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Libyan Conflict: Actors and interests

Demonstrators gather at Martyrs' Square in Tripoli, Libya (file photo). UNSMIL

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The country of Libya has witnessed two main internal conflicts, one of them the anti-Qadhafi regime protests which at the end of the day was removed from power and brutally was killed. The second wave of protests erupted upon the regime’s fall which divided the state into two opposing sides. Thus, fighting between parties grew strained and involved both regional and international powers. On one side Turkey, Qatar, and Italy supported Tripoli’s UN-recognized government and on the other side Russia, Egypt, UAE, Saudi, and France backed the self-established Government by Khalifa Haftar.(1)As long as the involved actors inside and outside have interests in Libyan conflict, the war will continue. I suggest “The Onion” and “Conflict Mapping” as a tool of analysis to study the dynamics of the Libyan conflict and ending the conflict.

1)Background of the conflict

Identity crisis

Libya has suffered identity crises throughout the Libyan history (Andersen,1986).Dynamics of the Libyan civil war after the fall of the Qadhafi regime which lasted from 1969 to 2011 rooted in the long history of the tribal divisions since the ottoman and Italian wars. Tribal and identity diversity made Libya a weak state which obstructed creating a national identity. East and West division traces back to the time before Qadhafi took power. King Idris declared himself as a prince of Cyrenaica which is on the Eastern coast of Libya and later became the king of the whole of Libya. (2)

Lack of national identity gave way to internal infighting and due to tribaland geographic diversity, the state has not been able to build institutions to include all diverse tribes within the state. Therefore, Libya failed to build civic nationalism to create a mutual identity for all Libyan regardless of family, tribe, or regional connection. Namely building of democratic institutions was important for Libya to unify the people. As Fukuyama says lack of democratic institutions, states are exposed to war such as cases of Syria and Afghanistan.(3)

 Tribal and Family diversity

Historically Libya was comprised of three regions and was administered through three separate provinces, one province in the East named Cyrenaica, and the other two provinces were in the Northwest and Southwest named Tripolitania and Fezzan respectively. Ottoman empire divided the country into two separate administrations one in Tripoli and the other in Cyrenaica. Later in the era of Italian colonization, the provinces were unified as a colony state. These divisions and tribal diversities have lent socio-economic differences which paved the way for civil war particularly in the vacuum of central power that came into existence after the Arab Spring in 2011. (4)

Even in the era of Qadhafi tribal identity was stronger than national identity but in the presence of a powerful central government, tribal leaders were not able to fight each other, so after the collapse of central power these differences and divisions surfaced. During the revolution, tribes were divided between supporting Qadhafi or opposing him and the same repeated after the revolution who opted for different governments. Even Qadhafi has formally established multiple tribal committees and assemblies which through these tactics could hold grip to power.(5 )

Libyan divisions in terms of tribe, family, and geography have made way for internal conflict. simultaneously facilitated external intervention where the external powers have distinctive needs and interests to support one side over the other. This had complicated the conflict more for the conflicting party to reach an agreement. So, international intervention has always impacted negatively on peace-making in conflicting countries(Edward lutak,199). (6)

External actors

Besides internal divisions and lack of identity, external power’s disagreement over peace-making is another factor of keeping the conflict alive. Interest discrepancies of these powers have disappointed the prospects of peace. They have exploited the lack of national identity and tribal divisions to achieve their own needs and interests. They took sides in the conflict to accomplish their needs, not the interests of the Libyan population. Libya’s energy resources have motivated them to take polarization politics there. Both Turkey and Italy require oil, so it was in their interest to involve, and on the other side Egypt, UAE, Russia have the interest of balance of power toward both Turkey and EU, and French’s interest besides of oil, fighting extremism. Eventually, multiple actors are involved to ensure their needs and interests namely strengthening their positions. Thus government in the Tripoli led by Alsaraj (GNA, the government of national accord) and another in the eastern part led by Khalifa Haftar (LNA, National Arab army ) took shape and were supported by different tribal and distinctive external actors. (7)

2) Conflict analysis tool

“Conflict Mapping” and “The Onion” as a tool of analysis

James Fearon believes that private information and commitment are two main factors that two conflicting parties do not reach an agreement (1995)(8)These two elements apply to the Libyan case. So, Identifying the actors in the conflict and understanding the needs of the conflicting sides is the start to initiate negotiations and potentially resolving the conflict. In this regard, “Conflict mapping “and “The Onion” are two important tools that can be employed to establish mutual interests and cooperation. The fightingactors within the internal conflict in the Libyan conundrum are divided among opposing sides which they have an end to achieve. So, they have both commitment and private information, on one side Haftar self-established government commits international actors such as Russia and Arabian Gulf states and on the other side Al-Saraj government commits other international actors such as Turkey and Qatar. Therefore private information and commitment preclude the opposing sides to reach an agreement.

Through the United Nations as a neutral actor is possible to keep away the external actors from the scene of the conflict and establishing conditions of terminating the war based on a win-win solution. As long as the conflicting parties inside Libya get support from external actors, the war is going on. So, As Donald Wittman “[V]iews the termination of war as a process of rational calculations by the participants; unless both sides believe that they can be made better off by a settlement, the war will continue”.(9)

3)Outcome and conclusion

Libya’s social structure in terms of geography and tribal life has made way for internal disagreement and lack of national identity. Such divisions set the stage for interest collision among tribal leaders and external powers. Energy resources have lent a factor of intervention which made the country more conflict-ridden. Both internal and external powers are working to meet their needs and protecting their interests. In doing so they are making alliances with internal fighting groups to enhance their positions. Establishing a kind of system which is ensuring all sides’ needs and interests is a key factor to finalize the conflict. To sum up, the conflict in Libya ends only in the case of considering the interests of all international and internal actors into considerations. Through “The Onion” and “Conflict Map”, the problem can be resolved, in a way the interest, need, and position of actors that were identified will be met.

References

Bayes Rascheed Amin is a freelance journalist. He is now a higher education student in the field of International Relations at the University of Essex in England. He is a political analyst and a contributor writer for multiple online websites in Iraqi Kurdistan.

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Middle East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Middle East

Iranians Will Boycott Iran Election Farce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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