The Arab blueprint is off-beam

The Arab blueprint is off-beam
4 min read
27 Mar, 2015
Comment: A pan-Arab force is not going to be the solution to the many ills and conflicts that afflict the region, writes Abdallah Hendawi.
The Saudi and Yemeni FMs exhange thoughts at Sharm summit [Anadolu]

On 15 February, 2015 Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi addressed the Arab nations in a televised speech, in the aftermath of the beheading of 21 Coptic–Christian workers by Islamic State (IS) Libya. Sisi asserted that “terrorism is spreading across the region and that requires the solidarity of the world to put an end to this vicious act.”


The next morning, Egyptians awoke to headlines reporting unilateral Egyptian airstrikes over the IS stronghold in the Libyan city of Derna to avenge the killing of Egyptian workers in Libya.


     Challenging thoughts with Hellfire and cruise missiles is like trying to bottle smoke in small canisters.

Sisi received this massacre’s tragedy from IS militants and, in a sleight of hand, turned it into an opportunity to push for the creation of a Pan-Arab standing force. During his interview with Al Arabiya News in February, Sisi prodded Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan to formulate a joint Arab force tasked with countering security threats and ensuring stability in light of insurgencies, especially after the UN Security Council was unwilling to support Egypt’s notion on using military force in Libya or lifting the arms embargo on the forces of the controversial general Khalifa Haftar. Sisi crossed the spectrum to preach his ideas in an interview with Fox News where he explained his motivation for creating a pan-Arab force and sought US support in combating the growing threats in the region.


Despite its fervour, Egypt in its current status is not capable of creating or running such a large force on its own. This is primarily because of its flimsy economy but also because of the involvement of its own military in combating insurgents in northern Sinai. In addition, an assorted Arab contribution to the force is necessary to provide legitimate cover for any possible operations.  


Shortly after Sisi’s hollers – and two days before the Sharm al-Sheikh Arab Leaders Summit – Yemen’s deteriorating situation imposes itself on the arena and brings the new Arab vigour to a test. At least ten Arab nations – surprisingly including Qatar – rushed to join the Saudi-led onslaught on Yemen. The idea of a pan-Arab force now seems more reasonable than ever to the Arab monarchies who are striving to limit the growing Iranian clout in the region. One day after Yemen’s bombardment, Arab foreign ministers met in Sharm al-Sheikh and reached agreement to form a joint rapid intervention force. A joint Arab force tasked with intervening in any Arab country facing the threat of terrorism, is also meant to deter Iran and its allies in the region.  


Now that Arabs have finally agreed on something, it is important to question the teleology and efficiency of such a force. In fact, creating a pan-Arab force – tasked with skirmishing terrorism – only reflects a narrow archetypal manner of addressing the regional calamity.


The Middle East and North Africa has been fractured by the already-existing armed conflicts. Banging the drums of a new war in a region of failed states that has not yet recovered from its own turmoil in the name of countering terrorism means not only multiplying the numbers of terrorists/militants infinitely, but also creating some sort of popular sympathy and compassion with extremists. This will set future hurdles especially when social symptoms start to materialize.


Jordan, a member state of the anti-IS alliance, have witnessed large pro-IS demonstrations, and is a signifier of sympathies with terrorist groups. This is, indeed, a serious business that could backfire against the entire region and breed hostility towards innocent civilians. The only fear is to find ourselves cloning replicas of abraded models like those in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq where bombardment did everything but end terrorism.


This article doesn’t advocate however for no response. It does underline that we can’t keep repeating the same mistakes over and over while hoping for different outcomes. Terrorism in its abstract form is some sort of thought –an extremist thought. Challenging thoughts with Hellfire and cruise missiles is like trying to bottle smoke in small canisters. It simply doesn’t work.


Exerting genuine efforts to treat the root causes of that conflict and provide alternative political thesis will help narrow the chances of growth of those groups and will land-level the fertile soil of potential of extremism. The international community’s negligence of Libya’s post Gaddafi’s phase and Yemen’s age-old crisis is an example of how power vacuums in failed states can give rise to extremist groups which eventually, and swiftly, emerged into new hybrid organisms posing an imminent threat to the region and beyond. The faster, the harder and more genuine the international community works to reconcile the hodgepodge conflicts in the Middle East, the easier the mission of stabilizing  the region could be in the future.


It is quite easy to spark a war, but not to bring it to an end. As of where we stand now, fixing the situation is not entirely hopeless but unless profound change takes place in the nature of warfare, the Arab blueprint for combating terrorism will remain off-beam.

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.