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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

China-US and the Iran nuclear deal

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian that Beijing would firmly support a resumption of negotiations on a nuclear pact [China Media Group-CCTV via Reuters]

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with  Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi on Friday, January 14, 2022 in the city of Wuxi, in China’s Jiangsu province.  Both of them discussed a gamut of issues pertaining to the Iran-China relationship, as well as the security situation in the Middle East.

A summary of the meeting published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry underscored the point, that Foreign Ministers of Iran and China agreed on the need for  strengthening bilateral cooperation in a number of areas under the umbrella of the 25 year Agreement known as ‘Comprehensive Cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China’. This agreement had been signed between both countries in March 2021 during the Presidency of Hassan Rouhani, but the Iranian Foreign Minister announced the launch of the agreement on January 14, 2022.

During the meeting between Wang Yi and Hossein Amir Abdollahian there was a realization of the fact, that cooperation between both countries needed to be enhanced not only in areas like energy and infrastructure (the focus of the 25 year comprehensive cooperation was on infrastructure and energy), but also in other spheres like education, people to people contacts, medicine and agriculture. Iran also praised the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and said that it firmly supported the One China policy.

The timing of this visit is interesting, Iran is in talks with other signatories (including China) to the JCPOA/Iran nuclear deal 2015 for the revival of the 2015 agreement. While Iran has asked for removal of economic sanctions which were imposed by the US after it withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, the US has said that time is running out, and it is important for Iran to return to full compliance to the 2015 agreement.  US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in an interview said

‘Iran is getting closer and closer to the point where they could produce on very, very short order enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon’

The US Secretary of State also indicated, that if the negotiations were not successful, then US would explore other options along with other allies.

During the course of the meeting on January 14, 2022 Wang Yi is supposed to have told his Chinese counterpart, that while China supported negotiations for the revival of the Iran nuclear deal 2015, the onus for revival was on the US since it had withdrawn in 2018.

The visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister to China was also significant, because Foreign Ministers of four Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain — and Secretary General of GCC,  Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf were in China from January 10-14, 2022 with the aim of expanding bilateral ties – especially with regard to energy cooperation and trade. According to many analysts, the visit of GCC officials to China was driven not just by economic factors, but also the growing proximity between Iran and Beijing.

In conclusion, China is important for Iran from an economic perspective. Iran has repeatedly stated, that if US does not remove the economic sanctions it had imposed in 2018, it will focus on strengthening economic links with China (significantly, China has been purchasing oil from Iran over the past three years in spite of the sanctions imposed by the US. The Ebrahim Raisi administration has repeatedly referred to an ‘Asia centric’ policy which prioritises ties with China.

Beijing is seeking to enhance its clout in the Middle East as US ties with certain members of the GCC, especially UAE and Saudi Arabia have witnessed a clear downward spiral in recent months (US has been uncomfortable with the use of China’s 5G technology by UAE and the growing security linkages between Beijing and Saudi Arabia). One of the major economic reasons for the GCC gravitating towards China is Washington’s thrust on reducing its dependence upon GCC for fulfilling its oil needs. Beijing can utilize its good ties with Iran and GCC and play a role in improving links between both.

The geopolitical landscape of the Middle East is likely to become more complex, and while there is not an iota of doubt, that the US influence in the Middle East is likely to remain intact, China is fast catching up.

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Middle East

Egypt vis-à-vis the UAE: Who is Driving Whom?

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Image source: atalayar.com

“Being a big fish in a small pond is better than being a little fish in a large pond” is a maxim that aptly summarizes Egyptian regional foreign policy over the past few decades. However, the blow dealt to the Egyptian State in the course of the 2011 uprising continues to distort its domestic and regional politics and it has also prompted the United Arab Emirates to become heavily engaged in Middle East politics, resulting in the waning of Egypt’s dominant role in the region!

The United Arab Emirates is truly an aspirational, entrepreneurial nation! In fact, the word “entrepreneurship” could have been invented to define the flourishing city of Dubai. The UAE has often declared that as a small nation, it needs to establish alliances to pursue its regional political agenda while Egypt is universally recognized for its regional leadership, has one of the best regional military forces, and has always charmed the Arab world with its soft power. Nonetheless, collaboration between the two nations would not necessarily give rise to an entrepreneurial supremacy force! 

Egypt and the UAE share a common enemy: political Islamists. Yet each nation has its own distinct dynamic and the size of the political Islamist element in each of the two countries is different. The UAE is a politically stable nation and an economic pioneer with a small population – a combination of factors that naturally immunize the nation against the spread of political Islamists across the region. In contrast, Egypt’s economic difficulties, overpopulation, intensifying political repression, along with its high illiteracy rate, constitute an accumulation of elements that serves to intensify the magnitude of the secreted, deep-rooted, Egyptian political Islamists.

The alliance formed between the two nations following the inauguration of Egypt’s President Al Sisi was based on UAE money and Egyptian power. It supported and helped expand the domestic political power of a number of unsubstantiated Arab politicians, such as Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied and the Chairman of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council, Lieutenant-General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan. The common denominator among these politicians is that they are all fundamentally opposed to political Islamists.

Although distancing political Islamists from ruling their nations may constitute a temporary success, it certainly is not enough to strengthen the power of the alliance’s affiliates. The absence of true democracy, intensified repression by Arab rulers and the natural evolution of Arab citizens towards freedom will, for better or for worse, lead to the re-emergence of political Islamists. Meanwhile, Emirati wealth will always attract Arab hustlers ready to offer illusory political promises to cash in the money.   

The UAE has generously injected substantial amounts of money into the Egyptian economy and consequently the Egyptian State has exclusively privileged Emirati enterprises with numerous business opportunities, yet the UAE has not helped Egypt with the most critical regional threat it is confronting: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi’s exaggerated fascination with UAE modernization has prompted him to duplicate many Emirati projects – building the tallest tower in Africa is one example.

The UAE’s regional foreign policy that hinges upon exploiting its wealth to confront the political Islamist threat is neither comprehensible nor viable. The Emirates, in essence, doesn’t have the capacity to be a regional political player, even given the overriding of Egypt’s waning power. Meanwhile, Al Sisi has been working to depoliticize Egypt completely, perceiving Egypt as an encumbrance rather than a resource-rich nation – a policy that has resulted in narrowing Egypt’s economic and political aspirations, limiting them to the constant seeking of financial aid from wealthy neighbors.

The regional mediating role that Egypt used to play prior to the Arab uprising has been taken over by European nations such France, Germany and Italy, in addition of course to the essential and ongoing role of the United States. Profound bureaucracy and rampant corruption will always keep Egypt from becoming a second UAE! Irrespective of which nation is in the driver’s seat, this partnership has proven to be unsuccessful. Egypt is definitely better off withdrawing from the alliance, even at the expense of forgoing Emirati financial support.

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Middle East

Kurdish Education in Turkey: A Joint Responsibility

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Turkish elites often see Kurds as posing a mortal threat to their homeland’s territorial integrity. Kurdish elites often harbor pan-Kurdish dreams of their own.

Modern Turkish nationalism based its identity on statist secularism practiced by Muslims who are Turks. The secularist paradigm of a “Turkish Nation” struggled hard with accommodating Christians (Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians) and Kurdish-speaking Muslims. Kurdish coreligionists were expected to become Turks, i.e., to abandon their cultural heritage for the “greater good” of a homogenous Turkish nation.

This cultural-identity conundrum led to a century-long violent conflict, but also to genuine efforts by many Kurds and Turks to reach a common vision that would accommodate both Turkey’s territorial integrity and Kurdish cultural rights.

The rise to power of Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002 appeared to imply a watershed, bringing about a measure of cultural liberalization toward the Kurds. More Islam seemed at first to signal less nationalistic chauvinism.

IMPACT-se, a think tank focusing on peace and tolerance in school education, pointed out in “Two Languages One Country,” a 2019 report that showed liberal elements being introduced in the Turkish curriculum by the AKP government. These “included the introduction of a Kurdish language elective program, the teaching of evolution, expressions of cultural openness, and displays of tolerance toward minorities.”

And while no open debate was permitted, IMPACT-se noted “a slight improvement over past textbooks in recognizing the Kurds, although they are still generally ignored.” Yet, the name “Kurd” is no longer obliterated from the curriculum. Kurdish-language textbooks were authored as part of a wider Turkish-Kurdish rapprochement.

In June 2012, the Turkish government announced for the first time, that a Kurdish elective language course entitled: “Living Languages and Dialects” (Yaşayan Diller ve Lehçeler), would be offered as an elective language for Grades 5–7 for two hours per week.

IMPACT-se studied these textbooks (published in 2014 and 2015 in Kurmanji and Zazaki) in its report  and found that the elective Kurdish-language program strengthens Kurdish culture and identity, while assuming a pan-Kurdish worldview devoid of hate against Turks. Included are Kurdish-historic places in Turkey, Iran and Iraq (but not Syria). The textbooks cover issues such as the Kurdish diaspora in Europe, the Kurdish national holiday of Newroz, with the underlying revolutionary message of uprising against tyranny. Children’s names are exclusively Kurdish. Turks and Turkey are not represented in the elective Kurdish books (but are obviously present across the rest of the curriculum).

The latter is a surprising and counter-intuitive finding. Textbooks published by Turkey’s Ministry of Education focus solely on the Kurdish side, with pan-Kurdish messaging, and no Turkish context. There could be several explanations for this, but the fact remains that Turkish-Kurdish relations are still not present in Turkey’s Kurdish language program.

The overall conclusion of IMPACT-se has been that this program is pioneering and generally excellent. There are some problems, however. One problem is that the elective program is minimalistic and does not meet Kurdish cultural needs. However, the program ignores the Turkish-Kurdish dilemma, hence projecting an inverted mirror image of the Turkish curriculum at large, which ignores the Kurdish question. There is no peace education in either curriculum. Therefore, IMPACT-se recommended enhancing the Kurdish-language program, while adding a healthy dose of pertinent peace education to the curriculum’s Turkish and Kurdish textbooks.

Sadly, the last few years have also seen broader moves by the Turkish government to quash Kurdish cultural and educational freedoms. The armed conflict between separatist groups and the Turkish military resumed in 2015, followed by the 2016 detention of high-ranking officials of the peaceful pro-minority People’s Democratic Party (HDP). By 2020, 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors on the HDP ticket in previous years had been forced out or arrested by security forces.

Simultaneously, elective programs such as Kurdish have been neglected and largely replaced by religious “elective” courses, which are often mandatory. Specifically, elective Kurdish courses are being clamped down or de facto erased in certain schools (despite being originally offered in 28 cities and with an expected enrollment as high as 160,000).

And then there is the question of full education in Kurdish. Article 42 of the Turkish Constitution bans the “teaching of any language other than Turkish as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institution of education.” And yet, Turkish authorities looked the other way between 2013 and 2016, as five fully Kurdish elementary private schools were opened in the southeastern provinces of Diyarbakır, Şırnak and Hakkari. The last of these schools, Ferzad Kemanger in Diyarbakır, was closed on October 9, 2016. Apparently these schools conveyed pan-Kurdish messaging (Ferzad Kemanger was an Iranian-Kurdish elementary school teacher. He was wrongly accused of being a terrorist and executed by Tehran in 2010).

There can be no Kurdish heritage without Kurdish languages, making the current situation untenable. Kurdish education should become a priority again.

But this is not enough. A common Turkish-Kurdish vision should be developed. Educationally, a serious effort should be directed toward educating both Turks and Kurds about the other’s identity, culture, shared history, commonalties, conflicts and interactions. 

Two ethnicities sharing one homeland in a volatile region pose a great challenge for both. A careful educational plan can lay the groundwork for peace and prosperity. Kurdish education in Turkey should be considered a joint responsibility leading to a common vision.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect an official position of IMPACT-se.

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