Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Libya, Egypt and Syria: The Common Thread

After popular uprisings erupted in Sidi Buzaid in Tunisia, in 2010, and spread to Egypt, Libya and Syria, the common feature, after two years, between these three countries is not transition to democracy. It is rather the spread of terrorism. The vacuum in leadership and instability manifested a fertile environment that expanded al Qaeda operations in the Middle East.

Al-Qaeda, and its affiliates, established, for the first time, permanent bases in Libya, in Sinai Egypt and in Syria. These three bases work as strategic hubs for attracting jihadists from three continents: Africa, Asia and Europe. These three hubs, extend al Qaeda operations in northern Africa, Sinai, and provide a logistical extension to the Islamic state of Iraq.

There is not one catalyst to this security failure. Yes, there are ethnic and religious grievances that have not been settled in the Middle East. Yes, transition to democracy is messy and will take a long time, since it strives to overcome the old entrenched authoritarian order. Yes, the United States was well intentioned in its intervention in Libya, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and refusing dialogue with al Assad in Syria.Yes, the U.S. could not have sided with Qaddafi, Mubarak or al Assad against the people in these countries.

Yet none of these readily available talking points explain the lapse in judgement and miscalculation that bolstered al Qaeda operations. In Libya, the U.S. supported the Islamic fighters that have helped overthrow Qaddafi and then denied them any role in government. The importance given to establishing a secular government in Libya, isolated and sidelined the fighters who formed militias, and in turn attacked U.S. and Libyan establishments.

The U.S. polished the image of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in 2011, with countless media appearances, PR campaigns in academic, think tank and political circles. After a year in office, the U.S. had to contend with the utter failure of the Muslim Brotherhood in governing, and subsequent popular ousting of president Mursi in 2013, that was confirmed by a military coup. Meanwhile, Islamists fighters and jihadists that have been pardoned by Mursi, are regrouping in Sinai. Increasingly, the Islamists in Egypt are converging with their likes in the region, who are not equipped to incorporate compromise and negotiations as political tools.  

In Syria, the United States refused any negotiations with the Syrian government, a stance shared by the Syrian opposition residing outside of Syria. In turn, the bloody confrontation called upon willing fighters, funds, and weapons that have flooded the country for two years. Two sides have been on a quest for mutual senseless destruction. Meanwhile, eighty thousand foreign Islamists fighters, with money and weapons, are working on their own agenda in Syria.

The U.S. was in dire need to regain its stance as an international leader in the Middle East after the troop withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. Instead the United States has bleed credibility in 2011 and 2012, undermined its national interests, and threatened the security of its allies in the region. 

When state secretary Kerry took over these files, with input by the Department of Defense, the corrective shift in American foreign policy in 2013 started to show.

Negotiation between representative of the Syrian government and Syrian opposition is prioritized over other solutions in the Syrian case. Fighting terrorism is on the agenda during U.S. discussions with Syrian opposition groups. In Egypt, the strong military ties between the U.S. and Egyptian military helped adjust U.S. policy.  The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood failure in governing, and subsequent ousting, is seen as a strategic loss for them as an organization, and it increased skepticism regarding the competence of political Islam to provide solutions to social, economic and political problems. 

In Libya, considerable steps are taken to adjust the composition of the Libyan government to accommodate representatives of the fighters who overthrew Qaddafi.

In these three countries, the United States is on a quest to solicit cooperation and partnerships to combat terrorism, and prepare for slower more calculated steps towards more equitable forms of government, lead by Libyans, Egyptians and Syrians. 

I hope that the Syrian opposition, SNC, is adjusting and preparing for direct negotiations without conditions, to end the bloodshed and spare Syria total collapse. 

سوريا حبيبتي ...الحرية و الكرامة

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