About Ian Garner

Ian Garner is the Mediterranean Research Associate at the NESA Center. His research interests include insurgency and state building, democratization, energy, and Islamic social movements.

Two Different Reactions, One Objective: Japan and Jordan on ISIS

A contribution from NESA intern Madison Barton.

The extremist group known as ISIS (The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) has received various responses from a wide range of countries to their brutal tactics. The recent executions of Japanese Security Contractor Haruna Yukawa, Journalist Kenji Goto, and Jordanian Pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh, have amplified the ever-growing animosity towards ISIS. Both, Goto and Yukawa were Japanese hostages whose lives were taken by the radical group. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke out against the acts of terror, denouncing the heinous behavior of ISIS, and reassuring the continuation of humanitarian aid to countries in need. However, while Japan chooses to advance with peace and prosperity in mind, Jordan is taking an antithetical approach. The two countries have suffered tremendous loss, and though the crimes have been carried out differently in each situation, they are analogously related. Why then, are the reactions so very different?

Just over two weeks ago Haruna Yukawa was murdered, one day later ISIS announced that the fate of Kenji Goto would be the same unless Jordanian prisoner, Sajida al-Rishawi, associated with hotel bomb attacks that killed 60 people, was released.  Goto was killed on January 31, 2015. ISIS claims that the Japanese aid was the reason for taking the hostages. Prime Minister Abe pledged 200 million in aid to countries fighting ISIS. The group later demanded this same amount for ransom and proclaimed that Japan joined an “unwinnable war” when they chose to provide assistance to their allies. Japan’s reaction to the horrific events has been especially interesting because it is one in which hostility and military action is not at the forefront. Of course Japan is outraged, they are mourning, and they are willing to take part in the international fight against ISIS.

Unlike Japan, Jordan has taken a more aggressive stance towards the extremist group. The video of Jordanian Pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh being burned alive was released on February 3, 2015. The pilot was taken hostage in December after his plane came down in Syria during an anti-ISIS mission. Since the release of the graphic video, there has been a surge in news headlines around the globe displaying Jordan’s indignation. Jordan promised revenge and the country has carried out their threats promptly. Hours after the news of Lieutenant Al-Kasasbeh’s death, attempted suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi, and al-Qaeda operative Ziyad Karboli were both hanged in Jordan. Since then, Jordan’s air force has performed 56 airstrikes on ISIS, wiping out 19 locations said to be housing Islamic State commanders and fighters. Other targets are their economic and financial sources. These countries’ goal is to eradicate ISIS completely, and they seem to be letting very little get in their way. Jordan has vowed that this is just the beginning of their fight and will not stop until they have accomplished their goal.

Why did the two countries have different reactions?  Both countries have remained fairly quiet in international controversies, until now. Though Japan has not taken such an aggressive stance towards ISIS this does not imply that their punishments won’t be just as severe as Jordan’s. To Japan, it seems that an aggressive approach would mean giving in to terrorist tactics which is not something that they are willing to do. Others may think that Japan’s location is responsible for their reaction, as they are not as close as Jordan and therefore are not facing an immediate security threat, thus explaining them having not taken immediate forceful action. Jordan’s reaction has been more combative. Jordan wants to wipe ISIS from the face of the earth, and no time has been wasted. Is this because of their more immediate location? Has hostility been building up in the country? Whatever the reasons are a more peaceful and stable international world order is the objective.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

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Jordan And ISIS

A contribution from NESA intern Maryam Arshad.

By now the news of the Jordanian pilot, Moaz al-Kasasbeh, being burned alive by ISIS has been heard by everyone. Reactions have been explosive in their own right. King Abdullah, of Jordan, has promised a powerful escalation of Jordanian airstrikes against the Islamic State.  Fox News has faced backlash for posting the ISIS produced propaganda video of the violent immolation, but the news channel’s reasoning is that the world needs to witness the horrific acts of ISIS. Overall the Muslim world has decried the violence of ISIS as being senseless and un-Islamic. As passionate as these reactions to this heinous event are, the current state begs the question – What’s next?

So many questions are coming out of the fold. Questions regarding the degree of Jordanian involvement in the airstrike campaign and that of other Gulf States have arisen. Along with this, the effectiveness of the U.S. led coalition is being probed. For six months airstrikes have been made on key Islamic State locations focused in Iraq, with a few in Syria. But the UAE and other countries have stopped airstrikes in Syria, saying that only the removal of President Assad will help the elimination of ISIS. The biggest question that remains is how will the world change its reaction to ISIS following this event?

Several answers can be speculated. The first speculation to what’s next?, could be that the U.S. and the rest of the world, including the airstrike coalition, do not change their strategy. Continue with business as usual, since it has been effective enough in Iraq. Moreover it doesn’t seem that any western country is interested in sending ground troops to fight another war. In this case continued airstrikes seem like the best option. Keeping the status quo however, is already proving to be something that will not happen. Jordan has intensified its response to ISIS in a very real way immediately following the release of the video. There also seems to be a public response urging a state reaction to ISIS. People are rallying in Amman following the airstrikes in support for more military response.

So if the status quo is not going to remain, then how is the response going to change? Ground troops in either Syria or Iraq do not seem to be a viable option. The public support for an operation like that just isn’t there. So what will change? The response and cooperation from Gulf States will increase, most likely following in Jordan’s example. The United States will still, most probably lead in the amount of airstrikes, but having the public support of people may change the outcome of the fight for the better.

The ISIS problem will not be one that will be resolved quickly or cleanly. According to BBC, ISIS still has full control in various regions in Syria. And ISIS’s penchant for fear based propaganda illustrates their fear mongering method of control. Because of this people are not likely to confront their power. ISIS also draws much of its power from residing and functioning in failed states. Syria and Iraq, already in unrest, make ISIS taking control effectively effortless. The removal of ISIS then rests in the hands of the global community, but how is up for speculation. So, what’s next?

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Israel Announces New Plan for Settlements

A contribution from NESA interns, Maryam Arshad and Madison Barton.

This past Friday Israel published bids for 450 new settlements in the West Bank approximately 425 acres from A-Nahla, a Palestinian village. The West Bank and Gaza Strip are areas occupied by Israel since 1967, but feature a predominantly Palestinian populationIsrael purposefully established the E2 settlement, also known as Givat Eitam, east of the West Bank border, physically bisecting the West Bank territory. In 2004 Israel took control of the area and Palestinian landowners appealed to no avail. Since then, in October 2013 the E2 area has been designated as agricultural farming area, a guise for an influx of settlers into the Palestinian owned land. The location of the proposed settlement would effectively block Bethlehem from south West Bank, essentially constructing an obstruction to any future two state solution.

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Settlements have previously been established in this region, but announcements of new Israeli settlers have been followed by outrage at the actions of the current administration in IsraelThe United States and European Union have denounced Netanyahu’s plans as being illegitimate and illegal. In fact the Israeli settlements are a violation of the IV Geneva Convention, which is in place to protect the rights of civilians during war. Because the settlements are a method of creating conditions on the ground that inflate Israeli numbers, it is seen as an affront to the Palestinian civilians who are living on the land. Peace Now, an organization that advocates a two state solution, argues that the settlements could jeopardize a future for a possible two state Israel-Palestine agreement. The Palestinian Liberation Organization went as far to call these settlements war crimes, urging the International Criminal Court to thwart Israeli advances.

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It is no secret though, that Israeli settlements of the sort have existed for quite some time. So how much of a hindrance are these settlements to a prospective two state solution? Foreign Policy believes they are inconsequential to any future negotiations or deliberations between the two parties. Perhaps it is true that the settlements in question would not do much to make Israel stronger or Palestine weaker, but the issue of settlements speaks to a larger issue of Israel continuously pushing its boundaries in the international community, hoping to garner more and more for their interests, without regard for international law.

Just recently Netanyahu’s snub of President Obama, by accepting an invitation from the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, to speak to the United States Congress illustrates just how far the Israeli Prime Minister is willing to push even his closest ally. International diplomatic relations are traditionally performed by the respective heads of state, and by not asking or even informing President Obama of his presence in the United States legislature, Netanyahu has severely strained ties with the President. Furthermore, as the International Criminal Court has introduced investigations into Palestinian territory to uncover possible war crimes in the region, Israel could face ramifications for its policies, including the settlement advances. So then, are these announcements just symbolic pushes of Israeli power?

Maps from BBC and Peace Now 

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

2014 Israel-Palestine Peace Talks and Complications

A contribution from NESA intern, Yevin Jayatilake.

After numerous failed prospects for peace, it was no surprise that the latest series of negotiations between Israel and Palestine with heavy U.S. involvement, came to a dead end.  There were many hiccups throughout the process that started in August 2013 and ended abruptly in late April, with Israel citing the unification between Fatah-Hamas as the reason for failure. The second term of President Obama’s presidency was supposed to focus on the pivot to East Asia. This move by the administration was seen as an attempt by critics to steer away from the ongoing complications of the Middle East. However, with the appointment of Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S foreign policy remained focused on the Arab world, targeting the very complicated Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Secretary Kerry gave himself a timeline of nine months to make an attempt at successful negotiation. From Kerry’s point of view, those nine months would not need to have rendered a deal, rather the opportunity to extend the negotiations.

The United States brokered the deal between Israel and Palestine, and was the only one that remained committed throughout the nine month process. As a gesture of goodwill by the Israeli government, 104 Palestinian prisoners were to be freed in four batches, in order to keep the Palestinian leadership involved in the latest round of talks. Through the latter half of 2013 into 2014, the relationships between Israel, Palestine and the United States were stable and the possibilities of concessions were on the table. Towards the end of March 2014, the thread keeping the peace talks together started to break apart. The Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that they would not release the fourth batch of 26 prisoners, unless the Palestinian leadership decided to extend peace talks for at least another six months. For a very reasonable demand on behalf of the Israeli government, who took severe backlash for releasing what many Israelis viewed as terrorists, the Palestinian negotiators made every attempt to divert and point blame back at the other side. In the middle of this tense moment, Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel decided to issue 700 new housing tenders in the expanded settlement areas of the West Bank. The issue of settlement construction is extremely delicate to the Palestinian identity, and this put a wrench in the middle of the talks. Many U.S. officials blame Uri Ariel for the collapse of the talks, citing it was not the correct time to push expansions through. Ariel has long been to the right in Israel’s conservative party Habayit Hayehudi.

 After learning of this situation, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed 15 international treaties, declaring Palestine an independent state. Since that declaration on April 1, Secretary Kerry was trying desperately to bring the two sides to collaboration, but the leadership was so rigid on their motives, that no negotiating could undo the damage. On April 23, President Abbas declared a unity Fatah-Hamas pact, which ended any chance for reconciliation. Hamas, which is declared as a terrorist group by the U.S. and Israel, does not accept Israel’s right to exist. At the culmination of the tensions, Israel decided to suspend negotiations, citing that they could not continue discussions any longer, while Hamas is a part of any legitimate Palestinian government.

The implications of this collapse are far greater than either side would like to admit. Each side is more content with delaying legitimate peace offers than trying to figure out a solution to the severely complicated problem. Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas stick to their stories and claim they cannot go back to their communities with any compromises to the other side. However, as the two sides keep delaying a resolution to the never-ending conflict, Israel becomes more vast and powerful, and the future of the state of Palestine becomes ever more complicated. With Israel expanding into Areas B and C in the West Bank and continuing to have blockades surrounding the Gaza Strip, there becomes less hope for Palestinians to have a unified land.

The situation is not only a tragedy because of the constant terror and instability that Palestinian citizens face on a daily basis, but the situation continues to grow worse with every skirmish. The leadership of both states are too rigid, and so long as they are unwilling to compromise, at even the most micro level, then no true peace can occur. The intention of the leaders as they entered the peace deals in mid-2013 was not to achieve legitimate talks, but instead to continue the status quo for as long as possible. Knowing that neither side would agree to concede on controversial topics like Jerusalem and expanded settlements, the basis of the talks was more to make an appearance of cooperation to the world. In order to move forward with any logical approach to this conflict, President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu must work together and put aside their inflexible agendas, sort out a solution, and then present it to their communities. It will not be an effortless motion; however, with the heads of both states cooperating, and support from the international community, an agreement can be reached that gratifies communities on both sides.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Al Qaeda’s Breakup with ISIS and its Consequences

A contribution from NESA intern, Philippe Labrecque.

The Syrian war just got more complex when Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda’s top commander, officially disavowed the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). There are a variety of factions fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, but few of these groups have grown in strength as much as ISIS, as numbers of foreigners joined their ranks in the last year.

With around 1000 armed groups, with a total of nearly 100,000 fighters, friction and conflicts within such fragmented opposition with different objectives had to be expected, even between al-Qaeda’s affiliates. But al-Zawahiri’s statement in relation to ISIS goes deeper than factions fighting for control over regions of Syria.

Al-Zawahiri’s public rejection of ISIS should be understood not only as a result of diverging interests and strategy in Syria between rebel groups but also as a growing internal struggle within al-Qaeda itself. ISIS is a creation of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his organization, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), that dates back to April 2013.

After creating the al-Nusra Front to fight in Syria, al-Baghdadi expanded his operations across the Syria-Iraq border in April of last year when al-Nusra’s successes on the battlefield made the headlines. By moving his operations to Syria, al-Baghdadi demanded that al-Nusra go back to being incorporated into ISI, effectively creating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), against al-Zawahiri’s explicit orders.

The public defiance of al-Baghadadi in creating ISIS led to a schism within the about to be absorbed al-Nusra Front as many within al-Nusra pledged their allegiance to al-Qaeda and al-Zawahiri in their own defiance to al-Baghadadi. The survival of a faction of al-Nusra, loyal to al-Qaeda, and the creation of the defiant ISIS helped fuel the recent carnage and violence between rebel groups that we have witnessed since at least January 2014.

The merger under al-Baghdadi’s command had tactical implications in the fight against Assad but it also weakened al-Qaeda’s successor to Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, within the organization as al-Baghadadi grew powerful enough to refuse an order by al-Zawahiri when the latter forbid the merger with al-Nusra. Al-Baghdadi’s rising influence and might was proven when al-Zawahiri didn’t further oppose the merge of what are two al-Qaeda affiliates.

It may be premature to say that al-Baghdadi and ISIS could challenge al-Zawahiri as the leader of al-Qaeda or even the al-Qaeda’s influence in Syria since ISIS is already isolated amongst the rebel groups in the current conflict due to their unpopular, brutal, tactics and their will to dominate the entire insurrection against Assad’s regime. However, for al-Qaeda’s top commander to publicly disavow one of its affiliates demonstrates that it may only have partial control over many of its ideological affiliates. If ISIS were to overwhelm al-Nusra and become the dominant faction amongst the rebel groups, it could further damage al-Qaeda’s leadership position within the organization and against rival international Islamist groups.

What this means for the civil war in Syria is that al-Qaeda is reduced to what is left of al-Nusra as well as fighting ISIS for influence and control over the opposition while the war against the Syrian regime is still raging. Its chances of achieving the dream of an al-Qaeda-inspired Islamist state on a parcel of Syria’s land is now nearly impossible. Moreover, the break with al-Baghdadi over Syria also means that al-Qaeda has very little influence left in Iraq as al-Baghdadi retains leadership there, for the moment at least.

Russian and Iranian support behind Assad’s regime and al-Qaeda’s potentially diminishing influence in Syria’s civil war and ISIS’ increased isolation confirms what most observers knew at this point: the Syrian civil war is a proxy war between Iran and the Gulf States for influence over the Middle East.

It remains to be seen however if al-Qaeda will get out of this conflict stronger, either by influencing the outcome or through propaganda, or if it may become even more decentralized to the point where it becomes difficult to truly assess what their actual strategic objectives are and if its ideological core has any executive power over self-proclaimed al-Qaeda affiliates in other regions such as North Africa. A fragmented al-Qaeda with tens of thousands of hardened fighters, after an eventual end to the Syrian conflict, might very well become the greatest threat to the greater Middle East and the West.

Despite the disavowal by al-Zawahiri, Al-Baghdadi proved that regional commanders with enough power may pursue their own objectives and vision of what the ideological cause demands. Depending on how and when the Syrian conflict culminates, the fight against al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism may become even more multi-faceted and require fighting many varied fronts if the West, and particularly the United States, must face multiple regional leaders increasingly free of al-Qaeda’s central command.

If it is obvious that the Syrian conflict is a proxy war, it is not so clear whether an even more fragmented al-Qaeda is necessarily better from an American counter-terrorism perspective. By the war’s end in Syria, the entire Middle East and the West may very well face a large wage of battle-tested fundamentalist fighters looking for their next battleground, creating instability in neighboring countries especially.

If Syria seems in a deadlock at the moment, it shouldn’t prevent the U.S. from preparing for a potentially disrupting new terrorist threat that equally endangers the stability in various Middle Eastern countries, especially Jordan, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon and Egypt. In every crisis there is an opportunity and as American interests and Middle Eastern interests converge, the U.S. should take the lead in building even stronger ties in the region and start the dialogue and cooperation with key actors in dealing with a common threat.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

 

The Need for a Ceasefire in Syria

Today, our guest blogger, Chris Chapman, returns with a new post on a potential Syrian ceasefire…

The Syrian conflict rages on daily as death counts of military personnel and civilians climb higher.  It is time for a ceasefire to be brokered between the warring factions in order for aid and relief to come to a weary populace.  The US, UN, and Russia are trying to get the Syrian National Coalition and the Syrian government at the table for talks/negotiations, but the SNC has demanded the release of prisoners, easing of sieges, and humanitarian aid to be allowed.  While the opposition and Assad government may be at odds on who claims legitimacy and rights to govern Syria, they can agree that an end to bloodshed and preserving the lives of innocents is optimal.  The first step in resolving the crisis is this ceasefire, followed with the second step of an extended ceasefire to allow aid and medical relief into high risk areas. 

Agreeing to a short-term ceasefire in which the government forces and opposition forces lay down weapons and even fall back from current positions would send good faith messages by all sides.  The parameters of such an agreement should be completely in public via the press.  If guns are put aside for a week leading up to discussions it would provide both the opposition and the government a foundation of trust heading into the Geneva talks. 

Once the Geneva talks begin, a new ceasefire allowing for relief and aid should be established.  The situation is dire for the majority of Syrians stuck in the middle of violence.  Allowing medical aid workers to test and vaccinate for polio and other diseases is essential after it was confirmed that polio is present in parts of Syria.  The devastation of war created an unhealthy environment when water-treatment facilities, power plants, and more were destroyed.  Today Syrians are only getting 1/3 of their daily water compared to prewar levels and a large quantity of that water is contaminated.  Both the rebel and government forces must agree to let the International Committee of the Red Cross and their partner the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to move about freely and access besieged areas.  The ICRC and SARC are equipped to help those suffering, they just need access.

Of course, these actions are only possible if all parties agree to them, including the more extreme elements of the opposition.  For Salafist or Sunni extremist groups in particular, a misstep would be disastrous for credibility among citizens who are fearful of their intentions for Syria.  Because neither side has shown the ability to claim a total victory through military force, the Geneva track may well be the only hope for ending the violence. Establishing a ceasefire and allowing aid to those in need are two very basic foundations for any settlement the Geneva talks could reach.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

 

 

The Jihajjis

For centuries Muslims have been making pilgrimage to Mecca. The hajj is an extremely important part of a Muslim’s religious life and it leads to a growth in societal status when one returns. Upon return, those who have successfully made the pilgrimage are accorded the title of Hajji, which denotes an enhanced respect for the person in question. This practice of according enhanced respect to pilgrims has existed for centuries and continues to do so.

However, there today appears to be another method to acquire respect based upon a different type of pilgrimage, that of jihad. While less formalized than the Hajj system of societal ascendancy (no new titles are necessarily bestowed) those leaving for jihad very often do find a newfound respect from their home societies upon return from warfighting. Jihad is very clearly an important element of Islamic tradition, including both its internal and external variants. Internal jihad refers to the attempt to continually improve oneself and external typically refers to efforts to defend or expand (depending on your interpretation of the relevant religious texts) the ummah, or community of believers.

In the 1980s Afghanistan offered prime jihadi real estate. Not only was there an opportunity for jihad, there was also significant funding and state support. Saudi Arabia in particular was known to encourage its militants to go to Afghanistan to fight, partly out of religious duty, but also out of a desire to export religious militants who were worrying the political establishment (especially after the 1979 Grand Mosque Seizure in Mecca). Fighting was “openly celebrated and did not require concealment…many activists understood their work as a form of political and religious solidarity.” On return many jihadis found a newfound respect from their compatriots.

As a side note one could make an argument that jihad is significantly more respected when the jihad takes place in a foreign land. Local efforts and attacks often have very different effects – as returning Saudi (and other) militants found when they attempted to bring the fight back home.

The Arab Spring has provided new opportunities for jihad. Syria, Libya, and maybe Egypt provide opportunities for jihad. There is a lot of material coming out discussing states’ worries that returning jihadis will come back and attempt to pursue jihad in their own countries, but there is another, more subtle, effect as respected jihadis return from their ‘pilgrimages.’ Most of these ‘Jihajjis’ aren’t going to turn towards militancy in their home countries, but they may, as a result of their enhanced societal prestige, be able to influence public opinion and public policy in unexpected ways.

That effect may be much harder to gauge than that of more militant, violent actors, but it could push societies into a mindset more open to fundamentalist interpretations of religious texts and duties.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Direct Democracy, Militia Style

Democracy is a tough project. Even in well-established democratic countries the process can get extremely messy at times and some even claim that here in the United States our democracy is failing. Now, the accusation that American democracy is failing might be hyperbolic, but try to imagine constructing a democratic system in a country without any history of democratic rule, a lack of institutional viability, and no control over what happens within its own borders. Enter Libya.

Qathafi claimed, in his Green Book, to have found “the final solution to the problem of the instrument of governing.” Of course, the Brother Leader never really precisely laid out what the organizational apparatuses of the Jamahiriya were supposed to be. Oh sure, you can find charts aplenty that show the interrelations between his proposed Popular Congresses, but the operational aspects? Regardless of ‘theory,’ Qathafi left a state that wasn’t a state. What was meant to be an attempt to reach the ‘ideal’ of direct democracy effectively remained a totalitarian state under the thumb of the Brother Leader and his family. There was almost no institutionalization to speak of and rule of law was a pipe dream. What existed was a bizarre combination of both strong and weak state.

Flash forward to today and one sees that creating a democracy from such a shambles is indeed messy. Perhaps messy is too light a term. What we are seeing now is a shambles. The country is effectively split between various militias and localized groups that maintain control of their region/ city/ neighborhood/ street. At this point even the government’s nominal ability to influence the country has been significantly damaged.

Let us look at only Tripoli, for the sake of brevity. This week has seen militias storm government offices, including the parliament, and dictating legislation. From April 28 until May 5, militias held the government under siege until parliament passed a political isolation law that would exclude former Qathafi-era government workers (of any rank) from holding office in the new Libya. This law could potentially even include the Prime Minister, Ali Zeidan, who had defected from the Qathafi regime in the 1980s. The vote was only democratic in the sense that it was passed by elected representatives. Now a precedent has been set. Bring enough guns to the table and the Libyan government will be forced to acquiesce.

Unsurprisingly, the militias responsible have no made further demands upon parliament, including explicitly requiring the Prime Minister to resign, freezing the state’s budget, and taking charge of the foreign ministry. The government is powerless to do anything about this, although rival militias claiming to support the government are now offering to dislodge those besieging the government. Zeidan himself is trying to play the man in middle saying, “We don’t have militias in Libya, we have revolutionaries.” In this case, truly a distinction without a difference.

Democracy simply cannot function without an effective security sector. Without the proper level of coercive authority the state becomes simply another player in a complex version of the Middle Ages as groups struggle to assert territorial and governmental dominance.  While Libyans explicitly refused any sort of external peacekeeping force post-revolution it is hard at this point to see how an effective transition can be made without one. The state simply cannot support itself and without any sort of security cushion it is hard to believe that militia-style direct democracy won’t become the wave of the future. Of course, getting anyone to sign up for such a task would be no easy feat. And defining what end such a theoretical force would be may prove even more difficult.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Young and Reckless

Many commentators have looked at the effect of youth bulges on the revolutions that swept through the Middle East and North Africa region in recent years. Combined with high levels of unemployment, the large amount of youth in Arab countries has led to a persistent instability. Of course there are other factors involved, but one would be hard pressed to say that population dynamics aren’t critical to ongoing events.

But what has been happening since the revolution took hold in various countries? At least in Egypt, the problem only seems to be getting worse. During the Mubarak era, Egypt generally saw a wavering trend line – a slight bump here, a slight decline there – that seems to have held relatively steady. However, in 2012 birthrates soared to 32 for every 1,000 people, which equaled the 1991 rate extant prior to the imposition of family planning campaigns during Mubarak’s reign. Whereas the Mubarak government viewed economics and demographics as linked, the Morsy government tends to either prevaricate and not tackle the problem via policy or to view this the instability as a strictly economic one.

Importantly, there may also be a connection between democratization capabilities and demographic time bombs. Richard Cincotta, of the Stimson Center, notes:

“Since 1970, for a country within the demographic arc of instability (often referred to as a “youth-bulge country”), the risk of intra-state conflict has been 2.5 times, or higher, than on the outside. At any one time, intra-state conflicts inside the arc outnumber those outside the arc by an average of nine to one. Perhaps more surprisingly, after a state’s population matures, and after its internal armed conflicts have been settled, it tends to leave behind much of the risk of an intra-state conflict.”

While one should be cautious of any certainty here, this does imply that Egypt’s ongoing population explosion will make further conflict more likely and thus inhibit Egypt’s democratization project. Of course there are other factors involved, but this certainly will not make things any easier on Egypt going forward.

Perhaps Egypt should look to the example of Iran. During the 1980’s Iran experienced a huge population boom, partly as a result of the desire for more children during the war years. In the 1990’s, however, Iran instituted one of the most successful family planning regimes in history. To give a rundown:

“After the war with Iraq in 1988, the government realized that rapid population growth was a hindrance to development and subsequently called for the establishment of a national family planning program. In December 1989, the revived family planning program was inaugurated with three major goals: 1) encourage spacing of 3-4 years between pregnancies; 2) discourage pregnancies among women aged under 18 and over 35 years; and 3) limit family size to 3 children. In May 1993, a law was passed that included disincentive penalties for couples who had more than 3 children. According to the Ministry of Health and Medical Education (1989-97), there was an increased use of contraceptives among married women, and the total fertility rate (TFR) dropped from 5.2 to 2.6 children. Moreover, Iran’s 1996 census showed a total population of 60.6 million with an average annual growth rate of 1.5% over the previous 5-year period.”

Clearly these trends are reversible via good policy. Iran was capable of completely turning its trajectory around. Yes, Iran still suffers a youth bulge due to the prior birth explosion, but the effects have been significantly mitigated.

Will Egypt be able to chart a similar trajectory? Only time will tell.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Don’t Turn That Dial

The media scene in the Middle East and North Africa is complex and shows the push and pull of new and old ideas. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolutions much attention was brought to new media outlets such as Facebook and the blogosphere. However, television still maintains its primacy as people’s primary method of media intake. Satellite television has opened up a whole new range of stations and ideas, of which Al Jazeera is only the most prominent example. Local stations are also heavily influential. Still, the push and pull of censorship remains and, in some cases, may be expanded. Revolutionary countries have not yet let go of state run media and many, while abandoning the editorial line of the prior regime, still act as something of a propaganda tool for the new governments.

There is no question that social media has provided a new and vibrant method for sharing information for a wide swath of Arab society. One study showed that nearly nine out of ten Egyptians and Tunisians were using social media tools to help organize protests (although this was a small sample of only 200). While there is little debate as to whether these new forms of media played a role in revolutionary movements, there is much debate as to how much of a role should be ascribed to them. Egypt, for example, managed to continue its protests through an internet blackout. Sidi Bouzid, where the Tunisian protests began, is a farming town with relatively low internet penetration. Libya was significantly more restricted in its internet access than either Tunisia or Egypt. One must be cautious of putting too much stock in the relevancy of the internet and new media in countries and regions that do not see the same level of internet penetration as more developed countries. Regardless, the advent of social media has opened a new forum for the flow of ideas in the region.

Television, on the other hand, remains of primary importance. Satellite television has made it increasingly difficult for censorship and control of the airways to be effective. During the Libyan revolution Qathafi used the state-run media outlet Al Jamahiriya to show images of his ‘adoring supporters.’ Meanwhile, home viewers were treated to images and reports on the protestors trampling on Qathafi’s face and throwing shoes at the giant screens carrying his image. The major satellite providers for news are Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, BBC Arabic, and Al Hurra.  

Al Jazeera in particular occupies a preeminent position across the region. While the Qatari-owned station might avoid discussing Qatar, it has proven to be one of the most open stations from the region, earning the ire of both regional leaders and the United States (although US enmity appears to have waned somewhat in recent years). Viewership during the Arab Spring skyrocketed. In the first two days of the Egyptian revolution livestream internet viewers of Al Jazeera increased 2,500 percent to 4 million viewers, viewership over the airwaves was likely even higher.  Al Jazeera has earned its reputation for reliability by being the first Arab station to host an Israeli official and airing guests such as dissidents, feminists, and Islamists. The main questions that arise when discussing Al Jazeera center on whether it is sympathetic to Islamist parties, whether or not it targets particular Middle Eastern regimes, and what role the Qatari state plays in its organization and methodology. While it is unlikely these questions will have a definitive answer anytime soon, the network remains possibly the most influential on the block.

Even with satellite television and internet, censorship remains a problem throughout the region. Even Al Jazeera’s Qatari connection is questioned, as mentioned above. While there was initially great hope that revolutions would have changed the game regarding the flow of information, this has not proven to be the case. Egypt, for example, is still known to arrest journalists covering demonstrations. The leadership of Al Ahram, Egypt’s leading daily, has been assigned in much the same manner as under Mubarak, with the only major difference being the Brotherhood is in charge now, resulting in little change in terms of freedom of expression.

Tunisia has also had problems. Nessma television was fined in 2012 for airing a film about the Iranian revolution, Persepolis, which includes a scene in which Allah is animated. Nessma was fined $1700 for “broadcasting a film that disturbs public order and threatens proper morals.” Vigilante justice is a concern as well. Going back to Nessma, their fine was imposed after over 300 protestors attacked the studio, attempting to set it on fire, and Nebil Karoui, the head of the station, came under siege in his own house by around one hundred protestors – the government’s response was the issuance of a call to “respect sacred things.” Clearly, the freedom of the arts is, for the moment, playing second fiddle to perceived Islamic values.

Indeed, media in the Middle East and North Africa post Arab Spring shows much continuity with what came before. Censorship is still viewed as an acceptable tool by the leadership. However, given the presence of satellites capable of receiving content beyond the control of a single state censor, people are still able to receive information that is, if not censor-free, at least censored by a different body. Social media is opening up new avenues for dissemination of information, but it is unclear yet what long-term effects this will have. Put simply, states that have not undergone change have hardly changed their media policy and those that have undergone revolutions have not overturned the apple cart either.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.