A new Arab disorder
The 2014 marked a farewell to a turbulent decade, but it could be replaced by a more chaotic one, writes Salah Nasrawi
They weren’t exactly foreseen by Nostradamus, but one can see clearly how the dramatic events unfolded in the Middle East in 2014 depict the apocalyptic prophecies of the reputed 16th century French seer.
Across the Arab world, countries, some of them as old as the world’s ancient civilizations, are unraveling and the whole region seems to be heading toward a massive geopolitical shift in its landscape that would have far reaching consequences on the international order.
A century after a series of treaties between the European colonial powers and the Sykes-Picot agreement between Britain and France to carve up the region after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War, the Middle East is facing Balkanization.
Today, as our writers are trying to explain in their articles and reports for this special end of the year issue, it seems even difficult to imagine the magnitude of the changes that would take place in the foreseen future.
The rise of the Islamic State terrorist group, its seizure of vast swathes of territories in Syria and Iraq, and its proclamation of the Islamic Caliphate has been a turning point. The group abolished the borders drawn with the creation of the two modern states and raised their black banners over areas expanding from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean.
The damage to the national fabrics and the country’s unity caused by IS’s advances and the sectarian civil war it unleashed is immeasurable. It has deepened the confessional divide beyond repair and created ethno-sectarian enclaves that saw the seeds for geographical and political disintegration of the two countries.
The war front to the IS goes beyond the captured territories of Syria and Iraq. While civil wars raged in Libya and Yemen, several Arab countries remained wracked by sectarian divisions and political uncertainty.
In Libya, the popular uprising against the regime of Col. Muammar Gadhafi has evolved into a war that could tear the country to pieces. While a civil war is raging in many parts of the country, some parts in eastern Libya have declared autonomy. Tribes in southern Libya with Tuareg or Sahara identities are looking for closer bonds with neighboring countries.
Following the overthrow of its longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen has entered a turbulent era with tribal, sectarian and provincial communities are fighting over sharing power and wealth. A federal system proposed by a UN-led national dialogue is in tatters with southern Yemen now pressing for breaking away from the north.
Lebanon which is suffering the repercussions of the war in Syria is threatened with a sectarian flare-up.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries do not look to be immune from the ripple effects of the Middle East Balkanization. With sectarian strives escalate around them, governments and large segments of the population fear that they might be next to hit by the turmoil.
All in all, the Middle East seems to be heading toward a tectonic shift which could redefine its political landscape and its century old national borders. Changes may take time but if this momentum continues there will be no Middle East which we have known so far in few years.
In many ways, the new political map and the new regional order will be a major regression and an invitation to transform the admittedly imperfect order to a jungle in which ethno and sectarian based new countries would be pitted against each other.
Western analysts and pundits tend to blame the Arab Spring to remove dictators for the turbulence. They claim that movements for regime changes, political mobility and social disturbances have kindled the long dormant identity conflicts.
Yet the conflagration set by the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 is largely responsible for today’s Middle East troubles. The American adventure in Iraq, its ten years of occupation, dismantling Iraq’s state and society, its abysmal failure of rebuilding it and now its reoccupation by its military “experts”, all of this stand behind the disaster.
If the Middle East is to be remapped, it will be a direct result of Washington’s blueprint for imperial meddling in the region. Iraq’s invasion was not only a godsend for the terrorists who have torn down the borders and established a phony Islamic caliphate, but also the catalyst for polarization which split the region on sectarian lines and now triggering its redrawing in blood and tears.
This article appeared in Al-Ahram Weekly on Dec, 25, 2014