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Badr Ibrahim

The paradox of foreign intervention to 'restore' security

Across the region, intervention has led to civil strife [AFP]

Date of publication: 23 February, 2015

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Comment: Military "interventions" in the Middle East have spread instability and destroyed societies - the very conditions that these interventions were often intended to prevent or ameliorate.
With Libya's crises deepening, the expansion of the Islamic State group, and the televised announcement of the killing of Coptic Egyptian workers in Sirte, Egyptian diplomats submitted a request - later withdrawn - for international intervention in Libya, backed by a United Nations Security Council resolution.

It is a request very much in line with the vision of President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi who, before becoming president, talked about the West's mistakes in Libya.

He was referring, of course, to the incomplete nature of Western intervention, which left the post-Gaddafi country in a state of chaos.

It is true that this position reflects the magnitude of Arab failure. What is more important, however, is that it indicates a lack of understanding of the role of foreign intervention in the absence of stability and amid the disintegration of societies.

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When the Nato campaign in Libya began in 2011, many in the Arab world, liberals and Islamists alike, welcomed it - although some had opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

They, however, did not have a problem in supporting a Nato intervention in Libya, saying there was a difference between a ground offensive and airstrikes, which do not involve direct occupation.

This argument ignores the fact that military action is a means of achieving strategic goals, namely expanding influence, dominating resources, acquiring economic privileges, and consequently controlling the state's major decisions.

Therefore, the difference between the airstrikes and the ground offensive does not sound significant, considering the final analysis of the goals sought to be achieved through intervention - especially as the decision not to mount a ground offensive usually stems from the need to reduce costs, not because of a reluctance to impose hegemony.

Calls for intervention indicate a lack of understanding of the role intervention has played in the disintegration of societies.

This argument does not greatly affect those who take a position on foreign intervention according to their partisan interests.

They reject a certain intervention because it does not serve their interests and come up with feeble excuses to justify another when it supports their interests.

It seems that the talk of foreign intervention resulting in economic and political hegemony, in undermining the sovereignty of Arab countries, and in the failure to build viable democratic models has been repeated in every discussion about foreign intervention since 2011 - and before that in the debate over the Iraqi invasion.

What was not given much attention, however, was the role of foreign intervention in breaking up Arab societies and spreading chaos and civil war.

A bitter history

In Libya, foreign intervention was a significant factor in the outbreak of a large-scale civil war, because it supported one group against another.

   What's going on in Libya?

The General National Congress was the Islamist-led elected body ruling Libya for two years following Gaddafi's ousting and death. After its 18-month deadline to form a new constitution passed in January 2014, the body resolved to extend its mandate.

General Khalifa Haftar, a senior figure in the forces that toppled Gaddafi, called on the GNC to disband. In May, Haftar led troops against Islamist militias in Benghazi and the GNC in Tripoli in an offensive named Operation Dignity.

Amid the chaos, an election was held to form the House of Representatives, which took power from the GNC in August. With rival militias ruling Libya's streets, the election turnout was just 18 percent. Islamist militias then launched Operation Libya Dawn to fight Haftar's troops.

With the lack of security in the capital, the House of Representatives hired a Greek car ferry harboured in the eastern city of Tobruk as a temporary legislature.

In late August, a group of GNC members reconvened in Tripoli and claimed legislative authority over the country, effectively replacing the House of Representatives as Libya's parliament. The Tobruk-based House of Representatives remains the internationally recognised government, though its actual authority on the ground in Libya is limited.

Libya's Supreme Court, based in Islamist-held Tripoli, ruled in November that the formation of the House of Representatives was unconstitutional, legally dissolving the Tobruk-based legislature and nullifying its decisions.

The Tobruk-based parliament refused to accept the court's ruling, saying it was made "at gunpoint".

Libya remains torn between the rival parliaments and the heavily armed militias that support each. Allegiances between the militias change frequently, which only adds to the instability, violence and danger faced by ordinary Libyan citizens.

The defeated party felt the treachery of the victorious party, which sought Nato's help at a time when the state collapsed and militias representing certain groups and tribes fought each other for influence.

This opened the door to further regional and foreign interventions. The result, as we can see it today, was the creation of two governments in the country, a conflict between two alliances of militias, the absence of security and the state itself, and demands for yet more intervention.

The military meddling in Libya caused nothing but the spread of weapons and chaos, and the post-Gaddafi, media-hyped Libyan "democratic" model was a failure.

The Libyan situation currently poses a significant threat to all its neighbours.

The Iraqi model is useful for explaining the idea of the disintegration of societies through foreign intervention. The Shia forces' support for the US-led invasion led to a hostile reaction among Sunni circles, causing many to believe the Shia were targeting them.

This was further strengthened by the behaviour of the Shia when they took power following Saddam's ousting. The collapse of trust led to the expansion of jihadi groups, civil war, and the failure of the political administration.

The situation was not limited to the US intervention, for Iran's growing influence in Iraq and its intention to fight the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as Isis) further widened the gap between segments of Iraqi society, fanning the flames of sectarianism.

As long as Iranian and US intervention continues, Iraqi society will continue to disintegrate, especially as signs of partition due to foreign intervention are looming on the horizon.

In Syria, demands for foreign intervention to support the uprising there focused on rescuing civilians and reducing casualties on the one hand and on obstructing the growth of "extremist" groups on the other.

It can be said that the partial foreign intervention in Syria undertaken by regional and Western sides - opening the borders from Turkey and Jordan and supplying opposition organisations with fighters and weapons - increased the death toll among civilians (as had been the case in Iraq and Libya).

Appeals for Nato's help would only entrench the problem by asking for more of the disease, not the cure.

In the context of the ongoing civil war and the grudges resulting from it - to which the foreign interventions also contributed - foreign intervention also created an environment suitable to the growth of "radical" groups.

This eventually led to IS controlling vast areas in Syria. This, however, is not to ignore the role of Syrian regime in creating this environment through its terrible administration.

Appeals for Nato's help would only entrench the problem by asking for more of the disease, not the cure. While some believe foreign intervention will lead to decisive results and bring chaos to an end, the experiences of Arab countries prove it contributes only to the spread of chaos, deepening grudges and furthering sectarian division.

This leads to the emergence and empowerment of radical movements and to the division of the country among feuding parties in a civil war.

Instead of highlighting this disastrous role of foreign interventions, more interventions are called for - to address chaos, and to support one group against another within our societies. And the result is a greater tragedy.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. 

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