The developments over the past month in Iraq, Palestine, Yemen and Libya take us to a new phase of radical change, just one of a series that our region has experienced over the past four years. This is in the context of a transformation process that is the deepest and most dangerous since the current borders of the Middle East were drafted during the First World War.
The Middle East’s borders, governments, alliances and policies are familiar to the Western powers and their research centres, so it was easy for the West to identify their components and predict their results. However, the current phase we are experiencing is unique and new, and the research centres and international and regional agencies are on the verge of madness; the rules of the game as drawn-up and directed by the West for its control over the region have changed. Matters are out of their control as they flounder around in a thick fog of confusion.
In order to put the uniqueness of this moment in context, I admit that drawing the paths of the future is not easy for any of us, as the changes are numerous and fast and the international balances of power are shifting. In addition, the rules of the local and regional game are unstable, although this is only natural as we are experiencing a long-awaited strategic earthquake and everything under our feet is shaking. Despite this, I will try to explain the general trends and context that I believe will form the input for the next stage of deep transformation in our region.
It has become clear to the regional and global parties that the coup against the democratic processes in the Arab world will not lead to a stable Middle East; it makes the popular street stronger and is the driving force behind those who are growing, learning and benefiting from their mistakes. In addition to this, the governments that supported the counter-revolution or turned a blind eye to them do not know how to behave; admitting their failure is costly and so they are sticking to their path out of stubbornness and fear at the cost of failure, or out of holding on to a glimmer of hope that some miracle might occur.
There is no doubt that political Islam took a harsh blow in Egypt and it impacted negatively on many countries. Moreover, the Arab reality has not become more liberal or secular; instead, the gap is filled with even more extreme forces of a military nature and politics only plays a limited and short-term functional role in their work. Also, their future projects are unclear and are likely to clash with their popular support; they will fall into a bad situation with unpredictable outcomes.
The international interventions in our region are continuous but they are weaker than ever. We should not forget that the current political map was drawn, executed and managed by Western forces. Also, that the American and Soviet influence remained dominant over the Arab political reality during the Cold War, and then the United States took full control over Arab and Middle Eastern sovereignty, making fatal errors in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, however, the American influence is suffering from a partial withdrawal and the international system is facing large gaps, which enables regional and local parties to implement policies and programmes that would have been unthinkable in previous decades.
The regional system in the Middle East is in a downturn and the alliances in the region are not solid because there are many contrasting visions, as well as suspicions and doubts amongst the various parties, and therefore the regional strategic vacuum remains present.
Some are trying to revive something resembling the axis of “moderation” but this is a temporary axis that cannot last. The problem lies in the weakness and frailty of the countries themselves as well as the absence of leaders with a strategic vision able to lead the region towards collective goals and stability, instead of agreeing on short-term projects that vanish quickly.
The fragmented Arab states are facing their biggest challenge since independence and many of them have already disintegrated, while others are on the verge. The sovereign borders between these states are crumbling against groups infiltrating and crossing their borders, and the concept of citizenship is in disarray and heading towards sub-sectarian, ethnic and tribal identities. Some of these states will lose the unity of their national territory and will break up into “mini-states” and incoherent entities and will most likely remain in a state of chaos and conflict with their neighbours over matters of resources, borders and population.
The Palestinian cause will remain the most stable and strong strategic constant in the region. The vision in this regard is clear and the colours are distinct. In addition to this, it is the most important motive for the people of the region, as it is the most important cause in terms of it being able to cross borders, ideologies and affiliations, and its international depth is unmatched by any other cause. Although it is true that at the moment it is experiencing a state of transformation, it is different to the transformation of the other regional issues, as it is going in the direction of solidity and stability, as opposed to liquidity and disintegration. The Palestinian cause may play a role in granting the turbulent and shifting Arab reality a sense of solidity and a measure of stability.
Those observing Israel’s current behaviour would find it agitated and confused, as its irritability and chaos as well as its crimes against civilians means that the Israeli authorities are worried and afraid. The state of transformation in the region puts fear in the hearts of Israeli policy-makers, and the deeper the state of transformation is, the more tense and nervous Israel is, driving it to a complete loss of balance. At that point, Israel will begin to commit more egregious mistakes and the conflict will enter a new phase in which the limits will change and everyone will cross all the red lines. It will be at this point that the Middle East will enter the most important stage of its transformation.
Hence, we can say that the Middle East is rediscovering itself and is trying to build its future on new foundations; these have not yet been determined. However, everyone knows that the past is not suitable for reproduction and that the future is not clear enough to be embraced. We are in a state of transition, anxiety and turbulence in which anything is possible, and every possibility is grim and difficult.
The future re-shaping of the region will hit many large obstacles because the Middle East, as we know it, is the product of an international arrangement established and sponsored globally for centuries, and its reformation will not be a walk in the park. We will have to go through many trials and tribulations, we will hear painful cries, and sometimes we will make mistakes while at other times we will get it right. Nevertheless, it is important for us to learn and in order for us to learn, we must have a great deal of patience, a deep sense of responsibility and a deep awareness of our people. We must believe that we are able to break through the walls of fear, anxiety and oppression and move towards the spring of freedom, security and stability.
Translated from Al Jazeera net, 4 August, 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.