Al Qaeda and a Global Revolt

Al-Qaida training manual found in Afghanistan, courtesy of CIA/wikimedia commons

 This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 22 May 2014.

The collapse of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali’s regime in Tunisia in January 2011, soon followed by Hosni Mubarak’s in Egypt, had a profound impact across the Arab world. There was an eruption of protest in Oman, Libya and Bahrain, while an incident in the town of Deraa in southern Syria sparked demonstrations that grew and spread into regular events involving thousands of young people.

Almost from the start, Bashar al-Assad’s regime was determined to maintain power, with severe repression of demonstrations leading to violence, injury and death. As non-violent demonstrations escalated into rebellion, the regime’s response was to use greater force while insisting that the stability of the state itself was being threatened by terrorists.

For almost a year this mantra was pushed insistently. By late 2012 it had become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: dedicated young jihadists had formed some of the most cohesive elements of the rebellion, attracting recruits from across the middle east and beyond. » More

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Brahimi Resignation Signals Geopolitical Shift Favoring Assad

Lakhdar Brahimi with his grandsons. Image: Wikipedia.

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 16 May 2014.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and League of Arab States for Syria, finally submitted his resignation, effective at the end of May. Brahimi was appointed by UN Secretary-General (SG) Ban Ki-moon in September 2012 to succeed the first special envoy, the former UNSG Kofi Annan.

While this was hardly unexpected, it carries significant symbolic meaning and offers insight into the emerging balance of power in the region.

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Give Peace A Chance: It’s Time to Change How International Justice Works

The International Criminal Court in The Hague (ICC/CPI), Netherlands, courtesy Vincent van Zeijst/wikimedia

Imperatives for peace and for justice often seem to collide in many conflict and post-conflict situations. The immediate inspiration for this article was the recent arrest in Northern Ireland of Sinn Fein politician Gerry Adams in connection with the 1972 murder of Jean McConville. Coming right before European and local elections the arrest had immediate political consequences for the stability of Northern Ireland and the success of the ongoing peace process in the province. It also highlighted the continued lack of agreement for how to handle the legacy of past killings despite sixteen years of relative calm.

This problem is especially acute in modern conflicts. Today’s wars tend to be messy civil ones, often with a bewildering kaleidoscope of armed actors. Unlike the interstate wars of the past, there is often no obvious victor to a struggle, and often no clear-cut chain of command. Instead, there is a usually a messy list of atrocities, at the end of which is a patched-together political settlement that sometimes holds, and sometimes does not. To return to the example of Northern Ireland, many sources allege Gerry Adams to have been a senior Irish Republican Army (IRA) leader responsible for ordering bombings and murders in the 1970s and 80s (Adams denies this). His detention by police investigating the McConville murder could easily have led to widespread rioting in Republican parts of Belfast. It may yet lead to Loyalists withdrawing from the unity government, so toxic is the issue in the Protestant community. » More

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Saudi Arabia, Syria and Bin Laden’s Ghost

Rebels from the Justice Brigade

This article was originally published by the Middle East Institute on 14 February 2014.

Osama bin Laden may be dead, but his ghost was in Riyadh the other day, hovering over Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah as he issued a decree making it a crime for any Saudi citizen to take part in a war outside the kingdom.

The obvious motivator was the civil war in Syria, where hundreds of young Saudis have been spotted in the ranks of the most radical jihadi groups battling both the government and other less extreme rebels. But the roots of the king’s action, and the problem it was designed to address, can be traced to the 1980s war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. » More

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The New Face of Terrorism

Mokhtar Belmokhtar graffiti

Photo: thierry ehrmann/Wikimedia Commons.

The denial that seems to have characterized most of American and European leaders’ assessment of the status of al Qaeda over the last three years seems to be over. Last week two of America’s top intelligence officials openly stated before Congress that the group is morphing, franchising and expanding its reach globally. Similarly, John Sawers, the head of MI6, recently told the British Parliament that “We are having to deal with al Qaeda emerging and multiplying in a whole new range of countries. There is no doubt at all that the threat is rising.”

These assessments are completely different from the tunes heard just a year ago on both sides of the Atlantic. The narrative touting al Qaeda’s demise took shape in Western capitals in early 2011. The first months of the so-called Arab Spring made Western observers swoon with hope at the sight of thousands of demonstrators throughout the Arab world fighting for democracy and adopting none of al Qaeda’s ideas and slogans. Al Qaeda’s message, they argued, had been defeated and the democracies that would rise from the ashes of the authoritarian regimes of Mubarak, Ben Ali, and Ghaddafi would push Arabs and Muslims further away from it. » More

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