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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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Will Oman Succeed In What The UN And US Envoys Failed In Yemen?

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Since taking office on January 20, US President Joe Biden has made a priority for Yemen and appointed Tim Linderking as the US special envoy to Yemen to seek an end of the war that has been going on for more than six years, which made Yemen live “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world”, as described by the United Nations.

Nearly four months after his appointment as a special envoy to Yemen, and after several visits to the region, and several meetings through Omani coordination with representatives of the Houthi movement in Muscat, Linderking returned to the United States empty-handed, announcing that the Houthis are responsible for the failure of the ceasefire to take hold in Yemen. The US State Department said “While there are numerous problematic actors inside of Yemen, the Houthis bear major responsibility for refusing to engage meaningfully on a ceasefire and to take steps to resolve a nearly seven-year conflict that has brought unimaginable suffering to the Yemeni people”.

Two days only after the US State Department statement, which blamed the Houthis for the failure of the peace process in Yemen, an Omani delegation from the Royal Office arrives in Sana’a. What are the goals behind their visit to Sana’a, and will the Omani efforts be crowned with success?

Houthi spokesman Muhammad Abdul Salam said that “the visit of a delegation from the Omani Royal Office to Sanaa is to discuss the situation in Yemen, arrange the humanitarian situation, and advancing the peace process”. However, observers considered that the delegation carried an American message to the Houthi leader as a last attempt to pressure the Houthis to accept a ceasefire, and to continue the peace efforts being made to end the war and achieve peace, especially after the failure of all intensive efforts in the past days by the United Nations and the United States of America to reach a ceasefire as a minimum requirement for peace.

Oman was the only country in the Gulf Cooperation Council that decided not to participate in what was called “Operation Decisive Storm”, led by Saudi Arabia following its consistent policy of non-interference. Due to its positive role since the beginning of the crisis and its standing at the same distance from all the conflicting local and regional parties in Yemen, it has become the only qualified and trusted party by all the conflicting parties, who view it as a neutral side that has no interest in further fighting and fragmentation.

On the local level, Oman enjoys the respect and trust of the Houthis, who have embraced them and their negotiators for years and provided them with a political platform and a point of contact with the international parties concerned with solving the Yemeni problem, as well as embracing other political parties loyal to the legitimate government, especially those who had a different position to the Saudi-Emirati agenda during the last period.

At the regional level, Oman maintains strong historical relations with the Iran, and it is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and this feature enables it to bring the views between the two sides closer to reach a ceasefire and ending the Yemeni crisis that has raved the region for several years as a proxy war between the regional rivalries Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Oman now possesses the trust and respect of all local, regional and international parties, who resorted to it recently and they are all pushing to reach a ceasefire and ending the crisis, after they have reached a conviction that it is useless. So the Omani delegation’s public visit to Sana’a has great connotations and an important indication of the determination of all parties to reach breakthrough in the Yemeni crisis.

The international community, led by the United States, is now looking forward to stop the war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia also is looking for an end to the war that cost the kingdom a lot and it is already presented an initiative to end the Yemeni crisis, as well as Iran’s preoccupation with its nuclear program and lifting of sanctions.

Likewise, the conflicting local parties reached a firm conviction that military resolution is futile, especially after the Houthis’ failed attempt for several months to control Marib Governorate the rich of oil and gas and the last strongholds of the government in the north, which would have changed the balance of power in the region as a whole.

Despite the ambiguity that is still surrounding the results of the Omani delegation’s visit to Sana’a so far, there is great optimism to reach a cease-fire and alleviate the humanitarian crisis and other measures that pave the way for entering into the political track to solve the Yemeni crisis.

The situation in Yemen is very complicated and the final solution is still far away, but reaching a ceasefire and the start of negotiations may be a sign of hope and a point of light in the dark tunnel of Yemenis who have suffered for years from the curse of this war and its devastating effects.

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Saudi Arabia steps up effort to replace UAE and Qatar as go-to regional hub

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Saudi Arabia has stepped up efforts to outflank the United Arab Emirates and Qatar as the Gulf’s commercial, cultural, and/or geostrategic hub.

The kingdom has recently expanded its challenge to the smaller Gulf states by seeking to position Saudi Arabia as the region’s foremost sport destination once Qatar has had its moment in the sun with the 2022 World Cup as well as secure a stake in the management of regional ports and terminals dominated so far by the UAE and to a lesser extent Qatar.

Saudi Arabia kicked off its effort to cement its position as the region’s behemoth with an announcement in February that it would cease doing business by 2024 with international companies whose regional headquarters were not based in the kingdom. 

With the UAE ranking 16 on the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Index as opposed to Saudi Arabia at number 62, freewheeling Dubai has long been international business’s preferred regional headquarters.

The Saudi move “clearly targets the UAE” and “challenges the status of Dubai,” said a UAE-based banker.

A latecomer to the port control game which is dominated by Dubai’s DP World that operates 82 marine and inland terminals in more than 40 countries, including Djibouti, Somaliland, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and Cyprus, the kingdom’s expansion into port and terminal management appears to be less driven by geostrategic considerations.

Instead, Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Gateway Terminal (RSGT), backed by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, said it was targeting ports that would service vital Saudi imports such as those related to food security.

PIF and China’s Cosco Shipping Ports each bought a 20 per cent stake in RSGT in January.

The Chinese investment fits into China’s larger Belt and Road-strategy that involves the acquisition regionally of stakes in ports and terminals in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Oman, and Djibouti, where China has a military base.

RSGT Chief Executive Officer Jens Floe said the company planned to invest in at least three international ports in the next five years. He said each investment would be up to US$500 million.

“We have a focus on ports in Sudan and Egypt. They weren’t picked for that reason, but they happen to be significant countries for Saudi Arabia’s food security strategy,” Mr. Floe said.

Saudi Arabia’s increased focus on sports, including a potential bid for the hosting of the 2030 World Cup serves multiple goals: It offers Saudi youth who account for more than half of the kingdom’s population a leisure and entertainment opportunity, it boosts Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman’s burgeoning development of a leisure and entertainment industry, potentially allows Saudi Arabia to polish its image tarnished by human rights abuse, including the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and challenges Qatar’s position as the face of Middle Eastern sports.

A recent report by Grant Liberty, a London-based human rights group that focuses on Saudi Arabia and China, estimated that the kingdom has so far invested in US$1.5 billion in the hosting of multiple sporting events, including the final matches of Italy and Spain’s top soccer leagues; Formula One; boxing, wrestling and snooker matches; and golf tournaments. Qatar is so far the Middle East’s leader in the hosting of sporting events followed by the UAE.

Grant Liberty said that further bids for sporting events worth US$800 million had failed. This did not include an unsuccessful US$600 million offer to replace Qatar’s beIN tv sports network as the Middle Eastern broadcaster of European soccer body UEFA’s Champions League.

Saudi Arabia reportedly continues to ban beIN from broadcasting in the kingdom despite the lifting in January of 3.5 year-long Saudi-UAE-led diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar.

Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify and streamline the Saudi economy and ween it off dependency on oil exports “has set the creation of professional sports and a sports industry as one of its goals… The kingdom is proud to host and support various athletic and sporting events which not only introduce Saudis to new sports and renowned international athletes but also showcase the kingdom’s landmarks and the welcoming nature of its people to the world,” said Fahad Nazer, spokesperson for the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington.

The increased focus on sports comes as the kingdom appears to be backing away from its intention to reduce the centrality of energy exports for its economy.

Energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Prince Mohammed’s brother, recently ridiculed an International Energy Agency (IEA) report that “there is no need for investment in new fossil fuel supply” as “the sequel of the La La Land movie.” The minister went on to ask, “Why should I take (the report) seriously?”

Putting its money where its mouth is, Saudi Arabia intends to increase its oil production capacity from 12 million to more than 13 million barrels a day on the assumption that global efforts to replace fossil fuel with cleaner energy sources will spark sharp reductions in US and Russian production.

The kingdom’s operating assumption is that demand in Asia for fossil fuels will continue to rise even if it drops in the West. Other Gulf producers, including the UAE and Qatar, are following a similar strategy.

“Saudi Arabia is no longer an oil country, it’s an energy-producing country … a very competitive energy country. We are low cost in producing oil, low cost in producing gas, and low cost in producing renewables and will definitely be the least-cost producer of hydrogen,” Prince Abdulaziz said.

He appeared to be suggesting that the kingdom’s doubling down on oil was part of strategy that aims to ensure that Saudi Arabia is a player in all conventional and non-conventional aspects of energy. By implication, Prince Abdulaziz was saying that diversification was likely to broaden the kingdom’s energy offering rather than significantly reduce its dependence on energy exports.

“Sports, entertainment, tourism and mining alongside other industries envisioned in Vision 2030 are valuable expansions of the Saudi economy that serve multiple economic and non-economic purposes,” “ said a Saudi analyst. “It’s becoming evident, however, that energy is likely to remain the real name of the game.”

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Middle East

Iranians Will Boycott Iran Election Farce

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Iran and elections have not been two synonymous terms. A regime whose constitution is based on absolute rule of someone who is considered to be God’s representative on earth, highest religious authority, morality guide, absolute ruler, and in one word Big Brother (or Vali Faqih), would hardly qualify for a democracy or a place where free or fair elections are held. But when you are God’s rep on earth you are free to invent your own meanings for words such as democracy, elections, justice, and human rights. It comes with the title. And everyone knows the fallacy of “presidential elections” in Iran. Most of all, the Iranian public know it as they have come to call for an almost unanimous boycott of the sham elections.

The boycott movement in Iran is widespread, encompassing almost all social and political strata of Iranian society, even some factions of the regime who have now decided it is time to jump ship. Most notably, remnants of what was euphemistically called the Reformist camp in Iran, have now decided to stay away from the phony polls. Even “hardline” former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad realizes the extent of the regime’s woes and has promised that he will not be voting after being duly disqualified again from participating by supreme leader’s Guardian Council.

So after 42 years of launching a reformist-hardliner charade to play on the West’s naivety, Khamenei’s regime is now forced to present its one and true face to the world: Ebrahim Raisi, son of the Khomeinist ideology, prosecutor, interrogator, torturer, death commission judge, perpetrator of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, chief inquisitionist, and favorite of Ali Khamenei.

What is historic and different about this presidential “election” in Iran is precisely what is not different about it. It took the world 42 years to cajole Iran’s medieval regime to step into modernity, change its behavior, embrace universal human rights and democratic governance, and treat its people and its neighbors with respect. What is shocking is that this whole process is now back at square one with Ebrahim Raisi, a proven mass murderer who boasts of his murder spree in 1988, potentially being appointed as president.

With Iran’s regime pushing the envelope in launching proxy wars on the United States in Iraq, on Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and on Israel in Gaza and Lebanon, and with a horrendous human rights record that is increasingly getting worse domestically, what is the international community, especially the West, going to do? What is Norway’s role in dealing with this crisis and simmering crises to come out of this situation?

Europe has for decades based its foreign policy on international cooperation and the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the promotion of human rights and democratic principles. The International community must take the lead in bringing Ebrahim Raisi to an international court to account for the massacre he so boastfully participated in 1988 and all his other crimes he has committed to this day.

There are many Iranian refugees who have escaped the hell that the mullahs have created in their beautiful homeland and who yearn to one day remake Iran in the image of a democratic country that honors human rights. These members of the millions-strong Iranian Diaspora overwhelmingly support the boycott of the sham election in Iran, and support ordinary Iranians who today post on social media platforms videos of the Mothers of Aban (mothers of protesters killed by regime security forces during the November 2019 uprising) saying, “Our vote is for this regime’s overthrow.” Finally, after 42 years, the forbidden word of overthrow is ubiquitous on Iranian streets with slogans adorning walls calling for a new era and the fall of this regime.

Europe should stand with the Iranian Resistance and people to call for democracy and human rights in Iran and it should lead calls for accountability for all regime leaders, including Ebrahim Raisi, and an end to a culture of impunity for Iran’s criminal rulers.

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