Entry Points for Conflict Transformation in the MENA Region

PSRP Research Associate Juline Beaujouan co-organized a workshop with the Berghof Foundation to discuss potential for conflict transformation with Salafi-Jihadi groups in the MENA region.

On Monday 9th March, Berghof Foundation in cooperation with the AHRC’s Open Research Initiative (OWRI) and al-Sabah Programme (Durham University) and PSRP (University of Edinburgh) hosted a workshop on “Insights of Recent Research about the Development of Salafi-Jihadism in the MENA Region and Entry Points for Conflict Transformation”.

The workshop primarily intended to provide a forum for exchange between academics and practitioners from MENA and Europe on the mobilization and demobilization dynamics of Salafi-Jihadi armed groups. Panellists offered a diverse yet complementary overview of the historical, social, political and religious dynamics that help better understand the rationale behind this kind of violence and highlight opportunities for conflict transformation.

The event also brought together a wide audience composed of political and religious figures, including representatives of the Lebanese and British governments, civil society, academics from Europe and MENA, and practitioners of conflict transformation and peacemaking. To reflect this diversity, insights and comments were made in English and Arabic with live translation throughout the day.

In a first instance, panellists shared insights of recent analysis about Salafi-Jihadism in the MENA region, collecting feedback and developing avenues for future research that could bridge the divide between academics and practitioners. Subsequently, panellists compared experiences and lessons learned from practical approaches to strengthen community resilience and identifying entry points for conflict transformation.

Presentations included the outline and outcome of a three-year multidisciplinary research conducted by Prof. Anoush Ehteshami, Amjed Rasheed and Juline Beaujouan (PSRP) on the impact of the MENA (dis)order, the erosion of the state and the role of non-state actors – mainly the Islamic State (IS) – in shaping the politics of the MENA region. Berghof teams in Beirut and Berlin were also actively involved in the panels. Namely, Véronique Dudouet, Programme Director for Conflict Transformation Research, offered an overview of the research findings of the Berghof-led project “Salafi-Jihadi armed Groups – (De)-escalation and Dialogue Options” conducted in Mali, Somalia and Syria.

Discussions highlighted the variety of Salafi-Jihadi groups and their claims and the difficulty to coin a single all-encompassing approach for conflict transformation. Participants were also encouraged to reflect on the opportunities and challenges for youth inclusion in MENA societies as a means to prevent them from joining violent armed groups. This insight echoed the realization that a high number of aspiring jihad fighters did not join the ranks of Salafi-Jihadi groups on religious grounds but for an array of reasons. As such, their engagement often materialized grievances, lack of future prospects, and the response to the recurrent violence – sometimes invisible – that marks the lives of young individuals in the MENA region.

Participants also emphasized the role religious figures should play to counter the narrative of violence in the name of religion. Finally, participants noted that strengthening community resilience should go hand in hand with the integration of Salafi-Jihadi groups in state structures to give them the option to express their grievances via non-violent channels. Yet the absence of the state at the central and local levels greatly impeded such prospect for conflict transformation.

Image: Participants at the workshop on 9 March 2020.