US Special Operations Numbers Surge in Africa’s Shadow Wars
By Nick Turse
Africa has seen the most dramatic growth in the deployment of America’s elite troops of any region of the globe over the past decade, according to newly released numbers.
In 2006, just 1% of commandos sent overseas were deployed in the U.S. Africa Command area of operations. In 2016, 17.26% of all U.S. Special Operations forces — Navy SEALs and Green Berets among them — deployed abroad were sent to Africa, according to data supplied to The Intercept by U.S. Special Operations Command. That total ranks second only to the Greater Middle East where the U.S. is waging war against enemies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.
“In Africa, we are not the kinetic solution,” Brigadier General Donald Bolduc, the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, told African Defense, a U.S. trade publication, early this fall. “We are not at war in Africa — but our African partners certainly are.”
That statement stands in stark contrast to this year’s missions in Somalia where, for example, U.S. Special Operations forces assisted local commandos in killing several members of the militant group, al-Shabab and Libya, where they supported local fighters battling members of the Islamic State. These missions also speak to the exponential growth of special operations on the continent.
As recently as 2014, there were reportedly only about 700 U.S. commandos deployed in Africa on any given day. Today, according to Bolduc, “there are approximately 1,700 [Special Operations forces] and enablers deployed… at any given time. This team is active in 20 nations in support of seven major named operations.”
Using data provided by Special Operations Command and open source information, The Intercept found that U.S. special operators were actually deployed in at least 33 African nations, more than 60% of the 54 countries on the continent, in 2016.
“We’re supporting African military professionalization and capability-building efforts,” said Bolduc. “The [Special Operations forces] network helps create specific tailored training for partner nations to empower military and law enforcement to conduct operations against our mutual threats.”
The majority of African governments that hosted deployments of U.S. commandos in 2016 have seen their own security forces cited for human rights abuses by the U.S. State Department, including Algeria, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and Tanzania, among others.
According to data provided to The Intercept by Special Operations Command, elite U.S. troops are also deployed to Sudan, one of three nations, along with Iran and Syria, cited by the U.S. as “state sponsors of terrorism.”
“U.S. [Special Operations forces] have occasionally met with U.S. State Dept. and interagency partners in Sudan to discuss the overall security situation in the region,” Africa Command spokesperson Chuck Prichard wrote in an email.
Special Operations Command spokesman Ken McGraw added, “Their visit had nothing to do with Sudan’s government or military.”
EU wants to keep its status as one of Africa’s largest trading partners
By Olivier Caslin, The Africa Report, 29 July 2020
Contrary to popular belief, the EU remains Africa’s leading economic partner.
Although the pace of the partnership may not be to the same levels as that with Beijing; Brussels is still comfortably ahead in the race.
And that rhythm is maintained precisely to accelerate the pace and “reverse the narrative”, explains a European official on why the last two Commissions have attempted to fine-tune the financial instruments at their disposal in order to implement the Community’s external action policy.
57% of the EU, compared to 10% of China
In 2018, the EU made available more than 74 billion euros from all mechanisms and all countries combined, representing 57% of the total amount invested in cooperation, compared to just 10% from China. And yet very few know about this discrepancy.
So in an effort to bring about some coherence as requested by the “Committee of the Wise ” in December 2019, and to weave “this new partnership with Africa”, the Commission has taken up the proposal made in June 2018 to group its financial instruments for external cooperation into a single one.
If its principle were to be ratified during the current negotiations on the 2021-2027 Community budgets, this new Neighbourhood, Development Cooperation and International Cooperation Instrument (Ndici) would have a global envelope of €32 billion for sub-Saharan Africa, plus 22 billion euros for the neighbourhood policy, which concerns the north of the continent.
Arm wrestling between the EIB and the EBRD
This possible reorganisation of funds has already rekindled the old institutional quarrel between the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) that some dream about of putting to rest with the creation of a “European super-development bank”, also suggested by the Wise ones.
The arrival of such a financial arm would make it possible to strengthen the external dimension of the ambitious European Investment Plan (EIP), adopted in 2017 by the Juncker Commission, which for the first time, places the private sector at the top of the agenda.
In addition to helping improve the business climate in the partner countries, the EIP provides the community guarantee for projects supported by the development agencies of the various member countries and by the international financial institutions. With a start-up fund of €4.1 billion as of this year, it should make it possible to mobilise up to €44 billion.
Partnership of equals
October was meant to be the 6th EU-AU summit , intended to confirm a renewed partnership between Europe and Africa. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis has disrupted the schedule, along with relations between Brussels and Addis-Ababa.
True to its agenda, the EU had planned to dedicate 2020 to its diplomatic, political, economic and cultural relations with Africa. The new Commission took office on 1 December 2019 and one week later, its German President, Ursula von der Leyen, visited Addis-Ababa to remind her counterpart in the AU Commission, Moussa Faki, how much “the African continent matters to the EU”.
On 13 March, Josep Borrell, Vice-President of the Commission and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, presented the new European strategy for Africa, intended to rejuvenate the previous strategy dating from 2007.
Just before this communication, some twenty Commissioners had made an unprecedented trip to the Ethiopian capital to enquire about African expectations and proposals. The negotiations promised to last throughout the summer before an agreement emerged in the autumn and a “new partnership of equals” was adopted in October at the 6th EU-AU summit in Brussels.
It was hoped the year would end on a high with the signing of the Africa-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) agreements following more than 10 years of tough negotiations.
The deal was intended to follow on from the Cotonou agreement, signed in 2000 between the EU and 79 countries.
Then along came coronavirus
The COVID-19 crisis inevitably altered the European schedule thereby changing the priorities of both partners.
The epicentre of the health crisis in April, this post-Brexit EU had to deal with its own emergency situation, together with some of its internal principles of solidarity being called into question by certain Member States.
Planned meetings were cancelled one after another, and although the number of video-conferences increased, “discussions are not moving forward”, said one African negotiator, with noted regret. To the point where those at the headquarters of both the EU and the AU must have wondered, “is it really necessary to hold a summit that would have only symbolic value?”
For now, the subject remains taboo in Brussels, where they are still awaiting the African vision to provide content for “the general framework” unveiled in the Belgian capital in March. The Commission is not letting this go: its document has lost none of its relevance, and the five main aspects of its strategy: Green transition; Digital transformation; Sustainable growth and Employment, peace and governance, migration and mobility – remain a priority on the continent.
The circumstances have stalled debate across Africa and reinforced the impression from the 2017 summit in Abidjan of a Europe disconnected from reality. It has also meant the EU has been unable to profit from the unique nature of its relations with the African continent. It has even been outdone by China, which – for a few weeks – appeared to rush to Africa’s aid while Brussels struggled to put together €15bn to meet the most urgent needs.
This ‘battle of narratives’ angered the High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell because it highlights the political limitations of the EU.
Quite rightly, Africa also intends to change its rhetoric and seems ready to take its partner at its word when it suggests moving away from its traditional donor-recipient relationship.
The African camp may not yet have presented its strategy, but it is making its arguments heard, like the creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), “which will give us the power to negotiate with all of the global partners”, believes the leadership of the AU.
Tired of waiting for the balanced partnership that Europe has promised for years, Africa could be tempted to look elsewhere.
“The EU would then risk looking like a financial backer or a security operator”, fears one of its diplomats; an unthinkable outcome to Ursula von der Leyen who will have to persuade the Member States and the Community institution to grant her the means “to do more for Africa”. That is if Europe does not want to see someone else see do it in its place.
BELGRADE -Roma people in Europe face widespread discrimination in many areas of life, including housing and health. In this opinion piece, Francoise Jacob, the UN Resident Coordinator in Serbia, explains how the UN is helping Roma communities, many of which have no access to safe water or electricity, to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first time I met Roma people in the Western Balkan region was in 1999, while I was working in Montenegro. I had just come out of a few hard years in South Sudan and Rwanda, and I was looking forward to coming closer to home.
I was working for an NGO and spent my days in the Roma camp outside of the town of Podgorica, where thousands of people were struggling to make a living. Despite the tensions, past and recent, and the lack of many things, the camp was not a sad place, somehow.
I remember being amazed by the incredible diversity of facial features in that community, feeling sometimes like I was in an international airport with people coming from around the world. I remember thinking the history of these people is on their face. Many families had similar stories and ancestry, but others recalled different paths, India, the Middle East, northern Africa.
I could see the camp as a lake, where different rivers had converged, over the centuries; and the lake was tempted between remaining a lake or turning back into a river.
We used to sit with Roma women, and share stories. After a while, they read my future in the coffee grounds, and of course, it involved love.
We probably were working on needs assessment or something like that, but I just remember the two things that all women kept mentioning to me: they wanted better teeth (their teeth were damaged quickly due to poor nutrition and hygiene conditions), and they wanted nail polish. They were 15, 35, 50-year-old, and in the midst of chaos and despair, they wanted beauty, and love.
This was one of these moments that captured the reality of inequalities: not just a sophisticated macro-economic concept, but something people experience as individuals, something which prevents them from fulfilling their potential and their dreams, in whatever shape and scope.
A year later, I met them again. In Gujarat, India, in the wake of the 2001 devastating earthquake. There, they are called Kuchis, the nomadic tribes of India and Afghanistan. Same faces, same stories, same music. Same extraordinary resilience within different chaos. The first migrants.
Addressing the needs of the most vulnerable Roma communities in Serbia
I meet Roma families now again, in Serbia, in my position of the UN Resident Coordinator in Serbia, in the peak of the COVID-19 crisis. According to the official data, there are at least 150,000 Roma people living in Serbia, though unofficial figures point this number may be significantly higher.
During the first three months of the UN response to COVID-19, our teams, along with government counterparts, identified that tens of thousands of Roma lacked basic access to safe water and electricity, which is a serious health risk in the time of a pandemic, besides being a threat to life and human dignity.
We assessed humanitarian needs in 500 substandard Roma settlements (out of over 760 estimated settlements) and quickly started acting. In close cooperation with the Serbian Red Cross at the local level and many other local stakeholders, the UN has provided assistance packages and tailor-made health messages to thousands of Roma families at risk.
The UN also put in place assistance so that Roma children could attend some form of remote education, in communities where access to the internet and to computer is extremely limited.
Eighty-two Roma health mediators in 70 municipalities switched to telephone consultations. In just a few weeks' they reached 9,260 Roma families, advised over 4,500 persons on preventive measures, and referred over 100 persons to COVID-19 testing centres.
For a long period of time, Roma people in Serbia have been structurally neglected, which resulted in inadequate housing, unequal access to education for Roma children and unequal position in the open labour market.
Roma communities face multiple risks of discrimination and marginalization: Roma women and girls are traditionally engaged in early marriages, social and family neglect; Roma children consistently work in informal, dangerous labour, and Roma Internally Displaced Person (IDPs) are amongst the most destitute people in the region. In the months and years to come, as a response to COVID-19 threats and beyond, the UN will continue to work with Roma communities and assist the government in adopting national policies that are in line with human rights standards. We will also continue to work on building capacities of Roma civil society for effective advocacy and human rights monitoring.
In the true spirit of Leave No One Behind, it is our duty to ensure that this particular group of people gets a fair deal in the face of COVID-19 and the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and blossom on their own path. I hope that we will succeed!
Who are the Roma?
- “Roma” is used to describe a number of sub-groups, such as Sinti, Kalé, and Gitano, who live in several European countries. Formerly nomadic, the majority are now sedentary.
- Roma have been described as “the world's most populous marginalized community”. They have been persecuted for hundreds of years and, during the Second World War, hundreds of thousands were murdered by the Nazi regime.
- Roma Holocaust Remembrance Day is marked annually on 2 August. This year, Fernand de Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, issued a reminder that, nearly eight decades on, hatred, exclusion and vilification of the Roma still persist today in many parts of the world.
MADRID - Millions of jobs could be lost in an industry that provides high levels of employment.
Less developed economies could be hit particularly hard.
However, some regions – particularly the Middle East – are forecast to recover more rapidly.
Experts say the crisis offers an opportunity to rebuild global tourism in a more sustainable way.
COVID-19 has closed hotels and grounded planes for many weeks. Now the human cost of this standstill is coming into focus.
Between 100 and 120 million jobs in tourism are at risk as a result of the collapse in demand for international travel, predicts the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
In March, the World Travel and Tourism Council forecast that international travel could fall by up to 25% this year; the UNWTO now anticipates a 60-80% decline. When and where the industry recovers will depend largely on when governments ease restrictions.
But while the UNWTO warns the crisis could threaten progress on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for tourism, others in the industry say there is now an opportunity to rebuild in new, more sustainable ways.
The coronavirus pandemic is “the worst crisis that international tourism has faced since records began (1950),” according to the UNWTO.
Globally, tourist arrivals were down by 22% in the first three months of the year, collapsing by 57% in March as lockdowns spread. That's some 67 million lost passengers.
The bill for disruption in these first three months is estimated to be around $80 billion in lost tourist receipts – valuable exports which are a much-needed source of income for many nations.
Asia and the Pacific region has been hit hardest, with 33 million fewer arrivals, followed by Europe. The Middle East appears to have been least impacted so far.
There are now “millions of jobs at risk in one of the most labour-intensive sectors of the economy,” says UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. Developing economies are expected to suffer the most.
The importance of timing
So how severe is that risk? The UNWTO outlines three scenarios – all with big impacts for the global travel and tourism industry.
The lightest impact is based on the gradual opening of international borders and easing of travel restrictions in early July. This would result in a 58% annual cut in visitor numbers.
Easing restrictions in early September will produce a bigger fall, at 70%. And if restrictions aren’t loosened until early December, that could reach 78%.
The timing means the difference between the loss of $910 billion or $1.2 trillion in export revenues, and a loss of between 850 million to 1.1 billion international tourists.
What these figures make clear is that whenever restrictions are eased, large impacts are now unavoidable. The real cost to employment is already beginning to be felt, with airlines including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic announcing thousands of job losses.
Despite the economic burden of COVID-19 restrictions, demand will return, says the UNWTO. The questions are when – and where.
The most likely scenario is varying degrees of recovery in different regions at overlapping times.
While there are likely to be signs of recovery by the final quarter of 2020, the UNWTO’s Panel of Experts survey thinks the bulk of improvements will not come until next year.
The experts forecast the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and Asia and the Pacific are likely to experience some recovery this year – with the Americas most likely to take longer.
Bouncebacks could vary by sector: domestic demand is expected to recover faster than international demand, and leisure travel – especially visiting friends and relatives – should rebound sooner than business travel.
Building back better
This unprecedented challenge to the travel and tourism sector puts livelihoods at risk, but also “threatens to roll back progress made in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” according to the UNWTO.
The agency has been promoting improving the sustainability of tourism on a range of levels – from gender equality to clean water and sanitation – by 2030.
However, with social distancing upending the mass tourism paradigm, some are now wondering if COVID-19 could present an opportunity for a more responsible way of travelling.
“I don’t think that ‘where shall we go in Europe for the weekend?’ approach is going to come back in the same casual manner,” Tony Wheeler, co-founder of the travel publisher Lonely Planet, tells British newspaper the Financial Times. Others are more cautious in their predictions.
“If there is an opportunity for the industry to redirect itself and change the face of future holiday products, it is now,” says tourism market researcher Ulf Sonntag in German media outlet Deutsche Welle.
“But whether we have really moved away from mass tourism as we knew it, after the coronavirus crisis remains to be seen.”
PARIS - The OECD Sovereign Borrowing Outlook provides regular updates on trends and developments associated with sovereign borrowing requirements, funding strategies, market infrastructure and debt levels from the perspective of public debt managers.
The Outlook makes a policy distinction between funding strategy and borrowing requirements. The central government marketable gross borrowing needs, or requirements, are calculated on the basis of budget deficits and redemptions.
The funding strategy entails decisions on how borrowing needs are going to be financed using different instruments and which distribution channels are being used.
This edition reviews developments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic for government borrowing needs, funding conditions and funding strategies in the OECD area, updating 2020 estimates released prior to the outbreak.
It examines debt issuance trends for government securities in emerging market and developing economies since 2020, and presents novel insights on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on issuance conditions in these economies.
It then discusses how debt management offices can adapt their governance practices to prioritise and deal with the aggravated operational and market risks presented by the COVID-19 crisis.
Lost in the Woods: A Camp David Retrospective
By Aaron David Miller, Carnegie Middle East Center, 13 July 2020
Twenty years after Camp David, a one-time negotiator reflects on what was achieved at the historic presidential summit.
If you take US Route 77 out of Thurmont, Maryland, a small town nestled in the eastern foothills of the Catoctin Mountains, five miles or so up the road you will find yourself very near Camp David. It is not visible from the road and very easy to get lost. It gets dark in a way it does not get in Washington, DC, and the road is winding and narrow. And one cool night in July 2000, travelling to a historic Israeli-Palestinian presidential summit, we had clearly missed a turn somewhere.
We stopped at a park ranger station, only to find it closed. There was a pay phone, so I called the U.S. Department of State’s Operations Center and we finally got both our bearings and good directions. I am not superstitious by nature, but I kidded my colleague, the U.S. lead negotiator Dennis Ross, that if we could not find Camp David, how would we even know what to do once we got there? Indeed, as the State Department’s deputy Middle East coordinator for negotiations, I would later think about our lost-in-the woods experience more than once as we struggled to find a successful U.S. negotiating strategy at the summit.
Twenty years ago this week, former U.S. president Bill Clinton brought then Palestinian Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat and then Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak to Camp David in search of a conflict-ending accord. It was only the second time in forty years of U.S. peacemaking that a U.S. president would take such a risk.
The first summit—former U.S. president Jimmy Carter’s September 1978 meeting with former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and then Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin—laid the groundwork for their historic peace treaty six months later. Yet any optimism would soon fade. Our summit would not only fail but would be followed by a second intifada and a hellish descent into terror and violence far removed from the promise of what we hoped to achieve diplomatically that summer. Indeed, today the so-called peace process lies broken and bloodied, trapped between U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace plan, which is clearly not ready for prime time, and the very real possibility of an Israeli annexation that might bury the peace process for good.
The Camp David summit—ill-conceived and ill-advised—should probably never have taken place. It did only because Barak, fresh from repeated failures in negotiations with Syria, wanted to use the last six months of Clinton’s term either to reach a deal with Arafat or expose him as an unreliable partner. Clinton initially resisted, but in truth, ever since the assassinated Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin had handed him a piece of history with the signing of the Oslo accords, the then-president was determined to redeem Rabin’s legacy and his own. Arafat, who was in no hurry to reach any kind of agreement, had warned us in June that a premature summit might lead to an explosion. But Clinton promised he would not be blamed if things did go kaput. Accompanying U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright to the helipad, the PLO leader looked like he had swallowed the canary. “I am at Camp David,” he said proudly as he rode off on a golf cart, his kafiyyah flapping in the breeze.
The presidential retreat at Camp David was clearly the right place to hold a momentous summit. It was beautiful, secluded (we blocked cell phone use) and informal. Jackie Kennedy had described the rustic cabins’ décor as “early Holiday Inn.” Unlike in the frigid atmosphere of many of the Israel-Syria negotiations, the Israeli and Palestinian delegations ate and socialized together. There were movies—why we showed Gladiator and the World War II submarine movie U-571 at a peace summit I do not know—bowling, ping pong, and wild rides on golf carts. There were comedic moments, such as when Arafat, watching the Major League Baseball All Star Game, asked in the fifth inning when the game would start. And there was even a crisis when Barak nearly choked to death on a peanut and was saved by the youngest member of his delegation.
We had everything we needed at Camp David—except the key ingredients to make the summit succeed. Clinton, who was at this point in his presidency looking for legacy, realized the odds of success were very long. Indeed, during the second briefing before the summit he made clear that whatever the outcome, trying and failing was better than not trying at all. I was moved at the time, though I have since come to realize that failure costs. The old college try mantra is more appropriate for the University of Michigan football team than for the foreign policy of the world’s greatest power.
In preparing Clinton for his Camp David rendezvous, we had spent considerable time focusing on Carter’s earlier attempt. But nobody was really interested in history. Had we taken those lessons of the 1978 summit to heart, we would have seen that our summit had absolutely no chance of success. Carter succeeded for three reasons: he had strong leaders who were in a hurry, a doable agreement, and, as a strong mediator, he ran the summit. We lacked the first two; as for the third, the summit ran us.
First, unlike Begin and Sadat, Barak and Arafat were prisoners, not masters, of their politics. Barak worried that Arafat would pocket any concessions he made. He was constantly looking over his shoulder at the polls in Israel, and he literally saw his government begin to come apart while at the summit. Arafat came to Camp David to survive, not to make a deal. I heard him say several times, referring to his funeral, “you will not walk behind my coffin.” He was suspicious of Barak’s capacity to deliver. Feeling resentful of being ignored for months as Barak pursued a deal with Syria, and wedded to positions he would not concede, he was in no hurry to conclude anything.
Second, the issues at Carter’s earlier Camp David were tough to resolve: withdrawal from the Sinai peninsula, evacuating settlements, and a peace treaty. But the issues at the second Camp David were mission impossibles. Issues like borders, security, refugees, and of course Jerusalem’s ownership were all dealbreakers, and the gaps between the two sides were Grand Canyon–like in scale. Barak went further than any Israeli prime minister had gone before, but his proposals were nowhere close to what Arafat needed, even if the Palestinian leader had been interested in closing a deal. On Jerusalem there was no way Arafat could have made any concessions without Arab state backing. But given Barak’s sensitivity to leaks, we ensured there was no Arab state involvement. Clinton’s short phone calls to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to brief them on U.S. proposals about Jerusalem were hardly serious substitutes.
Third, there was the matter of the U.S. role at the summit. Carter ran his summit while keeping control of a negotiating text that went through more than twenty drafts. Our summit ran us, or more precisely ran over us. We could have managed things better. After all, this was our house, our invitation, our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to score a historic breakthrough. Granted, none was possible given the positions and personae of the two main actors. But our performance would have extinguished any chance, had there been one. We really were lost in the woods.
The mistakes were numerous. We needed a comprehensive package of answers to all the issues to have any chance of making headway. But given our unwillingness to adopt independent bridging proposals, particularly those that departed from Barak’s, we were stuck. Our no-surprise policy with Israel, which in essence meant showing everything first to Israel, and Clinton’s unwillingness, in his words, to “jam” Barak, stripped away any hope of being an effective mediator. By day four—when we gave Barak a paper he forced us to amend—for all practical purposes the summit came to an end.
Without a negotiating text that we controlled, there really was no organizing road map for the summit. It was like bumper cars in an amusement park, as then Clinton special assistant Rob Malley said. Every time we encountered an obstacle, we would go off in another direction. Add to that the fact that the president left for the G8 in Japan in the middle of the summit (thanks to our unrealistic hope of forcing a deadline for decisions), no Arab state support for Palestine on Jerusalem, and totally unrealistic expectations on what the Palestinians needed to close a deal, and you have a prescription for a predictable failure.
In December 2000, shortly before leaving office, Clinton would put on the table a set of negotiating parameters far closer to what might have been a basis for a serious negotiation. Had we done this at the summit, the outcome might have been different. But given where we were in July, Clinton would never have offered such parameters; Barak would never accepted them; and more than likely—as he did that December—Arafat simply would have said no, or nothing at all.
Clinton’s summit was not a complete waste of time. Looking back two decades later, I have come to understand that Camp David was far more than just another failed U.S. effort in the elusive search for Israeli-Palestinian peace. If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is ever resolved—and that is a huge if—the discussions at Camp David and the December 2000 Clinton parameters might well become an integral part of the deal.
And yet, the summit was also a cruel touchstone of sorts that taught lessons about when to convene a presidential summit and, more importantly, when not to; how the US should behave as an effective mediator and what not to do; and perhaps above all, the critical importance of respecting issues such as Jerusalem’s ownership, rather than assuming they could be easily solved through clever U.S. fixes. Far from offering hope that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was ripe for resolution in the hands of a committed U.S. president, the Camp David experience showed precisely why it was not.
The politically inconvenient truth is that the three factors necessary to have any chance of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—strong leaders who are eager to get things done fast, a workable deal, and effective U.S. mediation—have never been present. Not at Camp David, not in the twenty years of subsequent peacemaking, and certainly not now. Indeed, what we have witnessed during the Trump years is a dystopic world where leaders are neither strong, nor interested, nor ready to rise to any occasion other than the keeping of their own seats. It is a parallel universe where a doable deal exists only in the minds of would-be peacemakers who will not abandon their own illusions or who propose other illusions, like one state where everyone has equal rights and lives happily ever after. In this world, the United States’ image as a credible mediator has been hopelessly blackened by an administration whose approach to solving the Israeli-Palestinian problem is tethered to Trump’s reelection and the giving of all the honey to Israel—and nothing but vinegar and ashes to the Palestinians.
The illusions I held about peacemaking are now long gone. But somehow, an illogical, almost irrational hope in the future remains. And even that seems now as fleeting and fragile as the memories of a historic summit twenty years ago.
Lebanon: All Fall Down
By MAHA YAHYA, Carnegie Middle East Center, 23 July 2020
Today, four of the five pillars that had sustained Lebanon are collapsing, creating fears for the future.
Lebanese politicians are pushing their country over the precipice. Eight months into a complex crisis that is threatening Lebanon’s foundations, they have yet to take steps to stem the collapse. On the contrary, they have pursued a malign business-as-usual approach as they hedge their bets on a system that is no more.
Today, four of the five key pillars that have long sustained Lebanon are crumbling. First, the power-sharing arrangement that has characterized the country since its foundation is no longer working and is characterized by persistent and debilitating blockages. This arrangement rests on an equitable distribution of government posts among the country’s different sects. It was also based on a double negative of a “no to the East” and “a no to the West,” whereby Christians would not seek Western involvement in Lebanon’s affairs, and Muslims would not seek Arab intervention.
The power-sharing system is in no danger of immediate collapse. However, the last time it was contested, Lebanon entered into a fifteen-year civil war between 1975 and 1990. The Taif Accord, the settlement ending that conflict, foresaw Lebanon’s transition to a civil state in which sectarian representation in parliament would end. In exchange, all sects would be represented in a new Senate, whose authority would be limited to deciding on major national issues. Yet those parts of the accord were never implemented. Today, sectarian governance has become far more entrenched in state institutions, making change extremely difficult.
Second, Lebanon’s role as a merchant republic, based primarily on banking and services, is at an end. In 2018, financial services contributed 8.5 percent of GDP and the tourism sector (mainly hotels and restaurants) 3.1 percent. Today, losses in the banking sector are estimated at $83 billion. In a country that imports almost everything it consumes, informal capital controls and the cancellation of lines of credit to businesses show a banking system that no longer functions.
Similarly, around 800 tourism-related establishments closed permanently between October 2019 and January 2020. Tourism and related services employed 25 percent of Lebanon’s labor force, but some 25,000 individuals lost their jobs in the sector during that same period. It’s likely that this figure has increased because of Covid-19 containment measures. The scale of the crisis is threatening the basic integrity of Lebanon’s economy. Experts now estimate the economy will contract by 25 percent in real terms over the next two years.
This economic collapse and the ensuing destruction of wealth is wiping out the country’s third pillar, namely the middle class, historically one of the most affluent, resourceful, and professional in the region. Lebanese society is being rapidly impoverished, while the youngest and brightest seek opportunities elsewhere. One in three Lebanese have reportedly lost their jobs, and many others are likely to be pushed into the informal sector. The Lebanese pound has lost some 80 percent of its value on the black market.
To cite but one example of the effects of this, the average annual salary of an assistant professor at the American University of Beirut is LL94 million. This used to be equivalent to $63,000 a year, or around $5,000 per month. At today’s exchange rate of $1 = LL8.000, the monthly salary has dropped to $11,000 a year, or $900 a month.
The middle class is swelling the ranks of the poor, with the World Bank estimating that around 50 percent of Lebanese now live below the poverty line, while thousands are going hungry. Clothes, food, and fuel are becoming unaffordable as year-on-year purchasing power has been halved, with inflation reaching 90 percent in June 2020. The price of basic goods increased by around 55 percent in May alone. All this represents an epic collapse with a generational impact.
A fourth pillar of the Lebanese system, namely freedoms, is also being eroded. Since independence, Lebanon has been renown for freedom of speech and a flourishing press. By the end of the 1940s the country was publishing 39 dailies and 137 periodicals in three languages. In its heyday Lebanon acted as a safe haven for dissidents and refugees, boasting a cultural and intellectual life unparalleled in the region, a role it continued to play until recently, albeit much less effectively.
The decline in fundamental freedoms and the repression of free speech is apparent in the alarming increase and systematic targeting of activists, dissidents, and refugees over the past few years, with the help of more aggressive security services and a pliant judiciary. While Lebanon’s constitution upholds freedom of speech within the bounds of the law, its penal code criminalizes defamation against political and religious officials. Since October 17 at least 60 individuals have been arrested or summoned for interrogation because of things they posted on social media. More recently, there were reports that the country’s top prosecutor ordered a security agency to investigate social media posts offensive to the president. In response, a coalition of fourteen organizations has been formed to defend freedoms.
Finally, the Lebanese system’s fifth pillar, the army and the internal security forces, is also feeling the impact of the economic crisis. Like all Lebanese, military and security personnel have seen their incomes and pensions disappear. The salary of the army’s commander has declined in dollar terms to around $750 a month, while that of a colonel has gone down to $300 and a soldier to $150. The personnel may be faring better than those who have lost their jobs, but they no longer enjoy many of the benefits they previously did. In an environment of heightened tensions, economic pressure on the military and security sector will only grow. More worrisome, this is happening as crime rates have risen in recent months.
In response to this dire situation, national-level decisionmaking has been slow, with politicians displaying callous disregard for the country. They continue to seek short-term gains and are looking for ways to hang on to power, plunging Lebanon deeper into crisis. By dragging their feet they are imposing further losses on depositors, who cannot withdraw their U.S. dollars from banks except in pounds, and at an official rate far lower than the black market rate.
Agreement on an economic rescue plan is critical for unlocking desperately needed financial assistance. Yet, the government and parliament are still bickering over the size of Lebanon’s financial losses as the government negotiates with the International Monetary Fund. Rather than introduce reforms, the politicians have continued to behave much as they did in the past. This was evident in recent civil service appointments that privileged political clientelism over merit. Without reforms, external support will not materialize.
Meanwhile, political parties are returning to their sectarian reflexes, fracturing the Lebanese polity even more. Trends visible on the ground point to increasing fragmentation, with villages, towns, and neighborhoods initiating self-protection mechanisms. Against the background of Covid-19, increasing crime rates, and collapsing state institutions, parties have revived their protection rackets and are providing food and medicine to constituents in need. This is happening even as many Lebanese seek a nonsectarian state that upholds their rights as citizens, not merely as members of a sect.
Lebanon’s problems can only be addressed if its political leaders place the country’s, and their own, long-term interests above short-term gains. That means an agreement to shoulder some of the losses stemming from the crisis and bringing in a government capable of envisioning and implementing an immediate stabilization program and a medium- to long-term recovery program. So far, however, these do not seem to be priorities for Lebanon’s political leadership.
Calibrating the Response: Turkey’s ISIS Returnees
International Crisis Group, REPORT 258 / EUROPE & CENTRAL ASIA 29 JUNE 2020
Turkey, like many countries, must figure out how to handle thousands of citizens coming home from jihadist battlefields abroad. None has mounted a domestic attack since 2017, but the danger is not gone. Authorities should consider adding enhanced social programs to their law-and-order approach.
What’s new? Turkey has to deal with thousands of citizens who travelled to join ISIS and have now returned. Of the few convicted, many will soon be released from jail. Others are under surveillance. The fate of the rest is murky.
Why does it matter? ISIS’s diminished stature and measures adopted by the Turkish authorities have spared Turkey from ISIS attacks for more than three years. But while the threat should not be overplayed, it has not necessarily disappeared. That Turkish returnees turn their back on militancy is important for national and regional security.
What should be done? Ankara’s approach toward returnees or others suspected of ties to jihadism relies mostly on surveillance and detention. The government could consider also offering support for returnees’ families, alternatives for youngsters at risk of being drawn into militancy and support for returnees released after serving ISIS-related jail time.
Turkey, like many countries, faces a challenge in dealing with citizens who travelled to join the Islamic State (ISIS) and have now come home. Thousands of returnees have crossed back into Turkey. Some were involved in ISIS attacks between 2014 and 2017 on Turkish soil that killed nearly 300 civilians. As the authorities stepped up counter-terrorism efforts, some returnees came under tight surveillance. Some were prosecuted and jailed. Those who returned early on are more likely to have remained undetected. The collapse of ISIS’s “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq has sapped its ability to inspire and mobilise. Turkish clampdowns have also helped spare the country from ISIS attacks for more than three years. Still, scant data exists on the diverse trajectories of former ISIS members. Ankara’s reliance on surveillance and detention to disrupt ISIS is resource-intensive and may not be fool-proof. The government could explore supplementary policies that offer help for returnees’ families, alternatives for youths at risk of being drawn into militancy and support for those released after serving time for ISIS-related crimes.
The profiles of Turkish citizens who joined ISIS varied widely and so did their motivations. They included veterans of past wars, some of whom were key recruiters; ultra-conservative Sunni Muslims, drawn by the prospect of life under strict Islamic rule; Islamist Kurds pitted against the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which has carried out an insurgency in Turkey for more than 35 years and is designated a “terrorist” group by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union, and its Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG); and youth seeking glory, wealth or “purification” of petty crime or drugs. Some returned to the social circles from which they were recruited. Others, rejected by their old friends and families, blended into Turkey’s big cities.
Turkish authorities’ understanding of the ISIS danger has evolved. At first, like counterparts in other countries, they underestimated the threat that returnees could pose and in 2014-2015 remained largely ambivalent toward ISIS recruitment. That perception began to shift over 2016, especially after an ISIS attack in May that year on Gaziantep province’s police headquarters, one in a spate of sixteen attacks between 2014 and 2017 that cost hundreds of civilians their lives, but the first that appeared to target Turkish state institutions. The most recent ISIS attack on Turkish soil was a shooting at a nightclub on 1 January 2017 that killed 39 people. Since then, security agencies have kept ISIS in check, foiling plots through surveillance, detention and tighter border security. But the threat has not entirely disappeared, as Turkish officials themselves admit. Turkish policies may have pushed returnees and what is left of their networks further underground. Even a few individuals slipping through the cracks can be a serious menace if they recruit, finance or plan future attacks.
Turkey faces challenges with prosecuting and incarcerating returnees similar to those faced by other countries, but there are also unique aspects. Turkish officials still view ISIS as less threatening to national security than the PKK insurgency or what they call the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation” (“FETÖ”), a transnational movement Ankara accuses of infiltrating the Turkish bureaucracy and carrying out the July 2016 coup attempt. Suspects accused of affiliation with the latter two groups face tougher prosecution and sentencing. Prosecutors and judges largely assume that women who went to Syria or Iraq to live under ISIS’s rule were simply obeying their husbands and had little agency. Lawyers for the victims of some ISIS attacks suggest that with more resources, investigations might have uncovered the masterminds of the strikes, rather than just the foot soldiers who carried them out. If convicted at all, ISIS returnees tend to be jailed for three or four years for membership in a terrorist group. Hundreds are due for release soon. In prisons, some may have accrued connections and possibly also status in militant circles.
At the same time, Turkish state institutions have only recently begun contemplating what they call “de-radicalisation” or “rehabilitation” efforts – broadly speaking, policies designed to move former militants away from jihadist ideology and violence. For the most part, the authorities rely on surveillance – monitoring those they believe may pose a threat – combined with short detentions designed to scare anyone whom they think is poised to join militant circles away from doing so. To the extent that other policies exist, their goals are vague, and the approaches of the ministries involved uncoordinated. Social workers, police, imams, prison wardens and local officials lack specialised training and guidelines on how to deal with returnees and their families. Civil society actors are largely absent and officials reluctant to work with outsiders. Mid-level officials in Ankara express the need for options beyond security measures.
A number of steps could help. First, Turkey should differentiate between ISIS, PKK, “FETÖ” and ultra-leftist groups, each of which poses a different type of challenge to the Turkish state. Lumping them together muddles policy and hinders efforts to design an approach tailored to the jihadist threat. The government should ensure that overstretched judges, courts and prosecutors have the resources to investigate crimes by ISIS recruiters and returnees. Prison authorities and other agencies might share information on convicts jailed for ISIS-related crimes before their release to ensure they get appropriate support as they adapt to life outside bars. The authorities should consider what help they can offer families who seek aid in deterring youngsters from turning to militancy. They might also offer those young people extracurricular activities or jobs as alternatives. It is true that such programs have a mixed and often contentious record in other countries. But if the authorities are responding to families’ demands and are sensitive to their concerns, policies along these lines might still be valuable.
Despite the lull in attacks, the evolution of the Syria and Iraq conflicts could yet present Turkey with new challenges related to returnees, particularly if ISIS resurges in either country or battle-hardened fighters cross back from war zones in Syria’s north. Turkey has kept the threat at bay for more than three years with an approach based largely on surveillance and detentions. But a strategy toward returnees that combines security measures with social programs helping former ISIS members steer clear of militancy and supporting their families might over time be more sustainable and relieve some of the burden on the security services.
Istanbul/Ankara/Brussels, 29 June 2020
For the full report, visit: https://www.crisisgroup.org/europe-central-asia/western-europemediterranean/turkey/258-calibrating-response-turkeys-isis-returnees
By HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal, Global Strategy Forum Advisory Board member, who served as Crown Prince of Jordan from 1965-1999 alongside his brother, the late King Hussein of Jordan, No 18, June 2020
In 1947, the UN had passed Resolution 181, which clearly divided Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Israeli. Sadly, Israel - almost immediately after coming into being - adopted a policy of intimidation aimed at the civilian population of those areas allocated to Palestine, resulting in the Nakba, the catastrophe which led to the fleeing of the inhabitants of those areas to safe haven in neighbouring countries, and adding further to Palestinian diaspora.
As a consequence of the Israeli aggression, the Palestinian people asked Jordan to intervene to protect and ensure their territory. The Arab Legion, largely commanded by British officers, secured East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Israeli occupation. This led to the Rhodes General Armistice of April 1949. Subsequently, at the Jericho meeting in 1950, Palestinian notables requested the “Constitutional Union” of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the West Bank and the Old City of Jerusalem.
The agreement was that this should prevail until such time as a Palestinian state could come to fruition, without prejudice to the inherent Palestinian right to Self-Determination.
It would be useful to recall that The Partition Plan Resolution of the General Assembly of 1947, upon which Israel relied for its declaration of statehood on the 14th of May 1948, was meaningless unless Israel accepted the UN Charter under which the territory and people of Palestine were already subject to the legal imprint of Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, the Mandate for Palestine 1922, and the UN Charter of 1945. The Charter expressly included “the principle of self-determination of peoples”.
Israel’s attitude to the UN Charter is consistently selective, invoking what assists its case, and ignoring what destroys it. In November 1947, my grandfather King Abdullah I wrote in an article in the American Magazine: “We Arabs ask no favours. We ask only that you know the full truth, not half of it. We ask only that when you judge the Palestine question, you put yourself in our place.”
The full article can be found on my late brother King Hussein’s website:http://www.kinghussein.gov.jo/kabd_eng.html.These words were written on the eve of the 53rd anniversary of the 1967 war.
Averting an Egyptian Military Intervention in Libya
International Crisis Group, 27 July 2020
On 20 July, Egyptian legislators authorised sending combat troops to Libya, where Cairo’s ally Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar is on the defensive. Following Turkey’s intervention on the Tripoli government’s behalf, Egypt’s involvement could escalate the war dramatically. All parties should seek a compromise.
Egypt’s threat to send its army into neighbouring Libya is a predictable and understandable but dangerous response to Turkey’s deepening military involvement that risks embroiling both countries in a costly war. Cairo has warned that it will intervene directly should Turkish-backed forces loyal to the Tripoli-based government try to retake key locations in central Libya and nearby oil installations now under the control of an Egyptian-backed rival coalition led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. As Egypt sees it, a Turkish-backed advance into central Libya would cross a red line, endangering its border and national security. Both Ankara and Cairo should take a step back and seek a settlement on the status of central Libya’s strategic sites, including its prized oil assets. Foreign capitals with close ties to both countries should help them de-escalate tensions and reach such an accommodation. The alternative is to further regionalise what has become an unwinnable war.
The latest tipping point in the six-year Libyan conflict came on the heels of the pro-Tripoli coalition’s successful counteroffensive in western Libya, made possible by support from the Turkish army and the Syrian fighters on its payroll. Ankara’s deployment came in response to a request for help from the government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj in Tripoli in early 2020. The overt nature of its intervention, sanctioned by a Turkish parliamentary vote, enabled Turkey to dispatch military assets more rapidly and with greater freedom than its regional adversaries.
Fresh from its military win, the Tripoli government is now insisting that Haftar’s troops pull back from the former Qadhafist stronghold of Sirte and the Jufra air base in central Libya, both used by Haftar’s foreign backers as operational hubs. In addition, Tripoli wants Haftar’s forces to withdraw from the nearby “oil crescent” as a precondition for a ceasefire. These requests mark a shift from the Serraj government’s previous demand that Haftar move his troops back to their pre-April 2019 positions, before the Tripoli offensive, when both the oil crescent and Jufra were still under his coalition’s control.
The explanation for this change is not hard to discern: Ankara and Tripoli now believe they can not only beat back but defeat Haftar, despite the support he enjoys from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Russia and France. Although Tripoli has nominally laid out its conditions for a ceasefire, it continues to reject political negotiations with the Haftar camp, blaming it for waging a year-long offensive that killed at least 3,000 people, both civilians and combatants. By imposing new ceasefire terms that it knows will be hard for the Haftar camp to accept, Tripoli is hoping to legitimise its refusal to negotiate.
A major driver behind a new flare-up in fighting would be the desire to control oil facilities and revenues. Haftar’s withdrawal from the oil crescent would amount to handing over the country’s main oil facilities to Tripoli. Haftar’s forces imposed a blockade on oil exports in January to protest Tripoli’s alleged misuse of oil revenues, including purportedly to fund Turkish military efforts in Libya. The blockade has almost completely halted oil exports, bringing down daily production from around one million barrels to just 100,000 barrels, and causing revenues (already affected by low international oil prices) to plummet.
For regional actors, Egypt in particular, the stakes transcend Libya and its oil sector. Their main concern is defending their vision of the regional order. Egypt and its Arab allies – Saudi Arabia (which has provided political and financial support), Jordan (under-the-radar military support) and the UAE (financial and military assistance) – oppose the presence of Turkish forces and pro-Ankara Syrian fighters in Libya and see the Syrians, in particular, as militant Islamists. Egypt considers an expanded Turkish military presence in central Libya to be a potential threat to its own national security. It fears that a Turkish-backed offensive could alter the power balance in eastern Libya, allowing pro-Tripoli forces to use this area as a staging ground for attacks inside Egypt. Egypt’s Arab allies share these views, while France is especially concerned with the conflict’s ripple effects in southern Libya, which borders Chad, an important ally.
These preoccupations have pushed Cairo to take the unprecedented step of preparing for an openly declared military intervention, rather than continuing to back Haftar’s forces covertly. Egypt did not consider taking this step even in 2015, when the Islamic State took over Sirte and established a presence in Benghazi. Cairo is now trying to match and counter Ankara, which it sees as a regional sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian government’s mortal enemy.
Egypt is relying on eastern Libya’s parallel governing institutions to provide a veneer of legitimacy for its intervention. On 13 July, the Tobruk-based House of Representatives officially asked Cairo to intervene. A few days later, President Abdelfattah al-Sisi met with a delegation of tribal leaders from eastern Libya in Cairo, who likewise called on Egypt to step in.
Tripoli slammed both appeals as illegal, pointing out that tribal leaders have no official authority and that the east-based parliament, whose active members number no more than 40 of the 200 nominal parliamentarians, held no vote on its request. Regardless, on 20 July, the Egyptian parliament responded by authorising the deployment of Egyptian troops for combat missions outside the country to defend its national security against “criminal armed militias and foreign terrorist elements”. In escalating rhetoric, the Tripoli government condemned this decision as “a hostile act and direct interference, amounting to a declaration of war”.
Military experts believe that Cairo is likely to limit its intervention to securing the border area inside Libya. It could back up such an operation with airstrikes upon pro-Tripoli forces, should they seek to advance. With Sirte located 1,000km from the Egyptian border, deploying troops to central Libya would pose significant logistical challenges for the Egyptian army, lengthening supply lines and promising only inconsistent air cover to ground troops.
A more expansive intervention should not be excluded, however, one that could expose Egyptian troops to a direct confrontation with the Turkish military and affiliated Syrian fighters in central Libya. Private military contractors of the Russian-owned Wagner company are also consolidating a presence in central Libya, reportedly operating fighter jets in Jufra and bringing in reinforcements to Sirte and the oil terminal areas in a bid to bolster the Haftar forces’ positions there.
The repercussions of a resumption of hostilities for the local civilian population would be catastrophic. The growing involvement of conventional armies raises the spectre of intensified violence, particularly in the residential areas of Sirte. Likewise, Egypt’s rumoured plan to transfer weapons to eastern Libyan tribal groups risks unleashing even more local violence and retaliatory measures against civilians. Renewed fighting in the oil crescent could also result in hard-to-reverse damage to hydrocarbon facilities; while secondary to humanitarian concerns, such damage would be worrying, as it could stanch the flow of financing critical for Libya’s long-term economic viability and standing. Finally, with Turkish and Egyptian troops potentially coming into close contact and pro-Russia private military fighters also in the fray, the risk of a wider regional confrontation looms.
All sides ought to take immediate de-escalatory steps to minimise these risks and save civilian lives. Tripoli should freeze its military advance in central Libya and pursue a negotiated agreement on Sirte and Jufra, both now under the control of pro-Haftar forces aided by Wagner fighters. In Sirte, such an accord could entail Haftar and the forces backing him withdrawing from the area, to be replaced by a limited pro-Tripoli military presence that would leave out Turkish-backed forces and hardware; in Jufra, an agreement could allow for a symbolic presence of Haftar-aligned fighters with guarantees that foreign forces currently operating there move out. This would be one step toward a partial demilitarisation of central Libya rather than the full demilitarisation that Berlin and Washington have advocated but which would be difficult to achieve.
At the same time, the sides should come to a resolution to the oil sector standoff. Egypt should seek to convince Haftar and its other regional allies to drop their demand to see profits redistributed between western, eastern and southern Libya (in the absence of a legal framework that would regulate this arrangement), and instead accept a compromise agreement put forward by the U.S., UN and Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC).
This proposal envisages reopening oil production and exports in exchange for placing future oil revenues in a NOC-held account for 120 days rather than in the Tripoli-based central bank, as a means of reassuring Haftar as to how such funds would be used. Supporters of this plan believe that the timeframe would allow for negotiating a new line-up of the central bank’s top management as a possible precursor to reunification of the bank, which split into two parallel and competing institutions after 2014. This deal would also mean that, for now, Haftar-led forces remain in charge of the sites.
Such arrangements would fall short of what each side wants, but they could pave the way for a negotiated way forward. Moreover, acceptance of these arrangements would help build much-needed confidence between the two coalitions and their respective backers. From Cairo’s perspective, conceding on Sirte and Jufra and persuading the Haftar camp to accept an oil deal would also spare Egypt and its Libyan allies from the many unknowns that a military adventure would entail. For Ankara and Tripoli, a symbolic return to Sirte and acceptance of a semi-demilitarised Jufra would guarantee that these sites would not be used for military offensives aimed at taking Tripoli or Misrata, while an oil deal would provide much-needed revenues to sustain public-sector salary payments.
As for Turkey, it should be wary of overreach. Its authorities have made clear that they will not consider Haftar, or anybody else in his camp, as negotiating partners. Instead, they say they want to restore the Tripoli government’s control over all of Libyan territory. Their strategy is wearily familiar: reestablishing their proxy’s military superiority with the aim of going back to the negotiating table from a position of strength. The problem with this approach is that the other side and its foreign backers are unlikely to accept a lopsided negotiation, as the past years of conflict and diplomacy in Libya have shown.
Eventually, a new cycle of violence almost certainly will emerge, as the opposing side tries to level the playing field by counter-escalating. Turkey should avoid falling into this trap and instead push its allies in Tripoli to accept a compromise solution on central Libya’s security arrangements and oil revenues that could lead, at a later stage, to a comprehensive military and political agreement to reunify the country.
With each new intensification of the conflict, the opportunity for compromise seems ever more remote, while the risk of a larger regional war looks ever greater. If there still is a chance to reverse course, regional actors should jointly take it – now – or find themselves mired in an endless regional confrontation.
Tunisia: In Tataouine, Socio-Economic Marginalization Is a Time Bomb
By Alessandra Bajen, Arab Reform Initiative, 24 July 2020
Despite being rich in oil and gas, Tataouine in the south of Tunisia has remained severely underdeveloped and marginalized, pushing its inhabitants, time and again, to protest for reinvestment of its wealth in infrastructure and local jobs. This paper examines the underlying drivers of the ongoing unrest in Tataouine, the heavy-handed response of the security forces, and the successive Tunisian governments’ broken pledges to address the region’s socio-economic marginalization.
After weeks of sit-ins and days of angry protests, a tense calm has returned to Tunisia's southern city of Tataouine. Local youth had resumed their protest movement in June because the government did not fulfil its commitment to implement a 2017 deal to provide jobs in oil companies and invest in infrastructure. For weeks, demonstrators blocked roads around the pumping station in El-Kamour, a town 100 Km from Tataouine, in the desert to prevent tanker trucks from entering the facility, and installed a dozen tents around Tataouine, in front of the governorate and the different delegations buildings, as well as in several districts.
On 22 June, Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh headed a ministerial meeting to look at the situation in the governorate of Tataouine after tensions between security forces and protesters escalated. Four days later, the cabinet held a special working session to tackle the economic and social demands of protesters, and on 1 July announced new measures that it said would be taken to address the situation. The unemployed of Tataouine are still waiting for concrete results, but the latest wave of social unrest is a reminder that tensions can again explode any time if the government keeps failing them.
This paper examines this recent unrest in Tataouine, its underlying drivers, the heavy-handed response of the security forces and the longstanding marginalization of the southern region, and looks at the inaction of successive post-revolution governments to address the socio-economic ills in the south.
Longstanding demands versus government’s broken pledges
The recent street protests are a continuation of the 2017 movement that blockaded the pumping station in the town of El-Kamour calling for development and for the region to benefit from oil and natural gas revenues. Sit-inners requested that 20% of these revenues be re-invested through public spending and infrastructure projects in Tataouine. After three months of pressure, the sit-in ended on 16 June 2017 when an agreement, brokered by the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), was signed between the coordination of the Kamour protests and the government.
Among its main points, the agreement stipulates that the petroleum companies with active exploration or drilling permits within the governorate will be employing 1500 local people, with an additional 1500 to be recruited by the Environment, Plantation and Gardening Company of Tataouine over 2018 and 2019. The deal also included the allocation of 80m Tunisian Dinars per year (approx. USD28m) to a special development and investment fund for the Tataouine region.
To date, residents complain that the only action taken has been the recruitment of 2,500 out of the promised total of 3,000 locals, all within the environmental company. The petroleum companies are yet to honour the agreement as they have so far not recruited anyone from the region.
Without real local economic development in Tunisia’s southernmost governorate, jobless youth are demanding the full implementation of the 2017 agreement’s terms three years later. The protest movement had started again early this year but was forced to suspend its activities in mid-March because of the nationwide lockdown measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Ismail Harabi, an active representative of the Kamour sit-in, underscored that demonstrators had already given the government “a chance” to deliver on its broken promises before the pandemic hit the country, and they retook to the streets with the start of the de-confinement after seeing no action from the executive.1
Since its launch, the Kamour movement has distinguished itself for being a politically independent force, with a decentralized, participatory approach, and concrete demands related to employment and development. The sit-in participants are mostly young men who are essentially asking for jobs. Eight protest leaders coordinate the various delegations across Tataouine governorate, although the group avoids having a hierarchical leadership structure.
The movement’s coordinating member Dhaou El Ghoul said that last month’s popular protests are just the first step in a long process intended to press the relevant authorities to act on the 2017 deal. He noted that the current moment is “decisive” and Kamour activists will not let the matter go and will stay vigilant throughout the full execution of the accord to ensure each of its provisions is carried out.2
Boubaker Souid, mayor of Tataouine, elected in 2018 on Ennahdha’s candidate list for the municipal election, proposed that the state allocates funds to job creation for unemployed youth and put in place flexible instruments to facilitate access to such funds.3 He insisted that the government needs to provide concrete solutions instead of leaving things as they are “until the situation bursts out again”. The local council elected in 2018 played an important role in conveying the protesters' voice by providing them with a platform to hold meetings inside the council’s building and participating in negotiations with the government. This was not enough to prevent another outburst, however.
Ennahdha, like the two other political parties represented at the Tunisian Assembly (Popular Front and Al Jomhury), issued statements late on 22 June to denounce the excessive use of force by the security forces and call on protesters to remain peaceful to avoid what they described as “political manipulation”. The statements also called on the government to fulfil all its 2017 promises.
Violent repression of protests by the police force
The June demonstrations had been largely peaceful until the arrest of Kamour movement’s spokesperson, Tarek Haddad, on the night of 20 June. Protesters rallied the next day to call for his release and said there would be no negotiation with the government until Haddad was freed.
In the early hours of 21 June, security forces intervened en masse to dismantle sit-in tents at the northern entrance of Tataouine city and made extensive use of tear gas against protesters who were allegedly throwing rocks and blocking roads. Ten other activists were also arrested following confrontations with the security forces.
The ministry of interior defended the security forces’ actions in a statement in which it said that a group of protesters “tried to attack the security complex in the region with Molotov cocktails”. The Tataouine governor, Adel Werghi, likewise defended the use of force and criticized the roadblocks and sit-in actions as being “outside the law”.
Between 20 and 22 June, for 72 hours non-stop the streets of Tataouine were the scene of clashes between protesters throwing stones and one group also throwing Molotov’s and the police violently beating protesters and firing large amounts of tear gas canisters against the angry crowds. Local eyewitnesses reported that tear gas spread heavily in the city centre, entered several homes with cases of suffocation being reported at the regional hospital. Such scenes of violence against protesters were unseen for years in Tunisia.
In the days that followed the scuffles, the sight of young men with bandaged arms or legs or bruises on their body became a familiar scene in the city.
The UGTT branch in Tataouine denounced the "excessive and unjustified use of force" against protesters.
Local youths slammed the police for bringing “unprovoked violence” to the Kamour-led protests known to be non-confrontational and aligned with the peaceful nature of the movement’s cause. They were particularly angry by what they considered an arbitrary use of force, given their legitimate demands stemming from a three-year dated agreement which has gone unimplemented until today.
Some activists argued that the use of excessive force by police forces can be seen as an attempt to suppress the protest movement, and quell future unrest, knowing that the central government is “unable” to implement the Kamour accord.4 It was an “unsuccessful attempt” to silence the sit-inners, as Kamour supporter Mourad Abdellatif observed.5
On 22 June, the Association for the Defence of Human Rights, a local association, filed a court case against the prime minister, the interior minister, the governor of Tataouine, the head of the national security district and any other official involved in ordering or committing acts of violence against the “peaceful” protests in the region.
The violent security response generated increased sympathy for the Kamour protests among the local population with more people joining the rallies to show support for the movement and demand the release of all detained demonstrators.
Many protesters sustained injuries from the recent clashes. Activist Harabi was injured to his arm and considers his injury a “price to pay” for his city, saying he is hopeful that the Kamour’s campaign will win its struggle.6
The day Haddad was freed, on 24 June, several thousands of locals gathered around the city to welcome his release.
“Kamour is here to stay”7 was Haddad’s vow when he spoke to the media outside his home reiterating the determination of the sit-inners to achieve their economic and social goals. “Al-rakh la!” (“no surrender”) as the campaign’s motto goes. On 26 June, he anticipated the continuation of peaceful rallies and the resumption of the sit-in if the movement’s demands are once again ignored.
A policy of neglect and procrastination
With above-average unemployment, failing infrastructure and an underdeveloped private sector, Tataouine governorate is one of Tunisia’s most marginalized regions despite being one of the richest in natural resources, notably oil and gas. Among its population (estimated at around 150,000 inhabitants) the unemployment rate stands at 28,7% (almost twice the national average of 15.3%), the highest in the country, with the rate for young people significantly higher. It has also one of the highest percentages of unemployed graduates, which hit 58% in 2017.
Local sources claim that people from Tataouine city make the largest number of Tunisians who migrated abroad. At least one person in every family is pushed to leave due to lack of jobs.
Unlike the coastal areas, schools in the south are neglected and universities in nearby cities offer limited work prospects for young graduates. Moreover, there are less functioning public services than in many other governorates, with a particularly extremely poor healthcare sector. The regional hospital is short of specialist departments and has only 11 specialized doctors, making Tataouine the worst-equipped governorate in Tunisia in terms of health services, according to International Alert Tunisia.
The outlook of the underprivileged governorate starkly contrasts with the wealth generated by its natural resources. The region is rich in hydrocarbons, with its fields contributing to 40% and 20% of Tunisia’s oil and gas production, respectively.
Foreign energy companies whose headquarters are based in Tunis are extracting petroleum resources in Tataouine’s desert with profits going to the capital and rarely reinvested in the region. This is why local inhabitants typically accuse the central government and foreign companies of “stealing” their natural resources.
With such discrepancies between natural wealth and actual deprivation, it is not surprising that the protest movement in the deprived governorate has become chronic over the years just like unemployment has been chronic for many more years.
The marginalization of Tataouine, and Tunisia’s interior and southern regions more generally, has existed for decades and was one of the main sparks for the 2010-2011 revolution. Mourad Ardhaoui, the local coordinator of International Alert’s Tunisia office in Tataouine, stressed that the area has not seen a development plan ever since the days of independence.8 And yet, a decade after the revolution that ended Ben Ali’s autocratic rule, successive governments have failed to redress the development gap between major coastal cities and less developed interior and southern regions. No investments were made locally, and no policies were adopted to make the governorate more attractive to investors. The Tunisian Institute of Competitiveness and Quantitative Economy warned in a 2018 report that Tataouine was the region of the country with the lowest level of economic attractiveness.
Failed promises from different political parties to improve economic conditions have led to increasing distrust vis-à-vis the political elites, and even rage toward the state, among the region’s youth. The repressive security response has exacerbated hatred and distrust towards the authorities.
Tunisian President Kais Saied, who had won overwhelmingly in Tataouine in the second round of the 2019 election (with 96% of voter support), made his remarks on the situation in Tataouine during his 22-23 June official visit to France. He called on demonstrators to present "development projects", and not "wait" for the government to implement projects in the region. He also promised to meet with representatives of the protests at the presidential palace upon his return. So far, no meetings are known to have been taken place. The sit-inners rejected Saied’s invitation to go to Tunis and demanded last week that the head of state travels to Tataouine to meet them. At the time of writing, Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh resigned.
Many youths in Tataouine perceived the president’s response as “mild”. Earlier this year, Saied received a delegation of activists from the southern region to discuss their plight. Yet, they did not see any progress. For decades, the lack of political will has clearly left Tataouine on the margins as the state has been largely absent. A disconnect between the region’s youth and central state officials has further hampered the Kamour’s efforts to obtain any tangible results. As Tataouine’s mayor highlighted, since the sit-in resumed earlier this year, no one in the cabinet has travelled south to meet with the young protesters and discuss their demands.9
The social contract between the state and its southern citizens has been repeatedly broken, and it will be very difficult for the government to regain any of the lost trust if it does not apply the accord it signed in 2017.
A ministerial council meeting on 1 July which addressed the situation of Tataouine decided that 500 people will be recruited before the end of the year, that the government will release additional funds for the benefit of microcredit institutions. The council also approved the holding of an extraordinary regional council for investment at the seat of Tataouine governorate in the coming days.
However, the Kamour’s movement coordination rejected the ministerial meeting outcomes and threatened to block the newly established oil Nawara pumping station within 48 hours if the authorities do not provide specific and concrete measures. The Regional Labour Union (URT) and the coordination of the Kamour sit-in in Tataouine called a general strike on 2 July which went on for more than two weeks. On 21 July, local media reported that activities and services had resumed in the region.
With the resignation of Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh over corruption allegations, Tunisia is cast into uncertainty over its political situation. This will certainly delay any measures to address the Kamour demands, leaving the region and its inhabitants yet again in the hands of a new government still to be established.
1. ↑ Interview with Ismail Harabi, 24 June 2020
2. ↑ Interview with Dhaou El Ghoul, 25 June 2020
3. ↑ Interview with Boubaker Souid, 25 June 2020
4. ↑ Interview with El Ghoul
5. ↑ Interview with Mourad Abdellatif, 24 June 2020
6. ↑ Interview with Ismail Harabi
7. ↑ Statement by Tarek Haddad, 24 June 2020
8. ↑ Interview with Mourad Ardhaoui, 25 June 2020
9. ↑ Interview with Souid
By Kristina Kausch, The Middle East Eye, 26 May 2020
Things are not going well for European diplomacy in the Libyan civil war. The latest initiative, convened by the German government in January, assembled the major foreign supporters of Libya’s warring factions in Berlin, with the aim of having them back off.
Yet, despite an encouraging final communique agreeing to halt weapons deliveries and fighting, the sweeping commitments had been broken within a matter of days from multiple sides.
With Turkish troops now backing the Government of National Accord (GNA), pinned against Russia siding with Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), and an increasingly assertive UAE unwilling to bow to a negotiated settlement, the conflict is set to become much worse.
In many ways, this is Europe’s fault. After the 2011 Nato intervention, there was little appetite for international boots on the ground to help Libyans manage the transition; post-revolutionary authorities were reluctant, as were Nato powers.
From 2015 onwards, the EU supported the GNA and the UN peace process, but did little on the ground. France and Italy, prioritising their respective vested economic and security interests, ultimately helped undermine the UN process by supporting opposing factions, reducing the pressure for compromise and keeping the conflict afloat. France, in particular, has been guilty of foul play by consistently propping up Haftar, despite formally backing the GNA.
Europeans have displayed striking tunnel vision on Libya, largely focused on migration and violent extremism. Unlike in Syria, the EU did not develop a strategy to build local governance structures needed to put Libyan society as a whole back on a more stable footing.
The EU supported the GNA, but did little to help it work by supporting a broader domestic stabilisation process. Following years of EU internal divisions on Libya, Haftar’s April 2019 march on Tripoli made clear how Europeans had lost their capacity to shape events there.
Since then, European influence has dwindled by the hour. The escalation of the conflict was followed by the entry of Russian mercenaries on Haftar’s side in September and Syrian militias alongside Turkish troops on behalf of the GNA by January, developments that have effectively eclipsed Europe’s central role in Libya.
During 2019, the GNA had shopped around for tangible international support, but Europe had only lame statements on offer.
In November, the EU was shocked over the signature of a Turkish deal with the GNA on maritime boundaries, which gave controversial offshore drilling rights to Turkey and connects two difficult geopolitical arenas, entangling Libya’s fate with the Eastern Mediterranean gas quagmire and the Cyprus issue.
As a consequence, there was even less unity, as Greece and Cyprus became vocal supporters of Haftar, while Italy adopted a “realpolitik of equidistance” to appease both sides, which only saw Rome lose trust with the GNA.
On top of all this, a Russian-Turkish attempt to negotiate a ceasefire between Haftar and Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in Moscow in January without any European participation underlined how far the Europeans had already been squeezed out.
The Berlin conference hence rushed to bring Europe back into the game and secure the multilateral process - but it was too little, too late. Europe, by division and inertia, made itself redundant.
Europe being geopolitically sidelined by Russia and Turkey in the Mediterranean is becoming a pattern. In Syria, too, the Russian-Turkish tandem overtook the Europeans in geopolitical strategy when the Astana process, involving Russia, Turkey and Iran, started sorting out the Syrian conflict without including the Europeans, or any western power.
While there was broad consensus in the EU that it was right to not get directly involved in either Libya or Syria, this allowed Russia and Turkey to undertake actions whose consequences were ultimately borne by Europe. The EU has also paid the price for reneging on its accession promises to Turkey, now more clearly a rival than a partner across this strategic theatre.
The larger problem looming here, however, is Europe’s display of reactive inertia in crises in its neighbourhood, which contrasts with regional powers’ assertiveness. EU member states remain shortsighted and inward-looking.
In Libya, a centrepiece of this theme has been that unlike Russia, Turkey and the UAE, Europe has so far been unwilling to put boots on the ground, sidelining itself as opposed to other regional actors that do have this readiness. EU divisions also make Europe a much less decisive, and more contradictory, partner.
As in Syria, European influence looked increasingly marginal and geared towards superficial conflict containment. Both Libya and Syria have become examples of European disempowerment.
So what now? The Berlin process is obsolete and has shown that an appeasement approach towards Haftar does not yield results. Most military analysts agree that neither side will be able to win the war by military means, but the pressure is not high enough to bring both sides to true compromise, so the fighting goes on, relentlessly.
If and when the newly founded Libya chapter of the Astana process manages to push its proxies to agree to a genuine ceasefire, the demarcation lines could easily be entrenched into a perpetual frozen conflict if it was up to Russia and Turkey to monitor the ceasefire.
Voices have recently grown louder in Europe - including from EU High Representative Josep Borrell and even German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer - on the possibility of considering the deployment of an EU mission to Libya to monitor a ceasefire, should it come to fruition.
Yet often, these calls appear to be rooted in the desire to boost Europe’s geostrategic profile, rather than an in-depth assessment of what Libya needs or wants. As former UN representative for Libya, Ghassan Salame, has pointed out, Libyans have no appetite for a further foreign military presence.
In March, the European Council launched a mission, Operation Irini, to help implement the (largely ignored) arms embargo against Libya. The mission was widely interpreted as representing a lowest-common-denominator among EU member states, rather than an effective tool to monitor the arms embargo, as it only monitors shippings by sea and air but not by land, where many weapons continue to be delivered.
Moreover, the mission was widely accused of being inherently biased, as Turkey mainly shipped its supplies by sea, but Haftar’s backers did not.
Depending on how the conflict evolves in the coming months, Europe may seriously consider getting its feet wet and putting boots on the ground in Libya, should Libyan authorities request it. If becoming “more geopolitical” would enable Europe to stabilise its neighbourhood in a sustainable way, Libya would be a good place to start.
But make no mistake: Europe must not misuse Libya as a schoolyard for its own geopolitical coming-of-age.
Why isn’t Washington trying to resolve its allies’ positions on Libya?
Means Associates, London, 13 July 2020
Tensions over Libya between Turkey and both Egypt and France have dominated the headlines in recent weeks. All three of these countries are allies of the US and President Donald Trump enjoys particularly warm relations with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Egypt’s President Abdelfattah el-Sisi. Meanwhile, Trump’s relations with France’s President Emmanuel Macron, which were initially strong, have subsequently deteriorated but France remains an important US ally in NATO and the European Union (EU). Despite its recent heightened level of engagement in Libya, why hasn’t Washington attempted to bridge the gaps between these key allies on Libya and thereby enhance the chances for peace?
The first answer lies in Washington’s preoccupation — at the expense of other issues — with Russia’s role in Libya as recent statements, speeches and diplomatic engagements by senior US officials have demonstrated. Washington’s other recent preoccupation has been the resumption of Libya’s oil and gas production. Washington’s proclivity to fixate on certain issues in Libya has a precedent: after the 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi — which resulted in the death of US ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other American officials — its attention was entirely focused on counter-terrorism.
This led President Barack Obama’s Administration to miss important opportunities to influence other events in Libya. One might presume that, with France and Egypt’s are on the same side as Russia in Libya, would be a sufficient call to action for Washington but so far it has not.
The second answer is because the senior echelons of the Trump Administration are currently distracted by both COVID-19 pandemic and the looming November 2020 election, with current polls suggesting that it will be wone by former vice-president Joe Biden. The fear that Trump may lose the election, and that a Biden presidency would impose meaningful costs on countries such as the UAE, Turkey, and Egypt over their meddling in Libya may even encourage them to try and achieve their aims before November.
An all-out US push for peace in Libya is also too risky for Trump to undertake during a very challenging re-election campaign. Yet — in the absence of consistent high-level White House attention — US leverage over events in Libya is also greatly weakened. The current anti-Russian drive is led by the Department of Defence. The current National Security Council Middle East Senior Director, Major-General Miguel Correa, undoubtedly shares the Pentagon’s antipathy toward Russia. The US’ policy towards Libya has never reflected a comprehensive approach in the Trump Administration.
The third answer has to do with the fact that Washington’s leverage which, even if it is willing to deploy it, is objectively weakened by: the central role of Turkey and Russia in Libya; deep divisions in Europe over Libya policy; and the Trump Administration’s credibility gap in terms of diplomacy and multilateralism. The US has, for example, been unable or unwilling to rein in the UAE when it acts against Washington’s interests in Libya, Yemen, or the Gulf.
The net effect of Washington’s absence is, however, unmistakeable. It has put key US allies on a collision course in Libya and they feel entirely unconstrained. For countries such as Egypt this means that, while they may not have a clear interest in going to war in Libya, they could miscalculate Turkey’s provocations and US indifference. In turn these Turkish provocations are possibly ones that the US might curtail using its influence in Ankara if it had the will to do so.
Research Papers & Reports
New powers, new responsibilities: A global survey of journalism and artificial intelligence
By Professor Charlie Beckett, POLIS journalism and Society, think tank at LSE, 19 November 2019.
1- Artificial intelligence (AI) as a range of technologies including
machine learning, automation and data processing is a significant
part of journalism already but it is unevenly distributed.
2- Its future impact is uncertain but AI has the potential for wide-ranging
and profound influence on how journalism is made and consumed.
3- Even the newsrooms we surveyed that are furthest ahead in the
adoption of AI described it as additional, supplementary and
catalytic, not yet transformational.
4- The power and potential described in this report make it clear that all
newsrooms should pay attention to AI.
5- AI is defined by newsrooms as human or technologically related and
by its function.
6- It is important to have an organisational definition of AI to help
shape strategy and to promote understanding and communication
about AI in the newsroom.
7- Just under half of respondents said they use AI for newsgathering,
two-thirds said they used it for production and just over half said
they employed AI for distribution.
8- There was a general aspiration to use any
efficiencies to free up resources for enhanced
newsroom functionality and for new or
improved content and services.
9 The three key motives for using AI were:
• To make journalists’ work more efficient (68 per cent of replies)
• To deliver more relevant content to users (45 per cent)
• To improve business efficiency (18 per cent).
10- Just over a third of our respondents claimed to have an active
11- There were four main approaches to creating an AI strategy:
• Traditional management in existing departments
• Separate teams working on AI projects
• Integrated tech and editorial structures
• Experimental teams - separate or integrated.
12- The newsrooms split approximately in half between those who felt
they were AI-ready and those who were just starting or still planning
to use AI.
13- There was a significant fear of their newsroom falling behind.
This was a particular problem for small newsrooms, raising
the prospect of growing inequality between small and large
14- Newsroom roles were seen to be changing more through the
augmentation of current roles rather than the replacement of jobs.
There would be new tasks for people in existing roles and new
workflows, but few AI-specific new roles.
15- The biggest challenges to adopting AI cited by our respondents were
financial resources (27 per cent) and knowledge or skills (24 per
cent). But as significant as either of those was cultural resistance (24
per cent) including the fear of losing jobs, of changing work habits,
and a general hostility to new technology. Lack of knowledge about
AI (19 per cent) across the news organisation along with a lack of
strategic managerial insight (17 per cent) were also key issues. They
also described AI as often expensive to build and manage.
16- From our survey it is clear that there is a lack of strategic
planning. AI strategies will always vary according to the nature
of the news organisation and what adoption stage they have
reached, but these are the key elements to consider that have
emerged from this research:
• Assess your stage and state of AI readiness
• Understand and categorise the kind of AI technologies
you are considering
• Decide how AI might relate to your brand and general strategy,
the problems it might solve, or the needs it could meet
• Evaluate what areas of your organisation might use AI and why
• Identify key obstacles: resources, skills, culture, management, etc
and plan how to address them in a systematic way
• Assign roles and responsibilities and create a communications
structure across the organisation to include all stakeholders
• Establish systems of monitoring and reviewing performance
• Create a role for external relations with partners, clients, and
wider AI resources with a mission to investigate and incorporate
17- The majority of respondents had confidence that overall, the impact
would be beneficial if news organisations retained their ethical and
18- The newsrooms identified six key areas where AI is or might
make a difference to their organisations ethics and editorial
policy and practice:
• Economics: Making cuts from AI-generated savings could lower
editorial standards. Reinvestments could instead be used to
improve journalism quality and effectiveness
• Algorithmic Bias: Bad use of data could lead to editorial
mistakes such as inaccuracy or distortion and even
discrimination against certain social groups or views
• Misinformation/Filter Bubbles: AI can help the spread of ‘fake
news’. Crude use of personalisation can make confirmation
bias or conflict worse. But well-managed AI can help counter
misinformation and improve the quality of public information
• Enhancement of editorial decisions and transparency: AI can
help correct old newsroom biases and increase the diversity of
stories and audiences. It can help promote transparency around
the use of AI and of journalism in general
• Balancing human and artificial intelligence: It is vital that
augmented journalism retains human values and even enhances
the value of human judgement and creativity
• The role of the technology companies: There is concern over
the power of ‘Big Tech’ as competitors and about their control
of research and product development. They were also seen as
a source of innovation, tools, and systems. There is a need for
more transparency, dialogue, and support for journalism from
19- There were three levels of future thinking:
• First: To improve and iterate what is happening now with existing
product and editorial teams
• Second: Medium-term innovation over the next 2-5 years with
• Third: Innovation and experimentation for the long-term that
might include completely new approaches or structures.
20- When we asked what would help them meet the challenges of an
AI future the two most frequent responses had not directly to do
with the technology:
• 44 per cent mentioned training, education and literacy in the newsroom
• 43 per cent mentioned the need for recruiting people
with new skills.
21- The three most common areas for our respondents’ future AI-tool
wishlist were for:
• More automatic tagging/entity extraction (newsgathering)
• Better machine-generated content (news production)
• Better personalisation/recommendation engines (news distribution).
22- The biggest future wish from respondents was for training
and education in six different areas:
• AI literacy: To spread understanding across the news organisation
• AI skills: Basic skills such as coding and understanding
• More advanced AI skills: To foster innovation and as part of
career development for all staff
• For management: To improve general awareness and also
understanding AI systems and other AI adoption models
• Ethics: To understand how to reduce algorithmic or data bias and
to improve accuracy and reliability
• General AI insights: More scientific and social understanding of AI
and its impact on users and society.
23- Despite competitive pressures there was a strong interest in
collaboration to improve standards and innovation. Collaboration
• Across departments within news organisations
• Between news organisations - on stories but also on
• Across a country but also internationally
• With tech companies
• With start-ups and intermediary organisations
• With universities/researchers.
24- AI will re-shape journalism in an incremental way but with longer-
term structural effects that reflect how news media is changing
for other reasons: technological, social, and commercial. In a
more networked world AI will become more important in all fields.
25- AI will make news media more ‘unequal’ and diverse and change the
structure of work, the newsflow, and the relationship with public.
26- AI will power new platforms and tools, such as AR, drones, voice,
image and text generation, and wearables.
27 AI will power the way information and debate happens, though often
not through the news media. Newsrooms will have to adapt to new
forms of editorial authority and trust.
28- There is much for journalism to learn from other industries,
including technology companies and start-ups, marketing and
advertising but also law, gaming, gambling, and music industries:
How they use the technology, change their workflows, marketing
practices, their relationship with users, and their ethics.
For the full report visit:
Algeria: Bringing Hirak in from the Cold
International Crisis Group, Report No 217/Middle East & North Africa, 23 July 2020
Algeria is now facing more challenges due to the social and economic fallout from the Covid-19 crisis and the country’s official lockdown measures. The authorities should respond to popular protests with a lighter touch and sit together with hirak members to discuss the country’s economy.
What’s new? Algeria is now facing more challenges due to the social and economic fallout from the Covid-19 crisis and the country’s official lockdown measures.
Why does it matter? The Algerian government could react to this situation by taking on external debt and increasing austerity in its budget. However, such an approach could stir up social tensions and intensify the conflict between the Hirak movement and the state.
What should be done? The authorities should capitalise on this moment of national solidarity created by the pandemic by responding to popular protests with a lighter touch. The government and Hirak should sit together to discuss the country’s economic conditions and propose specific ways of reducing its exposure to fluctuating oil and gas prices.
The economic and social fallout caused by the Covid-19 crisis and the Algerian authorities’ lockdown measures risk radicalising the Hirak protest movement. To avoid such a scenario, the Algerian state authorities should take advantage of the national solidarity created by the pandemic to use a lighter touch in its dealings with Hirak and support some of its citizen-led initiatives. If political dialogue is unrealistic in the short term, the government and members of Hirak should at least engage in a national economic dialogue to find a way to implement the structural changes needed to ward off a severe economic crisis.
International financial organisations and friendly nations should stand by to offer the country financial support specifically for economic reforms, but without imposing overly-strict conditions. If Algeria accepts them, such reforms could weaken the powerful clientelist networks that profit from the oil and gas industry, and in turn possibly trigger more violence, repeating what happened in the 1990s.
Hirak is a largely non-violent and citizen-led movement set up in February 2019 when President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced he was running for another term in office. Faced with the Covid-19 health emergency, the movement demonstrated civic responsibility by respecting the restrictions on movement put in place by the government in its attempt to curb the spread of the virus; it suspended its street protests and set up a solidarity network to reduce the lockdown’s social impact.
Although the Algerian government has taken emergency measures on social and economic issues, politically it appears to have called an end to its détente with Hirak, in effect since the Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s election on 12 December 2019. Thus, despite the promises of constitutional reform made in response to Hirak’s demands, there has been a noticeable security clampdown. Moreover, Algeria is facing a wide range of social and economic challenges due to the global economic slump and tumbling oil prices. The country’s macroeconomic outlook is grim given its dependence on oil and gas exports and the impact of lockdown.
In the short term, the Algerian government may need to resort to taking on external debt and tightening its austerity measures, and possibly face a resurgence of social tension as a result. When lockdown restrictions are lifted across the country, Hirak may therefore resort to a more aggressive stance. Conflicts with the government could flare up since the conditions are right for a resumption of fortnightly protest marches, as well as for general strikes and outbreaks of civil disobedience.
The standoff between the authorities and Hirak since February 2019 could then become more entrenched. Or Hirak could dissipate and, in the absence of measures that address the grievances expressed by the movement, leave a vacuum. This could lead to small groups taking an increasingly hard-line approach and more radical actions in the not-too-distant future.
To prevent such unwelcome developments and broaden support for President Tebboune, the authorities should implement the new head of state’s promises of greater political openness. Such a response could include, for example, releasing political detainees, ending media censorship, and putting an end to arbitrary arrests. The government could also give increasing support to – but not seek to co-opt – the citizen networks set up by Hirak’s leaders to help fight the pandemic and reduce its social impact.
An immediate resolution to the conflict through political dialogue is improbable; however, a sustained and far-reaching national economic discussion could achieve this aim by bringing together leading political groups, unions and organisations, along with government representatives and the country’s most influential businesspeople, even from the informal sector. The objective would be to identify the obstacles in the way of genuine economic reform and to propose realistic and broadly accepted solutions to overcome them.
Finally, if the Algerian government decides to make a request, international financial organisations and friendly nations should provide financial backing, in particular to support an eventual economic reform strategy. In that case, donors should provide financial assistance without imposing excessively strict conditions (all-out liberalisation and severe austerity). Lacking an alternative, the authorities would either turn them down or would feel obliged to accept them. The latter scenario could destabilise important clientelist networks involved in controlling the profits from the oil and gas industry, as happened in the 1990s when this was a contributing factor to the spiralling violence of the “Black Decade”.
Tunis/Algiers/Brussels 27 July 2020
What a Shift in the UK’s Foreign Policy Means for the US
By Thomas Wright, The Atlantic, 22 July 2020
Britain seems to be rejoining the fray, thinking strategically again.
In mid-February, two weeks after Brexit formally began, the world’s foreign-policy and national-security establishment gathered in Germany for the Munich Security Conference. Speakers included Emmanuel Macron, Mike Pompeo, Mark Esper, Nancy Pelosi, Mark Zuckerberg, Wang Yi, and Justin Trudeau. The U.K. was largely absent. The chairman of the conference, the veteran German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger, tweeted, “Needless to say, as a former ambassador to the Court of St James’, I am saddened by the absence of senior ministers of Her Majesty’s government at @MunSecConf this year.” To many, the absence summed up Britain’s post-Brexit fate.
When asked whether the U.K. was missing in action, Pelosi said, “We have respect for their decision. I hope it’s not an indication of any diminution in their commitment to multilateralism.” There was real concern in Washington, on both sides of the aisle, that the U.K. was distracted by its domestic challenges and in a state of geopolitical disbelief. The U.K., they worried, was stuck seeing the world outside the European Union as full of opportunity for trade and engagement, whereas the United States and others characterized the world by deglobalization, great power competition, and painful trade-offs. As Victoria Nuland, who served as the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Europe in the Obama administration, told me, “the U.K., like the U.S., seemed to be self-immolating.”
But over the past four months, something interesting has happened. There are visible green shoots in U.K. foreign policy—on 5G, Hong Kong, human rights, and in the country’s work with other democracies. Britain seems to be rejoining the fray, thinking strategically again. This shift comes not a moment too soon. Brexit is a reordering moment in Europe, and it would be a strategic setback for the U.S. if the U.K. slipped into global irrelevance amid ongoing confrontations with the EU that sapped the energy of both. How the U.K. is thinking about its post-Brexit role looks to be much more compatible with how Joe Biden sees the world than how Donald Trump and his fellow America Firsters do. If Biden wins the election, he may have an opportunity to not just repair relations with the U.K. but also help London figure out its role in Europe and beyond.
Britain’s relationship with the U.S. declined steadily over the past decade of Conservative rule. Relations between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron were never particularly warm—to Obama, Cameron seemed inwardly focused and shallow. Declining defense budgets, the ultimate failure of the Libya intervention, and the House of Commons’ refusal to authorize air strikes against Bashar al-Assad after he used chemical weapons all undermined Britain’s reputation as Europe’s strongest military power. From a British perspective, the Iraq War cast an enormous shadow over its foreign policy and left little appetite to be America’s wingman.
Democrats, at the time, correctly saw Cameron’s promise of a referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU as the act of a man obsessed by domestic politics. This belief was only underscored by the years of political chaos that followed, all covered extensively in the U.S. by the major networks and late-night comedy shows. Democrats and Republicans were concerned that Brexit might produce a hard border in Northern Ireland that would jeopardize the Good Friday Agreement.
The U.S. national-security establishment was even more alarmed by the U.K.’s policy toward China. In 2015, Cameron celebrated the beginning of a “golden era” in U.K.-China relations, which allowed Chinese investment in crucial British infrastructure, including nuclear power plants. The next year, Prime Minister Theresa May came into office more skeptical of the arrangement, but she ended up backing plans that would allow the Chinese telecom company Huawei to play a role in the U.K.’s 5G network, despite American and Australian technical assessments that it would compromise the security of Britain’s systems. The U.K. hoped it could increase economic ties with China without compromising its alliance with the U.S., but that proved untenable.
Trump supported Brexit rhetorically, although, in his presidency, U.S.-U.K. relations plummeted to their lowest point since the Suez Crisis in 1956. Trump undermined U.K. counterterrorist operations and investigations. He repeatedly accused British intelligence of spying on him. He treated May with disdain. He interfered in the U.K.’s negotiations with the EU, criticizing May’s position. Although Trump seemed friendly with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Trump gave Johnson no concessions of substance on a trade deal, climate change, or the Iran nuclear deal. The Trump administration clashed with London over China but showed little sign of wanting to engage in the patient diplomacy needed to build a coalition of like-minded democracies to deal with Beijing collectively.
Democrats now overwhelmingly see Brexit as a monumental act of folly that will make the U.K. weaker and poorer. They have little love for Johnson, who is often, and somewhat unfairly, regarded as a kindred spirit of Trump. Given all that, analysts might assume that a potential Biden administration would simply ignore the U.K., putting it at the “back of the queue,” as Obama once warned, allowing London to stew in its own juices.
However, Johnson’s course correction in foreign policy may change the way a potential Biden administration views Britain. Johnson banned Huawei from the U.K.’s 5G infrastructure. Downing Street has worked with Australia, Canada, and the U. S. to impose sanctions on China for its actions in Hong Kong. In response to China’s new security law in Hong Kong, Britain offered refugee status to up to 3 million Hong Kong residents and ended its extradition agreement with the territory. The U.K. has also proposed a new organization of democracies (the D-10) and introduced new sanctions against individuals involved in human-rights abuses, including 25 Russians, 20 Saudis, two high-ranking Myanmar military generals, and two North Korean organizations.
I talked with two people familiar with Johnson and his team’s thinking. They spoke on condition of anonymity so they could discuss it freely. Downing Street now accepts that the past 10 years of foreign policy have not been particularly effective. The U.K. needs a strategy, and they know that the hyper-prosperity agenda—seeing the world outside of Europe as a massive economic opportunity—was not it.
Johnson believes the U.K. has a vital interest in an open and rules-based order. Without that, Britain runs the risk of getting stuck between competing blocs. But the U.K. can’t just go back to the old liberal order of unfettered globalization and integration. In his speeches, Johnson and his cabinet now invoke the New Deal and Franklin D. Roosevelt, rather than Ronald Reagan, welcoming a larger role for government intervention in the economy. This reflects a leftward shift on foreign economic policy, with a greater focus on the resilience of open societies and a recognition that the global economy must change how it dispenses wealth.
London also sees the international order as a strategic space where liberal ideas compete with anti-liberal alternatives, rather than a place where all powers will converge on a shared approach. This partly explains the decision to stand up to China and other authoritarians. This view is closer to how Biden sees the world—where competition with China is a consequence of an effort to build a community of free societies—than Trump’s singular focus on China as an economic threat.
Why Johnson has gone in this direction is unclear. The charitable explanation: The shift is an act of conviction, although that seems incomplete at best. As the foreign secretary and the mayor of London, he supported closer engagement with China. Less charitable: The old approach collapsed under pressure from multiple sources. The U.S. made clear that it would not tolerate a situation whereby the U.K. was compromised by technological dependence on China. China’s behavior, particularly over Hong Kong, revealed the true nature of the Xi regime for those who were still clinging to old orthodoxies.
People within Johnson’s own government were also making their views known. Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, and several other MPs engineered a backbench revolt over Huawei and argued for a tougher approach toward China. The Labour Party, under its new leader, Keir Starmer, has also reverted to the foreign-policy center. Labour’s impressive shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, has called the Conservative Party’s “golden era” China strategy “naive” and argued for greater “strategic independence from Beijing.”
Regardless of the motivation, the new approach could well be sustained. Some senior figures in Biden world, who talked with me on condition of anonymity so they could speak freely, feel the U.S. should encourage these green shoots. During the Trump years, Democrats have congregated around the idea of building a secure and prosperous community of free nations that can compete with China and other authoritarian powers. This is not just an abstract notion. It means tangible progress on investing in new technologies to compete with Chinese offerings; reforms to the world trading system; making democracies more resilient to internal and external pressures, including by reducing dependencies on China; and promoting liberal norms globally, including in international institutions.
Bilateral trade might be trickier for the U.S. and the U.K. to agree on. Trump’s much-vaunted negotiations on a U.S.-U.K. free trade agreement was largely for show. Tariffs are already very low and the agricultural and regulatory issues are highly contentious on both sides. Trump and the Brexiteers needed the illusion of a negotiation—for Trump, it burnished his image as a dealmaker and, for the Brexiteers, it offered proof that they were active on the world stage. What London is actually hoping for is that Biden will join the Trans Pacific Partnership (now the TPP-11 after 11 countries negotiated their own deal once Trump rejected it) early in his term. The U.K. would then seek to join. However, Biden is unlikely to sign large multilateral agreements early in his term. The best hope of progress on trade is through a series of more focused agreements about how to respond to China on technology, investment, and trade. Later on, this may evolve into a larger agreement.
Brexit remains a complicating factor in any future relationship with a Biden administration. The desire to reduce ties with the world’s largest club of democracies pushed Britain toward greater economic engagement with China in the first place. Brexit, combined with the pandemic, will sap the resources of the government and pull its focus inward. However, Brexit is a reality that is unlikely to be reversed for at least a generation. The question for the U.S. is how to make the best of it and help the U.K., as a key ally, maintain its influence internationally.
A Democratic administration will want to encourage London to maintain practical cooperation with the EU—particularly France and Germany—on foreign policy, national security, and public health. Nuland, the former U.S. assistant secretary of state for Europe, told me that the U.S. should think of transatlantic policy as a three-legged stool, built around the U.S., the U.K., and the EU, which may require Washington to put pressure on London, Paris, and Berlin, given the high levels of distrust among the countries.
The one issue that could scupper any reboot in the U.S.-U.K. relationship is Northern Ireland. If trade talks between the EU and the U.K. break down, some Conservative MPs, although notably not Johnson, have called for a renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement, including on maintaining an open border in Ireland. This would destroy hopes of a closer engagement with the U.S. Biden is personally committed to the Good Friday Agreement, as are many of the people who would serve in his administration, along with Pelosi, the speaker of the House. A Biden administration would make avoiding a hard border in Ireland a precondition for progress on other fronts. Johnson would do well to avoid this mistake, and it seems like this risk is well understood in Downing Street.
For the U.S., a Britain that is alienated from the EU and irrelevant globally will weaken the transatlantic alliance and make democracies less competitive with China. Helping Britain find its role as a pillar of a free and open community of democracies will bolster Biden’s overall strategy and assist in repairing relations between the U.K. and the EU. Johnson’s recent evolution finally gives the U. S. something to work with. That is, only if Biden wins.
Thomas Wright is a contributing writer at The Atlantic, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and the author of All Measures Short of War: The Contest for the 21st Century and the Future of American Power.
How Southern Syria Has Been Transformed Into a Regional Powder Keg
By Armenak Tokmajyan, Carnegie Middle East Center, 14 July 2020.
In southern Syria, the regime, opposition, foreign powers, and local groups navigate a contentious zone of conflict. Any shift in this delicate balance could mean yet another escalation.
Syria’s conflict has transformed the country’s southern border region into a zone of regional contention. The status quo there, largely forged and maintained by Russia since 2018, aims to prevent expanded control by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian and pro-Iranian military forces, which could trigger a regional confrontation. The south will remain a volatile area, probably for years, and its fate will be affected by regional politics, not the government’s will.
The location of Daraa and Quneitra Governorates in southern Syria near the boundaries with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights strongly influenced the way the Assad regime forces returned there in 2018.
Israel and Jordan feared that a regime return to the south would facilitate the deployment of Iranian and Iranian proxy forces near territories they control.
To prevent Israel, Jordan, and other actors from obstructing a regime return, Russia organized a strategy that excluded Iran’s participation and facilitated relative dialogue, soft power, and compromise.
The nature of the Russian-led process prevented the full restoration of the regime’s full authority in parts of the south, replacing the situation of open rebellion there with one of low-intensity conflict.
The dynamics in the border region have taken on regional implications, so that whatever occurs there could have repercussions further afield.
The status quo in southern Syria, despite its shortcomings, has thus far prevented a dangerous regional escalation, making its continuation desirable.
Despite Russia’s efforts to limit an Iranian return to the south, its latitude to enforce this is limited. There are signs that pro-Iranian military and security units of the Syrian army are looking for ways to expand their presence in the south.
Local politics in Daraa Governorate are inextricably linked to regional considerations and foreign actors. The fate of former opposition figures is tied to Russia’s commitment to the region, of which they should be wary.
To compensate for its limited authority in recaptured areas of the south, the regime has sought to revive the role of the state as a provider of goods and services in exchange for loyalty. The state’s limited resources hampers this, however.
For now, Iran does not appear to want to undermine the status quo in the south. However, it is unlikely to be happy with the constraints placed on its actions, which feed into its ties with Russia on shaping outcomes in Syria. This leaves open the possibility that Iran may one day challenge the present situation, heightening prospects for a regional confrontation.
The conflict in Syria has transformed country’s southern border region into a zone of regional contention. Both the ceasefire line that separates Syria from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and the border between Syria and Jordan have taken on new meaning during the conflict. They represent the contours of a volatile and peripheral region that gained centrality after the Syrian uprising in 2011 because of the involvement of domestic, regional, and international actors in shaping political outcomes there.
This complex reality determined the way President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, backed by Russia, undertook its military return to the south in 2018. By proceeding carefully because of the regional ramifications of such a move, the regime and Russia created a situation that has left government control over the south tentative while failing to resolve regional power plays.
Syria’s uprising began in the southern Daraa Governorate in March 2011. Throughout the country an initially nonviolent movement was met with force by the regime and was gradually transformed into a militarized rebellion that drew in foreign actors. In 2015 Russia intervened militarily and turned the tide in favor of the regime. Between 2016 and 2018, Assad’s forces, with Russian air cover and in many cases backed by Iran and pro-Iranian forces, reclaimed dozens of opposition-held areas, including the southern governorates of Daraa and Quneitra.
Because Daraa and Quneitra are part of a sensitive region near the occupied Golan Heights and Jordan, a different strategy of return there was necessary. Israel’s main concern was that the return of regime forces would be accompanied by a major deployment of Iranian forces and their proxies near the Golan, which could lead to the opening of a new front against Israel. This concern was shared by the United States, which since 2013 had been part of a joint operations room in Jordan that supported Syrian opposition groups. Russia and the Assad regime realized that Israel, the United States, and Jordan had the means to jeopardize the return of Syria’s military. So, Russia pushed for a strategy that would exclude the participation of Iran or its proxies in the battle for the south and that would facilitate the return of regime forces by emphasizing dialogue, soft power, and compromise, which had not been the approach in other regions.
This tactic led to weak regime control over the south, especially in Daraa Governorate. Instead of helping the regime reimpose its military and security order, Russia’s negotiated pacification agreement that preserved a role for some of the rebel groups and civilian opposition. That is why Damascus has been struggling to restore its sovereignty over the border region ever since its forces’ return. On one level it has been engaged in a low-intensity conflict with the remnants of the armed opposition that have strongly resisted the regime’s return. On another, Damascus has sought to reestablish its authority by attempting to revive its previous role as a provider of goods and services, though these efforts have been seriously impeded because of Syria’s deteriorating economy.
The strategic impose of the south, the regime’s inability to reimpose its full sovereignty over the area, and the involvement of new actors such as Iran and Russia have granted this formerly peripheral region, where the interests of multiple actors now converge and conflict, a crucial role in regional affairs. This makes for a volatile situation that affirms how extensively Syria’s south has changed since 2011.
The Return of Syrian Regime Forces to the South
The military offensive in the south by regime forces backed by Russia began in June 2018 and was over by early August. These forces began by targeting northeastern parts of Daraa Governorate and soon recaptured the area before marching toward the border with Jordan.1 By the end of the campaign there were different degrees of control exerted by the Assad regime in the region. This was the result of two parallel processes of return—one led by Russia, the other by the regime.
During the military advance, Russian-led negotiations between regime and opposition representatives were convened in Busra al-Sham, in the Daraa Governorate. Involving more dialogue and compromise, this process resulted in the establishment of zones where the presence of the regime’s security services was weak to nonexistent. The regime track aimed at securing surrender deals from rebels and allowed for the imposition of a stronger security presence.
Before the military offensive as well as in the initial phases of the negotiation process in Busra al-Sham, Russia sought to apply its relatively milder approach to all of Daraa and Quneitra Governorates.2 However, negotiations with the rebels took place in the context of a constantly shifting situation on the ground. What ensued was a more complicated map with three types of areas. The first included Busra al-Sham, parts of Daraa City that were under rebel control (known as Daraa al-Balad), and Tafas, as well as some areas surrounding the cities. These areas were characterized by a return of state institutions, but not of the Syrian army and security services.
Russia remained committed to the agreement with the rebels in these areas. In a second area, covering Daraa’s northwestern rural areas, the Russian and regime track worked simultaneously, which allowed for a return of the regime’s military and security forces, even if their control was not absolute. And in a third area, where the regime recaptured territory itself, it was able to assert firmer security control.3
An opposition group in Busra al-Sham known as Quwwat Shabab al-Sunna (Sunni Youth Forces), under the command of Ahmad al-Audeh, was the first to accept Russia’s terms in early July 2018. Other rebels, including those stationed in Daraa City and Tafas, and some civilian representatives who participated in the negotiations, initially resisted the deal, calling it “humiliating.”4 However, each time they left the negotiating table, Russia and the regime escalated their attacks against them and managed to recapture new areas.5 Eventually, the rebels and civilian opposition representatives submitted to Russia’s terms.
One of the most important aspects of the settlement in Busra al-Sham, Daraa City, and Tafas is that the regime’s security forces and military units, stationed outside these localities, could not carry out major operations, such as arrests, within their boundaries. However, it did permit the return of the state’s civilian and governing institutions, such as municipal councils. Based on the settlement, and thanks to Russia’s facilitation, members of rebel groups also received a security clearance.
For example, Audeh joined the Syrian Army’s Russian-sponsored Fifth Corps and became the commander of its Eighth Brigade, the backbone of which was made up of his rebel comrades.6 While nominally part of the Syrian military, the rebels-turned-soldiers remained at odds with the regime and in charge of local security affairs in Busra al-Sham and surrounding areas that had been included in the deal. Audeh became Russia’s man in the south.
In Daraa City, too, former rebel groups resolved their security issues with the regime through Russia’s facilitation. They remain in charge of the area encompassed by the agreement, still carry their light weapons, and most have no affiliation with any of the regime’s security or military institutions.7
The situation was more complex in Tafas. There, many former rebels resolved their security issues and joined regime military or security bodies, notably the Military Intelligence Directorate. This enabled them to continue carrying their light weapons and to remain in their localities.8 While they were nominally reintegrated into the regime’s military and security apparatus, they still retained their solidarity to their rebel group. As one local who still lives in Tafas noted:
After the settlement, the guys [rebels] started in their new jobs in the Fourth Division, Military Intelligence, and so on. However, their loyalty was still with their [rebel] armed faction. When there was a regime threat [for example an attempt to arrest someone], they gathered in their towns to fight.9
By mid-July 2018, Russia and the regime had neutralized eastern Daraa Governorate, Daraa City, and most of the areas along the border with Jordan by force or through negotiated agreements. They subsequently advanced to recapture the remaining parts of northwestern Daraa and its rural areas. There, too, Russia brokered agreements in a few localities. The towns of Nawa and Jasem entered into an agreement with the regime with Russian guarantees. These were more onerous than the one covering Busra al-Sham, Daraa city, and Tafas, because regime forces were in the process of retaking areas while the negotiations were taking place. The military and security forces were allowed back but they still face continued resistance during security operations.10 Russia occasionally involves itself in local matters such as resolving problems that arise because of arbitrary arrests or managing tensions between regime forces and former opposition groups.
Military operations in the south ended in the early days of August 2018 when regime forces took control of Quneitra Governorate. This was followed by the only major evacuation in the south, when some 10,000 rebels, their families, and other civilians left for Idlib Governorate.11 The final battle pitched the regime against the Khaled Ibn al-Walid group, an affiliate of Islamic State, in the Yarmouq Valley.12
While Russia and the regime coordinated their military and negotiation efforts, the latter also had its own strategy and channels of negotiation with opposition groups. This was well illustrated in towns of Inkhil and Dael, located on a line between Damascus and Daraa city, and most parts of Quneitra Governorate. The fact that the regime returned without Russian involvement allowed it to build up a significant military and security presence. It can easily carry out arrests with little resistance.13 In those areas, Russia’s engagement appears to be relatively limited.
To prepare the way for its return to the south, the regime began intensifying its contacts with rebels and civilians living in opposition-held areas months before the campaign. It relied on intermediaries, most of whom were Baath Party members, retired generals, local notables, mukhtars (local administrative officials), and state employees, such as former mayors. The ultimate goal was to secure surrender deals, or “reconciliations,” to use the regime’s terminology.
These intermediaries had access to the regime’s senior regional security and civilian officials, and they enjoyed influence in rebel-held localities, which often happened to be their home region.14 In fact, some of these individuals lived in opposition-held Daraa and, at times, were openly pro-regime. While there were attempts by rebels to target them,15 most were safely shielded through their family and clan affiliations.16 One of the most telling incidents involved two persons who lived in opposition-held Daraa and participated in the Russian-sponsored Syrian National Dialogue Congress held in Sochi in January 2018. After the meeting the two returned to their homes, where a rebel body, the so-called Court of Justice in Hawran, had issued a warrant for their arrest. However, because of tribal protection the two were never brought before the rebel tribunal.17
The regime used this network of intermediaries in a systematic fashion. It created local reconciliation committees months before its military offensive. These were composed of intermediaries in the towns whose task was to pave the way for a return of the regime’s forces.18 This included a promise from the state that it would resume state services, provide humanitarian aid, annul arbitrarily issued warrants for those accused of committing political crimes, and avoid bloodshed by not targeting a town militarily.19 The regime, often without coordinating with Russia, secured many such deals, allowing for the deployment of security and military personnel.
However, there was at least one exception to this. After military operations in the south had ended, one part of Al-Sanamayn—an important town in northern Daraa Governorate—remained under the control of an armed group that retained its light weapons and often clashed with regime or pro-regime combatants.20 Thus it was neither included within a Russian-sponsored agreement nor was it fully recaptured.21 The holdouts resisted the return of regime forces until March 2020, when the regime retook the rebel-held area militarily. This would have repercussions throughout Daraa Governorate and underlined the complexity and tentativeness of the regime’s return to the region.
The Assad regime remains dissatisfied with the situation in the south. As one official put it, the state would not tolerate areas remaining outside its control and exploited by “terrorists.”22 In early May 2020, the regime showed its intentions when it exploited the killing of nine local policemen by a former rebel to strengthen its position in southwestern parts of Daraa Governorate.23 Though local notables strongly condemned the crime,24 the regime sent in military units to reinforce its presence in an area where its control had until then been limited.25
The regime’s deployment of military units, particularly ones known to have ties with Iran, was a challenge to the order that Russia has created and maintained in parts of the south. Moscow’s ongoing de-escalation efforts suggest it is still committed to maintaining the status quo. However, the mere fact that an escalation took place emphasized that there are limits to what Russia can do.
The Aftermath: The Regime’s Battle for Control
Despite its successful campaign to retake the south, the regime’s military forces have remained vulnerable even in their strongholds. The Russian strategy of return, by granting a margin of maneuver to former rebel groups, transformed the conflict in the south from open rebellion to low-intensity resistance that has taken violent and nonviolent forms. The regime’s efforts to reassert its authority have also included nonviolent means, namely restoring the redistributive role of the state by providing basic necessities in exchange for support. But, even when effective, these efforts have hit up against the state’s dwindling capacities.
Russia has regarded this anomalous security situation as a necessary price to pay to ensure stability in the border region and head off any reaction by Israel or Jordan. By preventing a return in strength of the regime’s security apparatus, Russia has reduced the chances of a major deployment of Iranian and pro-Iranian proxy forces near the Golan Heights and the border with Jordan.
The situation in Al-Sanamayn illustrates the myriad obstacles the regime has faced since its return to the south. The dynamics there resemble those in other parts of Daraa Governorate. In early March 2020, the regime launched an operation to impose its authority over those parts of Al-Sanamayn still in rebel hands. According to official sources, it initiated the operation in response to calls from residents to restore law and order.26 More importantly, this represented a message that Damascus would not accept that areas remain outside its control in the region. However, the operation provoked a reaction across Daraa Governorate, in which people mobilized against the regime’s actions.27
This took a violent turn when gunmen exchanged fire with the regime’s military and security personnel, attacked their positions, and even took hostages.28 The operation in Al-Sanamayn ended thanks to a mediated solution negotiated by Russia’s man, Ahmad al-Audeh. Those armed rebels who did not want to live under the regime’s sway could evacuate to other rebel-held areas. That was followed by the regime taking full control of Al-Sanamayn.
The intense reaction across Daraa Governorate to the developments in Al-Sanamayn was not unprecedented. Protests had taken place previously, especially in areas where the regime had no means of cracking down on demonstrators. According to one count, between November 2019 and January 2020 there were at least eleven demonstrations, fifteen sit-ins, and fifteen incidents of anti-government graffiti in the governorate.29
More consequential have been cases of violent resistance, which have taken a systematic and frequent character ever since the regime’s return. Many people, including former rebels as well as regime and even Russian personnel have been the targets of assassinations.30 As one observer put it, “everyone is assassinating everyone.”31 Those behind such actions and their motivations are often unknown. The war has left a legacy of political, economic, personal, and family antagonisms that have remained unresolved, likely fueling the killings. Nonetheless, the regime’s security, military, and civilian personnel, including those who mediated between the regime and towns, have been regularly marked for attack.
According to one opposition monitoring group, since its return to the south, the regime has lost around ninety military personnel, the most senior being a colonel.32 While the assailants may not have been able to hit particularly hard, such attacks have not occurred in other parts of Syria and underline the regime’s uncertain control, especially over Daraa.
Another conclusion from Al-Sanamayn and the reaction to the regime’s takeover of rebel-held areas is that where Russia brokered deals—Busra al-Sham, Daraa City, and Tafas—there remains the possibility of organized armed resistance. In several instances, the arrest of former rebels or civilians from Tafas and Daraa City at regime checkpoints located outside the zones covered by the Russian agreement provoked an escalation. Former rebels mobilized their networks and threatened to destabilize the situation unless the detainees were released. Some of those threats led to armed confrontations while others died out. However, the reality remains that opposition groups are still able to defend themselves against the regime’s transgressions.
In Busra al-Sham the situation has been more complicated, characterized by a mixture of restraint and defiance. The regime is more cautious with the Fifth Corps led by Audeh, as it is protected by Russia. In fact, in several instances, Audeh and his comrades have antagonized the regime’s military and security personnel without facing any consequences. In one incident, they attacked security officers who reportedly were running a checkpoint in the southeast of Daraa Governorate that mistreated those passing through, but Audh’s group suffered no reprisals.33
Similarly, in August 2019 Audeh’s men beat up a pro-regime journalist upon entering Busra al-Sham. He had published a Facebook post that was disrespectful of Abdul Baset al-Sarut, a former football player who joined the rebels and became a symbol of the Syrian uprising. When the perpetrator was asked whether he was not afraid of regime retaliation, he reportedly replied, “I know the regime wants revenge. I have received indirect threats. But I can go to Damascus [without problems] because I have Ahmad [Audeh] behind me.”34
Outside Busra al-Sham, Tafas, and Daraa City, the regime is in greater control, though it still faces serious challenges. An assassination attempt in March 2020 against the mayor of Inkhil—a security stronghold—indicates that regime forces are at risk even in such locations.35 In Jasem, where the regime has reestablished a security presence, but not as strongly as in Inkhil, the challenges are more evident. For example, the local General Intelligence Directorate branch tried to arrest a former rebel leader but failed when the twenty soldiers sent to arrest him were disarmed and held hostage after word of the operation had reached their target. He called up his comrades who brought their weapons and prevented the action.36
While violence has dominated narratives emerging from Daraa Governorate, another defining characteristic of the situation there since the regime has come back is that negotiations and conflict-mitigation efforts are frequent. An example is Ahmad al-Audeh himself, who often acts as an intermediary in defusing tensions, as was the case in Al-Sanamayn. Because he derives his power from Russia, he can talk to both the regime and former opposition members.
However, Audeh is not alone. The so-called Central Committee in Daraa plays a similar role in Daraa City and other parts of the governorate. It brings together influential former civilian and military opposition leaders and local notables. Because it enjoys backing from Russia and contacts within the regime, as well as support from former rebels, the general public, and major tribal clans, the committee has been in a good position to resolve conflicts. It has been involved in issues ranging from responding to robberies and kidnappings, releasing detainees, and mitigating armed violence between non-state actors as well as between former rebels and the regime.37
The committee’s access to regime officials, facilitated by Russia, has stretched beyond the south to include senior officials in Damascus, such as Ali Mamlouk, the head of the Baath Party’s National Security Bureau.38 The efforts of the committee have not always yielded positive results but, as one observer put it, “regardless of how we evaluate their work, they have benefited Daraa.”39
Finally, another feature of the regime’s return to the southern border region is the helplessness of former rebels who do not enjoy, or who may no longer enjoy, Russian protection. The regime forces’ takeover of rebel areas in Al-Sanamayn underlined the vulnerability of such groups. It showed that, even though it is unable to impose its writ everywhere in Daraa, Damascus can do so by focusing its energies on specific localities. At this time, it is hard to imagine that the regime will repeat in Busra al-Sham, Daraa City, and Tafas what it did in Al-Sanamayn, given that the rebels there are better armed, maintain organizational structures, and could put up a fight. However, if Russia’s pledge to uphold the conditions of the agreement with the rebels were to evaporate, the regime would be in a stronger position to bring these localities back under its full military and security control.
Thus far, Russia has been engaged in maintaining the status quo. Moreover, it is conceivable that, realizing that Iran and its allies may push back against the order it has established in parts of the south, Moscow may try to shore up its influence there by mobilizing former rebels and even bringing back to Daraa some former rebel commanders who are now in Jordan.40
In fact, there have been reports in Daraa and Jordan that this has been taking place, but it has not been possible to verify this. However, some prominent former opposition members in Daraa have criticized Russia for not being proactive enough in countering regime violations of the agreement.41 The extent of Moscow’s commitment seems to vary from one locality to another. In some areas under firm regime control, it is nearly nonexistent. Others have argued that Russia’s strong commitment to upholding the agreement in Busra al-Sham has differed in Tafas and Daraa City, where the agreement is often violated by the regime.42
While all this may be true, Moscow has remained committed to the core of the agreement, which is to keep the regime’s security and military presence limited. This, in turn, would significantly decrease the ability of Iran and pro-Iranian forces to broaden their presence in the southern border region. In order to maintain the agreement Russia has repeatedly intervened in Tafas and Daraa city to mitigate conflicts between former rebels and the regime that could potentially jeopardize the settlement.43 As one journalist from Daraa familiar with the situation on the ground put it, “Unlike Audeh, rebels in Tafas still behave as an opposition force. They wouldn’t have endured without Russia’s protection.”44 Russian safeguards have given former rebels a margin of maneuver, but they have also tied their fate to the Russian presence, making them more likely to advance Moscow’s interests in the south.
Beyond the deadly game of assassinations and military escalations, the regime has sought to provide services and basic necessities to communities where it has regained authority in order to coopt them. Damascus appears to be reviving the pre-2011 social contract, whereby the state provided basic necessities to communities in exchange for local support and social peace.45 This helped ensure that many basic commodities and services were more affordable, but it also handed the regime a powerful tool of control over society. It seems that, after almost a decade of conflict, the Syrian leadership still believes that this mechanism can be effective.
In an interview in late 2019, Assad stated “We are still [a] socialist [country]. We have a public sector, a very big public sector.”46 Throughout the war the regime did not fully abandon this logic. It continued to pay civil servants who lived in many opposition-held areas, including the south, even if inflation meant salaries were worth less.47 Additionally, travelling to regime-held areas to receive salaries, or any other subsidized state service, involved a security risk. Yet the regime wanted to maintain links with loyal or apolitical segments of the population. As one lawyer from Daraa whose family continued receiving a pension put it, the regime operated according to “a logic of the state.”48
Reviving the provision goods and services to inhabitants in the south became a key rallying point for regime officials and their intermediaries before and during the military campaign.49 Part of the appeal of this message resulted from the failure of the opposition to create alternatives to the state. The network of war profiteers that emerged at the intersection of aid provision, local councils, and armed opposition groups came to embody the frustration that locals had toward opposition institutions. One activist and journalist recalled the kidnapping of his brother who worked as a local monitor for a foreign aid organization:
He was monitoring the distribution of aid by the local [town] council in [Daraa Governorate] when he realized that 150 food baskets were missing. He filed a report. A few days later I was informed that he had been kidnapped. With the help of the armed faction that controlled my town and an honorable rebel leader from Nawa, we found him and secured his release. He had been severely tortured. The accusation was that he was a regime agent, but it was because of the 150 aid baskets. The [armed group] that kidnapped him had an agreement with the aid organization and the local council to steal the aid. There are hundreds of such stories that never made it to media outlets.50
After its return, the regime attempted to restore subsidized services and goods. For instance, Damascus resupplied the region with subsidized cooking gas, fuel, and wheat—three commodities whose supply primarily depended on the government’s intention to distribute them or not.51 These goods were also available during the period of opposition rule, although taxes levied at regime and rebel checkpoints ensured that cooking gas, like many other commodities, was more expensive than in regime-held areas.52 More recently, the government has also tried to control the prices of nonsubsidized foods.53
However, there is a disparity in providing goods and services. This had already been the case in the past and was exacerbated by the war. The regime’s security policies exclude some categories of the population from receiving benefits; for example, some state employees were dismissed for having had connections with the opposition. The head of the Lawyers Syndicate announced during the military campaign in July 2018 that 250 out of 700 lawyers had been dismissed and could no longer practice their profession.54
Returning all state employees to their positions was one of the demands of the opposition included in the agreement with Russia and the regime.55 The state has only partially backtracked on this decision. In the case of the lawyers, some were readmitted. Others, presumably those who were more involved with the opposition, are still awaiting to obtain a security clearance.56
Personal networks and contacts, along with localism, have also helped create disparities. People in positions of power in a locality, or who have access to influential people, often have the latitude to define what is distributed in that particular locality and who benefits, regardless of how the regime recaptured the area or how strong its presence. Even before the conflict, personal connections or animosities could make or unmake projects in a given place.57
This is still true today in Daraa Governorate. The cases of Busr al-Harir, Tafas, and Inkhil—three cities with very different relationships with the regime—indicate that personal relationship impact how services were delivered to an area, regardless of how strongly it fought off the regime. Busr al-Harir, the first major town to be recaptured by the regime, put up a strong fight and the regime required military force to capture it. But the mayor, a native technocrat perceived as being pro-regime and who has good contacts with Daraa’s governor, resumed the provision of services to the city.58 Inkhil, on the contrary, was quick to surrender to Damascus.59 But the new pro-regime mayor has still been vital in attracting scarce state resources to the town.60 In Tafas, too, personal relations have been effective in attracting services despite it being a locus for anti-regime activities.61
The state’s lack of resources is another crucial factor in what happens in the south, as the restoration of electricity shows. During the period of control by the rebels, one local activist recalled, the Electricity Directorate’s warehouses, which included pylons, cables, and other equipment, were all looted.62 Lack of resources put the burden of rehabilitation on the inhabitants themselves, creating disparities. In the Yarmouk Valley, for instance, several towns now receive electricity from the state, sometimes for twelve hours a day. Sahem Golan, however, received electricity about six months earlier than other places. The townspeople paid for the rehabilitation out of their pockets, which accelerated the process.63 Something similar occurred in Al-Sanamayn where directorate officials reportedly approached the residents of a neighborhood and said that they could provide power if the locals paid for the pylons.64
As for goods, the regime’s capacity to maintain current levels of subsidized goods, let alone increase them, is more and more difficult given the economic hardship that Syria is facing. Peasants, who ought to be key beneficiaries of Baath socialist rule, are increasingly left with little assistance. The prices of important fertilizers, such as urea 46, ammonium nitrate 30, and triple superphosphate 46, increased by 91 percent, 190 percent, and 154 percent respectively between 2017 and 2020.65 The head of the Damascus Farmers Union has said that the government’s decision to raise fertilizer prices would have a negative impact on farmers who face high production costs and might have to decrease output.66
Since the economy is unlikely to generate enough value for the regime to be able to pursue its assistance, it has channeled outside development and humanitarian aid to support its redistributive institutions. For instance, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, with support from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, is helping the government to provide farmers across Syria with quality seeds to offset their shortage and prevent food insecurity. Before the conflict, the General Organization for Seed Multiplication, a state institution that provides quality seeds at subsidized prices, supplied farmers with up to 300,000 tons of seeds per year. Its capacity in 2019 had declined to 35,000 tons.67 Such programs may allow the regime to maintain some of its subsidized programs afloat, but officials cannot hope to revive the redistributive economy without massive foreign aid, which is simply not forthcoming at the moment.
The reality is that Syria is bankrupt. The depreciation of the currency since the regime returned to the south—from 450 Syrian pounds (SYP) to the dollar to SYP 2,400 to the dollar, as of June 2020—is a startling indication of this.68 As one resident of Tafas put it: “I think the state doesn’t have the capacity to provide services. Otherwise, it would do so to silence people. Sometime I feel that our area is better served than [regime areas]. I tell you, the regime wants to appease people.”69
The instability in the south is likely to continue in the foreseeable future. The regime will continue its battle to seize all territories that remain outside of its control. Its efforts, however, are likely to provoke the disapproval of Russia and neighboring countries because the regime’s return could facilitate the expansion of Iran’s and Hezbollah’s roles in the border region. Meanwhile, the state’s dwindling resources will undermine whatever is left of its capacities to mobilize support, exacerbating socioeconomic problems. These conditions will generate instability, and, given the regional implications of what happens in southern Syria, the risks of a broader conflagration will remain.
From a Border Area to a Zone of Regional Contention
The war in Syria has transformed the south of the country from a border region that had an inactive front with Israel and a vibrant cross-border economy with Jordan into a volatile zone that has become a focal point of regional rivalries. Developments there, forged by local, regional, and international actors, could have ramifications that extend far beyond the area.
The young generation in the south has no firsthand recollection of the last Syrian-Israeli war, which took place in 1973, almost four decades before the uprising. That unsettled conflict, however, impacted the everyday lives of the inhabitants of the border area in many ways. This has been particularly true of security regulations in the south, which have been justified as necessary in light of the conflict with Israel. For example, Law 41/2004, the latest version of a series of similar laws, made property transactions in border areas—building, transferring ownership, or renting property for more than three years—subject to prior approval by the security services. One of the first demands of the protestors in Daraa in March 2011 was that the law be rescinded.70 The reason is that security officials misused it to extort money from locals. A notable from Daraa recalled an episode from before the uprising: “I wanted to pass on a small piece of land to my son. Security approval took two years. At the end I relied on a friend who pushed the matter forward.”71
Today’s complications with respect to Israel dwarf the ones that existed previously. The Iranian presence has become the main point of contention. In November 2017, before regime forces retook the south, Jordan, Russia, and the United States signed an agreement affirming that foreign forces and combatants would not be allowed into a zone that covered most of Daraa and Quneitra Governorates.72 Officially, Israel was not a signatory, though that particular condition explicitly recognized an important Israeli red line in the area. Iran and Iranian-backed forces, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, would be barred from deploying to large areas of the south near the occupied Golan Heights, setting up precision weapons there, and building permanent bases or any infrastructure allowing for attacks against Israel.73
For Jordan, too, the presence of Iran near its border was problematic. In November 2017, King Abdullah II expressed his concerns and vowed to defend his country’s northern border against “foreign militias,” in reference to pro-Iranian forces.74 Amman feared that their proximity might give them leeway to destabilize the kingdom.75 The potential destabilizing effect of the Iranian presence, especially in Daraa, was also a concern because of the impact it might have on Syrian refugees. Jordan was hosting more than 1 million refugees and could not absorb more, while it also understood that stability in southern Syria would be necessary for their return.76
These Israeli and Jordanian fears made it likely that both countries would respond to any effort by Iran and its allies to return to the border. This opened the door to Russia’s mediation efforts to pave the way for the regime’s return to the south. Iran, for its part, announced it would not participate in the military operations in southern Syria.77 Though some reports surfaced on the involvement of some Iranian-backed militias, Tehran and its proxies did not play a major role.78
Iran’s presence, whether expressed directly or through local and foreign armed groups, and the actual size of Iranian and proxy forces are matters of debate. Iran does have a foothold in southern Syria. Hezbollah was present in Quneitra Province before the regime offensive in 2018,79 and it has likely expanded its presence. The protests in the south in areas outside the regime’s military and security control often include demands for the departure of so-called “Iranian militias,” in reference to Hezbollah and other local actors perceived as proxies of Iran.80 Some opposition platforms have provided details of this presence, claiming it is getting stronger.81 However, such accounts may be exaggerated and not all observers share this view.82
Iran’s operational methods in the south make it difficult to assess the number of personnel it has deployed. According to a recent Israeli intelligence estimate, it has 800 operatives throughout Syria and works through allied groups.83 The Syrian Army’s Fourth Armored Division and Air Force Intelligence Directorate are widely known to have close relations with Iran. This does not imply complete dependency, but ties do exist.84 These Syrian forces might be playing Iran’s game, but they are not die-hard soldiers supporting an Iranian agenda. Often their motivations involve increasing their own income or personal security. A former resident of a town in Daraa offered such a view:
After the [June 2018] offensive, the Fourth Division recruited thirty guys from my town. They used to be part of Jaish al-Yarmouq. I can assure you that these guys didn’t know what three plus three equaled. They had to protect themselves. They didn’t know which party belonged to which international power. They needed to protect themselves.85
By December 2017 Israel said that it had carried out around one hundred airstrikes in Syria. Ever since, the attacks have continued. However, only a few have hit targets in the south.86 That just a small proportion of them has targeted Daraa Governorate is an indication that Israel’s red lines have not been crossed there. Russia’s involvement in the south and its influence over Syria and Iran have provided added assurances for Israel and Jordan against an extension of Iran’s presence. Thus far, Moscow has abided by that engagement and preserved the status quo, limiting the scope of the regime’s return. It has also cemented its place as guarantor of a fragile balance rather than as a regime ally.
This new reality has transformed the boundary between Syria and Israel. If the 1974 disengagement line represents the Syrian-Israeli frontline before the 2011 uprising, then today that frontline has very different characteristics. It is defined by the presence of a variety of forces, zones of control that are shifting, and an area of Israeli military operations that potentially lies much deeper inside Syrian territory. In other words, the state cannot reestablish its sovereign control over the south without considering the impact of this on Israel and to a lesser extent Jordan. Iran, too, cannot ignore Israeli or Jordanian concerns, or it risks provoking a confrontation.
The new realities in the south also illustrate that Iran’s frontline with Israel is no longer limited to southern Lebanon. This does not automatically mean that war is imminent on the Syrian-Israeli front. Rather, it means that Iran can now use Syrian territory to antagonize Israel, unlike before 2011. This should be understood more as a tactical step to prove Iranian relevance on the border, rather than an attempt to fracture the present balance. But while Iran appears not to want an escalation in Syria’s south now, that could change.
Volatility will remain the defining characteristic of Syria’s south for the foreseeable future. The regime’s efforts to impose greater sovereign control through violence will continue, and so will the resistance to this approach in the south. Meanwhile, Russia and Iran will seek to bolster their influence in the southern governorates. For as long as their actions do not fundamentally alter the status quo agreed by Jordan, Russia, the United States, and implicitly Israel in 2018—which at its heart means limiting the presence of Iran and its proxies in the south—they will have relatively limited regional implications.
However, that does not mean that a dangerous escalation is impossible, or even unlikely. Iran cannot be pleased to find its margin of maneuver constricted by Russia, in agreement with the United States and Israel, its two principal enemies in the Middle East. Moreover, the situation must be understood in the context of rivalry between Russia and Iran in Syria and their influence over political outcomes in the country. If Tehran were to challenge the current situation, this could have transboundary ramifications and would likely provoke an increase in Israeli airstrikes against it and its proxy forces in southern Syria and beyond. Where this would lead is an open question and would be tied in to Iran’s ability to deter Israel. While such a scenario may not be imminent, it cannot be dismissed.
This publication was produced with support from the X-Border Local Research Network, a program funded by UK aid from the UK government. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK government’s official policies.
A Note on Methodology
Because the security situation in southern Syria prevented the author from undertaking field work, this paper is primarily based on thirty-five interviews conducted remotely or during the author’s three field studies in Jordan in October 2019, December 2019, and March 2020. Most of the interlocutors were Syrians living in Jordan and in southern Syria, but several were Jordanians, foreign diplomats, or experts specialized in issues this paper examined. Triangulation has been used to correlate firsthand data with open source information when possible.
1 Walid al-Nofal and Justin Clark, “Advancing Damascus-Led Forces Bisect Eastern Daraa Countryside in Battle for Syria’s Southwest,” Syria Direct, June 26, 2018, https://bit.ly/2VpL691.
2 Before the military campaign in June 2018, Russia engaged in several meetings with rebel representatives that involved discussions on finding a formula to allow the state’s return to the south. Author interview with a participant in negotiations with Russian representatives, Irbid, Jordan, March 14, 2020.
3 For a more detailed description, see Humanitarian Access Team, “Southern Syria Reconciliation Agreement Update,” January 2019, https://www.humanitarianaccessteam.org/reports/situation-reports/situation-report-southern-syria-reconciliation-agreement-update.
4 “Member of Syrian Negotiation Committee Bashar al-Zu‘bi Refuses Russia’s Conditions in Daraa,” YouTube video, 0:40, posted by “Eldorar Elshamia,” June 30, 2018, accessed April 13, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhgSOX6ZmfA.
5 On one occasion, Russia and the regime conducted more than 600 airstrikes in the fifteen hours that followed a failed round of negotiations. See “More Than 600 Airstrikes Target Daraa Governorate in 15 Hours of the Return of the Hysterical Shelling,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, July 5, 2018, https://bit.ly/34yF4XK.
6 Abdullah al-Jabassini, “From Insurgents to Soldiers: The Fifth Assault Corps in Daraa, Southern Syria,” Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, May 14, 2019, https://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/62964/RR_2019_09_EN.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.
7 For instance, in a recent incident the opponents did not even allow the head of the police force to enter their area of control. See “Ahali Dar‘a al-Balad Yarfudun Dukhul Qa’id Shurtat al-Nizam” [Daraa al-Balad Residents Deny Entry to Regime’s Police Chief, Zaman al-Wasl, April 7, 2020, https://www.zamanalwsl.net/news/article/122703/. See also author interview with an activist in Daraa City, Syria (via Skype), April 11, 2020. There is also a group led Mustafa al-Masalmeh (known as Al-Kasm), who works for the regime’s Military Intelligence Directorate, but the nature of his official affiliation is unclear.
8 Ayman Jawad al-Tamimi, “Tensions in West Deraa Countryside: Interview,” May 21, 2020, http://www.aymennjawad.org/2020/05/tensions-in-west-deraa-countryside-interview.
9 Author interview with a Tafas resident, Daraa, Syria (via Skype), April 12, 2020.
10 Author interview with two members of Tajammu‘ Ahrar Hawran, Irbid, Jordan, March 13, 2020; author interview with Syrian journalist, Amman, Jordan, October 27, 2019; author interview with activist and journalist from Daraa currently residing in Paris, France (via Skype), November 22, 2019; and author interview with a former Daraa municipality official, Irbid, Jordan, March 10, 2020.
11 “Syrian Arab Republic: Humanitarian Situation in Dara’a, Quneitra and As-Sweida Governorates, Situation Report No. 6,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, August 18, 2018, https://reliefweb.int/report/syrian-arab-republic/syrian-arab-republic-humanitarian-situation-dara-qunaitra-and-sweida.
12 “The Rapid Collapses of Jaysh Khaled Ibn Al-Waleed Decrease Its Scope of Control in Daraa to 2% and the Regime Forces Continue Their Military Operations in Yarmouk Basin in Seeking for Ending Its Presence [sic],” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, July 26, 2018, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=98935.
13 Author interview with a former Daraa municipality official,Irbid, Jordan, March 10, 2020; author interview with Syrian journalist, Amman, Jordan, October 27, 2019; and author interview with a participant in negotiations with Russia, Irbid, Jordan, March 14, 2020.
14 Notable officials involved include Lu’ai al-Ali, currently the head of Military Intelligence in the south, and Khaled al-Hanous, the former governor of Daraa. For more on the concept of intermediaries, see Kheder Khaddour and Kevin Mazur (Eds), Local Intermediaries in Post-2011 Syria: Transformation and Continuity (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, June 2019), http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/beirut/15547.pdf.
15 There was a failed assassination attempt against the mukhtar of Al-Karak al-Sharqi who openly supported the regime. From author interview with a former fighter turned activist, Amman, Jordan, October 28, 2019.
16 One former Yadouda resident said, “The mukhtar of Yadouda town, who is from the Qaddis family, publicly supported the regime [before 2018]. No one harmed him. He had a house in Damascus and one in Daraa and would commute. He used to call for the return of state institutions. When the regime controlled the town, he welcomed them. This applies to the mayor of Al-Musayfra, Abdulillah al-Zu‘bi, who welcomed the regime upon their arrival,” from author interview with a former resident from near Yadouda currently residing in Amman, Jordan (via Skype), November 29, 2019. Another former Inkhil resident said, “In Inkhil there were people who openly supported the regime without anyone targeting them because of their tribal affiliation,” from author interview with a former Inkhil resident, Amman, Jordan, October 27, 2019.
17 Author interview with a notable from Nawa, Irbid, Jordan, December 15, 2019. For the details of the story, see Walid al-Nofal, “Daraa: Quwa Asha’iriyya Tu‘iq Muhakamat Musharikin fi Sochi” [Tribal Forces Hinder the Trial of Sochi Participants], Al-Modon, July 2, 2018, https://bit.ly/34A324M.
18 As one activist explained, “Before the offensive, Baathists from my town near Kherbet Ghazaleh met with the governor who told them to tell people that the state would restore services if they reconciled,” from author interview with a member of Tajammu‘ Ahrar Hawran, Irbid, Jordan, March 13, 2020. A Daraa resident added, “A few months before the offensive, regime contacts with reconciliation committees, which existed in every town, increased markedly. They were the connecting ring between the opposition and the regime. They were part of the Baath Party. [Before the war] they already had relations with the Syria intelligence,” from author interview with an activist and journalist from Daraa currently residing in Paris, France (via Skype), November 22, 2019. A Sahwa resident also noted, “After intense shelling the regime reached out to notables in Sahwa, including the mayor of the town, members of the Baath party, and so on, and through them reached out to the factions to settle the situation,” from author interview with a former Sahwa resident currently residing in a European country (via Skype), November 28, 2020.
19 Author interview a notable from Nawa, Irbid, Jordan, December 15, 2019.
20 “The Situation in Daraa After Regime’s Control,” Syrian Civic Platform, June 3, 2019, https://bit.ly/3crC2HL.
21 Author interview with Syrian journalist from Daraa City, Syria (via Skype), April 11, 2020.
22 Silva Razzouq, “Al-Zu‘bi lil Watan: Al-Irhabi al-Subayhi Qaid al-Mulahaqa wa al-Dawleh Lan Tatruk al-Manatiq Ilaty Yastaghiluha al-Irhabiyoun fi Dar’a bi Hatha al-Shakl” [Al-Zu‘bi to Al-Watan: The Terrorist Subayhi is Being Prosecuted and the State Will Not Allow the Areas Exploited by the Terrorists in Daraa to Remain in This Way], Al-Watan, May 7, 2020, https://www.alwatanonline.com/الزعبي-لـ-الوطن-الإرهابي-الصبيحي-ق/.
23 Ammar al-Ali, “Gunmen kill 9 Assad regime policemen in SW Syria,” Anadolu Agency, May 4, 2020, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/gunmen-kill-9-assad-regime-policemen-in-sw-syria/1828591.
24 Walid al-Nofal, Twitter post, May 5, 2020, 3:42 a.m., https://twitter.com/walid_ALnofal/status/1257485672467836929.
25 “Istinfar wa Takhawof Li’ahali Dar‘a Ba‘d Taharok Wahdat ‘Askariyeh Liquwat al-Nizam fi Rif Dar‘a” [Daraa Residents Fear After Regime Military Units Move to Governorate’s Countryside], Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, May 6, 2020, https://bit.ly/31ekIDu.
26 “Al-Jihat al-Mukhtassa wa Quwat Hafz al-Nizam Tunhi Halet al-Falatan al-Amni fi al-Sanamayn” [Designated Parties and Law Enforcement Forces End the Lawlessness in Al-Sanamayn], SANA, March 3, 2020, https://sana.sy/?p=1116936.
27 See, for example, “Muthaharaat fi Busra al-Sham bi Dar‘a lil Tadamun m‘a Idlib wa Al-Sanamayn” [Protests in Busra al-Sham in Daraa in Solidarity with Idlib and Al-Sanamayn], Enab Baladi, March 1, 2020, https://enabbaladi.net/archives/366976.
28 One observer remarked, “During the Al-Sanamayn problems, the opposition arrested fifty-four regime personnel altogether. They were released later,” from author interview with a member of Tajammu‘ Ahrar Hawran, Irbid, Jordan, March 13, 2020. See also Walid al-Nofal, “Clashes in Daraa Evoke Memories of the Start of the Syrian Revolution,” Syria Direct, March 2, 2020, https://syriadirect.org/news/clashes-in-daraa-evoke-memories-of-the-start-of-the-syrian-revolution-1/.
29 Walid al-Nofal, “Protests in Daraa: Russia Absent as Damascus Weaponizes ‘Tribal Schisms,’” Syria Direct, February 5, 2020, https://syriadirect.org/news/protests-in-daraa-russia-absent-as-damascus-weaponizes-%E2%80%98tribal-schisms%E2%80%99/ .
30 “On the Ruins of the Settlement,” Daraa Martyrs Documentation Center, January 21, 2020, http://daraamartyrs.org/?p=19390.
31 Author interview with a Syrian journalist, Amman, Jordan, October 27, 2019.
32 Author interview with a member of Tajammu‘ Ahrar al-Hawran currently residing in Irbid, Jordan (via Skype), May 30, 2020.
33 Author interview with a person close to Ahmad al-Audeh, who asked that the city where the interview took place in Jordan not be identified, March 9, 2020.
34 Author interview with two members of Tajammu‘ Ahrar Hawran, Irbid, Jordan, March 13, 2020.
35 “Dar‘a … Majhulun Yaghtalun Madaniyan fi ‘Tafas’ wa Yuhawelluna Ightiyal Ra’is Baladiyet ‘Inkhil’” [Daraa: Unknown Assailants Assassinate a Civilian in Tafas and Try to Assassinate the Mayor of Inkhil], Zaman al-Wasel, March 25, 2020, https://www.zamanalwsl.net/news/article/122309/. Also, author interview with a Syrian journalist from Inkhil currently residing in Amman, Jordan (via Skype), April 12, 2020.
36 Author interview with two members from Tajammu‘ Ahrar Hawran, Irbid, Jordan, March 13, 2020.
37 One activist explained, “When there is a problem, people tend to complain to the central committee. I am following a story with someone whose motorbike was stolen in Daraa city, he complained to the committee and not to the police,” from author interview with former fighter turned activist, Amman, Jordan, October 28, 2019. See also “Ijtima‘ Bayn Lijnet Tafawud Dar‘a ma‘ Wazir al-Difa‘ wa Zhubat Barizin lil Nizam fi Dimashq” [Meeting Between the Daraa Negotiating Committee and the Defense Minister and Senior Regime Officers in Damascus], Smart News Agency, April 15, 2019,https://bit.ly/3fVJa0B.
38 “Ijtima‘ Bayn Lijnet Tafawud Dar‘a ma‘ Wazir al-Difa‘ wa Zhubat Barizin lil Nizam fi Dimashq” [Meeting Between the Daraa Negotiating Committee and the Defense Minister and Senior Regime Officers in Damascus].
39 One Syrian commented, “You can trust the committee. When there is an arrest, they intervene. Sometimes it works. Other times they say ‘the person is transferred to Damascus, we cannot do anything,’” from author interview with a former humanitarian worker, Tafas, Syria (via Skype), April 12, 2020. Another civil society leader said, “When the committee met with Ali Mamlouk they asked to remove charges [against opposition members] for good but they only extended the taswiyeh [settlement agreement] temporarily,” from author interview with civil society leader who asked that the city where the interview took place in Jordan not be identified, October 31, 2019.
40 Author interview with Tafas resident, Syria (via Skype), May 22, 2020; and author interview with a civil society leader currently residing in Irbid, Jordan (via Skype), June 1, 2020.
41 Nofal, “Protests in Daraa: Russia Absent as Damascus Weaponizes ‘Tribal Schisms.’”
42 See, for instance, Abdullah al-Jabassini, “From Rebel Rule to a Post-Capitulation Era in Daraa Southern Syria,” Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, June 2019, https://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/60664/RSCAS_2019_06.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.
43 From author interview with civil society leader who asked that the city where the interview took place in Jordan not be identified, October 31, 2019; and author interview with a resident from Tafas, Syria (via, Skype), May 22, 2020. See also, for example, “Madmun Itifaq Lijan Dar‘a al-Markaziyya m‘a al-Janeb al-Russi” [The Minutes of the Meeting Between the Central Daraa Committees and the Russian Side], Daraa 24, May 15, 2020, https://daraa24.org/مضمون-اجتماع-لجان-درعا-المركزية-مع-الج/.
44 Author interview, Syrian journalist from Daraa currently residing in Paris, France (via Skype), November 22, 2019.
45 Asef Bayat, Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East (Stanford University Press, 2009), 76; see also Laura Ruiz de Elvira, Christoph H. Shwarz, and Irene Weipert-Fenner, “Introduction: Networks of Dependency, a Research Perspective” in Laura Ruiz de Elvira, Christoph H. Shwarz, and Irene Weipert-Fenner (eds), Clientelism and Patronage in the Middle East and North Africa Networks of Dependency (New York: Routledge, 2019), 1.
46 “Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,” YouTube video, 24:07, posted by “Al Mayadeen Programs,” December 9, 2019, accessed April 13, 2020,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HahlZhzXtuk&feature=youtu.be.
47 Author interview with former resident from Daraa currently residing in a European country (via Skype), November 28, 2019; author interview with a former Daraa municipality official,Irbid, Jordan, March 10, 2020; and author interview with a participant in the negotiations with Russian representatives, Irbid, March 14, 2020.
48 Author interview with a lawyer from Daraa, Amman, Jordan, December 15, 2020.
49 One lawyer mentioned, “The regime promised services … Most people who I know heard this from Syrian officials,” from author interview with a lawyer from Daraa, Amman, Jordan, December 15, 2020; and author interview with two member from Tajammu‘ Ahrar Hawran, Irbid, Jordan, March 13, 2020.
50 Author interview with an activist and journalist from Daraa currently residing in Paris, France (via Skype), November 22, 2019. Another commentator said, “Armed groups were the strongest actor on the ground. They had strong influence on the local council of Al-Sahwa, my town,” from author interview with a former Al-Sahwa (Daraa) resident currently residing in a European country (via Skype), November 28, 2019.
51 One Daraa resident noted, “State services like water, bread, and electricity didn’t return equally to all parts of Daraa. But in general the situation improved everywhere,” from author interview with a former fighter turned activist, Amman, Jordan, October 28, 2019. According to this opposition source, for example, the regime resupplied bakeries with fuel and wheat after its return. See “‘Al-Taswiyyah’ Taftah Mawridan Maliyyan li Khazinet al-Nizam fi Dar‘a” [The ‘Settlement’ in Daraa Opens New Source of Revenue for the Regime in Daraa], Enab Baladi, September 19, 2018, https://www.enabbaladi.net/archives/252391#ixzz6EKO0Q0Wr. The state claimed to be providing 230,000–300,000 tons of flour for bakeries every day. That, however, was not enough to cover the local needs. See Walid al-Zu‘bi, “Mushkilet Ta’min Raghif al-Kibz fi Dar‘a Tatafaqam wa La Hulul fi al-Ufuq Tukhafef min Mu‘anat al-Nas” [The Problem of Securing Bread in Daraa Worsens and No Solutions in Sight to Reduce Peoples’ Suffering], Tishreen, December 19, 2018, http://tishreen.news.sy/?p=256867. Despite a countrywide shortage, the government resumed providing schools in the south with heating fuel, illustrating the central government’s intent to resupply newly captured areas. See “Al-‘Audeh Allah: Tawzi‘ 87,215 Litran min al-Mazout ‘ala Madares Muhafazat Dar‘a” [Al-‘Audeh Allah: Distribution of 87,215 Liters of Fuel to Daraa Schools], Syrian Ministry of Education, February 15, 2020, https://bit.ly/34A6axK.
52 Author interview with a participant in negotiations with Russian representatives, Irbid, Jordan, March 14, 2020.
53 “‘Al-Banadoura’ Ba‘da an Tajawazat 1,000 Lira, Rubama Ta‘ud ila 100” [After the Price of Tomatoes Rose Above 1,000 Liras, It Might Return to 100], Daraa 24, May 8, 2020, https://daraa24.org/tomato/.
54 Muhamad Hamijo, “Muhamun Laja’u Libay‘ al-Dukhan wa al-‘Amal fi al-Mazare‘ li ‘Adm Wujud Mawred Lahom” [Lawyers Without Income Resort to Selling Cigarettes and Working in Fields], Al-Watan Online, July 22, 2018, https://www.alwatanonline.com/محامون-لجؤوا-لبيع-الدخان-والعمل-في-الم/.
55 “The Syrian Government Refuses to Rehire Dismissed Employees in Northern Rural Homs, Contrary to Settlement Deal’s Terms,” Syrians for Trust and Justice, November 8, 2018, https://stj-sy.org/en/942/.
56 Author interview with a lawyer from Daraa, Amman, Jordan, December 15, 2020. The following source suggests that eighty lawyers were readmitted to the syndicate whereas the remaining 120 did not. See “Syria: The Bar Association Disbarred 170 Lawyers in Daraa,” Syrians for Truth and Justice, November 4, 2019, https://stj-sy.org/en/syria-the-bar-association-disbarred-170-lawyers-in-daraa/.
57 Author interview with a former Daraa municipality official, Irbid, Jordan, March 10, 2020.
58 Author interview with a participant in negotiations with Russian representatives, Irbid, March 14, 2020.
59 One resident said, “In Inkhil, the notables went to the Ninth Brigade in Al-Sanamayn and agreed over the details of the surrender to the regime. They didn’t even talk about the status of the fighters.” Author interview with a former Inkhil resident, Amman, Jordan, October 27, 2019.
60 Author interview with Syrian journalist currently residing in Amman, Jordan (via Skype), April 11, 2019.
61 Author interview with a former Daraa municipality official, Irbid, Jordan, March 10, 2020.
62 Author interview with a lawyer from Daraa, Irbid, Jordan, March 12, 2020.
63 Author interview with a native from the Yarmouq Valley who asked that the city where the interview took place in Jordan not be identified, March 12, 2020.
64 Author interview with a lawyer from Daraa, Amman, Jordan, October 27, 2019.
65 The Syria Report, “Government Raises Again Fertilizers Prices, Endangering Agricultural Production,” February 27, 2018, https://www.syria-report.com/news/food-agriculture/government-raises-again-fertilisers-prices-endangering-agricultural-production; and The Syria Report, “Fertilizer Price Hike to Hit Agricultural Production,” March 11, 2020, https://www.syria-report.com/news/food-agriculture/fertiliser-price-hike-hit-agricultural-production.
66 Abdulhadi Shubat, “Itihad al-Fallahin Ya‘tared … Wa Khalouf: Mukhalef Lima A‘lanathu Sabiqan … Al-Hukuma Tarfa‘ As‘ar Asmida Asasiyya 100 Bilmi’a” [The Farmers Union Objects … and Khalouf: Contradicting What Was Announced Previously … The Government Raises Prices of Essential Fertilizers by 100 Percent,” Al-Watan, March 3, 2020, https://alwatan.sy/archives/234828.
67 “FAO and DFID Collaboration to Recover the Seed Multiplication System in the Syrian Arab Republic,” FAO, July 25, 2019, http://www.fao.org/resilience/news-events/detail/ar/c/1201280/. The main Daraa city bakery, for instance, was rehabilitated by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross. See Daraa Governorate_Local Administration, Facebook post, January 29, 2020, https://bit.ly/3bdDEVg.
68 See: “US Dollar / Syrian Pound,” Al-Layra Al-Yawm, June 24, 20202, https://sp-today.com/en/currency/us_dollar.
69 One activist explains, “There is a large segment in society which is apolitical. It just wants to secure an income, be safe, and survive. With them, the regime cannot deal through security means. The alternative is the provision of services in return for ta‘a [obedience],” from author interview with activist and journalist from Daraa currently residing in Paris, France (via Skype), November 22, 2019. Another Yarmouk resident says, “In terms of services I am surprised that the regime is investing …. They are trying to gain legitimacy through services. They want to show that their rule is better than opposition rule,” from author interview with a native from Yarmouk Valley, Irbid, Jordan, March 12, 2020; and author interview with a Tafas resident, Syria (via Skype), April 12, 2020.
70 “Qanun 41 Li‘am 2004 Tahdid al-Manateq al-Hududiyya” [Law 41 of 2004 That Determines the Border Areas], National Assembly of Syrian Arab Republic, http://parliament.gov.sy/arabic/index.php?node=5595&cat=16133. For the list of demands see, “Popular Protest in North Africa and the Middle East (VII): The Syrian Regime’s Slow-Motion Suicide,” International Crisis Group, July 13, 2011, https://www.crisisgroup.org/middle-east-north-africa/eastern-mediterranean/syria/popular-protest-north-africa-and-middle-east-vii-syrian-regime-s-slow-motion-suicide.
71 Author interview with a notable from Daraa, Irbid, Jordan, March 9, 2020.
72 Author interview with a former senior security official familiar with the negotiations who asked his location to not be identified (via Skype), April 12, 2020.
73 “Israel, Hizbollah, and Iran: Preventing Another War in Syria,” International Crisis Group, February 8, 2018, https://www.crisisgroup.org/middle-east-north-africa/eastern-mediterranean/syria/182-israel-hizbollah-and-iran-preventing-another-war-syria.
74 Z. Harel, “Concern in Jordan Over Pro-Iranian Forces on Border,” Middle East Media Research Institute, Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1359, November 16, 2017, https://www.memri.org/reports/concern-jordan-over-pro-iranian-forces-border#_edn1.
75 Author interview with Jordanian political analyst, Amman, Jordan (via Skype), April 11, 2020.
76 Ibid. See also Mohammad Ghazal, “Jordan Cannot Take Any More Syrian Refugees—Officials,” June 25, 2018, http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/jordan-cannot-take-any-more-syrian-refugees-%E2%80%94-officials.
77 “Al-Safir al-Irani fi ‘Amman Yunfi Wujud Quwat Iraniyya fi Janub Suriya” [The Iranian Ambassador in Amman Denies the Presence of Iranian Forces in Southern Syria], Sputnik, May 23, 2018, https://sptnkne.ws/h9G8.
78 Caleb Weiss, “Confirmed: First Evidence of Iranian-Controlled Militia Involvement in Southern Syria,” The Long War Journal, June 27, 2018, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2018/06/confirmed-first-evidence-of-iranian-controlled-militia-involvement-in-southern-syria.php.
79 Suleiman al-Khalidi, “Syrian, Iranian Backed Forces Advance in Border Area Near Israel,” Reuters, December 25, 2017, https://reut.rs/2yMDNks.
80 The release of detainees and the departure of pro-Iranian militias are the most common demands of protestors. From author interview with Syrian journalist from Daraa currently residing in Paris, France (via Skype), November 22, 2019.
81 “Presence of Iranian-Backed Militias in South Syria,” ETANA Syria, June 22, 2019, https://etanasyria.org/presence-of-iranian-backed-militias-in-south-syria-22-6-2019/; and author interview with a former senior opposition figure, Amman, Jordan, March 9, 2020.
82 Author interview with a Western diplomat, Amman, Jordan, March 2020.
83 “IDF Recommendation: Intensify Attacks Against Iran in Syria,” Israel Defense, January 14, 2020, https://www.israeldefense.co.il/he/node/41611.
84 Author interview with a Syrian journalist, Beirut, Lebanon, March 7, 2020.
85 Author interview with a former Al-Sahwa (Daraa) resident currently residing in a European country (via Skype), November 28, 2019; and author interview with Tafas resident, Syria (via Skype), April 12, 2020. After the regime’s return, one former resident noted, “To survive, people allied themselves with the strongest. It didn’t matter who: the Fifth Corps, the Fourth Armored Division, Air Force Intelligence, Military intelligence, etc.,” from author interview with an activist and journalist from Daraa currently residing in Paris, France (via Skype), November 22, 2019.
86 “Israeli Missiles Hit Military Post Near Damascus: Syrian State TV,” Reuters, December 2, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-attack/israeli-missiles-hit-military-post-near-damascus-syrian-state-tv-idUSKBN1DW081.
South Africa: A sophisticated failing state
By David Himbara, Professor of international development, Centennial College, Toronto, Canada. The Africa Report, 29 July 2020
Life expectancy that is lower than in war-ravaged Afghanistan in an environment where the state has been captured by private interests alongside colossal mismanagement is testimony to a failing state in South Africa.
The idea might seem absurd. After all, this is a country with highly developed financial, real-estate and business-service sectors on a par with those of the industrialised world.
The Johannesburg Stock Exchange is the biggest in Africa and the 19th largest in the world. South Africa is an industrial powerhouse which manufactures textiles, metals, chemicals, food-processing, automobiles, electronics and armaments.
The country boasts one of the most advanced telecommunications sectors anywhere. South Africa is home to world-class universities that are highly ranked for teaching, research and innovation.
How can there be a failing state in such a country?
Black South Africans remain the wretched of the earth
South Africa also remains the world’s most unequal country, 26 years after the end of the apartheid system. According to the World Bank, on the scale of 0 to 100, with 0 representing total equality, South Africa scores 63. Extraordinary poverty levels persist with unemployment rates of nearly 30%, rising to 60% among youths.
This ugly reality affects both rural and urban black South Africans. The ever-present risk of crime disproportionately impacts poor black Africans. Out of 191 countries, South Africa ranks 165 in life expectancy at 64.8 years, less than that of Afghanistan at 65 years and Haiti at 64.9 years. These two countries are unquestionably failed states.
De facto one-party state
South Africa is a classic case of a de facto one-party state, a term that describes a dominant-party system that, unlike the one-party state, allows at least nominally democratic multiparty elections. However, the existing balance of political power effectively blocks the opposition from winning elections. The outcome from a de facto one-party state and a straightforward one-party state is the same. Opposition parties have no real chance of gaining power.
South Africa under the African National Congress (ANC) is a de facto one-party state where the ruling party wins power despite its failure to improve lives, especially those of black South Africans. The corrupt nature of the ANC government is currently receiving greater attention than in the past. Under the commission set up to investigate corruption, most of the revelations concern the relationship between the former president Jacob Zuma, his family and the Guptas, three Indian-born brothers who moved to South Africa after the fall of apartheid.
The Guptas owned a portfolio of companies that enjoyed lucrative contracts with ANC government departments and state-owned conglomerates. The Guptas also employed several Zuma family members in senior positions, including Jacob Zuma’s son. According to testimony heard at the inquiry, public officials responsible for various state bodies were directly instructed by the Guptas to take decisions that advanced the brothers’ business interests.
The ANC’s worst failure came long before Zuma. More than 330,000 South Africans died prematurely from HIV/AIDS due to the failure by the government of President Thabo Mbeki to give life-saving treatment. At least 35,000 babies were born with HIV infections. Studies have shown that South Africa experienced a decline in average life expectancy between 1990 and 2013.
When Nelson Mandela was freed, I packed my bags and moved to South Africa in 1994. I left the country broken and returned to Canada in 2013. The worst I witnessed was the preventable deaths of thousands due to the ANC government’s denialism on HIV/AIDS. I still cry for South Africa.
Electricity utility state company Eskom has been a disaster, plagued by mismanagement and corruption. In December 2019, Eskom had to implement scheduled blackouts help prevent total collapse of an overstretched power grid. Similar measures were also put in place in 2018, 2015 and as far back as 2008.
Ratings agencies often cite South Africa’s frequent power outages as one of the main risks to the economy. Eskom’s debt is a black hole to the tune of about US$31.4 billion.
Eskom is not alone in total dependency on government bailouts. Other vital state-owned enterprises (SEOs) are dysfunctional and remain afloat only due to perpetual government bailouts. The national airline, South African Airways (SAA), the post office and the arms manufacturer Denel are a few examples.
South African debt stands at US$230 billion, which just increased because of the US$4.3 billion loan from the IMF for budget support. Debt as a percentage to GDP stands at 77% and is projected to reach 85% in 2021. However, the debts of SOEs including Eskom and SAA are not counted, even though these debts are guaranteed by the government. So the debt situation in South Africa is much worse than the published figures.
The biggest ongoing failing in South Africa is undoubtedly in land reform.
Historically, land is the most contested issue, because the apartheid system denied land ownership to black South Africans. But 26 years after the end of apartheid, the ANC’s land-restitution agenda remains on the drawing board. Land redistribution is characterised by a series of ineffectual and ill-defined government programmes and a lack of political will.
The 2017 land audit established that 72% of the country’s arable land remains in the hands of whites, who account for less than 10% of the population. The most recent incarnation of land redistribution is the proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the government to expropriate unused private land without compensation and redistribute it to black farmers.
Surprisingly, the government holds significant land which could be made available for redistribution before venturing into land seizure without compensation. According to the 2013 Land Audit, state land in South Africa amounts to 17 million hectares, spread across the country’s provinces. It is a no brainer to distribute this before tackling the more complex privately-owned land.
Even developed states can fail if they are captured by private interests. The ANC has failed South Africa.
How to Shield Education from Al-Shabaab in Kenya’s North East
International Crisis Group, Briefing No 159/Africa, 22 July 2020
Al-Shabaab is targeting teachers in order to expel those it views as outsiders from majority-Muslim north-eastern Kenya. The government’s response – to evacuate non-native tutors – has shuttered the area’s schools. Nairobi should supply funds to hire local educators, while it works to restore security.
What’s new? Jihadists have repeatedly attacked schools in north-eastern Kenya in the last eighteen months. In response, the government has shuttered many schools and pulled most teachers out of a long-neglected region that is one of Al-Shabaab’s main recruiting centres outside Somalia.
Why does it matter? The education crisis adds to an already existing sense of marginalisation in north-eastern Kenya. Thousands of out-of-school youngsters could constitute an attractive pool of recruits for Al-Shabaab, which is engaged in a long-term campaign to deepen its foothold in the region.
What should be done? The Kenyan government should afford the north east’s residents, including police reservists, a greater role in tackling militancy and revive community-centred efforts that to some degree succeeded in rolling back Al-Shabaab in the past. It should also restore learning by providing stopgap funding so local administrations can hire replacement teachers.
Kenya’s 2011 deployment of troops to fight Al-Shabaab’s insurgency in Somalia has, over the years, eroded security at home. In 2013 and 2019, Al-Shabaab attacked Nairobi, respectively hitting a shopping mall and a luxury hotel, and exposing the vulnerability of the capital’s soft targets. But the group’s activities in the long-neglected north east are of greatest concern to Kenyan officials today. In January 2020, Al-Shabaab staged a major assault on a joint U.S.-Kenyan military base near the Somali border, exhibiting its operational prowess in the area. It has also pursued a campaign of killing teachers, in effect stripping the north east’s children of the chance to get a modern education.
In response, the authorities have evacuated all non-native teachers from the north east. While understandable, given the peril these teachers faced, the policy has brought the school system to a halt and may play into Al-Shabaab’s hands by further alienating an already disaffected population. The government should work with local residents to restore security and take steps to preserve education for young people in the north east.
II. Al-Shabaab Attacks and an Education Crisis
North-eastern Kenya has proven fertile ground for Al-Shabaab, which has vowed revenge against the government ever since Nairobi sent troops to Somalia in 2011.
The group’s leaders have long eyed the area, one of the country’s poorest and where the ethnic Somali population has for years complained of mistreatment by the state, as a target for infiltration. Security sources in Kenya say the militants have built a loyal intelligence network in the region, which shares a 700km largely unmanned border with southern Somalia, itself under partial Al-Shabaab control.
As Al-Shabaab has stepped up its activities in Kenya, it has often been with the idea of fomenting sectarian strife. In 2014, gunmen belonging to the group killed more than 50 civilians in the mainly Christian town of Mpeketoni. After the incident, an Al-Shabaab spokesman, Sheikh Mohammed Dulyadeyn, himself a Kenyan national, said “Kenya might also be divided along Christian and Muslim lines”.
In 2015, the jihadists took credit for killing 148 more people on a college campus in Garissa, the biggest town in the north east. Attackers spared Muslim students, training their sights on Christians.
After a lull, the last eighteen months have seen an uptick in Al-Shabaab violence. Militants have combined complex, headline-grabbing attacks with a grinding war of attrition on lower-profile targets, including police stations and communications masts. In 2019, according to a local research firm’s tally, Al-Shabaab conducted 34 attacks in Kenya with over half of them concentrated in the three north-eastern counties: Mandera, Wajir and Garissa. At least 83 people were killed in these assaults. In January 2020, militants stormed the Manda Bay base in Lamu, killing a U.S. soldier and two U.S. military contractors, in what was the first Al-Shabaab attack on a military facility outside Somalia. The assault’s spectacular nature, including the destruction of a U.S. surveillance plane as it was taking off, drew considerable attention. Attacks have not let up since then, not even after the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in March.
The insecurity has hit the education sector hard since 2018, when Al-Shabaab began attacking schools and killing teachers, many of whom started fleeing the region that year.
Most teachers hail from elsewhere in Kenya. They also are often Christians. Al-Shabaab, which seeks to force all non-Muslims out of the north east, thus considers them outsiders. Teachers are also easy targets as they live in the places where schools are located, unlike other non-local officials and businesspeople who reside in better secured towns. Al-Shabaab has killed many public servants besides teachers, including engineers and security personnel, and in 2015 it launched a string of attacks on non-local casual labourers at construction sites, forcing many of them to flee.
A pair of legal suits lodged in response to the crisis in the education sector illustrate the problem authorities face in fashioning a response. Soon after these attacks started, the Kenya National Union of Teachers and the Kenya Human Rights Commission initiated court proceedings to stop the state from posting non-local teachers to the north east until it could restore security.
With the court case under way, Nairobi nonetheless decided in January to officially order all non-native tutors out of the region in response to increasing attacks. In turn, civil society organisations brought legal action against the authorities for removing the teachers, citing the harm it could do to the region’s children. George Kegoro, head of the human rights commission, emphasised the dilemma: “We are left to choose between the lives of teachers and the education of children. As long as security issues in the north east are not resolved, we cannot force teachers to go there and die”.
Both cases are still in the courts.
The immediate crisis triggered by the decision to transfer thousands of teachers was compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the decision’s aftermath, hundreds of schools across the north closed. In the few that stayed open, children of all ages crowded into the same classrooms. Final-year students were left to prepare for national exams without instruction. As COVID-19 arrived in Kenya, the authorities went further by closing all remaining schools, although by then the damage to the education system was done. On 7 July, the authorities announced that the rest of the school year would be cancelled, and national exams pushed to 2021.
Tens of thousands of students in north-eastern Kenya now face a bleak future, exposed to the region’s security, economic and social problems with few ways out. Even if the authorities bring the coronavirus under control by 2021, they will face a real challenge in improving security and persuading teachers to return.
III. Violence and Underdevelopment
The north-eastern counties of Kenya are among the most marginalised parts of the country. The area’s high levels of poverty, unemployment and insecurity today are partly rooted in policies developed under colonial rule and perpetuated by successive post-independence governments. After establishing Kenya as a protectorate in 1920, the British colonial authorities concentrated development in the well-watered highlands, populated largely by Christian farmers, while neglecting the semi-arid north, inhabited by Muslim, ethnic Somali pastoralists. Just before independence, the British granted residents of north-eastern Kenya the right to decide via referendum whether to remain part of Kenya or to join Somalia. Residents overwhelmingly chose the latter, but Kenyan nationalist leaders at the time flatly rejected the vote’s outcome and subsequently waged a long, brutal war against an irredentist movement that emerged in the north, creating enduring mutual mistrust.
Subsequent neglect by Nairobi has deepened inequalities between the north east and other regions. Infrastructure development in the north east lags far behind the central highlands, for example. The north east falls below the rest of the country on indices of public health, education and employment. Only 1 per cent of north-eastern households have direct access to potable water, compared to 33 per cent in Nairobi. Almost all eligible children in central Kenya are registered in primary school, but that proportion drops to 18 per cent in the north east. The region’s secondary school enrolment figures are even lower. North-eastern Kenya also registers the worst joblessness in the country, with 35 per cent of the population out of work.
The situation is compounded by police and army misconduct toward the population. Many police officers and soldiers detest being deployed in the north east, where they face a greater danger of attack than in other parts of the country. “Kenyan police officers in the north east are generally poorly equipped, poorly paid and poorly commanded”, according to Andrew Franklin, a security consultant and former U.S. marine.
An overhaul of Kenya’s constitution in 2010, devolving power and resources from Nairobi to counties across the country, has opened the way for authorities to redress at least some entrenched inequalities.
Under the law, Kenya’s 47 counties each elect their own governors and regional assemblies. These bodies then receive a defined proportion of the national budget annually. The new order has breathed fresh economic life into the north east, since county authorities now have greater autonomy in developing their areas and providing local services, including construction of health care facilities.
Devolution has not, however, translated into greater safety in the north east. If anything, Al-Shabaab, often facing little resistance from demoralised security services, has stepped up its campaign in the region, where it already controls important recruitment and cross-border smuggling networks.
Between 2014 and 2017, Kenyan security officials say, the group conducted at least five assassination attempts against Mandera’s governor, Ali Roba. The group’s frequent night-time strikes on communications masts regularly cut off telephone service and disrupt commerce in an area where, as in the rest of Kenya, mobile money is a key driver of trade.
By attacking civil servants and businessmen from outside the region, who are overwhelmingly Christian, Al-Shabaab also appears to seek to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims across Kenya. The more militants can rend the north east’s socio-economic fabric, the more likely it is that they can tap grievances and poverty in the north to recruit young Kenyans.
In this light, the government’s January decision to withdraw all non-local teachers, while an understandable step to protect them, has played into Al-Shabaab’s hands. First, it has created widespread anger in northern Kenya, since residents took it as a further signal that Nairobi does not consider them fully Kenyan. “On one hand, Al-Shabaab accuses locals of being too Kenyan; on the other hand, the government sees them as Somali”, said Abdimalik Hajir, a local commentator.
Secondly, evacuating teaching staff from the north east risks consigning the region’s youth to penury or worse. Several residents, teachers and pupils who spoke to Crisis Group in Garissa expressed concern that an entire generation of students is missing out on an education, with dire consequences likely to follow. A headmaster at one high school warned that students whose time in school was cut short prematurely would constitute an attractive pool of recruits for Al-Shabaab.
IV. Stemming the Crisis
As Crisis Group has noted in the past, affording locals a greater role in tackling insecurity is a critical first step to rolling back Al-Shabaab’s efforts to cleave the north east from the rest of the country.
It has worked before. Al-Shabaab activity dropped substantially when Nairobi appointed veteran local administrator Mohamud Saleh to lead the region’s security forces between 2015 and 2018. His approach – centred on community intelligence gathering – gave locals the confidence they needed to go to the police with information about what Al-Shabaab was saying and doing. Authorities should reprise this strategy, which they seem to have abandoned after transferring Saleh to another post in the capital. Due to scant trust between citizens and security forces, officials deployed from Nairobi to the region since then have struggled to gather intelligence on Al-Shabaab.
The authorities should also consider ramping up the involvement of police reservists drawn from the north east. In rural Kenya, members of the Kenya Police Reserve, a local force armed by the central government, play an important role in maintaining security in areas where the state has limited sway. Reservists in the north east, many of whom are locally born, are often more willing to combat Al-Shabaab, including by responding to militants’ night-time assaults, something that non-local security forces with lower stakes in the community rarely do.
But reservists’ families are frequently targeted for retaliation by militants and are poorly paid and lightly equipped. The authorities should fold them into the regular security forces and give them better training, pay and equipment. They should also redouble efforts to rein in security sector abuses and halt extrajudicial killings by the national police and the army.
Some immediate action would help relieve the education crisis. Local leaders and education specialists have offered different options since the first wave of teacher killings occurred in 2014, including some discussed by Crisis Group in 2019, but their ideas have largely gone unheeded.
The authorities, possibly in partnership with the United States and European Union, which have programs aimed at tackling insecurity in the north, could provide stopgap funding to county governments so they can recruit tutors to replace the departed non-local teachers. This emergency measure would tide the counties over and – once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted – help prepare students for national exams due at year’s end.
Over the longer term, other steps could help. Ideally, better security would allow teachers from outside the region to return. At the same time, the government could also offer a scholarship program for students from the north east to join teacher training colleges, and in so doing start building a cadre of native-born Muslim teachers whom Al-Shabaab is less likely to target than their Christian colleagues. It could lower university entry grades for students from the north east wishing to pursue a career in education. Some local leaders object to this proposal, saying it might dilute standards.
But, while imperfect, the option is preferable to the less pleasant alternatives, including the possibility of schools closing indefinitely due to an absence of teachers.
Kenya’s government urgently needs to stem the tide of insecurity in the north east, drawing on the assistance of residents and local police reservists. The authorities should also explore emergency measures to fill the gap left by the exodus of teachers from schools in the area. When some level of safety is assured, they can adopt longer-term solutions, including training a cadre of local teachers from north-eastern Kenya whom militants might be less likely to attack. Failing to restore education will hand Al-Shabaab greater chances of success at attracting youngsters from this long-marginalised region than the group enjoys at present.
Nairobi/Brussels, 22 July 2020
Why the attack on civil liberties in Africa is a matter of life and death
BY RESISTANCE BUREAU, African Arguments, JULY 20, 20200
During the pandemic more than ever, having a free press is a matter of life and death.
Today, nearly every African country holds multiparty elections of some kind, but – as in the case worldwide – relatively few fully respect political rights and civil liberties. This situation was already worrying before the pandemic. In 2019, advocacy group Freedom House touted the headline “Global Press Freedom in Peril” and gave most African countries a 0 or 1 (of a maximum 4) for media freedoms. Stories like that of Laura Miti, a pioneering Zambian journalist arrested in December 2019 while attempting to help human rights defender Pilato (Fumba Chama), were far from remarkable.
However, since COVID-19 hit, matters have got worse as ruling parties attempt to avoid criticism and maintain control over how the pandemic is viewed. Even as we were editing this piece, Zimbabwe’s highly respected journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was abducted from his house after writing a series of articles and social media messages that were highly critical of the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Human rights groups immediately responded by demanding for his safe release.
Given that many African governments performed comparatively well in terms of restricting the spread of the virus, one might not expect the pandemic to have increased political pressure on the media. Yet many governments that have taken the disease seriously have also sought to evade scrutiny by undermining press freedom and civil liberties. Two – Madagascar and Tanzania – have consistently chosen to deny the significance of coronavirus altogether.
As the number of COVID-19 cases trends upwards again, there is a serious risk that harassment and censorship will only get worse. Indeed, in recent weeks, governments have increasingly harassed journalists seeking to tell the truth about the extent of the crisis and hold the ruling party responsible. In Somalia, an editor was arrested on charges of spreading fake news. In Niger, a journalist was arrested for social media posts about the pandemic. In Nigeria, reporters have been threatened and harassed in at least five different parts of the country. Egypt has expelled foreign journalists for writing critical stories. And as the abduction of Chin’ono demonstrates, journalists are under constant threat in Zimbabwe.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, there have been more than 20 major incidents since the pandemic began, with attacks on press freedom in 13 different African countries.
Significantly, this is not just a problem in more authoritarian states. Some of the continent’s most democratic countries have also seen repression. In Ghana, two journalists researching a story on COVID-19 were assaulted by soldiers. In Liberia, which suspended the right to free speech as part of the state of emergency imposed in April, security forces have attacked or intimidated at least four journalists. And in South Africa, which criminalised “disinformation” with the threat of fines and jail time for those who contradict the government’s own narrative, there have been three separate attacks on journalists. The legal changes are particularly worrying because they threaten to introduce restrictions on freedom of speech that will remain on the statute books long after the threat of COVID-19 has receded.
Branding criticism of the government as “fake news” is an especially effective way to attack press freedom, because there is already widespread concern about the impact of misinformation and disinformation on public health and political stability. It is one reason the Afrobarometer survey has recorded a significant recent decline in support for free speech on the continent, saying: “Popular support for media freedom – a majority view just three years ago – is now in the minority, exceeded by those who would grant governments the censor’s pencil.”
By presenting media harassment as part of a strategy to combat fake news – which does present a real challenge to an effective coronavirus response – governments can make their actions more palatable to both domestic and international audiences. The arrest and abuse of Swaziland News editor Zweli Martin Dlamini on trumped up charges of circulating fake for articles critical of the King’s news handling of the economy and failure to protect women from abuse is a case in point.
Of course, the harassment of journalists is only one part of a broader picture in which human rights have come under greater threat. The levels of violence inflicted by security forces while enforcing COVID-19 related restrictions are also deeply troubling. Deaths and human rights abuses have been recorded in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and South Africa, among others. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, “there have been over 250 instances of political violence in 33 African countries that have collectively led to almost 100 killed civilians in the context of governments’ coronavirus response.”
More troubling, it is likely that these figures underestimate the extent of the problem, as many journalists self-censor in order to avoid becoming the target of violence or reprisals. Those who try to expose and resist state oppressions risk arrest and worse. The Kenyan journalist and activist Boniface Mwangi was arrested this month for demanding the release of protesters who had been detained following a march to complain, among other things, about police brutality.
This repression is bad news for civil liberties and democracy, but it is also bad news for an effective response to the coronavirus pandemic. A free press improves our understanding of the issues. It also prevents the ruling party from underplaying the number of cases and forces governments to perform better and meet citizen expectations. As the African Centre for Security Studies recently put it: “As the pandemic expands across Africa, a free press will continue to be an integral component for mitigating the outbreak by serving as an early warning system and helping to target public health responses.”
Censorship and the harassment of journalists and activists are not just human rights issues. Today, more than ever, they are a matter of life and death.
The Resistance Bureau, a new global discussion space and podcast, is holding a live event to discuss speaking truth to power during the pandemic on 22 July. The guests are four of Africa’s most prominent journalists and civil liberties activists: Zambian journalist Laura Miti, Rwandan journalist Fred Muvunyi, Cameroonian journalist Comfort Mussa, and Kenyan activist Boniface Mwangi.
To Register to attend, visit: https://www.theresistancebureau.com
THE UNITED NATIONS - Girls and boys in northeast Nigeria are continuing to endure brutal abuse at the hands of Boko Haram, and are also being deeply affected by military operations taking place to counter the terrorist group, despite noteworthy efforts, according the UN chief’s latest report on children and armed conflict.
“The children of Nigeria and neighboring countries continued to endure horrendous violations by Boko Haram”, said Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, in a statement on Thursday, adding that the group’s expansion across the Lake Chad Basin region is “a serious concern” for Secretary-General António Guterres.
Between January 2017 and December 2019, the report described 5,741 grave violations against children in Nigeria.
Moreover, incidents in neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger were also reflected in the spillover of Boko Haram’s activities beyond Nigeria’s borders.
In September 2017, the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) group, that supports Nigerian forces locally against Boko Haram, signed an Action Plan with the UN to end and prevent violations. Prior to that, the group had recruited more than 2,000 children.
Meanwhile, children detained for their association with Boko Haram remain a grave concern – although actual numbers have proved difficult to assess because the UN was not granted access to facilities that housed the minors, says the report.
“Children formerly associated should not be further penalized through detention and I call on the Government of Nigeria to expedite the release of children from detention and prioritize their reintegration into society”, asserted Ms. Gamba.
“I also urge the Government to review and adopt the protocol for the handover of children associated with armed groups to civilian child protection actors”, she said.
The vast majority of the 1,433 UN-verified child casualties were attributed to Boko Haram, with suicide attacks the leading cause, according to the report.
And while over 200 children were affected by incidents of sexual violence, fear of stigma, retaliation, lack of accountability for perpetrators and lack of resources for survivors, have rendered those crimes vastly underreported.
At the same time, denying humanitarian access to children has affected the delivery of aid to thousands of minors.
The report also detailed that some of the most atrocious incidents by Boko Haram involved the abduction and execution of humanitarian workers.
A signed deal
The 2017 Action plan marked a turning point in the CJTF’s treatment of children.
“Progress has been consistent, and no new cases of recruitment and use have been verified” since the signing, according to the UN official, who urged the group to fully implement the plan and to “facilitate the disassociation of any remaining children”.
Ms. Gamba also stressed the need to provide a regional African response to the situation.
Algérie : vers le déconfinement du hirak ?
International Crisis Group, Report No 217, 23 July 2020
Les retombées économiques et sociales de la crise de Covid-19 et les mesures de confinement risquent de multiplier les défis auxquels l’Algérie est confrontée. Les autorités devraient desserrer leur étau sur la contestation populaire et établir un dialogue économique avec le hirak.
Que se passe-t-il ? Les retombées économiques et sociales de la crise déclenchée par la Covid-19 et les mesures de confinement que les autorités algériennes ont mises en place multiplient les défis auxquels l’Algérie est confrontée.
En quoi est-ce significatif ? Pour y faire face, le gouvernement algérien pourrait recourir à l’endettement extérieur et renforcer les mesures d’austérité budgétaire. Ces décisions pourraient toutefois attiser les tensions sociales et aggraver le conflit entre le hirak et le pouvoir.
Comment agir ? Les autorités devraient profiter de l’union nationale générée par l’épidémie afin de desserrer leur étau sur la contestation populaire. Pouvoir et hirak devraient participer à un dialogue économique national qui proposerait des actions concrètes destinées à diminuer l’exposition du pays aux fluctuations du marché pétrolier et gazier.
Les retombées économiques et sociales de la crise déclenchée par la Covid-19 et les mesures de confinement que les autorités algériennes ont mises en place risquent de radicaliser le mouvement de contestation (hirak). Afin d’éviter ce scénario, le pouvoir devrait profiter de l’union nationale générée par la pandémie pour desserrer son étau sur le hirak et soutenir certaines de ses initiatives citoyennes. Si un dialogue politique est peu réaliste à court terme, pouvoir et hirak devraient à tout le moins participer à un dialogue économique national visant à lever les obstacles aux changements structurels nécessaires pour éviter une crise économique d’ampleur.
Les organisations financières internationales et pays amis de l’Algérie devraient se préparer à la soutenir financièrement, notamment pour qu’elle puisse mener d’éventuelles réformes économiques, sans pour autant imposer des conditionnalités trop strictes. Si l’Algérie les acceptait, en effet, elles risqueraient – comme dans les années 1990 – de déstabiliser d’importants réseaux de clientèle qui participent à la gestion de la rente tirée des hydrocarbures et d’intensifier les violences.
Le hirak, un mouvement citoyen et largement pacifique, est né en février 2019 suite à l’annonce de la candidature du président Abdelaziz Bouteflika à un nouveau mandat. Face au danger sanitaire, le mouvement a fait preuve de sens civique et a respecté les mesures restrictives mises en œuvre par le pouvoir pour endiguer l’épidémie. Le hirak a notamment suspendu ses manifestations de rue et établi des réseaux de solidarité afin de réduire l’impact social du confinement.
Si, sur le plan socioéconomique, le gouvernement algérien a été réactif, mettant en place une série de mesures d’urgence, sur le plan politique, il semble mettre un terme à la période de détente vis-à-vis du hirak qui a suivi l’élection, le 12 décembre 2019, d’Abdelmadjid Tebboune. Ainsi, malgré les promesses de réforme constitutionnelle formulées en réponse aux revendications du hirak, le raidissement sécuritaire devient perceptible. De surcroit, la paralysie économique mondiale et la chute du prix du baril de pétrole ont multiplié les défis économiques et sociaux auxquels l’Algérie est confrontée. Vu la dépendance du pays à l’exportation d’hydrocarbures et l’impact du confinement, la plupart des projections macroéconomiques sont peu optimistes.
A court terme, le gouvernement algérien pourrait devoir recourir à l’endettement extérieur et renforcer considérablement les mesures d’austérité budgétaire, avec pour conséquence possible une recrudescence des tensions sociales. Dès lors, lorsque les mesures de confinement seront levées dans l’ensemble du pays, le hirak pourrait adopter une position plus offensive. Les conditions sont réunies pour que les marches bihebdomadaires reprennent et que s’y ajoutent des grèves générales et la désobéissance civile, ce qui exacerberait le conflit avec le pouvoir.
Le bras de fer auquel le pouvoir et le hirak se livrent depuis février 2019 risquerait de se durcir. A défaut, le hirak pourrait s’épuiser, et en l’absence de mesures répondant aux aspirations que le mouvement exprime, créer un vide laissant la place, dans quelques années, à des groupes minoritaires prônant un discours plus dur et des modes d’actions plus radicaux.
Pour écarter les scénarios les plus risqués et élargir le soutien au président Tebboune, le pouvoir devrait concrétiser les promesses d’ouverture politique faites par le nouveau chef de l’Etat. Ceci passerait, par exemple, par la libération des prisonniers d’opinion, la levée de la censure médiatique et la fin des arrestations arbitraires. De même, il pourrait, sans chercher à les coopter, apporter un soutien accru aux réseaux citoyens que les animateurs du hirak ont mis en place afin de lutter contre l’épidémie et son impact social.
Un dialogue politique qui mettrait fin au conflit est peu probable dans l’immédiat. En revanche, un dialogue économique national suivi et approfondi l’est davantage. Ce dernier pourrait réunir les principales forces politiques, syndicales et associatives, ainsi que des représentants du gouvernement et les entrepreneurs les plus influents du pays, y compris ceux du secteur informel. L’objectif serait d’identifier les obstacles à une réforme économique réelle et de proposer des solutions réalistes et largement acceptées pour les surmonter.
Enfin, si le gouvernement algérien les sollicite, les organisations financières internationales et les pays amis de l’Algérie devraient la soutenir financièrement, notamment son éventuelle stratégie de réformes économiques. Dans ce cas de figure, les éventuels bailleurs de fonds devraient se garder de tenter d’imposer des critères de conditionnalité trop rigides (libéralisation à outrance et austérité budgétaire). Soit les autorités les refuseraient, soit elles se sentiraient contraintes de les accepter, faute d’alternative. Dans ce dernier cas, d’importants réseaux clientélistes qui participent à la gestion de la rente pétrolière et gazière pourraient être déstabilisés, comme ce fut le cas durant les années 1990, contribuant, entre autres facteurs, à l’intensification des violences de la « décennie noire ».
Tunis/Alger/Bruxelles, 27 juillet 2020
Pour l’integralite du rapport, visiter: https://www.crisisgroup.org/fr/middle-east-north-africa/north-africa/algeria/217-algerie-vers-le-deconfinement-du-hirak
République démocratique du Congo : en finir avec la violence cyclique en Ituri
International Crisis Group, RAPPORT No 292/AFRIQUE, 15 juillet 2020
En Ituri, depuis fin 2017, une nouvelle période de violence ravive les rivalités entre Hema et Lendu et affecte les autres communautés. Le gouvernement du président Tshisekedi devrait obtenir la reddition des milices lendu et encourager le forum quadripartite à mettre ce conflit d’ampleur régionale à son ordre du jour.
Que se passe-t-il ? Depuis fin 2017, des groupes armés, majoritairement lendu, communauté ethnique d’agriculteurs, commettent des attaques meurtrières dans la province de l’Ituri en République démocratique du Congo (RDC). Les cibles, au départ membres de la communauté hema, leurs voisins éleveurs, et des forces armées, sont de plus en plus indifférenciées.
En quoi est-ce significatif ? L’escalade de la violence a ravivé les rivalités historiques entre les Hema et les Lendu, communautés qui se sont déjà affrontées au cours de la guerre de 1999-2003. Les interférences avec la province voisine du Nord-Kivu, voire avec les pays frontaliers, pourraient aggraver les défis pour le président Félix Tshisekedi.
Comment agir ? Kinshasa devrait privilégier une stratégie visant à négocier la reddition des milices lendu dans le cadre d’un dialogue élargi entre les Hema, les Lendu, et d’autres communautés. Le forum quadripartite réunissant la RDC et ses voisins Angolais, Ougandais et Rwandais devrait se pencher sur les aspects régionaux de la crise.
Depuis décembre 2017, des violences dans la province de l’Ituri, dans le Nord-Est de la République démocratique du Congo (RDC), ont fait près de 1 000 morts et un demi-million de déplacés. Initialement localisées dans le territoire de Djugu, les attaques, de faible portée, ont d’abord opposé les deux principales communautés de l’Ituri, les Hema et les Lendu. Par la suite, les milices lendu ont ciblé les Hema, puis l’armée nationale, avant de s’en prendre aux territoires voisins. Des acteurs externes, y compris de la province du Nord-Kivu et des pays avoisinants, sont également impliqués dans ce conflit. Afin d’enrayer une escalade dangereuse, le gouvernement congolais devrait privilégier une stratégie visant à négocier la reddition des milices lendu tout en soutenant un dialogue plus vaste entre les Hema, les Lendu, et d’autres communautés de l’Ituri. Le président Félix Tshisekedi devrait simultanément travailler avec les pays voisins pour qu’ils cessent tout appui aux assaillants de la région.
La crise actuelle se distingue du conflit de 1999-2003 en Ituri, au cours duquel les communautés hema et lendu avaient participé à des massacres de grande ampleur, par milices interposées. Contrairement au conflit précédent, bien que les assaillants soient recrutés essentiellement dans la communauté lendu et réunis, pour la plupart, au sein d’une association de milices, la Coopérative pour le développement du Congo (Codeco), les notables lendu n’assument pas la paternité de ces milices.
Cependant, la réponse militaire du gouvernement a montré ses limites et le scénario d’une escalade intercommunautaire plus généralisée ne peut être écarté. Les milices lendu continuent de se renforcer. Les Hema n’ont, jusqu’à présent, pas organisé de représailles systématiques, mais n’excluent pas de mobiliser leurs jeunes si les attaques se poursuivent. L’organisation de jeunes hema en groupes d’autodéfense qui érigent des barrages sur les routes de l’Ituri devrait alerter sur le risque d’une plus forte communautarisation du conflit.
Le conflit en Ituri pourrait avoir de multiples répercussions. Les violences qui ont frappé la province ont déjà attiré certains acteurs violents du Nord-Kivu voisin, épicentre de l’insécurité dans l’Est du Congo. Les membres d’anciens mouvements rebelles, y compris quelques cohortes du M23, basés en grande partie en Ouganda, auraient également cherché à profiter des tensions ethniques en Ituri et au Nord-Kivu pour se mêler au conflit.
Cette dynamique exacerbe en outre les tensions entre l’Ouganda et le Rwanda, qui ont tous deux joué un rôle important dans la guerre de l’Ituri de 1999-2003 et s’accusent aujourd’hui mutuellement de soutenir les groupes armés dans l’Est du Congo. La flambée de la pandémie de Covid-19 en mars 2020 dans le territoire d’Irumu, à la limite du Nord-Kivu, risque de s’étendre dans toute la province – ce qui pourrait aggraver la fragilité des autorités qui font désormais face à la double menace de la violence et de la maladie.
Les recommandations suivantes pourraient contribuer à briser le cycle de la violence dans la province de l’Ituri, et à prévenir les ingérences extérieures :
- Le gouvernement devrait renouer le dialogue avec les milices qui ont déjà exprimé leur volonté de se rendre. Il devrait aussi poursuivre le dialogue avec les autres milices impliquées dans les violences en Ituri, dans le but de les désarmer. Afin de parvenir à un consensus large sur les modalités de désarmement (y compris sur la question de l’amnistie), le gouvernement devrait également appuyer les efforts du caucus des députés de l’Ituri à l’Assemblée nationale.
- Kinshasa devrait privilégier la réintégration des miliciens dans la vie civile, notamment à travers la mise en place de structures d’encadrement et de formation visant à leur offrir des alternatives économiques.
- Les autorités provinciales et nationales devraient encourager un dialogue entre les Hema et les Lendu en impliquant les chefs coutumiers et les notables afin de discuter des dynamiques locales – telles que la question foncière – qui engendrent la violence, et des mesures requises pour mieux gérer la sécurité sur le terrain. Par la suite, le gouvernement central devrait organiser un dialogue inclusif interiturien, comprenant aussi les communautés de la province qui ne sont pas directement engagées dans la crise actuelle, pour s’assurer que ces mesures répondent aux attentes générales de la population.
- Afin de contribuer au développement et à la sécurisation des communautés de l’Ituri, Kinshasa devrait mettre en place un fonds spécial pour la région et mobiliser autant que possible ses partenaires bilatéraux traditionnels, ainsi que la Banque mondiale, pour l’alimenter.
- Le président congolais devrait mettre le conflit de l’Ituri à l’ordre du jour du nouveau forum quadripartite réunissant l’Angola, l’Ouganda, la RDC et le Rwanda. L’Ouganda et le Rwanda pourraient se servir de ce forum pour discuter de leurs accusations réciproques de soutien aux groupes armés dans l’Est du Congo, y compris en Ituri, et s’engager à mettre un terme à ce soutien.
Tant que ces étapes ne seront pas réalisées, on risque de déboucher sur une crise plus large dans les années à venir. Une résolution durable de la crise en Ituri contribuerait à la fois à rompre le cycle de la violence dans l’Est de la RDC et à atténuer les tensions dans la région des Grands Lacs.
Nairobi/Bruxelles/Bunia/Kinshasa/Kampala, 15 juillet 2020
Pour l’integralise du rapport, visiter: https://www.crisisgroup.org/fr/africa/central-africa/democratic-republic-congo/292-republique-democratique-du-congo-en-finir-avec-la-violence-cyclique-en-ituri
Eviter le conflit dans le cœur minier de la RD Congo
International Crisis Group, Rapport 290 / Afrique, 30 Juin 2020
En République démocratique du Congo, les mineurs artisanaux creusent souvent pour extraire cuivre et cobalt, les deux principaux biens d'exportation, des terres concédées à de grandes entreprises, ce qui entraîne parfois une intervention violente de l'Etat. Le gouvernement devrait plutôt encourager les citoyens à mieux partager les richesses minières.
Que se passe-t-il ? La concurrence entre activités minières artisanales et industrielles crée des tensions en République démocratique du Congo (RDC). Dans les provinces du Haut-Katanga et du Lualaba, l’armée est intervenue en 2019 pour expulser plus de 10 000 mineurs artisanaux qui empiétaient sur deux des plus grands sites industriels miniers du pays.
Pourquoi est-ce arrivé ? Les exploitants artisanaux n’ont pas de perspectives économiques. Ils se voient souvent refuser l’accès aux sites industriels, même pour exploiter des gisements non viables commercialement, et la région manque de zones d’exploitation minière artisanale. Les responsables politiques locaux cherchent parfois à promouvoir leurs intérêts en poussant les exploitants artisanaux à mener des actions agressives.
En quoi est-ce significatif ? Le président Félix Tshisekedi doit relever un double défi : apaiser les tensions dans le secteur minier et évoluer au sein de la coalition politique fragile qu’il a formée avec l’ancien président Joseph Kabila, son rival. La stabilité et la prospérité du pays ainsi que son avenir politique en dépendent.
Comment agir ? Pour ouvrir des perspectives économiques aux mineurs artisanaux, le gouvernement devrait créer des zones d’exploitation minière artisanale et permettre aux industriels de sous-traiter aux artisans. Les sociétés minières devraient respecter leurs obligations légales de développement des communautés, et les organismes de normalisation devraient indiquer qu’ils soutiennent fermement la coopération industrie-artisanat.
En juin et juillet 2019, les forces de sécurité de la RDC ont expulsé des mineurs artisanaux qui empiétaient sur deux des plus grands sites miniers industriels du pays, dans les provinces du Haut-Katanga et du Lualaba. Les expulsions ont causé, outre des morts et des blessés, la perte de la seule source de revenus de plus de 10 000 mineurs artisanaux. Eviter la violence autour des sites miniers tout en réformant ce secteur essentiel de l’économie de la RDC, améliorant ainsi le niveau de vie des citoyens, est un défi de taille pour le président Félix Tshisekedi. Un objectif central devrait être de favoriser les perspectives économiques des mineurs artisanaux. Le gouvernement et le secteur privé devraient créer ensemble des zones d’exploitation minière artisanale durables. Les entreprises devraient s’atteler à réduire le risque de crise en employant des mineurs artisanaux pour exploiter des gisements qui ne constituent pas l’essentiel des extractions de la société. Le gouvernement devrait s’assurer que ses décrets ne sapent pas le fondement juridique de ce type d’arrangements, et les organes normatifs de l’industrie devraient indiquer clairement que sous-traiter ne viole pas les préceptes de la responsabilité sociale d’une entreprise.
Les tensions qui opposent les exploitants industriels et artisanaux dans le Haut-Katanga et le Lualaba sont en partie de nature économique. Les mineurs artisanaux et d’autres résidents du centre minier se disent frustrés du manque de perspectives qu’offre l’exploitation industrielle, que ce soit en termes d’emplois, d’investissements destinés à développer des projets communautaires ou de relations commerciales avec les marchands locaux. Au fil du temps, le gouvernement de la RDC a par ailleurs élargi les permis d’exploitation industrielle, de sorte que ceux-ci couvrent presque tous les gisements identifiés, ce qui ne laisse pratiquement aucune place aux zones d’exploitation minière artisanale.
Le gouvernement a promulgué une nouvelle loi sur l’exploitation minière en 2018 qui pourrait contribuer à apaiser certaines tensions. Cette loi oblige les sociétés minières industrielles à dépenser une partie de leurs revenus pour financer des projets communautaires et les autorise à sous-traiter des activités à des coopératives minières artisanales. La création prévue d’une nouvelle entité étatique dotée des droits exclusifs pour l’acquisition du cobalt extrait artisanalement sape toutefois la capacité de sous-traiter et, dès lors, les perspectives économiques qui y sont associées.
Si la frustration économique alimente les tensions liées à l’exploitation minière dans le Haut-Katanga et le Lualaba, d’autres facteurs rendent également ce secteur explosif. L’exploitation minière artisanale attire des travailleurs originaires d’autres provinces de la RDC, ce qui renforce le mythe selon lequel des « migrants », en particulier en provenance de la province toute proche du Kasaï, « volent » la richesse minérale de la région du Katanga. Par le passé, ce nationalisme katangais et les sentiments anti-kasaïens ont déjà mené à des violences. Ces tensions renvoient à la coalition au pouvoir que Tshisekedi, dont la famille est originaire du Kasaï, a formée avec Joseph Kabila, son prédécesseur, dont l’appui politique se trouvait au Katanga. Les dissensions internes à la coalition résonnent surtout vivement dans le Haut-Katanga et le Lualaba.
Des études de cas portant sur trois sites miniers de ces provinces, dont deux ont connu des violences, mettent en évidence des facteurs locaux qui peuvent exacerber les mauvaises relations entre les activités minières artisanales et industrielles, et présentent des pistes pour contribuer à une désescalade. Elles indiquent que les mineurs artisanaux se sont souvent montrés particulièrement contrariés lorsque les gisements de sites industriels étaient aussi attrayants qu’inaccessibles. Les efforts déployés par les responsables politiques locaux pour manipuler les mineurs en vue de promouvoir leurs intérêts propres, parfois au risque de provoquer une confrontation, ont également fortement concouru à attiser une violence latente.
Pour diminuer les tensions entre exploitants industriels et artisanaux et leur potentiel de risques de violence, le gouvernement de la RDC devrait aider les mineurs artisanaux à gagner leur vie en créant de nouvelles zones d’exploitation minière artisanale, en travaillant de concert avec les sociétés industrielles pour poser les bases et préparer, au sein de ces zones, des sites destinés à l’exploitation artisanale et en évitant que ces nouveaux sites soient repris par les sociétés minières industrielles. Le gouvernement devrait également protéger le droit des sociétés industrielles de sous-traiter à des coopératives artisanales en retirant ces arrangements du décret qui charge une entité gouvernementale nouvellement créée (mais pas encore sur pied) d’acheter tout le cobalt extrait artisanalement. De leur côté, les sociétés minières devraient faire appel à des mineurs artisanaux pour exploiter les gisements qui ne leur sont pas rentables, sous réserve que les mineurs artisanaux respectent les normes de base en matière de sécurité, de travail et d’environnement, et observent les dispositions énoncées dans la version nouvellement promulguée de la loi sur l’exploitation minière, qui oblige les sociétés minières à contribuer directement au développement local à hauteur d’un pourcentage défini de leurs recettes.
Les organisations qui établissent les normes de diligence requise en matière d’exploitation minière ont également un rôle à jouer. Ces organisations ont habituellement eu tendance à percevoir l’exploitation artisanale exclusivement comme une manière de financer des groupes armés, et cette vision se reflétait dans leurs normes. Récemment, elles ont reconnu le potentiel de ce type d’exploitation comme source de revenus. Elles devraient donc adapter les normes officielles de façon à reconnaître que les sociétés minières industrielles peuvent nuire aux efforts déployés en faveur du développement local et accentuer le risque de violence, si elles n’adoptent pas des politiques qui tiennent compte des besoins des mineurs artisanaux et des communautés qui les abritent.
Il ne sera pas aisé pour le président Tshisekedi de réaliser des avancées sur la question épineuse de l’exploitation minière artisanale. Si la nécessité de travailler au sein d’une coalition écartelée établie avec Kabila restreint forcément les capacités de Tshisekedi à opérer les changements évoqués plus haut, il lui reste toutefois la possibilité de faire pression pour qu’ils aient lieu, de chercher à obtenir le soutien d’alliés politiques et de lancer un mouvement qui mènera à leur réalisation. Même si ces efforts n’atteignent pas leurs objectifs à court terme, ils amélioreront tout de même les perspectives de paix et de prospérité dans le cœur minier de la RDC.
Lubumbashi/Nairobi/New York/Bruxelles, 30 juin 2020
Pour l’integralise du rapport, visiter: https://www.crisisgroup.org/fr/africa/central-africa/democratic-republic-congo/290-mineral-concessions-avoiding-conflict-dr-congos-mining-heartland
Quel rôle pour la force multinationale mixte dans la lutte contre Boko Haram ?
Crisis Group, report No 291/Africa, 7 Juliet 2020
Grâce à la Force multinationale mixte, les Etats du bassin du Lac Tchad unissent leurs forces pour contrer la menace jihadiste. Ils ont obtenu certaines victoires mais les jihadistes s’en sont relevés. Pour gagner du terrain et dégager des fonds supplémentaires, les quatre armées devraient coopérer plus étroitement.
Que se passe-t-il? Les pays du bassin du lac Tchad ont consenti des efforts encourageants pour coordonner leur action contre Boko Haram grâce à la force multinationale mixte (FMM). Mais leur engagement discontinu et des problèmes de financement combinés à une planification désordonnée ont limité son efficacité. Souvent, les jihadistes se regroupent lorsque les troupes se retirent.
En quoi est-ce significatif? La stratégie de lutte contre les différentes factions de Boko Haram autour du lac Tchad doit inclure les opérations militaires, mais sa réussite dépend aussi de la capacité des quatre pays à améliorer la vie des populations locales et à gagner leur confiance. Une force mixte plus efficace pourrait contribuer à cette approche.
Comment agir? Les Etats du lac Tchad résistent à l’intégration complète de leurs forces dans la FMM, mais mieux partager les plans et renseignements, engager des troupes plus longuement et améliorer le respect des droits humains pourraient la renforcer. Ils devraient travailler avec l’Union africaine et l’Union européenne pour résoudre les problèmes de financement.
La Force multinationale mixte (FMM) est un effort des Etats du bassin du lac Tchad – Cameroun, Niger, Nigeria et Tchad – visant à mettre en commun leurs ressources pour lutter contre les jihadistes qui les menacent. La force mixte a mené des opérations qui impliquaient souvent que les troupes de ces pays combattent les unes chez les autres. Ces offensives ont débouché sur des victoires et contribué à insuffler un esprit de corps aux troupes. Des factions insurgées réactives se sont toutefois rapidement regroupées, tandis que l’opacité des priorités, la réticence des quatre Etats à céder le commandement des opérations à la force mixte ainsi que des retards de financements et d’approvisionnement ont nui à l’efficacité de la FMM.
Pour répondre plus efficacement à l’insurrection autour du lac Tchad, les actions de la FMM ne suffiront pas ; il faudra également que les Etats parviennent à améliorer les conditions de vie des habitants des zones touchées et à gagner leur confiance. Mais une FMM plus efficace pourrait contribuer à une telle stratégie. Les Etats du lac Tchad devraient donc renforcer sa capacité de planification et de communication, l’échange de renseignements, le respect des droits humains et la coordination entre le civil et le militaire. Ils devraient ensuite trouver un terrain d’entente avec les bailleurs de fonds quant au financement de la force.
Les pays du lac Tchad, avec le Bénin, ont donné à la FMM sa forme actuelle entre la fin 2014 et le début 2015, s’engageant à y affecter plus de 8 000 hommes. L’Union africaine (UA) a approuvé la création de la force le 3 mars 2015 et prévu qu’une organisation sous-régionale, la Commission du bassin du lac Tchad (CBLT), soit l’organisme civil chargé de la diriger. La FMM a établi un cadre multilatéral crucial pour combattre les insurgés de Boko Haram, de plus en plus nombreux à lancer des attaques au-delà des frontières.
La force mixte a connu quelques avancées. Cette collaboration a permis aux forces des différents pays d’apprendre les unes des autres, de promouvoir l’idée d’une coopération transfrontalière et d’améliorer la coordination tactique. Des opérations conjointes, au cours desquelles les troupes tchadiennes étaient souvent déployées dans les autres pays, ont permis d’endiguer l’expansion de Boko Haram en 2015 et 2016, et de faire pression sur le groupe, qui s’est ainsi scindé en au moins trois factions. De courtes offensives de la FMM en 2017 et 2018 ainsi qu’une opération plus soutenue en 2019 ont par ailleurs permis de faire reculer les insurgés, de libérer des civils capturés ou piégés dans les zones que Boko Haram contrôlait et de faciliter l’acheminement de l’aide humanitaire.
Les avancées contre Boko Haram et les factions résultant de sa scission ont cependant généralement été de courte durée. Ces dernières ont en effet toujours réussi à survivre aux offensives. Leur résilience s’explique non seulement par leur aptitude à fuir vers d’autres zones, mais aussi par l’incapacité des Etats eux-mêmes, en particulier le Nigeria, à déployer des efforts de reconstruction et à améliorer les conditions de vie des habitants des zones reprises après les opérations militaires.
Le fait de n’avoir pas réussi à pérenniser les opérations de 2015 et 2016 a probablement favorisé le retour des jihadistes, mais ces derniers sont également parvenus à rebondir après la longue campagne de 2019 – un assaut mené par des insurgés en mars 2020 sur une base du lac Tchad a été l’un des plus sanglants du conflit jusqu’à présent, tuant quelque 90 soldats tchadiens. Le Tchad a ensuite mené une opération visant à sécuriser le lac, mais pas dans le cadre de la FMM. De leur côté, les insurgés semblent à nouveau susceptibles de se regrouper.
La FMM souffre également de limitations structurelles. Sa chaîne de commandement est fragile, même au regard des normes qui régissent les forces multilatérales, car les forces nationales qui la composent combattent principalement dans leur propre pays. En outre, les rotations des troupes de la FMM, décidées par les commandements nationaux, sont fréquentes. L’organe de contrôle civil, la CBLT, manque de moyens et a peine à exercer son autorité sur la force ou à limiter les abus de soldats qui ne rendent de comptes qu’à leurs hiérarchies nationales. Quant à l’UA, si elle autorise la force, elle ne peut réellement contrôler son usage, malgré des tentatives d’instaurer des pratiques communes quant au traitement des insurgés capturés et des personnes qui leur sont associées.
Les retards dans les financements et les processus d’approvisionnement – l’Union européenne (UE) finance la force par le biais de l’UA, mais l’argent européen a longtemps été bloqué à Addis-Abeba – ont différé l’acheminement de matériel essentiel et alimenté les récriminations des acteurs concernés. Les lacunes de la force limitent son efficacité, mais elles n’expliquent qu’en partie la résilience de l’insurrection autour du lac Tchad ; les opérations militaires conjointes doivent s’inscrire dans une stratégie plus large dotée d’une composante politique visant à regagner la confiance des populations du lac Tchad.
Certaines faiblesses résultent de sensibilités nationales. Abuja a tendance à considérer la FMM comme un moyen de sauver la face, en présentant les opérations menées sur le sol nigérian par les forces d’autres pays, principalement le Tchad, comme faisant partie d’une coopération internationale. Malgré une volonté affichée de coopérer, le Nigeria cherche à garder la primauté dans les efforts anti-insurrectionnels et voit d’un mauvais œil une intégration accrue. Le Cameroun, le Tchad et le Niger se satisfont de la coordination sommaire de la FMM, et certains de leurs responsables s’opposent également à une plus grande intégration.
La résistance des hiérarchies militaires nationales à une coopération accrue est une réalité dont il faudra donc tenir compte dans tout effort de réforme de la force. Le retrait par le Tchad, décidé en décembre 2019, de plus de 1 000 soldats combattant avec la FMM au Nigeria, sans en informer dûment les autres capitales, a porté un nouveau coup à la force. Le président Idriss Déby exprime, lui, sa frustration croissante face à ce qu’il considère comme un soutien insuffisant de ses voisins, alors que les troupes tchadiennes mènent le gros des combats. Enfin, les forces armées des quatre pays sont à bout de souffle, car elles rencontrent d’autres défis sécuritaires en plus de l’insurrection autour du lac Tchad.
Pour faire de la force mixte une composante plus efficace des efforts de lutte contre l’insurrection jihadiste de la région, les pays du lac Tchad devraient :
- Renforcer ses capacités de planification, de coordination et d’échange de renseignements. Les gouvernements et les chefs militaires devraient mieux partager les informations avec la force mixte et laisser davantage de liberté aux hauts fonctionnaires pour déterminer ce qui peut être partagé et ce qui ne peut pas l’être pour des raisons de sécurité. Ils devraient engager des troupes pour des périodes plus longues et indiquer clairement quand les forces nationales agissent sous le commandement de la FMM.
- Intensifier, en collaboration avec l’UA, la formation aux droits humains et le suivi des abus afin que les unités de la FMM respectent mieux le droit international humanitaire et les nouvelles normes de l’UA en matière de conduite et de discipline. La FMM doit être particulièrement attentive au traitement réservé aux combattants de Boko Haram qui ont été capturés ou se sont rendus, en veillant à ce que ses unités les remettent rapidement aux autorités civiles. Ceci aiderait les Etats du lac Tchad à améliorer les relations avec les populations locales, qui pourraient sinon tenir les troupes responsables de mauvais traitements infligés à leurs jeunes.
- Permettre à la FMM de mieux soutenir la stratégie de stabilisation régionale de l’UA de 2018, qui vise à améliorer les services fournis et à diversifier les moyens de subsistance dans les zones touchées par le conflit. Pour ce faire, il conviendrait de renforcer la coopération de la force mixte et de la CBLT avec les acteurs civils responsables de cette stratégie. Afin d’améliorer la supervision civile, surtout en matière de droits humains, les Etats du lac Tchad devraient transférer progressivement à la CBLT les composantes civiles de la force qui sont financées par l’UA. Celles-ci dépendent à ce jour du commandement militaire.
L’UA et les bailleurs de fonds, principalement l’UE, devraient soutenir les mesures proposées ci-dessus, tout en veillant à ce qu’elles ne génèrent pas de lourdeurs bureaucratiques. Il est également urgent que les bailleurs de fonds, l’UA et les Etats du lac Tchad trouvent un consensus durable en matière de soutien financier.
La menace jihadiste régionale ne montre aucun signe de faiblesse, alors que la situation dans le Nord-Est du Nigeria se détériore. Une réponse efficace impliquera des efforts civils pour fournir des services publics, améliorer les conditions de vie des habitants des zones durement touchées, et ramener – ou simplement inspirer – la confiance populaire dans l’autorité publique. Il conviendrait également d’offrir aux insurgés des perspectives de démobilisation en toute sécurité et même éventuellement d’engager des pourparlers avec certains d’entre eux. Néanmoins, les opérations militaires restent essentielles pour créer des conditions propices à toutes ces activités. Une FMM renforcée, symbole de la coopération régionale, pourrait soutenir une telle approche.
Nairobi/Bruxelles, 7 juillet 2020
Pour l’integralise du rapport, visiter: https://www.crisisgroup.org/fr/africa/west-africa/what-role-multinational-joint-task-force-fighting-boko-haram