The Arab world enters the year 2021, burdened with many crises and profound challenges. From east to west, hotbeds of conflict are divided and divisions exacerbate. While many have hopes that the new year will bring opportunities to get out of the tunnel of conflicts, signs speak of dangers lurking in many countries.
Among the most prominent countries facing profound security challenges:
Libya .. war at the gates or urgent peace
The Libyan parties meeting in Tunisia under the auspices of the United Nations agreed to organize presidential and parliamentary elections on December 24, 2021, but the process of forming a new presidential council with a separate prime minister is still stalled, not to mention the failure to unify the parliament.
Likewise, the constitutional path has not been agreed upon, and it has not yet been decided to submit the draft constitution prepared by the elected committee of 60 to a popular referendum, or to refer to the Constitutional Declaration or to the last constitution of the monarchy (in 1963).
These indicators do not suggest that the elections will take place before the end of 2021, despite the signing of a ceasefire between the government army and the forces of retired General Khalifa Haftar on 23 October.
And recently, Haftar’s habit of mobilizing his militia near the contact lines in the governorates of Sirte (450 km east of Tripoli) and Jufrah (300 km south of Sirte), and for its part, government forces sent military reinforcements to the area, which indicates that the situation is likely to explode, if the military balance is upset and the political solution is not accelerated .
Somalia .. Will it remain alone in the face of “Al-Shabab”?
Somalia faces the challenge of organizing the parliamentary elections in 2021, which it failed to hold on the date that was scheduled for early December 2020.
The government and the parties did not agree on how to conduct them in a manner that guarantees their integrity, and there is no confirmation that general elections will also be held in February.
The decision of the United States to withdraw most of its soldiers from Somalia in early 2021, which is estimated at about 700, would double the country’s security challenges.
The US decision coincided with the withdrawal of 3 thousand Ethiopian peacekeepers from Somalia last November, following the outbreak of the Tigrayan war.
It is also planned to reduce the 17,000-strong African Union peacekeepers next year, in light of the lack of UN funding.
And the biggest threat to the government is the “Mujahideen Youth” movement, which controls about 20% of the country, especially the south and center.
It is estimated that Al-Shabab includes 10,000 members and may take advantage of the shrinking foreign military support to the government to increase its attacks and expand its areas of control, while obstructing the organization of elections.
Iraq … a battleground between Washington and Tehran
The conflict between Washington and Tehran has escalated since the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in December, and before that the killing of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani on January 3, 2020 near Baghdad Airport.
On December 20, the US embassy in Baghdad was subjected to missile strikes that left no victims, and Washington accused Iran of being behind the attack through one of its arms in Iraq.
The US military command in the region insisted that the missile attack was almost certainly carried out by an Iranian-backed rebel group, which Tehran denied.
The departure of President Donald Trump from the White House on January 20, 2021, will ease the tension with Iran, especially if President-elect Joe Biden pursues the policy of dialogue with Tehran, to resolve the crisis of its nuclear file, and this may make the Iraqis breathe a sigh of relief.
But if Biden pursued an escalation policy with Tehran, or Trump implicated him in a war before his departure, Iraq will be the first to pay the price for this clash in 2021.
The US-Iranian conflict in Iraq is not the only concern of the Baghdad government, as ISIS is still active in the center of the country, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Ankara considers a terrorist movement, is active in the north.
Syria .. 10 years of suffering
The intensity of the fighting has diminished due to the Turkish-Russian understandings, but the Syrian regime is expected to launch an attack, with Russian support, on the opposition strongholds in Idlib.
About 10 years have passed since the outbreak of the revolution, and so far there are no indications of a political solution that meets the demands of democracy, freedom and a decent life that the revolutionaries raised in March 2011.
Politically, the Syrian regime seeks to organize presidential elections in 2021, whose legitimacy is not recognized by the opposition, especially since it did not come through a comprehensive agreement that guarantees its integrity.
Sudan .. The army confronts unruly Ethiopian militias
Khartoum is facing a new border challenge with Ethiopia that may worsen in 2021, although its roots are old, as militias from the neighboring Ethiopian region of Amhara from time to time seize agricultural lands in the Gedaref Governorate in eastern Sudan.
By the end of 2020, the Sudanese army intervened and regained all these lands that had been seized by Ethiopian militias 26 years ago in the Fashaqa area in Gedaref.
The Ethiopian armed groups usually resort to guerrilla warfare in the face of the Sudanese army, whose members were killed in an ambush on the borders recently, so it is not unlikely that these militias will resume their attacks in the disputed areas.
Despite the demarcation of the border between Ethiopia and Sudan since 1902, the Ethiopian Amhara tribes still consider agricultural lands on the other side of the border their own, especially as they lack fertile lands, which makes this dispute renewed.
However, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed expressed his government’s determination to dry up the focus of differences and permanently stop the clashes on the border areas with Sudan, a day after the conclusion of the political committee meeting on border issues between the two countries.
What may compound instability on the borders is the influx of tens of thousands of Ethiopian refugees into Sudan due to the repercussions of the Tigray War (November 2020), as well as the Renaissance Dam crisis and its complications.
Sudan is facing, in addition to the border crisis with Ethiopia, a border dispute with South Sudan in the oil-rich Abyei region, in addition to a third border dispute with Egypt in the Halayeb Triangle overlooking the Red Sea.
These countries are not the only ones entering the new year, burdened with the wounds of the past year and carrying with them hopes for an imminent end to their crises. There are other Arab countries suffering from conflicts of varying intensity that share the same pain and hope.