The Escalating Arab Wars

The Escalating Arab WarsThe Escalating Arab Wars

The violence unleashed in Arab countries in the last four years may turn out to be just a first taste of what is to come. Escalating brutality and the actions of governments have put Arab citizens under immense pressure.

Without a change of course, the outcome could easily be further conflict and a new wave of uprisings; this time not peaceful, Maha Yahya wrote for Project Syndicate.

Not since the end of World War I have Arab countries undergone such a momentous upheaval. Conflict has broken out in no fewer than nine Arab countries, and the carnage has reached unimaginable levels of inhumanity. Tensions are mounting even in countries that are nominally at peace. Longstanding value systems are weakening and once-solid societal foundations are crumbling.

Fighting in Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Libya and Yemen has torn apart entire communities. Ethnic cleansing perpetuated by the Islamic State has reversed centuries of religious, ethnic and cultural intermingling and pushed close to two million people from their homes.

Indeed, although the Middle East and North Africa are home to just 5% of the world’s population, they have produced more than one-third of its refugees. In Syria alone, 11 million people have been displaced within and outside the country.

These population movements are exacerbating preexisting social tensions across the Arab world. In Lebanon, for example, the arrival of more than one million Syrians has sparked worries that the country’s sectarian balance could be altered, undermining its fragile political system.

These convulsions are further impoverishing Arab countries and limiting future opportunities for their citizens. Some 21 million Arab children are out of school, and more than 50 million Arabs are considered poor. In Syria, 80% of the population are unable to meet their basic needs. In Yemen, more than one-third of the population, some 11.5 million people, suffered from food insecurity prior to the conflict. Another two million have since been added to the tally.

In Egypt, danger lurks in the squares, universities, football stadiums and even bathhouses, with the security services having detained anywhere from 22,000 to 41,000 citizens in the last year.

Shutting out citizens from formal democratic processes is forcing political discontent further into the shadows, where it risks becoming militarized. In Egypt, there have been growing calls for more violent and radical responses to the government’s crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood and it supporters. In Jordan and Morocco, the authorities are facing a rising challenge in containing militant tendencies. Indeed, as political leaders choose military repression over engagement, they will increasingly lose ground to groups like IS.

At this point, an end to current turmoil in Syria, Iraq and Yemen requires national, regional and international consensus. But averting further catastrophic violence in the region will require that governments go back to basics, introduce inclusive political processes, end state-sanctioned violence, ensure due process and address socioeconomic injustices.

Obviously, that is a tall order. The scale of the challenges requires courageous thinking, bold initiatives and ingenuity by national and regional political and development leaders. Otherwise, violence will engulf the region and far beyond.