Joint Arab Response to ISIS Demanded

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    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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The ongoing uncertainty in the Middle East — especially the ascendance of ISIS — has countries in the region reconsider their over-reliance on international initiatives. There are signs that some of these countries are now ready to take some action on their own initiative, and the regional editorials and op-ed contributors are calling for more cooperation either at the Gulf Cooperation Council level or, better yet, under the auspices of the Arab League.

Among the most assertive voices in favor of Arab-led action, Al Arabiya’s Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor takes issue with the West’s double standards when it comes to fighting Islamic terrorist organization, declaring: “Enough is enough! It’s time that Arab armies acted independently without waiting for a green light from the West whose goals are far from transparent. This is our neighborhood. This is our fight and we must take matters into our own hands. GCC States and their allies, in particular Jordan and Egypt, have well-equipped, well-trained military forces and, together, they can destroy these threats to our existence once and for all. Once again, I must make a strong appeal to these leaders to recognize the dangers and the need for driving our own chariots into a battle that must be won at all costs.”

Al Habtoor’s call is echoed by Osman Mirghani, who in op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, calls for the Arab and Muslim countries to take the lead in the fight against ISIS and other terrorist organizations: “Confronting terror is, first and foremost, an Arab and Muslim responsibility. This is not because the four organizations responsible for 66 percent of terrorist attacks (ISIS, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Boko Haram) fight—falsely—under the banner of Islam, nor because 80 per cent of the victims of terror were killed in five countries, four of which are Muslim (Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan). Rather, it is because defeating terrorism intellectually and acquitting Islam of terror charges and the distortions of its nature that stem from this phenomenon will not be achieved without inclusive and comprehensive Arab and Muslim efforts. No one can fight this disease on our behalf. The West’s war on terror will not eradicate this phenomenon, which has somehow become a lifeline for preachers of extremism and terrorism. The responsibility, first and foremost, rests with the Arab and Muslim worlds.”

Al Habtoor’s criticism (and, to a lesser degree, Mirghani’s) is in part a response to a recent furor in the West over the UAE’s listing some West-based groups as terrorist organizations. The UAE’s actions, which largely focused on groups deemed to be close to or sympathetic with the Muslim Brotherhood, have been greeted with approval by a number of media outlets, including the Gulf Today’s editorial, with the latter believing that: “Through the list, the UAE made it flawlessly clear about its stance against terrorism, extremism and fanaticism. The idea is also to put a cordon around all subversive entities that seek to undermine the security and stability of the state and cut off access to all forms of material and moral support for terrorism, drain its resources, prevent the incitement of terrorist crimes, prevent the praising of terrorism and to work to stop the spreading of such crimes. Terrorist tendencies are not limited to any particular nationality. Hence, the list includes many foreign organizations, reflecting the fact that a large number of different national communities are present within the UAE. “

Others, including the Gulf News editorial staff, are calling for a more concerted effort, which goes beyond the actions of one country: “These challenges need an effective regional response. That is why the current GCC initiative to form a united effort against terror from all six states should offer a lead which can become an Arab position in which 22 members of the Arab League can unite to take action. Even if they act with the support of their international allies, the Arab states need to offer the political lead because no political solution will be found in Washington or Paris. An Arab-led programme can then seek the willing support of the United Nations and become a worldwide effort to support the essential local political solutions to this crucial problem.”

As if the first editorial was not enough to drive home the need for greater cooperation, the Gulf News editorial staff follows up with a second one where it makes an explicit case for an Arab-led initiative: “The Arab League more than ever needs to foster a coherent policy and action plan, aimed at ending the conflicts and restoring stability in this vital region. The international community will support any plan agreed upon by the Arab states. The policy needs resolve, such as the one shown by the UAE, which recently issued a transparent list of groups designated as terrorist…. The UAE, and a number of other Arab states, also took the bold step to join an international alliance that is launching aerial strikes against Daesh and similar terror outfits in Iraq and Syria. It is high time the Arab League did its part. The League must adopt similar measures to make it very clear that its member states and the Arab people will not tolerate the hijacking of Islam by terrorist gangs and thugs who misleadingly call themselves “Islamic”.”

Judging from developments in the neighborhood, it is clear that any action will need to take place soon. Otherwise, the deteriorating security environment in other countries will make the fight even tougher. That is why, the Jordan Times’ Osama Al Sharif casts a wary eye in the direction of Libya, a country which is crying out for just such a unified response as the previous authors have recommended: “The chaos in Libya will go on for many years. The current military campaign by the national army and Haftar’s forces is unlikely to succeed in chasing out Islamist rebels and uniting the country. Naturally, the destabilization of Libya threatens its neighbors…. Libya has indeed become a huge geopolitical liability. Addressing the complex problem there will require regional and international effort. Failure to realize that the Libyan situation will get more complicated in the coming weeks will force America’s allies to act unilaterally. Egypt and the UAE are already doing that. But will it be enough?”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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