The fact that these catalysts have led to the rise of the IS phenomenon are so complex and interlinked, they cannot be eliminated in short and medium terms. The current intervention policy seems to focus on limiting the damage of expanding the IS territory into other areas in Iraq, Syria and other countries. How successful has it been?
One year after the taking over of Mosul in June 2014 and the launch of the campaign to defeat it, IS has grown stronger despite all campaigns to limit its expansion and to coerce any sympathy with the terrorist organisation. In the last 12 month, IS has taken more territory in Iraq by expanding to Ramadi, 100 km of the Capital Baghdad. It has created a controlled territory in Libya and Egypt from which it launched drastic attacks in the two countries. Moreover, IS was able to launch terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Kuwait, Pakistan, Nigeria, Canada and France.
IS has created a home ( territory) for people who, in the last 2 decades, through this discourse ofmass killings, violence, discrimination, humiliation and radicalisation have lost all human valuesof tolerance, reconciliationand coexistence and are in the hunt of revenge of other people from other sects, other religions, other ideologies, other ethnicities, other races, other regions.
Is there a road to peace?
The Islamic State (IS) phenomenon was a cumulative outcome of several catalysts involving all actors within the region. The tally of deaths amongst Iraqis in the last two decades starting from the containment policy of Bill Clinton to the invasion of 2003 contributed vastly to the rise of extremism in the country. The failure of the Arab Spring and democratic transitions in Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen for different reasons has contributed to spreading despair and extremism within the region.
The spread of extremist Islamic literature in the region has further encouraged fanatic discourse. The Middle East and North Africa Region has one of the most fragile political, social, economic and environmental structures, with a lack of people centred development policies and high unemployment.
The Shi’a - Sunni war led by Iran and the Arab States in the region in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen has led to the whole region to become a volatile battleground for the two sects. The failure of the Middle East Peace process negotiations last year and the rejection of the Israeli Prime Minister to address the potential creation of a Palestinian State has definitely weakened the pro-peace and negotiations voices within the Arab world and strengthened the pro-violence and retaliation voices.
This category of people is growing in the region as long as their catalysts are still present, IS is organising these people and providing a territory through which they can release their extreme frustration with the others that they want to eradicate. IS will not be easily defeated as long as they are hundreds of thousands of people who want to join their ideology and territory. The number is growing, and so is its territory.
Yemen under the Houtis, or as a failed state as it is now, presents the optimal environment for the IS phenomenon to thrive and create a territory to protect and expand. The same can be said on parts of Libya, Egypt, Nigeria, Somalia, West Africa Pakistan and Afghanistan. In addition, cells are growing of sympathisers with little or no potential of creating a controlled territory in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Tunisia, Lebanon, across Europe, South Asia, South East Asia, West Africa and North America.
The current strategy is focusing on limiting the territorial expansion of IS in Iraq and Syria and preventing potential fighters to reaching the controlled territory. The main flow of the strategy is the absence of actions to decrease the number of sympathisers and potential fighters in other parts of the region.
If they grow to a large enough number they will be equipped to create a territory somewhere else, and even without a territory they would be able to create a more significant threat and launch attacks as they did in Kuwait and Tunisia. Despite the fact that the threats of IS to the main protagonists in the region is very serious, it is very hard to see Iran, Arab States, Israel, Turkey, Russia and the West collaborating to defeat it. The historical differences are too major to be put them aside and work together against this growing threat.
However, what is at stake is a tremendous threat exposed to the citizens and prosperity of all these countries. The possibility of a regional order managed by main powers of the region under a structure of an Organisation of Security and Cooperation in the Middle East and North Africa can be a security actor in the region. A lot of hurdles need to be overcome for such a potential coordination.
The region is living behind the backdrop of sectarian conflicts, civil wars, ethnic divisions, authoritarian repressions and other wars. The transition to stability requires a reconciliation process to recognise the suffering of the victims and establish the ground for a new era away from revenge and the cycle of violence. Reconciliation should involve different political factions in countries such as Egypt and Libya, Syria different sects in Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Bahrain. Reconciliation process should involve the United States and the United Kingdom in Iraq. The Middle East Forum will discuss the potential road map to regional security order involving the different actors in the region and a Wide Reconciliation process in the region. The forum is an experts consultation on the scenarios of security questions in the Middle East and North Africa Region.