Tunis – On 29 June 2018, the Arab Reform Initiative (ARI) convened a group of 30 distinguished international speakers, senior representatives of international organizations, government officials, and leading scholars to explore emerging trends in the Arab world and discuss experiences in mediation and conflict resolution.
The meeting was an opportunity to present the relevance of ARI's work on rebuilding security and fostering inclusive transitions and discuss ARI's distinctive contribution and its impact in terms of research, empowerment and engagement of Arab societies. In addition to two panel discussions, the meeting included a keynote address by Ghassan Salamé, UN Special Representative to Libya.
The first panel, “Transformation of Salafism at the Regional Level”, led by Jaafer Shayeb and Nacer Djabi, explored the internal changes in Saudi Arabia and their impact on the dynamics of Salafi social movements in North Africa. The willingness and desire of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to position himself as the sole conduit of modernization of Saudi society and his efforts at reducing the influence of the clerical class have sidelined the religious establishment in the Kingdom. The sea change this represents was compared to the fall of the “Berlin wall of Salafism” thus destabilizing many Salafi North African followers. Social networks, movements, and the economic well-being of followers will all be affected as financial support to these groups dries up, opening the door for other socio-religious forces to gain footholds in North Africa and beyond, often outside government control.
The second panel, “Women in Conflict: Challenging Radicalization and Rebuilding Communities”, led by Azza Maghur and Arwa Othman, considered the role of women in the region’s conflicts, and the effect of the political process, militarization, and radicalization on building egalitarian gender frameworks in Libya and Yemen. In Libya, extremist groups seek to curb the expansion of full citizenship to women using their capacity for violence to influence legislative proposals. In Yemen, women are enrolling with militias, pushed by the country’s increased militarization, the radical intertwining of Islam, Bedouin traditions, and sectarianism, and the impact of extreme poverty on their political, social, and economic exclusion.
In his keynote address, Ghassan Salamé provided insight into the complexities of the Libyan civil war, the mediation process through the UN system, and the measures and expertise needed to develop an adequate conflict resolution strategy. In addition to his effort to undertake a bottom-up consultation process, he also talked about the importance to differentiate between conflicts in rentier economies and those in productive economies, and how various national and international players with vested interest became important drivers of the conflict.
To close the meeting, ARI Executive Director, Bassma Kodmani, engaged in a conversation with Ghassan Salamé on whether there is a need to rethink the existing post-conflict template for reconstruction, given the reality of today’s conflicts in Libya, Syria and Yemen. Should establishing working security agreements come before a political agreement, and should the rule of law be established before popular consultations? While both agreed on the need for increased creativity within UN mediation efforts, especially in cases of rentier economies, Salamé stressed the importance of the symbolic value of elections and constitutions for the average citizens.