Who’s who: contested identities and conflicting alliances in the shadow of the Arab uprisings

by Engy Moussa

When Libya’s former president, Muammar al-Qaddafi, asked ‘Who are you?’ (min antoum?), addressing the Libyan protesters in 2011, his question was met with a mixture of anger and sarcasm. Yet as one observes the Arab region today one can’t but repeat the same question, addressed this time primarily to the leaders of different Arab states, but equally to the diverse social groups and factions living, interacting and frequently fighting across the region.

For politicians and scholars alike, the region is becoming increasingly complicated. Zooming in on questions of identity and alliances, the image becomes even more blurry and complex. For instance: Who is fighting in Syria today? Or rather, who is not fighting in Syria today and why? Who is ruling Libya at present, if anyone? Who is supporting them and why? What do terms like ‘enemies’ and ‘friends’ mean for different Arab states? Looking at some Gulf countries, for example, and how they fight each other or support opposing forces in ongoing wars in some Arab countries, while being part of the same coalition in others, confounds the notion of alliances.

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