system to a presidential one. The country’s policy on Syria and the rest of the Middle East will likely also be affected by whatever new government takes power.


The election, seen by many as a referendum on Erdogan, saw the AKP’s vote drop from forty-nine per cent (and 327 parliamentary seats) in 2011 to forty-one per cent (and 258 seats), the first time the party has seen a decline since its first election contest in 2002. Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism was a major reason for the AKP’s decline. A graft scandal in 2013, which resulted in the arrests of influential AKP officials, and Erdogan’s increasingly lavish lifestyle also pushed voters away from the party.

The main consequence of the election is an end to Erdogan’s aspiration for a presidential system in which power would be shared between the president and prime minister. The AKP requires two-thirds of parliamentary seats (400) to amend the constitution, or 330 to submit amendments to a referendum. However, its 258 seats are not enough for it even to form a government, forcing it to rely on a coalition if it is to rule.

The HDP’s garnering thirteen per cent of the vote, crossing the ten per cent threshold for parliamentary entry, will change the country’s political landscape. Historically linked to the PKK, the party’s members previously contested elections as independents, and appealed mainly to the Kurdish population. In this election, however, it contested as a party, and appealed to minorities, left-wing Turks, workers, youth, women and disillusioned AKP voters. Along with other reasons, the government’s reluctance to fully support Kurdish fighters in Kobani, when the Kurdish-majority Syrian city was besieged by the Islamic State group (IS), led to over a million Kurds, including religious people who had previously supported the AKP, voting for the HDP instead. Ironically, the HDP’s victory may result in the halting of a sputtering Kurdish peace process, especially if the AKP forms a coalition with the ultra-nationalist and anti-Kurdish Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

In foreign policy terms, the election will have varying impacts, with any new government – even an AKP-led one – focusing more on domestic concerns. Turkey’s overt support for the Syrian Jaish Al-Fatah (Army of Conquest) coalition of Islamist fighters will be toned down, and so too will its role in the Turkish-Qatari-Saudi partnership which can be credited for opposition gains in the north and north east. The HDP and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) – with the second most votes – have opposed the AKP's support for al-Qa'ida affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the CHP has argued that Turkey’s relations with the Syrian president, Bashar Asad, must be improved in order to resolve the conflict. A key issue in the electoral race was a report in the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper which accused the government of providing arms to al-Nusra, and of transporting IS fighters into Syria in January 2014. Similarly, Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and its opposition to the military coup there will likely be toned down, and depending on which party is in government, relations with Iran, which have been tense in the past few years, might improve. EU accession has also formally been returned to the agenda with the HDP’s manifesto advocating it and the CHP keen on pursuing it.

A week after the election, the main discussion in Turkey is about coalitions. The AKP has expressed willingness to discuss coalition-building with any other party. However, the other three parties have rebuffed AKP approaches for now. A coalition of the opposition HDP, CHP and MHP – required for a large enough bloc against the AKP – is improbable because the HDP and MHP will not partner with each other. An AKP-MHP coalition is more likely; given the MHP’s position on the Kurds, that could reverse any gains made on resolving the Kurdish question. If no government can be formed in the next five weeks, new elections will be called. The AKP remains the largest party in Turkish politics, able to garner votes from across the country, but the blow from this election and strain resulting from another in a few months time could lead to Erdogan’s hold over the party weakening, and tensions within the party increasing. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s position as head of the party might be in question, and the largely untainted former president and AKP co-founder, Abdullah Gul, might be roped in to claw back some losses.

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