Voices from the Arab Press: Libya, Shiite Terrorism and Iran

Arab press discusses important events in the past week in the Middle East.

LIBYAN PRIME MINISTER Fayez Mustafa Al-Sarraj is pictured during an interview in Berlin on January 20.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
LIBYAN PRIME MINISTER Fayez Mustafa Al-Sarraj is pictured during an interview in Berlin on January 20.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Asharq Al-Awsat, London, January 20
Libya’s oil wealth and geographical location do not allow us to ignore the turmoil it is currently experiencing. If Libya’s woes were limited to its own territory, we could turn a blind eye. But the truth is that the armed fragmentation of Libya into smaller statelets threatens to turn it into a serious threat to its neighbors in North Africa, and possibly further countries, including in Europe.
It is no exaggeration to say that Libya is a country struck by bad luck. As soon as it freed itself from the hands of a cruel tyrant who had ruled it for four decades, it fell into the hands of armed militias. The disintegration of the Libyan state directly threatens surrounding countries, namely Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, Tunisia, Chad and Niger. This concern is exacerbated due to the absence of border controls, allowing for the free movement of terrorists and gangs from one country to another. Libya’s 1,850 km. Mediterranean border is a huge worry for Europe (and Italy in particular).
Therefore, the convening of the Berlin conference on Libya last week had exceptional importance on the future of the region, especially since Libya is beginning to look more and more like Syria – that is, a country drowning in violent wars accompanied by foreign military and political interventions that further aggravate it.
There is no doubt that recent Turkish interference in Libya sounded the alarm in more than one European capital. [Turkish President] Recep Tayyip Erdogan went too far in his decision to sign a security agreement with the Tripoli-based government of Fayez al-Sarraj alongside a treaty to define Libya’s maritime borders in a way that gives Turkey complete control over the country’s oil and gas. But Erdogan is not alone in setting eyes on Libya.
 Another person is [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, who, taking advantage of the American preoccupation with Iran, has decided to play the role of peace sponsor in Libya and invited Sarraj and [Khalifa] Haftar – the former being the head of the Tripoli-based government, the latter being the [renegade] military commander leading forces against it – to conduct cease-fire talks in Moscow.
Now, with the backing of the United Nations, the talks are moving to Berlin. The aim is to put Libya in an “intensive care” ward in Berlin with the hope of forcing a European and international intervention to save it from collapsing. The only problem, however, is that while the clinic is in Berlin, the doctor is Russian. This doctor is willing to implicate those around the operating table, including the UN, in any way possible. The question is, will the people of Libya wake up before it is too late?
– Ghassan Charbel
Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, January 18
For the past 20 years, the international community has been directing its arrows against Sunni terrorism while excluding and turning a blind eye toward Shi’ite terrorism. According to Western eyes, Sunni terrorism – led by groups like al-Qaida, Islamic State and Boko Haram – represented a greater danger to the West than any other source of terrorism.
The truth is that the Sunni world simply happens to be more divided than the Shi’ite world. While Shi’ites speak in one voice and create the impression that their extremists can be dealt with through negotiations, the Sunni world has been dominated by internal rifts, with each group expressing loyalty to its exclusive leader. This created the perception that Sunni extremism is far more dangerous to the global order. But those who study Shi’ite texts will immediately notice that Shi’ite heritage directly legitimizes terrorism in ways that far exceed what one might find in Sunni texts.
US President [Donald] Trump is the first American president to reframe this flawed thinking. While his predecessor, former president Barack Obama, dealt with Iran with a great deal of grace and courtesy, Trump bravely indicated, from the beginning of his presidency, that Iran is the most dangerous terrorist regime in the world. While Obama turned a blind eye to Iran’s financing of Shi’ite terror proxies throughout the Middle East, Trump explicitly singled out – and threatened – these groups.
Some pundits suggested that the West’s decision to give carte blanche to Shi’ite terrorists stemmed from some sort of conspiracy against Sunnis. But in my view, this is incorrect. The war on al-Qaida and ISIS has been extremely justified. Like other analysts have claimed before, I believe that this issue is a matter of priorities.
Once the West eliminated Sunni terrorism by defeating ISIS, it is now turning to Shi’ite terrorism, and it is dealing with it with the same firmness and strength with which it dealt with Sunni terrorism. The assassination of Qasem Soleimani is not much different from the elimination of Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Therefore, in my view, the defeat of the mullah regime, just like the defeat of ISIS, is simply a matter of time. It might take a few months or a few years, but it will eventually come.
– Muhammad Al-Sheikh
Al-Riyadh, UAE, January 19
It seems as if in Iran when trouble rains, it pours. After the American strike that killed Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and the death of a number of Iranians in the stampede during his funeral, the Iranian regime faced yet another colossal disaster when it accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane and attempted to cover up its mistake. Within hours, almost every major international airline announced its decision to avoid Iranian airspace.
While the decision deprived Tehran of significant financial gains, the bigger loss was the huge blow to the regime’s reputation both at home and abroad. Demonstrations soon erupted in Iranian universities across the country, with young Iranians representing all parts of society taking to the streets against the regime’s deceit. The signs carried by the protesters were very specifically directed at the man at the top of the Iranian pyramid, Supreme Leader Ayatollah [Ali] Khamenei himself.
There is a new generation of Iranians that follows events around the world and, despite heavy censorship carried out by the regime, succeeds in communicating and interacting with the outside world. This is a generation that differs in its thinking from those who participated in the Islamic Revolution, when the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi fell in 1979. This generation demands to have its voice heard and wants to be involved in defining and building its future. It seeks to be an active member of society, not just a silent voice that succumbs to the orders it receives from the top. It believes in the principles of justice and equality, and holds these values above its loyalty to the state and its institutions.
The only way in which the Iranian regime can get out of this crisis is by listening to these calls and acting on them. The old tactics of the mullah regime no longer suffice. – Hussein Al-Mustafa
Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.