Violence in the MENA region

In December 2010, the Arabs, sick to death with the corrupt patriarchal and tribal regimes that ruled them since independence, took to the streets to express their discontent and to ask for democracy. Initially, nobody believed that such a movement would topple well-rooted dictatorships. But the anger quickly grew in size and scope and became a true tsunami that swept away the ruling dictators and with them the proverbial lethargy of Arab society.

The media quickly dubbed the successive uprisings “Arab Spring” but, alas, soon this became mere wishful thinking as counter-revolution, civil war and chaos started to take the place of the much-desired democracy and freedom. Many countries of the Middle East have gone awry instead of initiating a fresh start in national democratic empowerment.

Creative or constructive violence?

Chaos is coming to the Middle East in the aftermath of the failure of the so-called Arab Spring, and it is coming big. However, one wonders, quite rightly, that the chaos in question, brought about by the national chapters of the multinational of terrorism al-Qaeda and extremists of different Islamic colorations, is not the chaos prophesized or sown by President Bush Jr and his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after the fall of Saddam’s Iraq?

The very al-Qaeda that was felt out by the Arab uprisings three years ago and that was beheaded by The American military machinery when killing, in a daring operation executed by the Navy Seals in Abbotabbad, Pakistan, its charismatic leader Bin Laden.

Al-Qaeda is coming back with the promise of more death and chaos in the region. Bin Laden might be dead but the nihilist philosophy of the movement is still alive and kicking, thank you very much.

Al-Qaeda does not want the democratic Middle East because that would mean its demise, since it is a theocratic absurdity and not a democratic movement. It is a faceless beast that thrives on chaos and it has lethal dormant cells in this part of the world in addition to many sympathizers and followers worldwide.

During the unfolding of the Arab uprisings, al-Qaeda was totally absent from the scene, and many commentators believed wrongly that it was a thing of the past, especially after the decapitation of its leadership by the American government. But like the mythical sphinx, it is resurrecting from its ashes strong and more dangerous than ever because it feeds on chaos and the Middle East is in the grip of chaos right now.

How did violence come to the region?

Actually, many analysts believe that chaos came to the region when the Tunisian vegetable seller Bouazizi set fire to his body, and by so doing ignited the Arab uprisings, but the truth of the matter is that the door to the chaos was opened by the invasion of Kuwait undertaken by the megalomaniac Pan-Arab dictator Saddam Hussein. At the height of his career, after the war with Iran, he believed strongly that he could do anything and get away with it, and since he owed so much money to Kuwait and was not ready to pay it back, he decided to rob the bank named Kuwait and settle the problem once for all.

Thus, on July 1st, 1991, he sent his army into Kuwait on the ground that it was part of historical Iraq before the arrival of British colonialism. On discovering oil in this territory, the British decided to create a mini-state to serve their purpose of controlling the oil flow in the region, maybe Brunei Darussalam is a similar case in South East Asia, and even today Malaysia has not swallowed the bitter pill of the British creation of this small state out of its national territory.

By invading Kuwait and robbing its wealth, Saddam Hussein inadvertently opened the gates of hell on the region. Fearing the fact that emboldened by his act in this small country, he would sweep through Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf States; the West expected the worst and started preparations to counter his moves.

If Saddam had succeeded in controlling the Gulf States, he would have controlled the oil routes and the flow of this important commodity necessary for the whole world and especially for the developed countries whose economies rely on it heavily. Has this happened, the world would have gone anew into a recession as in 1973 when the Arab countries imposed an oil embargo on the West following the Ramadan War.

So to avoid this happening again, the West moved quickly to put an end to the threat represented by Saddam to its interests and to the security of the friendly countries in the area. America armed with the resolutions of the United Nations, put together a large coalition of 34 countries to liberate Kuwait. The Gulf War I, codenamed Operation Desert Storm took place from 17 January 1991 to 28 February 1991, and the coalition, in no time, achieved the declared objectives of this campaign. The Iraqi army was defeated and expelled from Kuwait and the door of hell and chaos in the area was opened wide.

While most of the armies of the coalition returned home after completing the assigned mission, American troops remained in the area to protect their allies and with them remained an unanswered question: why did not President Bush Sr. order the American troops to go in hot pursuit of Iraqi defeated soldiers? The answer is that such a project is another episode for which the US had a different agenda. However, the Americans still, indirectly, encouraged the Shi’ites to rise against Saddam which they did in the southern provinces but their revolt was crushed in blood. It seems that the Americans when encouraging such a move had two things in mind, knowing better the demonic psychology of Saddam in addition to making Saddam regain confidence in his power after the defeat and, also, increasing the enmity of the Shi’ites against his rule to utilize them appropriately in the second episode of the onslaught on his rule.

Following this bloody episode, the Shi’ites became the fifth column of the Americans by which they would prepare the final assault on Saddam Hussein and his eviction from power forever. The Shi’ite’s role was not only to assist the Americans in their designs but also to lead the country after the fall of Saddam, given that they are numerically a majority in the country and were always ruled by a Sunni minority.

In the interval to the Gulf War II of 2003, the Shi’ites helped the American intelligence community in preparing for this final chapter of the war on Saddam. They were instrumental in collecting military and civilian data for use by the Americans and in training their troops to have access to power and usher in chaos in the region.

Violence in post-Saddam Iraq

After the toppling of Saddam, the power was offered constitutionally to the Shi’ites in Iraq as a reward for services rendered but, on the other hand, the Americans indirectly punished the Sunnis for their support of the Iraqi dictator. Realizing suddenly that they are a minority, the latter displayed openly their enmity toward the Americans and resisted their master plan for dismembering Iraq along sectarian lines.

The insurgency of the Sunnis started in 2003 and is still going on today, it has climaxed with the Fallujah resistance to American troops in 2004 which was quelled in blood and it continued with Abu Mus’ab Zarqawi, the emir of al-Qaeda that gave the Americans hard time before he was eliminated by an American drone strike.

Chaos is in Iraq to stay for many decades to come. It is in the North which is under the control of the Kurd Peshmerga but, also, in central Sunni Iraq and southern Shi’ite Iraq. Chaos is reigning supreme because of the enmity between Sunnis and Shi’ites that might break into a sectarian war that would engulf the whole Middle East anytime. The unfortunate sectarian and irresponsible policies of Nouri El Maliki, who acts more like the head of the Shi’ite party than a national Prime Minister with responsibility for all religious groups and for all Iraqis, are fanning the flames of such future war.

Chaos will, also, thrive in Iraq for a long time to come due to the actions of terrorist groups from either side or from political parties and from the government proper because there is so much bad blood between the different opponents and very little disposition to national willingness for forgiveness and unity. Last but not least, chaos will thrive in this country because of the sectarian strife in Syria, which is not showing any sign of abatement for the time being.

For Allen Pizzey from CBS News, Jihadist-bred chaos is spreading in Mideast in, general, and Iraq in, particular, and nothing will be able to stop it, for now, at least:

“In Iraq, the government is losing significant ground to al Qaeda militants. On Sunday, fighting in Anbar province killed 22 Iraqi soldiers and 12 civilians. This is happening as Syria’s civil war is spilling into Lebanon. Ongoing chaos in the Middle East is creating what nature abhors and fanatics love: a power vacuum. Al Qaeda affiliated gunmen have taken over the streets of Fallujah, a resurgence of the civil war that the US invasion of Iraq sparked off. In what now looks like a wasted effort, more than 100 US Marines lost their lives in Fallujah in 2004 in a fight to drive the militants out and hand control to the Shiites who now run Iraq. Today, the US has no leverage other than backing the Iraqi government. Secretary of State John Kerry, mired in the increasingly problematic Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, offered the Iraqis moral support. “We’re not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight, but we’re going to help them in their fight,” Kerry said. “This is a fight that is bigger than just Iraq.””

Chaos in Syria

The Syrian discontent started on March 15, 2011, in the wake of the Arab uprisings which were labeled Arab Spring. Initially, the protestors demanded more freedom and democracy from the Shi’ite Alaouit minority represented by the Ba’th Party of Bachar al-Assad. The government reacted violently killing dozens of protestors and by April it became a nationwide movement of revolt.

From a protest movement, the situation morphed into a military uprising and a political rejection of the Assad regime. The opposition coalition made of a myriad of political groups fielded a military resistance. Initially, the resistance scored many victories with the help of support from Saudi Arabia and the West and when everybody thought that the Assad regime was about to fall, the Russians brought military help in 2013 to Assad because his demise will mean for Moscow the end of its presence in the Middle East. This much-needed help came at the right time to give the regime a lease of life.

According to the United Nations, the death toll surpassed 100,000 in June 2013 and reached 120,000 by September 2013. In addition, tens of thousands of protesters, students, liberal activists, and human rights advocates have been imprisoned and there are reports of widespread torture and terror in state prisons.

The Iranian government realizing that the fall of Assad would mean the loss of their last outpost and would put them directly in the fireline of America and Israel instructed the fighters of the Lebanese Hizbu Allah and their own Revolutionary Guard to bolster the defenses of their Shi’ite ally Bashar al-Assad, but, in the meantime, the latter committed a grave political error by using his chemical weapons on his own people.

Saudi Arabia outraged by this unpardonable war crime called on America to strike out of existence Bashar and his clique. But America sensing a change of heart on the part of Tehran over the nuclear issue preferred not to punish Assad, Iran’s protégé.

The American move gave Assad confidence in the survival of his regime and his negotiators at the Geneva II summit of January 2014 showed that they were not ready to envisage a Syria without Assad, the sine qua non-condition of the opposition. As result, chaos will continue in Syria reaping the lives of innocent people and more Syrians will flee the country.

Violence in Egypt: The Islamists take the unfortunate path of violence

The Egyptian revolution is undoubtedly the most dramatic episode of the so-called Arab Spring. It is almost like the famed Egyptian telenovelas that are screened by most Arab televisions on their release, which are fictions containing love, hate, tears, and revenge.

The Egyptian revolution or revolutions have been best described in an Op-Ed by the famous American journalist Thomas L. Friedman:

“If you’re looking for any silver lining in what is happening in Egypt today, suggest you go up 30,000 feet and look down. From that distance, the events in Egypt over the past two-and-a-half years almost make sense. Egypt has actually had three revolutions since early 2011, and when you add them all up, you can discern a message about what a majority of Egyptians are seeking. The first revolution was the Egyptian people and the Egyptian military toppling President Hosni Mubarak and installing the former defense minister, the aging Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, as the de facto head of state. Tantawi and his colleagues proved utterly incompetent in running the nation and were replaced, via a revolutionary election, by the Muslim Brotherhood’s party, led by President Mohamed Morsi. He quickly tried to consolidate power by decapitating the military and installing Brotherhood sympathizers in important positions. His autocratic, non-inclusive style and failed economic leadership frightened the Egyptian center, which teamed up last month with a new generation of military officers for a third revolution to oust Morsi and the Brotherhood. To put it all in simpler terms: Egypt’s first revolution was to get rid of the dead hand, the second revolution was to get rid of the deadheads and the third revolution was to escape from the dead end.”

It so seems the Egyptians don’t know what they really want. First, they took to the streets in a very responsible manner to bring down the dictatorship of Mubarak and his clique, and in no time his police state crumbled down. The army realized that the dictator is condemned to go refused his order to shoot the demonstrators and instead opportunistically sided with them, thinking of their image and standing in the future given that this institution has always been a key player in Egyptian politics since independence.

Mubarak was overthrown; the army played the role of the nice guy and took over themselves to protect the people and the State and serve as the caretaker government to prepare for free legislative and presidential elections.

The man of the street gave the army the green light to secure the state and the elections but the Muslim Brotherhood viewed the military with much suspicion, and this is true of all Islamist movements in the Arab world because they believe that such an institution is the den of secularists, enemies of their Islamic grand design within the area.

The Army organized the legislative elections that went to the Brotherhood and then the presidential elections that brought Morsi to the President’s office. The Brotherhood emboldened by two successive victories pictured themselves as depositories of the people’s will to set up an Islamic state in spite of the presence of a lethal enemy i.e. the army which is the ally of the Americans and the Israelis. Nevertheless, the Brotherhood had a long-term plan to re-Islamize the country and the state and create an Islamic republic similar to the Iranian one, even in its military component.

Once in the President’s seat, Morsi set about to cleanse the army from the old Mubarak guard. His advisors suggested putting Sissi in the chief’s seat of the Army on the ground that he was docile and lacked the fiery ambition of other army generals. However, the dream of Morsi and the Brothers was to have their own army, a copy of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to protect their revolution and keep an eye on the army proper.

The Brotherhood could have succeeded in achieving its objectives if Morsi proceeded gradually and carefully, but unfortunately for him, he moved on fast. His main deadly mistake was the imposition of the Islamic constitution, a logical prelude to the Islamic State in which the Brotherhood would play the key role.

Ghanouchi, Tunisian Ennahda’s Islamist party guide was more intelligent in delivering a constitution free of religious references that were welcomed by the majority of Tunisians and instructing his party people to hand the government to a group of technocrats to prepare for the post-constitution legislative and presidential elections, he wishes to win again. It might be the case that the intelligent move of Ghanouchi is the result of his life experience in Great Britain when in exile.

Fearing that Egypt would go Islamic, the Brotherhood way and threaten the stability of the whole region, the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel called on the army to take power. The secularists, at the instigation of the army, circulated a petition nicknamed tamarrud “revolt,” the supporters of the initiative took to the streets calling on the army to take power, and thus the latter ousted Morsi and took control of the state.

For weeks the sympathizers of Morsi demonstrated in Rabi’a ‘Adawiya square for what they called the return to legality but in vain, after weeks of an uninterrupted sit-in, the army charged the Islamists killing dozens of them. This was the match that ignited the powder keg of chaos in Egypt.

Today, The Brotherhood has taken a different path than that of terror, unfortunately. This will plunge Egypt into years of chaos and instability and the country will definitely lose so much in this venture: loose investment, loose business, loose tourism, and lose Arab leadership, and in return will gain nothing. Things, however, could go the other way if both sides, for the sake of stability, could have accepted to share power, the likelihood of this happening is, alas, nil because the army has the power and the Brotherhood has terror and both believe they are right and can advance their cause. How long the face-off will last, nobody knows?

Chaos in Libya

Libya, in a few months, went from the dictatorship of a megalomaniac pan-Arab leader into the dictatorship of militias, Islamic in their majority and maybe with megalomaniac chiefs, yet again. What happened, in fact, is that Libya the state, that feared unpredictability and mega-million dollars readied for all kinds of causes worldwide suddenly went tribal, which means that in the end, this country will break up into several provinces. Maybe it will be the first country to go from a country proper into tribal countries.

In Libya, there is a government that has, on paper, police and an army, but this government exists only in Tripoli, outside of the capital, the country is ruled by the militias. Actually, the Libyan example is very close to the Somali experience. If the government fails in the months to come to assert its power on all the Libyan territory, the country will become de facto Somalia II, in the area. In principle, Libya is already another Somalia, the militias, in certain parts of the country, are already selling oil to foreign companies and pocketing the money to use for their own needs. Soon, these militias, if they have not already done that, will have their own government that will contest the decisions of the paper government of Tripoli.

Post-Qaddafi Libya is bent on becoming three countries or more if nothing is done on the part of the Tripoli paper government. Indicators show that it is slowly fragmenting in three countries: Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fezzan. The only bold initiative that could ultimately reverse this motion is the creation of a federal government that would delegate home affairs to local governments. Will the Libyan political class opt for that or go the way of the irreversible fragmentation?

The Somalization is looming over the Arab Spring countries

In conclusion, one can say that The Arab Spring has or is going the wrong way, instead of delivering the much-needed democracy and social justice; it is triggering the fragmentation of countries like Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Egypt and possibly setting up a Somali-type of Scenarios.

Iraq, though not a fully Arab Spring country is de facto three countries: the Shi’ites in the south, the Sunnis in the center, and the Kurds in the north. Iraq will never regain its unity for Nouri Al- Maliki is not doing anything to keep the country united. For many Sunnis, his aim is to have Iraq or the Shi’ite provinces join Iran. However, though Iran would want that, it will be dangerous for the country to accept it in the sense that such an act would encourage the Kurds to create their own country and their own Kurd brethren of Iran and Turkey would want to join the new entity, so this could start the dismembering of Iran itself and problems for the whole region.

So far, the only countries that seem to be escaping the scenario of Somalization are Tunisia which has produced a progressive constitution, and also Yemen. If everything goes as planned, these two countries might become democratic in the full sense of the word and save the Arab Spring from total bankruptcy, but only time can tell.


You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu

About the Author
Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of “MENA region area studies” at Université Internationale de Rabat -UIR- and of “Education” at Université Mohammed V in Rabat, as well. Besides, he is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, American, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islamism and religious terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism. During 2015 he worked as Program Director with the USAID/CHEMONICS educational project entitled: “Reading for Success: A Small Scale Experimentation” in cooperation with the Moroccan Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training (MENFP). He recently taught cultural studies to Semester abroad students with AMIDEAST, IES and CIEE study abroad programs in Morocco insuring such courses as: “Introduction to Moroccan Culture,” “Contemporary North African History,” “Arab Spring,” “Amazigh Culture,” “Moroccan Jewish Legacy,” “Community-Based Learning” (internship with civil society organizations). He is, also, currently teaching “Communication Skills” and “Translation and Interpreting” to master students at The Institute for Leadership and Communication Studies –ILCS- in Rabat, Morocco and supervising several Fulbright students in areas of religion and culture in Morocco. He has taught in the past some courses in universities in the USA, Spain, France, Italy, England and Greece.
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