11 Oct 2013

Reporting from the Annual Conference for Arab Militias

Now in its fourth year, the Annual Conference for Arab Militias has become the event to attend in the world of alternative power structures in the Arab world. This year’s conference entitled ‘Undermining the State Monopoly on Violence: Challenges, Tactics and Theoretical Frameworks’ was held in the Qatari capital Doha and has firmly placed the event on the applied post-structuralism event calendar. The conference was attended by hundreds of delegates representing militias all the way from Libya to Iraq. In order to inform our readers about this event, we sent our correspondent Osman Haraki and he came back with fascinating report.

Workshops, talks, debate panels, this conference had it all. The growth of the event itself has mirrored the unparalleled success and growth of Arab militias and their expanding areas of operation. A few decades ago this was a marginal phenomenon that had a niche presence in Lebanon and some Palestinian camps, but the explosion of Arab militias, no pun intended, has electrified the world of alternative violence and parallel state institutions. And while most of the recent growth has come from Syria, there is no doubt that there are many other countries that will join in the near future.

The stars this week were no doubt the Libyan militia the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution who had stunned everyone with their spectacular kidnapping of the Libyan Prime Minister and his subsequent release within a few hours. Most of the young audience at the conference appreciated both the execution and the idea behind the operation, which represented the latest theoretical trend in militia work. The older generation of militia leaders however frowned upon a seemingly random and senseless operation, but many felt this represented how cut off they had become from modern practices in grassroots violence.

On the other end of the spectrum, a delegate from the Lebanese Forces militia presented a historic overview of the rise of militia phenomenon and called it ‘a Lebanese success story’. Much like Lebanese TV stations and starlets, the concept of the militia has gone on to become a popular Lebanese export that has spread across the Arab world. The delegate Imad Wazzi, known by his nom de guerre Abu al-Jamajim, the father of skulls in Arabic, explained the theoretical frameworks for the development of militias and how sectarianism can be used to inject a sense of coherence into militia work and even spent some time giving tips on how to choose an adequately frightening nom de guerre, something that sadly still receives very little effort in places like Syria.

Staying with Lebanon, a delegate from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah gave a short presentation on summary executions as part of a broader series on expanding into new areas of operation. Abu Ali Haidar, who is a field commander with the group, captivated the audience with the innovative methodology and the ‘flexible ethical principles’ which informed the group’s recent operations.

The largest number of delegations came from Syria, having failed to agree on a joint delegation. Both pro and anti-government militias were present, and notably this was the first year in which opposition groups had attended the conference having insisted until last year that they were ‘rebels not militias’. Their attendance this year made it clear that we’re well past that point, and it brought a breath of fresh air to the conference particularly in terms of their influential work on non-hierarchical structures and constantly changing organizational systems. This was generally seen as the most cutting-edge theoretical work presented at the conference.

Pro-government Syrian militias for their part contributed very little on a theoretical level, and they mostly tended to gather together and spontaneously burst into pre-orchestrated pro-government protests. What this lacked in theoretical edge, it compensated for through sheer power of performance spectacle. The totally unself-conscious and robotic nature of their performances was roundly applauded for keeping the tradition of blind militia loyalty and unquestioning commitment to their chieftains.

For their part, the Iraqi delegations were notable for their advanced work on assassination squads, a phenomenon that had come a long way since its early inception in Lebanon during the 1970s when it was largely unorganized and rudimentary. The Iraqis have certainly advanced this form of militia work and there was promise of more to come. There were also allegations about copyright infringement by some older Lebanese delegates when it came to car bombs, but the Iraqis rejected these accusations arguing that these techniques should be shared openly. The debate continues.

The highlights also included presentations from Palestinian, Kurdish, Yemeni and, for the first time, aspiring pro-regime Egyptian groups that were there to learn more about militia work and how it could benefit Egypt’s ‘Transition to Democracy ©’. The conference ended with a spectacular gala dinner and ended in emotional farewell as most delegates thought they probably won’t be there next year.

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  1. An informative report about this important conference and its contributions to the development of alternative power structures in the Arab World. I'm looking for the call for papers for the next conference!

  2. What a disasterous mess! The whole lot of them need to be rounded up (along with the dictators) and sent up on a one way rocket to planet zog.

  3. Absolutely hillarious. I just caught your interview on NPR and I find your blogs incredibly intelligent and insightful. I am also patiently waiting to see if there will be a decision on the copyright infringement. Will any decision be appealed to the Supreme Council for a Fatwah? I suspect that governments would hate to invest money in such a group that has committed such an agregious violation of the militia code without giving due regards to the older revolutionaries that the younger generation is currently attempting to overthrow.

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  5. Thank you for news. Very informatively for me.

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Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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