The Middle East, at the Beginning of 2014
“We are at the beginning of a very long and profound transformation,” says President Barack Obama. True -- and nowhere is this truer than in the Middle East.
Egypt, the largest and most populous Arab country, seems to have settled back down into the type of military regime that has existed since 1952, except for 2011 to 2013 when it had an Islamist government. Nevertheless, there have been some important changes in Egypt.
First, in the “Islamist” era, Egypt remains at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood. Second, in international relations, Egypt has been generally disgusted by the U.S. administration’s -- as one of my smartest, most democratic Egyptian friends says -- “cowboy” behavior. Since the Obama administration backed the Muslim Brotherhood government from 2011 to 2012, Egypt has turned to Russia, just as in 1955, when the United States confronted a radical Egypt.
It should be amusing to Egyptians that while the U.S. aid is a gift, they have to pay for Russian assistance. But then, the Egyptians are more suspicious of the Yankees than of Greeks bearing gifts. In addition, since Hamas and Turkey -- which support the Muslim Brotherhood and even anti-Egyptian terrorists -- have supported revolutionary Islamists against Egypt, the two are in conflict with Egypt.
Since Hamas is at war with both Egypt and Israel, Egypt and Israel have common interests in this conflict. Thus, it may seem Israel’s current situation in the region is worse, but there are actually many positive aspects.
Turkey’s situation is unstable, too. On the one hand, Turkey has been the main supporter of the rebel, Sunni side in the Syrian civil war. Turkey’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood is considered antagonistic to Saudi Arabia and to the military regime in Egypt. It also potentially damages its hopes for business plans with Iran, since support is equally antagonistic to the Shi’a bloc. This has seriously damaged Turkey’s relations with both the Arab and Iranian blocs. Turkey would like to be a bridge among Islamists, but that is making Iran and the Saudi-Egyptian bloc suspicious.
Sunnis and Shi’as are in conflict, and although people may think that the Arab world is obsessed with the Israel-Palestinian conflict, this is not the case. The Arab world (being divided) is less able to do something about the conflict, and now is far less focused on it than it has been over the past few decades.
Saudi Ambassador to Britain Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who seems to be the Saudi regime’s spokesman, wrote in the New York Times that "Saudi Arabia Will Go It Alone":
Saudi Arabia has been friends with our Western partners for decades ... for almost a century. These are strategic alliances that benefit us both. Recently, these relationships have been tested -- principally because of differences over Iran and Syria. We believe that many of the West’s policies on both Iran and Syria risk the stability and security of the Middle East. This is a dangerous gamble, about which we cannot remain silent, and will not stand idly by.
And yet rather than challenging the Syrian and Iranian governments, some of our Western partners have refused to take much-needed action against them.
The Egypt-Muslim Brotherhood-Hamas conflicts, the Syrian civil war, the conflict between the Shi’a and Sunni blocs (the latter including Saudi Arabia), and Turkish-Arab friction are all signs of this. If the West is willing to keep Assad as dictator of Syria, the Sunni rebels will never accept this, and the Syrian civil war will only be intensified in the coming year.
Ammar Abdulhamid, a respected analyst on Syria, has pointed out that “re-legitimating the Assad regime today, after all it had done, will green light genocidal ventures elsewhere in the world.” Of course, if the United States helped to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria, there would also be a risk of genocide against the Alawites and the Christians (who make up about 30% of the population).
I hate to say it, but it is almost as if the Obama administration simply wants to keep the supposed “deal” alive until after the 2016 elections, so it can boast a great diplomatic triumph in the Middle East by resolving all problems -- only to then let the deal collapse.
This could explain why President Obama said there was only a 50-50% chance that the deal would go through. Usually, the president and secretary of State do not talk about the certainty of deals before they are much closer to being completed.