Commentary

Hotspots Smolder from North Africa to Yemen

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

While the world media’s attention is fixed on the Israeli offensive in Gaza, the region’s other bloody conflicts rumble on. There is a sense locally that other crises are being ignored, especially by the Western media — at that this lack of attention only perpetuates the violence. Given the rising number of hotspots around the world in what feels like an unprecedented wave of violence, it is perhaps too easy to move on to the latest dramatic developments in Gaza, failing to pay attention to the latest out of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Libya, Morocco and Afghanistan. One conflict stokes the embers of the next, making it vital for leaders and decision-makers to muster the will to come up with solutions that go beyond the temporary fixes a 24-hour news cycle prefers.

First, a recent editorial by the Khaleej Times updates their readers on the suffering in Gaza: “With more than 600 dead and still counting, the two-week manslaughter in Gaza has pushed more pressing upheavals in Iraq and Syria on the back burner. Israeli intransigence has no limits. Moreover, the inherent policy of Israel to make Palestinians bleed and grab their lands has hindered resolution of disputes in the Middle East to this day, and no amount of honest brokerage has succeeded in setting in a thaw.”

The sense that the media cannot focus on more than one conflict at a time is clear in the Peninsula’s recent editorial, which takes aim at the reluctance of Western powers to tackle the Syrian crisis: “It seems the global media can handle only a single conflict. As fighting rages in Gaza, with Israel continuing to rain bombs on innocent Palestinian women and children, another conflict in the region, equally disastrous in the human toll it’s taking, is being relegated to the background — in Syria....The emergence of ISIS has given a new and dangerous dimension to the conflict in Syria. If most of the world doesn’t want to see President Bashar Al Assad in power, they are also equally apprehensive of the gains made by ISIS, forcing them to choose between the two....The Obama administration and Europe should do more to address the conflict in Syria. It’s unfortunate that the president, who has devoted a large part of his schedule in recent weeks to political fundraising, doesn’t talk about Syria.”

Lest one forgets the interconnected nature of the conflicts and the spill-over effect that instability in Syria has for its immediate neighborhood, Asharq Alawsat’s Eyad Abu Shakra presents a very bleak picture of the future of Lebanese society, buffeted as it may be by what is going on in Syria, Palestine, and Iraq: “To begin with, Lebanon has found itself embroiled, against its will, in the conflict Syria’s president, Bashar Al-Assad, is using to serve his small project in Syria, which in turn is part of a more dangerous and larger regional one....The possible collapse of the Palestinian Authority, along with Hamas’s declaration of ‘victory,’ will also probably be echoed in Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps, particularly the Ain Al-Hilweh refugee camp in Sidon, the largest predominantly Sunni city in the Shi’ite-majority south. The sparks of what happened in Mosul and the surrounding Christian towns in Iraq after the attacks on the Christian towns of Syria, such as Maaloula, will also have a negative impact on the political scene in Lebanon. On top of that, the state of polarization between Sunnis and Shi’ites in the region has already done its damage as far as the Lebanese scene is concerned, producing radical militancy in the country.”

Meanwhile, in the southern Arabian Peninsula, Yemen continues to struggle against militant political forces, as well as a festering Al-Qaeda inspired insurgency, which according to Salman Aldossary is trying to replicate ISIS’s success on the peninsula: “The Houthis are nothing more than a rebel movement in Yemen that has gotten out of control, attempting to become a state within a state. Recently, the movement found the opportunity to seize more territory as a result of internal and external political circumstances too tempting to resist, occupying the city of Amran less than 30 miles north of the capital Sana’a....Yemen is in dire need of a national plan that can bring stability and restore the authority of the state. This requires retaking the areas now currently under Houthi control, dismantling the country’s branch of Al-Qaeda, and ending the influence of tribes who challenge the state’s authority.”

In Libya and Morocco, fighting between warring factions risks destabilizing the respective countries further. In Morocco, violent skirmishes between secularists and Islamists have so far failed to ignite the political scene, giving the Daily Star’s Mohammed Masbah hope that peace and stability could return in the country: “In recent months, Morocco has seen rising tension between Islamists and secularists, escalating from wars of words to physical violence. The tension culminated in the April 24 killing by left-wing extremists of a student leader of Al-Tajdid al-Tollabi (Student Renewal), a group close to the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD). The shock of the incident sparked fears that the Islamist-secularist confrontation could broaden, ultimately strengthening the regime’s position and undermining pro-democracy forces....Nonetheless, there is still a chance tensions can be de-escalated and the rift mended. Several initiatives were launched to end the violence and encourage tolerance.”

Libya might be less fortunate than its neighbor, with the Gulf Today editorial warning that unless the violence is stemmed soon, domestic political reconciliation may be unattainable: “Libya is witnessing one of its worst spasms of violence since the ouster of former leader Muammar Qadhafi in 2011. Militiamen have stepped up their assault on the main airport, leaving several dead or injured. The continuing fighting poses a major threat to the political reconciliation process in the country....Libyan government officials and activists have increasingly been targeted in the violence. Gunmen kidnapped two lawmakers in the western suburbs of Tripoli. Last Thursday, a female lawmaker in a liberal-leaning political bloc in the outgoing parliament, Fareha Al Barqawi, was killed in the eastern city of Darna. She is the second prominent woman to be assassinated in Libya in less than a month.”

The turmoil in Libya is also the subject of an editorial by the Saudi Gazette staff, who take the Libyan political elite to task for not being willing to overcome their differences: “Libya suffers from some of the same ailments as Iraq and Syria, although in a milder form. Added to these are problems which are peculiar to this North African nation. Last week's developments showed how serious and threatening these problems are. The most worrying was the fighting on Friday between two powerful militias battling for control of Tripoli’s airport. This erupted just hours after they had agreed on a truce....Squabbling among leaders only compounds Libya's security problems, as political turmoil and militia violence reinforce one another. Every country that undergoes a revolution or major political upheaval witnesses a fierce power struggle. In the case of Libya, oil money has added a sinister dimension to this struggle.”

Finally, there is Afghanistan, whose capital Kabul these days seems to be a more preferable alternative to Damascus, Baghdad or Gaza. Still, the ongoing dispute over the presidential election outcome risks making the country more unstable: “More than eight million Afghans, a staggering total of around 65 per cent registered voters, had defied Taliban threats to exercise their right to adult franchise. But the dogfight between the leading contestants has almost negated its positivity. The return of terror in Kabul and the fact that the Taliban are staking their claim once again is a grim reminder that politicians have not been able to fill the void. The daredevil attack on Kabul airport, in which a number of foreign advisers were killed, is a case in point.”


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.