How Reluctance in Libya and Yemen Bolsters Al-Qaeda


The "Arab Awakening," as the revolutions in the Middle East have been dubbed, is promising to bring long-awaited change to a democracy-deprived region.

And as this revolutionary movement sweeps across country after country, the international community will need to exert additional pressure on embattled regime leaders to step down and make arrangements for orderly transitions in their countries.

Throughout this article, I will examine the delicate situation in two of these transitional nations — Yemen and Libya — and how the world’s reluctance to put an end to ongoing conflict in these countries is leading to the empowerment of radical groups such as Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. This is counter to what my fellow PolicMic writer Carl Conradi argues

This examination is key to future policy decisions. Following the outburst of the Egyptian revolution, American officials were struck by the unfolding events in the Middle East, and many of them did not know how to act and react to the mounting unrest in the region.

And while disinclination by the superpowers to the events in Tunisia and Egypt did not result in a devastating outcome, the same reluctance in both Libya and Yemen could lead to destructive and unintended consequences.

Yemen’s Terror Resurgence

Instability in Libya and Yemen gives Al-Qaeda the ideal playground to undertake operations against embattled regimes that are clinging to power and facing rising protests against their questionable legitimacy. After all, it is in failing states where radical groups flourish. Al-Qaeda will undeniably take advantage of a prolonged unrest to set camp and build bases from which they could carry out attacks against targets inside and outside these countries. This is already taking place in Yemen, where Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) fighters have staged a series of attacks on Yemeni security forces and military checkpoints in the provinces of Marib, Abyan, and Hadramawt.

Yemen has already had many political challenges: a long-time secessionist insurgency in the South, AQAP activities in Abyan, and the raging rebellion by the Zaydi Huthis in the northern province of Saada. The severely-divided country cannot stand more turmoil, and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh must be urged — and pushed — by his key regional allies (Saudi Arabia) and international allies (the U.S.) to step down in an orderly and democratic way to curtail Al-Qaeda’s movement.

The present situation is Yemen is threatening to escalate should the international community fail to react by putting an end to the ongoing conflict between an unraveling regime and a rising opposition. The opposition is seeking a government that is democratic and more open to people’s demands, which will fight the rampant corruption and work towards achieving good governance. Naturally, the United States shares those goals, and the Yemeni opposition leaders realize that Al-Qaeda represents an obstacle to carrying them out, since security is a fundamental component of political and economic stability.

It is essential that the international community works towards a regime change in Yemen, and starts coordinating with opposition figures and parties, in order to arrange a smooth and well-founded transition that will conclude the continuing conflict, and ensure that AQAP does not take advantage of the current shaky situation in the country. The Gulf Cooperation Council’s initiative and mediation attempts are a beginning, but will not thrive unless all parties’ concerns and demands are taken into account, including guarantees to the Yemeni president and his inner circle, without which he is unlikely to cede power to his opponents.

Libya: A Beleaguered Regime vs. an Embattled Revolution

I was in The Hague on March 18, when the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 1973 calling for an end to aggression perpetrated by Qaddafi’s regime against the opposition. The resolution was timely, and the quick interference of coalition warplanes by the next day likely prevented an anticipated massacre in Benghazi.

I quickly rushed down the lobby and told my colleagues — with a proud tone — that the international community is putting its foot down, with an explicit Arab cover from our longtime dormant Arab League (hence my pride). But my euphoria rapidly faded and I was disheartened after differences within the coalition candidly flowed to the surface.

International agencies are relentlessly voicing concern over the humanitarian situation in Libya, and Qaddafi is bluntly taking advantage of NATO’s reluctance by cracking down on the rebels and crushing opposition forces.

Al-Qaeda will undoubtedly seek to capitalize on the discontent and grievances of the oppressed, and will manage to recruit militants and fighters among those who now feel left-out to their fate facing death, subjugation, and tyranny.

Americans are wary today about the fact that a big number of Libyan nationals are active with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). But their tacit support for continuing the status quo (both political and military) in Libya will unquestionably mean more radicalization of the frustrated, whereas supporting an arranged transition would pave the way to democratization and openness, consequently antagonizing an Al-Qaeda ideology that is largely based on grievances, poverty, and bad governance.

Pro-democracy fighters are complaining about the lack of much-needed military equipment and international assistance to fight back against the regime’s forces. If they don’t receive backing from NATO and Arab states, they might resort to other alternatives in order to fight back and defend themselves against Qaddafi’s atrocities. Such alternatives may include a necessity-alliance with Al-Qaeda and radical anti-Western forces, which envisage Qaddafi as a longtime and fierce enemy, the latter having waged military campaigns against Al-Qaeda and radical Islamist militant groups in his country and abroad.

Recently, the Libya contact group, which met in Doha, Qatar, took a first step to put an end to the ongoing conflict, by calling to support the rebels with any means possible, including funds and arms. This is not sufficient though, considering the fact that there is no worldwide consensus or unanimity on whether or not to aid the Libyan opposition.

How Should the International Community React?

The international community, and particularly states that can play an active and efficient role, cannot overlook the flagrant breaching of human rights in both Libya and Yemen, nor can it downplay the war crimes, and crimes against humanity that are being perpetrated with the tacit — and sometimes explicit — complicity of the Qaddafi and Saleh regimes. The current reluctance is giving Al-Qaeda a much-needed argument that the U.S. only cares about its own strategic, economic, and long-term interests, regardless of whether these interests are attained at the expense of innocent and tormented civilians.

The U.S. can no longer lag in reacting to the ongoing massacres and play both sides of the fence. It must step up to its role as an influential superpower, and must abide by the values and principles that it promotes and defends worldwide. Reluctance will only radicalize the rebels against the U.S. and its allies, who many of them seem, despite their repetitive condemnation statements and hollow promises, unsympathetic and to a certain extent uncaring about what is happening against civilians in the two countries. The situation in Libya proves that humanitarian intervention is in the best interests of the world’s super powers only when it suits them!

Furthermore, the U.S. and hesitant allies need to realize that the context is different between the support for Afghan Jihadists in the 1980s and the much-needed support to Libya’s revolutionaries. The nature and background of the forces who are now fighting Qaddafi (and who requested foreign interference), the unanimous Arab cover, the absence of a bipolar world (or cold war), the recent and continuing Arab uprisings and movement towards democracy (especially in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia) — all these factors, along with local and regional stability, should drive the international community to take action and set change in motion, simply because the equation is simple and clear: democracy, education, and prosperity are the opposite of radicalism, extremism, and violence.

From then on, the international community needs to push Saleh towards resigning and spur him to work with opposition parties and Yemen’s neighbors to ensure a smooth and arranged transition. It also needs to prop up the opposition in Libya, and deliver political, diplomatic, economic and military assistance to the rebels, who in return, must guarantee that their end goes beyond overthrowing the incumbent regime, towards filling the expected political and institutional vacuum that will arise in a post-Qaddafi era. Qaddafi has made sure not to develop a strong and impartial army and he did the same with regards to the country’s feeble “institutions," relying instead on his loyal military forces and Revolutionary Committees to eradicate potential competition and diminish the possibility of a military coup.

Moreover, it is imperative that NATO parties bridge their differences and find common ground, in order to be proactive and curb the political and humanitarian crises. The Western powers’ efforts should coalesce with Arab attempts to build Libya from the ground up, put an end to suffering, and reinstate the principles of international justice and human values, the absence of which has constituted an undisputed advantage to Al-Qaeda and analogous violent groups over the past decades.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons