Category: Svenn Wroldsen
Johns Hopkins SAIS last Wednesday hosted a panel on Syrian civil society as part of a conference on “Escaping the Cycle of Stagnation in the Middle East.” The panel, moderated by Peacefare’s own Yael Mizrahi, featured a broad cross-section of Syrian activists. While accepting past failures and current challenges facing Syrian civil society, the panel also highlighted the important contributions that civil activists have made throughout the conflict. The takeaways of this work will be decisive to any future reconstruction effort of Syria’s damaged society.
Kicking off the panel, Mohammad Ghanem (Syrian American Council) pointed out that prior to the 2011 revolution there was no real civil society in Syria. All civil institutions in the country were monopolized by the Baathist regime, which saw any opening space for civil society as a potential danger. This was best seen in 2005, when a group of youth from Daraya organized to clean up their neighborhood. Although they had no political message, a number of the participants were promptly arrested.
This changed after the revolution however. In the summer of 2012, when the regime had lost significant territory to the opposition (including 40% of Aleppo), civil society grew rapidly. First organizing around the organization of basic services, civil society also began holding the newly developed local councils to account.
Similarly, Ibrahim al-Assil (Syrian Nonviolence Movement) argued that civil society will play a critical role in any legitimate bottom-up solution to the Syrian conflict. In particular, al-Assil saw civil society as important in reconciling an increasingly divided Syrian society. By keeping channels of dialogue open between different sectors of the Syrian population, civil society can help Syrians make sense of an incredibly complex and multilayered conflict. Civil society also plays a role in de-radicalization, through providing counter-messaging. At the same time, the increasing violence of the Syrian civil war has made it increasingly difficult for civil society to operate. The fact that Syrian civil society needed to be built from scratch in the midst of heavy fighting has limited its capacity.
Al-Assil presented the Syrian Nonviolence Movement as an illustration of both the importance and limits of Syrian civil society. The organization was started in 2011 and has worked on educating Syrians about the methods of nonviolent resistance. Their work has been greatly curtailed by the war however, and is now limited to humanitarian assistance, including psycho-social support, as well as education for children, many of who have not known a Syria without conflict.
The establishment of Syrian civil society following the 2011 revolution has also been an important enabler for Syrian women. According to Hind Kabawat (Syrian lawyer and activist, now at USIP), women were marginalized in Syrian society prior to the revolution. However, they have since taken on important roles in the resistance. Their role in the revolution is sadly testified by the regime’s response: Syrian prisons are full of women. Women have been particularly important in refugee and IDP camps. During a recent visit to an IDP camp in Idlib province, Kabawat interviewed women who had assumed leadership roles in the running of the camp. Women are also filling important roles in the Local Councils, even if not adequately represented in their leadership.
Mohammed al-Abdallah (Syrian Justice and Accountability Centre) provided a critical appraisal of Syrian civil society in the decade prior to the revolution. Al-Abdallah had himself been part of early efforts to build a civil society in Syria. In retrospect, the civil society movement was too self-centered. Between 2000 and 2011, Syrian CSOs had been narrowly focused on political rights, and had not been unable to reach out to the wider population.
Looking ahead, al-Abdallah pointed to radicalism as a fundamental challenge to civil society in Syria. How can women play a role in society when they are unable to cross checkpoints without the accompaniment of a male relative? Al-Abdallah also made reference to the “Douma Four”: human rights activists Razan Zaitouneh, Samira Khalil, Wael Hamadeh and Nazem Hammadi, who remain in the hands of Islamist rebels. Echoing the point made by al-Assil, he also pointed to the violence and the current humanitarian disaster as clear limits on the capacity of civil society. As long as Syrians do not even have access to essential services, messages of democratization as well as civil and political rights are unlikely to penetrate society.
On the other hand, Nidal Bitari (Syrian-Palestinian activist and writer) argued that Syrian civil society was not as weak as commonly described. Lack of international support to Syria has meant that civil society activists have been at the forefront of governance and humanitarian efforts within Syria. Bitari also pointed out that there had been a wave of civil society activism beginning in 2008 which became the core of the 2011 revolution. The Assad regime realized the danger of these groups and has sought to repress them. Meanwhile, the political leadership of the Syrian opposition has largely neglected these activists.
Bitari particularly pointed out the importance of the Palestinian civil society in Syria. It had initially been given some space to organize, as the government perceived the Palestinians to be aligned with the regime in their opposition to Israel. However Palestinian opposition activists have subsequently been severely punished for their perceived disobedience to the regime. Nonetheless, Palestinian activists have been important in reaching out to the international community, not least in their effort to convey the situation in Yarmouk refugee camp to the outside world. Despite the disintegration of Palestinian society in Syria, including the complete destruction of 14 refugee camps, Palestinian activists have remained active and adaptive, continuing to remind the world of their cause.
Finally, Sasha Ghosh-Siminoff (People Demand Change) lauded Syrian civil activists for their resilience in spite of incredible challenges. Ghosh-Siminoff pointed to the continued provision of services by such activists in areas under control of radical Islamists. One example is the Civic Education Center in Idlib, which continues to function despite the city mostly being controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra. This stems in part from these civil society organizations also providing some concrete services, winning them public favor and consequently protecting them from reprisals by Nusra or other opposition fighters.
Ghosh-Siminoff also pointed to significant shortcomings in the way in which donors perceive of Syrian civil society. Calling for donors to take a long view, he argued that support to activists is a generational project. Progress should therefore be measured not in terms of short term project execution but rather in terms of capacity building. Donors should also act in a coordinated way that does not create an atmosphere of competition among activists, but rather one of information sharing and cooperation.
The issue of donor support was also picked up on by a number of the panelists. Mohammed al-Abdallah warned that a number of Syrian CSOs had already picked up on donor language, producing ‘sexy’ grant applications that appeal to donor sensibilities but that might not reflect the genuine needs of Syrians. Going forward, Ibrahim al-Assil argued that donors will need to empower Syrians rather than simply funding their projects. To do this, donors will need to target core activities, helping to build capacity in the longer term.
Mohammed al-Ghanem called for greater input from Syrians, allowing them a greater say in how the funds are allocated. Meanwhile, donors should not be lenient on issues of corruption and graft among their CSO partners. Al-Ghanem warned that high salaries and benefits undermined these organizations’ standing among the Syrian public. Concluding the panel, Ghosh-Siminoff argued that donors will need to consider their funding of Syrian civil society as a long term investment. As the panel made clear, these groups will be essential to any final settlement of the Syrian conflict.
- Politics of a Nuclear Deal: Former U.S. & Iranian Officials Debate | Monday April 20 | 9:30 – 11:00 | USIP | REGISTER TO ATTEND | This event is the fourth in the Iran Forum series hosted by a coalition of eight think tanks, including USIP, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, RAND, the Arms Control Association, the Center for a New American Security, the Stimson Center, Partnership for a Secure America, and the Ploughshares Fund. Speakers include Ali-Akbar Mousavi, Former member of Iran’s parliament and Visiting Fellow at Virginia Tech, Jim Slattery, Former Congressman (D-KS), Howard Berman, Former Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (D-CA) and Michael Singh, Former Senior Director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council and Senior Fellow, The Washington Institute. The discussion will be moderated by Stephen J. Hadley, Chairman of the Board, USIP, Chair, RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy Advisory Board and Former National Security Advisor.
- Turkey’s Role in a Turbulent Middle East | Monday April 20 | 2:30 – 3:30 | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu will address the country’s evolving policy toward the Middle East, including its role in the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. He will also discuss Turkey’s relationship with the West and its responsibilities in NATO. George Perkovich, Vice President for Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, will moderate.
- The Syrian Humanitarian Crisis: What Is to Be Done? | Tuesday April 21 | 9:30 – 12:00 | Middle East Policy Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Middle East Policy Council invites to the 80th Capitol Hill Conference. Live streaming of this event will begin at approximately 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 21st and conclude at noon. A questions and answers session will be held at the end of the proceedings. Refreshments will be served. The speakers include Karen AbuZayd, Former UN Under Secretary-General and Former Commissioner-General, UNRWA, Denis J. Sullivan, Director, Boston Consortium for Arab Region Studies, Co-Director, Middle East Center, Northeastern University, Susan M. Akram, Clinical Professor, Boston University School of Law, and Sara Roy, Senior Research Scholar, Center for Middle East Studies, Harvard University. The conference will be moderated by Thomas R. Mattair, Executive Director, Middle East Policy Council.
- Current State of Syrian Refugees in Turkey | Tuesday April 21 | 10:00 – 12:00 | The SETA Foundation |REGISTER TO ATTEND | The civil war has driven 6.5 million Syrians from their country; nearly 2 million now reside in Turkey. While Turkish refugee camps have garnered much attention due to their quality, the majority of Syrian refugees reside outside the camps. In urban areas, the government, aid agencies and NGOs struggle to meet the needs of an-ever growing number of refugees. Please join us for a panel discussion on the refugee crisis in Turkey and its impact on social, political and economic dynamics in the country. Speakers include Fuat Oktay, President, Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, AFAD, Kemal Kirisci, TÜSİAD Senior Fellow and Director of Turkey Project, The Brookings Institution, Kilic B. Kanat, Research Director, SETA DC and Daryl Grisgraber, Senior Advocate, Refugees International. The discussion will be moderated by Kadir Ustun, Executive Director, SETA DC.
- Building Peace in Libya: A Conversation with Wafa Bugaighis | Tuesday April 21 | 3:00 – 4:00 | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | REGISTER TO ATTEND | As the conflict between Libya’s political factions drags on, its humanitarian and economic crisis deepens. Meanwhile, the Islamic State is exploiting the vacuum wrought by the fighting and the absence of coherent, capable institutions. What are the prospects for a ceasefire and the formation of an inclusive, sustainable government? Wafa Bugaighis, the charge d’affaires and highest-ranking diplomat at the Libyan Embassy in Washington, will offer her vision for ending the war and discuss how the international community can help rebuild Libya. Carnegie’s Frederic Wehrey will moderate.
- Is Authoritarianism Staging a Comeback? | Tuesday April 21 | 5:00 – 7:00 | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The past few years have marked the beginning of a tumultuous period for global governance. Across the world, we have seen threats to international order and a disruption of longstanding political norms and values as authoritarians get smarter and persist undeterred. With authoritarianism on the rise in many of the world’s most strategically important regions, new questions emerge regarding the diffusion of power, the rise of sometimes violent nonstate actors, and the future role of the nation-state. Developing an appropriate strategy for the advancement of human rights and the support of nonviolent civil resistance movements is thus proving to be one of the most challenging policy dilemmas for the United States and other democracies.On April 21, the Atlantic Council will be hosting a public discussion of these challenges in recognition of the release of its forthcoming publication, Is Authoritarianism Staging a Comeback? This discussion will feature multiple leading experts on nonviolent civil resistance and authoritarian states, and will explore the range of issues and case-studies examined within this book of essays. Atlantic Council CEO and President Mr. Frederick Kempe will begin by moderating a discussion on countering authoritarianism between Dr. Peter Ackerman, Dr. Paula Dobriansky, and Mr. Damon Wilson. This will be followed by a discussion of the issues raised in the book itself, featuring Adm. Dennis Blair (USN, Ret.), Dr. George A. Lopez, and Dr. Regine Spector, moderated by Dr. Mathew Burrows and Dr. Maria J. Stephan.
- Escaping the Cycle of Stagnation in the Middle East | Wednesday April 22 | 10:00 – 5:00 | SAIS | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Global Security & Conflict Management Club and MENA Club of Johns Hopkins’ SAIS invite to a conference on the social, political and economic challenges facing the current Middle East. The conference will be opened with a keynote address by Paul Salem, Vice President for Policy at the Middle East Institute. Following the address, the conference will proceed with three panels. The first panel will discuss civil society in Syria. Speakers include Mohammad Ghanem, Director of Government Relations, Syrian American CounciI, Ibrahim Al-Assil, President, Syrian Non Violence Movemement, Mohammad Al Abdallah, Executive Director, Syrian Justice and Accountability Centre, Nidal Bitari, Palestinian Refugee Writer and Hind Kabawat, Lawyer and Syrian Activist. The second panel will discuss migration, displacement, and patterns of protracted crises in the Middle East, featuring Mona Yacoubian, Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Middle East, Rochelle Davis, Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology in the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, Matthew Reynolds. Director, UNRWA Representative Office, Washington, DC. The panel will be moderated by Elizabeth Ferris, Co-director of the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement. The third panel will focus on economic reform and development in the MENA region. Panelists include Lili Mottaghi, Economist in the Chief Economist Office for the Middle East and North Africa Region, The World Bank, Dr. Diane Singerman, Associate Professor, School of Public Affairs, American University, and Co-Director, TADAMUN: The Cairo Urban Solidarity Initiative and Amy Ekdawi, Middle East & North Africa Program Director, The Bank Information Center. Lunch will be served.
- Examining U.S.-Israel Relations at a Time of Change in the Middle East | Wednesday April 22 | 10:30 – 1:00 | Center for a New American Security | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The U.S.-Israel relationship has been a centerpiece of U.S. Middle East strategy and a main pillar of Israel’s national security strategy for decades. But political relations between the two countries during the past six years have seen some turbulence, even as security cooperation deepens and they continue to share common interests and values at a time of change and uncertainty in the Middle East. On April 22, please join the Center for American Progress, the Center for a New American Security, and the Israel Institute to take stock of where we are at this crucial stage in U.S.-Israel relations, featuring two expert panels. The first panel will discuss the management of U.S.-Israel relations, and the second will focus on the main issues under discussion between the two states. Speakers include Rudy deLeon, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress, Mel Levine (D-CA), Tamara Cofman Wittes, Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Middle East Policy, The Brookings Institution, Michael J. Koplow, Program Director, Israel Institute, Dan Arbell, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Center for Middle East Policy, The Brookings Institution and Scholar in Residence, Department of History, College of Arts & Sciences, American University, Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen, Director of Arab-Israeli Programs, U.S. Institute of Peace, Michael Singh, Lane-Swig, Senior Fellow and Managing Director, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom, Visiting Fellow, Center for American Progress. Brian Katulis, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress and Ilan Goldenberg, Senior Fellow and Director, Middle East Security Program, Center for a New American Security will moderate the first and second panels respectively.
- Turkey: Still a U.S. Ally? | Thursday April 23 | Bipartisan Policy Center | 3:00 – 4:30 | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Foreign policy divergences and increasingly worrying developments in Turkey’s domestic policy are raising questions about the strength of the U.S.-Turkish partnership. Turkey and the United States remain divided on their approach to Syria, the ISIS threat, and turmoil in the region more broadly. Meanwhile, crackdowns on media and the passage of draconian new security legislation are jeopardizing fundamental freedoms in Turkey as the country heads for parliamentary elections this summer. Should the United States continue to look to Turkey as a strategic partner in this environment? Join the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) for the release of a new paper on the state of the U.S.-Turkish alliance and a discussion of Turkey’s domestic political struggles, foreign policy and implications for its relationship with the United States. The discussion features Amb. Eric Edelman, Co-chair, BPC’s Turkey Initiative and former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Dr. Svante Cornell, Member, BPC’s Turkey Initiative and Director, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, and Amb. James Holmes, Former President, American-Turkish Council. Blaise Misztal, Director, BPC’s National Security Program, will moderate.
- An overlooked crisis: Humanitarian consequences of the conflict in Libya | Friday April 24 | 10:00 – 11:30 | Brookings Institution | REGISTER TO ATTEND | With international attention focused on the humanitarian emergencies in Syria and Iraq, the escalating crisis in Libya has gone overlooked. With the vast majority of international actors having pulled out of Libya in the summer of 2014, humanitarian assistance for needy populations is in short supply, and solutions to the crisis seem far from sight. On April 24, the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement will convene a discussion on the humanitarian consequences of the violence in Libya, focusing on the implications for those in Libya and for the country’s neighbors. Brookings Nonresident Fellow Megan Bradley will draw on recent research on Libya’s displacement crisis. Speakers will also include Kais Darragi of the Embassy of the Republic of Tunisia and Shelly Pitterman of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Elizabeth Ferris, senior fellow and co-director of the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement will moderate the event and offer opening remarks.
- What’s Wrong with the Proposed Nuclear Deal with Iran? | Friday April 24 | 12:00 – 1:30 | Hudson Institute | REGISTER TO ATTEND | This month, the White House announced the framework for a nuclear agreement with Iran, with details to be finalized by the end of June. For all of the technical details that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is intended to establish, the foundational political agreements—the reason for the meetings at Lausanne—seem unclear. What can American policymakers expect next? Will the White House continue to make concessions as it has since the November 2013 interim agreement when it acknowledged Iran’s right to enrich uranium? Or is there a way to ensure the administration gets a better deal than the framework unveiled earlier this month? What are the implications of the deal for U.S. national security, as well as our interests and allies in the Middle East? On April 24th, Hudson Institute will host a lunchtime panel of experts to discuss where the administration’s Iran policy will go from here. The panel will include Michael Doran, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute, Matthew Kroenig, Associate Professor, Georgetown University and Senior Fellow, The Atlantic Council, David Samuels, Contributor, Harper’s, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic. Lee Smith, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute, will moderate.
The Middle East Institute and Johns Hopkins’ SAIS co-hosted a panel on the future Iraq on Tuesday, moderated by peacefare’s own Daniel Serwer. He was joined by Lukman Faily, Iraqi ambassador to the US, and Abbas Kadhim, a fellow at SAIS. At the heart of the discussion was the ongoing campaign to counter ISIS, but also the long road needed to restore order in Iraq in the longer term. The panel was particularly timely in light of the upcoming visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi to Washington, set to take place next week.
Ambassador Faily said Iraq post 2003 has been moving away from dictatorship and towards democratic governance. This vision remains alive today, although Iraqis have paid a heavy price in its implementation, which changes over time. While there have been many shortcomings in practice, Iraqis increasingly have understood that they are mutually interdependent: the threat of ISIS in particular has tempered Kurdish independence ambitions (if only temporarily) and has convinced Shia politicians to share power.
Returned recently from a trip to Baghdad, the ambassador was relatively optimistic. In spite of the threat from ISIS, Baghdad and some other cities now feel safer than in a long time. There are fewer car bombs and assassinations. Removal of concrete barriers has freed up traffic. People are discussing post-ISIS scenarios. Elites are increasingly frustrated with the polarized political environment. There is a generally positive view of the US role in the fight against ISIS, though Iraqis find it hard to understand the geopolitical and domestic constraints on US policy making. The Tikrit operation has been a rollercoaster, featuring mainly Iraqi forces helped by Iranians.
Faily pointed to five key parameters for the current government. First is the need for inclusive governance. Abadi is serious about achieving decentralization. He is also serious about seeking and accepting cabinet-level decisions, sometimes to the frustration of partners who want a faster decision making process.
Second is the restructuring of Iraqi the military and the Ministry of Interior. This includes a more hands-on approach in reaching out to the tribes, and a serious effort to create a truly multi-sectarian National Guard. While reform is starting, patience is needed, as logistical and financial problems will make reform slower than desirable.
The third parameter is fixing the economy, where the government is still playing catch-up. Corruption remains a pervasive problem. It goes deep, requiring changes in political culture, structure and process. Decentralization reforms should help to address this problem.
Fourth, the government is engaged in reconciliation. Faily pointed to Abadi’s recent visit to Erbil and argued that the government is taking steps to build confidence between Iraqi communities. Part of this effort is to recognize that human rights abuses have taken place. In this respect, Abadi has reached out to international organizations to help the government in mapping abuses so that it will be able to deal with them more effectively. At the same time, the conflict in Iraq has been messy. Some casualties, however regrettable, would have to be expected.
Finally, the Iraqi government is determined to improve its relationship with foreign countries. The key message is that Baghdad is a reliable partner in the fight against ISIS both at home and ultimately throughout the region. Relations with Iran are neighborly, but the government does not act on orders from Tehran. Iraq is ready and willing to cooperate with other powers in the region.
Following the ambassador’s remarks, Kadhim suggested a way forward for Iraq based on three Rs: reclaiming, reconstruction and reconciliation. Physically reclaiming Iraqi sovereign territory is the sine qua non of rebuilding Iraq. ISIS is at least partly a problem of ungoverned spaces in Iraq. There is therefore a need for a comprehensive approach to the ISIS campaign, without which they will simply reappear once the campaign has ended. Such an approach involves significant military reform, some of which is already taking place.
Second, Iraqi society needs to engage in a reconstruction effort. Comparable in scope to the American Reconstruction Era, this effort should include rebuilding political, economic and social infrastructure, with the aim of rebuilding the Iraqi nation in a way that will ensure it does not again fall prey to destructive internal forces. In order to achieve this, Iraq will need international support and expertise.
Hand in hand with the reconstruction effort, Iraq will also need to engage in reconciliation. Kadhim noted that this traditionally has been achieved through providing political posts to members of marginalized groups. However, in post-2003 Iraq, this approach often produced politicians that unable to serve their constituents, thereby contributing to undermining rather than supporting the political transition. Instead, Kadhim suggested that there must be an effort to achieve popular reconciliation. This would involve reaching out to marginalized communities regardless of sect or ethnicity. Key to this effort is a genuine decentralization, which would deny divisive and demagogic leaders the destructive role they have hitherto played.
Serwer pointed out that an absolute requisite for reconciliation is acknowledgment of harm done. Only by such acknowledgement can the parties of a conflict escape the spiral of violence. Such acknowledgements are hard work however, and are unfortunately not yet forthcoming in the Iraqi conflict.
Faily emphasized the need to strike a balance between justice and peace in Iraq. While justice is critical in the tribal society of Iraq, there is also a need for the nation to move forward in order to achieve stability and peace. Finding an acceptable formula that balances these two considerations is inherently difficult.
On a more positive note, Faily argued that Iraqi society has moved beyond the deep structural problems that are facing many of the other countries in the region. Policymakers should not to view Iraq only through the prism of Iran. Iraq is a young nation that wants, and needs, good relations with the rest of the world, both in its neighborhood and beyond.
- The Kurds: Strategic Partners in the Fight Against ISIS? | Monday April 6 | 9:00 – 11:00 | Bipartisan Policy Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Although the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State (or ISIS), has been the focus of U.S. military operations in Iraq and Syria, this is far from a monolithic war. Instead it is a patchwork of overlapping conflicts between myriad groups in which today’s tactical allies might be tomorrow’s enemies. The challenge for U.S. policymakers now is finding reliable partners amid this jumble of factions. In the long run, however, it will be how to help the region recover from both the humanitarian and political crises created by these internecine conflicts. In both these aspects, the region’s Kurds are emerging as important players. Kurdish groups, from the peshmerga of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, and even Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party, have been on the front lines in the fight against ISIS. Kurds are also playing an important role in sheltering refugees and protecting other minorities in the region. To learn more about the challenges facing the region, the role of the Kurds, and the implications for U.S. policy, BPC invites to remarks and a discussion with Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the KRG representative to the United States, followed by an expert panel. The panel includes John Hannah, Former Assistant for National Security Affairs to the Vice President and Member, BPC Turkey Initiative, Kenneth Pollack, Former Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs and Director for Persian Gulf Affairs, National Security Council, General (Ret.) Charles Wald, Former Deputy Commander, United States European Command and Vice Chairman Senior Advisor, Deloitte Services LP.
- Tracking Arms In Conflict – Lessons From Syria And Iraq | Tuesday April 7 | 11:00 – 12:00 | The Stimson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Identifying and tracking weapons being used in armed conflicts is a dangerous but vital task. At times this is done by investigators on the ground, but often relies on footage and other evidence viewed from afar. On April 7, experts will discuss how they are tracking weapons used in Syria and Iraq, and share some of their recent findings. Jonah Leff, Director of Operations, Conflict Armament Research, will report on findings based on documentation of nearly 40,000 weapons and ammunition as part of field investigations and the new iTrace system. He’ll discuss the prevalence of U.S. weapons found among Islamic State fighters; findings of newly manufactured Russian, Iranian, and Sudanese ammunition; evidence of supply to Syrian rebels from Saudi Arabia; and large scale industrial production and use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Syria and Iraq. Matt Schroeder, Senior Researcher, Small Arms Survey, will share examples of using YouTube and other footage to track the increasing complexity of use of MANPADS (aka shoulder-fired missiles) by fighters in the Middle East. The discussion will be moderated by Rachel Stohl, Senior Associate, Managing Across Boundaries, Stimson Center.
- Ambassador Lukman Faily on the Future of Iraq | Tuesday April 7 | 3:00 – 4:30 | Johns Hopkins SAIS | REGISTER TO ATTEND | As Iraq tries to re-take territory from ISIS, what are the challenges it faces? How are efforts to re-integrate Sunni fighting forces proceeding, and what steps have been taken toward a more inclusive government? Baghdad’s relations with Iraqi Kurdistan are still fraught. Oil prices are dramatically lower than once expected. The country’s most important friends – the United States and Iran – are trying to reach a nuclear deal even as they support opposing forces in Syria and Yemen. How will lraq manage in this turbulent and challenging environment? The Middle East Institute (MEI) and the Conflict Management Program at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) are pleased to host the Ambassador of Iraq, His Excellency Lukman Faily, and Abbas Kadhim, Senor Foreign Policy Fellow, SAIS, in a discussion about Iraq and its future. The discussion will be moderated by Daniel Serwer, Senior Research Professor of Conflict Management, SAIS and Scholar, Middle East Institute.
- Morocco’s Contribution to Countering Violent Extremism in Africa and the Middle East | Wednesday April 8 | 10:00 – 11:30 | Atlantic Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The recent terrorist attack on the Bardo National Museum in Tunis underscores the growing danger extremist ideologies and violence pose to the North African region and beyond. Countries still unsettled by the tumult of the Arab Spring are now confronting the radicalizing influence of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and other extremist organizations as thousands of North Africans flock to join the militants. The Kingdom of Morocco has not been spared the challenge of radicalization as one thousand or more of its citizens have joined terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria in recent years, but the innovative counter-radicalization program it launched in following terrorist attacks in the early 2000s and which it continues to expand, offers hope to the entire region. H.E. Salaheddine Mezouar, Moroccan Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, will provide insights into the political context that led to Morocco’s creation and continuing commitment to its program of combatting violent extremism at home and abroad. The Foreign Minister’s remarks will be followed by a panel discussion on the religious approach to deradicalization featuring Ahmed Abbadi, Secretary-General, Rabita Muhammadia of ‘Ulamas, Geneive Abdo, Fellow, Middle East Program, Stimson Center and Stephen Grand, Executive Director, Middle East Strategy Task Force, Atlantic Council. The panel will be moderated by Peter Pham, Director, Africa Center, Atlantic Council.
- Cyber Risk Wednesday: The future of Iranian cyber threat | Wednesday April 8 | 4:00 – 5:30 | Atlantic Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Few other events have so far dominated 2015 as the P5+1 negotiations to limit Iranian nuclear capabilities. Against the backdrop of the negotiations, it is likely that Iran, Israel, and the United States are gathering their strength for a renewal of cyber conflict of the past several years. The confrontations include attacks both from Iran, such as disruption of the US banking sector and against Gulf energy companies, and against Iran, such as Stuxnet and the Wiper worm. Should the talks fail, what are the chances of an escalating cyber conflict? The moderated panel discussion will analyze the latest developments in Iranian cyber capabilities and discuss the chances of larger cyber conflict. The panel will feature Neal Pollard, Director, Forensics Technology Practice, PricewaterhouseCoopers, General James L. Jones, Jr., USMC (Ret.), Founder, Jones Group International, David Sanger, Chief Washington Correspondent, New York Times, Barbara Slavin, Nonresident Senior Fellow, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council and Andretta Towner, Senior Intelligence Analyst, CrowdStrike. The discussion will be moderated by Paul Kurtz, CEO, TruSTAR Technology.
- The Search for International Consensus on Syria and Beyond | Thursday April 9 | 10:00 – 12:00 | Brookings Institution | REGISTER TO ATTEND | In 2013, the international community came together to protect the Syrian population by committing to the elimination of Syria’s declared stockpile of chemical weapons, a feat achieved the following year. Together, the United Nations and the Nobel Prize-winning Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are credited with achieving one of the few breakthroughs in containing the ongoing crisis in Syria. What lessons can be learned for application in other conflict areas, especially as OPCW continues its work destroying chemical weapons facilities in Syria this year? On April 9, the Foreign Policy program at Brookings and The Hague Institute for Global Justice will host OPCW Director General Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü for a discussion about the process of dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile and implications for peace, security, and accountability. Brookings Executive Vice President Martin Indyk will introduce Ambassador Üzümcü. Deputy Mayor of The Hague Ingrid van Engelshoven will provide brief opening remarks, and Abiodun Williams, president of The Hague Institute for Global Justice, will moderate the discussion. Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute Robert S. Ford (U.S. ambassador to Syria, 2010-2014) and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mallory Stewart will join the discussion with Ambassador Üzümcü, following his keynote address. After the program, the speakers will take audience questions.
- Burma’s Peace Potential: Portraits of Diversity | Thursday April 9 | 2:00 – 3:30 | USIP | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Every day in Burma, monks, doctors, teachers, even a popular reggae singer from Yangon, set examples of unity and cooperation, in contrast to headlines about violence between Buddhists and Muslims. U.S. Institute of Peace, in partnership with the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, invites to a screening of a film series highlighting such stories, Portraits of Diversity, followed by a discussion of how these examples can inform support for the country’s transition. The question-and-answer session following the screening will feature Venerable Tayzar Dipati, a monk portrayed in the film whose chief role is to care for patients with HIV and to run the monastery of young monks. He will be joined by Dr. Emma Leslie, Executive Director of the Cambodia-based Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies who has led and supported initiatives for conflict transformation, peace and development throughout Asia since 1993. The Rev. Susan Hayward, Interim Director for Religion and Peacebuilding, USIP, will act as moderator.
- Israel and the EU: Perceptions in a Complex Relationship | Friday April 10 | 12:00 – 1:00 | The Middle East Institute | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Middle East Institute is pleased to host Professor Sharon Pardo for a presentation on Israel’s vital relationship with the European Union (EU). With over half a billion people in its 28 member states, the EU is Israel’s largest trade partner. EU countries and Israel enjoy rich cultural exchanges as well as close security cooperation treating the Eastern Mediterranean. At the same time, the EU is a significant donor to the Palestinian Authority, and public sentiment in Europe regarding Israel’s settlement and occupation policies is broadly negative. Pardo and co-author Neve Gordon recently examined the complexities of the relationship in an article published by MEI in The Middle East Journal. He will discuss Israeli perceptions of the EU and paths the relationship may take in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s new term. Kate Seelye, Senior Vice President, Middle East Institute, will serve as moderator.
The UN-sponsored Libyan dialogue has entered a final and ‘decisive’ moment according to chief mediator Bernardino Leon. Last week, Leon shuttled from Morocco (where the main political dialogue is taking place) to Brussels (meeting with representatives of Libyan municipalities) through Libya in his herculean multi-track effort to salvage the Libyan peace process. Last Tuesday, in the absence of an agreement by the parties, Leon released a six-point plan indicating what such an agreement might look like:
- A unity Government headed by a president, and a Presidential Council composed of independent personalities not belonging to any party or affiliated with any group acceptable to all parties and by all Libyans. The main members of the Presidential Council will be the president and his two deputies.
- The House of Representatives as a legislative body representing all Libyans under the full application of principles of legitimacy and inclusion.
- A High State Council inspired by similar institutions existing in a number of countries. A fundamental institution in the governance of the State.
- Constitutional Drafting Assembly.
- National Security Council.
- Municipalities Council.
While these points are neither comprehensive nor specific, they would represent significant achievements. Unsurprisingly they are also fraught with difficulty.
The first point has long been seen as the main aim of the dialogue process. Leon has suggested that a list of potential members of the unity government is under discussion and might be agreed upon by the end of the week. Not surprisingly, this point is the source of considerable disagreement: in the polarized Libyan political field, finding personalities acceptable to all parties is hard. According to the governments in Tripoli and Tobruk, their opponents are described respectively as Gaddafi supporters or Islamist terrorists.
The second point is also likely to spurn a significant degree of controversy. By insisting that the House of Representatives be Libya’s legislative body, Leon’s plan is essentially rejecting the legitimacy of the parallel parliament in Tripoli, the General National Council (GNC). The Tripoli government argues that the GNC is the only legitimate parliament, drawing support from a Supreme Court decision from last fall (although the process and implications of that decision have been questioned). Meanwhile, the House of Representatives operating out of Baida in East Libya remains the sole internationally recognized legislative assembly in Libya. It has been suggested that the GNC, or elements from it, may be included in the High State Council and that balance between the two assemblies would thereby be achieved. More details are needed to see exactly how this balance pans out.
The fourth point would likely mean an extension of the current Constitutional Assembly, operating out of the Eastern city of al-Bayda. The Constitutional Assembly has long been regarded as one of the few non-politicized institutions in Libya, although its president, Ali Tarhouni, arguably is closer to the Tobruk government than to the authorities in Tripoli.
The two last points of Leon’s plan arguably reflect the parallel tracks in the negotiations, involving militias on the one hand, and Libyan municipalities on the other.
It appears that the threat of Islamic State (IS) expansion into Libya has pushed the parties to come to the table. Militias loyal to both Tobruk and Tripoli are currently engaged in fighting IS: the former against an increasing IS presence in Benghazi, and the latter against their main base in Sirte.
Both sides however appear capable of ‘multitasking’: Khalifa Heftar, Tobruk’s military lead, recently launched a campaign to liberate Tripoli while Tripoli jets have carried out airstrikes on Zintan, whose militia is allied with Heftar. A number of these airstrikes have been launched with the intention of derailing talks: in the latest round in Morocco, the departure of the Tripoli delegation was delayed due to bombing of the capital’s only remaining airport.
A return to a political solution still appears a long way off. Even in the event that the UN succeeds in bringing about a unity government, such a government will risk being just as fragile as the transitional governments that preceded it. Unless the fundamental problems of Libyan politics are dealt with – particularly the issue of integrating the militias within the framework of the state – real progress will not be achieved.
March 16, on the fourth anniversary of the Syrian conflict, the Middle East Institute convened a panel discussion focusing on the way forward for Syria. Led by MEI’s vice president Paul Salem, the panel featured resident scholar and former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, senior political advisor to the Syrian American Council Mohammed Alaa Ghanem, deputy director and fellow at CNAS Dafna Rand and fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Michael Eisenstadt.
Paul Salem reminded the audience about the somber development of the Syrian crisis. The conflict has cost the lives of an estimated 300,000 Syrians, has injured many more and has displaced another 9 million. The economy has been devastated, and will likely take 30-40 years to return to pre-crisis levels. Moreover, fallout from the conflict threatens both the region and the world at large. Salem argued that the US and its allies have so far been unable to cope with these challenges, as they have yet to produce a strategy that deals with the root cause of the conflict: a regime that refuses to budge or compromise.
Ambassador Ford argued that current US policy falls short of the intended goal of containing and eventually rolling back the Islamic State (ISIS). In particular, Ford noted that recruitment of Syrians to ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra continues unabated – driven by the brutality of the Syrian civil war. The bombing campaign against ISIS might be helpful as a stop-gap measure, but it will not succeed in rolling it back.
To achieve this, the US must instead push for a political transition process, Ford argued. This requires that the opposition accept negotiations with the Assad regime and that they provide war-weary regime supporters with a vision of Syria that is neither Assad’s nor the Islamists’. It also requires increased material support to the moderate opposition so that the regime feels compelled to negotiate. Ford concluded by pointing out that support for the opposition in Syria is about bringing both parties to the table, not about toppling the regime.
In a similar vein, Mohamed Alaa Ghanem argued for a more robust American response to the Syrian crisis. Ghanem pointed out that in October 2011 Syrian protesters had come out in large numbers to demand the establishment of a no-fly zone in Syria. He argued that if a no-fly zone had been established in July 2012, when the Free Syrian Army controlled a majority of populated areas in Syria, it could have meant the effective end of the regime. Similarly, Ghanem argued that the current US train-and-equip program would flounder if these forces did not have protection against the regime’s aerial bombardments. He therefore urged the US to support Turkish proposals of an air exclusion zone – a limited form of no-fly zone that would shield Aleppo and allow some space to the moderate rebels.
He also urged more significant support to the rebels, noting that the FSA-affiliated ‘Southern Front’ that is currently making progress pays their fighters about $85 per month, as opposed to Jabat al-Nusra’s $300 and IS’ $500-1000. Ghanem warned that de Mistura’s plan of local freezes would likely free up regime forces for the offensive in the south, and argued that the only framework for a political settlement acceptable to Syrians was the Geneva communique.
On a slightly more optimistic note, Daphna Rand said that the US policy of fighting the ISIS could be helpful in pushing for a transition process, provided it was leveraged the right way. Rand suggested four reasons why the two goals were related. First, the current battle map of Syria requires the removal of IS from the the North-West – particularly from the Turkish border, in order to create governing space for the opposition. Second, recent opinion polls show a significant increase in public support for intervention in Syria after the anti-ISIS campaign was announced in October 2014. Third, experience from previous interventions suggests that the US-led anti-ISIS campaign will not remain in its current limited form. Intervention will require the US to pick a side, as indicated by the current training of a non-jihadist, non-regime force. Finally, the architecture of the anti-ISIS coalition suggests that the current intervention might overcome the strategic disparity that characterized early efforts by the US and its allies, when the support for widely different groups helped fragment the Syrian opposition.
Michael Eisenstadt argued that the US policy in Syria amounts to supporting an insurgency. Since insurgencies are inherently political, this requires coordination between political and military efforts. Such coordination so far has not been forthcoming, in part due to muddled thinking about the use of military power. Obama’s mantra on Syria has been that there are no military solutions to the conflict – an approach that the Assad regime clearly disagrees with.
According to Eisenstadt, it is clear that some form of military action is required to bring about a diplomatic solution to the Syrian conflict. Moreover, US Syria policy appears to be held hostage by the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran. Eisenstadt stressed that these negotiations should not constrain US options in Syria and pointed to the fact that the Iranians themselves do not appear to be notably constrained in their Syria policy.
The US needs to recognize its role in perpetuating the conflict. US inaction has been a recruitment bonanza for ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra and encouraged the perceived passive alliance with Iran in Iraq. The fact that early airstrikes protected minority groups but not Sunnis has helped cement a view of the US as opposed to the Syrian revolution. Einsentadt concluded by warning against separating US policy in Syria from Iraq. Without according equal weight to efforts in both countries, the US cannot succeed in defeating ISIS.