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Libya: From the Arab Spring to the identity dissolution

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Of all the states of the Maghreb and Mashreq of the Middle East and North Africa that have experienced the phenomenon of the “Arab Spring” resulting, in some of them, with removing the gerontocratic dictatorships, Libya is a country that has known one of the most striking forms of post-revolutionary development: from the internationally supported banishment of the dictator Muammar al-Gaddhafi in 2011, to a democracy sabotaged from its very first stage of germination, by identity conflicts and tribal and caste contradictions. In the period which followed, up to the present stage where, from the first half of 2014, the former Jamahiriya presents itself to the observer as a state of armed militias, of ambitions for power, of anarchy and rapid slippage towards social dissolution and, apparently, by towards misidentification and national fragmentation.

The fratricidal struggles between the Libyans are not recent, they arose when the TV in print media presented the bloodied and death disfigured face of the one who was the “the great leader of the revolution of September 1, an image in which all Libyans saw a sign of victory, but which each understood ac- cording to ambitions, interests, adventurism and aspirations of power and influence groups, families, tribes and clans of the most diverse, in a society whose demography is perhaps more acutely than in the case of the other Arab states, marked by a complicated ethnic and centrifugal plurimorfism which, in addition to Arabs, is composed of other ethnicities: Imazighen (Berbers), Greeks, Maltese, Italians, Pakistanis, Turks, Indians.  In the well-known tradition of faith in predestination and shifting responsibility for what is going on to anyone else but themselves, the Libyans do not cease to accuse the West, unanimously and regardless of the divisions that separate them, for the state in which Libya is today, nearly four years after the removal and trial less murder of Colonel Gaddhafi, in an advanced state of dissolution.

There is no doubt that the Western community and the influential Arab powers have their share of responsibility the “Libyan spring” – which was and certainly will still be examined in the minutest details – but it is equally doubtless that the Libyans themselves have their own and overwhelming responsibility at least to have too easily forgotten their national identity, the values for which they fought with gun in hand and the free future they are entitled to, and this social, mercantile, customary, territorial ideological and confessional frag- mentation is most clearly expressed in the realities of the multitude of “patriots” and “nationalists” who, on behalf of outdated vocal slogans, defend their own fortifications of concepts and interests.  This study aims to present, to the extent allowed by the printing space, a picture of Libya today, viewed from several perspectives – political, security and military – to facilitate a deeper understanding of contemporary Libya and the chaos in which it is struggling.   

A land of independent ”revolutionaries”  Today, the “private” armed militias are making the law in Libya. Their emergence, which coincided with the overthrow in August 2011, of the Gaddhafi regime, has at least two causal reasons: massive and brutal use of the former regime from, the early moments of social unrest, of military repression against the demonstrators, which determined their reaction to retaliate by using weapons, and secondly, limiting the actions taken by NATO regarding the air bombardment of the positions held by the military or by supporters of the former dictator, in parallel with the arming and the financial and logistical support of the protesters, in order to tilt the balance of forces in their favor. Well armed, both the revolutionaries and the military, the police and security forces defeated with the help of the Western military intervention, were organized in militia divided into two hostile camps, so that, in the next three years, amid the chronic political in- stability and the inability of the installed authorities (by the Western coalition leading the “democratic” Libya) to dissolve the extra-institutional and military formations and end the “militia phenomenon”, they grew numerically and from the point of view of the manpower, becoming, in their whole, a political, military and security force even stronger and more active than the governments that have succeeded and even than the national army.  
According to former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, if in the first days after the fall of Gaddhafi, the number of the “armed” rebels was around 30,000 people, today we speak of the active existence of more than 200,000 “militia” members of various colorations and ideological affiliations. Moreover, with time, the extra-governmental armed formations mosaic managed to impose itself and to substitute the very military institution in the execution of the state security and defense missions normally assigned to the army and police, such as the security and pro- tection of the major importance objectives (port facilities, oil fields, ports, airports, borders etc.).

We are currently experiencing the dramatic situation in which the government itself uses the services of the militia in this sense, as the same procedure is applied to the political parties or alliances engaged in the power struggle or in the liquidation of their political opponents. It is understood that, for their services, the militias require proper rewards which refer not only that the “beneficiaries” satisfy their pragmatic and group claims (of economic-financial nature), but also issues related to the sphere of politics or the interest of national and social unity, as in the case of the request for the establishment of the independent administrative region Brega – the most important reservoir of oil resources of the country – or the monopolization of oil exports out of the control of  any governmental control the requests being supported even by forceful action – the taking over of government and legislative offices, including the parliament building (which was forced, at gunpoint, to adopt the famous law of “political isolation (lustration) of the uncomfortable politicians”, especially those with a Ghaddafist past. In the same category is included  the use of the militias, by the political factors, either to repress peaceful demonstrations calling for reforms and improving the living standards, or for attacking foreign commercial consular or diplomatic representative offices, resulting in hostage taking and even fatalities.  
With the appearance of the retired General Khalifa Haftar on the political-military scene, leader of the inter-militia alliance self-entitled “Karamat Libya” (Dignity of Libya), fierce conflicts and political disputes appeared both within the government coalition and in the parliament, em- bodied, inter alia, by recourse to the support of the “private militias” to resolve political disputes and to organize, in early August, new anticipated elections, which resulted in the establishment of a new parliament and of a new executive disputed by the opponents, so that Libya offers the novelty of a country that has two simultaneous governments and two parliaments which repel each other, not hesitating to support their positions by appealing to strong arguments of the “party and clan militias”.   
The morphology of the military scene the current picture of the Libyan military spectrum dominated by militias is divided be- tween two large groups of armed formations, whose membership we will present in the following lines: It is the alliance that acts as the “Libya Dawn” (Fajr Libya) and its self-entitled adversary “Libya’s Dignity” (Karamat Libya) led by (ret.) General Khalifa Haftar.   

I. The alliance “Libya Dawn” (Fajr Libya) is organized as the oldest structure, consisting of formations encountered in the context of the revolution and the most heterogeneous in what regards the ideological orientations and programmatic objectives. The “alliance” is com- posed of the following main militant currents:  1) The “Shield of Libya” militias (Dar’u Libya) consisting of three regional divisions (central, eastern and western). Having its operational pivot in the Missurata region and city it is, in its great majority, composed of militant-Islamist elements whose ideology and doctrine are inspired and close to those of the “Muslim Brotherhood” movement. 2) “The Libyan Revolutionaries Operations Center”, an Islamist armed militia which acts mainly in the eastern areas of the national territory, fulfilling police specific missions. The formation was constituted in mid-August 2013, in Tripoli, through the merger of several “revolutionary” armed groups.

3) “The Revolutionary Phalanx of Tripoli ” (Katibat Thwwar Tarablus), a rebel formation of Islamist ideological doctrine affiliation, close to Abdel Hakim Belhajj, former leader of the Libyan Is- lamic opposition party “Al-Gama Al- Libiya Al-Muqatila” (the Libyan combat group). “The Phalanx” was founded by a former member of this group, Al-Mahdi Al-Harati (also founder of a Jihadist faction fighting in Syria) and who became after the Revolution … mayor of the capital Tripoli.  4) “The Shoura Council of the Revolutionaries of Benghazi”, appeared on June 20, 2014 as a partnership between several tiny Salafist-Jihadist groups, with the objective of fighting against forces led by (ret.) General Khalifa Haftar and the so-called “Al-Saika Battalion”, made up of former soldiers and officers of the Libyan army.  5) “February 17 Brigade”, considered to be the largest and best equipped formation, created as an “armed arm” of the Libyan “Muslim Brotherhood” movement. It works in the port city of Benghazi in the east. 6) “Al-Sahat Ra’fatallah Detachments” that is also present in the perimeter of Benghazi. Although it has announced its willingness to be integrated into the national army, the group has kept two training camps and its entire armament. It was the first militia which engaged fights with General Haftar’s troops in May this year.

7) The “Group of the Shari’a Partisans” militias (Gama’at Ansar Al-Shari’a). The main and most active Jihadist-Salafist party in Libya constituted, in addition to local Libyans, of thousands of foreign fighters coming, especially from Algeria, Tunisia and the sub-Saharan Sa- hel African countries. The group is on the list of terrorist organizations drawn up by the US Sta- te Department.  8) The group “The First Shield of Libya”, of Jihadist orientation, was established and operates in the city of Tripoli. More recently it has merged with the group “Gama’at Ansar Al- Shari’a”, alongside which it is engaged in confrontations with the armed formations led by General Khalifa Haftar.   
II. The Alliance “Libya’s Dignity” (Karamat Libya) is, in turn, a combination of armed military formations constituted by former Libyan soldiers and national army officers which is present in several conflict regions of the country. Accused by the alliance groups “Libya Dawn” of having “anti-revolutionary” objectives and character, the alliance is created and commanded by (r) Lieutenant General Khalifa Haftar and is composed by the following main entities:  1) “Libyan National Army” Forces, which include about a third of the soldiers and officers of the Libyan military. It is under the direct command of General Khaif Haftar.  2) “Al-Sai’ka” Forces (Thunderbolt), coming from the elite units of the national army and ordered by Colonel Younes Abu Hamadeh.  3) “Al-Sawaiq” Brigade (Lightning), belonging to the family of Al-Zintan – the largest as- sociation of Libyan tribes – well equipped and trained, and similar, in what regards the specific tasks and structure, with the Western private security firms. It is commanded by General- Colonel Mustafa Trabulsi, who is in close relations with the monarchy of the United Arab Emir- ates, from which he receives substantial financial and logistical aid.  4) “Qa’qaa” Brigade (translatable, approximately, by “thunder”, “noise” or “weapon noise”), established in 2011 as an armed militia of revolutionaries who fought against the armed forces loyal to Colonel Gaddhafi. It is commanded by Osman Mleiqta

5) “Warshafana” Battalion, a militia calling itself after the name of the tribal clan Warshfana from the ranks of which come most combatants.  6) “Libyan Tribes Council” Battalion, composed of Warshafana clan warriors and several close and ally tribes, in kinship with it.  7) “Tibou” tribal union forces, in the extreme south of the Libyan territory.   
The polarization of the political scene  In July 2012, were held the first free general election that Libya has experienced in the last half century and which provided a first look at the guidelines and beliefs of the Libyan electorate under the new conditions after the overthrow of Colonel Muammar Al-Ghaddafi and his “Jamahiriyan” regime. At that time, 80 of the 200 members of the new parliament in Tripoli – People’s General Congress – were elected on party lists, while the rest, the majority of 120 MPs awarded a nominal victory on the vote. Unlike other countries that have experienced the phenomenon of the “Arab Spring”, the poll revealed the landscape of the predominant orientation of the citizens towards the political liberal mainstream led by Mahmud Jibril who, with a total of 39 seats in parliament, was invested as the first head of post-revolutionary Libyan government.

At the other extreme, another party which entered the election race, the National Front, member of the political coalition self-named National Rescue Front, succeeded to win only three parliamentary seats. Instead, the Justice and Edification Party, derived from the Muslim Brotherhood movement received 17 seats, while two other Islamist parties – Nation’s Party, a center party led by Sami Saadi and the Center National Party, led by Ali Tarhouni, each obtained only two seats in the parliament.   However, the Libyan political life was to focus, quickly, in a different direction than the one crystallized in the first democratic election ballot, that of a strong centrifugal and multipolar movement, generated, in particular, by party, tribal and personal interests of the Libyan political class, so that, at the moment, the Libyan political map has the following plurimorphous configu- ration:  1. National Forces Alliance formed in the wake of the removal from power of the Gaddafi regime and consisting of a mosaic of the first forces and political trends that Libya knew after decades of dictatorship.

The alliance includes a small number of 41 political parties, hun- dred of independent members and civil society organizations and it is headed by Mahmoud Ji- bril, a former member of the Transitional National Council, formed after the regime change in the country. Proclaiming democracy, national identity and human rights as guiding principles of its program, the Alliance is ideologically characterized as liberal and secular, even though its leader, Mahmoud Jibril, said in July 2012, that the Shari’a Islamic law is the main principle of the Alliance’s actions which, besides the already mentioned guidelines, stands for accepting and encouraging the so-called “mid-moderate Islam”. At the legislative elections of July 2012, the Alliance won 39 seats out of the 200 seats of the Libyan parliamentary forum.   

2. “National Front” Party (Al-Djabha Al-Wataniya) set up in Tripoli, on the remains of the former National Rescue Front (created as a clandestine opposition movement in 1981, au- thor of a failed attempt to overthrow the regime Muammar Al-Ghaddafi by force, in 1984). Be- tween 1987 and 1990, the Salvation Front continued to organize military structures, using for this purpose the territory of the neighboring African country Chad, where they were set up as the “Libyan Patriotic Army”, which was subsequently to be actively involved in armed anti- Gaddhafi confrontations until his removal from power. The National Front, formed after this moment, in 2011, enrolled in its political platform approx. 16 principles and action objectives, including the adherence to the values of democracy, civilian and human freedoms, ensuring the establishment of political plural- ism as an expression of the freedom of opinion, etc. At present, the party is led by Mohammed Mugrif, who was, between 2012 and 2013, the president of the new Libyan parliament (the General National Congress).  

3. The “Muslim Brotherhood” Movement in Libya, which appeared in 1949, but, unlike the Egyptian and Tunisian branches of the “Muslim Brotherhood”, has failed to achieve a significant dissemination in its ideology among the masses, trade unions, and civic organizations, due, mainly, to the draconian repressive measures applied by the Ghaddafi regime. Only on March 3, 2012, did the Movement announce the establishment of a political party of its own, under the name of the “Justice and Edification Party” led by Mohammed Sawwan. Freedoms and human rights, participation of all citizens, without discrimination, to the edification of the society, decentralization and economic liberalization, balanced development of all provinces and regions of the country, reducing unemployment, increasing chances at a job and a life of dignity for all citizens, achieving social harmony and concord, are just some of the objectives of the political program of this party which during the elections in June 2014, won 14 seats in the Legislative forum of Libya.   

4. The federalist political current formed during the revolutionary events of 2011 from the representatives of the Libyan historical provinces Brega and Fezzan, wishing for the cessa- tion of the state of marginalization and underdevelopment that they had experienced during the former regime, claims from the new post-revolutionary authorities to be reintroduced in the na- tional circuit of resources and social and economic values of development. More than one year after the revolution and in response to the indifference with which the authorities in Tripoli have treated these claims, a group of officers led by Ahmed Senoussi Zubeir and several tribal leaders from eastern regions of the country, declared the establishment of a “Council of the Federal Province Brega”, headed by Ahmed Senoussi and having as programmatic objective the “protection and promotion of the province in a federal liberal state”. Simultaneously, another entity led by Ibrahim Jazran, organized as an armed militia, self-proclaimed independent as the “Political Bureau of the Province Brega”, taking control by force, of the oil terminals destined for the Libyan oil exports, as a means of pressure on the central authority to satisfy their grievances, among which the first was the demand for the establishment of the autonomous province Brega within the borders it had during the monarchy period of the Libyan history (from the city of Sirte to Tobruk, near the state border with Egypt). The current is known, in terms of the crises it has caused, and as the “Armed Liberal Current”.   

5. Tibou Movement is the ethnic and tribal groups settled in northern and western part of Chad, in the Tibesti mountain range in the south-eastern oases of Libya, in the far western part of Sudan and northern Nigeria. These are nomadic Bedouin tribes with a total population of approx. 5 million people (of which approx. 400,000 are Libyans), divided into 38 tribes and having as main occupation agriculture and sheep breeding. The Libyan ethnicity of the Tibou group was, starting in 2007, involved in protest and resistance actions against the Gaddafi regime, establishing, in this sense, its own political party the “Tibou Front for the Salvation of Libya”. According to the Tibou leader, Abdel Magid Mansour, the number of the Tibou combat- ants amounts to 1,200.   

The evolution of the internal crisis – main stages  The tensions on the Libyan political and social scene have entered into a process of rapid degradation and violent confrontation with taking control, by the armed militias, of the “field” initiative, which led to continuous pressure put on the policy makers and on the legislative and executive leadership, which progressively amplified the armed confrontations and the regional and international interference in the internal affairs of this country.  – In May 2013, the Parliament adopted the so-called “Law of Political Isolation” aimed at removing the former regime officials and supporters of Gaddafi from the political life. The adoption of the law occurred as a result of the pressure of the armed groups, after they took over government offices, including those of the Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs and threatening to extend such actions.  – On August 3, 2013, armed separatist groups occupied major oil fields by force, claiming the autonomy of the province Brega.

The action, also continued this year, has brought huge losses to the national budget by stopping royalties and income from oil exports.  – In the same month, a new actor in the person of General Khalifa Haftar appeared on the political-military fringes along with his military coalition “Libya’s Dignity”, which marked the entrance of the internal situation in a stage of chaos, violent clashes and of personal and group vengeances, all resulting in loss of life and in significant losses and damage to the national economy of the country.  – On 10 March 2014, the then Prime Minister of the Libyan government, Ali Zeidan chose to resign, taking refuge in Germany after a loaded tanker managed to escape unhindered off- shore in the direction North Korea being, however, stopped by US ships patrol and brought back to the Benghazi port. In Zeidan’s place, the parliament invested Defense Minister Abdallah Al Thaniy to lead the Executive, but he also resigned after a few days, due to his inability to form a new national unity government.  – In early May 2014, the General National Congress (the Parliament) appointed Ahmad Moaytiq as Prime Minister, but the appointment was annulled by the Constitutional Court; – In mid-May this year, Gen. Khalifa Haftar ordered the beginning of the “Libya’s Dignity” national scale operation against the Islamist rebel groups and formations. – June 25: gathered in Cairo, the representatives of Libya’s neighboring states called all groups, forces and militias involved in the confrontation to accept the initiation and execution of an extensive dialogue of national reconciliation, promising, at the same time, to refrain from any intervention in the internal Libyan problem. In its turn, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution to that effect, warning the imposition of international sanctions if the players on the Libyan fringes do not accept a general cease-fire. – On July 21, the Libyans elected a new parliament dominated by liberals and Islamists.
The United States decided to close its embassy in Tripoli and evacuate the personnel.  – As of mid-July, the Libyan conflict takes on the dimensions and characteristics of a genuine civil war, particularly carried out in Tripoli and Benghazi.  – August 4, 2014: the elected Libyan Parliament held its first meeting at Tobruk, in the absence of the Islamist MPs. At the request of Tunisia, a new meeting of the representatives of the neighboring countries is held in Algiers, to analyze the possibilities of achieving a cessation of hostilities between Libyans. Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Mali, Niger and Chad are participating. – August 18 2014: Foreign bombardment devices of unknown identity perform bombing raids on the positions held by Islamist militias and on the international airport in Tripoli. Egypt and the UAE are charged with these actions. Both Cairo and Abu Dhabi reject the accusations.  – August 23: the “Libya Dawn” coalition militias (Fajr Libya) take control on the international airport in the Libyan capital. The Parliament in Tobruk declares the Jihadist groups “Ansar Al-Shari’a” and “Fajr Libya” terrorist organizations. Libya is a country with two governments and two parliaments (Tripoli and Tobruk) who deny each other’s legitimacy. – On August 25, the National General Council (whose mandate had expired since March) appoints Omar Al-Hassi as prime minister. The appointment is challenged by the Coun- cil (parliament) in Tobruk.  – September 4: According to a press release from the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva, about. 250,000 Libyans had fled their homes, finding shelter or in other areas of the country or in the neighboring countries.  

– September 7, 2014: A military transport plane loaded with weapons for the militia coalition “Libya Dawn” is intercepted and forced to land. Sudan’s military attaché is declared persona non grata and expelled in connection with this incident.  – September 22, 2014: the Libyan Parliament elected (in Tripoli) approved the composition of a second government led by Abdallah Al-Thaniy. 13 states (including the US and France) and the UN and the European Union address, in New York, a collective call for “an immediate ceasefire in the Libya immersed in political and security chaos” and the two parallel governments and parliaments each claims their legitimacy. – October 2, 2014: The violent fighting continued in Benghazi, 50% under the control of the Islamist rebels, between the “Shoura Council of the Revolutionaries of Benghazi” militia and units of the Alliance “Libya’s Dignity”, commanded by General Khalifa Al-Haftar, who sought help from the aviation and armor. Five attacks with explosives carried out by Islamist fighters caused the death of more than 50 soldiers from the units of General Haftar. The 15 members of the Security Council addressed a new call to the cessation of the armed confrontation, warning with the imposition of new international sanctions against Libya.  – On October 6, the self-entitled Jihadist movement “The Shoura Council of the Revolutionaries of Benghazi”, member of the “Libya Dawn” proclaimed the city and oil district Derna in the east of the country as “Islamic emirate”, pledging, at the same time, the oath of allegiance and loyalty to the leader of the Islamic State, “Caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It was the first significant penetration of the Da’ish Jihadist offensive in Libya which, in the absence of an urgent national reconciliation dialogue between all parties involved in the Libyan war, “threatens to expand rapidly and make the Libyan territory the third part of the “Islamic caliphate” in Syria and Iraq”, according to Bernardino Leon, the representative in Libya of the UN Secretary General. – 15 to 16 October: the Libyan army and the forces led by General Khalifa Haftar triggered a strong ground offensive, supported by aircraft and armored vehicles, on the positions held by the Islamist militias in the northeast and in the city of Benghazi. News releases, formally belied both by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo and by the spokesman of the US State Department referred to the Egyptian involvement in the bombing raids on Islamist parties. The attacking units took control of the quarries in the south and west of the city Benghazi, as well as on the sites and logistics of the militia and self-entitled “February 17 Brigade” – the armed arm of the Libyan movement “Muslim Brotherhood”.  

Libya, which, after the dictatorship of Muammar Al-Gaddafi, went through a “bloody spring” just to come under the dictatorship of gangs, militias and armed tribes, seems to move rapidly towards social dissolution and national and territorial dismantling despite the regional and international community attempts to determine, through dialogue or through penalties and economic pressures, a ceasefire and transition to a national reconciliation process. Such prospects still remain remote, as long as, in addition to the ambitions and interests of the political class, of the “professional revolutionaries” and tribal influences, this situation is maintained by the regional actors, including by funding and support of a political orientation or of one or the other of the armed militias.  Will the new multinational anti-terrorist campaign have a positive influence – be it only as a warning – on this complicated and dramatic situation? Only short-term developments will allow an answer to this question.  

 

First published in “Geostrategic Pulse

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China-US and the Iran nuclear deal

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian that Beijing would firmly support a resumption of negotiations on a nuclear pact [China Media Group-CCTV via Reuters]

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with  Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi on Friday, January 14, 2022 in the city of Wuxi, in China’s Jiangsu province.  Both of them discussed a gamut of issues pertaining to the Iran-China relationship, as well as the security situation in the Middle East.

A summary of the meeting published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry underscored the point, that Foreign Ministers of Iran and China agreed on the need for  strengthening bilateral cooperation in a number of areas under the umbrella of the 25 year Agreement known as ‘Comprehensive Cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China’. This agreement had been signed between both countries in March 2021 during the Presidency of Hassan Rouhani, but the Iranian Foreign Minister announced the launch of the agreement on January 14, 2022.

During the meeting between Wang Yi and Hossein Amir Abdollahian there was a realization of the fact, that cooperation between both countries needed to be enhanced not only in areas like energy and infrastructure (the focus of the 25 year comprehensive cooperation was on infrastructure and energy), but also in other spheres like education, people to people contacts, medicine and agriculture. Iran also praised the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and said that it firmly supported the One China policy.

The timing of this visit is interesting, Iran is in talks with other signatories (including China) to the JCPOA/Iran nuclear deal 2015 for the revival of the 2015 agreement. While Iran has asked for removal of economic sanctions which were imposed by the US after it withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, the US has said that time is running out, and it is important for Iran to return to full compliance to the 2015 agreement.  US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in an interview said

‘Iran is getting closer and closer to the point where they could produce on very, very short order enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon’

The US Secretary of State also indicated, that if the negotiations were not successful, then US would explore other options along with other allies.

During the course of the meeting on January 14, 2022 Wang Yi is supposed to have told his Chinese counterpart, that while China supported negotiations for the revival of the Iran nuclear deal 2015, the onus for revival was on the US since it had withdrawn in 2018.

The visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister to China was also significant, because Foreign Ministers of four Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain — and Secretary General of GCC,  Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf were in China from January 10-14, 2022 with the aim of expanding bilateral ties – especially with regard to energy cooperation and trade. According to many analysts, the visit of GCC officials to China was driven not just by economic factors, but also the growing proximity between Iran and Beijing.

In conclusion, China is important for Iran from an economic perspective. Iran has repeatedly stated, that if US does not remove the economic sanctions it had imposed in 2018, it will focus on strengthening economic links with China (significantly, China has been purchasing oil from Iran over the past three years in spite of the sanctions imposed by the US. The Ebrahim Raisi administration has repeatedly referred to an ‘Asia centric’ policy which prioritises ties with China.

Beijing is seeking to enhance its clout in the Middle East as US ties with certain members of the GCC, especially UAE and Saudi Arabia have witnessed a clear downward spiral in recent months (US has been uncomfortable with the use of China’s 5G technology by UAE and the growing security linkages between Beijing and Saudi Arabia). One of the major economic reasons for the GCC gravitating towards China is Washington’s thrust on reducing its dependence upon GCC for fulfilling its oil needs. Beijing can utilize its good ties with Iran and GCC and play a role in improving links between both.

The geopolitical landscape of the Middle East is likely to become more complex, and while there is not an iota of doubt, that the US influence in the Middle East is likely to remain intact, China is fast catching up.

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Egypt vis-à-vis the UAE: Who is Driving Whom?

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Image source: atalayar.com

“Being a big fish in a small pond is better than being a little fish in a large pond” is a maxim that aptly summarizes Egyptian regional foreign policy over the past few decades. However, the blow dealt to the Egyptian State in the course of the 2011 uprising continues to distort its domestic and regional politics and it has also prompted the United Arab Emirates to become heavily engaged in Middle East politics, resulting in the waning of Egypt’s dominant role in the region!

The United Arab Emirates is truly an aspirational, entrepreneurial nation! In fact, the word “entrepreneurship” could have been invented to define the flourishing city of Dubai. The UAE has often declared that as a small nation, it needs to establish alliances to pursue its regional political agenda while Egypt is universally recognized for its regional leadership, has one of the best regional military forces, and has always charmed the Arab world with its soft power. Nonetheless, collaboration between the two nations would not necessarily give rise to an entrepreneurial supremacy force! 

Egypt and the UAE share a common enemy: political Islamists. Yet each nation has its own distinct dynamic and the size of the political Islamist element in each of the two countries is different. The UAE is a politically stable nation and an economic pioneer with a small population – a combination of factors that naturally immunize the nation against the spread of political Islamists across the region. In contrast, Egypt’s economic difficulties, overpopulation, intensifying political repression, along with its high illiteracy rate, constitute an accumulation of elements that serves to intensify the magnitude of the secreted, deep-rooted, Egyptian political Islamists.

The alliance formed between the two nations following the inauguration of Egypt’s President Al Sisi was based on UAE money and Egyptian power. It supported and helped expand the domestic political power of a number of unsubstantiated Arab politicians, such as Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied and the Chairman of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council, Lieutenant-General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan. The common denominator among these politicians is that they are all fundamentally opposed to political Islamists.

Although distancing political Islamists from ruling their nations may constitute a temporary success, it certainly is not enough to strengthen the power of the alliance’s affiliates. The absence of true democracy, intensified repression by Arab rulers and the natural evolution of Arab citizens towards freedom will, for better or for worse, lead to the re-emergence of political Islamists. Meanwhile, Emirati wealth will always attract Arab hustlers ready to offer illusory political promises to cash in the money.   

The UAE has generously injected substantial amounts of money into the Egyptian economy and consequently the Egyptian State has exclusively privileged Emirati enterprises with numerous business opportunities, yet the UAE has not helped Egypt with the most critical regional threat it is confronting: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi’s exaggerated fascination with UAE modernization has prompted him to duplicate many Emirati projects – building the tallest tower in Africa is one example.

The UAE’s regional foreign policy that hinges upon exploiting its wealth to confront the political Islamist threat is neither comprehensible nor viable. The Emirates, in essence, doesn’t have the capacity to be a regional political player, even given the overriding of Egypt’s waning power. Meanwhile, Al Sisi has been working to depoliticize Egypt completely, perceiving Egypt as an encumbrance rather than a resource-rich nation – a policy that has resulted in narrowing Egypt’s economic and political aspirations, limiting them to the constant seeking of financial aid from wealthy neighbors.

The regional mediating role that Egypt used to play prior to the Arab uprising has been taken over by European nations such France, Germany and Italy, in addition of course to the essential and ongoing role of the United States. Profound bureaucracy and rampant corruption will always keep Egypt from becoming a second UAE! Irrespective of which nation is in the driver’s seat, this partnership has proven to be unsuccessful. Egypt is definitely better off withdrawing from the alliance, even at the expense of forgoing Emirati financial support.

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Kurdish Education in Turkey: A Joint Responsibility

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Turkish elites often see Kurds as posing a mortal threat to their homeland’s territorial integrity. Kurdish elites often harbor pan-Kurdish dreams of their own.

Modern Turkish nationalism based its identity on statist secularism practiced by Muslims who are Turks. The secularist paradigm of a “Turkish Nation” struggled hard with accommodating Christians (Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians) and Kurdish-speaking Muslims. Kurdish coreligionists were expected to become Turks, i.e., to abandon their cultural heritage for the “greater good” of a homogenous Turkish nation.

This cultural-identity conundrum led to a century-long violent conflict, but also to genuine efforts by many Kurds and Turks to reach a common vision that would accommodate both Turkey’s territorial integrity and Kurdish cultural rights.

The rise to power of Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002 appeared to imply a watershed, bringing about a measure of cultural liberalization toward the Kurds. More Islam seemed at first to signal less nationalistic chauvinism.

IMPACT-se, a think tank focusing on peace and tolerance in school education, pointed out in “Two Languages One Country,” a 2019 report that showed liberal elements being introduced in the Turkish curriculum by the AKP government. These “included the introduction of a Kurdish language elective program, the teaching of evolution, expressions of cultural openness, and displays of tolerance toward minorities.”

And while no open debate was permitted, IMPACT-se noted “a slight improvement over past textbooks in recognizing the Kurds, although they are still generally ignored.” Yet, the name “Kurd” is no longer obliterated from the curriculum. Kurdish-language textbooks were authored as part of a wider Turkish-Kurdish rapprochement.

In June 2012, the Turkish government announced for the first time, that a Kurdish elective language course entitled: “Living Languages and Dialects” (Yaşayan Diller ve Lehçeler), would be offered as an elective language for Grades 5–7 for two hours per week.

IMPACT-se studied these textbooks (published in 2014 and 2015 in Kurmanji and Zazaki) in its report  and found that the elective Kurdish-language program strengthens Kurdish culture and identity, while assuming a pan-Kurdish worldview devoid of hate against Turks. Included are Kurdish-historic places in Turkey, Iran and Iraq (but not Syria). The textbooks cover issues such as the Kurdish diaspora in Europe, the Kurdish national holiday of Newroz, with the underlying revolutionary message of uprising against tyranny. Children’s names are exclusively Kurdish. Turks and Turkey are not represented in the elective Kurdish books (but are obviously present across the rest of the curriculum).

The latter is a surprising and counter-intuitive finding. Textbooks published by Turkey’s Ministry of Education focus solely on the Kurdish side, with pan-Kurdish messaging, and no Turkish context. There could be several explanations for this, but the fact remains that Turkish-Kurdish relations are still not present in Turkey’s Kurdish language program.

The overall conclusion of IMPACT-se has been that this program is pioneering and generally excellent. There are some problems, however. One problem is that the elective program is minimalistic and does not meet Kurdish cultural needs. However, the program ignores the Turkish-Kurdish dilemma, hence projecting an inverted mirror image of the Turkish curriculum at large, which ignores the Kurdish question. There is no peace education in either curriculum. Therefore, IMPACT-se recommended enhancing the Kurdish-language program, while adding a healthy dose of pertinent peace education to the curriculum’s Turkish and Kurdish textbooks.

Sadly, the last few years have also seen broader moves by the Turkish government to quash Kurdish cultural and educational freedoms. The armed conflict between separatist groups and the Turkish military resumed in 2015, followed by the 2016 detention of high-ranking officials of the peaceful pro-minority People’s Democratic Party (HDP). By 2020, 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors on the HDP ticket in previous years had been forced out or arrested by security forces.

Simultaneously, elective programs such as Kurdish have been neglected and largely replaced by religious “elective” courses, which are often mandatory. Specifically, elective Kurdish courses are being clamped down or de facto erased in certain schools (despite being originally offered in 28 cities and with an expected enrollment as high as 160,000).

And then there is the question of full education in Kurdish. Article 42 of the Turkish Constitution bans the “teaching of any language other than Turkish as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institution of education.” And yet, Turkish authorities looked the other way between 2013 and 2016, as five fully Kurdish elementary private schools were opened in the southeastern provinces of Diyarbakır, Şırnak and Hakkari. The last of these schools, Ferzad Kemanger in Diyarbakır, was closed on October 9, 2016. Apparently these schools conveyed pan-Kurdish messaging (Ferzad Kemanger was an Iranian-Kurdish elementary school teacher. He was wrongly accused of being a terrorist and executed by Tehran in 2010).

There can be no Kurdish heritage without Kurdish languages, making the current situation untenable. Kurdish education should become a priority again.

But this is not enough. A common Turkish-Kurdish vision should be developed. Educationally, a serious effort should be directed toward educating both Turks and Kurds about the other’s identity, culture, shared history, commonalties, conflicts and interactions. 

Two ethnicities sharing one homeland in a volatile region pose a great challenge for both. A careful educational plan can lay the groundwork for peace and prosperity. Kurdish education in Turkey should be considered a joint responsibility leading to a common vision.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect an official position of IMPACT-se.

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