1.2. Transnational Armed Groups and the new Middle Eastern Scene

Chair: Oliver Jütersonke

Panellists: Mr Karim Bitar; Mr Nicolas Florquin; Dr Lina Khatib

Rapporteur: Mr Mathias Musy, Geneva Centre for Security Policy

Introductory remarks pinpointed the scope of the discussion: the MENA region has been for the last decade in turmoil. Is the concept of national borders still relevant? What does the notion of transnational armed group means in this context?

The changing nature of security threats becoming increasingly global within an interdependent world has been discussed. In this connection, one panelist argued that we assist to a shift of paradigm, where threats no longer originate within the context of a hegemonic state but rather from the lack of institutional structures within fragile states. Within such context where national and local authorities struggle to impose peace and stability over chaos, new transnational armed groups have emerged. Many of these transnational armed groups have been said to be the inevitable consequence of the Irak intervention in the beginning of the 2000s and the lack of institutional structures following the Arab spring a couple of years later. Drafting a typology of transnational armed groups has become increasingly complex as the motivations and changing nature of these groups constantly evolves. These groups have notably built on a young generation characterized by a lack of sense of national belonging. One of the speaker argued that these groups will continue to flourish if minorities within fragile states context remain to feel excluded. Despite the deterioration of social ties in such unstable political setting, it has been underlined that we assist to a return of authoritarian nationalism in many countries within the MENA region with charismatic and often authoritarian political figures becoming increasingly appealing to large share of the population. Nationalism is to remain a crucial factor of cohesion within a time of disruption.

Whether the notion of “transnational” has been oversimplified with respect to armed groups in the MENA region has been another central issue of the discussion. Are national borders still relevant? Is the concept of natural borders realistic? It has been agreed that the concept of border is likely to become decreasingly relevant as an analytical tool. We can nevertheless observe a change of dynamics within existing borders. Sectarian identities are said to fuel the development of independent armed groups within these borders. The lack of political to the detriment of sectarian affiliations is claimed to be one of the major source of disturbances. One speaker urged political leaders to adopt a set of inclusive policies aiming at bringing cohesion and a sense of unity within their country.

Finally, it has been stressed out that the world is witnessing an inward-looking drive: people becoming increasingly antagonists, thinking building walls would help them. However, no local solution will ever be satisfying in an interdependent world. Therefore, the level of international and regional cooperation has to be drastically increased in order to find innovative ways to overcome the problematic of uncontrollable transnational armed groups within the MENA region. The role of civil society has also been mentioned several times: citizens and non-governmental organizations are to foster the debate on critical institutional and political notions such as federalism or decentralization.

To sum up, the rapidly evolving development of transnational armed groups in the MENA region within an interdependent world where borders tend to become decreasingly relevant is a multi-faceted challenge requiring both strengthened international cooperation promoting peace and cohesion as well as local initiatives fostering a sense of national belonging.