Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1243, (23 - 29 April 2015)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1243, (23 - 29 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly


Terms of reconciliation

Al-Ahram Weekly

In the midst of the multiple conflicts that plague the region, the idea of reconciliation often crops up. If only everyone would come to the negotiating table and state their wishes, surely some agreement could be reached, right?

In a perfect world, this would definitely be the way forward. See what everyone wants, explain the difficulties, calm the nerves and split the difference. That’s what happens in negotiations every day and what diplomats do best.

So why has diplomacy failed us in this region? Why do adversaries have to go at it with guns and rockets, instead of reasoning and good sense?

One reason is that some people want to have it all, and others cannot let them have it their way. This is true for regimes that outstay their welcome, jihadists who want to enslave their adversaries, proxy armies that take orders from foreign quarters and secret outfits that pretend to be legitimate parties.

When Operation Decisive Storm started in Yemen, those who applauded it wanted the same feat to be repeated everywhere  in Libya and Syria, for example. Others opposed it, saying that the Yemenis should be talking, not shooting at each other.

The two arguments have their merits, but let’s not forget that talks have been tried, and repeatedly. The Gulf Initiative first brought a modicum of peace to the country. Then, after the Houthis seized Sanaa, Jamal Benomar, the UN special envoy who just quit his job, also tried to get everyone to agree to a deal.

Things are hard when your opponents want all or nothing. How can you make deals with the Islamic State (IS) group, for example? Do you give it half the territory it now holds? Do you legitimise its power of life and death over people whose towns and villages it has grabbed?

When you go beyond the pale, toss every human convention overboard, you basically have undermined all chances for compromise.

People who call for a negotiated settlement have a point, one has to admit. Whenever you go into a country with guns blazing, you may change a regime, and you may even install a new government. But that rarely resolves the country’s hidden problems, sorts out its underlying tensions, or puts it back on steady feet. Iraq and Libya are but two examples.

When a country is invaded, its infrastructure is often wrecked, its wealth wasted and its heritage put at danger. This is all a risk that shouldn’t be taken lightly, and that’s why intervention is the option of last resort.

As many observers have noted, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is now out of hand and deteriorating still further. This is something that everyone is acutely aware of, and that’s why the armed conflict in the country must be brought to a halt as soon as possible.

Those who call for political settlements across the region voice a desire for reconciliation in Egypt, between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood.

There is one problem with that, which is that the Brotherhood is still engaged in acts of violence, still insists that it was overthrown by a coup and has made no attempt to admit its errors or mend its ways.

So how can the government  or the Egyptian people  reconcile with the Muslim Brotherhood?

Turkey is a similar story. It is fine to say that Egypt and Turkey must bury the hatchet and be friends once more. But that’s easier said than done. To this day, Turkish leaders keep speaking ill about Egypt and its leaders, still voice support for the Brotherhood and try to interfere in our internal affairs.

This being the case, what grounds are there for reconciliation?

Now, let’s turn to Libya. There are people there who still reject the outcome of the elections, just

because the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t win. If there are common grounds there for reconciliation to take place, they are far from clear.

In and Syria and Iraq, things are even worse, with governments clearly unable to stem the bloodshed, militias running amok and foreign intervention bringing no immediate respite.

In Yemen, a microcosm of many conflicts sweeping the region, the Houthis have been intransigent beyond belief.

They torpedoed the Gulf Initiative that brought a measure of peace to the country; they allied themselves with the man who was only recently thrown out in a popular revolution; they relied on the help of Iran to march on villages and towns that oppose their presence.

They turned their backs on agreements they had signed, and introduced a constitutional declaration that would have given them the country on a silver platter.

This is why an Arab coalition has taken an unprecedented step to stop the Houthis in their tracks. This doesn’t mean that the chances for reconciliation are over, but it means that those who want all or nothing will have to face the consequences.

The aim of the current aerial campaign is not to eliminate the Houthis, but to put Yemen back on the right path.

When the Houthis are ready to talk, Yemen will find a way to incorporate them, through elections, in a systematic and orderly fashion that gives them their rights, but not the rights of everyone else.

add comment

  • follow us on