As more Muslim countries, particularly in the Arab world, face up to the fact that none are safe from the ambitions of the Islamic state, a new alliance is forming to counter the extremists. The Gulf Arab states of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait are weighing a military alliance which would also include Egypt. Spurred on by concerns over the situation in Libya, this new pan-Arab coalition will also seek to combat extremism in the wider Arab world.
the Muslim nations of the Middle East do not have a good track record when it comes to military cooperation but Egypt and the Gulf States have two powerful adversaries in common; Shia Iran being one and, perhaps far more dangerous to their collective stability, Sunni Islamist extremism the other.
Libya’s struggles with Islamist extremists has been largely overshadowed by the ongoing twin conflicts in Iraq and Syria, but the situation in the North African country formerly road by Muammar Gaddafi is, if anything, more perilous: The elected and internationally recognized government of Libya has been almost completely sidelined by Islamists who have formed their own government and control large areas of the country. Having almost fallen under the control of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood organisation, Egypt is more sensitive than ever to the Islamist agenda.
the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, appears to have emerged as the driving force behind the proposed alliance. In September, he told The Associated Press that the region was in need of a “comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy.”
A Gulf official has indicated that preparatory talks are already underway – at the heart of which is a discussion about the forming of a joint military reaction force. Questions of command and funding for such a force still remain unanswered and Egyptian officials have been cautious, with one saying that the force “will only be announced when it is ready to go and we have an agreement on everything.”
the Arab nations have already begun to lay the groundwork for such a force; participating together in military exercises. Although denied by an Egyptian government official, the UAE is also believed to have conducted, in coordination with Egypt, airstrikes against Islamist rebels in Libya. Additionally, the Gulf states have also provided massive aid to Egypt since the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood by the Egyptian army.
The Islamist threat to the region – the Middle East and North Africa – has grown almost exponentially as foreign fighters pour into Syria and Iraq to join up with the Islamic State or one of the many other radical groups battling the governments of both countries. Lebanon has already experienced collateral effects from the fighting; Yemen has all but fallen to extremist rebels and even as far away as Pakistan and Afghanistan is the looming threat of ISIS felt.
The United States has made no comments regarding the proposed alliance but talk of it may indicate a waning confidence, in the Arab world, regarding America’s willingness to decisively intervene on behalf of its Arab allies. The oil-rich Gulf Arab states understand that they, eventually, will be in the cross-hairs of ISIS or other fundamentalist groups and Egypt – the cradle of the Muslim Brotherhood, from which most Islamist groups originated – sees combating the extremists as vital to its future security.
By Graham J Noble