The melancholy list of failed states in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is growing in number and intensity. There is no end in sight to the fratricidal bloodshed in Syria, which is threatening to destabilize Syria's neighbors.
Lebanon has no president, since the Lebanese parliament cannot elect one. Lebanon's surreal political system, dating from 1941, has morphed into two competing voting blocs, one including Sunni, Maronite, Armenian and Druze parties. The other includes the same ethno-religious mix except for Shiite parties instead of Sunni parties. All of this is largely beside the point, because, ever since the Israeli evacuation of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah has been the only meaningful power-broker in the country, and has absolute control of the south and of the Shiite section of Beirut. Elsewhere, various ethnic militias and the hapless national army clash, maneuver and skirmish.
Iraq is in imminent danger of disintegration. The recent election produced no majority for any party. The Shiite voting majority is divided among three parties that seem to have no intention of cooperating in forming a government. While this ritual dance is going on in Baghdad, Sunni insurgents linked to al-Qaida are attempting to detach Anbar Province in the West. Most significant, however, is the conflict between Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in the north, with the central authorities withholding payments due to the Kurds and the Kurds beginning to ship petroleum directly from the oil fields they control to Europe via Turkey without reference to the central government. Loud noises about a declaration of independence by the KRG are being heard, and if that were to occur, not only would Iraq be dismembered, but very tough political decisions would have to be made by regional actors, including Israel.
But by far the weirdest display of state failure is taking place in Libya, where it would be fair to say that the country is no longer a failed state, it is simply no longer a state. A former army officer, Khalifa Hifter (or Haftar) materialized in Libya in 2011 after spending a quarter century in the USA, where he went when he was exiled from Libya because he lost a border skirmish with Chadian forces and was captured along with his entire command. Not exactly an impressive display of military skill, one would think.
Despite this questionable background, "Lt. General" Hifter, as he now describes himself, issued various pompous proclamations after returning to Libya, which no one paid any attention to, and he was considered a faintly ridiculous fringe figure. Then, magically, he put together a sort of army, won some skirmishes in Benghazi against Islamist groups, and then assaulted the parliament in Tripoli, expelled the deputies (with some casualties), and declared the government illegitimate. He claims that his fight is against all Islamist forces in the country. Some elements of Libya's pathetic army and air force have apparently joined him.
It appears that "General" Hifter is supported by the military-controlled government of Egypt and by the Saudis. It is also rumored that in return for this support he has promised to supply Egypt with Libyan oil at concessionary prices, which would be a most welcome contribution to Egypt's failing economy
So along with all the other confrontations raging in the MENA region, there is now a strong Arab nationalist reaction to the Islamist surge following the "Arab Spring", backed financially by one of the most retrograde of Muslim fundamentalist governments, that of Saudi Arabia.
Well, this is the Middle East, as the scorpion said after stinging the frog which had carried it across the Suez Canal to safety.
Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and teaches at the Center for National Security Studies and Geostrategy, University of Haifa.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 27, 2014
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