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Military Escalation in Disputed Areas: Upcoming Scenarios

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There has been considerable tension between the Kurdistan region and the Iraqi central government, after Kurdistan to hold a referendum on the independence of the region from the Center that caused resentment of Baghdad, which tried with neighboring countries to pressure Kurdistan to cancel the results of the referendum.

Recently, the head of the Kurdistan Region Intelligence Agency warned of major threat facing Kurdistan region and its achievements, following that Kurdistan Region Security Council announced in a tweet late on Wednesday (12 Oct 2017) that messages received indicating that Iraqi forces including the People’s Mobilization Forces (PMF) are preparing “major attacks” on Kurdistan. There have been signs of disagreement between the Governments of Baghdad and Erbil over the disputed areas and their administration since 2003. The question on everybody’s mind this time: Will Iraqi government use force to recapture disputed areas? What will be the upcoming scenarios to administer the disputed areas?  

What Are The Disputed Areas?

In short, they are the cities, towns and strategic villages with the absolute Kurdish majority in Kirkuk, Mosul, and Diyala, that form the borders of the southern Kurdistan, which are located along Arab cities and towns. Most of the Iraqi regimes tried to Arabize them and change their reality and their historical and geographical identity by bringing hundreds of thousands of Arab families and their housing instead of the original inhabitants who were displaced and spread during the rule of the Baath, which lasted from 1963 until the fall in 2003. The central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan region has been struggling for years in these areas. The areas which are populated by a mix of nationalities and sects: Majority Kurds and minorities of Arabs, which both Central government and KRG claim administrative rights. 

Constitutional Ways to Solve the Problems

Article (140), is a constitutional article binding in the articles of the Constitution of the Republic of Iraq (2005), which set the federal government a road map to settle the dispute over the disputed areas in Iraq and determine its fate. The Article 140 of the Constitution of the Republic of Iraq defines the disputed areas of Iraq as those that were subjected to demographic change and Arabization policy by the former regime during its rule from 1968 until it’s in 2003. The article includes a mechanism to solve the problems, consisting of three stages: first, normalization, and the treatment of changes in the composition of the population in Kirkuk and disputed areas under the regime of Saddam and after, and the second census in those areas, the latest referendum to determine what the people want, before 31 December 2017.  The Federal Government violated the Constitution, which slowed down and delayed the implementation of the contents of Article (140) of the Constitution and evaded its obligations and did not abide by the timetables of the stages of implementation contained in that article.

The failure to implement Article 140 of the Constitution, and some other federal problems such as do not to spend the share of the region from the federal budget and deprive the Peshmerga forces of their financial dues and problems related to the right to extract and export oil and the oil contracts are all unresolved issues that led to some kind of political break between the two governments.

The military developments that took place after the fall of some Iraqi cities with a Sunni majority by the militants of the Islamic State, and the withdrawal of the Iraqi army from disputed areas after the fall of the city of Mosul, Kurdish Peshmerga forces entered these areas and prevented the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) / Daesh to control them.

The New De Facto in Disputed Areas

Since the attacks of Islamic State to the northern Iraq, most of the disputed areas have controlled by the KRG, while others are under the control of Baghdad. The rise of ISIS caused a great loss for the Kurds but provided an opportunity for Peshmerga forces to restore the bulk of the Kurdistan controlled by the Iraqi authorities and some Iraqi Militias. Therefore, the Peshmerga forces will defend the areas that entered it as it did in the past in defense of Kirkuk and other areas. The federal government has not accepted the existence of the Peshmerga forces in those areas. This led to the KRG to deal with the new de facto disputed areas. During his recent visit to the area, Abadi asked for a gradual withdrawal from the territory liberated by the Peshmerga forces during the battles in Mosul. Predictably, the KRG did not accept this withdrawal and continues to remain militarily in each liberation zone.

On September 25, 2017, the referendum took place in Kurdistan region, as well as disputed areas with Baghdad, including Kirkuk in particular. The referendum caused a crisis between Baghdad and Erbil, after the KRG refused to retreat from the result of the referendum, and the Baghdad government maintained its position that rejects it, it was considered a Prime Minister Haider Abadi, the referendum is An unconstitutional exercise that jeopardizes the security and stability of the country, a procedure whose consequences have no real impact, but have serious negative implications for the region itself.

After the referendum, the federal government rushed to take action against the KRG. On September 26, 2017, the Iraqi prime minister asked the Kurdistan region to hand over its airports to the federal government within three days, with the closure of the airspace as of September 29, 2017. He called on the region to cancel all the result of the referendum on secession. Likewise, the Iraqi parliament issued a number of resolutions against the referendum, most notably the obligation of the commander-in-chief of the armed forces (Haider Abadi) to maintain the unity of Iraq by deploying troops in all areas controlled by KRG after 2003. The parliament also voted to re-control the oil fields in Kirkuk.

Obviously, the political parties in Shia National Alliance press on Abadi, to implement the decision of parliament to redeploy the army in the disputed areas as soon as possible. Abadi called on Iraqi military leaders to prepare a comprehensive report on the situation in the northern Iraqi axis before discussing the plan to redeploy the Iraqi federal forces in the disputed areas. The security leaders warned that the current situation is not appropriate to implement this decision, which may push a military clash with Peshmerga forces in those areas and the negative impact on the country.

Future Scenarios 

Some scenarios results in of Kurdish referendum are predictable in the disputed areas, including:

The first option is the entry of the Iraqi army into Kirkuk and the disputed areas under to bring the Peshmerga forces back to the pre-Daesh area. This certainly led to a short tactical military clash between both sides. Currently, with the aim of launching an attack on the city of Kirkuk and the seizure of its oil fields, Iraqi army and militia gather in Taza Khurmatu and al-Bashir village south of Kirkuk. These forces have been preparing for attack the city and began to move around the city. The commander of Unit 70 of Peshmerga forces, Jaafar Sheikh Mustafa, on Friday said that the Iraqi army and PMF gave the Kurdish forces two hours to hand over Kirkuk. This is an internal conflict, certainly will concern the United States, but will not push Washington to intervene immediately. Thus, the US to prevent a full-scale eruption of clashes will put a pressure on Erbil and Baghdad to contain the conflict and make an agreement to administer the areas.

This brings us to the second scenario, which is a joint administration of disputed areas until the resolution of Article 140 of the Constitution through a referendum in which people choose to stay with Baghdad or go to Kurdistan. As a way to contain the conflict, Pafel Talabani – Son of Jalal Talabani has offered to dissolve the Kirkuk provincial council, remove its governor if needed, create a joint administration in the areas and enter talks with Baghdad within the framework of the Iraqi constitution.

The third option is less likely to be a full-scale military confrontation. If the Peshmerga refused to allow the Iraqi army to enter those areas and hand over the oil fields to Baghdad, the Iraqi government would have to implement the parliament’s decision to use force, which would lead to the entry of the militia into the crisis line. In this case, the international community will interfere to protect Kurdistan region and prevent of much deteriorating of the security situation in Iraq. From this point, the last scenario will be establishing a buffer zone. Indeed, this needs the UN Security Council (UNSC) approves of draft cease-fire proposal by one of its members to create a security zone and arrival of peacekeeping forces. Similar the buffers reflect the stalemate following Israeli invasions of Lebanon aimed at eliminating cross-border attacks by guerrillas. In this case, the UNSC should help Erbil and Baghdad to revisit Article 140, the transitional provision of the Iraqi Constitution that mandates the normalization, census, and referendum processes that must occur to determine the future status of each disputed territory. This will resolve whether the territories will become part of the KRG or will remain within the Baghdad’s system of governorates.

In sum, the military conflict in the disputed areas is highly expected than before. The United States certainly protect the Kurdistan region, but no guarantee has made in disputed areas. Several scenarios for the future of disputed areas are expected, including the establishment of a buffer zone in these areas between KRG and Baghdad.  

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Middle East

Sudan puts Saudi-UAE religious and cheque book diplomacy to the test

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ chequebook diplomacy driven-soft power strategy is being put to the test in Sudan where a stand-off between protesters and the country’s ruling military council is at a decisive point.

With protesters refusing to tear down barricades in front of the military headquarters in the capital Khartoum and surrender the street, breaking off talks with the military council and demanding immediate instalment of a civilian government, the stand-off has become a battle of wills.

Like in Algeria, Sudanese protesters have learnt from the 2011 popular Arab revolts that initially securing their success in forcing a long-standing leader to step down depends on their ability to sustain mobilization and street pressure.

Both Sudan and Algeria have, in the wake of the toppling of presidents Omar al-Bashir and Abdulaziz Bouteflika, promised elections and arrested and/or detained officials and/or businessmen on corruption charges in a so far unsuccessful bid to pacify demonstrators and persuade them to end their protests.

With elections scheduled for July in Algeria while Sudan’s military is talking about one or more years of pre-election transition, Algerian protesters may have a leg up on their Sudanese brethren.

Nonetheless, protesters have also learnt that pledges of support by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt potentially are a Trojan horse. The UAE and Saudi Arabia led the regional effort to roll back the achievements of the 2011 revolts that toppled the leaders of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia.

Egypt joined the counterrevolution after general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi overthrew Egypt’s first and only democratically elected president in a UAE-Saudi-supported coup in 2013.

As a result, protesters have also learnt that they are up against formidable opponents, who include not just the militaries and associated businessmen and politicians who have a vested interest in the ancien regime, but also their regional backers.

Saudi, UAE and Egyptian backing for renegade Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar in the battle for Tripoli, the seat of the United Nations-recognized government, serves as an immediate reminder of the obstacles and risks the protesters face.

It has prompted at least some Sudanese to demand that the ruling military council reject US$3 billion in aid offered in recent days by the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

So far Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt have paid lip service to the Sudanese and Algerian protesters while trying to bolster military efforts to be seen to be meeting their demands yet maintaining ultimate grip on their countries’ politics.

The removal of Mr, Al-Bashir in Sudan was of particular importance to the counterrevolutionary states because of the fact that he came to power with the support of Islamist forces, the Gulf states and Egypt’s bete noir.

Sudan moreover is geopolitically important because of its strategic location in the Horn of Africa, a battleground for rival camps in the Middle East, Mr. Al-Bashir’s playing of both sides of the Middle East divide against the middle, and the granting to Turkey of access to Suakin Island that faces the Saudi Red Sea port of Jeddah.

Initial indications are that protesters’ fears that Saudi and UAE cheque book diplomacy comes with strings attached are not unfounded. Anti-Saudi and UAE sentiment has also been fuelled by the two states’ acquisition of Sudanese agricultural land in recent years and opposition to the war in Yemen.

The head of Sudan’s military council, Lt. General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, developed close ties to the Gulf states in his former role as commander of Sudanese forces that are part of the Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen.

Mr. Burhan, in apparent recognition of the 22-month old UAE-Saudi led diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar, refused to meet with Qatari foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani days after receiving a Saudi-UAE delegation. Sudan has since said it was working out arrangements for a Qatari visit.

Similarly, UAE and Saudi cheque book diplomacy has also bolstered Mauritanian support for their fight against Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood. 

This week’s visit by Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan to Iran during which the two countries agreed to form a joint quick reaction force to combat militant activity on their shared border, increase Iranian electricity sales to Pakistan and build a railway linking Islamabad, Tehran and Istanbul, puts the effectiveness of Gulf cheque book diplomacy to the test.

Pakistan appeared to be tilting toward Saudi Arabia in its dispute with Iran after the kingdom and the UAE pulled the cash-strapped South Asian nation back from the brink with $US 10 billion in financial aid and pledges of another $10 billion in investment.

Saudi Arabia’s greater emphasis on cheque book diplomacy coincides with a substantial cutback in global funding of Sunni Muslim ultra-conservativism to the tune of an estimated US$100 billion over the last four decades.

The cutback means that funding has been focused on regions that are of geopolitical importance to the kingdom such as the troubled Pakistani province of Balochistan that borders Iran and Yemen.

The cutback, however, does not mean that the fallout of the Saudi funding is no longer felt around the globe.

Some analysts believe that crown prince Mohammed bin Salman gives Saudi-backed ultra-conservative preachers a freer hand in Southeast Asia as opposed to Europe where he tries to project himself as an Islamic moderate. If so, its an approach that has produced at best mixed results.

Two Saudi-educated religious scholars, Bachtiar Nasir and Zaitun Rasmin, played a key role in ultra-conservative mass protests in 2016, the largest in Indonesian history, that brought down Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, aka Ahok, an ethnic Chinese Christian and ally of Indonesian president Joko Widodo.

Both students in the 1990s at the Islamic University of Medina, a key Saudi vehicle for the promotion of ultra-conservatism, Messrs. Nasir and Rasmin have since their return to Indonesia propagated a puritanical strand of Islam and built a substantial following among the middle class.

However, in contrast to the kingdom, that more recently has been pushing in countries like Algeria, Libya and Kazakhstan a quietist, loyalist interpretation of Islam, Messrs. Nasir and Rasmin have advocated political activism similar to the kingdom’s Sahwa or Islamic Awakening movement that called for peaceful political reform.

The movement, believed to have been partly inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, lost ground with the banning of the Brothers in the kingdom and the arrest of many of its leaders after the rise of Prince Mohammed.

Messrs. Nasir and Rasmin have aligned themselves with the far-right Sunni Muslim Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defenders Front, or FPI), whose leader, Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, a charismatic preacher and one-time vigilante of Yemeni descent, fled in 2017 to Saudi Arabia, where he has been allowed to reside to escape sexual harassment charges.

The alliance provides Messrs. Nasir and Rasmin a mass base that they can mobilize. The two men, moreover, huge followings on social media. Mr. Nasir has 1.1 million followers on Instagram, 526,000 on Facebook, and 217,000 on Twitter.

Mr. Rizieq was briefly detained and questioned in November by Saudi police after he flew a black flag inscribed with the Muslim principle of tawhid or the oneness of God at the back of his Mecca residence. The flag resembled ones used by jihadists, including the Islamic State.

“Are you a criminal for installing the flag on your house? I don’t think so… I think Rizieq is not a threat to my country. If he had violated any laws, he would have undergone a legal process. Rizieq doesn’t have problems,” commented Usamah Muhammad Al-Syuaiby, the Saudi ambassador to Indonesia.

Despite the seeming differences with Saudi policy, Mr. Rasmin appeared to be doing the kingdom’s bidding when he travelled to Malaysia in advance of the 2018 elections to support those segments of the Sunni ultra-conservative community that wanted to ensure that scandal-tainted prime minister Najib Razak would be re-elected.

Saudi Arabia had sought to help Mr. Razak, who stood accused of defrauding Malaysia’s 1MDB state fund of billions of dollars, by publicly supporting some of his questionable assertions. The Saudi strategy failed with Mahathir Mohamed’s defeat of Mr. Razak and the souring of Saudi-Malaysian relations.

Ultra-conservatives toeing the Saudi line argued that a defeat of Mr. Razak would lead to chaos. They denounced those who voted against him as khawarij, literally ‘those who walk away’ but frequently defined as ‘the dogs of hellfire.’

In an interview with Utusan, the newspaper of Mr. Razak’s party, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Mr. Rasmin backed the ultra-conservative argument that “it is prohibited to elect or let a non-Muslim be elected,“ a reference to the fact that Mr. Mahathir’s alliance included non-Muslims and liberals.

Taken together, developments in Sudan, Algeria, Pakistan and Southeast Asia, suggest that the effectiveness of Saudi and UAE religious and cheque book diplomacy hangs in the balance. The developments raise the question whether short-terms successes can be maintained long-term.

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War in Libya: A rare instance of US-Russian cooperation

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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There is little that Russia and the United States agree on these days. Renegade Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar may be a rare exception.

As Mr. Haftar’s mortars rained on the southern suburbs of the Libyan capital Tripoli and fighting between his Libyan National Army (LNA) and the United Nations-recognized government expanded to the south of the country, both Russia and the United States stopped a call for a ceasefire from being formally tabled in the UN Security Council.

Russia, which has joined US allies that include the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France, in supporting Mr. Haftar because of his grip on Libya’s oil resources and assertions that Islamists dominate the Tripoli government, objected to the British draft resolution because it blamed the rebel officer for the fighting.

The United States gave no reason for its objection. Yet, it shares Russia’s aversion to Islamists and clearly did not want to break ranks with some of its closest Middle Eastern allies, certainly not at a time that the UN was investigating allegations that the UAE had shipped weapons to Mr. Haftar in violation of an international arms embargo.

The significance of US-Russian agreement on Mr. Haftar’s geopolitical value goes far beyond Libya. It reveals much of how presidents Donald J. Trump and Vladimir Putin see the crafting of a new world order. It also says a great deal about Russian objectives in the Middle East and North Africa.

Messrs. Trump and Putin’s preference for a man with a questionable human rights record who, if successful, would likely rule Libya as an autocrat, reflects the two leaders’ belief that stability in the Middle East and North Africa is best guaranteed by autocratic rule or some democratic façade behind which men with military backgrounds control the levers of power.

It is a vision of the region promoted by representatives of UAE crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed who sees authoritarian stability as the best anti-dote to popular Arab revolts that swept the region in 2011 and more recently in Algeria and Sudan are proving to have a second lease on life.

Underlying the Trump-Putin understanding is a tacit agreement among the world’s illiberal, authoritarian and autocratic leaders on the values that would underwrite a new world order. It is an agreement that in cases like Libya reduces rivalry among world powers to a fight about the divvying up of the pie rather than the concepts such as human and minority rights that should undergird the new order.

Moscow’s support for Mr. Haftar serves Russia’s broader vision of the Middle East and North Africa as an arena in which Russia can successfully challenge the United States even if Messrs. Trump and Putin agree on what side to support in a Libyan civil war that is aggravated by the interference of foreign powers.

Russia national security scholar Stephen Blank argues that Mr. Putin’s strategy is rooted in the thinking of Yevgeny Primakov, a Russian Middle East expert, linguist and former spymaster, foreign minister and deputy prime minister.

Mr. Primakov saw the Middle East as a key arena for countering the United States that would enable Russia, weakened by the demise of the Soviet Union and economic problems, to regain its status as a global and regional power and ensure that it would be one pole in a multi-polar world.

“In order to reassert Russia’s greatness, Primakov and Putin aimed ultimately at strategic denial, denying Washington sole possession of a dominant role in the Middle East from where US influence could expand to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)” established in the wake of the demise of the Soviet Union to group post-Soviet states, Mr. Blank said.

Messrs. Primakov and Putin believed that if Russia succeeded it would force the United States to concede multi-polarity and grant Russia the recognition it deserves. That, in turn, would allow Mr. Putin to demonstrate to the Russian elite his ability to restore great power status.

Syria offered Russia the opportunity to display its military prowess without the United States challenging the move. At the same time, Russia leveraged its political and economic clout to forge an alliance with Turkey and partner with Iran. The approach served to defang Turkish and Iranian influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia, Mr. Blank argued.

Similarly, Russia after brutally repressing religiously inspired Chechen rebels in the 1990s and despite the lingering memory of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, has in line with UAE precepts, proven to be far defter than either China or the United States at promoting politically pacifist or apolitical loyalist Islam in a complex game of playing both sides against the middle.

Russian engagement runs the gamut from engaging with militants to cooperating with Muslim autocrats to encouraging condemnation of activist strands of ultra-conservative Islam to hedging its bets by keeping its lines open to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).

Even if Russia may be walking a tightrope in balancing its relationships with Mr. Haftar and GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, like in Syria, it is positioning itself with the backing of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt as the potential mediator that maintains ties to both sides of the divide.

Said Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov: “We believe that Libya’s future must be determined by the Libyans themselves. We are convinced that there is no alternative to an inclusive intra-Libyan dialogue… Our work on this track proceeds in this spirit and the belief that there is no alternative to preserving the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Libya.”

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Battling for the Future: Arab Protests 2.0

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Credit: Institute of Security Studies

Momentous developments across Arab North and East Africa suggest the long-drawn-out process of political transition in the region as well as the greater Middle East is still in its infancy.

So does popular discontent in Syria despite eight years of devastating civil war and Egypt notwithstanding a 2013 military coup that rolled back the advances of protests in 2011 that toppled Hosni Mubarak and brought one of the country’s most repressive regimes to power.

What developments across northern Africa and the Middle East demonstrate is that the drivers of the 2011 popular revolts that swept the region and forced the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen to resign not only still exist but constitute black swans that can upset the apple cart at any moment.

The developments also suggest that the regional struggle between forces of change and ancien regimes and militaries backed by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia is far from decided.

If anything, protesters in Algeria and Sudan have learnt at least one lesson from the failed 2011 results: don’t trust militaries even if they seemingly align themselves with demonstrators and don’t surrender the street until protesters’ demands have been fully met.

Distrust of the military has prompted an increasing number of Sudanese protesters to question whether chanting “the people and the army are one” is still appropriate. Slogans such as “freedom, freedom” and “revolution, revolution” alongside calls on the military to protect the protesters have become more frequent.

The protests in Algeria and Sudan have entered a critical phase in which protesters and militaries worried that they could be held accountable for decades of economic mismanagement, corruption and repression are tapping in the dark.

With protesters emboldened by their initial successes in forcing leaders to resign, both the demonstrators and the militaries, including officers with close ties to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are internally divided about how to proceed.

Moreover, neither side has any real experience in managing the crossroads at which they find themselves while it is dawning on the militaries that their tired playbooks are not producing results.

In a telling sign, Sudan’s interim leader Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan praised his country’s “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia and the UAE as he met this week with a Saudi-Emirati delegation at the military compound in Khartoum, a focal point of the protests.

Saudi Arabia has expressed support for the protests in what many suspect is part of an effort to ensure that Sudan does not become a symbol of the power of popular sovereignty and its ability to defeat autocracy.

The ultimate outcome of the dramatic developments in Algeria and Sudan and how the parties manoeuvre is likely to have far-reaching consequences in a region pockmarked by powder kegs ready to explode.

Mounting anger as fuel shortages caused by Western sanctions against Syria and Iran bring life to a halt in major Syrian cities have sparked rare and widespread public criticism of president Bashar al-Assad’s government.

The anger is fuelled by reports that government officials cut in line at petrol stations to fill up their tanks and buy rationed cooking gas and take more than is allowed.

Syria is Here, an anonymous Facebook page that reports on economics in government-controlled areas took officials to task after state-run television showed oil minister Suleiman al-Abbas touring petrol stations that showed no signs of shortage.

Is it so difficult to be transparent and forward? Would that undermine anyone’s prestige? We are a country facing sanctions and boycotted. The public knows and is aware,” the Facebook page charged.

The manager of Hashtag Syria, another Facebook page, was arrested when the site demanded that the oil ministry respond to reports of anticipated price hikes with comments rather than threats. The site charged that the ministry was punishing the manager “instead of dealing with the real problem.”

Said Syrian journalist Danny Makki: “It (Syria) is a pressure cooker.”

Similarly, authorities in Egypt, despite blocking its website, have been unable to stop an online petition against proposed constitutional amendments that could extend the rule of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi until 2034 from attracting more than 320,000 signatures as of this writing.

The petition, entitled Batel or Void, is, according to Netblocks, a group that maps web freedom, one of an estimated 34,000 websites blocked by Egyptian internet service providers in a bid to stymie opposition to the amendments.

Mr. El-Sisi is a reminder of how far Arab militaries and their Gulf backers are potentially willing to go in defense of their vested interests and willingness to oppose popular sovereignty.

Libyan renegade Field Marshall Khalifa Belqasim Haftar is another, Mr. Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) is attacking the capital Tripoli, the seat of the United Nations recognized Libyan government that he and his Emirati, Saudi, and Egyptian backers accuse of being dominated by Islamist terrorists.

The three Arab states’ military and financial support of Mr. Haftar is but the tip of the iceberg. Mr. Haftar has modelled his control of much of Libya on Mr. El-Sisi’s example of a military that not only dominates politics but also the economy.

As a result, the LNA is engaged in businesses ranging from waste management, metal scrap and waste export, and agricultural mega projects to the registration of migrant labour workers and control of ports, airports and other infrastructure. The LNA is also eyeing a role in the reconstruction of Benghazi and other war-devastated or underdeveloped regions.

What for now makes 2019 different from 2011 is that both sides of the divide realize that success depends on commitment to be in it for the long haul. Protesters, moreover, understand that trust in military assertions of support for the people can be self-defeating. They further grasp that they are up against a regional counterrevolution that has no scruples.

All of that gives today’s protesters a leg up on their 2011 counterparts. The jury is out on whether that will prove sufficient to succeed where protesters eight years ago failed.

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