Today, 11 September 2021, the ACRPS Strategic Studies Unit launched its third Conference on “Protracted Arab Civil Wars: Causes and Challenges”. The Conference, which will be held remotely via the Zoom platform until 14 September 2021, will examine 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 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.