Unfinished Business: What the World has Pending Since 2011, Part 1

International actors must address the existing issues in the Middle East and North Africa in a more coordinated and efficient manner to prevent further escalation of conflict.

A snapshot of 2011

2012 has so far been as agitated as the preceding year. 2011 included the Arab Spring uprisings, the fall of Ben Ali, Mubarak, Qaddafi, the death of Kim Jong Il, Bin Laden and the Colombian guerrilla leader Alfonso Cano, negotiations with the Burma regime, the end of the Nepalese Maoist guerrilla, the division of Sudan, the Central American crisis and struggle against organized crime, and the evacuation of US troops from Iraq. These events have been inflection points for the international system.

We are still far from the “End of Times”, that Fukuyama once mentioned. Rather, last year’s events were merely the beginning of many global challenges. Before we start thinking of future wars in the Middle East and Iran, or the growing tension with Russia and China, the events of the past have to be adequately addressed. The international response to such challenging events seems insufficient for solving global problems which have only continued to multiply on several fronts. This article, divided into two parts, will not pose the questions that many analysts have been writing about, such as what type of regime must be established or who should take power. This text aims to highlight some other elementary discussions and decisions related to peacebuilding and peace consolidation. It will address topics such as how to develop a comprehensive and successful Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program, how to create a comprehensive transitional justice scheme that prevents future violence based on revenge, and how to deal with the arrival of new world leaders in strategic countries such as Libya, Egypt, North Korea or South Sudan.

Sudan, Libya, Egypt, Iraq: The challenges for reconstruction

Overthrowing a regime or signing peace agreements is just a starting point in post-conflict reconstruction. Lessons must be drawn from Somalia of the 90s, or even Afghanistan of the 80s.  Incomplete assistance after interventions tends to create further crises.  Global awareness must not diminish after a regime is overthrown or a military victory is achieved. Unfortunately, little has been said on this matter about Libya, Tunisia, or Egypt. This is a crucial time to be assisting these countries if they are to be changed for the better. As far as financing is concerned, it is clear that global interest and investment in such conflict zones diminishes after the initial excitement. The eruption of new tensions, compounded with the US and EU financial crises are partly to blame.

Egypt

While the people in Egypt demand deliverance from a legacy of military regimes a year after the uprising, Egypt is still in the hands of the army. It seems there is no organized structure that is ready to face the challenge of reconstructing democracy, and fostering development and employment. Where are Mohammed El Baradei and the other technocrats that came back to Egypt as iconic figures to overthrow Mubarak? Both the Muslim Brotherhood and El Baradei have decided not to present their candidates for the elections, pointing out the lack of change in the Egyptian situation and the ongoing powerful army control as reasons. However, if no opposition members decide to challenge the military structure then who will? It is evident that Egypt needs state-building assistance to empower democratic structures and to break the legacy of a decades-long military regime; nevertheless, the news coverage focuses on protests around a soccer match and seems to forget that the chronic failures in the system are still waiting to be addressed.

A stricter process of reconciliation and a transitional justice program must be established to address crimes and further violence in the post-Mubarak era. Ending crime and violence will enable Egypt to look into the future. This justice reform will strengthen institutions and will foster the change everyone is expecting.

Unfortunately, Western powers have not done much to support the institutional and governmental reforms and seem to be at easy with the status quo. This could affect the delicate situation in Egypt, a country that is increasingly important in light of the growing tension between Israel and Iran. 

Sudan

After several decades of civil war between the government of Sudan (based in the capital Khartoum) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/ Movement (SPLA/M), the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the referendum that have been postponed for five years, fostered the gaining of South Sudan’s independence. Unfortunately, the problems in the region are far from over and the situation in South Kordofan is leading to growing tension between the governments of both countries -- a tension which if not properly dealt with, might restart one of Africa´s oldest conflicts.  Despite the fact that the conflict intensity in Darfur has decreased and both factions have split into smaller groups, the conflict is not over. More importantly, the demands that led to the 2005 uprising in Darfur still have no effective answer from the government of Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s president.

Darfur´s struggle has not been for gaining independence, and was originally meant to raise awareness and promote the inclusion of the tribes of Darfur in central governmental planning, and the arrival of infrastructure, investment, and basic services. The fulfilling of these claims was not of primary significance for Western countries which were more interested in settling the north-south dispute. Despite global attention on the secession process, critical issues were left unresolved. As a result, both countries are fighting over the oil resources on their borders in the South Kordofan. Tensions between Juba (capital of South Sudan) and Khartoum are one of the most important unfinished businesses of 2011. If the African Union does not try to ensure a peaceful solution to the problem, the situation is likely to deteriorate before the end of 2012.

One of the most critical periods on a conflict curve is right after the ceasefire, when all the efforts and success of programs like Internally displaced Persons (IDP´s), Security Sector Reform, and the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration may be endangered by renewed violence. Is Sudan´s war, one of the longest civil wars in Africa, really over?

Libya

As weeks pass by, less and less is being stated on the processes of the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC).  Many efforts are aimed at disarming the rebel militia armed groups or “thwar”, but little has been done, since neither the army nor the government gives enough guarantees of restoring order. Therefore, the citizens are beginning to feel the effects of an “armed peace”. Without fully recognized and respected authority, there will always be concerns and excuses for “the revolution being in danger,” which will support the militias’ resistance to giving up the power they have. The powers and role of the NTC were overestimated when the council was quickly left to face the mammoth task of reconstruction, reconciliation and stabilization, on its own. Despite having a strong man such as Mustafa Abdel-Jalil as chairman, the council recognizes its limits. Abdel-Jalil himself announced, as reported by the BBC, that the possibility of a "civil war" still exists if the armed groups are not brought under control.

A transitional justice process is needed to deal with the war crimes and rivalry among faction and tribal groups, as an only way for national union to be established and to effectively turn the page on Qaddafi’s era. Where does the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) end? The situation has proven to be very fragile and the world´s sense of responsibility should prevent global disengagement after the coup d’état; the world doesn´t need another post-1989 Afghanistan. 

Before any further steps are taken, the government must lead reconciliation among factions, with symbolic and material reparation. Restoration of the historical memory of the abuses and acts of the regime will be fundamental for reconciliation among all Libyans, which is necessary for starting the social and economical reconstruction of Libya.

Preliminary conclusions 

Libyan militias were giants which went out of control but which need to be reinserted into the Libyan social structure. As we will see in the second part of this analysis, failing to do so will take this country to a chaotic public order situation where the militias can evolve into powerful organized crime groups, much like the Maras in Central America. Raising the flag of the R2P has brought questions of its own:
  • What is the reach and limit of the R2P interventions? 
  • How to ensure neutrality and actually protect the whole population? (In the Libyan case, not only the rebels but also the population that was loyal to Qaddafi needed protection and support.)
  • To what extent is the supporting of local revolutions against the principle of non-intervention in local affairs? (R2P risks being manipulated as an excuse to legitimize interventions, and imposing a “moral order” much like what the Holly Alliance was intending to do after the Napoleonic Wars.)
Clearly there are still many lessons to learn and as the dynamics of conflict evolve, so must the international response. Before further burdening the resource-limited UN, the world must try to address these issues instead of rushing to the war fronts.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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