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Power Beyond the State: Non-State Actors in the Broader Southern Mediterranean

Meeting with experts from the region and from Europe to the phenomenon of non-state actors in the MENA region

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Power Beyond the State: Non-State Actors in the Broader Southern Mediterranean

Date: 18 October, 2016

Venue: Academy, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Berlin

The state system in the Arab world, founded on the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement between the UK and France, is being challenged from within. The weak institutions of Arab authoritarian regimes, hollowed out for decades under successive coercive strongmen, are besieged by a myriad of newly empowered non-state actors. Spanning across widely diverse groupings, from peaceful political and social grassroots movements to violent extremists, non-state actors put pressure on the flawed Arab state by demanding accountability, justice, revolutionary change.

Over the past decades, the weakness of state institutions, their persistent lack of accountability and effective provision of services (and more recently, security), has left vacuums in which prospective alternative providers have been able to thrive. However, the deterioration of state-citizen relations not only rests on the states’ failure to deliver services, but also of its fading value as a provider of identity. As sources of higher authority – such as Arab nationalist notions, or royal families – lose ground, sectarian and communitarian sources of identity fill the gap. At the same time, the strengthening of local identities makes consensus on how the shared state should be designed in order to accommodate the various communities’ needs and preferences increasingly difficult.

Governments have reacted to the global rise of non-state actors in many different ways. The rise of the Islamic State as an expansionist territorial project, and the spread of violent jihadi movements, has led to military responses of different kinds and magnitude. At the same time, the tangible security threat posed by violent extremism has been utilized to justify pre-emptive repression of political and social grassroots movements that incumbent regimes rightfully perceive as a threat to their rule and privileges. At the same time, non-state actors have taken up an increasing role as proxy agents in national conflict scenarios by state players who seek to further a larger regional agenda. Who are the emerging influential non-state actors; and how does their interplay with the state and its institutions affect local and regional security?

The present conference attempts a broad conceptualization of the wide range of non-state actors that challenge the fundaments of Arab states by peaceful or violent means. It examines the power of non-violent groupings based on kin, religion, political affiliation or social demands, as well as the broader influence of violent groups as combatant adversary of states. Finally, it analyses different responses of states to the rise of their non-state challengers, and how these influence the prospects for lasting security in the Middle East and North Africa.


Tuesday, 18 October 2016

09:00 Welcoming Remarks and Introduction

Thomas Birringer, Head of Middle East and North Africa Department,

Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e.V.

Dr. Canan Atilgan, Director Regional Program South Mediterranean, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung

09:15 Panel 1: Kinship, Religious and Civil Groupings

Traditional kinship-based governance structures play a powerful role in local politics, often in parallel to formal state institutions. Religious and sectarian affiliations are key to local loyalties and regional identity politics. Organized civil society such as NGOs, political parties and unions, as well as non-organised civil society, such as broader societal movements, increasingly challenge the prerogatives and state institutions and demand accountability. By means of four pointed case studies, this panel looks at the different ways in which diverse groupings such as tribal, social and civil society challenge the legitimacy of formal state institutions by non-violent means.

Moderator: Koert Debeuf, Political Analyst

  • Tribes and Clans in Libya’s Peace Process

    Mohamed el Jarh, Security and Political Analyst, Atlantic Council

  • Sectarian Affiliations in the Syria War

    Oytun Orhan, Researcher, Center For Middle Eastern Strategic Studies

  • Regional Cleavages in Tunisia: The Necessity of Historical Compromise

    Michaël Béchir Ayari, Senior Analyst, Crisis Group

  • Reverberations of Lebanon’s grassroots: From #You Stink to Beirut Madinati

    Maha Yahya, Director, Carnegie Middle East Center

11:00 Coffee break

11:15 Panel 2: Armed Militants versus the State

The rise of the Islamic State / Da’esh as an expansionist territorial project is a major collective challenge for the international community. By a similar token, insurgents in the Sahel fighting against state armies over the governance of territory. Salafi jihadi cells across North Africa, the Levant and Europe, threaten national cohesion and regional security more broadly through a constant threat of low-level violence. Other armed militia, such as in Libya, having taken up the role of national security forces in the absence of functioning state institutions, are unwilling to give up this role while functioning, trusted institutions are still lacking. How do each of these groups challenge the state, or statehood as such? What are their objectives and strategies? Under what conditions would they disarm?

Moderator: Sylke Tempel, Editor In-Chief, Internationale Politik

  • Da’esh/ISIS: State by Other Means

    Serhat Erkmen, Professor, Ahi Evran University

  • Militant Insurgents in the Sahel

    Mehari Taddele Maru, International Consultant

  • Armed Militia in Libya

    Mary Fitzgerald, journalist and researcher

  • Hezbollah’s role in Syria

    Benedetta Berti, Researcher, Institute for National Security Studies

13:00 Lunchbreak

14:30 Panel 3: States’ Response

States’ responses to the rise of on-state armed and unarmed challengers range widely from war over repression and co-option to patronage. To which degree do states respond to the rise of non-state actors in purely defensive ways, and to which degree is there an element of self-preserving critical reflection that embraces the global trend of local empowerment? How effective are international efforts to fight back against non-state expansionists aggressors? Where and how have states sought to utilize the power of non-state actors as proxies to further their own interests? Where does the power of non-state actors weaken state institutions, and where does it end up consolidating incumbent regimes?

Moderator: Kristina Kausch, Senior Resident Fellow, German Marshall Fund

  • The Military Response: Regional Efforts to Fight ISIS

    Can Kasapoglu, Defense Analyst, Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM)

  • The Instrumental Response: Regional Powers and Non-State Proxies

    Ellie Geranmayeh, European Council on Foreign relations

  • The Containing Response: The Moroccan Monarchy between Co-option and Coercion

    Aboubakr Jamaï, Dean of the School of Business and International Relations at IAU College in Aix En Provence

  • The Repressive Response: Egypt’s Civil Society Clampdown

    Moataz el Fegiery, Protection Coordinator, Frontline Defenders

16:15 Coffee break

16:30 Concluding Panel: Strengthening State Accountability

Moderator: Dr. Kristina Eichhorst, Coordinator Crisis and Conflict Management, KAS

  • EU and US’ Responses to the Rise of Non-State Actors: Pathways to Transatlantic Cooperation

    Cornelius Adebahr, Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

17:15 End of conference

18:30 Dinner with MP Roderich Kiesewetter, Foreign Affairs Representative of the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union Parliamentary Group in the German Bundestag

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Berlin, Germany


Dr. Canan Atilgan

Dr. Canan Atilgan

Head of the Department Middle East and North Africa +49 30 26996-3201