The ACRPS Strategic Studies Unit held remotely via the Zoom its third Conference on “Protracted Arab Civil Wars: Causes and Challenges" from 11 to 14 September 2021. The four days conference examined the protracted Arab civil wars and their causations; “exceptionality;” security, humanitarian and environmental ramifications; the impact of both female and foreign fighters’ (participation); the changing character of civil wars in terms of tactics and strategies; the role(s) of international and regional powers; the impact(s) of spoilers; and comparative non-Arab cases of ending civil wars and post-civil war management. The conference will also address a set of important research questions, such as: Is there any exceptionalism in Arab civil wars, in terms of causes, duration, intensity, scale and scope? If yes, why? What are the strategic implications of protracted civil wars for regional and international security? How can external powers influence the trajectories of these civil wars? Can they improve governance in areas that have been afflicted by civil wars? What are the roles of armed nonstate actors as military, political and administrative nonstate entities? How will these wars and their aftermath affect humanitarian and environmental policies in the region and beyond? What are the prospects of total war termination, nonviolent conflict management and sustaining civil peace, stability, and reforms in the aftermath of these civil wars? Are there any lessons to be learned from non-Arab cases?
The first day began with an opening intervention by ACRPS researcher and director of the Strategic Studies Unit, Omar Ashour, who provided context for the conference. Ashour referred to the multiple civil wars that the Arab world witnessed before and after the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011, while today there are at least six Arab countries still suffering from internal wars that have engendered humanitarian suffering, environmental damage, mass exodus, major internal displacement and uncontrollable refugee spill over. Given these protracted and under-researched dynamics, the ACRPS Strategic Studies Unit has organized this conference.
Stathis Kalyvas, expert scholar of civil wars, followed with an introductory lecture in which he offered a general theoretical framework of the topic. In his lecture, “Some Reflections on the Arab Civil Wars,” Kalyvas shed light on problems when researching “civil wars” and raised intellectual and methodological questions related to the “exceptionalism” of Arab civil wars. He also reflected on the proper geographical classification that can be used to discuss wars in the Arab region, and the lessons that can be drawn from them. Following Kalyvas’s intervention, political scientist, Tamim Al-Barghouti, gave a lecture entitled “One War, Different Battles”, in which he addressed a key question: how cultural norms and expressions of collective memory and sentiments in the Arab region can be employed in understanding outcomes of political and military conflicts. He shed light on the problems in addressing political phenomena in the Arab world using traditional and mainstream approaches. He opined that prevailing studies in the Arab world, on topics such as nation-states, non-state armed groups, or regional systems, tend to ignore cultural complexities and organic interconnections within the Arab region.
The first panel on “Protraction and ‘exceptionality’: Causations, Complications and Cases” was chaired by Abdelwahab El-Affendi, acting president of the Doha Institute. The first speaker, Sidahmed Goudjili, Assistant Professor for the Doha Institute Critical Security Studies programme, presented his paper “Literature Gaps, ‘Exceptionalism’ and Data Issues in Arab Civil Wars”, in which he presented a macro analysis of the Arab civil wars between 1945 and 2020, and a comparative analysis across cases and time. He also discussed the “exceptionalism” hypothesis of the Arab civil wars and its applicability on civil wars that erupted following the Arab Spring.
The second speaker, Hamid Eltigani Ali, Associate Professor and Dean of the School of Public Administration and Development Economics at the Doha Institute, discussed his paper “Causes of Protracted Sudanese Civil Wars.” He discussed the factors behind the outbreak and protraction of the conflict in Sudan, such as economic inequality, marginalization and exclusion.
Following this, ACRPS researchers Majd Abuamer and Hani Awad, , addressed their paper on “What Civil War is-and is Not-: Lessons from the Arab World”, addressing the conceptual chaos resulted from disagreement among researchers over the definition of these wars, as the concept of civil war has been used to refer to or combined with other concepts such as sectarian war, ethnic war, irregular warfare and proxy war. To solve this problem, Abuamer and Awad suggested a normative theoretical model that reconceptualizes civil wars as an armed conflict over the nation state and within its sovereign borders. One of the parties to this conflict is necessarily a state with a weak legitimacy, and a Social Movement Organization(s) (SMO), that emerges as a result of: the failure of settlement between parties, the state's failure to eliminate the social movement or contain its political activism, and the SMO's failure to change the state.
The fifth and the final speaker of the panel, Abdullah Baaboud, Chair of the State of Qatar for Islamic Area Studies at Waseda University, presented “The Dhofar Insurgency: Causes and Ramifications”, discussing the role that the Dhofar Rebellion (1965 – 2967) played in the eventual creation of the modern Sultanate of Oman, and how what started as a small-scale tribal insurgency by the Dhofar Liberation Movement (DLF), against the Sultan Said bin Taimur transformed into a wider regional movement. Baaboud placed the Dhofar insurgency in a wider context, as the longest and largest armed struggle within the Arabian Peninsula and the last classic colonial war in the region.
The conference will continue until Tuesday, 14th of September 2021, with a group of researchers and experts discussing pressing questions and present academic interventions related to civil wars in the Arab region. Considering the exceptional circumstances of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s conference will be held remotely via the Zoom video conference platform and will be streamed across the Arab Center’s social media accounts for public access.
The second day of the conference started with a panel on “Women at (Civil) War”, chaired by the Doha Institute’s Executive Director of Administration and Finance Division, Mariam Al-Misnad. The first speaker, Ora Szekely, Associate Professor of Political Science at Clark University, presented her paper, “Unlikely Allies: Women, Privilege, and Participation in the Syrian Uprising”, in which she discussed the grievances at the root of the 2011 Syrian uprisings, and the key features of women’s participation in it as well as the advantages that some women obtained due to their gender and sectarian identities.
Muhanad Seloom, Assistant Professor at the Critical Security Studies program at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, followed with his paper on “YPJ in Syrian Civil War: An Intersectional Inquiry into Kurdish Female Fighters.” Seloom examined the objectives and roles of YPJ Kurdish women fighters in the Syrian civil war while adopting the principle of intersectionality as a method of inquiry, taking into consideration the multiple interlocking identities and live experiences of Kurdish women fighters.
The third and last paper of this panel “Undoing the Caliphate: Women's Roles in ISIS and Repatriation Efforts,” was presented by Jessica Trisko, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Virginia Commonwealth University and Duenya Hassan, Project Manager at the William & Mary’s Global Research Institute. Trisko and Hassan presented the challenge of reintegrating women and children associated with the Islamic State in the Middle East and North Africa, where women were an integral part of the traditional family structure within the group, and their involvement extended beyond the private sphere, as they served as educators, propagandists and enforcers of the Islamic State’s interpretation of Shari’a law.
The last panel of the day, “Roles of Regional Powers: Spoilers, Guarantors or Resolvers”, was chaired by the director of the Qatar Armed Forces Strategic Studies Unit, Rashid Hamad Al-Nuaimi. Imad Mansour, Assistant Professor at the Critical Security Studies Program at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, and William R. Thompson, Distinguished Professor and Donald A. Rogers Professor Emeritus at the Department of Political Science at Indiana University, presented their paper on “The Rivalry-Civil War Farrago in the MENA”, in which they discussed the interaction between interstate rivalry and civil wars onset in the Middle East and North Africa, as they summarized it as a farrago. Mansour and Thompson argued that due to internationalization of civil war, it has become apparent that external interference in domestic warfare has become a substitute for conventional interstate combat. Thus, they suggested a model that integrates domestic grievances and international rivalries, in order to explain this farrago.
The final speaker on this panel, Emadeddin Badi, advisor for Libya at the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Government (DCAF), spoke on “The Russian and Turkish Intervention in the Libyan Civil War and the Ramifications”. In his paper, Badi examined the Russian and Turkish intervention in Libya following the launch of Khalifa Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli in April 2019 and presented their different approaches to interventionism. Badi argued that both countries have adopted starkly distinct approaches to security assistance and developed vastly different models of cooperation (or lack thereof) with local “partners.”
The fourth conference session, was on “’Foreigners’ in Civil Wars”, chaired by Haider Saeed, Head of the Research department at the ACRPS. Thomas Juneau, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa, was the first speaker for the third day. Juneau presented a paper on “How War Transformed the Partnership between Iran and the Houthis?” in which he analyzed the causes and consequences of the quantitative and qualitative shifts in Iran’s support for the Houthis and explained how this has represented an important victory for Iran.
Thomas Hegghammer, Senior Research Fellow at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, spoke next on his paper, “Will Arab Fighters Return to Afghanistan?” He discussed the likelihood of Afghanistan becoming once again a destination for Jihadi foreign fighters, considering the history of the Arab Jihadi movement and the current situation in Afghanistan. Hegghammer argued that although the latest development is generally beneficial to transnational jihadism, a return to the pre-9/11 state of affairs is highly unlikely in the near future.
The following panelists, Hamzeh al-Mustapha, a PhD Candidate in Middle Eastern Politics at the University of Exeter, and Laila Alrefaai, Master’s student in Sociology at the Marmara University, presented a paper on “The Turkistan Islamic Party between Locality of Syrian ‘Jihad’ and Geopolitical Conflicts”. They addressed the Turkistan Islamic Party’s transformation as a foreign faction in the Syrian war, and its involvement in various battles against the Syrian regime on the one hand, and its engagement in Jihadi-Jihadi conflicts between the "Islamic State," Al Qaeda, and Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, on the other. Al-Mustapha and Alrefaai traced the Turkistan Islamic Party’s roots and operational expansion, and observing its combat tactics, factional alliances and relationship with local communities.
Nicola Mathieson, PhD Candidate at the Coral Bell School, was the final speaker on this panel, discussing her paper, “Tracing the Impact of Foreign Fighters: The Long-term Implications of the Soviet-Afghan and Afghan Civil War.” She looked at how the capacity to impact armed groups increases with experience and argued that although initial experience in conflict is important for foreign fighters, it must be accompanied by practical application in conflict in order to produce effective fighters.
The fifth panel of the conference examined “The Changing Nature of (Civil) War”, and was chaired by Marwan Kabalan, Director of the Political Studies Unit at the ACRPS. The fist speaker, Rex Brynen, Professor of Political Science at McGill University in Canada, presented his paper on “Military Innovation in the Arab Civil Wars: A Comparative and Historical Perspective”, in which he identified the conditions under which military “innovation” has emerged in civil conflicts in the Arab world, distinguishing between tactics that are truly novel and those that represent a more common adaptation to particular conflict environments.
Second speaker, Craig Whiteside, Associate Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in California, discussed his paper “Carving Out a Caliphate: The Islamic State's Revolutionary War Doctrine”, in which he engaged captured/leaked primary documents and analyzed over 10,000 Islamic State reported attacks between 2007 and 2014. In addition, Whiteside presented several findings about the group’s warfare methods and how it is exporting these to affiliates (Arab and non-Arab) around the world.
The third and final speaker on this panel, Brynjar Lia, Professor of Middle East Studies at the University of Oslo, discussed “Jihadi Insurgencies and Proto-states: Origins, Evolution and Future Prospects”. He presented some of the key factors explaining the rise, proliferation and resilience of Jihadi-led insurgent movements and proto-states. Lia argued that weakening state structures due to globalization, underdevelopment and ongoing armed conflicts cannot alone explain Jihadi resilience, explaining that actor-specific factors such as their “human resources” management and their transnational universalist ideology, are central in understanding Jihadi insurgencies expansion and contracting.
The fourth and last day of the conference was launched with the panel “Humanitarian and Environmental Implications of (Civil) Wars”, chaired by Abdulfatah Mohamed, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies in the ACRPS. The first speaker, Moataz El Fegiry, Assistant Professor and Head of the Human Rights Program at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, presented his paper “Time and Again: Humanitarian Consequences of International and Regional Geopolitics of Arab Civil Wars.” He discussed the impact of the complex international and regional geopolitics of the civil wars in Libya, Yemen and Syria, which not only exacerbated the humanitarian cost of these conflicts but also obstructed the means available to the international community to protect civilians and effectively respond to massive atrocities committed during these wars.
The second speaker on this panel, Mohammad Al-Saidi, Assistant Professor at the Department of International Affairs at Qatar University, spoke on “The Environmental Impacts of Arab Civil Wars: From Basic Supply Destruction to Weaponization”. He addressed the relationship between environmental factors and conflicts in the Middle East and explored the impact of the Yemeni and Syrian civil wars on environment-related sectors such as water, energy and food. Al-Saidi illustrated the immediate impacts of these conflicts on destruction, supply interruptions and weaponization, and the indirect impacts such as the deteriorating the health of humans and ecosystems as well as weakening public institutions.
Moosa Elayah, Assistant Professor of the Public Administration program at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, spoke next on his paper “Humanitarian and Environmental Data and Implications: The Case of Yemen”. He highlighted the issue of the Humanitarian Aid in Yemen as a significant source of funding for armed groups, as those groups are often looting aid to distribute it based on partisanship and to sell it on the black market to finance the war effort. Furthermore, in many cases, aid is distributed through local NGOs that were established by these groups or were pre-politicized in favor of specific region or group. Elayah argued that the ability of NGOs to use and deliver aid effectively to those who deserve it is very limited, and its actions can end up expanding the war economy.
Tomas Dumbrovsky, Visiting Assistant Professor in the Human Rights Program at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, presented the last paper on this panel “Sharing and Trading Refugees: Syrian Civil War as New Impetus for Reconfiguring International Refugee Law.” He examined the various solutions proposed in light of the European sharing scheme and the empirical data produced by the Syrian refugee crisis. He argued that any practical solution must combine quotas with a trading mechanism. At the same time, it must preserve the legal and ethical principles developed so far in international refugee law.
The seventh and final panel of the conference, “Comparative Successes, Failures and Stalemates” was chaired by ACRPS Researcher, Ayat Hamdan. The first speaker, David Darchiashvili, Professor at the School of Arts and Sciences in Ilia State University in Georgia, presented his paper “From War to "Democracy": How Did the Georgian Civil War Transform?” He illustrated the Georgian experience in ending the ethnic and civil armed clashes since its independence declared in the beginning of the 90’s, pointing to the internal and external factors that have managed the political crisis in Georgia since then. He listed an absence of the tradition of military dictatorships, as well as the geographical closeness of a democratic community of nations as factors that have contributed to avoiding the worst-case scenarios manifesting.
Second speaker, Luka Šterić, Researcher at the Belgrade Center for Security Policy presented his paper, “From Civil War to Security Sector Reform: Assessing Serbia and the Western Balkans after the Yugoslav Civil Wars.” He raised a question on the sustainability of the process of importing the democratization model from abroad to pacify and transform the region, while referring to the civil war in Yugoslavia thirty years ago that resulted in the dissolution of the country and the creation of new nation states. He noted the full membership that the European Union has offered to all former Yugoslav republics, under the condition that these countries successfully conduct the process of democratization and liberalization under terms set by Brussels.
The following speaker, Ali Elwahishi, Assistant Professor at the Political Science Department in the University of Zawia in Libya, discussed “The Libyan Civil War and the Challenges of Peace Prospects.” He addressed the roots of the internationalized civil war in Libya, and the efforts of the United Nations and European countries to bring peace between the conflicting Libyan parties. Elwahishi also examined the challenges and obstacles to the prospects for peace and reconciliation, especially those presented by the parties benefiting from the current situation, whether domestically or abroad.
The final speaker of this panel, Mansour Lakhdari, Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations in Ahmed Bin Mohammed Military College in Qatar, presented on “The Algerian Experience in Ending Civil War: Context and Consequences of the Security Crisis”. Lakhdari examined the way the Algerian civil war was ended with a focus on the specificity of the Algerian experience and the role and success of the military in designing the institutional framework to end the war.
Concluding the conference, Omar Ashour, Director of the Strategic Studies Unit at the ACRPS, thanked the participating researchers, attendees and organizers, as well as the professors on the Critical Security Studies Program at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies. Ashour also noted that selected chapters of the papers presented in the conference will be published in an Arabic language book by the ACRPS and in English by a Western University publishing house. This conference, as well as the previous conferences, are part of the Strategic Studies Unit’s activities and the same topics are studied on the Critical Security Studies Program. Ashour finished by saying that in the coming months, the ACRPS will hold a conference on Political Transition in Sudan and Syria, and the Gulf Studies Forum.
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