x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Analysts divided over Mali as 'Africa's Afghanistan'

Opinions among commentators in a an Arabic-language newspaper differ as to probable consequences of French military intervention. Other topics: Egypt and Palestine.

The London-based newspaper Asharq Al Awsat carried a series of opinion articles yesterday by Arab commentators, who either defend or deny the argument that the French military intervention in Mali is likely to lead to the formation of a failed state like Afghanistan.

France has been mandated by the UN Security Council to intervene militarily in Mali after the country's embattled government called for assistance in its effort to respond to armed "Islamist groups" that took control of Azawad, the northern part of country.

Over the past few years, security analysts have been sounding caution over the possibility of Al Qaeda regrouping in the Sahel region, a long geographical belt crossing sub-Saharan Africa from the Atlantic to the Red Sea.

According to Abderrahim Slimi, the head of the newly established Maghreb Centre of Security Studies and Policy Analysis in Rabat, the French intervention "is a new opportunity for the inheritors of Osama bin Laden to get reorganised in North Africa".

There are a number of reasons why Mali could turn into an "Afghanistan right in the backyard of the Maghreb region", Slimi said.

First, northern Mali is one of the world's poorest regions - with non-existent development projects - where tribes play by their own codes of behaviour, he noted.

Secondly, the hit-and-miss air strikes by the French forces have caused some civilian casualties - "scenes that are vividly reminiscent of the US intervention in Afghanistan", he noted.

Thirdly, the "enemy" that France is fighting is too loose to defeat. "It consists of a bunch of militias with a guerrilla-war strategy. They can easily fade into the tribes of northern Mali before re-emerging."

Finally, these armed groups know how to stay connected despite geographical hurdles. Information suggests that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb communicates with Boko Haram and Al Ansar in Nigeria, south and further east with Al Shabab in Somalia.

Challenging Slimi's position on the issue, Bouhniya Qawiy, an Algerian scholar, wrote that people largely follow the peaceful path of Islam in Mali. They would not tolerate the kind of radicalisation that took place in Afghanistan.

Also, Qawiy noted that Afghan jihadists have had a long experience fighting foreign powers, whereas the Azawad fighters are not as experienced and their numbers are not as significant.

Then, there is the regional context in which the French intervention is taking place, the author argued.

Also, France has maintained trade and business cooperation with its former colonies in Africa, and as such it enjoys a high level of acceptance in the region. That was not the case for the US in Afghanistan, he said.

Brotherhood and Morsi bury revolution

President Mohammed Morsi seemed as if he was alien to the Egyptian panorama as he called for parliamentary elections next April, wrote columnist Rajeh Al Khouri in the Lebanese newspaper Annahar.

Civil disobedience in Port Said entered its seventh day, while the 25th of January Youth Movement is calling for demonstrations outside the office of the public prosecutor whom the wide opposition sees as a mere legal facade there to implement Mr Morsi's wishes.

Since he acceded to power, Mr Morsi has done nothing but portray an ugly, arbitrary image of dictatorship that surpasses the one practised by Hosni Mubarak. His ruling model has warranted accusations of him being detached from reality and of irresponsibility in dealing with the country's crisis.

"In announcing elections amid the deep schism that divides the country, especially that judges threatened to boycott them, only proves that Mr Morsi himself is a mere pawn in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, who are rushing to erect their state over the Egyptian people's crushed dreams of democracy," he wrote.

President Morsi is slaughtering Egypt just as the Muslim Brotherhood slaughtered the revolution and buried the hopes of its youth. Meanwhile, Egypt is on the brink of bankruptcy, its monetary reserves barely sufficient to cover three months worth of food and fuel, the writer said.

A third Palestinian uprising is possible

Protests that erupted in most Palestinian towns in solidarity with prisoners held in Israeli jails confirmed once again that Palestinians are prepared for a third Intifada should the situation remain unchanged, commented the Dubai-based daily Al Bayan in its Sunday editorial.

"It is clear that the Palestinians have finally overcome the reconciliation issue that turned out to be closely tied to regional and international considerations, rather than the direct national interests of the people," the paper added.

The Israeli prime minister's obstinacy following his latest electoral victory, his insistence to press ahead with settlement building and his blatant disregard for the peace process are bound to provoke a reaction.

Palestinians chose peaceful struggle that could escalate into a third uprising. It is the only way to set matters straight and to remind the world of people who are subjected to systematic torture and destruction.

Any Israeli government would be mistaken to believe that the dreams of Palestinians of an independent state have evaporated in the rift between the West Bank and Gaza. Last Friday's protests proved how vigorous Palestinians are and how capable they are of making themselves heard, the editorial concluded.

* Digest compiled by the Translation Desk