The third and fourth days of the ACRPS Strategic Studies Unit conference “Protracted Arab Civil Wars: Causes and Challenges” were divided across four panels, the last of which marked the conclusion of the Doha based event. The first panel, which represented 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.