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How to End the War in Yemen in 2020?

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The Yemen conflict is striking in that the entire global community and all the actors involved have achieved a singularly powerful consensus that there is no future for a solution achieved by force and a political solution is the only option. Since June 2015, this thought has permeated UN documents, speeches delivered by politicians and by heads of the UN Secretary General’s special missions to Yemen. The scale of the humanitarian disaster in Yemen has surpassed record highs: there are over 100,000 dead, the number of refugees is running into the millions, and the number of people who need external aid to survive has long ago exceeded 24 million, which is about 80% of the country’s total population. Major damage has been done to the artificial irrigation systems that form the material foundation of the thousand-year-old civilization of this unique country, and this damage will continue to prevent Yemenis from going back to their customary lifestyle for years to come.

Many convincing texts have been written about the war’s negative impact on international relations, including GCC states themselves, about the geopolitical struggle surrounding Yemen due to the rivalry over influence in the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait and the Red Sea, and about the eroding system of international law in areas bordering on the conflict zone. In addition to introducing new threats to the health of Yemen’s suffering population, the COVID-19 global pandemic has delivered another blow to Yemen in the shape of a sharp drop in the humanitarian fund: incoming funds have shrunk to nearly just a third of the 2019 figure (from USD 3.6 bn to USD 1.3 bn).

In 2020, the expert community has demonstrated unprecedented unanimity in focusing on clearing the hurdles blocking a Yemen crisis settlement: the community has been hoping to prevent the disaster from growing into an unprecedented humanitarian and political collapse that would have even more profound and detrimental consequences for Yemen and all neighbouring regions. Not by chance have Russia and the EU spearheaded these discussions and found far more points of intersection than differences during their communications.

By the end of the year, experts, politicians and Yemen’s people have once again started to hope owing to the possibility of a Joint Declaration (JD) on a ceasefire being signed and to the partial lifting of the economic and transport blockage imposed by the command of the Arab Coalition (AC) in March 2015. Contextualised within a record POW swap held in October, when over 1,000 people returned home, making it the biggest prisoner exchange since the start of the war, this initiative proposed by Martin Griffiths, UN Special Envoy for Yemen, is perceived by many as a chance to put back on the agenda a comprehensive crisis settlement, for which Russia has been consistently striving for. Hopes have also been raised by reports about progress being made at the Riyadh simultaneous talks between Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, Yemen’s Internationally Recognised President (IRP), and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) on implementation of the Riyadh Agreement (RA) they signed back in November 2019. This agreement provides for forming a government with their joint participation. Both processes, the JD and the RA, essentially concern two unconnected hotbeds of military hostilities within the Yemen conflict area, those between the AC and the Sanaa Alliance (SA) forces in the North, on the one hand, and in the “Houthi”-free South, on the other hand, between the AC’s wings represented by the IRP and the STC.

Yet, if we take a closer look, these seemingly positive trends are moving in opposite directions and could ultimately generate new clashes. If we compare the two documents, the RA that was signed under the auspices of Saudi Arabia and the UAE in 2019 but has not so far been implemented, and the JD that has not yet been signed, we will see that they have radically different goals. The RA is intended to bring back to Aden the IRP’s offices that had been pushed out by the STC in August 2019; the objective is to consolidate the wings on the grounds of continuing the war with the SA, while the JD is intended to affect a ceasefire between the AC and the SA in order to put an end to the war.

The main difficulty in implementing the RA is that its signatories, the IRP and the STC, are unwilling to look for ways to align their contradictory views of Yemen’s future. The IRP advocates Yemen’s integrity and federalisation, while the STC is officially fighting to have South Yemen restored within the 1990 boundaries of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. The STC is consistently staking claims to represent the interests of the South at any future talks; the STC has warned the UN that the crisis cannot be settled unless this claim is taken into account. The National Dialogue Conference (NDC) that concluded in January 2014 taught us that the “Southern Question” could have a significant impact on Yemen’s political developments. The UN Security Council praised the NDC Document signed at the end of the conference, but it was not recognised by the leading factions of the South, which ultimately reduce the value of this achievement.

Understanding that finding a solution to the pivotal problem of national unity is crucial for settling the crisis inevitably means to understand that it is the Yemenis themselves who have the principal right to decide this matter. Otherwise, progress in implementing the RA or achieving peace in Yemen, in general, can hardly be expected.

Let us suppose that the joint government envisaged by the RA is, indeed, formed. What will the united military and law enforcement block do now if, in the year since the RA was signed, pro-Saudi and pro-Emirati wings of the AC, represented by the IRP and the STC, have failed to move from confrontation to compromise in the southern governorates of Shabwa and Abyan? The situation in Hadharamaut, Yemen’s largest governorate, which various AC wings have divided into Inner and Coastal Hadhramaut, continues to intensify. In August 2020, the STC officially announced it had suspended its participation in the RA since its adversary had been building up its military presence at the points of contact. Even so, let us suppose that the parties make progress in finding solutions to all these problems. Under the RA, compliance with the so-called RA military section should constitute the next step; this involves moving all IRP-STC military bodies, consolidated under a united command from the South, and redeploying them in the North to engage the SA forces. This manoeuvre can only impede the UN’s simultaneously implemented project, the JD envisioning putting a freeze on the situation on all fronts. Additionally, if the current IRP’s government signs the JD without waiting for a new government, including the STC to be formed, the JD’s legal status will be flawed. Anyone can see that, while these events do raise people’s hopes when they are considered separately, they are, in fact, disjointed and divergent, which breeds suspicions among the Yemeni actors immediately involved and reduces their positive value.

Sadly, year in year out, we see Yemen’s hopes of a speedy settlement of the military conflict disappear as if dashed against an invisible wall; in the long run, these hopes repeatedly turn into increasingly dangerous humanitarian, geopolitical and military-political situations.

Recently, international fora have been voicing more and more well-founded criticisms of the UN Security Council Resolution 2216 adopted in April 2015. There are many reasons for such critical statements but the main one is that, during the past years of war, the balance of power in the crisis area has utterly changed. One major impediment to the resolution being revised appears to be the conviction that this resolution is the only guarantee of the IRP status as the bulwark of a settlement that would prevent Yemen from descending into uncontrollable chaos, which is generally taken to mean terrorist threats and the country’s uncontrollable collapse. The same conviction permeates the IRP’s official stance as it gives this resolution (as well as the NDC’s decisions) pride of place on the IRP’s negotiating platform at all talks. We should not forget that the resolution recognises that the “Houthi” capitulating and the IRP returning to Sanaa is the only acceptable scenario for putting an end of the AC’s campaign in Yemen.

During nearly six years of war, the situation on the ground has changed so much that these goals now appear virtually unattainable. The expert community acknowledges this. Yemen today has no single political influence centre (PIC), single government, or even single parliament. Since March 2015, the IRP has been almost permanently stationed in Riyadh and all Yemen’s domestic political scene could not fail to notice this. In addition to the unrecognised authorities in Sanaa, including the Houthi movement (Ansar Allah), which controls the greater chunk of the territory in the North, home to three-quarters of Yemen’s population, the STC led by General Aidarous Zubaidi has been active in the South and, with the UAE’s support, has gained such influence that even Saudi Arabia, leader of the AC, has to take it into account. A question begs to be asked: if the IRP and the STC could engage in talks on establishing joint authorities, why cannot this model be extended to another PIC in Sanaa? Maybe the reason does not lie in Iran’s hostile influence on the Houthi, which is presumed to have initiated the entire conflict?

During armed clashes between the AC’s wings in Aden in August 2019, the STC and the UAE defended their actions, accusing the IRP of being under excessive influence from the radical religious faction of the Al-Islah party, which had been integrated into the IRP’s offices during the latter’s stay in Riyadh. The STC also claimed that the IRP had been influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood (banned in Russia as a terrorist organisation) as part of the Al-Islah. This was the STC’s principal motive in declaring the South a self-governing territory in order to combat AQAP and IS, banned terrorist groups adhering to the ideology of so-called jihadist Salafism. Let us note that the unrecognised SA authorities in the North did succeed in clearing these groups from the entire territory they control. This ideological aspect of the differences between the STC and the IRP is sufficiently important to merit special attention. Yet, the RA did not address this aspect, which, like the unity issue, will certainly continue slowing down the entire settlement process.

Why is the strengthening of the IRP’s actual role in the settlement process important? The IRP alone has the legal right to make sovereign decisions that the global community has to take into account since it recognised the IRP in 2015. The IRP can spearhead initiatives for ending the war. This idea seems naive to many but it might, in time, give the IRP a chance to turn the tide that has long been going against it.

There is a widespread opinion that the IRP’s standing in the Yemen crisis rests mostly on this resolution and any steps to amend it will automatically undermine it. We will attempt to prove the opposite by studying the resolution’s real influence on the IRP’s standing on Yemen’s scene and on the tactics adopted by the UN mission in Yemen, which the settlement process had depended on.

The most dramatic turning point in the crisis was probably the collapse of the three-month-long Kuwait round of talks between April and August 2016. That round was attended by three delegations: two represented the SA (Ansar Allah and the General People’s Congress, GPC) and one the IRP. The format of the talks did not fully align with the idea of the resolution that considered the civil war in Yemen to have divided the state into two camps, one supporting the legal authorities (IRP) and one consisting of “Houthi rebels” accused of a coup. The delegation of the GPC, then led by Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, did not fit into this view at all, since Sanaa’s delegation by definition represented “rebels.” If the GPC were part of the rebellion, it would be groundless, to put it mildly, to accuse the Houthi of being pro-Iranian. In 2001–2011, President Saleh was known to be an important strategic partner of the USA in the region; he lost that status and U.S. support only at the start of the “Yemeni revolution” in early 2011. Clearly, the GPC delegation’s arrival in Kuwait acknowledged the true state of affairs in Yemen. Consequently, the “disconnect” with the particular concept of the conflict underlying the resolution was let slide. Another “disconnect” resulted, however, in the collapse of the talks. In June–July 2016, after much intense and sincere work, the Yemeni delegations achieved an understanding on a conflict settlement mechanism. This was built on forming an emergency collective supreme command body to be in charge of all the heavy weapons so that this body would be working in a climate conducive to launching inclusive peace talks for paving the way for deciding democratically the issue of Yemen’s legitimate authorities. By late July, nothing was left of that joint Yemeni breakthrough owing to the discrepancy between the principle approved at the talks and the formula British experts used in drafting the resolution.

The tragedy of that failure is that the chance to put an end of the war back in 2016 was lost. The Kuwait round of talks and its outcome was vividly reminiscent of the famous historical precedent in Yemen when, back in 1965, at the height of the civil war in the YAR, the Yemeni parties, republicans and royalists held a restricted-attendance conference at the village of Al-Hamri in Amran Governorate and agreed the concept for the peace formula. Even the dethroned monarch himself approved the decisions adopted at that conference, although they granted victory to the republicans. Following the al-Hamri conference, the YAR civil war continued for nearly five years, until 1970, when foreign actors – Egypt and Saudi Arabia, finally agreed between themselves and Saudi Arabia officially recognised the YAR. Back then, however, the al-Hamri formula formed the foundation of the reconciliation granting the Zaidiyyah tribes, who had supported the king, the right to participate in republican government bodies. It is important to emphasise that the Yemenis voluntarily gave up on the idea of a “clean” unilateral victory for the sake of preserving national unity and for their country’s future.

The main political outcome of the Kuwait round’s collapse was the joint decision made by Ansar Allah and the GPC to form a coalition government in Sanaa with parity-based representation of the parties and to recognise the validity of Yemen’s constitution. That autumn, the Parliament elected at Yemen’s latest elections, in 2003, resumed its work in Sanaa (although not in full muster). The GPC held the parliamentary majority, although the unrecognised regime in Sanaa was still known as the Houthi regime. This resumption of parliamentary activities was the decisive factor in the subsequent course of the armed hostilities since the bureaucracy, the military and law enforcement in the North were still looking to the GPC leader.

Understanding that finding a solution to the pivotal problem of national unity is crucial for settling the crisis inevitably means to understand that it is the Yemenis themselves who have the principal right to decide this matter. Otherwise, progress in implementing the RA or achieving peace in Yemen, in general, can hardly be expected.

The collapse of the Kuwait talks had another logical yet negative consequence: all subsequent UN peacemaking missions moved away from trying to achieve a comprehensive crisis settlement to striving instead to smooth out the urgent emerging problems of a mostly humanitarian nature. The Stockholm talks (December 2018) focused on the dangers to the humanitarian situation in Al Hudaydah, on the situation in Taiz and on POWs. Those talks were attended by two delegations representing only the IRP and the SA since GPC members were now part of the Sanaa delegation. The fate of the Stockholm agreements was lamentable primarily because the war that had created all those dangers was still raging. As of November 2020, the situation around Yemen’s port of Al Hudaydah, the largest on the Red Sea, continues to balance on the verge of a disaster, with all the military and humanitarian risks subsisting and augmented by a new environmental danger threatening the entire Red Sea basin: over a million barrels of petrochemicals might leak into the sea from the Safer floating oil storage facility built in 1974 and moored at Al Hudaydah.

The collapse of the Kuwait talks spurred on the political movement aiming for greater insulation of the South. This movement was launched in 2017 and has already resulted in the above-mentioned events in Aden in August 2019. The IRP could no longer be present in the provisional capital, this making the AC’s Saudi wing very vulnerable because the South, which had been proclaiming its loyalty to the AC since the start of the campaign, in this particular instance preferred its rival, the STC, thus taking a step toward a rift. The struggle between the AC’s wings in the South has a disintegrating impact on that region of the country.

In 2020, the UN mission in Yemen focused primarily on the urgent new situation that emerged on the eastern front of the military operation in the North as the SA’s forces advanced against the centre of the Ma’rib Governorate. From the start of the war, that region was the IRP’s main military foothold in Yemen. It is hard to predict whether the UN initiative will be successful and how long the breather will last if the JD is, indeed, signed.

***

Summing up our analysis of the impact the Resolution has on the real issues of the conflict, we can state that it was not conducive to the IRP performing the role expected of it by the international community, namely, to put the speediest end to the war, as envisaged in the Resolution itself. The Resolution did not help search for a comprehensive conflict settlement either; it also resulted in the UN mission switching its focus to secondary issues emerging because the war continued unabated.

The Resolution was not suited to the Yemeni crisis situation from its inception (Russia abstained during the vote for this very reason) and its influence on the IRP’s standing in Yemen can be only seen as counterproductive.

A new formula needs to be developed for settling the Yemen crisis with the participation of Yemenis and taking account of their wishes; this formula needs to focus on the real national problems that have been artificially pushed into the background. It appears that, without such a formula, all the contradictions and “disconnects” described in the article in the actions of the parties on the Northern and Southern fronts of the Yemeni conflict will most likely generate another go-round in the crisis.

Even though Yemeni PICs have different visions for the country’s future, their actions clearly demonstrate a desire to reinstate Yemen’s statehood and sovereignty either in the pre-1990 unification mould (the STC and other factions of the South Yemen Movement – al-Hirak), or in the post-1990 unification mould (the IRP and the SA). The chaos in the conflict zone cannot be overcome without a cooling down of the geopolitical passions that attract an expanding circle of foreign actors. Yet, to achieve this goal, the UN needs to have a reliable new tool for launching a political process in Yemen’s format. The very history of the country gives sufficient reason to be optimistic concerning Yemen’s prospects and the willingness of all the principal actors to participate constructively. The risks generated by the COVID-19 pandemic do not appear to be the main stimulus prompting them to become involved. More likely, Yemen’s unique political culture, its adherence to common values and common sense, will kick in. We should not believe that only pre-fabricated scenarios in the spirit of political engineering are capable of ensuring the success of such talks. Every surprise foreign actors have faced and will continue to face in Yemen proves that the Yemenis themselves have equally rich potential for independent creative activity.

From our partner RIAC

Ph.D. in Economics, Senior Researcher at the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

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After 10 years of war in Syria, siege tactics still threaten civilians

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The future for Syria’s people is “increasingly bleak”, UN-appointed rights experts said on Tuesday, highlighting escalating conflict in several areas of the war-ravaged country, a return to siege tactics and popular demonstrations linked to the plummeting economy.

According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the country is not safe for refugees to return to, after a decade of war.

The panel’s findings come amid an uptick in violence in the northwest, northeast and south of the country, where the Commissioners highlighted the chilling return of besiegement against civilian populations by pro-Government forces.

“The parties to the conflict continue to perpetrate war crimes and crimes against humanity and infringing the basic human rights of Syrians,” said head of the Commission of Inquiry, Paulo Pinheiro. “The war on Syrian civilians continues, and it is difficult for them to find security or safe haven.”

Scandal of Al Hol’s children

Professor Pinheiro also described as “scandalous” the fact that many thousands of non-Syrian children born to former IS fighters continue to be held in detention in dreadful conditions in Syria’s north-east.

“Most foreign children remain deprived of their liberty since their home countries refuse to repatriate them,” he told journalists, on the sidelines of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“We have the most ratified convention in the world, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is completely forgotten. And democratic States that are prepared to abide to this Convention they neglect the obligations of this Convention in what is happening in Al Hol and other camps and prison places.”

Some 40,000 children continue to be held in camps including Al Hol. Nearly half are Iraqi and 7,800 are from nearly 60 other countries who refuse to repatriate them, according to the Commission of Inquiry report, which covers the period from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021. 

Blockades and bombardment

The rights experts also condemned a siege by pro-Government forces on the town of Dar’a Al-Balad, the birthplace of the uprising in 2011, along with “siege-like tactics” in Quineitra and Rif Damascus governorates.

“Three years after the suffering that the Commission documented in eastern Ghouta, another tragedy has been unfolding before our eyes in Dar’a Al-Balad,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally, in reference to the siege of eastern Ghouta which lasted more than five years – and which the commissioners previously labelled “barbaric and medieval”.

In addition to the dangers posed by heavy artillery shelling, tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside Dar’a Al-Balad had insufficient access to food and health care, forcing many to flee, the Commissioners said.

Living in fear

In the Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn regions of Aleppo, the Commissioners described how people lived in fear of car bombs “that are frequently detonated in crowded civilian areas”, targeting markets and busy streets.

At least 243 women, men and children have been killed in seven such attacks over the 12-month reporting period, they said, adding that the real toll is likely to be considerably higher.

Indiscriminate shelling has also continued, including on 12 June when munitions struck multiple locations in Afrin city in northwest Syria, killing and injuring many and destroying parts of al-Shifa hospital.

Insecurity in areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria has also deteriorated, according to the Commission of Inquiry, with increased attacks by extremist “remnants” and conflict with Turkish forces.

Division remains

The Commissioners noted that although President Assad controls about 70 per cent of the territory and 40 per cent of the pre-war population, there seems to be “no moves to unite the country or seek reconciliation. On the contrary.”

Despite a welcome drop in the level of violence compared with previous years, the Commission of Inquiry highlighted the dangers that continue to be faced by non-combatants

The senior rights experts also highlighted mounting discontent and protests amongst the population, impacted by fuel shortages and food insecurity, which has increased by 50 per cent in a year, to 12.4 million, citing UNFPA data.

“The hardships that Syrians are facing, particularly in the areas where the Government is back in control, are beginning to show in terms of protests by Syrians who have been loyal to the State,” said Mr. Megally. They are now saying, ‘Ten years of conflict, our lives are getting worse rather than getting better, when do we see an end to this?’”

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IAEA Director General reaches agreement in Tehran, as Biden’s clock is ticking

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IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi at a press conference. Photo: IAEA/Dean Calmaa

A meeting to resolve interim monitoring issues was held in Tehran on 12 September between the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi. Grossi was on a visit to Tehran to fix roadblocks on the stalled monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program, which is ever more challenging in a context where there is no diplomatic agreement to revive or supersede the JCPOA. Grossi said in a press conference on 12 September that the IAEA had “a major communication breakdown” with Iran. But what exactly does that mean?


The IAEA monitoring equipment had gone three months without being serviced and Grossi said he needed “immediate rectification” of the issues. He was able to get the Iranian side to come to an agreement. The news from Sunday was that the IAEA’s inspectors are now permitted to service the identified equipment and replace their storage media which will be kept under the joint IAEA and AEOI seals in Iran. The way and the timing are now agreed by the two sides. The IAEA Director General had to push on the terms of the agreement reached in February 2020.

Grossi underlined on Sunday that the new agreement can’t be a permanent solution. Data from the nuclear facilities is just being stored according to what commentators call “the continuity of knowledge” principle, to avoid gaps over extended time periods but the data is not available to inspectors.

When it’s all said and done, basically, it all comes down to the diplomatic level. The American withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement in 2018 keeps undermining the Iran nuclear inspections on the technical level. All the inspection activities have been stalled as a result of the broken deal. The IAEA’s strategy in the interim is that at least the information would be stored and not permanently lost.

Everyone is waiting for the JCPOA to be restored or superseded. As Vali Nasr argued in the New York Times back in April this year, the clock is ticking for Biden on Iran. Iran diplomacy doesn’t seem to be on Biden’s agenda at all at the moment. That makes the nuclear inspectors’ job practically impossible.  Journalists pointed out on Sunday that the Director General’s visit found one broken and one damaged camera in one of the facilities. Grossi assured it has been agreed with Iran that the cameras will be replaced within a few days. The IAEA report notes that it was not Iran but Israel that broke the IAEA cameras in a June drone attack carried out by Israel. Presumably, Israel aimed to show Iran is not complying by committing the violations themselves.

Grossi’s visit was a part of the overall IAEA strategy which goes along the lines of allowing time for diplomacy, without losing the data in the meantime. He added that he thinks he managed to rectify the most urgent problem, which is the imminent loss of data.

The Reuters’s title of the meeting is that the agreement reached on Sunday gives “hope” to a renewed Iran deal with the US, after Iran elected a hardliner president, Ebrahim Raisi, in August this year, but that’s a misleading title. This is not the bit that we were unsure about. The question was never on the Iranian side. No one really expected that the new Iranian president would not engage with the IAEA at all. Earlier in November 2019, an IAEA inspector was not allowed on a nuclear cite and had her accreditation canceled. In November 2020, Iranian lawmakers passed a law that mandated the halt of the IAEA inspections and not to allow inspectors on the nuclear sites, as well as the resuming of uranium enrichment, unless the US sanctions are lifted. In January 2021, there were threats by Iranian lawmakers that IAEA inspectors would be expelled. Yet, the new Iranian President still plays ball with the IAEA.

It is naïve to think that Iran should be expected to act as if there was still a deal but then again, US foreign policy is full of naïve episodes. “The current U.S. administration is no different from the previous one because it demands in different words what Trump demanded from Iran in the nuclear area,” Khamenei was quoted to have said in his first meeting with President Raisi’s cabinet.

“We don’t need a deal – you will just act as if there was still a deal and I will act as if I’m not bound by a deal” seems to be the US government’s line put bluntly. But the ball is actually in Biden’s court. The IAEA Director General is simply buying time, a few months at a time, but ultimately the United States will have to start moving. In a diplomatic tone, Grossi referred on Sunday to many commentators and journalists who are urging that it is time.

I just don’t see any signs on Biden’s side to move in the right direction. The current nuclear talks we have that started in June in Vienna are not even direct diplomatic talks and were put on hold until the outcome of Iran’s presidential elections were clear. US hesitance is making Grossi’s job impossible. The narrative pushed by so many in the US foreign policy space, namely that the big bad wolf Trump is still the one to blame, is slowly fading and reaching its expiry date, as Biden approaches the one-year mark of his presidency.

Let’s not forget that the US is the one that left and naturally is the one that has to restart the process, making the parties come back to the table. The US broke the deal. Biden can’t possibly be expecting that the other side will be the one extending its hand to beg for forgiveness. The US government is the one that ruined the multi-year, multilateral efforts of the complex dance that was required to get to something like the JCPOA – a deal that Republicans thought was never going to be possible because “you can’t negotiate with Iran”. You can, but you need skilled diplomats for that. Blinken is no Kerry. Judging from Blinken’s diplomacy moves with China and on other issues, I just don’t think that the Biden Administration has what it takes to get diplomacy back on track. If he follows the same line with Iran we won’t see another JCPOA in Biden’s term. Several weeks ago, Biden said that there are other options with Iran if diplomacy fails, in a White House meeting with Israel’s new prime minister Bennett. I don’t think that anyone in the foreign policy space buys that Biden would launch a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But I don’t think that team Biden can get to a diplomatic agreement either. Biden and Blinken are still stuck in the 2000, the time when others would approach the US no matter what, irrespective of whose fault it was. “You will do as I say” has never worked in the history of US foreign policy. That’s just not going to happen with Iran and the JCPOA. To expect otherwise is unreasonable. The whole “Trump did it” line is slowly and surely reaching its expiry date – as with anything else on the domestic and foreign policy plane. Biden needs to get his act together. The clock is ticking.

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Elections represent an opportunity for stability and unity in Libya

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With just over 100 days until landmark elections in Libya, political leaders must join forces to ensure the vote is free, fair and inclusive, the UN envoy for the country told the Security Council on Friday. 

Ján Kubiš, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) briefed ambassadors on developments ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections due to take place on 24 December. 

They were agreed under a political roadmap stemming from the historic October 2020 ceasefire between Libya’s rival authorities, and the establishment of a Government of National Unity (GNU) earlier this year. 

At the crossroads 

“Libya is at a crossroads where positive or negative outcomes are equally possible,” said Mr. Kubiš.  “With the elections there is an opportunity for Libya to move gradually and convincingly into a more stable, representative and civilian track.” 

He reported that the House of Representatives has adopted a law on the presidential election, while legislation for the parliamentary election is being finalized and could be considered and approved within the coming weeks.  

Although the High National Election Commission (HNEC) has received the presidential election law, another body, the High State Council, complained that it had been adopted without consultation. 

Foreign fighter threat 

The HNEC chairman has said it will be ready to start implementation once the laws are received, and will do everything possible to meet the 24 December deadline. 

“Thus, it is for the High National Election Commission to establish a clear electoral calendar to lead the country to the elections, with support of the international community, for the efforts of the Government of National Unity, all the respective authorities and institutions to deliver as free and fair, inclusive and credible elections as possible under the demanding and challenging conditions and constraints,” said Mr. Kubiš.  

“The international community could help create more conducive conditions for this by facilitating the start of a gradual withdrawal of foreign elements from Libya without delay.” 

Young voters eager 

The UN envoy also called for countries and regional organizations to provide electoral observers to help ensure the integrity and credibility of the process, as well as acceptance of the results. 

He also welcomed progress so far, including in updating the voter registry and the launch of a register for eligible voters outside the country. 

So far, more than 2.8 million Libyans have registered to vote, 40 per cent of whom are women.  Additionally, more than half a million new voters will also be casting their ballots. 

“Most of the newly registered are under 30, a clear testament to the young generation’s eagerness to take part in determining the fate of their country through a democratic process. The Libyan authorities and leaders must not let them down,” said Mr. Kubiš. 

He stressed that the international community also has a responsibility to support the positive developments in Libya, and to stand firm against attempts at derailment.  

“Not holding the elections could gravely deteriorate the situation in the country, could lead to division and conflict,” he warned.  “I urge the Libyan actors to join forces and ensure inclusive, free, fair parliamentary and presidential elections, which are to be seen as the essential step in further stabilizing and uniting Libya.”

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