All analyses in chronological order - Afro-Middle East Centre

By Al-Jazeera Centre for Studies


Late on Sunday, 25 January 2015, hundreds of protests broke in various Egyptian cities and towns, followed by attacks on public administration buildings and branches of the Interior Ministry; the burning of dozens of police and security vehicles; blocking of roads and railways all over the country; and even armed attacks on security patrols, with security personnel being ambushed and attacked at roadblocks. Some of these activities continued well into the following morning, with the death toll including more than twenty-five civilians and four security personnel, and with hundreds injured and hundreds more in custody.

This article is an initial reading of the events of that day, and their implications for the futures of both the popular opposition and the regime. It also discusses how regional and global forces view the regime.

Growth of the popular movement

Given the sheer number and spread of protests around the country, it would be nigh on impossible to estimate the number of participants in the popular movement with any measure of accuracy. It is clear, though, that Egypt last week witnessed the largest popular anti-regime gatherings since the sits-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda squares were quelled in August 2013.

There are various reasons behind this escalation by the opposition, not least of which is the prevailing political climate in the country more than one and a half years after the birth of the 3 July 2013 regime. It has also became apparent just how big a reversal Egypt has suffered, from an unstable but free democratic situation to one of oppression, where the iron fist of security routinely slams down on opposition and strangles political freedom, with no sign of stability on the horizon. The acquittal, and subsequent release, of several figures of the Mubarak regime, including Mubarak and his two sons, only reinforce the general feeling that Egypt is rapidly slipping back under the old regime, even if the names of those at the helm have changed. Moreover, the devaluation of the Egyptian pound and the continuing deterioration of the economy have resulted in the strengthening belief that the regime, despite considerable financial support from certain GCC states, is no longer able to contain the runaway economic crisis.

In this climate, different sectors of the population are increasingly joining the opposition movement. But the situation is not confined to growth in the popularity of the movement. In the larger cities, especially Cairo, there are growing signs that some political groups, such as the April 6 movement, the radical left, and opposition student movements have become more willing to take to the streets and participate with the anti-coup National Alliance Supporting Legitimacy in popular demonstrations.

On the other hand, the successive changes in the leadership structure of the Muslim Brotherhood, both within the country and abroad, have boosted confidence among the Brotherhood’s rank-and-file, bolstering the ability of the movement and its sympathisers to mobilise, and reinvigorating its determination to continue its activities against the regime.

However, despite the massive mobilisation, and the sheer number and spread of the demonstrations, it would be premature to suggest that the balance of forces between the opposition and the regime has tilted in favour of the former. A significant majority of Egyptians is still wary of participating in the opposition, either out of fear of the regime and its oppressive machine, out of a collective desire to see a return to stability, or because of support for the regime. Some have been disillusioned by the lack of a viable alternative after the failure of the first attempt at democratic change and the crumbling of the revolutionary masses, while others actually support the regime fearing that Islamists might return to power. In other words, large swathes of the population have yet to reach a sufficient level of discontent to prompt them to go out to the streets and demand the downfall of the regime.

The armed option

The change in the disposition of the popular movement opposing the 3 July 2013 regime is undeniable. Even though the Muslim Brotherhood (the main force behind the anti-coup alliance that has led the opposition throughout the past nineteen months) and its partners in the alliance have adhered to completely peaceful methods in their opposition to the regime, there are some groups in various parts of the country that are resorting to different methods. The subtle indicators of this shift began to appear about a year ago, but by 25 January 2015 they had grown so strong that they can no longer be ignored.

These indicators fall into two main categories:

  1. Vandalism and the destruction and arson of government institutions, police and security stations and vehicles, telecommunications towers, and electric power transformers, as well as the cutting off of roads and railways. More recently, the banking sector was targeted, with calls for people to withdraw their money from various banks.
  2. Organised armed attacks on police and security stations and checkpoints, and attempts on the lives of security officers, judges, prosecutors and informers thought to be involved in the crackdowns.

The goal of the first category is to compromise the regime’s ability to govern and to cripple the state, while the motives of the second are revenge and settling of scores.

There are three groups that have openly claimed responsibility for such actions at different times. The first, Ajnad Misr (Soldiers of Egypt), went public a year ago with a black flag that resembles that of the Islamic State (IS) group. If a relationship, whether direct or indirect, between Ajnad Misr and IS can be confirmed, the group, which operates mainly in the governorates along the Nile Valley, would be the second to declare its allegiance to IS and its jihadi-oriented interpretation of Islam. The first was Ansar Bait al-Maqdis (Supporters of the Holy House), which is active in northern Sinai.

The second group, Harakat al-Iqaab al-Thawri (Revolutionary Retribution Movement), announced itself on 24 January 2015, claiming to have active cells in fifteen of Egypt’s twenty-seven governorates. Despite the obvious difficulties in verifying that claim, the wording of the announcement seemed free of the usual hallmarks of jihadi discourse, suggesting that the group has no jihadi leanings. However, the sheer magnitude of operations for which the group has claimed responsibility is astounding, since these occurred throughout the country, including in Cairo, Alexandria and cities along the Suez Canal.

Both Ajnad Misr and Harakat al-Iqaab al-Thawri appear to have no qualms about carrying out deadly attacks and bombings using triggered devices and time bombs, either targeting specific people or randomly killing security and police personnel. Despite the glaring contrast in discourse between the two, they clearly share the belief that armed violence is part and parcel of dealing with the regime, and that violence is the only course of action to bring about change in Egypt.

The third group, Al-Muqawama al-Shaabiya (Popular Resistance), emerged about six months ago. The wording of its statements suggests a generally jihadi leaning, with close ties to the popular movement. Al-Muqawama al-Shaabiya is inclined more towards vandalism and road-blocking. To date, it is not known to have executed any armed attacks on security forces, even though it has been known to protect protesters from attacks by groups of thugs and criminal gangs believed to be affiliated with the regime’s security apparatus.

Unlike northern Sinai, which has witnessed almost open warfare between the armed forces and Ansar Bait al-Maqdis since the 3 July coup, the magnitude and frequency of vandalism and armed attacks in the governorates along the Nile Valley have not yet reached sufficient intensity to be described as an armed struggle. Unlike in Syria, where the popular movement receded as the armed struggle escalated, armed resistance in Egypt has not even reached a level that it could cripple the state or negatively impact the popular movement. Nevertheless, the magnitude and scale of events that took place on 25 January 2015 did cause the regime’s leaders serious concern.

The illusion of stability

The military officers who led the 3 July coup, and most of the civilian politicians who supported them, were hardly oblivious to the fact that they were desecrating the democratic process, nor were they unaware that their actions were – at least at the time – unwelcome to Egypt’s US and European allies. Washington and various European capitals certainly wanted to tame the rule of President Muhammad Mursi, but they also wanted the change to come about legally and constitutionally. On the other hand, the leaders of the 3 July regime were betting on the huge financial, economic and political support of some GCC countries, especially Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as Israel’s welcoming of the coup. The generals gambled on the probability that these countries would eventually help change the western stance and build legitimacy for the regime. They also wagered that they would quickly be able to establish stability, thus providing a climate for continued Arab support and a gradual shift in the western stance. It would be safe to say that that objective of achieving stability as rapidly as possible became such a high priority for the regime that it made the ill-advised decision to brutally break up the Rabaa and Nahda sits-in in an attempt to end the manifestations of popular opposition and social discord.

During the past eighteen months, the pro-regime GCC governments have pumped more than US$40 billion into the Egyptian treasury and economy. With support from the West, these countries helped the regime to gradually normalise its relations with the USA and Europe. Over the past few months, the regime appeared to be slowly but surely achieving its aim of building an image of stability for the country, despite the repressive actions of the security sector and the tyranny of the judiciary which is aimed at quelling the opposition. But the events of 25 January 2015 demonstrate that the dream of stability is far from being a reality, that the regime is no longer capable of breaking, or even containing, the popular political opposition, and that the country is entering a phase of worsening tension that could be far more destructive than anything it has witnessed over the past year-and-a-half.

Western media outlets have generally displayed substantial interest in that Sunday’s events. Spokespersons for the US State Department, the European Union and a number of European countries expressed concern over the death toll among protesters. The impression of instability will make European governments hesitant to offer Egypt direct financial or economic assistance. Likewise, there are growing signs that the enthusiasm with which some Gulf countries offered direct financial assistance to Egypt has waned since a year ago, either because of the proverbial black hole of corruption that exists deep within the structure of the Egyptian state (as the UAE believes), or due to the rapid, successive changes in the country’s political leadership (as Saudi Arabia has just experienced), or because of the dramatic decline in oil prices (as Kuwait fears). The decline in direct financial support is the only explanation behind the Central Bank’s inability to keep propping up the value of the national currency, and the subsequent dramatic freefall of the Egyptian pound’s value against the US dollar.

Losing control

Since 3 July 2013, the Egyptian regime has repeatedly gambled on the security option to quell opposition and impose stability, and on the financial support of some GCC states to shore up the economy. However, at the fourth anniversary of the uprising, it finds itself staring down the barrel of instability, with more and more segments of the populace trying to cripple the state’s control of the country, and with a rapidly dwindling cash lifeline from the Gulf, which has weakened the Egyptian pound, causing buying power to drop and prices of imported goods to skyrocket, and making the lives of ordinary Egyptians increasingly difficult.

The bottom line is that the growing violence of the opposition and the state’s dwindling ability to build a popular base will inevitably lead to more unrest and lawlessness, which in turn will chip away at the state’s institutions and pave the way for violence to tear into the very fabric of society.


*This article was published in terms of a partnership agreement between Al-Jazeera Centre for Studies and AMEC



By Tariq Dana

According to a recent survey, as many as eighty-one per cent of Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) believe there is corruption in Palestinian Authority institutions. These perceptions are reinforced by the recently-launched annual report of the Palestinian Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN), Transparency International’s Palestinian chapter. These perceptions persist despite much-touted state-building efforts by former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to root out corruption, and are at variance with international reports that suggest there is animprovement in governance.
Corruption has become structural to the Palestinian body politic, and pre-dates the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The problem needs to be tackled at its roots, and cannot be addressed through conventional measures used in other countries, particularly against the background of prolonged Israeli colonisation and occupation and the way in which Israel both reinforces and exploits corruption.[i]

Deconstructing corruption: The patron-client system

Corruption in PA institutions should not be perceived as merely a matter of administrative and financial wrongdoing committed by irresponsible individuals whose behaviour is driven by greed and personal interests.[ii] The scandals that Palestinians hotly debate from time to time – such as embezzlement of public funds, misappropriation of resources, and nepotism – are an outcome of long-standing corruption embedded in the underlying power structure that governs the Palestinian political system, and that were rooted in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) before the Oslo process.
Recent efforts to fight corruption have largely been ‘technical’ in nature, and have focused on such actions as drafting codes of conduct, improving recruitment procedures, and developing preventive measures to deal with specific violations. While such measures are necessary they cannot be sufficient if the political root causes of corruption are ignored. The nature of PA-specific corruption needs to be understood in order to tackle it effectively.
PA corruption is, in effect, a self-enforcing system. Perhaps the primary factor in reproducing and maintaining the corrupt nature of the Palestinian polity is ‘patron-clientelism’.[iii] In Palestine, patron-clientelism is rooted in the social values of kinship and familial ties, which are in turn shaped by factional politics. These social and political ties provide the ruling elite with a strategic tool to control constituents and expand the network of supporters by redistributing public resources in order to buy political loyalties, which in turn helps the ruling elite to preserve the status quo and maintain its dominance over political and economic assets.
Patron-clientelism also contributes to the climate of corruption by arbitrarily favouring incompetent loyal political constituents and excluding skilful people. It thus fosters rivalry among clients who compete to demonstrate their loyalty to the ruling elite. Corruption is further reinforced because one way in which patrons reward loyal clients is by tolerating their financial malfeasance.[iv]
Patron-clientelism has historically characterised the relations between the PLO executive and national institutions and political constituents.[v] The inner circle of the PLO leadership used patron-client networks systematically for multiple purposes: to extend influence over political constituents, to exclude other political forces, and to implement its political agenda unopposed.
For example, during the 1980s, the PLO leadership used the Sumud (steadfastness) Fund in the OPT – which was formally channelled through the Palestinian-Jordanian joint committee – to reward their supporters and exclude others.[vi] This approach encouraged manipulation and monopolies and introduced corrupt practices and duplication of development projects. It also contributed to expanded client networks to serve the political projects of Fatah and the Jordanian leadership. While the Sumud Fund’s stated objective was to support education, agriculture, health and housing, in reality the main beneficiaries were ‘the big landlords of the Jordan Valley, the industrialists, the Jordanian civil service (in the West Bank), and professional groups who received generous housing loans’.[vii]
After the Oslo Accords, the patron-client regime was unsurprisingly inherited by the PA and constituted the backbone of its institutional base. Instead of carrying out a merit-based institution-building process, patron-clientelism became a defining feature of the PA institutional structure, and a powerful tool of exclusion and inclusion. This was associated with the personalised and unaccountable style of governance of the late PLO chair, Yasser Arafat, and the Palestinian political leadership.[viii]
The PA has managed to secure loyalties among constituents largely by offering access to resources for economic survival rather than by persuasion for its political, economic and social programmes. In particular, the large PA public sector has been a vital instrument for creating dependency and securing loyalties. This contributed to the institutionalisation of corruption in the PA public sector, playing into the hands of the Israeli government whose intention in signing the Oslo accords was to create a client state that it could control through rents distributed to the PA via international donors, coupled with a strategy of territorial fragmentation and containment.[ix]
The PA public sector currently employs over 165 000 civil servants who are fully dependent on salaries guaranteed by international aid to the PA. The security sector is the largest with 44 per cent of total PA employment, absorbing between 30 and 35 per cent of the annual PA budget, thus receiving a bigger share than vital sectors such as education (16 per cent), health (9 per cent) and agriculture (1 per cent).
The dysfunction of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and the complete absence of legislative monitoring of the governmental budget have freed the presidency and the executive from institutional checks and balances and public accountability. This has bolstered executive control over public spending and the executive’s ability to control constituents by using the stick and carrot strategy. This has, consequently, enhanced irregularities and violations of employment rights.
Indeed, employment in the PA public sector does not necessarily imply job security. If employees criticise PA policies they are likely to be forced into early retirement,denied salary payments, or arbitrarily removed from their posts. They may also face a series of punitive measures, including denial of promotions or transfers to distant areas.
Furthermore, given that much of Palestinian society is based on tribal/clan/family social relations, the PA has sought to accommodate large families in order to ensure their loyalty. When the PA established its Ministry of Local Government, it included a special department concerned with tribal/clan affairs. The Ministry recognises mukhtars (heads of tribes or clans) and authorises them to speak on behalf of their families. Whereas tribalism had been marginalised by the rise of the national movement, in the 1990s the PA appointed some representatives of prominent families to ministerial posts based on tribal considerations. These ministries were subsequently largely staffed by the ministers’ relatives and friends. After recent ‘state-building’ reforms, employment based on family considerations was reduced. Instead, some ministers have surrounded themselves with cronies.[x]
The patron-client system has also been used to co-opt and neutralise political opposition. Several political leaders – independents, leftists and Islamists – were incorporated into the PA project that they initially claimed to reject. They were offered privileges, advantages, and access to prestigious public posts in exchange for political loyalty. Some of those co-opted personalities subsequently became key actors in PA politics.

The money and power of elites

The corruption embedded within the Palestinian political system is best exemplified in the interplay between power and money at the highest level of political authority. This is the most prevalent form of corruption, and yet it is the most difficult to trace because the elites often enjoy social, political or legal immunity. Moreover, the complexity of the way in which money changes hands, and its transnational character – which can involve money laundering, black markets and foreign bank accounts – also makes this form of corruption particularly hard to trace.
Elite corruption generally comes to light only in times of internal conflicts within elite circles, and mutual accusations of large-scale embezzlement then dominate news headlines. For example, former Gaza security strongman Mohammed Dahlan accumulated much of his wealth from monopolies over key imports to Gaza during the 1990s. After he was expelled from the Fatah Central Committee due to allegations that he was planning to oust PA President Mahmoud Abbas, more accusations of corrupt practices were levelled against him, such as creaming off tax revenues used for his businesses in London and Dubai.
Similarly, Mohammad Rashid, former economic advisor to Arafat and a key Dahlan ally, was sentenced in absentia fortransferring millions of dollars out of the Palestinian Investment Fund and setting up fake companies. In response, Rashid revealed that Fatah had a secret bank account in Jordan that was run by Abbas and two of his associates. In each case, revelations of corruption are the result of a power struggle rather than serious efforts to combat corruption.
The misuse of official positions for personal gain is another facet of elite corruption. Cases that were exposed included unauthorised personal use of public resources, illegal public-private deals, and theft of public property. Such practices were a regular occurrence during the 1990s and negatively impacted local and international perceptions of the PA. According to the first Palestinian audit conducted in 1997, nearly 40 per centof the PA budget – approximately US$326 million – had been misappropriated.
Despite attempts at PA reform in recent years, there does not appear to have been substantial improvement in fighting this phenomenon. According to the 2008 AMAN report, the abuse of public positions for the misappropriation and waste of public property can be clearly seen in the allocation of state lands to individuals or firms. The AMAN 2011 report reveals the continuation of this trend, with the waste of public funds remaining the most prominent visible form of corruption.
Another means of self-enrichment by the political elite at the expense of the rest of the population can be seen in the excessive income inequality in Palestine. The Global Gini Index pointed to extensive inequality in income levels between high-ranking officials and other PA employees in 2013. According to recent reports, some public sector officials earn a monthly salary of more than $10 000, and enjoy other privileges. By contrast, two-thirds of PA public sector employees earn between $515 and $640 monthly.

Corruption under occupation

Israel has repeatedly contributed to and exploited corruption in the PA in order to blame Palestinians for their economic ills, and to distract attention from the devastating impact of its colonial policies on Palestinian social and economic development. Although PA corruption is undoubtedly harmful economically, it is worth noting that its effects are a distant second to the impact of systemic Israeli destruction of the Palestinian economy.
There are many ways in which Israel is a key actor in fostering corruption and protecting the corrupt. The public-private monopolies controlled by individuals high in the PA bureaucracy and their partners in the private sector would not have been possible without the collusion and collaboration of Israeli businesses and the consent of the Israeli political and security establishment.
Another example is Israel’s direct involvement in the so called ‘secret accounts’ established in the 1990s by some Palestinian officials around the world, including accounts held in the Bank Leumi in Israel. Much of the money came from taxes on Palestinian imports that Israel had collected, which it directly transferred to these accounts. Between 1994 and 1997, Israel transferred $125 million into these accounts; in 1997 alone, Israel reportedly transferred $400 million into Palestinian accounts in Israeli banks.[xi] While Israel’s role has become less visible in recent years, it still offers a safe haven for the corrupt.
At the same time, Israeli propagandists actively exploit PA corruption, and uses accusations of Palestinian corruption for political gain. During the Second Intifada that began in September 2000, Israel used the corruption card as part of a broader strategy to remove Arafat and impose an externally sponsored ‘reform’ process to suit its own agenda. In particular, Israel exploited the international preoccupation with ‘terrorism’ by accusing Arafat of using PA resources to finance terrorism. It successfully pushed an internationally-sponsored restructuring of PA institutions, weakening Arafat through the creation of the new position of prime minister, and the restructuring of the ministry of finance.

How Palestinians respond to corruption

Palestinians living under Israeli occupation believe that corruption is one of the most serious problems they face, second only to the occupation itself. A 2014 opinion poll found that 25 per cent of Palestinians surveyed believed corruption was a serious problem, second after the problem of occupation and settlements, which stood at 29 per cent of those surveyed. This is unsurprising, given that corruption siphons off scarce Palestinian resources and breeds a wide range of social problems, contributes to inequality and harms the social fabric, and corrupts the struggle for national liberation and the pursuit of Palestinian rights.
The first domestic challenge to PA corruption was in 1997 when the PLC released a report in the wake of the first audit cited above. The report revealed widespread corruption in PA institutions and contained a damning indictment of all ministries.
The report was crucial as it opened the Palestinian public’s eye to the existence of systemic corrupt networks within the PA. In response, Palestinians mobilised and demanded reforms and transparency. In 1999, twenty prominent figures – including academics, intellectuals and members of the PLC – signed the ‘The Nation Calls Us’ manifesto, which accused Arafat of ‘opening the doors to the opportunists to spread corruption through the Palestinian streets’. PA security forces arrested many signatories and accused them of threatening national unity.
By 2004, growing popular dissatisfaction with PA corruption erupted in street protests over government appointments of some notoriously corrupt personalities. Due to the increasing internal and external pressure on the PA, Arafat acknowledged that there was corruption and promised that the culprits would be prosecuted.
Popular anger at corruption was also a main factor in Hamas’s overwhelming electoral victory in the 2006 parliamentary elections. For many people Hamas offered an alternative, and had earned respect for its efficient service delivery, particularly among the poorer people. However, after the formation of the Hamas-led government in 2006, it began to establish its own brand of clientelism by appointing and promoting supporters in various government posts. This contributed to the power struggle and political rivalry between Hamas and Fatah. To this day, Hamas-Fatah competition over appointmentsconstitutes a significant impediment to the reconciliation process between the two factions. Meanwhile, Hamas’s years in power in Gaza have led the public to level similar allegations of corruption against Hamas as they have against Fatah, especially after Hamas began making massive profits from thetunnel economy between 2007 and 2014 together with a lack of transparency in dealing with the receipts.
Partially in response to public dissatisfaction, the PA founded the Palestinian Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) in 2010, which was tasked with receiving public complaints and ensuring that corruption cases were dealt with speedily and effectively. Although the PACC is portrayed as an independent commission, financially and administratively, its chairperson was appointed by presidential decree, and many of its advisory board members include former ministers, ambassadors and presidential advisers. Some cases of corruption have reportedly been brought to justice, but press reports as well as interviews I conducted indicate that the investigations are selective. Furthermore, public opinion polls indicate increased public mistrust in the PACC, and a perception of systematic interference in its work by the presidency, security services and political parties.
Popular campaigns against corruption have largely diminished in recent years due in part to growing PA authoritarianism and increasing repression by its security services. This has includedblocking websites that reveal stories of PA corruption.

Uprooting corruption

Effectively ending corruption requires a structural response that involves the entire political system, including an effective legislative monitoring system, institutional checks and balances, and an independent and well-functioning judiciary. Immunity would be withdrawn from any person, regardless of position, in case of direct or indirect misuse of political power and public resources. Civil society representatives would play an effective role in monitoring public institutions and resources. Because the international aid industry provides fertile ground for corruption and lacks accountability, the existing aid system would need to be reformed to ensure it does not assist to foster corruption.
However, it is difficult to see a situation in the near future where these measures are agreed upon and implemented. Palestine has no sovereignty, and its people are barely surviving under a prolonged occupation of nearly fifty years, and a siege of nearly a decade. Most Palestinian people are outside the OPT, living as exiles and refugees in very difficult conditions, or as second-class citizens of Israel. Corruption is a major contributing factor to the Palestinian national movement’s inability to achieve its objectives, and also serves the objectives of Israel’s occupation. Yet corruption will remain endemic within the PA as long as Palestinians themselves do not begin restructuring their national institutions according to democratic principles and standards of accountability as part of a broader strategy to pursue self-determination and Palestinian national rights, including freedom from occupation.
 Tariq Dana is a Senior Research Fellow at the Ibrahim Abu-Lughod Institute of International Studies, Birzeit University. He also teaches courses on global political economy.


[i] I thank Al-Shabaka Program Director Alaa Tartir for his insights, feedback, and support in the preparation of this brief, and the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation’s Palestine/Jordan Office for their partnership and collaboration with Al-Shabaka in Palestine. The views expressed in this policy brief are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation.
[ii] It should be noted that while neither the private nor the non-governmental sectors are immune to corruption, they are not the focus of this paper. In addition, it should be noted that this paper does not cover Gaza and Hamas, although this is an important area for future study.
[iii] Patron-client relations are based on inequality whereby a patron monopolises the centres of power and resources to contain the client within his sphere of influence. See Shmuel N Eisenstadt and Luis Roniger (1984). Patrons, clients and friends: Interpersonal relations and the structures of trust in society,Cambridge University Press.
[iv] Rex ‪Brynen (1995). ‘The Neopatrimonial Dimension of Palestinian Politics’, in Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 25, No. 1, 23-36.
[v] As’ad Ghanem (2010). Palestinian Politics After Arafat: A Failed National Movement, Indiana University Press.
[vi] The Sumud Fund is different from Samed, the economic institution of the PLO established in 1970.
[vii] Salim Tamari (1991). ‘The Palestinian Movement in Transition: Historical Reversals and the Uprising’, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol 20, No 2, 63. See also: Khalil Nakhleh (2004). ‘The Myth of Palestinian Development: Political Aid and Sustainable Deceit’, Jerusalem: Passia.
[viii] Ghanem (2010).
[ix] Mushtaq Husain Khan, George Giacaman and Inge Amundsen (eds) (2004). State Formation in Palestine: Viability and Governance during a Social Transformation, Routledge.
[x] Information collected in author’s interviews in Palestine in 2015.
[xi] For further information, see: Cheryl A Rubenberg (2003).The Palestinians: In Search of a Just Peace, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 256. See also: Jamil Hilal and Mushtaq Khan, ‘State Formation under the PNA: Potential Outcomes and their Viability’ in Khan, Mushtaq, et al (2004). 64-119.

By Al Jazeera Centre for Studies

On Thursday, 13 August, after a short meeting between Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish Prime Minister and leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), and Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Davutoglu announced the collapse of talks between the parties to form a coalition government. Following several weeks of marathon negotiations, last week’s meeting was expected to be decisive. Three days earlier, Davutoglu had met Kilicdaroglu for more than four hours to attempt to bridge the earlier gap. The leaders had agreed to meet again after briefing their respective leadership councils. It is now clear that it was impossible to bridge the gap.

Within hours of the announcement, the Turkish Lira fell to its lowest level against the US dollar in more than a decade, and the Turkish stock index fell significantly. This week, after a meeting between Davutoglu and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli, the MHP also rejected a coalition with the AKP. Clearly, Turkey faces a political crisis. Why did the negotiations for a coalition government with the CHP fail, despite the climate of optimism? And where is Turkey headed politically, considering that the only certainty now seems to be another parliamentary election?

Possibility of coalition government

Between 1960 and 2002 Turkey experienced twenty coalition governments, with the longest lasting three-and-half years. The last was from 1999 to 2002 when the Democratic Left Party, led by Bulent Ecevit, failed to obtain the majority that would qualify it to rule independently; it therefore formed a coalition with the MHP and the Motherland Party. The legacy of coalition governments has, however, not always been positive or reassuring. On the contrary, they have been overwhelmingly unstable and not reflective of good governance. Some dragged the country into complex economic and political crises, while others led to military intervention.

After nearly thirteen years of political stability under the AKP, the current need for a coalition government resulted from the AKP failing to achieve a sufficient majority in the June parliamentary election, which could have allowed it to govern on its own. The ruling party won 41 per cent of the vote, giving it 258 seats in the new parliament – 18 seats less than a parliamentary majority. The CHP won 25 per cent of the vote (132 seats), the MHP received 17 per cent (80 seats), and the HDP 13 per cent (80 seats). Clearly, the Turkish people wanted to send a message of protest to the AKP, which had appeared confident of victory, and whose leaders and cadres had become accustomed to winning at low cost.

The main change (and surprise) in the election was the success of the pro-Kurdish HDP – which contested elections for the first time – after it crossed the critical ten per cent threshold necessary to enter parliament. With the HDP getting 80 seats it is more difficult for the AKP to obtain half of the seats in the Turkish parliament, the Grand National Assembly. The HDP’s resounding success was not only because of Kurdish voters, but also because of the votes of many non-Kurds who sought to prevent the AKP from obtaining a parliamentary majority. Without this majority the AKP cannot govern alone, nor is it allowed to draft a new constitution – one of the objectives of the AKP in its attempt to change the political system to a presidential one.

On 9 July, after new members of parliament were sworn in and after the election of the parliamentary speaker, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan requested Davutoglu, as leader of the largest parliamentary bloc, to form a government. Constitutionally, a government must be formed within forty-five days. If the party requested by the president to do so fails to form a government comprising a sufficient parliamentary majority, the president must declare new parliamentary elections within ninety days thereafter. The deadline to form a new government is, thus, 23 August.

Why coalition-building attempts failed

Davutoglu’s efforts to form a coalition government included meeting with leaders of the other three parties. Given links between the HDP and the PKK, which the Turkish state regards as a terrorist group, and that the HDP’s position on the Kurdish peace process and disarmament of the PKK is unclear, the option of forming a coalition government with the HDP was not initially on the table for the AKP, and the HDP had also indicated that it would not entertain such an option.

On the other hand, the MHP was unwilling to join a coalition government and preferred new parliamentary elections, hoping that new elections will result in the exit of the HDP from parliament. The Kurdish question occupies a central place in the MHP’s platform. It opposes the Kurdish peace process and negotiations conducted by the AKP government with Kurdish leaders, especially PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. The MHP demands an end to the process and seeks, instead, to crush the ‘terrorists and Kurdish separatists’. This issue thus prevented the MHP and AKP coming together because of the AKP government’s engagement in the peace process.

The AKP’s only choice, therefore, was a coalition with the CHP. However, there are substantial differences between the two parties, in terms of both domestic and foreign policies. The parties formed delegations for detailed policy discussions. Although their meetings took place in an atmosphere of optimism and were marked by a desire for convergence, their views on education and foreign policy were too divergent. The CHP wanted the education portfolio in a future government, and expressed its intention to make radical changes in the structure of the educational process and in the curricula. It also wants radical change in Turkish policy towards Syria, Egypt and Israel – seeking Turkey’s withdrawal from the Middle East in favour of a greater involvement in Europe.

For the AKP, the divergence between the parties’ positions widened to the extent that it believed a stable coalition government to be unachievable. Davutoglu thus proposed ​​a short-term coalition government to the CHP leader, who rejected the proposal, leading ultimately to the collapse of the talks, with no hope for a new round.

The Erdogan factor

The CHP’s explanation for the failure of the talks differed significantly from the AKP’s, however. Kilicdaroglu and other party leaders placed the greatest responsibility for the collapse of negotiations on Erdogan. The CHP argues that Erdogan continues to exercise considerable influence in the AKP, and that he does not want a coalition government because such a government would end his exercising an extra-constitutional role. Erdogan’s only opportunity to continue doing so, or to revive the project for a new constitution, is early elections. The president hopes new elections would give AKP the majority it lost in June, and thus allow it to govern alone. The CHP, supported by the liberal-secular media, claims that Erdogan encouraged the recent sudden escalation in the confrontation with the PKK – inside Turkey and in Iraq – as a means of restoring the popular support lost by the AKP.

Erdogan was open, especially in his own circles, about his desire for new elections. His close associates have said that the June results convinced him of the need for a presidential system. Erdogan believes the presidential system is most suitable for this phase in Turkey’s history, and that it would protect the country from a descent to instability or uncertainty, as created by the June election. He referred to the presidential system in a speech on 14 August, after the collapse of AKP-CHP talks.

However, even before the announcement that AKP-CHP talks had failed, it seemed negotiations were on track to certain failure, irrespective of Erdogan’s influence within the AKP or his desire for early elections. The problem was not only related to the parties’ diverse ideological and cultural backgrounds, but also to the strategic nature of the issues in dispute. The AKP regards the educational system founded in 2011 as a huge legislative achievement of its administration. Accepting structural changes to the educational system would mean abandoning one of the party’s most important visions for Turkey’s future. Further, no AKP leader will accept CHP demands for strategic change in Turkish foreign policy, particularly regarding Syria, and in the Middle East as a whole.

Future of the crisis

In his media conference, Davutoglu did not refer to early elections unequivocally or decisively, but as only a possibility. The Turkish media were quick to point out that elections were inevitable after the talks had failed. In reality, Turkey still faces two paths: another attempt to form a government – regardless of whether it is a coalition or a minority government, and early elections.

Immediately after his announcement of failed talks with the CHP, Davutoglu requested a meeting with MHP chairperson Devlet Bahceli, who agreed. The meeting, a last-ditch attempt by the prime minister to form a coalition government, took place on Monday, 17 August, and Davutoglu proposed an AKP-MHP coalition. Bahceli refused. He insisted on various MHP positions: that talks with the PKK must end (though in reality they have, after Turkish attacks on the PKK in the middle of August); that Erdogan and his family must be investigated for corruption; and that Erdogan’s aspirations for a presidential system must be curbed. He also said his party opposed any amendment to the first four articles of the constitution – which include clauses about Turkey as a secular state, and states that Turkey’s language is Turkish (thus denying language rights to Kurds and other linguistic minorities).

Davutoglu indicated that he would consult with the president before resigning his position as prime minister. Erdogan will have to call new elections, to take place within ninety days from his announcement, and will have to agree with the parliamentary speaker on the establishment of a caretaker government, in which all parties in parliament will be represented proportionally. The HDP’s participation in such a government will cause great dissatisfaction to the MHP, which has rejected the participation of Kurdish nationalists in any government. How the two parties will cooperate in a caretaker government remains to be seen. It is possible that the MHP will refuse to exercise its right to join the interim structure.


The question now is whether the election will significantly change the proportions of seats in parliament, and whether it will open the way for the AKP to attain a parliamentary majority. Some recent polls indicate that the AKP will receive just over forty-four per cent of the vote – up from forty-one in June, giving it a small parliamentary majority, but insufficient for it to form a government. Opinion polls, of course, do not always provide a definite indication of trends in public opinion in democratic systems. Also, opinions can easily change in ninety days.

Those who argue that the new election will benefit the AKP suggest that Turkish voters wanted to send a warning to the AKP, but that the message was too strong. Thus, a large number of those voters, concerned about instability and a resurgence of violence in the conflict with the PKK will return to vote for the AKP. A number of AKP voters switched to the HDP and MHP, some because they believed the AKP had not gone far enough in negotiations with the PKK; others because they opposed those negotiations.

The other view argues that even if the election does not provide an adequate parliamentary majority for the AKP, it will emphasise to all parties that future governance in the country will require coalitions, and that parties must abandon political manoeuvring in their negotiations with each other, and seriously work to form coalitions. The problem with the AKP not receiving a clear majority, however, is that the current stalemate will likely be repeated after another election, laying the ground for a serious political crisis.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The Islamic State (IS) group’s bombing of the Turkish town of Suruc on 20 July, resulting in the deaths of thirty-two students, introduced a new and complex dynamic to an already inflamed region. The most immediate impact of this deadly attack has been a dramatic change in Turkey's policy towards IS, and towards the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey has long been criticised for its lack of military action against the former – and has even been accused of assisting or facilitating IS actions, despite several incidents on the Turkey-Syria border, and many see the recent events within Turkey as a wake-up call for the government. Turkey and the USA began coordinating airstrikes against IS targets in northern Syria after the Turkish government granted the US military and its coalition partners access to the Incirlik Air Base.

By Na'eem Jeenah

Last week, Brics leaders formalised the establishment of the New Development Bank (NDB), which will use its $100 billion (R1.24 trillion) in initial capital to fund infrastructure and sustainable development projects both at home and overseas.

The NDB will not only bind these countries together in common purpose but will introduce something not seen since the dawn of contemporary multilateralism: competition to the Western-dominated international financial system.

Despite the best intentions of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, the existing international financial institutions have consistently fallen short of their aim to provide development assistance to the most marginalised nations.

With their often-problematic loan conditions, they have at times impeded rather than promoted equitable development.

The NDB could change this. As a bank created in and by the global south, and for the global south, the Brics bank could be revolutionary.

It could, for example, provide critical development assistance to middle-income countries whose economic status has prevented investment by traditional donors.

Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt are reeling from the knock-on effects of the war in Syria, now in its fifth year.

They have taken in 98 percent of the refugees, with drastic repercussions for their own economies and societies. The war has already cost Lebanon $20bn – almost half of its annual gross domestic product – and Turkey $12.5bn.

But the World Bank, with reserves more than four times as much as the NDB’s committed capital, considers these countries too rich to be assisted with its more generous loans at lower or zero interest rates.

The UN estimates that Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt will collectively need $5.5bn this year alone to fund their response to the Syria crisis.

So far, slightly more than one-fifth of that plan has been funded by the international community.

This abandonment perhaps gives rise to another acronym that we could employ to describe Syria’s neighbours: the Jilted.

If the Brics bank were operational today, it could fund part of the regional plan and have plenty left over.

Brics member states, despite their limited reserves, have already provided development assistance to Syria. Brazil, for example, pledged $5 million at a recent international pledging conference on the Syrian crisis.

But what the NDB offers is a unique, collective initiative with the potential to both amplify and institutionalise this assistance at the multilateral level.

This is a great opportunity for Brics countries to step in where traditional donors will not or cannot, thereby demonstrating their collective leadership on behalf of other emerging economies.

Supporting the response in the Middle East would also be in line with the policies espoused by individual Brics governments, who acknowledge a correlation between development and sustainable peace.

Peace and stability in the region are global public goods. By supporting development in Syria’s neighbours, the NDB could increase stability across the entire region and make peace more likely. This would be in everyone’s interests.

Furthermore, Brics member states have abundant development expertise, especially in livelihood support, agriculture, water and sanitation and health.

The NDB could harness the wealth of experience of its members to help Syria’s neighbours cope by improving their water, sanitation, hygiene and electrical infrastructure.

The advent of the NDB is exciting for those who have long lamented the inertia and bias of the current global financial system.

Through the NDB, the Brics can redefine what development assistance means and how it works, and ensure that the most marginalised communities benefit from it.

Syria and the crisis it has caused in the region is the most pressing humanitarian disaster of our time. In this, the NDB has an opportunity to take the lead and guide the international response that has so far been woefully inadequate. And as an institution dedicated to the public interest, it must ensure that its operations in the region are transparent.

Strong accountability mechanisms must also be put into place.

Shortly before he left office, one of the founding members of the Brics, Chinese President Hu Jintao, detailed his vision for the bloc as “defenders and promoters of developing countries and a force for world peace”.

Brics nations have an opportunity to show that they are different, people-centred and determined to do right not just by their own people but by everyone living in fragile states or feeling the negative effects of a struggling economy.

The NDB could be an exciting realisation of Hu’s dream if it succeeds in mobilising much-needed funds for the humanitarian and regional spillover of the Syrian crisis.

Na’eem Jeenah is executive director of the Afro-Middle East Centre, a research institute dedicated to studying relations between the Middle East and Africa.

This article was published first on the following websites: Independent Online, Brazil Business today, Russia Direct and Caixin Online

Edited with Online HTML Converter.

By Al Jazeera Centre for Studies

On Friday, 26 June, Tunisia witnessed the deadliest armed attack in its history, leaving thirty-eight people, mostly British tourists, dead, and thirty-nine injured. This attack came three months after the Bardo National Museum attack, in which many foreign tourists were killed. The June attack, in Sousse, raised glaring questions about the efficacy of measures taken by the security forces to prevent attacks after Bardo.

The Sousse attack marked a new approach by armed groups in which they target Tunisia’s most vital economic sector – tourism, which provides employment for about half a million people. The attack coincided with a severe political crisis, due to the government’s inability to resolve various severe challenges facing the country. Its actions after the Sousse attack will increase the severity of the political and social crisis.

Security failure: Seeking to regain the initiative

Tunisia is experiencing a crushing socio-economic crisis in the context of a difficult democratic transition exacerbated by a fragile security situation. After the assassinations of two political opposition leaders – Shukri Baleid in the middle of 2013 and Mohammed Brahmi later that year – security has become am overwhelming factor in the Tunisian crisis.

The security crisis has deep-seated causes, mostly because the functions of the security apparatus have changed radically since the 2011 uprising and the beginning of the democratic transition process. These changes shook the core of the security doctrine as a result of the instability resulting from the rapid change of governments, and the multiple centres of power established by the January 2014 constitution. The previous core security doctrine, which had been adopted during the reigns of former presidents Habib Bourguiba and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was characterised by extremely centralised decision-making and the brutal suppression of dissent. Training, procedures and techniques were all geared towards the fulfilment of this doctrine.

However, the two high-profile assassinations and subsequent armed attacks were a new experience for the security establishment, which clearly lacked the capacity to respond adequately, despite its previous success in thwarting attacks and arresting members of insurgent cells. The armed groups seemed to be a step ahead of the security forces, outmanoeuvring and outrunning them with ease, and able to cause much damage. Furthermore, the insurgents had the luxury of choosing their targets, which ranged from military and security personnel targeted by small, mountain-dwelling armed groups in the west to major government and economic centres in cities.

Some in government believe that the proximity of the conflict in neighbouring Libya is a cause of the growing Tunisian insurgency. However, this notion fails to recognise the evolution of the phenomenon of armed violence in Tunisia, making it a Tunisian product exported to Libya and other neighbouring countries. Thus the phenomenon’s fundamental causes are local and fed by poor economic policies and inherited social crises. This is manifested by a disconnect between the state and a considerable portion of the Tunisian people.

A survey in the country’s poorest region, the north-west, just after the Bardo attack indicated that five per cent of young Tunisians openly support the Islamic State group (IS), and over half are willing to join IS if allowed to. It is noteworthy that most residents of the north-west part of Tunisia had voted for Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia) in the parliamentary elections and for President Beji Caid Essebsi in the presidential elections. Another study, by a state institution, the Observatoire National de la Jeunesse (National Observatory for Youth), found that a third of young Tunisians sympathise with the Salafi movement’s ‘advocacy and charitable aspects’. Knowing that more than half of Tunisia’s population are youth, these revelations are alarming.

Despite widespread international sympathy for Tunisia after the Bardo and Sousse attacks, actual international cooperation with the country in the face of violence remains weak. Available data shows that the USA intensified its intelligence cooperation with Tunisia to track down armed groups by increasing the use of drones, which occasionally roam the Tunisian skies. However, a controversial agreement signed by the two countries in Washington, DC on 20 May was less helpful than hoped for. The Tunisian government suddenly found itself in a brutal war against armed groups, in addition to facing a crisis with its western neighbour Algeria, which had reduced security cooperation with Tunisia in response to the Washington agreement.

Government measures put into place after the Sousse attack sparked much doubt about its ability to cope with future attacks. The government announced the closure of eighty mosques, and a plan to protect hotel facilities and monitor parties and associations that violate the constitution and laws. The military summoned reservists to support the security effort, intensifying raids ‘to keep track of suspicious elements’. Days after, however, it was revealed that the plan had done nothing to allay public fears. On 9 July the United Kingdom asked its nationals to leave Tunisia immediately, citing poor security; Denmark followed suit a day later. No one, least of all the government, has confidence in the efficacy of these measures. Perversely, some pro-government media outlets embarked on a campaign against human rights defenders, who some call ‘the fifth column of terrorism’, raising concerns that the campaign against armed groups may be used as a cover for systematic human rights violations.

Over the past few weeks there have been rumours that bearded men and veiled women were being watched by police, and that security officers were abusing their authority. These rumours give credence to activists’ concerns about the threat to freedom and the undermining of the constitution. In a media conference on 7 July, Prime Minister Habib Essid announced a wall would be built along the Tunisia-Libya border ‘to stop the flow of weapons and insurgents’. However, many politicians know that smuggling rings bring a considerable amount of weapons into Tunisia through official border crossings, with huge caches already stored in the country. Thus there are serious doubts that a wall can achieve a breakthrough in the overall security situation. However, the economic impact of the wall will be huge. The government knows that smuggling is the main economic activity in the country’s south. Since the government has neither the economic capacity nor the vision to replace this informal economy with a structured, legitimate one, the decision to build a wall is bound to worsen the already dire economic crisis in the south in particular, and throughout the country in general. The government will be hard-pressed to find compensatory solutions in a short time.

Social conditions fuel security crisis

The severity of the security crisis shows that the opposition’s accusations against the previous government of inaction in the face of armed groups were just political propaganda. Although a significant part of Nidaa Tounes’s electoral platform focused on security and the promise to expeditiously end violence, many Tunisians remain pessimistic about achieving a quick solution to the crisis after witnessing a general lack of progress, with violent attacks increasing in frequency and ruthlessness.

On the economic front, the government lacks the financial means to accomplish a rapid victory over the insurgents, who are now based in major cities. Despite promises of funding by regional and global forces before the election, little materialised, and the government is unable to cope with rampant unemployment. Social unrest, especially in Gafsa’s mining areas, exacerbate the situation, depriving the government of the cash generated by the phosphate industry for months.

The government has a limited understanding of the armed groups, and lacks awareness of their recent development. Further, it has failed to understand the social, political and economic context in which these groups gain new supporters. Instead, government has adopted an ineffective, deficient doctrine based on security alone. A considerable part of the political elite is out of touch with the frustrations of young Tunisians who are growing increasingly disillusioned with the democratic process, and whose hopes of social justice and equal opportunity wear thin. This will likely strengthen the armed groups.

Further, the armed groups seek to further weaken government’s ability by striking at the pillar of the economy: tourism. This will worsen the social crisis as more people grow desperate, and will allow easier recruitment by extremist groups.

The lack of resources, and rising costs, leaves the government unable to solve the crisis. Moreover, the coalition government is incapable of significantly changing the economic structure even if it wanted to. International institutions are also increasing pressure on Tunisia to further liberalise its economy. Such a move could cause a social explosion. Several indicators show that the government cannot endure into next year. This is backed up by frequent complaints about its performance, especially that of the majority party, Nidaa Tounes.

Winter has often been unstable for Tunisia. Every social uprising has occurred winter, including in 2010-2011. Economic observers predict that the current government will be unable to achieve more than one per cent growth by the end of 2015, an indicator of how dire the situation is.

The government, supported by the presidency, is fighting for survival, as indicated by the recent decision to impose a national state of emergency. Observers know this decision, all its constitutional and legal violations notwithstanding, will have little, if any, impact on the fight against violence. At best, it will leave Tunisians shaken up; at worst, it could result in crippling strikes that disrupt the economy.

Thus, talk about changing the current government is growing. Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes, the two largest parties, are poised to form a new government before the end of the year, in what could possibly be a show of ‘Islamist-secular solidarity’ that may break the polarisation between the two currents – a trend that already began with the previous ‘Troika’ government. Leaders of the two parties do not believe, however, that a change of government can achieve the desired outcomes. There is a general consensus that a stalemate is on its way, especially now that the Tunisian General Labour Union, the country’s national trade union with more than half a million members, declared – in response to requests for a national ‘truce’ - that it did not intend ending demands for wage increases.

At the regional level, the government is fraught with numerous diplomatic failures on key issues, such as Tunisia’s declining influence in Libya and its worsening relationship with Algeria. In addition, it has failed to make progress on international cooperation, leading to a significant decline in foreign investment. There is a general consensus that business and the Tunisian Union for Industry, Commerce and Trades (UTICA) are not doing enough to absorb unemployment. On 10 July, UTICA went as far as to demand a freeze on the right to strike, enshrined in Article 36 of the constitution.


Tunisia is plagued by violence while battling crushing social and economic crises that resulted from a long, cumulative history of poor policies that marginalised a significant number of people. Exacerbating the situation is the lack of an objective understanding of the violence by those in power and their ineffective actions. The security apparatus is not prepared to address the situation, and the political structure is in disarray, rendering the government unable to win this war. Though there might be a new government by the end of the year, it will not be able to resolve the complex security, economic and social development problems.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Since its declaration of a ‘caliphate’ on 29 June 2014, the Islamic State group (IS), the brutal successor to al-Qa'ida, has gone from strength to strength. Short of an indiscriminate air bombing campaign whose victims will include civilians and militants, a wide and well coordinated rebellion within IS ranks and/or the civilian population under its control, or a massive troop deployment and ground invasion by the United States or a regional hegemon such as Turkey or Iran, IS is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

It has become common among some commentators to describe IS as losing ground and being on the defensive as a result of the US aerial bombardment in Syria and Iraq. While the control of territory in some places is often fluid, this assertion is not true. Such habitual arguments may stem from a tendency within the Anglophone world to (re)circulate stock claims and media releases of the US government. Or, it might be attributed to the retaking of Tikrit from IS control in Iraq, or IS’s loss of Tal Abyad and Kobane in Syria. But such cherry-picking of facts must also consider that while IS loses territory, it also gains control over other areas, such as the crucial ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, and the provincial capital Ramadi in Iraq’s Anbar province. Further, even in the case of cities where it has lost ground after weeks of sustained US air support in favour of IS opponents, the group has not entirely given up on these cities, as proven by recent clashes in Kobane and Ayn Issa in Syria and fighting near the Iraqi city of Baiji. As for the latest offensive mounted against IS in the Anbar province, it is too early to predict how it might develop, though it must be noted that the recent record of the Iraqi army and its allies does not inspire much confidence.

A better understanding acknowledges that while IS has not been able to add to its rapid advances from last year in Iraq, it now controls about half of Syria’s land mass. Though this does not mean it exercises control over a majority of the population – and includes that part of the Syrian population, such as some tribes on Syria’s eastern edge, that was only nominally connected to the central authority in Damascus, – it is incorrect to suggest that IS is on the defensive or losing territory in Syria.

It should have been evident to any cursory follower of the region that IS would not, at least in the short term, be able to expand much beyond the Sunni regions it already controls in Iraq. To use this fact to suggest that IS is on the defensive represents a misunderstanding of a fundamental part of IS’s strategy which is, first, to capture, and, second, to hold and build the areas it captures. Thus, a prognosis on the organisation cannot be given by looking at the lack of growth in its territorial control. Rather, it is essential to analyse the success or failure of the second phase of IS strategy: its management of territory that it already controls, the activities of its affiliates outside Iraq and Syria, and the influx of foreign fighters into its ranks.

On all these counts, despite occasional problems, IS is faring sufficiently well. First, consider the management of territory it already controls – probably the most complex of the three indicators. A plethora of pro-IS videos point to the group’s establishment of schools, construction of roads, provision of medical and welfare services, setting up of courts and resolution of disputes, along with the formation of police forces to maintain public order (which for IS ranges from the fair use of weights and measures to regulating the modesty of mannequins outside clothing stores). Similarly, ‘immigration (hijra) guides’ issued by IS to those planning on moving to and settling in IS lands mention how the Islamic State will provide adequate housing and salaries for all those who wish to migrate. For example, the South African citizen with the moniker Abu Hurayrah al-Afriqi, who migrated to IS territory last year, joked that internet services there were better than in South Africa.

While it is tempting to dismiss these assertions as pro-IS propaganda, much of it has been verified by other sources. One problem that is frequently raised as confronting civilians under IS control is that of electricity. It is clear the delivery of electricity has been a problem in certain areas, creating resentment amongst locals. However, complainants often also mention IS efforts to provide generators. This is not to suggest that all is well in territories within IS control, or that there is no dissatisfaction among civilians under its control. After all, IS did kill over three hundred members of a single Iraqi tribe last November. Similarly, there are reports of some Syrian tribal leaders becoming dissatisfied with IS because they are no longer able to collect taxes. However, as long as IS maintains a stranglehold over the information coming out of its territories, and the civilian population under its control is unable to arm and organise itself, it will be very difficult to estimate the level of antagonism it is breeding within.

IS’s service delivery is also ‘subsidised’ by the Iraqi and Syrian governments, which have continued paying salaries to state employees living under IS control, especially in Mosul and Raqqah. Presumably, the respective governments want to use the salaries as leverage over civil servants (especially if these areas are recaptured), and because they do not want to create further antagonism against themselves. This has been useful for IS, but could become a problem if the two governments decided to cease salary payments. To what extent the drying up of these monies could affect IS coffers is difficult to establish. What is clear, however, is that this situation allows IS some financial leeway in not having to pay some of those providing municipal and other services. A huge issue that is alienating many people is IS brutality and conservatism, even though some see it as necessary to maintain peace and order in a time of war. And there is the often-repeated criticism that IS discriminates against its local recruits in favour of foreigners by giving the latter higher salaries and more benefits.

Despite these – often serious – problems, in order to survive, IS just needs to ensure is that the population living in its territories likes it better than the alternatives. And the alternatives, for many, are not appealing. In Iraqi areas controlled by IS, where many people are still stinging from their perceived betrayal at the hands of Baghdad after they had helped defeat IS’s predecessor, al-Qa'ida in Iraq, a common sentiment among the people is that while IS is bad it is the least of the evils besetting them.

The second indicator of IS’s health is the activities of its affiliates outside Iraq and Syria. With the announcement of certain prominent organisations such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, sections of the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, and the Caucasus Emirate in Russia pledging their allegiance to IS, the group’s international profile is on the rise. While some seasoned jihadi leaders – such as the recently deceased Nasir al-Wuhayshi of al-Qai'da in the Arabian Peninsula, and the Jordanian Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi – have not accepted IS, and have condemned it for causing divisions among jihadis, even they do not simply dismiss the group.

More crucially, with the recent high profile attacks in Afghanistan, Yemen, Kuwait, France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia being linked to IS sympathisers, IS does not seem like an actor that is restricted to the Syrian and Iraqi theatres. While it is unlikely that the IS central leadership in Iraq or Syria was directly involved in or gave its blessings to these specific operations, there is definitely an exchange of personnel and tactical information between IS's provincial groups – such as those in Chechnya, Libya and Egypt – and the centre in Iraq and Syria. This is another way of understanding IS’s claim of it ‘expanding’; its expansion cannot only be measured in terms of an increase in territorial control within Syria and Iraq, but must consider the spread of its tentacles in the rest of the world.

Our third indicator is the inflow of foreign fighters into IS’s ranks. The group’s propaganda and battlefield exploits are succeeding in attracting an increasing number of sympathisers and the number has increased in the last few months. While most Muslim organisations and scholars have condemned IS and its brutal methods, it cannot be denied that there is a tiny minority that finds IS’s claim that it is building an Islamic utopia, or challenging the global order through its perverse sense of retribution, quite appealing. The total number of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq has already surpassed the number of fighters attracted by the nearly decade-long 1980s conflict in Afghanistan. Though it is unclear what percentage of this has joined IS, it can be assumed that of the fighters going to Syria, an increasing percentage is linking with IS.

*IS then, contrary to some claims, is far from exhausted. Indeed, it would not be far-fetched to suggest that it will survive into the foreseeable future. Its slogan, ‘remaining and expanding’, is bearing fruit, even if that does not translate into taking over all of Syria or Iraq and the continuation of its lightning advances from 2014. IS strategists have an evolving understanding of what ‘remaining and expanding’ entails. At this stage, they do not see it as necessarily involving a quick stretch of sovereignty over all of Syria or Iraq. The measure of success is simpler: continued existence as a pseudo-state, providing services to the population under their control, and increasing sympathy throughout the world, whether through more immigrants, regional affiliates, or lone wolves willing to carry out attacks in its name.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Since its declaration of a ‘caliphate’ on 29 June 2014, the Islamic State group (IS), the brutal successor to al-Qa'ida, has gone from strength to strength. Short of an indiscriminate air bombing campaign whose victims will include civilians and militants, a wide and well coordinated rebellion within IS ranks and/or the civilian population under its control, or a massive troop deployment and ground invasion by the United States or a regional hegemon such as Turkey or Iran, IS is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

It has become common among some commentators to describe IS as losing ground and being on the defensive as a result of the US aerial bombardment in Syria and Iraq. While the control of territory in some places is often fluid, this assertion is not true. Such habitual arguments may stem from a tendency within the Anglophone world to (re)circulate stock claims and media releases of the US government. Or, it might be attributed to the retaking of Tikrit from IS control in Iraq, or IS’s loss of Tal Abyad and Kobane in Syria. But such cherry-picking of facts must also consider that while IS loses territory, it also gains control over other areas, such as the crucial ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, and the provincial capital Ramadi in Iraq’s Anbar province. Further, even in the case of cities where it has lost ground after weeks of sustained US air support in favour of IS opponents, the group has not entirely given up on these cities, as proven by recent clashes in Kobane and Ayn Issa in Syria and fighting near the Iraqi city of Baiji. As for the latest offensive mounted against IS in the Anbar province, it is too early to predict how it might develop, though it must be noted that the recent record of the Iraqi army and its allies does not inspire much confidence.

A better understanding acknowledges that while IS has not been able to add to its rapid advances from last year in Iraq, it now controls about half of Syria’s land mass. Though this does not mean it exercises control over a majority of the population – and includes that part of the Syrian population, such as some tribes on Syria’s eastern edge, that was only nominally connected to the central authority in Damascus, – it is incorrect to suggest that IS is on the defensive or losing territory in Syria.

It should have been evident to any cursory follower of the region that IS would not, at least in the short term, be able to expand much beyond the Sunni regions it already controls in Iraq. To use this fact to suggest that IS is on the defensive represents a misunderstanding of a fundamental part of IS’s strategy which is, first, to capture, and, second, to hold and build the areas it captures. Thus, a prognosis on the organisation cannot be given by looking at the lack of growth in its territorial control. Rather, it is essential to analyse the success or failure of the second phase of IS strategy: its management of territory that it already controls, the activities of its affiliates outside Iraq and Syria, and the influx of foreign fighters into its ranks.

On all these counts, despite occasional problems, IS is faring sufficiently well. First, consider the management of territory it already controls – probably the most complex of the three indicators. A plethora of pro-IS videos point to the group’s establishment of schools, construction of roads, provision of medical and welfare services, setting up of courts and resolution of disputes, along with the formation of police forces to maintain public order (which for IS ranges from the fair use of weights and measures to regulating the modesty of mannequins outside clothing stores). Similarly, ‘immigration (hijra) guides’ issued by IS to those planning on moving to and settling in IS lands mention how the Islamic State will provide adequate housing and salaries for all those who wish to migrate. For example, the South African citizen with the moniker Abu Hurayrah al-Afriqi, who migrated to IS territory last year, joked that internet services there were better than in South Africa.

While it is tempting to dismiss these assertions as pro-IS propaganda, much of it has been verified by other sources. One problem that is frequently raised as confronting civilians under IS control is that of electricity. It is clear the delivery of electricity has been a problem in certain areas, creating resentment amongst locals. However, complainants often also mention IS efforts to provide generators. This is not to suggest that all is well in territories within IS control, or that there is no dissatisfaction among civilians under its control. After all, IS did kill over three hundred members of a single Iraqi tribe last November. Similarly, there are reports of some Syrian tribal leaders becoming dissatisfied with IS because they are no longer able to collect taxes. However, as long as IS maintains a stranglehold over the information coming out of its territories, and the civilian population under its control is unable to arm and organise itself, it will be very difficult to estimate the level of antagonism it is breeding within.

IS’s service delivery is also ‘subsidised’ by the Iraqi and Syrian governments, which have continued paying salaries to state employees living under IS control, especially in Mosul and Raqqah. Presumably, the respective governments want to use the salaries as leverage over civil servants (especially if these areas are recaptured), and because they do not want to create further antagonism against themselves. This has been useful for IS, but could become a problem if the two governments decided to cease salary payments. To what extent the drying up of these monies could affect IS coffers is difficult to establish. What is clear, however, is that this situation allows IS some financial leeway in not having to pay some of those providing municipal and other services. A huge issue that is alienating many people is IS brutality and conservatism, even though some see it as necessary to maintain peace and order in a time of war. And there is the often-repeated criticism that IS discriminates against its local recruits in favour of foreigners by giving the latter higher salaries and more benefits.

Despite these – often serious – problems, in order to survive, IS just needs to ensure is that the population living in its territories likes it better than the alternatives. And the alternatives, for many, are not appealing. In Iraqi areas controlled by IS, where many people are still stinging from their perceived betrayal at the hands of Baghdad after they had helped defeat IS’s predecessor, al-Qa'ida in Iraq, a common sentiment among the people is that while IS is bad it is the least of the evils besetting them.

The second indicator of IS’s health is the activities of its affiliates outside Iraq and Syria. With the announcement of certain prominent organisations such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, sections of the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, and the Caucasus Emirate in Russia pledging their allegiance to IS, the group’s international profile is on the rise. While some seasoned jihadi leaders – such as the recently deceased Nasir al-Wuhayshi of al-Qai'da in the Arabian Peninsula, and the Jordanian Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi – have not accepted IS, and have condemned it for causing divisions among jihadis, even they do not simply dismiss the group.

More crucially, with the recent high profile attacks in Afghanistan, Yemen, Kuwait, France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia being linked to IS sympathisers, IS does not seem like an actor that is restricted to the Syrian and Iraqi theatres. While it is unlikely that the IS central leadership in Iraq or Syria was directly involved in or gave its blessings to these specific operations, there is definitely an exchange of personnel and tactical information between IS's provincial groups – such as those in Chechnya, Libya and Egypt – and the centre in Iraq and Syria. This is another way of understanding IS’s claim of it ‘expanding’; its expansion cannot only be measured in terms of an increase in territorial control within Syria and Iraq, but must consider the spread of its tentacles in the rest of the world.

Our third indicator is the inflow of foreign fighters into IS’s ranks. The group’s propaganda and battlefield exploits are succeeding in attracting an increasing number of sympathisers and the number has increased in the last few months. While most Muslim organisations and scholars have condemned IS and its brutal methods, it cannot be denied that there is a tiny minority that finds IS’s claim that it is building an Islamic utopia, or challenging the global order through its perverse sense of retribution, quite appealing. The total number of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq has already surpassed the number of fighters attracted by the nearly decade-long 1980s conflict in Afghanistan. Though it is unclear what percentage of this has joined IS, it can be assumed that of the fighters going to Syria, an increasing percentage is linking with IS.

IS then, contrary to some claims, is far from exhausted. Indeed, it would not be far-fetched to suggest that it will survive into the foreseeable future. Its slogan, ‘remaining and expanding’, is bearing fruit, even if that does not translate into taking over all of Syria or Iraq and the continuation of its lightning advances from 2014. IS strategists have an evolving understanding of what ‘remaining and expanding’ entails. At this stage, they do not see it as necessarily involving a quick stretch of sovereignty over all of Syria or Iraq. The measure of success is simpler: continued existence as a pseudo-state, providing services to the population under their control, and increasing sympathy throughout the world, whether through more immigrants, regional affiliates, or lone wolves willing to carry out attacks in its name.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme concluded this week seems to be an example of the benefits of concerted diplomacy. Once it is ratified by the US Congress and Iranian Supreme National Security Council, the agreement will improve relations between Iran and western countries, and will undoubtedly also have a significant impact on the regional level.

Egypt moves closer to the abyss

  • 04 July, 2015
  • Published in Egypt

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Egypt’s cabinet passed new draconian ‘anti-terrorism’ laws on Wednesday, in the wake of Monday’s assassination of the prosecutor general, Hisham Barakat. The new laws drastically reduce the already-short trial and sentencing process by eliminating second appeals for ‘national security’ trials, and increasing the punishment for involvement in ‘terrorist-related’ activities. This legislation, together with the war with the Islamic State group (IS) in Sinai, and the Wednesday assassination of thirteen Muslim Brotherhood (MB) members which resulted in the movement warning of possible violent retribution, mean Egypt is being driven closer to a state of chaos.

There is much speculation about the killing of Barakat, the most important state official to be killed in decades. Barakat demanded mass death sentences; is responsible for 41 000 arrests; and provided legal justification for the Raba’ massacre of over 1 000 protesters in August 2013. Many blame the assassination on IS; the government blames the MB – which condemned the attack; and some have even suggested it was carried out by people within the regime who are opposed to President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. Others claim the regime might have done it as an excuse to increase repression to halt ongoing protests since Mursi’s ouster. No one has claimed responsibility for the murder.

The regime has already used the assassination to increase repression – which is already at alarming levels. Amnesty International estimates that over 41 000 dissidents were arrested in the past two years; thousands have been killed; around 800 have been sentenced to death in trials that lack basic standards of integrity; and torture, rape by security officials and disappearances of opposition figures have become common. With the new laws the atmosphere of repression will become more severe.

This week’s events could also signal another change – in the strategy and tactics of the opposition. Resistance to the 3 July 2013 coup has continued in various forms over the past two years. Protests are held almost daily, with a diverse group of people involved; bombings have become commonplace; and the insurgency in north Sinai reached critical levels this week, driven in part by IS, despite the army using aircraft and heavy artillery against militants. On Wednesday, IS launched a coordinated attack in Sinai, killing over sixty soldiers, the largest number killed in a single operation since the 1973 Egypt-Israel war. The attack saw over twenty positions simultaneously attacked, especially in the Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid where security installations witnessed an eight hour siege. The coordinated and sophisticated attack bore the hallmarks of IS’s activities in Syria and Iraq, and is the largest operation the group has launched outside its Syria-Iraqi sphere of activity.

The new laws, expected to be ratified imminently, could ensure the death penalties handed to former president Mohamed Mursi and other senior MB leaders – including its supreme and deputy supreme guides, as well as other opposition figures, will be rapidly carried out. Sisi suggested this when he referred to Barakat’s assassination being planned by people ‘behind bars’. Executions of such high-profile leaders could push the Egyptian opposition in an increasingly confrontational and even violent direction.

The MB has hinted at such a development. This week, thirteen MB officials who were, the organisation insists, meeting to plan assistance to families of imprisoned leaders were killed by security forces in a Cairo flat. The MB’s angry response called on Egyptians to revolt, and said a point had been reached that would lead to a drastic escalation. ‘El-Sisi is initiating a new phase during which it will not be possible to control the anger of the oppressed sectors who will not accept being killed in their own houses…. Come out in rebellion and in defence of your country… Destroy the citadels of his oppression and tyranny and reclaim Egypt once more,’ its statement said. Previous MB statements were tempered, called for peaceful protests and eschewed violence. The killings may have forced it to rethink its position, and this statement, although ‘denouncing violence and murder’, warns that people’s anger is becoming uncontrollable and that a turning point has been reached.

The Brotherhood has largely managed to hold on to its support base of around a quarter of all Egyptians. However, over the past two years it has struggled to constrain some younger members from resorting to violence. As a result, a few members have opted for more violent alternatives, such as IS. If the MB now pronounces violence as an acceptable tactic, there could be a much greater resort to armed resistance, and, coupled with the war in Sinai, could result in parts of Egypt (beyond Sinai) becoming ungovernable.

The military, with the help of the security apparatuses, maintains control of the country. However, further escalation from the regime, especially Mursi’s execution, could lead to massive protests, increased violence and augmented support for IS.

By Kamal Al-Kusayyar

Libya is the Islamic State (IS) group’s third largest bastion after Syria and Iraq. The group’s actual head count in the country notwithstanding, its presence there is a major contributor to the ‘caliphate’ doctrine, the very legitimacy of which cannot be dependent only on its acceptance in the Levant. In Libya, IS found an ideal haven in which to expand and operate, especially considering the environment of rampant instability and an absence of a state.

While Libya’s sectarian homogeneity is an obstacle for the expansion of IS, which effectively leveraged sectarian rifts and societal discord to establish itself in Iraq and Syria, its quest in Libya is made easier by continued failures of the state, the ongoing political and security void, and the inability of warring factions to reach a political solution. IS set up operations in October 2014 in the Mediterranean coastal town of Derna, a stronghold for jihadi and takfiri thought, and expanded to Sirte. It has its sights set on other strategic cities as it continues to fight its way across Libya’s coast.

From emergence to omnipresence

A milestone of IS’s presence in Libya was the declaration of allegiance by the Islamic Youth Shura Council (IYSC), a militant group that had controlled Derna, to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and to Ansar al-Sharia in October 2014.

The protracted crisis in Syria drew fighters from all over the Maghreb – who had fought in Syria – to Libya, which became their gateway into neighbouring Arab countries and the rest of Africa. They reformulated their strategy, and – around 2013 to 2014, as an increasing number of Maghrebi fighters began to return from Syria, a debate began on whether those fighters should be redirect against their own homelands. The fighters had formed their own militias in Syria. One such group of fighters formed al-Battar Brigade, a vicious group that fought with IS against other Syrian rebels. In the first half of 2014, a number of Battar’s fighters returned to Libya and formed the Islamic Youth Shura Council. An IS delegation, including Yemeni Abu Al-Baraa el-Azdi and Saudi Habib Al-Jazrawi, visited the IYSC in Derna and convinced it to pledge allegiance to Baghdadi. Soon thereafter, the IYSC declared the eastern part of Libya an IS province and called it Wilayat Barqa (Cyrenaica province).

Strategically, the purpose of IYSC activity in Libya is not only to expand internally. It is, rather, to build a base for IS expansion in North Africa, and to reach out to other extremist groups in the Sahara and North Africa’s coastal regions that can be incorporated. The group’s decision to expand throughout the Libyan coastal highlands, from Derna to Sirte, and including Misrata, was deliberate. It formed part of the overall strategy to gain control of areas where human trafficking is active, to ensure a steady supply of foreign recruits.

Given the group’s propensity to capture oil production facilities, it is likely that it will continue sweeping across the coastline to gain control of as much of Libya’s oil as possible. As in Syria and Iraq, oil is its preferred source of funding in Libya, with Sirte being a major prize on the ‘Petroleum Crescent’.

Despite a few recent victories, it would be difficult for IS to approach Tripoli. Such a move will provoke direct intervention by Europe, especially Italy. Furthermore, it would require IS to be sufficiently powerful to defeat the Libya Dawn forces headquartered in Tripoli. IS is currently positioned between General Khalifa Haftar’s forces in the east, and Libya Dawn forces in the west and south. Even in Derna, it is having a tough time battling fighters of the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council; it will not want to open up another front as yet.

The importance of controlling the coastline has not been lost on either the Islamic State or the Europeans. The latter realise that IS control over Libya would be a serious threat to European interests, especially with regard to illegal immigration. ‘Libya has a long coastline facing southern Europe, making it easy for us to target the crusading countries, even with a makeshift dinghy,’ said IS leader Abu Arhim al-Libi.

Another milestone in IS’s short history in Libya was the capture of the coastal city of Sirte in late May, in a narrative very similar to Mosul in Iraq. The Tripoli-based General National Congress had tasked Battalion 166 to protect Sirte from IS. Instead, IS forced the battalion out of the city, and it subsequently also lost al-Ghardabiyabase, where the city’s international airport is located, twenty kilometres from downtown Sirte.

IS found a haven in Sirte, a former stronghold of murdered Libyan leader Muammar Qaddhafi. Islamist militants in the city – some of whom had been Qaddhafiloyalists – changed brands and adopted IS. The group is highly pragmatic, capable of gaining recruits from diverse backgrounds and using them with remarkable efficiency.

Merely changing brands to that of IS is also what Ansar al-Shariah’s fighters did. Miftah Marzouq, the president of the Sirte elders and Shura council said: ‘The group that is keen on calling itself Islamic State in Sirte is the very one that used to be Ansar al-Shariah. Most of them are young men from the city, whose families we know by name.’

Sirte is located at the heart of Libya’s major oil facilities. Thus, if IS is able to hold the city and secure its presence there, it will have a new source of funding, enabling it to pay its fighters through oil trading. Many reasons have been advanced for why Battalion 166 pulled out of Sirte. The lack of funds to pay soldiers has been cited as a possible reason.

The group also took over the town of Harawa (seventy kilometres east of Sirte), but by mutual accord with tribes in the area. Meetings between IS leaders and tribal elders in the vicinity of Nawfaliah (127 kilometres east of Sirte) led to an agreement that IS fighters would enter Harawa unopposed. The two sides will meet at a later date to agree upon a ransom that Harawa residents would pay the group as blood money in exchange for the latter’s casualties during earlier hostilities in the town.

Beyond al-Qa'ida’s rationale: More attainable goals attract the young and gullible

IS differs from al-Qa'ida in that it has a more definite agenda and a clear-cut mode of operation: Fight locally, then build institutions – no matter how fragile – to establish control. This contrasts with al-Qa'ida’s more haphazard model in which attacks must be carried out abroad in order to sell the al-Qa'ida brand locally. IS took a different approach. Its media highlight daily victories and short-term, attainable objectives – no matter how small – that can immediately be felt by fighters in order to attract potential recruits. Al-Qa’ida approach is to wage a long-term war against the West, focusing on operations that target western interests everywhere. It’s a strategy that requires patience, longevity and stamina.

IS regards areas – outside of Syria and Iraq – in which it has a presence as ‘wilayat’ or ‘provinces’; the most recent are Barqa, Tripoli and Fezzan. These are not provinces in the true sense of the word, but are part of the group’s propaganda attempt to use geography and history to create a political and military status quo. Between late 2014 and early 2015, IS developed its vision for Libya’s division on the idea that the country, historically, consisted of three provinces: Cyrenaica (modern-day Barqa), which currently encompasses the entire eastern part of the country; Tripoli in the middle and west; and Fezzan in the south.

Wherever it expands to, IS is eager to reshape life according to its laws and ideology, and to disseminate certain practices. ‘Hisba’ – the enforcement of public morals – includes burning cigarette packs, tearing down statues and shrines, calling on Muslims in public places such as mosques to pledge allegiance, propagating Islam (da'wah), offering aid to the poor and sweets and presents to children. IS also carries out ‘hard’ activities. In Barqa, for example, Tunisian journalists were executed.

IS’s main strategic objectives for Libya

IS has two main objectives for its expansion in Libya. The first is to eradicate the borders between Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, as IS leader Abu Muadh al-Barqawi stated in his essay ‘Join the Realm of the Caliphate’. The second is to turn Libya into a strategic gateway for IS. According to Abu Arhim al-Libi: ‘There are some who do not realise the [strategic] importance of Libya, which encompasses sea, desert and mountains, and provides access to Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria and Tunisia.’

Misrata is a priority strategic target for the group’s expansion within Libya. Taking Misrata will give it control over the entire Libyan coast. In late May 2015, IS militants targeted the city with an attack on a nearby checkpoint, leaving six dead. According to IS supporters their militants attacked the Abu Grin gate in the city’s east on 7 June 2015, killing four locals. Misrata is vital to thwarting the expansion of, and defeating, the Islamic State. Even though well-trained, well-armed forces thwarted the group’s ambitions there, that didn’t stop it from mounting a two-pronged propaganda campaign: one ideological and the other political. Barqawi called on Misrata’s youth to sacrifice themselves for God, and not for the sake of democracy by supporting Libya Dawn. He also warned the governments in Tripoli and Tobruk in a message titled ‘Message to the people and youth of Misrata’. ‘To the parliament in Tripoli and Libya Dawn,’ he said, ‘I say be aware that just as the Islamic State took al-Bayda and Tobruk with God’s grace, it can take Misrata and Tripoli. You have seen some of our deeds in Tripoli.’

The bombing of the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli in late January 2015 indicates the presence of scattered sleeper cells and splinter groups that form the IS frontline all the way to Tripoli. Their task is to achieve one, clear tactical objective: to create chaos – the same mode of operation that IS uses in Iraq, such as bombings in Baghdad immediately preceding an impending attack. The Corinthia bombing was dubbed ‘the Abu Anas al-Libi Incursion’, in response to the latter’s death in a US prison – even though he was an al-Qa'ida leader. The group later claimed responsibility for the bombing and published pictures of the perpetrators. The Corinthia bombing had definite political and military objectives. Omar al-Hassi, then the National Salvation Government’s prime minister, had been at the hotel around the time of the attack. The group also claimed responsibility for a bombing that targeted the Iranian embassy in Tripoli in February 2015.

The group have already spread into the ‘Fezzan province’. Al-Furqan Foundation for Media Production, an IS media arm, broadcast a video showing the execution by shooting of so-called ‘subjects of the cross of the belligerent Ethiopian church’ in April 2015.

Infighting helps IS expand

In one way or another, every one of the warring parties in Libya attempted to use IS’s presence to its advantage. They all somehow forgot that IS could expand and use the infighting between the two largest political and military groups in the country to its advantage.

Initially, Libya Dawn and the National Congress believed that the existence of IS and its fight against Haftar’s forces were to their benefit, and they did not attempt to confront IS. However, developments on the ground – especially the defeat of Battalion 166 – and the group’s move to secure Sirte with a gigantic show of force – with fighters, vehicles and anti-aircraft weapons, followed by an announcement of its future goals, have forced Libya Dawn to rethink its military options.

On the other hand, Operation Dignity – the military campaign launched by Haftar in May 2014 – painted the group as a gang of terrorists in an attempt to attract international support. IS’s targeting of Misrata will weaken Libya Dawn, to the advantage of Operation Dignity. The latter is betting that the more convinced the international community is that IS’s presence in the country is a threat, the more likely is foreign intervention, even though previous attempts at international air intervention in Iraq and Syria have not been as effective on the ground as hoped. IS not only sprung back into action immediately air strikes stopped, but it also took new territory in the midst of the following each wave of air strikes.

The National Congress and Libya Dawn know full well that Operation Dignity is using terrorism and fighting IS as trump cards to its advantage. When IS claimed responsibility for the Corinthia Hotel bombing, then-prime minister Omar al-Hassi quickly denied that IS had anything to do with the attack. The National Salvation Government claimed the attack was an attempt on Hassi’s life, accusing Haftar’s loyalists and their foreign supporters, while the parliament in Tobruk as quickly demanded that Libya be included in the global war on terrorism, reiterating that IS was behind the bombing.

Recruiting local fighters

In addition to the moderate amount of funds the Libyan IS receives from Syria, it also draws military trainers from there, too, according to US Pentagon officials. Before reverting to its preferred method of building its forces’ numbers – bringing foreign fighters into Libya and involving them in military operations – it recruits fighters from other militias. Some reports say Baghdadi had sent representatives to Libya to explore possible alliances with local groups.

As time passed, IS succeeded in usurping Ansar al-Sharia. Abu Abdullah al-Libi, the religious leader and supreme judge of the ‘Islamic Court’ of Ansar al-Sharia, pledged allegiance to Baghdadi, and the news was spread through social media. A Libya television channel said Libi had announced the pledge in an audio recording published on jihadi websites.

The same trend can be seen in Barqawi’s infamous message to the people of Misrata, with which he attempted to lure the city’s young men to join IS. He called on them to ‘make sacrifices for Libya, let your sacrifice be in the name of God, not in the name of the National Congress that rules by democracy.’ He also ‘excommunicated’ Qaddhafi and his loyalists, members of the Tobruk parliament and the security forces working for it, Haftar, the National Congress in Tripoli and those associated with it, ‘and all those who fought in the name of ‘democracy, secularism and liberalism’. He also warned Libya Dawn that ‘just as the Islamic State took al-Bayda and Tobruk, they can take Misrata and Tripoli’.

In January 2015, Barqawi had written an article titled ‘No [other] organisation [can exist] under the Islamic State’. By ‘other organisation’ he probably meant al-Qa'ida; he asked in the article: ‘What is keeping you, the soldiers of Ansar al-Sharia, from meeting your duty of pledging allegiance to the caliph Ibrahim [Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi]?’

The essence of the danger of IS in Libya lies in how capable it is of recruiting fighters from other jihadi factions, especially given the fact that those fighters tend to be vulnerable to IS ideas, and especially if IS succeeds in securing larger sources of funding.


While the current environment in Libya plays into IS’s hands in the political and military aspects, the country is not yet ready to accept it into its political and social structures. IS’s expansion hinges on whether the warring sides in Libya can reach a political resolution, and integrate the warring factions into legitimate institutions. Apart from IS’s difficulty in finding societal acceptance, its other challenge is to meet the ever-growing demand for relief, aid and the social services in areas it takes control of. Should a political solution to the Libyan crisis fail to materialise, Libya might become a frontline for IS operations in North Africa. Despite uncertainty about the group’s actual power in Libya, when the huge number of militant groups in the country is considered, the threat posed by IS cannot be underestimated, much less ignored.

* Kamal Al-Kusayyar is a researcher on Maghreb affairs at Al Jazeera Centre for Studies

** This article was originally published in Arabic by Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, and was translated into English by Afro-Middle East Centre

Edited with Online HTML Converter.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The results of Turkey’s 7 June parliamentary election is expected to have lasting consequences for the country’s domestic politics and foreign policy. The performance of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) signals the formal entrance of leftists and leftist agendas into parliamentary politics, and will impact negotiations with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Kurdish question, while the Islamist Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) decline will stymie President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s aspiration to convert the country’s political system to a presidential one. The country’s policy on Syria and the rest of the Middle East will likely also be affected by whatever new government takes power.

The election, seen by many as a referendum on Erdogan, saw the AKP’s vote drop from forty-nine per cent (and 327 parliamentary seats) in 2011 to forty-one per cent (and 258 seats), the first time the party has seen a decline since its first election contest in 2002. Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism was a major reason for the AKP’s decline. A graft scandal in 2013, which resulted in the arrests of influential AKP officials, and Erdogan’s increasingly lavish lifestyle also pushed voters away from the party.

The main consequence of the election is an end to Erdogan’s aspiration for a presidential system in which power would be shared between the president and prime minister. The AKP requires two-thirds of parliamentary seats (400) to amend the constitution, or 330 to submit amendments to a referendum. However, its 258 seats are not enough for it even to form a government, forcing it to rely on a coalition if it is to rule.

The HDP’s garnering thirteen per cent of the vote, crossing the ten per cent threshold for parliamentary entry, will change the country’s political landscape. Historically linked to the PKK, the party’s members previously contested elections as independents, and appealed mainly to the Kurdish population. In this election, however, it contested as a party, and appealed to minorities, left-wing Turks, workers, youth, women and disillusioned AKP voters. Along with other reasons, the government’s reluctance to fully support Kurdish fighters in Kobani, when the Kurdish-majority Syrian city was besieged by the Islamic State group (IS), led to over a million Kurds, including religious people who had previously supported the AKP, voting for the HDP instead. Ironically, the HDP’s victory may result in the halting of a sputtering Kurdish peace process, especially if the AKP forms a coalition with the ultra-nationalist and anti-Kurdish Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

In foreign policy terms, the election will have varying impacts, with any new government – even an AKP-led one – focusing more on domestic concerns. Turkey’s overt support for the Syrian Jaish Al-Fatah (Army of Conquest) coalition of Islamist fighters will be toned down, and so too will its role in the Turkish-Qatari-Saudi partnership which can be credited for opposition gains in the north and north east. The HDP and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) – with the second most votes – have opposed the AKP's support for al-Qa'ida affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the CHP has argued that Turkey’s relations with the Syrian president, Bashar Asad, must be improved in order to resolve the conflict. A key issue in the electoral race was a report in the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper which accused the government of providing arms to al-Nusra, and of transporting IS fighters into Syria in January 2014. Similarly, Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and its opposition to the military coup there will likely be toned down, and depending on which party is in government, relations with Iran, which have been tense in the past few years, might improve. EU accession has also formally been returned to the agenda with the HDP’s manifesto advocating it and the CHP keen on pursuing it.

A week after the election, the main discussion in Turkey is about coalitions. The AKP has expressed willingness to discuss coalition-building with any other party. However, the other three parties have rebuffed AKP approaches for now. A coalition of the opposition HDP, CHP and MHP – required for a large enough bloc against the AKP – is improbable because the HDP and MHP will not partner with each other. An AKP-MHP coalition is more likely; given the MHP’s position on the Kurds, that could reverse any gains made on resolving the Kurdish question. If no government can be formed in the next five weeks, new elections will be called. The AKP remains the largest party in Turkish politics, able to garner votes from across the country, but the blow from this election and strain resulting from another in a few months time could lead to Erdogan’s hold over the party weakening, and tensions within the party increasing. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s position as head of the party might be in question, and the largely untainted former president and AKP co-founder, Abdullah Gul, might be roped in to claw back some losses.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

As the Saudi-led aerial campaign on Yemen enters its third month, it is having severe consequences for states in the Horn of Africa. The rapid and unplanned return of migrant workers, a collapse in trade, and an influx of Yemeni refugees are factors set to impact negatively on these states if the conflict endures.

Geographically located less than thirty-five kilometres from Djibouti at its closest sea point, Yemenis’ contact and relations with Africans in states such as Djibouti, Somalia, and Ethiopia have existed for millennia. In recent years the most emblematic aspect of this contact has been the flow of migrants from Africa seeking employment opportunities. Currently over a million Ethiopians are documented as residing in Yemen, and 250 000 Somalis fled to the country in the past two decades. Most of these migrated to Yemen to escape conflict at home, viewing the Arab country as a transit point en route to employment opportunities in the Persian Gulf. However, because of a crackdown on migrants in Gulf states, many have sought opportunities in Yemen instead.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The recent sentencing to death of former Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi and 121 others illustrates the farcical and politicised nature of the Egyptian judiciary which has, in the past two years, acted consistently to curb dissent and intimidate opponents of the military regime. Although it is still not certain whether the death sentences will be carried out, the consequences of the judgement are likely to be an increase in militancy, making the regime’s ‘anti-terrorism’ rhetoric a self-fulfilling prophecy. Aided in this regard is the weak and largely ineffective response from the international community, whose actions in recent months indicate a resignation with Egypt’s current trajectory.

The trials – for a 2011 prison escape and for charges of espionage – were procedurally flawed; defendants had irregular access to legal representation; and evidence gathering and cross examination procedures were shoddy and severely compromised. No consideration was given to the fact that defendants were arrested in 2011 without proper judicial procedures, and sought to communicate with authorities on their escape. Further, of the around seventy Palestinians sentenced with Mursi, two were already dead, and another has been in Israeli detention since 1996. In the espionage case, which saw senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders receiving death sentences, Emad Shahin, a political science professor with no links to the MB or other parties also received the death sentence.

These sentences are the latest in a string of actions adopted by the regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to suppress opposition. After his coup against Mursi in 2013, thousands of opposition figures have been killed, and over 16 000 political prisoners languish in Egyptian cells. A protest law passed in November 2013 banned sit-ins and severely curtailed other protest rights while, in April, the Cairo Administrative Court criminalised workers’ strikes. Liberal and leftist activists have not escaped this purge. In December 2014 Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel, and Ahmed Douma, three influential members of the April 6 youth movement were sentenced to three years each for organising protests in contravention of the protest law; in February Douma was among over 200 to be sentenced to life in prison for inciting violence and destroying a science facility housing precious artefacts. In 2014 alone, over 1 400 individuals were sentenced to death in mass trials, which were usually completed in only a few days, and which lacked even basic prosecutorial and judicial impartiality. The judiciary had played a crucial role maintaining the regime of former dictator Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down after protests in 2011. Sisi has ensured it continues to play a similar role.

Condemnation of the sentences has been widespread; the USA, European Union and UN secretary general have expressed concern around the many irregularities. However they are unlikely to adopt any real steps to censure Egypt. The EU’s trade and aid funds will be maintained, and the US decision in March to unfreeze US military aid to the Egyptian military is unlikely to be reversed; the F16 fighter jets, harpoon missiles and tank kits will be delivered on schedule. Egypt’s geostrategic importance to the region and Israel, together with the threat of the Islamic State group (IS) and conflicts in Syria and Yemen will likely supersede any impulses from western states to alter their foreign policies toward the country.

It seems improbable that the death sentences will be carried out. The sentences are awaiting the opinion of Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam, who provides a ‘non-binding’ opinion which is normally complied with. In 2014, of the 1 400 people sentenced to death, less than 400 death sentences were upheld following this stage. Most defendants’ charges were dropped, and others’ sentences were commuted to lengthy jail terms. After the mufti’s decision, an appeal can still be launched. In the Minya trial held in March 2014, the appeal process resulted in all the death sentences being changed to life sentences, despite the mufti upholding the former.

The regime is also unlikely to be willing to risk an escalation, especially in light of the growth of IS-linked groups in Egypt, which have been mocking the MB’s restraint as ‘subservience’ - compared to the IS’s ‘might’ and use of jihad. Executing Mursi and his companions will drive a number of MB supporters into the arms of groups such as IS. In the 1950s and 1960s, Gamal Abdel Nasser’s crackdown on the MB led to the formation of more militant groups such as Gama'a Islamiyya and Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Already, the militant Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis organisation has transformed from a group formed to target Israel to one that has pledged allegiance to IS and turned its weapons toward Egyptian security and military personnel.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Following recent rebel advances and regime defeats in Syria, speculation has been rife among commentators and some among the opposition about whether this represents the imminent demise of the Syrian regime. Regime losses since the end of March, including the complete loss of a second major city (Raqqa is already under opposition control), Idlib, along with the ceding of crucial strategic sites such as Jisr al-Shughur in the north, and, in the south, Busra al-Sham and the Nasib border crossing into Jordan.

There are multiple intersecting factors that influence this dynamic, and the situation in Syria is undoubtedly very complex; nevertheless, the Syrian regime has displayed remarkable resilience, consistently disproving predictions over the past four years about its collapse. This is not to suggest that the regime has not suffered significant losses; it has, in various parts of the country. Indeed, its losses make the cantonisation of Syria manifest, with large parts of the eastern countryside, including Raqqa, indefinitely beyond the reach of the government. The government’s hold over the country’s second largest city, Aleppo, is also shaky. Thus, along with the survival of the regime there is a massive decrease in its ability to rule over the entirety of Syria. This, however, is not sufficient evidence to suggest that the Syrian regime is about to meet the same fate that visited Libya’s Gaddafi regime in 2011.

The Opposition

The primary factor fuelling suggestions that the Syrian government might be on its last legs is the recent series of victories achieved by, and the decrease of infighting between, anti-Asad elements. The past few months have not only seen rebel groups cooperating with each other and coordinating their activities to a much greater degree than before, but have also been characterised by their state sponsors in the region – Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – coordinating between themselves much more effectively.

But while they might all be opposing Asad, this level of increased cooperation between the rebels and between regional powers is a recent phenomenon, and to expect that it will easily persist into the distant future is a lot to ask for. There are various reasons for such caution. First, at the regional level, the governments of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have come to a tacit agreement to put aside their disagreements, such as those over their respective attitudes towards the Muslim Brotherhood (or, more broadly, ‘republican Islamism’), in order to confront the common threat that they see emanating from Iran, and especially in light of a potential Iran-USA nuclear deal. However, their ability to temporarily ignore their differences does not mean that they have all changed their views entirely. For example, while Qatar might have decreased its support for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) – at least publicly, Turkey, due to the intellectual and ideological foundations of the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), will not entirely turn withdraw its support for the Brotherhood, and while Saudi Arabia under King Salman has indicated a shift in attitudes towards the MB, it is unlikely to go beyond tolerating the Islamist movement.

Second, and more important, is that although agreements between Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have resulted in increased logistical and financial support for the rebels, and facilitated reconciliation of previously antipathetic factions, this does not amount to the kind of sustained commitment that would be required to entirely remove the Asad regime. Such a commitment would entail, at the very least, the establishment of a no-fly zone in the northern and/or southern zones of the country, and possibly even a ground invasion by foreign (most likely Turkish) troops. There are no indications that these measures can realistically be expected to be implemented.

The Syrian Arab Army has consistently enjoyed an upper hand over the rebels because of its superior airpower. All else being equal, the army, regardless of its low morale, defections and infighting, cannot be defeated by the irregular militias that the rebels present. Therefore, despite losing many bases to the rebels, the Syrian army can continue the battle for a long time. In fact, if the survival of the regime is measured on the basis of its control of Damascus and a few other crucial locations (such as the Latakia), the loss of territory represents a strategic gain for the army in that it is now responsible for defending a smaller part of Syria than before. It is for this reason that, in order decisively to defeat the Asad government, the rebels need air support from the anti-Asad regional coalition represented by Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, if not an outright invasion on their behalf.

However, neither the establishment of such a no-fly zone nor the possibility of an armed intervention by these states is imminently realistic. Recent talk suggesting Turkish plans for a ground incursion into Syria have proven to be baseless rumours that were spread by the Turkish opposition, probably in order to cast aspersions on the AKP before the upcoming 7 June general election. Similarly, the USA has backed away from talk of a no-fly zone or a safe haven inside Syria, which makes the required UN approval for such a mission a guaranteed impossibility, and this before the certain vetoing of any such proposal by Russia at the UN Security Council.

As serious an issue as the capacity of the regime is the question of the likelihood of the persistence of the unity of rebel groups, and their resisting the temptation to fight each other when they are in a position to govern some territory – as opposed to just fighting for control over it. The victories in Idlib and surrounding areas are recent, about a month old, and do not necessarily point to the viability of the rebels as a ruling coalition. Such a determination requires observation of how the rebels fare when not immediately confronted by regime forces. For now, the rebels are showing remarkable ability to cooperate in confronting a common enemy, with members of the Islamic State group (IS), which broke away from al-Qa’ida, fighting alongside al-Qa’ida affiliate Jabhah al-Nusra (JN) along the Syria-Lebanon Syria-Lebanon border and in the Yarmouk refugee camp. But this also suggests that the armed opposition, given their diverse allegiances and ideologies, will find themselves pitted against each other, or at least required to compromise with each other, when they have to find common ground beyond their animosity towards the regime. Remembering past experiences of a similar sort, such as the infighting between IS and JN, or the decimation of Harakat Hazm at the hands of JN, does not proffer much confidence in the ability of the rebels to abstain from disintegrating from within.

Factors internal to the regime

Care must, however, be taken not to exaggerate the significance of the above factors. Even if the rebels and their governmental allies are incapable of dislodging the Asad regime, it does not follow that the Syrian government could not crumble due to other reasons, such as internal contradictions that plague it. Consider, for example, that the regime is having difficulty recruiting for its non-regular militias and paramilitary forces. There are also reports that the regime is plagued by disagreements between its different security officials and organisations, at least one of which might have led to the killing of a high ranking official, Rustum Ghazaleh, the head of the political security directorate, by another, Rafiq Shehadeh, the head of the military intelligence directorate. Further, there are reports that some regime representatives are unhappy with the leadership of Iranian commanders on the Syrian battlefield, which might not only have resulted in infighting and killings, but might also be the reason behind reports of an alleged coup planned by Asad’s intelligence chief Ali Mamlouk

A crucial factor in this regard is the financial support that the regime receives from Iran. Some reports suggest that the Iranian government has approved a one billion dollar credit line to keep the Syrian regime afloat. If this turns out to be untrue, and the Iranians change their minds about support for the Asad government, then, in light of the massive economic problems Syrians are confronted with, it is likely that at least a few high ranking personalities within the regime will seek an exit strategy, such as exile or a negotiated settlement with the rebels and their state partners, including immunity from prosecution.

Iran’s strategic interests in Lebanon in relation to Hizbullah, and the increasingly sectarian flavour that the Syrian conflict has taken, it would be inexplicable for Iran to radically change its position on Syria. The suggestion by some commentators that the USA and its partners might push Iran to trade Asad for a nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions are a misreading of the Iranian commitment to Syria and how Iran views the current balance of forces. If they were was pressing Iran to end support for Asad, US allies in the region would know about such a demand. The fact that Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have attempted to assert their independence from a US strategy on the Middle East, especially in Yemen, suggests that their reading of the Iran-USA negotiations is that these will not deliver on Syria.


The Syrian government, then, is unlikely to collapse in the near future. It is undeniable that the regime has suffered some heavy losses, and it is not in the same confident position that it was a year ago. But that does not mean that the regime cannot continue limping into the future. Neither the recent rebel victories and the role of their external backers, nor the health of the regime and the support offered by its sponsors are sufficient pointers towards regime collapse.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The election of General Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s president will see a renewed focus by the government on domestic challenges posed by endemic corruption, the Boko Haram insurgency, and lower oil prices. How successful Buhari will be in dealing with these remains to be seen, but there are hints from his past record about the approach he might take. The gravity of these domestic issues will thus mean little change in the country’s foreign policy.

Buhari attained victory after a close and hard-fought presidential race which, for the first time in Nigerian history, saw an alternation in the governing party. Buhari, who headed a coup government ruling Nigeria between 1983 and 1985, garnered two million more votes (nine per cent) than the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan. The result was mirrored in state elections held on 11 and 12 April, which saw Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) winning twenty-one states, leaving Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) with fifteen governorships.

At the heart of Buhari’s victory was Jonathan’s failure decisively to tackle Boko Haram in the country’s north, which had caused the deaths of 22 000 people in the past five years. In what many called a referendum on his inaction over Boko Haram, most northern states voted for Buhari, including the most affected states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa. Despite Jonathan implementing a state of emergency in the north east in May 2013, many Nigerians believed the problem was not being taken seriously because the north was not Jonathan’s main constituency.

Under Jonathan, corruption had also increased dramatically. In 2014, the former central bank governor, Lamido Sanusi, had called for an investigation into the misappropriation of twenty billion dollars from the country’s oil account –he was subsequently dismissed on spurious charges. Further, much of the six billion dollars budgeted for security expenditure is siphoned off by elements in the military and political elite.

Buhari’s military credentials appealed to northerners who bear the brunt of Boko Haram violence. His success in dealing with the 1980s Maitatsine revolt, which was similar to the current insurgency, has added to expectations that he can successfully tackle Boko Haram, and his uncompromising stance on corruption also endeared him to citizens from Lagos and Abuja. He had cracked down on corruption in his ‘war on indiscipline’ when he was military ruler; suspected public officials were speedily retrenched and even jailed. Unlike most previous rulers, Buhari accumulated little personal wealth from his time in office, and lived a relatively modest life before the election.

Addressing these challenges dominated his campaign. He called corruption a threat to democracy, and said he would reopen investigations into the missing oil wealth. He also declared an intensification of the campaign against Boko Haram and, unlike Jonathan, alluded to the roles played by Cameroon, Chad and Niger in the campaign while arguing that Nigeria needed to be at the forefront.

With these massive challenges there will be little focus on foreign policy. Previously a strong voice in the international community and African Union, and involved in peacekeeping operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone during the 1990s, Nigeria will focus inward. However, unlike Jonathan, Buhari will seek to mend ties between Nigeria and the international community, especially the USA and South Africa. South Africa-Nigeria relations will likely improve, and arms sales between Pretoria and Abuja will probably recommence soon. Pretoria has already begun signalling a desire to resolve a problematic arms deal from 2014. Nigeria is also expected to be more independent in international forums. During the Jonathan years the country often towed the US line, culminating in its much criticised decision to abstain from a vote on Palestinian statehood in December 2014. Coordination between Nigeria and other countries in the region, including Niger, Cameroon and Chad, which was lacking during Jonathan’s rein, will also likely improve. Already, coordination between these states has led to Boko Haram being driven out from seventeen of the twenty local districts it had held in 2014.

But the new president’s powers will be more constrained than when he was last in power; the political and governmental structures he inherits are vastly different to those in a military regime. Although Buhari will need to rapidly address these challenges, Nigeria’s polarisation poses the greatest threat, indicated by how the results of both elections were skewed by religious and ethnic divisions. Jonathan received most votes in the mainly Christian south (by more than eighty per cent in some states), while the north largely voted for the APC and Buhari.

Significantly, the 30 000 educational stipends Jonathan’s administration had been paying to southern students, and millions of dollars paid as patronage to leaders of the militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which had disrupted oil production, is up for renewal at the end of 2015. Stopping these payments could see a resumption in MEND’s activities. Buhari will have to confront this issue in an atmosphere where the price of oil, accounting for seventy per cent of Nigeria’s revenue, has halved since its high in 2014. With economic growth dipping to below five per cent for the first time since 2003, Buhari faces almost insurmountable odds.

Egypt’s leaderless revolution

  • 20 April, 2015
  • Published in Egypt

By David Ottaway and Marina Ottaway

The 25 January Egyptian uprising always had scant possibilities of success. The country’s secular and Islamist revolutionaries were odd bedfellows from the beginning. They agreed on forcing President Hosni Mubarak from power, but harboured different dreams and notions of a new Egypt, and often followed conflicting strategies. Other political forces, including the revolutionary youth, were weak and poorly organised. In the end, the uprising led to a totally different outcome than what the millions who took to the streets had envisaged, and by early 2013 it had run its course.

If the possibility for success was limited, the uprising was not completely doomed from the start. For over a year following the forced departure of Mubarak, different choices by leaders and political organisations might have led to a degree of success, although not likely to a full-blown democracy.

We should begin by stipulating what the term ‘success’ meant in the Egyptian political context of the 2011-2013 period. Both secular and Islamic activists held up placards demanding ‘Bread, Freedom, and Dignity’, sometimes substituting ‘social justice’ for the last word. What they pushed for immediately, however, were authentic free and fair elections, freedom of speech and assembly, and an end to authoritarian rule. The key components of their ideal new political order included a multiparty democracy, a parliament with real powers, an independent judiciary, and unfettered media – including social media. In the end, most Egyptians probably would have settled for less. But no group, regardless of ideological and theological differences, would initially have considered the restoration of authoritarian rule to be anything but complete failure. Only with the advent of Islamist rule under the Muslim Brotherhood did Egypt’s old upper class, including the so-called liberals, come to redefine success to the point of welcoming the return of military rule.

The Egyptian drama from authoritarianism to uprising and back to authoritarianism unfolded in four distinct phases: 1) the unsettled period preceding the uprising; 2) the eighteen days of mass demonstrations leading up to Mubarak’s departure; 3) the subsequent year under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF); and 4) the brief period of Muslim Brotherhood rule under President Mohammed Morsi.

Cusp of revolt

In late 2010, the social and economic situation was exceedingly ripe for revolution. An economic boom starting six years earlier had doubled Egypt’s Gross Domestic Product to $218 billion but widened the gap between the poorest and richest, and put the middle class in an economic cramp. Ahmed Nazif, who became prime minister in 2004, had lifted constraints on the private sector with the backing of Mubarak and, above all, of the president’s two businessmen sons, Gamal and Alaa. The result was the rise of a class of nouveaux richeled by a small number of oligarchs. However, the middle class and the five million civilian government employees did not benefit from the boom and came under increasing financial stress. Inflation had reached thirteen per cent while the official minimum wage had remained the same since 1984, at about seven dollars a day. And forty-four per cent of Egyptians were living on less than two dollars a day.

Most dangerous politically was the plight of twenty million Egyptians between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine who constituted the ‘youth bulge’ and accounted for ninety per cent of the country’s jobless. A 2010 United Nations report noted that Egypt faced an ‘ever growing supply of unemployed graduates’. (The year of the uprising, a further 343 500 Egyptians graduated with university degrees.) By 2008, a report by the United States Agency for International Development was already warning of trouble. ‘Accelerated growth juxtaposed with persistent poverty can generate social tension and instability as people become frustrated by insufficient opportunity for upward mobility,’ the report said.

The frustration was most evident within Egypt’s labour force affected by the privatisation of numerous state-run industries which caused massive job reductions. Just as vexing were persistent low wages in both the private and public sectors. The extent of labour unrest came to public notice in 2006 with the strike of 27 000 workers over wages and conditions at the state-run Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalla El-Kubra. By 2010, unemployed workers were camping out day and night outside the parliament building in the capital. A report by the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO) called it ‘the largest social movement Egypt has witnessed in more than half a century’, and estimated that 1.7 million workers had engaged in more than 1 900 strikes or other protests between 2004 and 2008.

Persistent labour unrest gave rise in 2008 to the first attempt by a pro-democracy civil society group to link discontented workers to the struggle for political reform. On 6 April that year, young pro-democracy activists from Cairo went to Mahalla to express support for striking workers as part of a national protest. Thus was born the April 6 Youth Movement that would play a central role in January 2011. Its Facebook page quickly attracted tens of thousands of supporters. The link between the workers’ economic demands and the young protesters’ political ones was never firmly established, however; and this became a weak point of the uprising.

Meanwhile, Egypt was preparing for the succession to Mubarak. In office since 1981, he was ailing and his future uncertain, but the country’s power elite was deeply divided over who should replace him. Mubarak’s rumoured plan for his son, Gamal, to succeed him in elections scheduled for 2011 had roiled the leadership of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). The old guard wanted to see Hosni Mubarak run for a sixth term while younger modernisers championed Gamal. The issue became more acute after Mubarak was flown to Germany in March 2010 for a gall bladder removal. Gamal’s presidential bid was opposed not only by the NDP old guard, but, most importantly, by the military. Every president since the 1952 revolution led by Gamal Abdel Nasser had been a military officer; Gamal Mubarak had never served in the army and had made no effort to cultivate ties with its leadership.

Another factor in the unsettled succession equation was the February 2010 return of Mohamed ElBaradei, the long-time head of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna and 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner. He immediately launched a bold campaign against the Mubarak regime, demanding authentic free and fair elections and an end to the twenty-nine-year-old state of emergency. Although he never declared the intention to run for the presidency, he was widely viewed as the most viable candidate to wrest power from the Mubaraks. His supporters set up the National Association for Change, which began gathering one million signatures on a petition demanding all kinds of constitutional and other reforms. The staid diplomat warned Egypt had become a ‘time bomb’ and advocated street protests and civil disobedience to press for reforms. His appearance on the political scene galvanised the opposition as never before, with leftist parties, civil society groups, and the Muslim Brotherhood rallying to his cause. Finally, ElBaradei laid down the gauntlet calling for a boycott of parliamentary elections in November 2010 with the declared aim to ‘deprive’ the Mubarak regime of its legitimacy.

Those elections primed the pump for the uprising. The NDP had one goal: to drive the Muslim Brotherhood – whose candidates running as independents had won eighty-eight seats in the People’s Assembly – entirely out of politics. In the run-up to the elections, it arrested 1 200 Brotherhood organisers, broke up its rallies, and blocked a number of its candidates from running. So it came as no surprise that in the first of two election rounds on 28 November, the NDP won 209 seats outright and the Brotherhood not even one. In reaction, both the Brotherhood and the liberal secular Wafd Party decided to boycott successive rounds, allowing the NDP to win more than ninety per cent of the seats. ElBaradei described the elections as a national ‘tragedy’ and ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’. He called for a boycott of the presidential election scheduled for 2011.

Altogether, nearly all developments that took place throughout 2010 were extremely favourable to igniting an uprising. The level of public discontent with economic conditions was spreading from the working to the middle class; Mubarak was in failing health; and the ruling party was divided over whether to back him or his son Gamal. Both the military and pro-democracy groups were opposed to another Mubarak as president. The November elections had seriously alienated not only the Muslim Brotherhood, but also secular opposition parties and pro-democracy civil society groups. A credible alternative presidential candidate, ElBaradei, was openly challenging the established elite for the first time in contemporary Egyptian political history.

But conditions were less favourable to the transformation of an uprising into a sustained movement for change. Egypt lacked strong political organisations other than the outlawed but tolerated Muslim Brotherhood. The April 6 Movement had failed either to forge an alliance with labour, or to build bridges to the Muslim Brotherhood. ElBaradei’s National Association for Change had not gone beyond collecting signatures. Nor had civilian pro-democracy activists made any contact with the military even though both opposed another Mubarak as president.

Taking the Square

The scope and initial success of the street protests on 25 January caught everyone, including its organisers and the security services, by surprise. The April 6 Movement had been gearing up to launch a nationwide protest mid-2011 to contest the expected nomination of Gamal Mubarak as the NDP’s candidate in the presidential election. But the flight of Tunisia’s President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali on 14 January emboldened Egyptians by demonstrating that even a ubiquitous police state was vulnerable to the street. Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian activist working for Google, mused on Facebook on the day of Ben Ali’s departure, ‘If 100 000 take to the street, no one can stop us…I wonder if we can?’ Most unexpected was the readiness of virtually all segments of Egyptian society, including entire families from the middle class and even some from the upper class, to swell the crowds gathering in Tahrir Square and on streets of cities from Alexandria in the north to Minya in the south. Muslims and Christian Copts stood side by side defending one another against the repeated attempts of security forces to clear the square. Women came out in huge numbers. Muslim Brotherhood youth fought alongside soccer fan toughs known as Ultras, first in the name of ‘Bread, Freedom, and Dignity’, and then ‘The people want the overthrow of the regime’.

Also favouring the uprising’s success was the collapse of the 325 000-person Central Security Forces that disintegrated under the stress of night and day confrontation with hundreds of thousands of protesters. Chaos ensued as protesters turned their ire on NDP party offices across the country and set ablaze its headquarters in downtown Cairo. They assaulted police stations everywhere, besieged the Interior Ministry in Cairo, and freed 23 000 prisoners – many of them Muslim Brotherhood leaders and members – from Wadi El-Natroun prison. Following the 28 January ‘Day of Rage’ protest, Mubarak dismissed Prime Minster Nazif and his government, while the interior minister, Habib El-Adly, submitted his resignation, declaring his security forces could no longer contain the uprising.

What finally and irrevocably turned the tide against Mubarak, however, was the refusal of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to order the military to participate in suppressing the uprising by the use of force. On 31 January, SCAF issued a statement acknowledging ‘the legitimacy of the people’s demands’, and stating that the armed forces ‘have not and will not resort to the use of force against this great people’. It would take another eleven days of pressure before Mubarak yielded and gave up power. But it was not the revolutionaries in the streets who finally forced Mubarak to resign on 11 February after nearly thirty years in office. Rather, it was his General Intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, and SCAF leaders. In the end, Suleiman too was sidelined and power passed to SCAF, leaving the military in charge of the country’s fate.

With Mubarak’s departure, the uprising had achieved its first and most pressing objective. The massive street protests had established for the first time in contemporary Egyptian politics the principle of ‘revolutionary legitimacy’. However, the rapidity with which the uprising had succeeded created a new set of thorny issues distinctly unfavourable to a transition toward democracy. No charismatic civilian leader had emerged to take charge. Even ElBaradei, the best placed to fulfil that role, had retreated to the sidelines when confronted with the chaos and dangers of the street. Not until 7 February, four days before Mubarak’s ouster, was the ‘January 25 Revolutionary Youth Coalition’ set up, comprising ten leading activists in what was meant to be a collective leadership. Wael Ghonim’s description of the uprising seems pretty accurate: ‘A revolution without a leader and without an organising body.’

Another unfavourable development during those eighteen days of revolutionary fervour was the failure of secular activists to develop a working alliance with the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions, which sprang up on the fifth day of the uprising – in defiance of the government-controlled ones – to launch strikes across the country. The federation quickly grew to encompass 1.6 million workers organised in 100 unions. Strikes paralysed public transport in and around Cairo on 7 February, and workers in Suez Canal service companies went out as well. On 9 February, the new independent unions held a nationwide strike. But these strikes were mainly driven by grievances over wages, job security, and union rights – workers seemed more interested in taking advantage of the uprising to press their own demands than toppling Mubarak. No alliance between political and labour activists emerged from the uprising.

Strained relations between secular activists and the Muslim Brotherhood were to prove even more consequential to the course of subsequent events. Members of the Brotherhood’s youth wing had been deeply involved in the uprising from the beginning, and four days later the leadership exhorted its 600 000 members to join the protests. This immediately raised fears among secular protesters that Islamists were moving in to ‘hijack’ their revolution. So much suspicion of the Brotherhood’s intentions arose that on 7 February the Revolutionary Youth Coalition felt obliged to issue a statement reassuring Egyptians that Islamists had not taken over Tahrir Square.

A final heavy legacy of the uprising was the absolutely central role played by the military in ousting Mubarak. It had done this without consulting any of the civilian groups involved in the uprising. Secular and Islamist groups found themselves equally sidelined, highly dependent on what SCAF might do next, and as suspicious of the military and its motives as they were of each other. Both were suddenly aware that SCAF was in a position to dictate the outcome of their respective bids for power.

The year of SCAF
In the almost eighteen months between Mubarak’s removal by the military, and the election of Morsi, the contradictions that would eventually doom the uprising started emerging. It was a period of constant turmoil, with political battles played out partly in the streets and partly at the polls and in the courts.

The military was determined to follow a formally democratic political process, leading to the formation of a civilian government that would allow the military to resume its preferred role of exerting influence behind the scenes, rather than governing directly. The military, the Islamist parties, the secular parties, and revolutionary youth groups all agreed that Egypt had to move quickly toward restoring political due process. That meant holding elections for a new parliament and president as well as writing a new constitution.

There was no agreement at all, however, on the sequencing of these steps. A commission appointed by SCAF quickly revised the most controversial articles of the old constitution and submitted them to a referendum on March 19. Secular parties opposed the referendum, arguing that more discussion was needed, but everybody else supported it, including the Muslim Brotherhood. SCAF then incorporated the articles into a Constitutional Declaration issued on 30 March. With this interim charter in place, Egypt would then hold parliamentary and presidential elections, to be followed by the writing of a new constitution. Secular parties again opposed the plan. First, they wanted to postpone the elections for as long as possible, claiming that early elections would give the Muslim Brotherhood, which had been organising for years, undue advantage. (It is worth noting that one of the most important secular parties, the Wafd, had existed longer that the Brotherhood.) Secular parties also wanted to be sure that the new constitution would not be shaped by Islamist parties and thus did not want it to be written by an elected body, where Islamists were bound to be well represented.

The proposed compromise solution was that all political parties should agree on a set of irrevocable ‘supra constitutional principles’ that would bind whoever wrote the constitution. The idea gained acceptance, but different groups – from Al-Azhar, the historic centre of Islamic learning, to the government itself – set forth their own sets of such principles. They were extremely contradictory, with secularists insisting Egypt must be a civil state and Islamists demanding an Islamic state with shari'ah the main source of legislation.

The most controversial of these sets of supra constitutional principles was the one proposed by the deputy prime minister for political affairs, Ali Al-Silmi, on behalf of the government and the military in November 2011. The document reflected SCAF’s demands in stipulating that the military and its budget remain outside any form of civilian oversight. It also reflected those of secular parties in proposing the constitution be written not by an elected body, but by an eighty-member committee based on corporatist representation: seats would be allocated for political parties, labour unions, and business associations as well as for social and religious groups like workers and peasants, Muslim and Christian authorities, and even ‘people with special needs’. The document was rejected in the midst of angry street protests demanding that SCAF speed up the election process and return to the barracks. The principles and process it spelled out endured, however, and became the basis for the writing of the 2014 constitution.

Meanwhile, the growing imbalance between secular and Islamist political forces was becoming more and more apparent. The Muslim Brotherhood was well organised and so too, to the surprise of all Egyptians, were the newly formed Salafi parties, above all the Al-Nour Party. On the other hand, the youth groups that had led the uprising seemed to abhor strong, hierarchical organisation on principle, favouring instead egalitarianism and loose networks held together by Twitter, Facebook, and cell phones. While these means had worked well in mobilising street protests, they failed to give youth groups any traction in organising for elections or influencing policy decisions.

The mainstream political parties were also ineffective in generating public support and knew it. They responded by trying, unsuccessfully, to postpone elections. When the parliamentary elections in late 2011 and early 2012 confirmed their worst fears—with Islamists winning seventy percent of the People’s Assembly seats and secular parties of all ideological colorations combined only thirty percent – secularists simply rejected the new parliament.

Instead, they turned to various state institutions, particularly the courts controlled by the old elite, and used them to oppose the newly-elected parliament and later the presidency. The main battle was waged between the Supreme Constitutional Court on the one side and the Islamist-dominated parliament and constituent assembly on the other. The result was the permanent dissolution of parliament and of the first constituent assembly, while the second one survived but remained under imminent threat of court-ordered dismissal.

The possibility the parliament would be disbanded by a court decision, as eventually happened, convinced the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood to present a candidate for upcoming presidential elections, reversing an earlier decision not to do so. The decision was controversial even within the organisation, where many considered it ill-advised, while other political parties saw it as an attempt to dominate Egyptian politics and impose their own form of authoritarian rule.

The presidential election was hard fought, with the second round of voting coming down to a close contest between Muslim Brotherhood candidate Morsi and Ahmed Shafik, a former air force commander and Mubarak’s last prime minister, who was favoured by the old elite and military. Many had predicted SCAF would not allow an Islamist victory, but the military council took another tack instead. On the eve of the run-off vote, it issued an amended Constitutional Declaration that specified all legislative power would remain in SCAF’s hands until a new parliament was elected, thus hemming in the president. When Morsi won the elections by a narrow margin, SCAF accepted the victory, confident that the new president would have limited power.

In summary, this second phase of the unfolding Egyptian revolution ended in a draw. SCAF had allowed a Brotherhood leader to win presidential elections, though it still sought to hold onto legislative power. The Islamists had shown that they could muster widespread electoral support, but still had to demonstrate they could parlay that asset into institutional power. The secular parties had found out just how little popular support they could mobilise, but discovered a way to compensate by enlisting the judiciary for their cause.

Only the revolutionary youth groups could be said to have suffered a clear defeat as they had failed to translate their claim to ‘revolutionary legitimacy’ derived from the street into ‘constitutional legitimacy’ based on democratic elections. Constant resort to street protests had had a positive impact in keeping the demand for change alive, but also engendered a sense of fatigue among many Egyptians increasingly yearning for a return to normal life.

Brothers in office
After Morsi’s election, the Brotherhood tried to play by the rules. It decided to accept the Supreme Constitutional Court’s authority and thus the dissolution of parliament, although the decision was based on somewhat flimsy legal grounds. However, it successfully repealed the supplementary Constitutional Declaration issued in June transferring all legislative powers to SCAF. It also continued working on the new constitution through a constituent assembly, the composition of which had been negotiated with the military and the old elite. The effort to produce a constitution acceptable to all sides proved futile, however, after most secularist members of the assembly refused to participate in its work. In Tunisia, Islamists and secularists fought over the new constitution article by article, word by word. In Egypt, secularists stayed home, and most battles were fought between the Muslim Brotherhood and the fundamentalist Salafis. In the meanwhile, a swirl of lawsuits threatened the Brotherhood. Some were aimed at dissolution of the constituent assembly, others at the banning of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party or of the Brotherhood itself. The cases were never adjudicated, but hearings were repeatedly postponed, thus prolonging the threat. Playing by the rules was an uphill battle. Although the Brotherhood theoretically controlled both executive and legislative power, its hold on the country was extremely flimsy because of the constant legal challenges and because it did not control either the military or the bureaucracy. Accused by its adversaries of having ‘brotherised’ the state, the Brotherhood in reality remained on the margins of a state apparatus that had been shaped by three decades of Mubarak rule and was still largely controlled by his people.

Morsi appeared briefly to have won a major victory in August 2012 when he fired minister of defence and SCAF chair Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and Army chief of staff Sami Anan, replacing them respectively with General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and General Sidki Sobhi. Because Tantawi and Anan had controlled SCAF and governed Egypt directly or indirectly since Mubarak’s overthrow, their dismissal was initially seen inside and outside Egypt as a shift in the balance of power between military and civilian. Sisi, many concluded, owed his appointment to Morsi and would accept his leadership. In reality, the Tantawi’s removal had been negotiated between Morsi and Sisi, the main beneficiary of the change.

Morsi was convinced, erroneously as it turned out, that the military was now on his side and he tried to exercise, even in small ways, his prerogatives as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. One example was the 6 October annual celebration marking the 1973 crossing of the Suez Canal into Israeli-occupied Sinai. Morsi invited to the traditional parade Islamist leaders who were utterly unacceptable to the military because they had been involved in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat on the same occasion in 1981. The provocative gesture infuriated Sisi personally, and made the rift between the two unbridgeable.

Morsi worsened matters by issuing on 22 November 2012 his amendment to the Constitutional Declaration, putting the constituent assembly and himself above the reach of the courts – above the law, as it was generally interpreted. The provision, a last ditch attempt to prevent the courts from dissolving the constituent assembly, would only remain in effect until the new constitution was enacted, which happened a month later. But the damage was done. From that point on, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood lost whatever legitimacy they had left in the eyes of a growing portion of the general public. Their credibility had already been severely eroded by a combination of a deteriorating economic situation, secularist fears that the Brotherhood would try to impose strict Islamic law, and hostile media. The ever-squabbling secular parties, which had been trying for months to forge alliances that appeared to dissolve the day after they were announced, were sufficiently provoked by Morsi’s amendment to finally come together in a National Salvation Front.

From then on, the situation worsened. The revolutionary mood had been replaced by a longing for stability and jobs. The revolutionary youth groups had no sense of direction and even less of organisation. A new movement, Tamarod, emerged, apparently intent on renewing the revolutionary fervour of 2011, but, in reality, with a totally different agenda and sponsor.

Tamarod, or Rebellion, declared itself in late April 2013. It claimed to be a youth group whose main aim was to collect signatures on a petition demanding Morsi’s removal. Whether or not the movement was genuinely started by young people acting on their own, as its leaders claimed, it was soon taken over by state security. In a matter of weeks it spread to almost all governorates in a well-orchestrated campaign that required extensive organisation and resources way beyond the capacity of such a small new group to have mustered. Soon Tamarod started calling for a massive anti-Morsi demonstration on 30 June, the day he had come into office a year earlier. It was those demonstrations, again engaging millions of Egyptians, which provided the military with the political cover to arrest Morsi on 3 July. The number of protesters clamouring for Morsi’s removal certainly did not reach the thirty or forty million claimed by the organisers, but the demonstrations were nationwide, massive, and more widespread than those during the 2011 uprising. They left no doubt that public sentiment had turned against the Muslim Brotherhood.

A Failed transformation

The dream of idealistic youth groups, the intelligentsia, and many secularists and Islamists of establishing a parliamentary-based democracy in place of military-backed authoritarianism vanished in July 2013. The initial uprising had begun as a spontaneous happening loosely coordinated by cyberspace-connected networks of would-be revolutionaries. Islamists had soon superseded the original organisers as the emerging political force. But Egypt had eventually been taken over by a much more powerful and well-organised coalition of the military, security services, judiciary, and state bureaucracy, all determined to bring down the Brotherhood and restore the old order.

The uprising was not doomed to complete failure from the beginning, but it quickly faced shortcomings in leadership and organisation, and the widening divide between secularists and Islamists. Major political actors bear much responsibility for the failure: certainly the Muslim Brotherhood, but also leaders of the so-called liberal parties who, after their debacle in the 2012 parliamentary and presidential elections, turned their backs on the democratic process and looked to the courts and the military for their salvation – even at the cost of renewed authoritarianism. Ironically, secularist fears that Islamic rule would mean ‘one man, one vote, one time’ turned out to be true, but not because of the Muslim Brotherhood. Secular liberal parties in alliance with the military and state institutions were primarily responsible for Egypt’s return to authoritarianism.

In retrospect, it is clear that Morsi’s election did not represent the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood, but the second step in its undoing. The first step had been its overwhelming victory, together with the Salafi al-Nour Party, in the parliamentary election. This mobilised the judiciary and, more broadly, the old secular elite into action to deprive the Brotherhood of power. Morsi’s election then reinforced the secularist resolve to halt the Muslim Brotherhood by switching from the polls to the courts and state institutions. The Brotherhood made one last attempt to move the fight back to the electoral arena by calling for new parliamentary elections in April 2013, but the Supreme Constitutional Court aborted this plan by rejecting the proposed election law twice, even after it was amended to meet the court’s demands.

Muslim Brotherhood leaders were extremely slow to understand that the political dynamics had radically changed. Perhaps because they had invested so much in the formal political process, they remained convinced that elections conferred upon them unassailable ‘constitutional legitimacy’. They confused legitimacy and effective power, which continued to reside with the military and state institutions where the Brotherhood had a minimal presence. Even their legitimacy in the eyes of the Egyptian public was quickly dissipating as a result of their poor decisions and under a relentless propaganda campaign in the media.

Muslim Brotherhood leaders made many mistakes and provoked their adversaries unnecessarily, but in the end they succeeded in bringing about almost no change. They did not ‘Islamise Egypt’ or ‘brotherise’ the bureaucracy; they simply did not have the power or the time to commit the outrages of which they were so roundly accused. What they did was less important than what they represented: a counter-elite with a different value system and a threatening alternative to the old liberal and military establishments. Their own missteps made it easier for the military and the deep state to engineer their downfall, but a competent, well-managed government led by the Muslim Brotherhood would have been even more threatening to the old political elite and military.

That elite must share responsibility for the revolution’s failure. Weighed down by a sense of class entitlement, it made little effort to fight for popular support, the sine qua non for success in a democratic system. Instead, from the beginning its leaders complained of the unfairness of elections held before they had time to organise. Time was not their major problem, however. Secularists had been divided and disorganised before the 2012 parliamentary elections, but they were still that way when Morsi called for new elections in April 2013. Indeed, they appeared to be just as riven by personal rivalries among competing leaders and just as disorganised in the run-up to the planned 2015 parliamentary elections.

Mohamed ElBaradei, who emerged at various time as the great hope of Egyptian secularists, stands out as an apt symbol of the old elite’s political failings. He refused to run for president on the ground that Egypt was insufficiently democratic, but did little to make it more democratic. Nor did he seem upset when his supporters tried unsuccessfully to convince the military to name him president, skipping elections. He launched the Destour Party but did little to build it into a viable force. After the July 2013 military takeover, he readily accepted an appointment as Sisi’s vice president. But ElBaradei resigned six weeks later, after the military dispersed pro-Morsi demonstrators in Cairo at a high cost in lives – Human Rights Watch reports that at least 817 were killed – apparently appalled by the violence that had been predictable ever since his appointment. Whatever ElBaradei’s commitment to democracy in theory, he was never ready to lead secularists in the hard struggle to make it a reality and was all too ready to accept unelected high positions in government.

The overwhelming victory of Islamist parties in the 2012 parliamentary and presidential elections doomed the revolution. Afterward, any hope for an Islamic-secular governing coalition such as evolved in Tunisia vanished, and polarisation between the two opposing forces became unstoppable. No interposing third party emerged to mediate between Islamists and military, reflecting the persistent inability of secularists to get their own house in order. The failure of leadership on the part of the Muslim Brotherhood, secularists, and revolutionary youth made the return to military rule inevitable.

*David Ottaway is a senior scholar at the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He worked for the Washington Post as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, Africa, and Southern Europe and later as a national security and investigative reporter in Washington for thirty-five years. He is the author of The King’s Messenger: Prince Bandar bin Sultan and America’s Tangled Relationship with Saudi Arabia. His forthcoming book is Anatomy of the Arab Revolution.

**Marina Ottaway is a senior scholar at the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a long-time analyst of political transformations in Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East. She is the author of numerous books, including Democracy Challenged: The Rise of Semi-Authoritarianism; Africa’s New Leaders: Democracy or State Reconstruction?; and South Africa: The Struggle for a New Order.

***This essay originally appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of the Cairo Review of Global Affairs, the quarterly journal of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo, and is published by AMEC with permission

Edited with Online HTML Converter.

By Francis A Kornegay Jr

US President Barack Obama, in his struggle to fashion a transformative foreign policy by reshaping the balance of America’s relationships in the Middle East, faces formidable resistance from Israel’s right-wing Likud government allied with the most reactionary Republican-controlled US Congress in recent memory. There are, however, two missing dimensions that must be inserted into Obama’s equations regarding Iran and Israel within the context of the framework accord between Tehran and the P5+1 (US, UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany): the Palestinians, and the level of black support for Obama’s Middle East policy.

Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, cynically uses an alleged Iran nuclear existential threat to distract international attention from Israel’s main problem: the Palestinian national question. This despite his intelligence establishment regarding the Iranian nuclear programme with much less alarm. At the same time, the US African-American political establishment within Obama’s Democratic Party constituency appears to be ‘missing in action’ instead of acting as a core base of support for Obama’s attempt at a complicated resetting of Middle East policy.

The absence of American black political leadership in the debate over Obama’s Middle East change agenda focusing on an Iran nuclear deal must seriously be considered within the context of the polarised balance of political forces confronting Obama. These include a powerful Likud-Republican Party alliance that has successfully destabilised a once solid bipartisan Israel lobby dominating the US Congress; a congressional Democratic Party divided over whether to support Obama’s Iran diplomacy or to follow the Likud-Republican lead aimed at undermining the nuclear deal; a powerful minority of billionaire plutocrats financing the Likud- Republican alliance (and rightwing Republican presidential hopefuls for 2016). Yet, as powerful as these forces are, the Israel lobby has never been as vulnerable as it currently is, and this is mainly because of Netanyahu. His belligerent intransigence in blocking a peace agreement with Palestinians, and his abrasive opposition to any nuclear accord with Iran, coupled with his exploiting partisan polarisation in American politics – including implacable anti-Obama hatred among Republicans – is unintentionally exposing how detrimental the Israel lobby is to US interests, and emphasising that the interests of the USA and Israel are not identical.

Netanyahu, in the process, has divided the Jewish community, drawing rebukes from some of its leading Senate members. He has also managed to sharply divide Israelis. This almost cost him the re-election; he was saved by his last-minute renouncing of an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution, and his racist pandering to a constituency fearful of Arab voter mobilisation in Israel. Revealingly, the opprobrium caused by Netanyahu’s fear mongering among many Americans and Israelis over how this would impact the close US-Israeli relationship was not shared by Republicans. Little wonder since Republicans are seized with anti-black and anti-Hispanic voter suppression that is backed by a Supreme Court that has gutted the Voting Rights Act.

Given this unique set of converging circumstances, a concerted mobilisation in support of Obama’s Iran diplomacy could reshape the domestic politics of US Middle East policy that is currently dominated by the Israel lobby. A critically important consideration in this dynamic is how the intensity of political polarisation instigated by Netanyahu and his Likud-Republican alliance over an Iran deal has rendered ineffective accusations of anti-Semitism against those opposed to the confrontational anti-Iran and anti-peace policies of Tel Aviv. Netanyahu’s oppositional coalition to Obama, and the disrespect he and Republicans exhibit toward the US president, are substantial enough in the USA to overcome accusations of anyone being anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.

Keeping in mind that a major aim of Netanyahu in opposing any diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear programme is to distract the USA and the international community from focusing on the urgency of an Israeli-Palestinian resolution, there are a number of openings emerging to challenge current Middle East policy. This requires identifying the weak links and potentialities in devising an Obama-Iran support strategy that resonates in other areas of Middle East policy as well, principally in supporting an Israeli-Palestinian resolution. The weak link in the Netanyahu coalition is the congressional Democratic Party. This is where pressure could be exerted on Obama’s behalf with a strategic insertion of black political support for him on Iran, accompanied by pressure to shift policy emphasis toward the plight of Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel.

The nexus between exerting pressure on congressional Democrats and black mobilisation in support of Obama on Iran is underlined by the strategic role of Jewish Democrats in the House and Senate linked to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and the need for the Congressional Black Caucus to erect a political firewall of support around Obama that promotes an alternative Middle East policy agenda. New York senator Chuck Shumer, the likely successor to Nevada senator Harry Reid as Senate minority leader, has already expressed support for a bill requiring any Iran nuclear deal to be approved by Congress – in violation of the president’s constitutional prerogatives in conducting US foreign policy. Should a final deal be reached in June between Iran and the P5+1, it will not be a treaty subject to Senate ratification. Shumer’s support for this anti-Iran deal breaker could prove decisive in a Senate bid to override Obama’s certain veto.

The liberal activist community has already mobilised in support of Obama. Does the Congressional Black Caucus have the courage to lead this battle in batting for America’s first black president on this legacy issue and, in the process, turn it into a policy challenge to Netanyahu and the Israel lobby on the issue of Palestine? A visible black intervention would heighten contradictions for Democrats looking to jump on the Netanyahu-Republican bandwagon. If Shumer and other Democrats join Republicans in a bid to undermine Obama’s Iran policy, thereby isolating the USA internationally, the Caucus must devise a counter strategy that not only publically supports an Iran nuclear deal but goes beyond to:

  • call on the USA to support a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East; and
  • prevail upon Israel, as a nuclear weapons’ state, to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as Iran has done.

As a corollary to an Iran deal aimed at promoting peace in the Middle East, the Obama administration should more closely align its policy on Israel with that of its European allies, some of whose parliaments are recognising Palestinian statehood. In that vein, since Netanyahu has tried to ‘walk back’ his statement that there would never be a two-state solution as long as he is prime minister, the Obama administration must:

  • require Tel Aviv to make good on this by ceasing all settlement building and expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, failing which the USA will refrain from using its UN Security Council veto to shield Israel from criticism; and
  • support a French UN Security Council resolution laying out the terms and parameters of a two-state solution based on 1967 borders, Jerusalem as the shared capital of Israel and a Palestinian state and a just solution for Palestinian refugees.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Black Caucus should elevate its support for Palestinian statehood to be on par with its anti-apartheid South African solidarity campaign. It should:

  • support the international Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and settler expansionism;
  • initiate exchange visits with Joint List members of the Israeli Knesset, and act as a bridge between Arab Knesset members and US Congress members;
  • partner with Iranian-Americans, Palestinians and other progressive stakeholders in convening a congressional conference on an alternative US Middle East policy; and
  • mobilise black communities, institutions and organisations as well as university student constituencies in support of these positions.

African Americans have largely been invisible in the debate over Obama’s foreign (and domestic) policy and national security strategy. Yet there is a close interrelationship between a transformative foreign policy and the domestic agenda Obama has tried, with difficulty, to advance in shaping his legacy over implacable Republican and rightwing reactionary resistance. Black America has a stake in helping Obama advance a progressive agenda on Iran and the Palestinians, issues which provide the Caucus with an opportunity to enhance its relevance.

* Francis Kornegay is senior fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue-University of South Africa, a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre of Scholars, and a former staffer of Congressional Black Caucus members.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

In early April 2015, sudden fighting broke out in the Yarmouk refugee camp between groups affiliated to the Islamic State group (IS) and Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM), which is linked to Hamas. The already dire humanitarian situation in the camp has since worsened for about 15 000 Palestinian civilians still besieged there, out of the population of over 150 000 before the Syrian war began.

Overall situation in Yarmouk Camp

Suqur al-Joulan was forced out by a number of groups, led by ABM, inside the camp. They consisted exclusively of Palestinians, with most being Hamas members. Later, the situation developed in such a way that two main groups controlled most of the camp: ABM and Jabhah al-Nusra. For the past eighteen months there have been many initiatives seeking to maintain the camp’s neutrality and ending the siege. These involved the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and a number of other Palestinian factions and popular committees. However, all these initiatives failed.

Meanwhile, the Syrian regime refused to allow the evacuation of civilians trapped inside the camp and allowed the entrance of only a limited amount of aid sent by European convoys, United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and some local NGOs. The presence of civilians led to a cautious truce between the regime and the opposition, which did not gain from subjecting the camp to bombardment or act in a way that would deprive it of aid. It was also not in the regime’s interest to be accused of targeting Palestinian refugees.

This equation ensured a state of relative ‘calm’ for about two years for regime forces in al-Qa'ah region overlooking Yarmouk’s northern entrance, which was the first flashpoint between the regime and opposition south of the capital. One of the reasons, therefore, that initiatives to keep the camp neutral had failed was that any settlement allowing civilians freedom of movement would remove the Yarmouk ‘buffer zone’ between regime and opposition lines south of the capital.

yarmouk map 2

Yellow: Altadamoun Groups; Brown: IS; Green: Aknaf; Ahrar Alsham; Red: Assad Regime

Recent developments

In the past five months there has been a wave of assassinations inside Yarmouk Camp which targeted a diverse group of individuals. They were all killed professionally and mysteriously, and included activists affiliated to Fatah, Hamas and other Palestinian factions. This wave was finally confronted with the assassination of Yahya Hourani (aka Abu Suhaib), a former Hamas official in Yarmouk, and a leading medical aid worker.

ABM first accused IS in the nearby al-Hajar al-Aswad area of orchestrating the murder, then detained IS members. Within twenty-four hours, IS raided the camp and besieged the Diaspora Office which is run by ABM. IS quickly took control of most of the southern parts of Yarmouk, which had previously been under the control of al-Nusra Front, sparking suggestions that there had been a prior agreement between the two groups about allowing IS in.

ABM subsequently clashed with IS in several parts of the camp. On the first two days of April violent fighting took place at a flashpoint along Nouh Ibrahim Street, which divides eastern Yarmouk nearly in half, and in 'Atta al-Zeer Street. On the third day, IS advance, thanks to its large contingent of around 1 000 fighters and adequate weapons supplues, while the Nusra Front prevented any reinforcements for ABM from entering the camp and advancing from the south.

As ABM retreated to the northern part of Yarmouk, forces from Fatah al-Intifada backed by regime forces and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) advanced and seized an area in the north of the camp. This strengthened the regime’s presence along Palestine Street, and tightened the siege on ABM, which by the fifth day had retreated to a strip of 400 metres.

This development sparked panic among Yarmouk’s refugee population, especially after IS beheaded two young men and dumped their bodies in the street. Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation worsened as IS captured the only water distribution point in the camp, close to the Palestine Mosque, and all attempts to bring in food aid were suspended.

On the sixth day, ABM was able to rally a number of its members in the southern part of the camp, and it attacked IS positions, retaking the Cultural Centre area and a hospital. The next day a small group of defected Palestine Liberation Army fighters led by Colonel Khalid al-Hassan attempted to provide support to ABM in the northern part of the camp, launching a counterattack against IS. Hassan was killed in the fighting, and the current situation sees ABM under siege by IS and Nusra Front on one side, and by regime forces on the other.

Possible scenarios

In light of these developments, and the clear military advances by IS, scenarios for the future of Yarmouk will be linked to the future of the armed groups there. Some of these scenarios are:

  1. ABM continues to fight until its fighters runs out of ammunition. IS will advance and take control of the whole camp, and will detain or kill surviving ABM members and other fighters supporting them.
  2. ABM re-takes the initiative, advances into the centre of the camp, recaptures the whole camp or large parts of it.
  3. ABM makes a deal with one of the other parties, allowing it to withdraw from Yarmouk. There are several possibilities for such withdrawal:
    1. A deal with the Syrian regime to allow ABM to withdraw through regime-controlled areas to specific destinations: Khan al-Sheeh camp, west of the capital; Tadamon neighbourhood; near the Damascus countryside; or to the Dara'a countryside.
    2. A deal with ISIS and Nusra Front to allow ABM to pass through territory they control and withdraw towards Yalda, Babila, and Beit Sahem suburbs south of the camp.
    3. There is a possibility of a withdrawal that could be effected without any such deals, in the direction of Tadamon neighbourhood. There are various reasons, however, why this scenario is unlikely.

The withdrawal scenarios all look completely unlikely in the event the first or second scenarios pan out. In addition, attempts at a deal with ISIS and Nusra Front have already failed. There is also no appropriate mediator, whether Palestinian or foreign, that can assist in this regard. In the event that a withdrawal does happen, it will likely take place through a deal with the regime and with Palestinian or international guarantees, similar to the withdrawal of the fighters from Homs nearly a year ago. Although the issue of Yarmouk has reached the UN Security Council, discussions have centred on the humanitarian aspect, without any discussion about the fighters.

The most plausible scenario is that the ABM will manage recapture the initiative, and be able to rearm and resupply itself, with a view to seizing back control of Yarmouk or part of its northern area. The regime may allow this if it would result in a restoration of the status quo that had been in place for the past two years. It is also possible that ABM could co-opt Ahrar al-Sham, which controls a western part of Yarmouk, if the latter’s concerns regarding IS and Nusra Front are addressed.

Whatever scenario unfolds for the Palestinian fighters, Yarmouk Camp’s future looks bleak, irrespective of whether IS controls it fully or partially, or whether it is recovered by the Palestinian groups – either ABM or some faction loyal to the Syrian regime. Palestinians in Yarmouk will continue to pay a heavy price until the Syrian crisis reaches a stable and permanent outcome, or major changes take place in the battlefield in southern Damascus. If IS remains in control of parts of the camp, an increasing number of civilians will attempt to leave, as IS’s indifference to the popular sentiment will alienate more people and make their daily lives even more miserable.

* This article was first published by Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations

By Afro-Middle East Centre

With the 31 March deadline for the conclusion of a framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme with the P5+1 looming, stakeholders have increased contact visits and interested actors have become more wary. Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, have begun building a unified bloc to respond to the negotiations, while Israel has ratcheted up its rhetoric and used its congressional support in the USA to lobby against a deal. However, convergences – especially those resulting from US and Iranian attempts to defeat the Islamic State group (IS) and the tactical astuteness of the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani – have increased the probability of an agreement. To paraphrase the German minister of foreign affairs, Guido Westerwelle, more has been achieved in the past few months than in the previous ten years of negotiations.

By Nick Rodrigo

The closeness of the elections was matched only by their bizarreness. As Herzog and Netanyahu went into the final weeks neck and neck one Likud campaign video likened those who complained about the economy to Hamas terrorists. It is possible that this fear mongering played a large role in mobilising support for Likud and engineering the nationalist party’s victory. Netanyahu went so far as to argue that the “left” posed an existential threat to Israeli democracy, as they were bussing in Israeli Arabs to vote; an ironic statement not lost on many political commentators. In light of Likud’s victory at the polls liberal supporters of the Palestinian quest for security, justice and human rights have taken to the airwaves to express their lamentations. Where is the chance for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict when such a militaristic hawk is at the helm of Israel?

Netanyahu’s alienation of the more left wing members of his last cabinet means that he is likely to cobble together the most nationalist and right wing coalition in Israeli history. “Bibi” as he is affectionately known by Likudniks, has already opened talks with Naftali Bennet, leader the Jewish Home party and chairman of the Yesha Council; an umbrella organisation of Israeli settlement councils. Bennet was granted the economics ministry in the last coalition government and enjoyed huge public support during the summer offensive on Gaza, calling for the besieged strip to be invaded and occupied. Netanyahu has also approached Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beitinu, who was head of the foreign ministry in the last government coalition, engaging in constant diplomatic missions to Africa to sell Israeli military hardware. In the run up to the elections Lieberman stated that disloyal Arab citizens of Israel should be beheaded. Netanyahu will head a coalition that will oppose any Palestinian state and ratchet up pressure on Palestinians with Israeli citizenship to declare allegiance to Israel.

With the prospect of cabinet positions being held by nationalistic zealots, it is little wonder that sympathizers of the Palestinian struggle are pouring out tweets and statuses of disdain. Even Barack Obama has indirectly expressed his frustration with the prospect of dealing with Netanyahu, passing on responsibilities to John Kerry. However, what was the alternative to Bibi?

Netanyahu’s main opponents were the “Zionist List”, a coalition comprised of the historic Labor party and the liberal Zionists Hatnuah (The Movement). Lead by Isaac Herzog, Labor had seen a renaissance in recent years, capitalising on public outrage at corruption and housing crisis and side stepping to the right several paces with regards to the free market. Having met repeatedly with Palestinian Authority Abu Mazen, Herzog backs reviving the peace process. By rebranding Labor as a party to the “Zionist Camp” with Hatnuah, the two liberal Zionist parties made direct appeals to the centre swing voters of the Israeli electorate, jettisoning past campaign tactics of alluring those on the left. Herzog’s partner Tzipi Livni of Hatnuah is one of the more enigmatic Israeli politicians. Livni’s position on the peace process is that a dual state resolution is necessary for Israeli democracy and blames settlements for blocking a resolution, even proposing a cut to state expenditure on settlements.

Yet documents leaked by Al Jazeera in 2011 detail her rejecting an offer by PA leaders to agree to Israeli annexation of all but one of the settlements built in East Jerusalem. Her position remained unbroken in the lead up to the elections, and was not a sticking point with Herzog. Throughout the elections the peace process was downplayed but the official Zionist Union line was any solution would include full Israeli annexation of the major settlement blocs of Gush Etzion, Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel settlement blocs, with the Jordan River becoming security border and security cooperation with any future Palestinian state. There were no olive branches in the Zionist Union platform for the besieged Gaza strip, promising to maintain the pressure on Hamas until it complies with Israeli demands. For the 1.8 million Palestinians living there this means maintenance of a siege which will render the coastal enclave unliveable by 2020 unless Hamas give up their right to self defence.

Perhaps the most striking issue surrounding Herzog’s campaign is his reluctance to bring up the peace process in any tangible way, both Hatnuah and Labor refrain from mentioning any of the core components needed for a viable Palestinian state such as borders and access to resources. Analysis of the facts on the ground in line with what policy has been divulged can paint a truer picture of how the Joint Zionist List views these issues and how they will impact a Palestinian state.

The inclusion of Jordan valley as a security buffer would need major access roads splicing any Palestinian state in half. Israeli control over it’s “undivided capital Jerusalem” would mean the annexation of huge settlement blocks and impede the free movement of goods/services/peoples from the commercial centres of Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah and Nablus, stifling economic growth. The annexation of Jerusalem would be a setback for the Palestinian people in an immeasurable way and throw the fate of over 370,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites into uncertainty. Israel is highly dependent on the water resources within the OPT’s, as they constitute 60% of its water supply. Many of the large settlement blocks, which would have been annexed by any Zionist Union peace plan, are dependent upon water supply from the West Bank. From Begin to Olmert, the precondition of a Palestinian state has been complete Israeli control of Palestinian water use and extraction, much of which is earmarked for Israeli settlement use.

Since 1970’s the UN General Assembly has affirmed the Palestinian’s right to self determination and control of its resources within the a sovereign state predicated on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. Added to this there a must be a just solution for the Palestinian refugee issue based on UN resolution 194. Across the Israeli partisan spectrum, aside from the marginalised Meretz party and United Arab List, there is scant political will for adhering to any of these prerequisites for a lasting peace with most parties advocating for even more annexation, more settlement construction and more plundering of Palestinian resources. Netanyahu is the bloodiest of butchers, his actions in Gaza and the West Bank and his fiery rhetoric towards his own Palestinian population with Israeli citizenship has been well documented. However the theft of land, the brutal military occupation and the plundering of resources are not Likud policies. These actions are structural policies and are a theme of the Zionist colonial project and predates expulsion of two thirds of historic Palestine’s population in 1948: it is within the DNA of the Israeli national project. As stated by one enthusiastic Zionist to his son in 1937

“We can no longer tolerate that vast territories capable of absorbing tens of thousands of Jews should remain vacant, and that Jews cannot return to their homeland because the Arabs prefer that the place [the Negev] remains neither ours nor theirs. We must expel Arabs and take their place.”

This Zionist pioneer was David Ben Gurion, who went on to hold the office of Prime Minister, and founded the Israeli Labor party, he is also considered the godfather of the state of Israel.

* Nick Rodrigo is a researcher on Palestine at the Afro-Middle East Centre in Johannesburg and holds an MA in the Theory and Practice of Human Rights.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

On 15 February 2015, an armed group calling itself the Tripoli Province of the Islamic State and claiming affiliation with the Islamic State group in Iraq (IS) posted a video on the internet of what looked like the execution of twenty-one Egyptian Copts. The incident likely occurred on the beach of the city of Sirte. That evening, the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, delivered a hasty speech condemning the incident and warning that Egypt had the right to respond. He convened a late night meeting of Egypt’s Supreme Defence Council. The next four Egyptian Air Force fighter jets twice bombed targets in Darna (instead of Sirte), claiming Darna was controlled by IS.

The raids followed a massive inflammatory media campaign by regime-supporting Egyptian media, and ignited controversy in various quarters. Many people questioned whether Sisi would use the incident to justify a large-scale military intervention in Libya, thus militarily involving Egypt on the side of its allies in the Tobruk government and forces loyal to the renegade colonel, Khalifa Haftar.

Hasty response

Libya is host to a large Egyptian community of workers, which was threatened after Sisi expressed support for the Tobruk government and for Haftar. After the Coptic Church became a strong supporter of the Egyptian regime, there have been kidnappings and murders of Egyptians, especially Copts, in Libya. The people supposedly executed by the Sirte militants in February were kidnapped two months earlier, but there is no evidence that Egyptian authorities had exerted concerted efforts to communicate with the kidnappers and ascertain their demands, or to try to secure the lives of the abductees. It is also difficult to ascertain whether all those in the video were Egyptians and Copts.

The video greatly embarrassed the Egyptian regime, both because it had done so little over the past two months to secure the release of the abductees, and because the event targeted Egyptian Copts at a time when the Egyptian Church had become the strongest supporter of the Egyptian coup regime. More importantly, the video was posted when the regime was embroiled in crises and amid waning political support from sectors that had initially welcomed it. The deepening economic crisis and leaked recordings from Sisi’s office have negatively impacted his public image and his relations with allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Thus there had to be a response to the Sirte incident, to prevent a heavy political cost for Sisi. Hence the rapid retaliation, within a few hours of the Supreme Defence Council’s meeting ending.

However, the retaliatory raids did not target the Tripoli Province group in Sirte, on Libya’s west coast. Rather, they struck at targets in Darna, east of Benghazi, that cannot easily be identified as being under the group’s jurisdiction. A group called Ansar al-Shari'ah exists in Darna, but there is ambiguity about whether it has pledged allegiance to IS or to al-Qaeda. Ansar al-Shari'ah is part of the Darna Mujahideen Shura Council, and is loyal to the General National Congress, the Tripoli Transitional Government and the Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) command. Little is known about the Tripoli Province which surprisingly and suddenly emerged in Sirte. It is unclear whether the group consists of Libyans only, or if it is a mixture of Libyans and foreign fighters, and what its military strength is.

That Egypt targeted Darna and ignored Sirte suggest that the Egyptian military decided on an easy target, and one closer to the Egyptian border. This choice also reflects Darna’s status in the Libyan conflict. The city, which Haftar’s forces failed to seize, constitutes a strategic obstacle that impedes coastal communications between Tobruk and Benghazi. Haftar’s forces are engaged in a bitter battle to take control of Libya’s second largest city, Benghazi, and he is forced to avoid Darna and to use a long desert detour to send supplies to his troops in Benghazi.

Egyptian intervention: extent and conditions

Egypt has one of the largest armies in North Africa, one of the few armies in the region with operational experience of fighting in a desert environment. Apart from the Tobruk government’s and Haftar’s pleas for Egypt to intervene militarily, Libya represents a huge market for Egyptian labour and products, and can be a source of cheap oil for Egypt. It is not unlikely that Cairo decided to intervene in Libya for these interests, and that the United Arab Emirates, a close ally of the Egyptian regime and of Tobruk and Haftar, will shoulder the financial costs. The regional and global sympathy with Egypt, as a result of the execution of the captives, and the consequent outpourings of anger and disapproval in Egypt, Libya and across the Arab region and the world, suggest that the Sisi regime can intervene militarily in Libya and avoid any diplomatic fallout.

However, there are significant constraints to any such intervention. Despite the size of the Egyptian army, there is considerable doubt about its efficiency and ability to conduct a major military operation outside its own borders. It has not engaged in a real battle since 1973, and it is widely believed that the economic activities of the military have corrupted large segments of the officer corps. Further, the army lacks significant experience in fighting against paramilitary armed groups, or fighting inside cities and residential areas. In fact, the Sinai armed groups, with only a few hundred fighters, have inflicted significant losses on Egypt’s military forces in northern Sinai over the past eighteen months. Equally importantly, despite their repudiation of jihadi groups, most Libyans would reject Egyptian military interference in Libyan affairs.

Furthermore, the Egyptian army’s operations abroad in the past few decades do not instil much confidence. Indeed, it suffered huge losses and painful defeats during the Palestine War at the end of the 1940s, and the Yemen Civil War in the early 1960s. The defeat in Palestine was a cause of the July 1952 coup. Similarly, losses in Yemen had a profound impact on Egyptians’ support for Nasser. In fact, it is believed that the Egyptian intervention in Yemen contributed to weakening its army and to its grave failure in the third Arab-Israeli War in June 1967.

Algeria and Cairo have been competing for influence in Libya, and Sisi is aware that a direct large-scale military intervention in Libya without Algeria’s approval could cause Algiers to extend support to rebels and to the Tripoli government. Among the many condemnatory statements about the hostage killings, Algeria’s official statement included an emphasis on the need for continuous and concerted efforts to reach a ‘political solution’ to the Libyan crisis.

It is therefore likely that Egyptian direct intervention will be limited to the raids carried out on 16 February, and that the Egyptian Air Force will not strike again unless the Tripoli Province group undertakes new provocative actions. Egypt’s involvement could also include indirect intervention. It is no secret that Cairo provided military aid to Haftar’s forces over a year ago, including training and military equipment, believed to be funded by the UAE. The extent of such indirect intervention may become larger in the next few months.

Arab, international intervention?

Cairo’s growing concern over the Libyan situation, the inability of Haftar’s forces to achieve tangible progress to resolve the dispute, and the difficulty of Egypt’s solo intervention raise two other possibilities: a collective Arab intervention, or an international intervention involving Egyptian or other Arab forces. Arab intervention would require an Arab League resolution and broad Arab support. The Sisi regime was expected to appeal to the Arab League for such a resolution after the Sirte incident. It did not do so because it knew that Algeria would not support Arab military intervention. While some GCC states might back Arab intervention, it is uncertain whether Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Sudan would support it. Those countries that are likely to support such intervention lack the military capabilities to do so.

International intervention will require a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution, and the willingness of a number of major western countries to participate. The UNSC held an emergency meeting on Libya after the Sirte incident, but no member state has yet announced that it will submit a new draft resolution on Libya. If a member state submits a draft resolution to provide international cover for military intervention, the draft could be limited to fighting the Tripoli Province group, or expansive enough to allow for large-scale intervention aiming to forcefully rebuilding a unified Libyan state. It is unlikely that such a draft resolution will secure sufficient support, especially given Russia’s traditional rejection of western military intervention in other countries’ domestic affairs.

Whatever the UNSC’s position on international military intervention in Libya, an intervention of this magnitude would be difficult without US participation. There are indications that Italy and France have become more willing to intervene in Libya, but the 2011 NATO intervention provided sufficient evidence that European countries cannot, without US participation, bear the burden of a large-scale and long-term military operation, and are unwilling to stay in Libya for a long period to enforce peace and rebuild the state. Various western countries, including the USA, affirmed their commitment to a peaceful resolution of the Libya issue on 17 February, after the Sirte executions, thus seemingly rejecting foreign military solutions.

Risks of intervention

In the first months of 2015, the UN Envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, succeeded in engaging most parties to the Libyan crisis. Indicating some progress in the dialogue effort, Libyan groups agreed to move the venue of the dialogue from Switzerland to Libya, albeit for one day. The first dialogue session has already been held in Libya. However, the Sirte incident, the Egyptian air strikes, and increasing calls for foreign intervention from the Tobruk government and from Haftar have cast doubt on the dialogue’s future.

After months of fighting on various fronts, with a decline in Libya’s financial capabilities, and an increasing number of refugees, there is no longer disagreement that the solution to the Libyan crisis must be reached through negotiations. Foreign military interventions, whether Egyptian, Arab or western, will increase the complexity of the crisis and the pain of the Libyan people and deepen their losses. Such interventions could also cause significant harm to the Egyptian army, and to any other intervening military forces, which in turn would provide more fertile ground for the growth of militant groups, and aggravate the crises instead of solving them.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The 15 February Islamic State group (IS) video showing the beheadings of twenty-one Egyptians raised concerns both about the possibility of the group’s influence growing in Libya (and North Africa more generally), and about the subsequent Egyptian airstrikes inside Libya, ostensibly against IS targets. Condemnation of IS has been widespread; however, Egypt’s attempt to further militarise the Libyan conflict should be equally concerning, and could help grow IS and increase its reach.

The video was another suggestion of increasing IS assertiveness in Libya. In December 2014 the group attacked a military base in the country’s South, killing fourteen soldiers; in January 2015 an attack by IS supporters on the Corinthian Hotel, used by many politicians and diplomats, resulted in the deaths of eight people. However, the publicity given to these operations masks the extent of IS influence and impact in Libya. Competing with larger militant organisations such as the Salafi Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL), and more mainstream Islamist militia such as Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn), IS’s membership numbers a few hundred, which has remained constant over many months. Its links and allegiance to IS in Syria and Iraq are tenuous, making it likely that if IS was defeated in Syria and Iraq, members in Libya will defect to other groups.

The group’s minimal influence was best illustrated in its response to the thirteen Egyptian airstrikes on the town of Darna. There were no retaliatory operations against Egyptian interests in Libya or Egypt; instead, IS set off bombs in the eastern city of Qubba, killing forty-two, and attacked the house of the Iranian ambassador in Tripoli. This retaliation indicates, first, that the group does not possess the capability to project power beyond Libya’s borders. (Thus threats to attack Europe will remain just threats, at least in the short term.) Further, that it was unable to coordinate attacks with the IS affiliate in Egypt, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, illustrates that little coordination and tactical links exist between IS affiliates in North Africa. Second, it indicates that the group’s greater focus is domestic. Qubba is the closest town to Darna, which is controlled by renegade general Khalifa Haftar, and the attack on the ambassador’s residence was more related to IS being forced out of Sirte by Fajr Libya.

The international community responded in a measured and balanced manner. While condemning the attacks, the USA, Britain and France stressed that a political solution was required. This despite intercepted letters between IS recruiters which referred to Libya as a ‘gateway’ to Europe. Even Italy, which in 2014 received over 170 000 Sub-Saharan and Middle Eastern refugees through Libya, had revoked its offer to lead a multinational force against IS, and supported a political solution. Wariness over the consequences of Gadhafi’s overthrow, coupled with their own economic sluggishness, has resulted in most foreign countries being disinclined to intervene, especially since efforts are under way to weaken IS in Syria and Iraq.

Egypt, on the other hand, used the beheadings to legitimise activities it had been conducting for a while. The Egyptian military regime has attempted to influence Libyan politics from early 2014, because of the attractiveness of Libyan oil reserves, and weapons’ smuggling from Libya into Egypt’s Sinai. Already in March 2014 the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, advocated international action in Libya. With the United Arab Emirates, Egypt has also assisted the Libyan government in Tobruk with logistical and intelligence support, in order to weaken the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) government. In October 2014, Egypt conducted airstrikes in Benghazi, deep into Libyan airspace, to support Haftar.

Its recent airstrikes resulted in a number of civilian casualties, and it subsequently called for the United Nations to provide it ‘political’ and ‘military’ support for the strikes. The strikes violate international law, and Egypt’s supplying weapons to the Tobruk government violates the UN arms embargo on Libya. Egypt has therefore called on the UN to lift the embargo. Its requests to the international community were unsuccessful, however, leading Sisi to advocate for the creation of an inter-state Pan-Arab military force. This too is unlikely to occur, with both Qatar and Saudi Arabia sceptical about such moves.

Despite the fact that the mess in Libya has been created partly as a result of international intervention, the international response in this instance is correct. The growth of IS (and other militant groups) in Libya is a direct result of the power vacuum created by Muammar Gadhafi’s overthrow, and the consequent deteriorating security situation and political gridlock. Dealing with IS alone will merely address symptoms of the problem, and could generate increased sympathy towards the group. The United Nations initiative to broker a political solution and form a government of national unity presents the best future scenario, and must be strengthened. It complies with the hopes of neighbouring states such as Tunisia and Algeria. The latter released a peace plan which cautions against military intervention and advocates developing consensus between the two Libyan governments.

While political posturing of the different groups sometimes sees one or another boycotting talks, all parties must be enticed into the negotiations’ process, and foreign military interference must be prevented. Allowing such military adventures, and not pressing forward with a political solution could see Libya breaking up into enclaves, and groups such as IS proliferating.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The situation in Yemen is rapidly deteriorating. President Mansour Hadi, formerly under house arrest in Sanaa, has now escaped to the city of Aden and could set up an alternate government there in competition with the one in Sanaa. Also, a number of embassies have already shut down, and international investors have withdrawn, signalling a growing isolation for the country whose new de facto rulers in Sanaa (even if not recognised as such by the rest of the world), the Zaidi-Shi'a insurgents from the northern part of the country, the Houthis, will find difficult to manage. The United Nations has not given up on Yemen yet; its envoy, Jamal Benomar, brokered a deal between the various political foes on Friday, 20 February, before Hadi’s escape, while the UN Security Council called on the Houthis to relinquish power and allow Hadi to return to his position. However, militias aligned to Hadi and antipathetic to the Houthis took matters into their own hands and seized key government buildings and institutions. Meanwhile, al-Qa'ida, which was previously being targeted by a US-Hadi security alliance, has continued with its campaign against military instalments, citing fear of a Houthi takeover.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The death of Saudi King Abdullah on 23 January, and the ascension to the throne of his half-brother Salman have generated a flurry of discussions and speculation globally. Much attention has being paid to gestures of condolences, and comments about Abdullah’s legacy and achievements (including some western leaders’ assertions of Abdullah as a ‘reformer’). The conversations have also included reflections on royal succession and the potential for Saudi domestic and foreign policy changes. The issue of succession has been feverishly discussed for the past few years, dogged by the question of who among the grandsons of the founder of the Saudi monarchy, Abdulaziz al-Saud, would reign and when that might happen. Among many commentators there is an impression that this succession question has been resolved because Salman’s appointment of Muhammad bin Nayef as the new deputy crown prince was seemingly accepted without dissent by members of the royal family.

Such a view, however, misses the rumblings within the Saudi family that run deeper than the supposedly calm process that preceded the announcement of the new deputy crown prince, and which could lead to major fault lines developing between the royals. An indication of this is the intrigue that surrounded the announcement and Abdullah’s funeral, and attempts by Salman to shift influence within the royal family in a manner that could have important foreign policy implications.

Internal machinations

When Salman was confronted by some royals regarding his announcement of the new deputy crown prince, he revealed that he had already consulted the Allegiance Council, the body appointed by Abdullah and having the responsibility of approving the selection of a crown prince. In fact, before announcing his decision, Salman had individually lobbied various members of the council and obtained their support for bin Nayef’s appointment. He did this while keeping the new crown prince, Muqrin, and the former secretary of the royal court under Abdullah, Khalid al-Tuwaijri, in the dark. Salman’s stealth indicates that he does not see eye to eye with Muqrin, and that he regards Muqrin and Tuwaijri as part of an opposition camp. They both would have preferred Abdullah’s son and the current minister of the National Guard, Mu't', to be appointed as deputy crown prince. It is rumoured that Tuwaijri, who was Abdullah’s main confidante and the person making domestic and foreign policy in the last few years, is under house arrest and will likely quietly disappear from the political scene.

Family Tree LowRes Saudi Royals

Apart from bin Nayef’s appointment, Salman rapidly announcing other appointments, such as the dual elevation of his son, Muhammad bin Salman, to the position of defence minister – replacing Salman, and as secretary general of the royal court, in Tuwaijri’s stead, are an attempt to marginalise the Abdullah circle within the ruling elite of Saudi royals. Further evidence of this was the removal of two of Abdullah’s sofrom their positions as governors of the Riyadh and Makkah provinces. The governorship of Makkah was returned to Khalid bin Faisal, from whom it was taken away by Abdullah two years ago, while Riyadh is now in the hands of Faisal bin Bandar. Similarly, another third generation Saudi royal who was close to Abdullah, Bandar bin Sultan, who had been increasingly at odds with bin Nayef over their different approaches to the Syrian crisis, was removed from his roles as the secretary general of the National Security Council and advisor to the king. Additionally, the National Security Council was dissolved, and Salman formed two new councils, the Council for Political and Security Affairs and the Council for Economic and Development Affairs; the former is headed by bin Nayef, and the latter by Salman’s son Muhammad.

Clearly, a battle is developing within the royal family, pitting the families of King Salman and of the late Nayef (the second crown prince appointed by Abdullah) against the families of former king Abdullah and of the late Sultan (the first crown prince appointed by Abdullah). Muqrin is believed to be in the Abdullah-Sultan camp, and there is a suspicion that, within a few months, as Salman consolidates his power, the crown prince will also get the sack, and either Muhammad bin Nayef or another of Salman’s brothers will be appointed crown prince.

Foreign policy shifts?

With Salman attempting to move away from certain of Abdullah’s policies, a shift in some foreign policy aspects is likely to become visible in the next few months. Some of this is based on his desire to change Abdullah’s policy; but other factors include his political sympathies which differ from Abdullah’s, and his personal relationships with other political figures in the region. As a result, while Saudi policy on Syria is unlikely to change, the rest of this year is likely to witness a change in Saudi Arabia’s support for the post-coup Egyptian government, and in its formerly close alliance with the United Arab Emirates. One indication of this change was Salman’s communication to both the Egyptians and Emiratis that the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, and the UAE crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, would not be welcome at Abdullah’s funeral, while he warmly welcomed their rival, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who remained in the kingdom for an extra day to discuss regional security matters with the new king. Salman even received Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the funeral.

On Egypt, Salman has indicated that aid from Saudi Arabia to that country’s military government will cease. The Saudis have already given Egypt between ten and twenty billion dollars in aid over the past eighteen months. His decision seems to be based partly on his discomfort with propping up the Egyptian regime further, and partly due to a very negative relationship that has developed between him and Sisi. The negative relationship intensified over the past few months, particularly with Sisi’s comments to various people that he and the Emiratis would like to see a rapid transfer of power after Abdullah’s death to Muqrin, effectively bypassing Salman. Furthermore, Sisi also, prior to Abdullah’s death, sent messages to Tuwaijri supporting Muqrin’s ascension to the throne, and even committed Egyptian troops to ensure that the ascension would be smooth, if the need for such a step arose. The relationship between Salman and Sisi will thus be difficult to repair. In Salman’s eyes, bin Zayed is also part of this alleged conspiracy. Furthermore, the new deputy crown prince, bin Nayef, has a severe dislike for bin Zayed, originating from comments the latter made and revealed by WikiLeaks, where he severely insulted bin Nayef’s father.

Another area of policy change, though unlikely to be very visible, is the new Saudi government’s attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). In March 2014, Saudi Arabia followed the UAE in designating the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation. At the time, Salman had indicated to some Brotherhood leaders that he personally did not regard the movement as ‘an enemy’. Although it is unlikely that he will suddenly change that designation, there will probably be an increased tolerance of the MB by the Saudis. Bin Nayef, who is responsible for the Saudi role in the war against the Islamic State group (IS), also believes that tolerating the Brotherhood could assist in that war because the MB is less dangerous than the IS. This perception has been reinforced by the surge in IS’s popularity in Saudi Arabia, and IS’s habit of accusing Saudi Arabia of being close to western powers and Israel, and of supporting dictatorial oppression in the Middle East. And this week Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, said, ‘There was no problem between the Kingdom and [Brotherhood] movement,’ and that the problem was only with a few MB. Apart from the political reasons, Salman also has a good relationship with Erdogan and a fifteen-year-long close relationship with Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the former emir of Qatar, and father of the current emir. Both the Turkish and Qatari leaders have sympathies for the MB. Indications are, therefore, that Saudi Arabia, under Salman, will look to mend its ties with the MB-affiliated versions of republican Sunni Islam, such as Erdogan’s AK Party in Turkey and Hamas in Palestine, and others that support them, such as Qatar, at the expense of those who are unwilling to accommodate them. Qatar is, it seems, reading the situation in this manner, and has indicated that it will allow back into the country senior MB leaders that had previously been asked to leave as a result of Saudi and Emirati pressure.

One area of the new Saudi foreign policy which remains unclear is the relationship with Iran. There are pressures on Salman both to improve relations with Iran and to maintain the status quo. The pressure to better their relationship comes from, first, the possibility of an impending deal between Saudi ally, USA, and Iran on the nuclear and other issues. If such a deal happens in the next few months, there will be pressure from the USA for Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran to work together in the region to maintain a balance of power. Second, the dire situations in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon call out for an end to the cold war between regional hegemons Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the current conjuncture points to the need for a cooperative relationship in order to develop a joint strategy for confronting the IS threat. On the other hand, Salman and bin Nayef are close to conservative sections of the Saudi clergy, which are virulently anti-Shi'a and for whom restoring relations with Iran is anathema. Further, if Saudi Arabia mends relations with Iran it might reinforce the perception that the regime is a puppet of imperialist powers, and provide grounds for IS sympathies to spread. Salman will seek to cleverly navigate these imperatives, but it is difficult to predict the future direction of this relationship.


Saudi Arabia, then, could see some serious changes within its ruling and policymaking structures, and its domestic and foreign policies. The public silence of the Saudi family cannot be taken as an indicator of the level of internal fighting. However, while the family is known for its secrecy, the younger generation of royals is becoming more vocal in criticising the old guard. All of this is likely to create a more robust debate over the future of the kingdom, albeit behind high palace walls. While it may be slow in coming, one can be sure that the Abdullah-aligned faction must be contemplating an appropriate riposte to Salman’s machinations. However, those who expect rapid and sudden changes in policy will be disappointed. Saudi Arabia is a large and difficult ship to steer. Sudden changes rarely occur, and amendments to policy usually are preceded by wide turns rather than sharp jerks.

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