Colourful Challenges: Street Art from the Middle East

The author looks at Street Art in the Middle East (Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran and Palestine). He draws attention to how in some parts it became an apparent means for protest, while in others it is more widely used to endorse the current regime.


By Dallin Van Leuven, 13th October, 2013

The Arab Spring brought far more than a change of leadership to nations in the Middle East and North Africa.  Its political upheaval introduced a marked increase in the freedom of speech, as well as a challenge to the definition of public space.  At the intersection of these two currents lies street art.  Street art – rather than graffiti – is an appropriate term, with vibrant, poignant expressions of free speech capturing the attention of both residents and passers-by. Continue reading

Libya, the Arab Winter?

In this essay, the author explores the fragile security situation and the rise of Islamist groups in post-revolution Libya. 


By Camille Maubert, 3rd October, 2012

Libya, through the persisting instability and violence ten months after the demise of Colonel Gadhafi, illustrates how fragile revolutionary gains can be. Indeed, the fall of the regime led to the disintegration of the status quo, the polarisation of the political scene and the assertion of new power relations. As the regime fell, so did the unity that the tyrant coercively insured over the great multiplicity of groups in the country, and this political break up resulted in the (re)-emergence of voices and groups with diverging agendas, interests and allegiances. The fight against the repressive regime united a multiplicity of actors from various tribal and socio-economic backgrounds into a strong, inclusive, but leaderless movement which disintegrated after the fall of the dictator. The uprising lost its unity at the moment when it lost its enemy. As a result, the constituents of this heterogeneous movement reorganised themselves in various groups with different – and sometimes competing – agendas. Among them are Islamists, which are the focus of this study because of their central role in the on-going violence. The security vacuum which stemmed from such a sudden change gave rise to instability, violence, and the empowerment of un-democratic actors – armed militias, terrorist groups, and so on – and increased insecurity in the wider Sahel region.

Accordingly, this paper aims to address the security consequences of the Libyan uprising by asking ‘How did the popular revolution impact on the regional security environment?’ In other words, it seeks to analyse the repercussion of the instability intrinsic to the post-revolutionary transitional period on Islamist activities in order to assess the shape and extent of the terror threat in the region. It argues that the security landscape is characterised by an increased Islamist presence which feeds on the instability, weak governance and widespread violence to expand its activities and audience.

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Life After Gaddafi – The Future of Foreign Intervention

In this article, the author assesses the precedent of Libya in foreign intervention after the death of Muammar Gaddafi. In a world in which there are now increased calls for intervention and isolationism the case of Libya is being presented as both an example of a successful intrusion and a reason to reform the UN Security Council. Military capabilities and the tensions within NATO may act as a check to the boisterous rhetoric in the wake of Gaddafi’s death but the key lesson may be the message it has sent to those who are still clinging to power.


By Jack Hamilton, 23 Oct, 2011

Today the Libyan transnational government has declared national liberation before a triumphant crowd in Benghazi, the city where the fight against Gaddafi began.

There are scenes of jubilation in Libya and NATO offices around the world.  Muammar Gaddafi is dead and attentions are now turning to the future of the Maghreb state and the implications of NATO’s intervention in the broader Arab Spring.  In such a celebratory atmosphere what will be the future response to rebellious populations rising up against murderous rulers?

Libya and the Future of Intervention

Nicolas Sarkozy has already made a direct comparison between the conflict in Libya and the plight of the people of Syria in facing down the armies of Bashar al-Assad.  He mused that “The best thing I can do is dedicate our visit to Tripoli to those who hope that Syria can one day also be a free country”.  The Obama Administration has toed a similar line in their policy of ‘Leading from Behind’ by touting the example of Libya as a framework for future interventions.

Deputy National Security Advisor for Communications Ben Rhodes stated that the Libya experience would provide the basis for future interventions with emphasis placed on the need for regime change to be based upon “indigenous political movements” rather than the ambitions of the United States and the importance of “burden sharing” amongst other nations.  The problem is that this does not fit into the model for preventing atrocities which the United States advocated so heavily in the 1990s.  In London and Paris there is talk of prevention and the need to take the lead while the US, perhaps due to domestic constraints, is taking up a more isolationist tone.  The question must therefore be asked if the example of Libya may hinder rather than assist future responses.

Military Capability

The first issue that must be addressed is military capability.  Don’t be distracted by the rhetoric of ‘no boots on the ground’, Libya was a huge military intervention.  The British and the French with help from the Norwegians and Danes, carried out the bulk of the airstrikes and provided the machinery to carry out the naval blockade.  This does not mean that the US should be discounted.  It was American air and sea forces that opened the intervention with decisive attacks on Libyan air bases allowing the European forces to act with greater freedom.  Specific American military capabilities in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance were key to the success to say nothing of the supplies of munitions that were supplied to the European forces.  The lasting images of the war will be of the final rebel push on Tripoli but it is the heavy NATO influence which will resonate in international relations.

A Frayed Alliance

The second impact is the increased tensions between the NATO powers.  Germany’s foreign minister hinted at an early stage that the country would refuse to take sides and eventually abstained from the vote on Security Council Resolution 1973.  The French have long advocated a reform of NATO and the obvious north/south European divide in capabilities has intensified this call.  Whether the military alliance is now in a position to oversee another campaign is debatable.

‘You Break It, You Own It’

NATO leaders have frequently referenced the ‘lessons of Iraq’ when discussing Libya.  The opposition of the National Transitional Council to any foreign troops in a post-war Libya has been welcomed by Western powers hesitant to adopt an increased military role in a time of economic uncertainty.  In this sense there has been a strong adherence to Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn mantra: ‘You Break It, You Own It’.

The Future of Intervention

So what will the lasting impact of the Libyan intervention be?  Crucially, both Britain and France seem to perceive the situation to have been an anomaly.  A nation with a small population and a weak military on the doorstep of Europe with regional actors who were unlikely to support the dictator.  It was seen as an easy case.  Additionally, the Western powers insisted on gaining the support of both the Arab League and the Security Council before intervening.  It is difficult to see such a situation emerging elsewhere in the Arab Spring and Russia has already blocked tentative discussions regarding Syria.

The question of Syria has been largely ignored in Washington.  Syrian opposition is increasingly turning to armed response with army defections burgeoning and calls for international intervention increasing.  People are being gunned down in the streets as the ‘liberators’ of Libya struggle to find the words to escape the precedent they have set.  It is unimaginable that international forces would enter Syria for a variety of reasons.  For that reason Libya must be viewed as an anomaly, not a precedent.

Reforming the Security Council?

Another impact of the intervention has been the rallying of non-interventionist states.  China, Brazil, South Africa and India have not been slow to point out the hypocrisy of the Security Council in elevating its own role while using the mandate of protecting civilians.  Perhaps the lasting message of Libya in international relations will be the claim these nations have demanded for many years: a reform of the Security Council.

Bloody Sheet, Noose, Cage or Condo?

The final message of the conflict in Libya is to those clinging to power in other nations.  It is a message to the Assads and Salehs of the world.  Like Gaddafi or Hussein they can go out on a bloody sheet or at the end of a rope.  Mubarak and Milosevic wound up in cages.  Ben Ali stepped aside amid violent persuasion and now resides comfortably in a condo in Saudi Arabia.  The bloody sheet, the rope, the cage or the condo?