Meanwhile, the group which acquired some following in North Africa, is reportedly preparing to declare an emirate in Lebanon and has threatened members of the US-led campaign. ISIL has fed on sectarianism and anti-western sentiment to increase its ranks and encourage other groups to pledge allegiance. This has led to a widespread belief that it is redrawing the Middle East map. In actuality it is cementing rather than challenging the regional order.
The Arab Spring brought down four regimes and threatened other positions. Thanks to the rise of ISIL and other extremist groups, however, they are now sitting more comfortably. Once-restive populations have grown relatively silent, concerned their countries may end up like Iraq, Syria, Libya or Yemen.
ISIL has, to some extent, papered over divisions among populations regarding government policies, particularly those relevant to security and law and order. With every threat against a country and every brutal execution, people rally around their leaders. Examples this year alone include the beheadings of Egyptians in Libya, and the burning alive of Jordanian pilot Maaz Al Kassasbeh.
As a result, divisions in Jordan about the wisdom of joining the US-led campaign against ISIL have given way to calls for King Abdullah to increase his country’s military involvement in the coalition. Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi, too, is pushing himself to the forefront of a “war on terror”, a mantra that is being echoed by his regional counterparts, often in coordination with each other and with foreign powers.
The collective message is that stability and security come above all else. Western governments belatedly criticised state abuses in the wake of the Arab Spring. However, they – as well as Russia and China – are once again turning a blind eye in favour of securing reliable partners for their own political, economic and military gain.
In a fundamentally flawed view of ISIL’s defeat as the end game, and one that must be achieved at all costs, there are growing calls in the West to resume ties with Syrian president Bashar Al Assad. For such proponents, ISIL’s barbarity has whitewashed Mr Al Assad’s record and never mind that it had destroyed the country before the rise of the jihadists.
The UN has been clear about Mr Al Assad’s primary culpability. Last September, the head of the UN commission investigating war crimes in Syria said the regime “remains responsible for the majority of the civilian casualties, killing and maiming scores of civilians daily”.
“You cannot compare the two,” she added. Meanwhile, the US-led campaign against ISIL has enabled Mr Al Assad to intensify assaults on opposition groups.
Similarly, arms are flowing to Baghdad, which has systematically alienated Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, indiscriminately bombed civilian areas, committed atrocities and watched as allied militias have done the same. There is no longer much thought given to how the policies of Baghdad and Damascus have provided fertile ground for ISIL and its ilk, as if the jihadists popped up out of nowhere and for no reason.
Officials in the US-led campaign have said the war against ISIL could take years, even decades. The Middle East’s leaders and their foreign allies would be mistaken in thinking that the region’s peoples will indefinitely forgo their basic rights in the name of security.
This article by Sharif Nashashibi originally appeared in the UAE newspaper The National