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Reviewing the Libyan issue

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap]re we sure we have so far well-interpreted Libya’s scenario, its strategic balances and the nature of our real interests in that complex system? Are we confident that the goal of a mature foreign policy is to be deceived by the first who comes by, when he babbles words he does not know, such as “democracy” and “freedom”?

Finally, are we sure that – at cultural level – our lifestyles can be exported and fully turned – without residues – into social, religious and anthropological contexts completely different from the European or Western ones?

I am afraid not.

Unlike contemporary linguistics, in political cultures the so-called “Sapir-Whorf” hypothesis – also known as the principle of linguistic relativity – applies, whereby the grammatical structure of a language affects and even changes the very structure of thought.

The West, but especially France and Great Britain, which more than others had referred to the principles of a “humanitarian war” against the so-called tyrant Muammar al-Minyar Gaddafi, disappeared immediately after the establishment of the National Transitional Council in August 2011 and the killing of the “tyrant” on October 20, 2011.

Geopolitics in the Brothers Grimm’s style of fairy tales, with the bad guy who gets the end he deserves.

Geopolitics for small talk during the afternoon tea, where the profile of the latest villain is sketched, with some shivers down the back because, as the poet Sylvia Plath wrote, “Every woman adores a Fascist / The boot in the face, the brute / Brute heart / of a brute like you”.

Hence moralistic and naive geopolitics, deprived of any analysis of the objective nature of the forces on the ground and unable to understand how, for instance, Libya’s destabilization would also cause the end of Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt.

It was obvious that the end of a soundly authoritarian regime would favour the jihad, but this obvious possibility was never considered by anyone.

Today we are making the same mistake by favouring the now hypothetical regime of Fajez al-Sarraj.

A government that, while al-Sarraj is on travel, appoints a Chief of the intelligence, who is notoriously close to General Haftar.

A government whose Presidential Council, of which al-Sarraj is member, is headquartered in the base of Abu Sittah, near Tripoli.

And it does not dare to set foot outside the door..

It is true, however, that the Government of National Accord, established on the basis of the Political Agreement for Libya brokered by the United Nations on December 17, 2015, finds its democratic justification precisely in the House of Representatives – the now de facto autonomous rival government of the East. In between, however, there is precisely General Khalifa Haftar with his “Operation Dignity”, who seems to be the only armed prophet of the region, apart from the small and increasingly irrelevant factions.

It is the Libyan National Army – namely General Haftar’s creature – that de facto controls the House of Representatives, which should also justify the “democratic” regime of the Presidency in the West, in the hands of a now disarmed al-Sarraj.

Only a madman – outside Libya – could conceive such a delicate and dangerous apparatus, but this crazy man often lives – like a Phantom of the Opera – in the UN corridors in New York.

General Haftar’ strategic aims are now very clear: to eradicate jihadist Islam at least from Eastern Libya;   defend borders and the many Egyptian workers present in Cyrenaica; avoid the vast Libyan region being conquered by jihadist forces contrary to the interests of Saudi Arabia and the Arab Emirates that know all too well how powerful the Muslim Brotherhood is in that region, due to ancient ethno-religious traditions.

Al-Sarraj has been recently recommended – by the United Nations and by the even more inept European Union, not to mention the United States – to “reach an inclusive agreement” with Haftar’s forces – an inclusion which is reminiscent of a fox in a henhouse.

On top of it, in Tripoli there is also the National Salvation Government led by Khalifa al-Ghawil.

It was established as a point of reference representing the group of politicians that lost the Libyan elections of June 2014, by later using the armed forces of the “Libya Dawn Coalition”, the Islamist militias operating against al-Sarraj and Haftar during the “second Libyan civil war” of 2014-2016.

In fact “Libya Dawn” militias conquered the Tripoli airport in 2014.

Today we witness the creation of the Libyan National Guard – on the ashes of Libya Dawn (Fajr) – established last February, again in Tripoli.

However, it will not take orders from al-Sarraj’s Government of National Unity and it is composed of armed brigades mostly coming from Misrata.

Hence infiltrations of the Muslim Brotherhood and Ansar Al Sharia are very probable.

In all likelihood, the new armed force still supports Khalifa al-Ghawil, the perpetrator of a recent coup in Tripoli. He is always the primary point of reference for the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as Qatar and Turkey, which have very different prospects on Libya than Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Arab Emirates.

The more al-Ghawil becomes dangerous, the more his issue is linked to the tensions between the EU and Turkey.

With the crazy overthrow of Gaddafi, we have also given this card to the Islam of “permanent jihad” and “sword jihad”, as well as to the regional Islamic powers in the Middle East.

Italy, the most naive country which knows nothing about the real balances currently existing in Libya, relies only on al-Sarraj to stop or limit the migrant flows from the Libyan coast.

It is just wishful thinking.

Meanwhile, the oil terminals of Sidra and Ras Lanuf have been reconquered by Khalifa Haftar who, after two years, has freed the Benghazi region from the jihadist militias and is heading for Tripoli, his next inevitable target.

The oil areas were taken by forces joining some Qaedist Salafists, the military of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Benghazi Defence Brigades , Misrata militias and the “Petroleum Defence Guards” of Ibrahim Jadhran.

Later the soldiers of old General Haftar came in – the General who was overthrown precisely by Gaddafi, who hold him responsible for the Libyan defeat in Chad.

Both Misrata militias and the Petroleum Defence Guards are loyal – at great cost – to al-Sarraj’s government.

But was it not al-Sarraj’s GNA supposed to be the “secular government” so much liked by the United Nations and the Europeans?

Jadhran, however, wants greater autonomy for Libya’s Eastern oil provinces. He opposes the Muslim Brotherhood currently de facto in power in Tripoli and, with his “Petroleum Defence Guards” – approximately 17,500 units -he controls the region and sometimes also other parts of Libya.

Today, however, this structure is in disarray but – apart from Haftar’s forces – in some regions, the oil areas are still held by the old groups of Jadhran, who is an ever more listless ally of al-Sarraj.

It is worth recalling that the Parliament of Eastern Libya supports the end of a united Libyan National Oil Corporation.

Furthermore, in Tripoli, al-Ghawil’s National Salvation Government, known as “the Tripoli-based Parliament”, bases its tenuous legitimacy on the General National Congress, which dates back to the old 2012 Libyan Parliament.

Most of the General National Congress members are also members of the Council of State, a body recognized by the Libyan Political Agreement brokered and managed, at the time, by the UN finest spirits.

A political area that recognized itself especially in the “Libya Dawn”, as well as in Misrata militias, now basically in favour of al-Sarraj, and in the five local Western Libyan militias.

Finally, in Tobruk – or rather in Al Bayda – there is also Al-Thinni’s government, in place since March 2014, that is direct heir to the transitional government elected immediately after Gaddafi’s fall, which should transfer its powers to al-Sarraj’s GNA.

We will wait for a long time.

Furthermore, apart from the forces of the Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate in Sirte, fought and eradicated at first by the militias linked to al-Sarraj and later by Haftar’s forces, the jihadist brigades not directly related to Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate are operating in Libya.

It is the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, which was created by joining several jihadist militias just to counter Haftar’s ”Operation Dignity”. Then we have Ansar al-Sharia, whose Benghazi faction has merged with the above stated “Shura Council” and operates with militants who fought in Syria and Iraq throughout the Libyan territory.

Moreover there are the February 17th Brigade Martyrs Brigade; the Rafallah al-Sahati Brigade; the Shura Council of the Mujahideen in Derna; the Ajdabiya Revolutionaries Shura Council, in North-East Libya; the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade, the Tripoli Special Deterrence Force and the Libya Shield 1.

Now nearly all of these groups have their headquarters and operate in Western Libya, in Tripoli or in Misrata.

As early as 2011 Ansar al-Sharia, which was already operational immediately before Gaddafi’s fall, has organized training camps for foreign fighters, mainly Tunisians and Egyptians.

Under these conditions the war feeds itself: the more a group is fierce and organized, the more it can handle extortions, robberies, kidnappings and blackmails.

Meanwhile “Operation Dignity” is in crisis because the Libyan National Bank does not abide by the agreement to provide 40% of the oil proceeds to the Benghazi government, while the 60% payments to the Tripoli government are still vague and labile.

The separation of the National Oil Corporation (NOC) is in the air and, with said separation, we will have the stabilization ab aeterno of the Libyan chaos.

The worst case scenario for us.

Moreover, the city of Misrata is largely supported by the funding of Qatar, Turkey and Sudan.

For both sides it is a thorn in the flesh for the new Libyan State’s unity.

At the time, only a perfect idiot could create such a geopolitical situation. We found him – indeed, we found many of them.

What could be the solution? Support to Khalifa Haftar’s ‘”Operation Dignity”, also to avoid the General falling into the hands of the Russian Federation, which could aspire to two military bases in Cyrenaica. Moreover, Haftar is the only one having the design of a United Libya, of a non-Islamist State and of a correlation of forces not alien to the stability of the rest of the Maghreb region, which depends directly on the Libyan crisis.

The “disarmed prophets”, as always happened in the history of Western political thinking, must be abandoned to their fate.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Middle East

Turkey and Iran find soft power more difficult than hard power

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The times they are a changin’. Iranian leaders may not be Bob Dylan fans, but his words are likely to resonate as they contemplate their next steps in Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Lebanon, and Azerbaijan.

The same is true for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The president’s shine as a fierce defender of Muslim causes, except for when there is an economic price tag attached as is the case of China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims, has been dented by allegations of lax defences against money laundering and economic mismanagement.

The setbacks come at a time that Mr. Erdogan’s popularity is diving in opinion polls.

Turkey this weekend expelled the ambassadors of the US, Canada, France, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden for calling for the release of philanthropist and civil rights activist Osman Kavala in line with a European Court of Human Rights decision.

Neither Turkey nor Iran can afford the setbacks that often are the result of hubris. Both have bigger geopolitical, diplomatic, and economic fish to fry and are competing with Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama for religious soft power, if not leadership of the Muslim world.

That competition takes on added significance in a world in which Middle Eastern rivals seek to manage rather than resolve their differences by focusing on economics and trade and soft, rather than hard power and proxy battles.

In one recent incident Hidayat Nur Wahid, deputy speaker of the Indonesian parliament, opposed naming a street in Jakarta after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the general-turned-statemen who carved modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire. Mr. Wahid suggested that it would be more appropriate to commemorate Ottoman sultans Mehmet the Conqueror or Suleiman the Magnificent or 14th-century Islamic scholar, Sufi mystic, and poet Jalaludin Rumi.

Mr. Wahid is a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and a board member of the Saudi-run Muslim World League, one of the kingdom’s main promoters of religious soft power.

More importantly, Turkey’s integrity as a country that forcefully combats funding of political violence and money laundering has been called into question by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international watchdog, and a potential court case in the United States that could further tarnish Mr. Erdogan’s image.

A US appeals court ruled on Friday that state-owned Turkish lender Halkbank can be prosecuted over accusations it helped Iran evade American sanctions.

Prosecutors have accused Halkbank of converting oil revenue into gold and then cash to benefit Iranian interests and documenting fake food shipments to justify transfers of oil proceeds. They also said Halkbank helped Iran secretly transfer US$20 billion of restricted funds, with at least $1 billion laundered through the US financial system.

Halkbank has pleaded not guilty and argued that it is immune from prosecution under the federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act because it was “synonymous” with Turkey, which has immunity under that law. The case has complicated US-Turkish relations, with Mr.  Erdogan backing Halkbank’s innocence in a 2018 memo to then US President Donald Trump.

FATF placed Turkey on its grey list last week. It joins countries like Pakistan, Syria, South Sudan, and Yemen that have failed to comply with the group’s standards. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned earlier this year that greylisting would affect a country’s ability to borrow on international markets,  and cost it an equivalent of up to 3 per cent of gross domestic product as well as a drop in foreign direct investment.

Mr. Erdogan’s management of the economy has been troubled by the recent firing of three central bank policymakers, a bigger-than-expected interest rate cut that sent the Turkish lira tumbling, soaring prices, and an annual inflation rate that last month ran just shy of 20 per cent. Mr. Erdogan has regularly blamed high-interest rates for inflation.

A public opinion survey concluded in May that 56.9% of respondents would not vote for Mr. Erdogan and that the president would lose in a run-off against two of his rivals, Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas and his Istanbul counterpart Ekrem Imamoglu.

In further bad news for the president, polling company Metropoll said its September survey showed that 69 per cent of respondents saw secularism as a necessity while 85.1 per cent objected to religion being used in election campaigning.

In Iran’s case, a combination of factors is changing the dynamics of Iran’s relations with some of its allied Arab militias, calling into question the domestic positioning of some of those militias, fueling concern in Tehran that its detractors are encircling it, and putting a dent in the way Iran would like to project itself.

A just-published report by the Combatting Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy West Point concluded that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) faced “growing difficulties in controlling local militant cells. Hardline anti-US militias struggle with the contending needs to de-escalate US-Iran tensions, meet the demands of their base for anti-US operations, and simultaneously evolve non-kinetic political and social wings.”

Iranian de-escalation of tensions with the United States is a function of efforts to revive the defunct 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program and talks aimed at improving relations with Saudi Arabia even if they have yet to produce concrete results.

In addition, like in Lebanon, Iranian soft power in Iraq has been challenged by growing Iraqi public opposition to sectarianism and Iranian-backed Shiite militias that are at best only nominally controlled by the state.

Even worse, militias, including Hezbollah, the Arab world’s foremost Iranian-supported armed group, have been identified with corrupt elites in Lebanon and Iraq. Many in Lebanon oppose Hezbollah as part of an elite that has allowed the Lebanese state to collapse to protect its vested interests.

Hezbollah did little to counter those perceptions when the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened Lebanese Christians after fighting erupted this month between the militia and the Lebanese Forces, a Maronite party, along the Green Line that separated Christian East and Muslim West Beirut during the 1975-1990 civil war.

The two groups battled each other for hours as Hezbollah staged a demonstration to pressure the government to stymie an investigation into last year’s devastating explosion in the port of Beirut. Hezbollah fears that the inquiry could lay bare pursuit of the group’s interests at the expense of public safety.

“The biggest threat for the Christian presence in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces party and its head,” Mr. Nasrallah warned, fuelling fears of a return to sectarian violence.

It’s a warning that puts a blot on Iran’s assertion that its Islam respects minority rights, witness the reserved seats in the country’s parliament for religious minorities. These include Jews, Armenians, Assyrians and Zoroastrians.

Similarly, an alliance of Iranian-backed Shiite militias emerged as the biggest loser in this month’s Iraqi elections. The Fateh (Conquest) Alliance, previously the second-largest bloc in parliament, saw its number of seats drop from 48 to 17.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi brought forward the vote from 2022 to appease a youth-led protest movement that erupted two years ago against corruption, unemployment, crumbling public services, sectarianism, and Iranian influence in politics.

One bright light from Iran’s perspective is the fact that an attempt in September by activists in the United States to engineer support for Iraqi recognition of Israel backfired.

Iran last month targeted facilities in northern Iraq operated by Iranian opposition Kurdish groups. Teheran believes they are part of a tightening US-Israeli noose around the Islamic republic that involves proxies and covert operations on its Iraqi and Azerbaijani borders.

Efforts to reduce tension with Azerbaijan have failed. An end to a war of words that duelling military manoeuvres on both sides of the border proved short-lived. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, emboldened by Israeli and Turkish support in last year’s war against Armenia, appeared unwilling to dial down the rhetoric.

With a revival of the nuclear program in doubt, Iran fears that Azerbaijan could become a staging pad for US and Israeli covert operations. Those doubts were reinforced by calls for US backing of Azerbaijan by scholars in conservative Washington think tanks, including the Hudson Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

Eldar Mamedov, a political adviser for the social-democrats in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, warned that “the US government should resist calls from hawks to get embroiled in a conflict where it has no vital interest at stake, and much less on behalf of a regime that is so antithetical to US values and interests.”

He noted that Mr. Aliyev has forced major US NGOs to leave Azerbaijan, has trampled on human and political rights, and been anything but tolerant of the country’s Armenian heritage.

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Middle East

Process to draft Syria constitution begins this week

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The process of drafting a new constitution for Syria will begin this week, the UN Special Envoy for the country, Geir Pedersen, said on Sunday at a press conference in Geneva.

Mr. Pedersen was speaking following a meeting with the government and opposition co-chairs of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, who have agreed to start the process for constitutional reform.

The members of its so-called “small body”, tasked with preparing and drafting the Constitution, are in the Swiss city for their sixth round of talks in two years, which begin on Monday. 

Their last meeting, held in January, ended without progress, and the UN envoy has been negotiating between the parties on a way forward.

“The two Co-Chairs now agree that we will not only prepare for constitutional reform, but we will prepare and start drafting for constitutional reform,” Mr. Pedersen told journalists.

“So, the new thing this week is that we will actually be starting a drafting process for constitutional reform in Syria.”

The UN continues to support efforts towards a Syrian-owned and led political solution to end more than a decade of war that has killed upwards of 350,000 people and left 13 million in need of humanitarian aid.

An important contribution

The Syrian Constitutional Committee was formed in 2019, comprising 150 men and women, with the Government, the opposition and civil society each nominating 50 people.

This larger group established the 45-member small body, which consists of 15 representatives from each of the three sectors.

For the first time ever, committee co-chairs Ahmad Kuzbari, the Syrian government representative, and Hadi al-Bahra, from the opposition side, met together with Mr. Pedersen on Sunday morning. 

He described it as “a substantial and frank discussion on how we are to proceed with the constitutional reform and indeed in detail how we are planning for the week ahead of us.”

Mr. Pedersen told journalists that while the Syrian Constitutional Committee is an important contribution to the political process, “the committee in itself will not be able to solve the Syrian crisis, so we need to come together, with serious work, on the Constitutional Committee, but also address the other aspects of the Syrian crisis.”

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Middle East

North Africa: Is Algeria Weaponizing Airspace and Natural Gas?

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In a series of shocking and unintelligible decisions, the Algerian Government closed its airspace to Moroccan military and civilian aircraft on September 22, 2021, banned French military planes from using its airspace on October 3rd, and decided not to renew the contract relative to the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline, which goes through Morocco and has been up and running since 1996–a contract that comes to end on October 31.

In the case of Morocco, Algeria advanced ‘provocations and hostile’ actions as a reason to shut airspace and end the pipeline contract, a claim that has yet to be substantiated with evidence. Whereas in the case of France, Algeria got angry regarding visa restrictions and comments by French President Emmanuel Macron on the Algerian military grip on power and whether the North African country was a nation prior to French colonization in 1830.

Tensions for decades

Algeria has had continued tensions with Morocco for decades, over border issues and over the Western Sahara, a territory claimed by Morocco as part of its historical territorial unity, but contested by Algeria which supports an alleged liberation movement that desperately fights for independence since the 1970s.

With France, the relation is even more complex and plagued with memories of colonial exactions and liberation and post-colonial traumas, passions and injuries. France and Algeria have therefore developed, over the post-independence decades, a love-hate attitude that quite often mars otherwise strong economic and social relations.

Algeria has often reacted to the two countries’ alleged ‘misbehavior’ by closing borders –as is the case with Morocco since 1994—or calling its ambassadors for consultations, or even cutting diplomatic relations, as just happened in August when it cut ties with its western neighbor.

But it is the first-time Algeria resorts to the weaponization of energy and airspace. “Weaponization” is a term used in geostrategy to mean the use of goods and commodities, that are mainly destined for civilian use and are beneficial for international trade and the welfare of nations, for geostrategic, political and even military gains. As such “weaponization” is contrary to the spirit of free trade, open borders, and solidarity among nations, values that are at the core of common international action and positive globalization.

What happened?

Some observers advance continued domestic political and social unrest in Algeria, whereby thousands of Algerians have been taking to the streets for years to demand regime-change and profound political and economic reforms. Instead of positively responding to the demands of Algerians, the government is probably looking for desperate ways to divert attention and cerate foreign enemies as sources of domestic woes. Morocco and France qualify perfectly for the role of national scapegoats.

It may be true also that in the case of Morocco, Algeria is getting nervous at its seeing its Western neighbor become a main trade and investment partner in Africa, a role it can levy to develop diplomatic clout regarding the Western Sahara issue. Algeria has been looking for ways to curb Morocco’s growing influence in Africa for years. A pro-Algerian German expert, by the name of Isabelle Werenfels, a senior fellow in the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, even recommended to the EU to put a halt to Morocco’s pace and economic clout so that Algeria could catch up. Weaponization may be a desperate attempt to hurt the Moroccan economy and curb its dynamism, especially in Africa.

The impact of Algeria’s weaponization of energy and airspace on the Moroccan economy is minimal and on French military presence in Mali is close to insignificant; however, it shows how far a country that has failed to administer the right reforms and to transfer power to democratically elected civilians can go.

In a region, that is beleaguered by threats and challenges of terrorism, organized crime, youth bulge, illegal migration and climate change, you would expect countries like Algeria, with its geographic extension and oil wealth, to be a beacon of peace and cooperation. Weaponization in international relations is inacceptable as it reminds us of an age when bullying and blackmail between nations, was the norm. The people of the two countries, which share the same history, language and ethnic fabric, will need natural gas and unrestricted travel to prosper and grow and overcome adversity; using energy and airspace as weapons is at odds with the dreams of millions of young people in Algeria and Morocco that aspire for a brighter future in an otherwise gloomy economic landscape. Please don’t shatter those dreams!

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