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Arab Spring

The rulers of the Gulf States are bent on destroying countries that refuse or escape their influence

The rulers of the Gulf States are bent on destroying countries that refuse or escape their influence

Saudi Arabia and Yemen
by Ahmed Souaiaia
During the early days of the so-called Arab Spring, nervous for their own continued rule, the rulers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), led by the King of Saudi Arabia, proposed the expansion of the GCC to include Jordan and Morocco—but not Yemen. Yemen shares borders with two GCC member states yet it was excluded from this club of rich Arab countries. Yemen is not a good candidate because, despite poverty and political corruption, its people actually have a genuine desire to move towards representative governance. That is a non-starter for the Guff States. They prefer countries with similar governing tradition: exclusive family or clan rule and no prospects for democratic rule. That is why Jordan and Morocco were good candidates but not Yemen.

Now that the Houthis are controlling half the country, the rulers of Saudi Arabia and its proxies decided to preserve their control over the other half. To do so, they helped a former interim president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, escape to the southern city of Yemen, Aden, and moved their embassies out of the capital Sana`a. Today, Hadi declared Sana`a “occupied capital”.

The Gulf States are playing a dangerous game similar to the one they played in Syria. They are likely to use proxy groups, mostly salafi fighters, as a counterweight to the Houthis. Should they do that, and should these ISIL-like fighters become strong enough, such groups will not just attack Sana`a, they will claim Riyadh as they march north to meet their allies who would be marching south from Iraq and Syria.

Saudi and Qatari dilemma: Can they support al-Sisi in his war on ISIL and support ISIL in its war on Assad?

Saudi and Qatari dilemma: Can they support al-Sisi in his war on ISIL and support ISIL in its war on Assad?



When Prince Salman became King Salman, world leaders wanted to know about the man now controlling the country that exports more oil than any other, Saudi Arabia. Several leading publications claimed that the 79 year old king suffers from serious chronic illnesses. The Economistproposed that his predecessor, King Abdullah, had concerns about handing the crown to Salman because Salman may be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.  The Atlantic, too, reported in 2010 that Salman suffered from dementia. The official reaction of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the intergovernmental organization that is supposed to represent the wealthy Gulf States but actually serves to promote Saudi interests and point of view, to Egypt’s claim that Qatar supports terrorism, suggests that the King might be indeed suffering from dementia. The background for this story is as follows:

Last week, ISIL’s branch in Libya killed, in its trademark revolting ways, 21 Egyptian workers. The next day, Egypt, ostensibly, in coordination with the Libyan government—or at least one of the Libyan governments, attacked ISIL in Libya. The government of al-Sisi sought political cover from Arab countries. The Arab League issued a statement of “understanding,” to which Qatar objected. The Egyptian representative in the Arab League, Tariq Adil, responded by accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism. Qatar recalled its top diplomat from Cairo and the GCC secretary, Abd al-Latif al-Zayyani, issued a harsh response saying that “the accusations against Qatar are untrue” and that “Qatar, along with its sister countries in the GCC, has made sincere efforts to fight terrorism and extremism.” 

Hours later, the GCC issued a second statement, this time saying that the GCC “reaffirms its full support to Egypt and its president Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi to fight terrorism inside and outside Egypt… and that the security of Egypt is important for the security of the GCC.” In a sense, this statement is a retraction of the first one. Since the GCC generally represent the Saudi point of view, these conflicting statements in the span of 24 hours suggest that the King of Saudi Arabia is either suffering from dementia or is trying to have his cake and eat it. He wants to be a friend of both Egypt and Qatar, despite that Qatar and Egypt have serious differences.

In the end, it would seem that the GCC chose not to escalate their conflict with Egypt. But this is clearly a temporary fix. Around the world, the frequency of statements and publications critical of the GCC, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is increasing. The public too see Saudi and Qatari roles unfavorably. The first GCC statement of support to Qatar generated nearly 46 million reactions on social media, most of which critical to Qatar. Leaders of Qatar and Saudi Arabia are spending more time denying their support to terrorist groups. In the long run, these two countries must confront the fact that they are indeed enablers of terrorism by virtue of their privileging of Salafism over all other interpretations of Islam. Regionally, Qatar and Saudi Arabia must abandon their foolish distinction between ISIL in Iraq and Syria and other ISIL’s in Egypt, Libya, and Lebanon. They are all natural growth of violent Salafism, which branched out of the kind of conservatism these two countries espoused and promoted around the world for more than 70 years.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Where is the Outrage?

Where is the Outrage?

Europe’s hypocrisy and latent racism displayed after the Paris attacks

On January 11, 2015, an estimated 1.6 million people walked the streets of Paris as part of a “unity march” in reaction to the recent attack in the French capital. Some 40 world leaders joined the march. Other high-profile individuals also recognized the attack and the march—for instance, George Clooney and other actors referred to the events as they received awards on January 11. “Paris is the capital of the world today,” declared Francois Hollande. 

Those who are informed of current events know that every day people are killed by the violence that was unleashed by the opportunistic manipulators of the Arab Spring and the invasion of Iraq before that. It is perplexing to see world leaders converging on Paris, the media saturated with news about the attack, and the large unity march in response to the attack. Why are we expected to respond to these events with unity when indiscriminate violence, illegal wars, and genocidal massacres have taken the lives of people in Muslim countries every day for the past four years?

Where is the outrage when—just one day before the march in Paris—al-Nusra genocidal bombers, financed and armed by Qatar and Turkey and their Western allies, killed at least 7 people and wounded more than 30 in a cafe in Tripoli, Lebanon?

Where is the anger when a suicide bomb blast killed at least 20 people and injured 18 others at a poultry market in Maiduguri, Somalia, on January 10?

Where is the indignation when bombers killed and wounded 29 civilians in a market in Yobe, Nigeria, on the same day the Paris march took place?

Where is the wrath when attackers killed 31 and maimed 90 in a market in China’s Xinjiang last May?

Where is the exasperation when ISIL genocidal murders killed 40 in a series of attacks targeting mosques in Iraq last October?

Where is the ire when genocidal fighters killed 134 childrenand 9 school staff members, and injured 121 others, at a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, last December?

Where is the fury when genocidal murderers have carried out more than 400 suicide attacks, killing 6,272 and wounding 12,909 in Pakistan alone since 2001?

Where is the disgust when, on average, six civilians died in Iraq every day, for a total of 21,600 deaths, between 2003 and January 2013, by car bombs and suicide attacks alone?

Where is the call for unity when 12,878 civilians were murdered by terror attacks in 2013 in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Syria? Do the lives of 12 French citizens matter more than the lives of 12,878 Muslims killed over the course of just one year?

The simple fact is this: Far too many Muslims have been killed by the political tool created by Saudi Arabia and its allies. Too many victims to capture with a slick slogan like “Je Suis Charlie”, too many to keep track of all their names.

I could go on listing attack after attack by these genocidal murderers, who were nurtured and sponsored by allies of the West, targeting Muslims in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Nigeria. I could list facts and figures about children, women, elders, journalists, doctors, teachers, engineers, laborers, mothers, father, sister, brothers, aunts, uncles, and uninvolved civilians, who provoked no one, killed every day in these countries. But I can’t find a single instance of world leaders marching in the streets of Peshawar, Kabul, Baghdad, Damascus, Tunis, Beirut, or Abuja to mourn these innocent lives and to show unity against genocidal groups and ideologies.

The unity march in Paris enables killers to claim that Muslims’ lives do not matter as much as the lives of Western citizens. The media’s over-coverage of victims of terrorism in the West and under-coverage of victims of terrorism elsewhere communicates a latent racism: European lives matter, the lives of people of color do not. Mass murder in Paris demands an international show of outrage and unity, whereas mass murder in Islamabad deserves only a dismissive statement of condemnation.

Ironically, the disparate reaction to the same act of violence—one taking the lives of West citizens and one taking the lives of non-Western citizens, which is unconscionable, further radicalizes some ordinary Muslims and some of them join genocidal groups like ISIL who deceivably claim that they are the true defenders of Sunni Muslims. That is how genocidal fighters are able to find sanctuary among some ordinary Sunni Muslims, and can then use that sanctuary to launch deadly attacks that kill anyone who does not embrace their genocidal supremacist ideology and practices.

The unity march was a shameful display by opportunists to capitalize on the blood of innocent people. Instead of that hypocritical exercise, world leaders should have reached out to the primary victims of terrorism and showed true unity by displaying equal outrage for offenses committed against them. They should have shown some sincere sympathy towards the victims of genocidal killing in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. If Western leaders wanted to fight extremism and supremacism, they would not distinguish between a life lost to terrorism in Paris and a life lost to terrorism in Baghdad and Damascus, even when they disagree with the political leaders in those capitals.

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

“This is What the Arab Spring Looks Like”

“This is What the Arab Spring Looks Like”

Tunisia’s transition to representative governance brings hope to Arab Societies

Four days after the fourth anniversary of the spark that ignited the fury of protests widely known as the Arab Spring, Tunisian voters reminded the world about what the Arab Spring is supposed to look like. The election of a new president this week capped four years of hard work that involved politicians and leaders of civil society institutions. In four years, Tunisians elected a constituency assembly primarily tasked with forming a transitional government and writing a new constitution. Those goals, despite many setbacks, were finally achieved. In the past three months, Tunisian voters elected a parliament, narrowed the field of presidential candidates (of more than 24 candidates) during a first round of presidential elections, and finally chose Beji Caid Essebsi, giving him 55% of their vote over the interim president, Mohamed Mouncef Marzouki.

Without doubt, attempts to explain the outcome and meaning of the results of these elections are numerous. Some commentators described the outcome as “buyer’s remorse,” suggesting that the Arab peoples are having second thoughts about the uprisings that overthrew many of the most authoritarian, yet effective, rulers in the region. Other observers contended that the vote in Tunisia, like the one in Egypt, which brought al-Sisi to power, is repudiation to Islamists. Other analysts charged that outside money and influence is behind the counter-revolutionary movements that are repackaging old regimes in order to slow down or undo the radical changes the Arab Spring had set in motion. Indeed, there is some truth in all of these and other theories. However, the constitution that the Tunisian people approved and the process by which they transitioned towards representative governance are remarkably impressive and Tunisians, from all spectrum of social and political life, should celebrate with pride and relief.

Generally, Tunisians have succeeded in keeping outside influence to a minimum. They trusted civil society institutions with mediating political dissent. They supported the interim government in its efforts to isolate violent elements who want to impose their genocidal agenda. In the end, thanks to the people’s sacrifices and commitment to non-violence, Tunisia emerged victorious in many areas. It stands proudly free from the Gulf States’ money-driven half-solutions that stalled progress in Yemen. Tunisians avoided the power grab and political opportunism like the ones that took place in Egypt. And above all, Tunisians succeeded in deliberately silencing the genocidal groups who use knives and guns to slaughter their way to power as is the case in Libya and Syria. 
Tunisians reaffirmed their commitment to the initial cry for dignity.

Importantly, Tunisians have reminded those who claim sole ownership of the revolution for themselves that the uprising was not about replacing one authoritarian regime with another or rewarding a political party over another. By voting for Nida Tunis (and its leader), which has roots in the old bureaucracy, and offering Ennahdha a significant number of seats in the new parliament, Tunisian voters seem to declare that they hold no indiscriminate prejudice against all and anyone who worked or might have worked with or for the old regime. They simply have a problem with incompetence, corruption, cronyism, and abuse of human dignity.

Today, Nida Tunis, the coalition of political parties and civil society entities’ representative that was created as a counterweight to the post-revolution ruling collation, is celebrating; just as did Ennahdha and its allies three years ago. Nida Tunis and its allies should remember that the people, now, have a say in who governs and for how long. More importantly, they should remain mindful not only of the interest of the 55% of the people who voted for them, but also of the concerns of the 45% of Tunisians who voted for Marzouki and the 66% (3.5 million people) of all registered voters who did not vote at all or voted for Marzouki—not for their candidate, Essabsi. Regardless, the 36% of the all registered voters who actually voted for him did not nostalgically vote to bring back the neo-Bourguibists, they voted out those who failed, in their judgment, to govern… again.

The world community should do more than congratulate the Tunisian people and their newly elected officials. They should support them economically, politically, and morally without any strings attached. Indeed, the Tunisian model for transitioning towards representative governance is the most convincing rebuttal to genocidal groups who believe in nothing but their own narrow worldview and tolerate none but themselves.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Combating ISIL should not be America’s business, it is Saudi Arabia’s

Combating ISIL should not be America’s business, it is Saudi Arabia’s

ISIL is a global threat but it is a bigger threat to the Middle East than to U.S. homeland. It is a bigger threat to Muslims than to Americans because, until now, the absolute majority of victims are Muslims. The U.S. could be part of a coalition that should combat ISIL but it should not take the lead. Saudi Arabia should take the lead in fighting ISIL because Saudi Arabia helped create it in the first place. The ideology and practices of ISIL are derived from the brand of a religious tradition called Salafi Wahhabism that was founded in Saudi Arabia and promoted by Saudi preachers under the patronage of the Saudi ruling family. Therefore, the fight against ISIL is Saudi Arabia’s and the rulers of Saudi Arabia must be forced to take the lead in this war.

The link: Like ISIL, Saudi Arabia sanctions public beheading

The war on ISIL as outlined by President Obama is ill-conceived and will be poorly executed. A war on ISIL led by U.S. and Western countries will create sympathy to ISIL, weaken legitimate governments and international institutions, and create more chaos in an unstable region. 

If the U.S. military bombs ISIL in Syria without the consent of the government there and provide more political and military support to armed opposition groups in that country, it will foster the idea that the U.S. is taking side in a sectarian, ethnic, and regional war. Bypassing the Syrian government to fight ISIL will create more ISILs. 

This war cannot be just a war on ISIL, it must be a war on all ISILs, in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and wherever they exist. In other words, this war ought to be a war on genocidal ideologies like ISIL’s, Nusra’s, and many other armed groups in Syria. ISIL, like al-Qaeda before it, is a Saudi freaky invention and the Saudi rulers must be held responsible for combating it now. The Saudis should form an alliance with Qatar, Turkey, and takfiri preachers whom the rulers of the kingdom allowed to proselytize on satellite televisions to uproot it militarily and ideologically. The rest of the world should only offer assistance—not lead.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

US, NATO and the destruction of Libya: The Western front of a widening war

US, NATO and the destruction of Libya: The Western front of a widening war

by Horace G. Campbell *
General Khalifah Hifter and his men
NATO claimed that its intervention in Libya was a historic success. But three years later, Libya is in complete chaos. Some 1700 militias have a combined total of 250,000 men under arms. Another external intervention seems necessary to stabilize the country. But the US and NATO must never be involved.
Most western embassies evacuated their personnel from Tripoli over the past few weeks as the fighting between rival armed militias creates a nightmare of violence, insecurity and death for millions of Libyans. The United States used its military presence in the Mediterranean to escort its embassy personnel and Marine guards to travel by road over the last weekend to Tunisia. The evacuation of western diplomats leaving the millions of Libyans to an uncertain fate has brought to the fore the Libyan dimensions of a wider theater of warfare from Tripoli through Benghazi to Cairo, Alexandria and Gaza and from Aleppo in Syria to Mosul in Iraq. The former allies of NATO such as Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are now connected to differing factions of the Libyan civil war. In Libya, the war and bloodletting between the US supported General Khalifah Hifter (sometimes spelt Haftar) and the militias supported by Qatar is one indication of former allies falling out. Citizens of the West have little understanding of the depth of the sufferings unleashed on the peoples of North Africa, Palestine, Syria and Iraq since the United States and NATO launched wars against the peoples of this region. The battles in Libya are merging with the criminal war against the people of Palestine, especially the peoples of Gaza.

It was three years ago when NATO declared the end of the NATO mission, loudly announcing that the NATO mission to Libya had been ‘one of the most successful in NATO history.’ Despite this declaration of success there were clear signs of the remnants of the NATO suborned militias fighting for control of Libya. Today, that fighting has engulfed all of Libyan society to the point that the militias that had been deployed by NATO are now out of control while the funders of the militias are caught in the wider disputations over the future of Africa, Palestine and the Arabian Peninsula. Calls for the United Nations and for the African Union to militarily intervene in Libya must now be accompanied by the call for ensuring that none of the current members of the UN Security Council who were participants in the NATO intervention can be part of any UN force to demilitarize Libya to disarm the out of control militias.
News of the current civil war in Libya remains confusing because the western news agencies have a vested interest in keeping the issues unclear so as to keep Libya destabilized and destroyed. Since the NATO destruction of Libya in 2011 there have been over 50,000 Libyans who have lost their lives. This is in a society where the United Nations had gone in with a mandate of Responsibility to Protect. Instead of protecting Libyan civilians, the NATO forces killed tens of thousands, built up militias and then left the country under differing factions who have unleashed a reign of terror in the society. Despite the best efforts of the United States’ State Department and NATO to present a so called ‘transition’ process with the procedural democratic rituals such as elections, the role of the militias has been the dominant feature of the warfare and destruction. When prominent Libyan human rights activist Salwa Bugaighis was slain in Benghazi last month, both Samantha Powers (US Permanent Representative to the United Nations) and Hilary Clinton (former Secretary of State) issued statements denouncing her murder but these two architects of the destruction of Libya remain indicted in the court of public opinion for their roles in creating the present conflagration. What has been kept from the citizens of the USA is the role of financial enterprises such as Goldman Sachs, Tradition Financial Services of Switzerland, French bank Société Générale SA, hedge-fund firm Och-Ziff Capital Management Group and private-equity firm Blackstone Group in their dealings with the Libyan Investment Authority. The more informed will have to read the financial press to follow the many lawsuits that are ongoing in the scrutiny in wide-ranging U.S. and British corruption probes that are examining the lengths to which some Western financial firms went to gain a piece of Libya’s oil wealth.
A close scrutiny of the current probe of Goldman Sachs dealings with the Libyan Investment Authority by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for possible violations of American anti-corruption laws will help shed light on the powerful forces in the United States that pushed the war against the peoples of Libya in 2011. Because of the propaganda war about fighting terrorism in Africa, western citizens cannot easily understand how the government of the United States supported the Jihadists in Benghazi. Thus far, the US Congress has muddled the information about the relationship between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the most extreme militia groups because representatives such as Congressman Darrel Issa from California have been deliberately creating confusion to disguise the complicity of the US military and intelligence forces in their dealings with the most extreme militias.
From time to time the US public is diverted from the civil war by the USA seemingly mounting operations to seize ‘terrorists’ such as Ahmed Abu Khattala (in 2014) for the killings of US officials in Benghazi) or the capture of Abu Anas al-Libi in 2013. However, the twists and turns of the web of western intelligence and military operations in North Africa have come into full integration with the wider war against the peoples of Palestine and North Africa. General Hifter now represents the public face of the US supported forces in the western edge of the present wars in North Africa.
When NATO intervened in Libya, the North Atlantic militarists were experimenting with a new kind of warfare because the citizens of the West had been opposed to the intervention based on the mobilizations and demonstrations of the peace and social justice movements. In order to make the NATO intervention acceptable to US citizens, the Obama administration claimed that there would be no deployment of massive troops, even though early in the campaign the US Africa Command was taking credit for the NATO Operation. This kind of warfare went to great lengths to avoid the deployment of ground troops from the USA or the other NATO invaders; instead there was reliance on incessant bombing from the air, the deployment of armed militias, the mobilization of third party countries (in this case Qatar), the mobilization of Special Forces and the use of the western media for disinformation, propaganda and psychological warfare. When NATO declared its mission a success it was part of an internal debate within the corridors of the militarists because as we learnt from the book, ‘Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War,’ by former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, there were deep divisions over the prosecution of this NATO bombardment and destruction of Libya. With his own eyes on history, Robert Gates said that he was about to resign over this NATO intervention and war in Libya.
Now that the world is witnessing the full blowback of this war against Libya with the death of John Christopher Stevens (former US ambassador) in Benghazi and the present evacuation of the US mission from Tripoli, it is instructive to grasp the role of some of the US supported forces such as General Khalifah Hifter. (See Russ Baker (April 22, 2011). “Is General Khalifa Hifter The CIA’s Man In Libya?” ) Hifter, now 71, had been in the Libyan military from the time of the military coup in 1969, but after 1987 he defected from the Gadaffi government. When the West had imposed sanctions on Libya, Hifter was associated with opposition National Salvation Front of Libya (NSFL). In 1988 he relocated to the United States and lived well in that notorious suburb of Washington, DC, – Langley, Virginia. When the NATO bombings started in March 2011, Hifter returned to Libya and joined in with the numerous factions.
It is most important here to state for readers that the CIA recruited elements in Libya who had been earlier designated as terrorists. In the many books about Libya under Gaddafi the names of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and Abdelhakim Belhadj featured prominently. Eastern Libya was a base for subversion and the laziness of the Congressional representatives of the USA prevents the full exposure of how the US Africa Command and the CIA recruited Jihadists such as Abdelhakim Belhadj. It is this alliance with Jihadists that General Hifter returned to in 2011 but in his search for dominance in the anti-Gaddafi forces, there was another general who was seeking to place his stamp on the rebellion. General Abdul Fattah Younis had been a senior military officer under Gaddafi who had reached the position of Minister of Interior. He resigned from the Gaddafi government in February 2011 to join the ‘rebellion. ‘
The abduction and assassination of General Younis in July 2011 removed the only other senior military person who could compete for the position as a military strongman in the post-Gaddafi era. After the assassination and humiliation of Gaddafi in October 2011, Hifter became leader of one of the 1700 militias with over 250,000 persons under arms. Abdelhakim Belhadj became the most powerful person in Tripoli after the NATO ‘victory’ when he installed himself as the head of the Tripoli Military Council. When the United States undertook its transition program for Libya, Belhadj dropped his military title and contested elections as a civilian leader. Hifter could not openly challenge the LIFG forces in Tripoli so he worked to build relations with the Zintan militias working hard to emerge as the new military strongman of Libya.
Since 2014 Hifter has been involved in a number of high profile military actions (first a declared military takeover in a failed coup attempt of February 2014 and later in May in a prolonged war to defeat the Misrata forces and those supported by Qatar). From the western platforms and those who have interviewed Hifter, this general claims the allegiance of over 70,000 troops along with the Zintan militia forces.
On Friday, February 14, Maj. Gen. Khalifa Hifter announced a coup in Libya. ‘The national command of the Libyan Army is declaring a movement for a new road map’ (to rescue the country), Hifter declared through a video post. Even the New York Times ridiculed this coup attempt with the story by David Kirkpatrick who reported on the coup from Cairo. In his report, ‘In Libya, a Coup. Or Perhaps Not,’ Kirkpatrick drew attention to the colorful career of Hifter without explaining to his audience the close relationships between Hifter and the US web of military and intelligence operatives in North Africa. In May 2014, Hifter reappeared in the international headlines with his bravado report that he was fighting to root out terrorists from Benghazi.
There are numerous militias in Benghazi but the two well-known ones were the February 17 Martyrs Brigade and the Ansar al-Sharia militias. While the forces that came to be called Ansar al-Sharia had been mobilized by the NATO planners to join the war to remove Gadaffi, by September 2012 these varying militia forces had disagreed among themselves and this particular militia was blamed for the attack on the CIA facility in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 when four US operatives were engulfed in the intra militia warfare.
One indication of the levels of external support for Hifter came from the fact that his military wing that is called the National Army was able to use aerial bombardment against his opponents. Hifter launched Operation Libyan Dignity on May 16, saying his mission was to dissolve the General National Congress, which he labelled Islamist, and to destroy ‘terrorists.’ In order to ingratiate himself with western propaganda forces, Hifter labelled his opponents in Benghazi as terrorists and claimed that these ‘terrorists ‘had been allowed to establish bases in Libya. This was clear double talk because it was the Central Intelligence Agency under General Petraeus as we learnt from the biography by Paula Broadwell who had been recruiting Islamists from Eastern Libya to fight in Syria.
The other evidence of collaboration between Hifter and western intelligence forces came when in the midst of the fighting between Hifter and his opponents in Benghazi, the US Special Operations forces carried out their mission to ’capture’ Ahmed Abu Khattala. This US operation exposed the close cooperation between Hifter and the USA. When Libyan citizens complained about the military campaign of Hifter, the US ambassador to Libya refused to ‘condemn’ the killings of innocent citizens in Benghazi by Hifter and his ‘National Army’. Hifter’s avowed aim to dissolve the General National Congress exposed deeper disagreements between the United States and Qatar over the future of Libya and the politics of North Africa.
Although Hifter was fighting with his ‘National Army,’ the divisions between the varying militias led to big battles between Hifter and other militia forces. Media reports claim that Hifter is supported by external forces in the USA, Egypt, Algeria and Saudi Arabia. It is significant that in this line up of support there was no mention of Turkey and Qatar. One of the strongest militia forces in Libya from the time of the NATO intervention had been the Misrata fighters. As we documented in our book, ‘Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya’, it was from Misrata where the forces of Qatar had been landed in order to carry out the takeover of Tripoli in July/August 2011. We know from media reports from Al Jazeera that there are forces sympathetic to the MIsrata militias in Qatar. In the Al Jazeera typology of the varying militias in Libya we are told that the ‘235 militia brigades are collectively the most powerful single force in Libya, fighting through a six-month siege during the uprising. They are equipped with heavy weapons, tanks and truck-launched rockets and have the power to be a decisive force in any struggle between Haftar and Islamist forces.’ One can distinguish between this report and those of other western forces such as the BBC or Voice of America on the nature of the Libyan militias.
When certain western media outlets were hailing General Hifter as a savior and comparing him to General Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi of Egypt, this was part of the propaganda war to sell Hifter to the citizens of Benghazi who had stood up to the bombardment by his forces. The Misrata factions were the military wing of that section of the political forces that dominated the General National Congress. Hifter was in a struggle to consolidate the varying militia forces under his leadership and there were many glowing reports of how Hifter was the savior of Libya. However, from Qatar one writer, Ibrahim Sharqieh, noted in an article in the New York Times that the world should ‘Beware Libya’s ‘Fair Dictator’. Ibrahim Sharquieh stated that ‘Over the past two years many of them have profited from – and developed an interest in maintaining – the chaos that engulfs the country. Warlords, Islamist groups and other committed revolutionaries who truly fought against the Qaddafi government will not surrender to General Hifter’s movement – and that poses a grave threat to Libya’s prospects for stability.’ Washington’s tolerance of General Hifter’s movement has made things much worse. Deborah Jones, the United States ambassador to Libya, was quoted as saying, ‘I am not going to come out and condemn blanketly what he did’ because, she added, General Hifter’s forces were going after groups on Washington’s terrorist list.
This article brought out the clear divisions between Doha and Washington which was a reflection of deeper divisions in North Africa and Palestine. In the war against the peoples of Syria, the Qatar regime had been very active along with the governments of Saudi Arabia and Turkey in providing finance and weaponry to the zealots who have now proclaimed themselves ‘The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ or (ISIL or ISIS) . However, relations between Qatar and Washington frayed over the path of the political process in Egypt. The military forces who had killed and incarcerated hundreds of thousands of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are not supported by the current leadership in Qatar. Qatar and Saudi Arabia broke ranks over the military takeover by General Sisi and the counter revolutionary forces of the Egyptian military.
In this new disagreement between the political leadership of Qatar and the generals in Cairo, the news outlets and NGOs supported by Qatar have been harassed. Qatari Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt were harassed and arrested. In June 2014, two Al Jazeera English journalists were sentenced to seven years in jail and one to 10 years. These journalists were sentenced by an Egyptian court on charges including aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and reporting false news.
Of the 1700 militias in Libya the dominant forces are represented by the militias from Zintan (The Al-Zintan Revolutionaries’ Military Council was formed in 2011), bringing together 23 militias from Zintan and the Nafusa Mountains in western Libya, the militias from Misrata and the militias from Benghazi. In the case of the capital Tripoli, the competing militias controlled differing neighborhoods with the militias from Zintan and the militias from Misrata, two of the dominant forces, claiming legitimacy. As there was no central command over the use of force, from time to time different factions of the military vied for military supremacy. In the case of the expanding wars in the East, the Misrata forces have intensified their battles to gain the upper hand in Tripoli. For the past few weeks this battle for supremacy has taken the form of a deadly battle where hundreds have been killed and aircraft worth more than US$1.5billion destroyed. Since the NATO declaration of success in 2011, the Tripoli airport area has been under the control of former fighters from the western town of Zintan. Rival Islamist-leaning militias from Misrata along with their allies fought with the Zintanis in recent days, but failed to dislodge them.
Recently, the Zintan militia group which has controlled the airport since the end of the revolution, claimed victory over the Misrata-led Operation Dawn force that tried to dislodge them from the airport. Future information will bring out whether this battle is an extension of the battles between the USA and Qatar since the forces seeking to dislodge the Zintan forces from the airport are the Misrata militias. For the past three years under the so called transition plans by the USA Office for Transition Initiatives (OTI) there were efforts to pay off hundreds of thousands of youths in the militias hoping to silence some of the guns. The US legation and the other western Embassies have been caught in this new round of intense fighting, hence the evacuation by road to Tunisia. Thousands of residents of Tripoli are fleeing the capital while third country nationals are being evacuated. None of the armed groups are listening to the calls by the United Nations for a ceasefire.
The destruction of aircraft in the fighting, which began on 13 July, has cost an estimated US$1.5 billion. The battles around the airport are by no means tame battles of armed men with side weapons. The Misrata forces after failing to dislodge the Zintan forces have been taking over residential areas adjacent to the airport, using tanks to pound the Zintanis, who in turn respond with shells and anti-aircraft fire. Hifter’s calculation that his forces and allies would ‘mop’ up the other militias has now backfired as the Libyan theater of war merges with the wider battles that are raging in Palestine and in Syria and Iraq. With the criminal assault on the peoples of Gaza the sympathies have now increased for those in Libya allied to the faction of the Palestinian movement resisting the Israeli occupation and bombardment. At the same time the massive demonstrations by the Palestinian peoples in the West Bank and the sterling resistance of the Palestinians in Gaza have deep consequences for the political leadership in Egypt. It is very clear that the present political leadership of Egypt is an ally of the conservatives ruling Israel who have inflicted collective punishment on the people of Gaza. Even the New York Times boasted of this alliance between the counterrevolutionaries in Egypt and the neo-conservative militarists in Israel on July 30, the Times noted,
‘After the military ouster of the Islamist government in Cairo last year, Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states — including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan — that has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip. That, in turn, may have contributed to the failure of the antagonists to reach a negotiated ceasefire even after more than three weeks of bloodshed.’
What the strategic planners in Washington and Tel a Viv forget is that the 80 million citizens of Egypt are also aware of this alliance between Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. When NATO intervened in Libya in 2011, one of the unspoken goals was to develop a rear base for western interventionist forces in case the Egyptian revolution was radicalized to the point where the popular forces started to dismantle the institutions of oppression and exploitation. Benghazi was crucial for the forward planning of the West, hence the intense battles for Benghazi since 2011 and the efforts to manipulate the youths by the Central Intelligence Agency. Now, in the midst of the war in Gaza and Syria there is increased attention on the role of Egypt as an ally of Israel in keeping the people of Gaza under lockdown by keeping the Rafa crossing closed. Since the intensified wars against the citizens of Gaza there have been new attacks on the Egyptian border posts in the West. In July, there was a bold attack on the western border post of Egypt where 22 troops including three officers were killed.
The killing of Libyans who were supposed to be protected has led to calls from within Africa and the nonaligned world for a thorough investigation of the NATO intervention in Libya. Since that call the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has been a silent bystander as hundreds of Libyans are killed and displaced. Now these UN personnel have joined with the other western powers that are being evacuated from Tripoli.
The killing of human rights workers and the killing of activist women of Libya such as former member of the Libyan General National Congress, Fariha Barkawi, and Salwa Bugaighis have brought out statements from western elements that have been destabilizing Libya. Muhammad Abdul Aziz the Libyan Foreign Minister has asked the UN Security Council to send military advisers to bolster state forces guarding ports, airports and other strategic locations. These calls are a manifestation of the complete breakdown of control over violence in Libya. The African Union and the nonaligned bloc within the United Nations will have to make a firmer stand on western militarism in North Africa and Palestine. The peace movements in the West also have a major responsibility to oppose NATO, oppose the deployment of western forces and expand the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel in clear solidarity with the peoples of Palestine.
This month as the world remembers how slowly humanity slipped into the massive bloodletting of World War 1 in 1914, it is worth reminding citizens of the West how the working peoples were manipulated to support the Generals and the Bankers. The peace and social justice movement must popularize the cases against Goldman Sachs, the Blackstone Group, the French bank Société Générale SA, and Tradition Financial Services of Switzerland. Progressive forces ought to follow closely the present case in the London High Court against Goldman Sachs and work to ensure that as a result of the dark markets that the Intercontinental Exchange are involved with, that the corporate elements will face the same demise as their academic spokespersons who had operated through the Monitor Group of Cambridge Massachusetts.
The peace and social justice forces must intensify their organization at this point so that there can be clarity on the role of General Hifter and the Central intelligence Agency in Libya. Progressive forces cannot accept the packaging of lies and disinformation that sold the war against the people of Libya as part of Responsibility to Protect. Today, the western media is attempting to package the bloody assault on the peoples of Palestine as a defensive war by the hawks in Israel. There is need for broad solidarity by peace and social justice forces internationally so that the current wars end and the west end their support for corrupt bankers and militarists.
* Horace G. Campbell is a Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. He is the author of Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya, Monthly Review Press, 2013.

The paradoxical nature of religious and ethnic states and the genocidal impulses

The paradoxical nature of religious and ethnic states and the genocidal impulses

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

The Arab Spring that freed some of the peoples of the Middle East from state imposed fear produced an existential challenge for increasingly heterogeneous communities, forcing people to define the nature of the state and the character of the country where they live. It is true that self-rule and self-determination require a sense of self. However, building stable countries in the new Middle East is tied to the peoples’ level of awareness of the genocidal impulse espoused by certain social groups amongst them. 

The old Middle East was built on an artificial foundation imposed by Western colonial and protective powers in the form of superficial liberal thought, imported Marxist ideas, petty ethnic identities, niggling tribal structures, and a variety of downwardly managed and imposed ideas. The regimes and political forces of the pre- and post-colonial periods exerted virtual monopoly on governing institutions in most Arab countries. During the second half of the twentieth century, Islamists, like the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates, began to challenge nationalist, monarchical, and clannish regimes arguing that Islamism provides a more inclusive political ideology for the peoples of the Middle East than alien ideas or narrow Arabism.

Consequently, Islamists clashed with secularists (consisting of Arab nationalists, liberals, Marxists, leftists, etc.) and monarchs and sheikhs. Secularists opposed Islamists on the basis that only a “neutral” secular state could guarantee equality among all citizens. Monarchs, on the other hand, either created their own versions of Islamism or co-opted existing ones to offset the rising popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Arab Spring amplified the tension between these competing trends. The future of the Middle East in particular and Islamic societies in general will depend on the outcome of these contestations. Specifically, political actors must address the place of religion and ethnicity, as defining identity markers, in the post-Arab Spring countries.

In Tunisia, for instance, all political debates were reduced to two competing propositions: the civil state versus the shari`ah-compliant state. It would seem that the consensus, as expressed in the new constitution, was in favor of a civil state where respect for religion, not any particular interpretation of Islam, is honored by all and imposed on none.

In Egypt, however, and immediately after the fall of Mubarak’s regime, the Muslim Brotherhood and their Salafi allies used their dominant organizational advantage to privilege a particular interpretation of Islam over all other interpretations and religions. That project failed and Egypt reverted to a Mubarak-like regime, for now. Importantly, the opportunity given to all Islamists to participate in representative governance and the subsequent failure of the Muslim Brotherhood to foster pluralism relativized the religious political discourse to the extent that even Salafis embraced realpolitik and sided with the military against the Muslim Brotherhood.

In Syria, all armed groups were united in their goal to overthrow the Ba`ath regime but they did not have a unifying vision for the future. Indeed, the Ba`ath government, as a post-colonial regime, is outdated. However, based on their own statements, the ideology of the most powerful opposition groups, the Islamic State (formerly, ISIL), al-Nusra Front, the Islamic Front, and many Islamist groups is beyond outdated. Their ideology is genocidal. These groups call for an Islamic state that is deviants-free, where non-Muslim citizens are reduced to a subordinate class, where non-Arabs are perpetually treated as inferior, and where secular Muslims are designated blasphemous enemies of God. A state built on these ideas is irresoluble, impracticable, and paradoxical for it violates the very basic understanding of the universal prohibition on genocide let alone the universal commitment to honor human dignity everywhere and under all circumstances.

The implicit support and tolerance of groups like the Islamic State are utterly disturbing. The lack of outrage towards ISIL’s actions against vulnerable sectarian and ethnic minorities is shocking. Not only did ISIL express its intend to kill all those who do not submit to its will, but it broke new grounds by committing retroactive genocide when it destroyed mosques, graveyards, churches, and iconic religious and cultural structures that echo the presence of diverse communities from thousands of years past. In a sense, ISIL and its supporters are committing two-way genocide when they kill or displace minorities and destroy their ancient historical sites. Considering the atrocities ISIL and al-Nusra inflict even on each other when they disagree, it becomes clear that these groups embody unmatched brutality and stunning lack of respect to human dignity enshrined in universal declarations and treaties prohibiting cruelty and genocide.

The commonly agreed upon definition of genocide is clear. It is “the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group.” International law provides specific examples of acts that are genocidal like killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. Moreover, international law punishes those who commit genocide, conspire to commit genocide, directly and publicly incite committing genocide, attempt to commit genocide, and being complicit in genocide.

With these definitions and examples in mind, the perpetrators of genocide in places like Iraq, Syria, and Libya become numerous. Responsibility falls on the shoulders of the actual actors who commit these crimes as well as on the shoulders of those who are complicit—those who are supporting ideologies that promote and sustain genocidal thought and inspire genocidal acts.

Post-Arab Spring countries could overcome the genocidal impulse and combat state imposed fear at the same time when they reject ideological purity in favor of absolute respect to human dignity. The Arab Spring, after all, may have signaled the beginning of the end of the precursors to ideological purity namely exclusionary models of nationalism such as Arabism, Turkism, Kurdism, Zionism, Berberism, Persianism, Islamism, and all other forms of ethnicity- and religion-inspired isms. A stable and peaceful future can be achieved through national identities that are more inclusive and more egalitarian in terms of respect to rights and dignity.

It is difficult to predict the specific future of the new Middle East. But it is not difficult to predict that the new Middle East will be better than the old one. Too much blood and agony have been spent to revert to the old Middle East or build a mediocre one. In this interconnected global community, no country can exist in isolation from its neighbors. With that being the case, the religious and ethnic state models become ethically, legally, and politically unsustainable. The peoples of the Middle East, therefore, must reject the proposition that only an Arab state can protect Arabs, only a Kurdish state can protect Kurds, only a Persian state can protect Persians, only a Shi`ite state can protect Shi`as, only a Sunni state can protect Sunnis, only a Christian state can protect Christians, only a Jewish state can protect Jews, and so-on. Because these ideas eventually lead to genocidal attitudes and acts. Peoples in that region must learn to confront their fear of each other and work together to build alliances on the basis of mutual respect and mutual commitment to dignity. They must commit to the principle that surviving or fearing a genocide does not give any community a legal or moral license to preemptively commit one.

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Contextualizing David Ignatius’ claim about “John Kerry’s big blunder in seeking an Israel-Gaza cease-fire”?

Contextualizing David Ignatius’ claim about “John Kerry’s big blunder in seeking an Israel-Gaza cease-fire”?

Contextualizing David Ignatius’ claim about “John Kerry’s big blunder in seeking an Israel-Gaza cease-fire”?
by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

David Ignatius, a journalist with extraordinary access to the halls of power but apparently limited sound reasoning argued that John Kerry has committed a “big blunder in seeking an Israel-Gaza cease-fire.” He explained that “Kerry’s error has been to put so much emphasis on achieving a quick halt to the bloodshed that he has solidified the role of Hamas, the intractable, unpopular Islamist group that leads Gaza, along with the two hard-line Islamist nations that are its key supporters, Qatar and Turkey.” Mr. Ignatius went on to provide a solution: “A wiser course […] would have been to negotiate the cease-fire through the Palestinian Authority, as part of its future role as the government of Gaza. Hamas agreed last April to bring the authority back to Gaza as part of a unity agreement with Fatah that was brokered by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.”

There are serious factual, ethical, geopolitical, and legal problems with Ignatius’ analysis and recommendations.

First, there is no shred of evidence that Hamas is unpopular. The only data we have is that they had won the last round of elections defeating Fatah, the party headed by Mahmoud Abbas. Even as civilians are killed every day, Gazans have not filled the streets to protest Hamas. In fact, Palestinians filled the streets in the West Bank, which is controlled by Fatah, to support Hamas and other armed Gazan groups. It is true however, that Hamas is “unpopular” among some Arab rulers, namely those of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt. But those rulers lack popularity among their own peoples. In Egypt, for instance, the turnout for the election that Sisi won was so low that he needed to tweak the rules and extend the vote for an additional day, even after which his popular mandate remained weak.

To argue that Kerry should not act for “a quick halt to the bloodshed” is equivalent to saying that more innocent people should die if it would lead to a better political settlement. That is ethically and legally problematic. A political settlement written with the blood of children and civilians is callous, cruel, and damaging to any hope for a just solution.

Kerry did not choose to side with Turkey and Qatar, he was forced to deal with them because Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Egypt are not interested in ending the violence. These rulers are interested in ending Hamas. Unless Mr. Ignatius thinks that ending Hamas is possible at this point, there is no other option but to find intermediaries who can convince Hamas to agree to some kind of a truce. Mr. Kerry thinks that Turkey and Qatar can play that role. And that is separate from the negative roles I believe Turkey and Qatar have played in amplifying sectarian violence elsewhere. As to ending Hamas’s existence, even the current Israeli leaders are not suggesting that through a prolonged military action they will be able to wipe out Hamas. Their stated goal is to disarm Hamas and other radical groups and destroy the tunnels, and it should be said that even those goals are impossible to achieve because, they, too, were siding with the Arab block that has no political or ethical capital among the peoples of the Middle East.

Israeli leaders continue to change the goal posts in dealing with Hamas while ignoring Abbas’ overture for a negotiated peace. Ten years ago, most people condemned the targeting of civilians by suicide bombers. Now that Hamas is waging a traditional war, Israeli leaders want them to stop using missiles and digging tunnels while Israeli planes, ships, and tanks continued to shell densely populated Gaza cities, killing in the process more than 1000 people—85% of whom are civilian children, women, and men. There are no laws against building tunnels used for defensive purposes and there are no laws that deny any people the right to acquire defensive weapons. Instead of continuing to suffocate the Palestinians, Israeli leaders should have taken the opportunity to work with the State Department to reach a negotiated settlement instead of building illegal settlements on occupied land.

Gaza has been under air, naval, and land blockade since Hamas took over. Israel attacked the strip three times and failed to disarm Gaza’s armed groups. In fact, after each military operation, armed groups in Gaza became better trained and more adapt. Apparently, Israeli leaders seem to think that Hamas will be weak now since they lost their ally in Egypt (the Muslim Brotherhood), are openly targeted by Saudi Arabia and UAE, and lost the support of Syria and Iran. That is a gross miscalculation. Should the war on Gaza continue for few more weeks, Israel will be isolated from the rest of the world and the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Egypt will be under threat, not Hamas. The Palestinian issue has always been, and still is, the barometer by which the standing of Arab leaders is measured. The Arab Spring—the popular and non-violent version of it that is—eliminated two of the Arab leaders who were most careless in dealing with the Palestinian cause. While Saudi Arabia remains, for now, immune to popular protest due to its tribal structure and total absence of civil society institutions, al-Sisi should be worried that he could face Mubarak’s and Morsi’s fate.

Mr. Ignatius seems to ignore that the Arab Spring, with its successes and failures, had created a new reality in the Middle East. For him to suggest that the U.S. administration can choose which Arab leaders decide the fate of Gazans is to ignore the transformations of the last four years. Kerry is not acting “contrary to the interests and desires of the United States’ traditional allies, such as Egypt, Jordan, [and] Saudi Arabia.” He is acting with the knowledge that those traditional allies were made irrelevant by the Arab Spring. He is acting with the realization that rulers sustained by clan dominance and military juntas lack legitimacy. The days of telling the Middle Eastern peoples who their leaders ought to be are gone; this is the New Middle East in a state of violent birth.

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Chaos and anarchy in the Middle East: How did it happen?

Chaos and anarchy in the Middle East: How did it happen?

Takfīris‘ path to their “caliphate” is soaked with the blood of Muslims
by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

The most important event of the summer might end up being ISIL’s (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) declaration that it has restored the caliphate. For the second time in the past two decades, Salafi Islamists have gained territory and resources to establish a communal entity reflecting their idea of an Islamic state. In the mid-1990s, the Taliban, aided by Saudi and Arab fighters led by Bin Laden, routed fellow Mujahidin to establish the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan. The Emirate ended when U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Two weeks ago, ISIL, aided by frustrated Sunni Arabs and former Baathists, led an armed assault on the northern provinces of Iraq, linking them to territories in Syria under its control.

Gaining new territories that are rich in natural resources like water, oil, and gas emboldened ISIL fighters. They now think that they have the military power, economic resources, and ideology to form an independent nation that is governed by their version of Islam—so-called true Sunni Islam. However, the problems they faced immediately upon the declaration signaled the level of disconnect between ISIL ideologues and the reality on the ground. Even the most ardent supporters of their brand of Islam have complained that ISIL’s reinstatement of the caliphate is an error.

Theological and legal concerns aside, the terms of the declaration make it impossible for ISIL to co-exist with its neighbors and other Islamist groups. ISIL’s caliphate is born in a state of war with everyone. Its leader, self-appointed Caliph and Commander of the Faithful Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared that the aim of his Islamic caliphate is to “erase national borders, destroy democracy, rid Muslims of deviant elements, and stand up for [Sunni] Muslims.” Most significantly, he stated that “all other Islamic factions, groups, movements, organizations, and parties are obligated to pay allegiance (bay`ah) to him or face death.” Furthermore, given that Muslims have never been ruled by a single political authority since the Islamic civil wars of the seventh century CE, it is safe to say that this caliphate is born dead.

The rise of ISIL is, however, a rebuke to some governments (mostly from the West and the Gulf states) who embrace violence in order to bring about regime change. It is also a confirmation that violence and war will always lead to incurable social division and brutal strife. These realities are manifesting themselves today in Syria and Iraq and in the emergence of sectarian extremist groups like ISIL. Three other key factors have contributed to the rise of ISIL and groups like it: the illegal invasion of Iraq, the militarization of the uprisings in Libya and Syria, and the appeasement of the undemocratic sectarian regimes in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.

Violent extremism was allowed to thrive when it was confronted militarily but not ideologically. That was both a logical and strategic mistake. Logically, one cannot end an undesired behavior by embracing it. That is, one cannot say that violence is abhorrent, yet use it to achieve one’s goals. By supporting violent groups in Syria, the West and its allies legitimized the very tactics used by ISIL to achieve its goals in Iraq. Strategically, by using violence to eliminate sectarian extremists instead of confronting the rulers and religious authorities in countries that espouse violent sectarian creeds, the West essentially chose to deal with the effects but not the roots of the phenomenon. The solution is to ask countries whose institutions teach hate, supremacy, and exclusion to reform and to respect human dignity. Without addressing the root of the problem, the rulers of countries that embrace the takfīrism will soon be engulfed by the same elements they have produced, tolerated, employed, and/or exported.

ISIL’s reinstatement of the caliphate and its leader’s call to “Muslim scholars, soldiers, and scientists to migrate to the ‘state’” might be a positive development in that it ended al-Qaeda and forced Zawahiri, Bin Laden replacement, into early retirement, created internal strife among Salafis–the stream of Islamists that feeds takfīri fighters, and exposed them as a cross-border threat. ISIL’s action may also result in freeing the rest of world of the preachers of hate and the messengers of death when they migrate to live under the uncompromising justice of the sword and the total surrender of their free choice they want to impose on others.
PS. Caliphate is the governing institution that ruled Islamic societies since the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The caliph is the head of such a government. The qualifications, form of governance, and terms of relationship between the ruler and the ruled differed from person to person and from dynasty/clan to another. After the death of the third caliph `Uthmān, the legitimacy of caliphs became contested and often more than one caliph ruled different regions and different community.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Jabhat al-Nusra losing support among rebels, tribes in south Syria

Jabhat al-Nusra losing support among rebels, tribes in south Syria

by Tarek Al-Abed 
On May 7, Syria’s Daraa province witnessed three events. First, battles broke out in the western countryside and militants started advancing toward the province. Second, a march was staged in support of the regime, near the location where armed confrontations were underway. Third, tension between Jabhat al-Nusra and other armed groups escalated in the south, against the backdrop of the arrest of Ahmed Nehme, leader of Jabhat al-Nusra’s military council.

In addition to this, extremist armed men released 40 persons, including 15 women and children, who were kidnapped in the northern countryside of Latakia, after the armed men had stormed into a number of towns in August.

Militants announced their control of the hills of Matouq al-Kabir and Matouq al-Saghir and the town of Kharbat Fadi, in addition to a military checkpoint in the vicinity of the village of Ankhel, south of Daraa.

Opposition field sources, however, said, “Supply corridors were opened to advance farther into the west and south toward the city of Nawa and the countryside of Quneitra, where various military centers affiliated with the army, such as in Tal Oum Houran, are located. It has also become possible to control the hills, from which any movement was stopped with fire and sniping.”

The sources added, “The battle was fought with the participation of al-Mathna Islamic Movement and the Islamic Front — Ahrar al-Sham in particular — in addition to many brigades affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), such as the Hamza Battalion, the 69 Special Forces group, the Yarmouk group, the Ghuraba Houran Brigade, al-Muhajireen Brigade, al-Ansar Brigade and the al-Madfaiya First Regiment.”

People took to the streets in support of the army and armed forces in the city of Azraa in the countryside of Daraa, 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the location of the battle. SANA news agency reported, “The residents of the city took to the streets in support of national principles and a constitutional referendum.” The participation of state officials in the march for the first time in this region, such as Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, was worth noting.

On another note, tension continues in the Houran plains, as Jabhat al-Nusra is still holding Nehme captive as well as the leader of the al-Fursan First Regiment, Ahmad al Masalama. Jabhat al-Nusra disseminated a video showing the confessions of Nehme, who admitted his responsibility for a number of battles that ended with defeat. This video was considered an attempt to galvanize public opinion against him.

Jabhat al-Nusra called for the formation of a joint tribunal with the FSA, whose members were on alert due to the fact that Nehme and Masalama belong to tribes in Houran. This augurs an impending risk of confrontations erupting between armed groups in the region.

Some sources said, “The risk could expand to include large-scale fighting, given that the Houran community is based on tribalism that forces it to defend and care for each other. Additionally, a large number of battalions are made up of members of the same tribe. Some of them fight members of their own tribe who are fighting with the FSA and Jabhat al-Nusra, which means that there is a possibility of internal conflict.”

On the other side, some activists noted a new rigor on the part of Jordan in dealing with the battalions. The latter fear Amman will cut ties if the crisis of detainees by Jabhat al-Nusra does not end. Jordanian intelligence is facilitating the transport of injured people, ammunitions and displaced people through unofficial corridors. This could completely stop and create a crisis, with the FSA militants paying the price. This explains the escalation and galvanization on the part of scores of brigades and battalions in the countryside of Daraa in anticipation of any potential battle with Jabhat al-Nusra.

In Deir el-Zour, clashes between the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) on one hand, and Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamic Front and FSA-affiliated factions on the other, continued, notably on the axes of Jdid Aqidat, Jdid Bakara, Harmoush, Tabiya and Sobha.

Yesterday [May 7] was the deadline set to accept the initiative of the Furat tribes, of which Jabhat al-Nusra announced its approval. ISIS continued to ignore the initiative. The fighting grew fierce in Aqidat in particular, as new reinforcements came to ISIS from the town of Maadan in Raqqa under the leadership of the military leader of ISIS, Omar al-Shishani. Meanwhile, Amer al-Rafdan, the ISIS emir in Deir el-Zour led the attacks on the axis of Harmoush, knowing that false news about him being killed was disseminated.

The fighting zones witnessed a heavy displacement of residents, especially after all parties carried out field executions upon entering the region. This has instilled fear among residents and led them to flee their homes to more secure regions, if there are any.

Armed clashes between the two parties were accompanied by fierce media campaigns on social media led by the supporters of both sides. These campaigns aimed at demoralizing the other party through posting false news. For example, stories were posted on the injury of ISIS emir in Hassakeh, Abu Osama al-Iraqi and his transfer to an intensive care unit. This false news was countered with factual information related to the Jabhat al-Nusra emir, Abu Hassan al-Kuwaiti, fleeing to Turkey.

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