Frederic M. Wehrey

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 2022. Saudi Press Agency / Reuters.

At the time it was announced, in March 2023, the China-mediated deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia was widely seen as a sign of Beijing’s arrival in Middle East power politics. Although the Biden administration denied that China’s role in brokering the agreement—which reestablished diplomatic relations between Riyadh and Tehran—reflected declining U.S. influence, Washington’s actions since then paint a different picture. Over the last few months, the United States has deployed additional military resources in the region, increased patrols and joint exercises around the Strait of Hormuz, and signaled that it would push forward arms deals with regional partners such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and expand training with Egypt, Kuwait, and others—all in an apparent attempt to reassure Arab partners of its commitment to Middle East security.…  Seguir leyendo »

A party from the village of Kambo, led by Elfinesh Tegene, approaching the cave of Ametsegna Washa, Menz Keya Gebreal district, Ethiopia, November 2022. Frederic Wehrey

In the fall of 2021, as military forces from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) swept south toward Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, they encroached upon a swathe of highland territory known as Menz. A blue-green land of deep ravines, terraced hills, and imposing flood basalts, Menz is sometimes seen as a place apart. In his classic midcentury ethnography of the area, Wax and Gold, the University of Chicago scholar Donald Levine observed among its inhabitants—most of them farmers of barley, sorghum, and teff—a potent mix of martial prowess and piety. This “land of fighting and fasting”, as he called it, served as the cradle for a dynastic line of Amharic rulers that included Menelik II, the founder of the modern Ethiopian state who dealt a shattering blow to the Italian colonial army at the battle of Adwa in 1896, and also Haile Selassie.…  Seguir leyendo »

View of a dust storm across the Sahara Desert, September, 2014. Stocktrek/Getty Images

In a cramped, fluorescent-lit office in Tripoli up several flights of stairs, a middle-aged official and his staff labor on what is perhaps the most important work for future generations of Libyans. It’s a command center of sorts: flashing computer monitors on desks, cables everywhere, and satellite maps on the wall marked with great swirls and arrows. The battle isn’t against a military opponent, like the innumerable armed groups and their political backers who have been fighting for power and economic spoils in this oil-rich state since the ouster of Muammar Qadhafi during the NATO-backed revolution of 2011. The scourge is far more insidious, and the country’s bickering elites seem woefully unprepared to tackle it.…  Seguir leyendo »

Examining a Russian T-90 tank at the Russian Arms Expo in Nizhny Tagil, Russia, September 2013. Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters

Now in its sixth month, Russia’s assault on Ukraine has become an unrelenting war of attrition. The Russian military has suffered as many as 80,000 casualties, according to Pentagon estimates, and it has lost hundreds of planes, tanks, and armored vehicles. The longer the war continues, the more challenging the situation will be for Russia’s defense industrial base, which is being targeted by unprecedented Western sanctions and export controls. Although their full impact may not be evident now, these strains are likely to have long-term implications for Russia’s ability to project power abroad, especially in the Middle East. Moscow has long competed with the United States and Europe as a major supplier of advanced weapons and spare parts to Arab governments.…  Seguir leyendo »

Libyan Army soldiers wear masks to protect themselves from the coronavirus during a military operation in Tripoli, on March 25. Credit Amru Salahuddien/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images

On a recent visit to Libya, I met a family living in an improvised shelter in a displaced persons camp east of Tripoli. One of the tens of thousands Libyan families uprooted by war, the family of seven was living in a room barely 20 paces long and half as wide. A clothesline, a pile of mattresses, a hot plate and the stench of body odor filled the room. Outside, they faced a shortage of potable water and abusive taunts from locals.

The spread of the novel coronavirus will have a devastating effect on the Middle East’s communities of refugees and migrants.…  Seguir leyendo »

Mahmud Turkia/AFP via Getty Images. Fighters loyal to the Government of National Accord, which has been reinforced by Turkish-backed Syrian militia forces, at a lookout post near the front line, Tripoli, Libya, January 12, 2020

At a mud-caked intersection this month, some hundred-and-fifty feet from the front line, a lanky militia fighter approached and then abruptly turned around when he saw me, a Westerner. I’ve been covering Libya’s conflicts for years and noticed some minor but distinctive details about his appearance: a do-rag tied around his head, an olive green tactical vest, and perhaps a certain military bearing. The Libyan commander I was with confirmed it, with a chuckle: “That’s not a Libyan look.”

Fifteen minutes later, I was inside a poured-concrete villa that served as the living quarters for a group of war-hardened Syrian fighters.…  Seguir leyendo »

In Libya, Benghazi’s Old Town lies in ruins and many areas remain mined and booby-trapped. Credit Giles Clarke/UNOCHA, via Getty Images

On Thursday General Khalifa Hifter, the leader of eastern Libya militias, ordered his forces to advance on Tripoli, the capital, where the country’s internationally backed Government of National Accord is led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

Ghassan Salame, the United Nations envoy to Libya, had recently urged opposing Libyan factions to come together at a U.N.-brokered national conference in mid-April to lay the groundwork for elections and pull Libya back from the brink. By ordering his forces toward Tripoli when U.N. Secretary General António Guterres was in the city to help organize the national conference, General Hifter has made his disdain for the peace efforts clear.…  Seguir leyendo »

Two days before she was murdered in Benghazi on June 25, the Libyan human rights activist Salwa Bugaighis walked into a Tripoli hotel guarded by Islamist militias wearing three-inch heels and no veil.

She had little patience for such gunmen and their political backers, whom she accused of terrorizing Libya and derailing the country’s struggling democracy: “We have five courthouses in Benghazi and they are all shut down,” she told me. “If these Islamists say they are committed to defending the state, they should defend the state’s institutions.”

Ms. Bugaighis was at the vanguard of the 2011 revolution and had recently been appointed the deputy head of a national dialogue commission.…  Seguir leyendo »

Libya is in the throes of its worst violence since the 2011 revolution, thrusting the country into a new phase of its troubled transition and posing new challenges for the United States.

A retired general, Khalifa Haftar, leading a diverse coalition of eastern tribes, former army officers and secular-leaning politicians, launched an attack against Islamist militias in Benghazi. Entire air force units and the city's charismatic special forces commander defected to his side.

The violence soon spread to Tripoli. Haftar's allies in the capital attacked the country's elected legislature, the General National Congress, demanding its closure. Tribal militias from Zintan, in western Libya, who are hostile to the Islamists, joined Haftar's forces.…  Seguir leyendo »

Two years after the Libyan revolution, the police and army remain weak and hollow. Neglected by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in favor of more loyal units commanded by his sons, they are ill-equipped, understaffed, bloated at the senior ranks and tainted by their association with the old regime. Into their place have stepped the country’s 300 revolutionary militias — the groups that fought in the 2011 revolution that overthrew Colonel Qaddafi or arose in its aftermath.

On Saturday, throngs of protesters in Benghazi stormed the headquarters of a government-sponsored militia, Libya Shield, whose members opened fire, killing at least 27 people. Weary of Libya Shield’s overbearing presence, the crowds had demanded that the regular army and police take its place.…  Seguir leyendo »

While many Americans have been riveted by recent congressional testimony and debate about the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, this country has been caught in its own drama.

In recent days, amid Libya’s worst political crisis since the 2011 revolution that toppled Moammar Gaddafi, the United States and other Western governments have evacuated their diplomatic staff. A Marine quick-response team and a Special Operations unit were placed on alert. But this is precisely the time for greater engagement, not retreat, not only with Libya’s beleaguered government but also with its increasingly assertive civil society. Engagement is crucial for securing Libya’s future and preventing its weakness from inflaming conflicts in North Africa and the Middle East.…  Seguir leyendo »

While the world’s attention is fixed on the worsening bloodshed in Syria, Libya teeters dangerously on the brink.

A year after the Libyan revolt began, a weak transitional government confronts armed militias and mounting public frustration. Defiant young men with heavy weapons control Libya’s airports, harbors and oil installations. Tribes and smugglers rule desert areas south of the capital. Clashes among various militias for turf and political power rage.

The Libyan government sits on the sidelines avoiding conflicts with militias it cannot control. Recent attempts to subdue Qaddafi holdouts in the town of Bani Walid ended in humiliation; government forces were outgunned and outfought.…  Seguir leyendo »