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[Dehai-WN] Foreignpolicyjournal.com: What Is Going on in the Middle East? A Pragmatic Point of View

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Fri, 1 Jun 2012 00:00:03 +0200

What Is Going on in the Middle East? A Pragmatic Point of View

by Suren Grigoryan and Dr. Vardan Grigoryan

May 31, 2012

oryan-Middle-East.pdf> Download this paper (PDF)


Even the most thorough writings on the Arab Spring have paid little
attention to the genuine forces behind this phenomenon and their real
purposes. Meanwhile, we strongly believe that the revelation of these
purposes, which undoubtedly exist but are unknown to the wider public, is
necessary for answering perhaps the most significant question of todays
politics: What consequences may sociopolitical explosions in North Africa
and the Middle East have in regional and global terms?

To answer the question adequately, we need to start by examining the true
causes of the uprisings in a set of Arab countries. First, the basic cause,
as pointed out in many analyses, is the extremely imperfect political
systems in the Arab states that have been formed in the postcolonial period.
These imperfect systems are characterized by growing social problems
generated by demographic situations (namely rapid population growth during
the last three decades), clan-type economies, pervasive corruption, high
rates of unemployment, patronage and nepotism, flagrant social polarization,
weak and corrupt judicial systems and rule of law in general, frequent
violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, reluctance and
inability of ruling elites to carry out necessary reforms aimed at
democratization, and so forth.

Let us suppose that the abovementioned factors stimulated social tensions in
Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria, which finally brought about the
sociopolitical revolutions in these countries. The question then arises, why
did the most conservative (if not reactionary) regimes in Saudi Arabia,
United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain avoid the same destiny? Arguably,
the most popular explanation is that the exceptionally large and
unconstrained budgets of these oil-rich monarchies allowed them to carry
out relatively more effective social policy or, as Michael Ross put it,
fiscal pacification.[1] However, this explanation is far from exhaustive
and does not withstand any constructive critique. Libyan dictator Muammar
Gaddafi was known as one who had the most consistent policy in this sense.
Under his reign, the standard of living of the average Libyan citizen was
among the highest in the region, let alone the widespread access to
education, medical services, and even considerable financial assistance to
young families.[2] Ironically, Colonel Gaddafi was precisely the one who was
savagely assassinated.

Almost everyone knows that spontaneous revolution is possible only in
Italian writer Gianni Rodaris childrens tale Il romanzo di Cipollino
(Tale of Cipollino), but the notion that the imperfect governance,
social inequality, and above all social networks played a critical role in
some of these Arab revolutions continues to dominate intellectual discourse
on the Arab Spring.

We shall argue that this is certainly not the case. Although these factors
played their part in mobilizing people in relatively short periods of time,
they were by no means critical to transforming popular grievances into open
and organized insurgencies. Dissatisfied politicians and militariesunhappy
with their rulers, authorities, countrys political course, or their own
positionas well as simply marginalized individuals are present in every
society, and especially in those without older traditions of political
culture. However, to succeed in toppling the ruling regime, these groups and
individuals need either to constitute the majority of the population (which
is impossible) or turn into an underground group, organize a conspiracy, and
remove the regime through a coup. Neither of these situations was observable
in these Arab countries either before or after the uprisings. Quite
understandable and explainable civil disturbances briefly escalated into
armed revolts and swept out ruling regimes with considerable political and
financial help from the outside. Indeed, every such revolution needs
tremendous financial resources. One would hardly disagree that organizing
and arming an insurgency with appropriate propaganda support in a relatively
short period of time costs big money.

According to one of the most popular interpretations, the United States and
leading European powers (increasingly the West) were the financiers and
organizers of the Arab revolts. According to this line of thought, by using
its whole arsenal of political and information technologies, the West has
changed regimes in a set of Arab countries in order to strengthen its
influence in the Middle East and take regional energy resources and
transportation routes under its direct control.[3] Proponents of this
version of events provide both direct and indirect evidence in support of
their viewpoint. For example, the training of professional Internet bloggers
to mobilize the capabilities of virtual space for organizing mass protests
is indirect evidence, whereas NATOs military strike on Gaddafis army is
direct evidence. However, what proponents of this interpretation most
frequently cite as underpinning their arguments is an initiative by
then-U.S. President George W. Bush known as the Greater Middle East. (We
will talk about this initiative a bit later.) It is worth noting in the
meantime that the legitimacy of this interpretation that insists on the
Wests hand behind the Arab revolts is highly questionable. First of all,
because it oversimplifies the situation in the Middle East and ignores
numerous controversial facts related to the formation of new geopolitical
configurations in the region. However, before examining this line of thought
thoroughly we need to address the aforementioned American strategic
initiative, the Greater Middle East.

The Greater Middle East initiative (or project) was primarily related to the
oldest and highly problematic political issue of the contemporary worldthe
Arab-Israeli conflictand was aimed at finding solutions to this problem
acceptable to both parties. Secondly, although the initiative is very
recent, it belongs to an epoch of the United States absolute domination in
the world economy and finances, as well as in ideological, military, and
other spheres, which is nearly over. In other words, the initiative was
suggested in the times of the unipolar world, which gave rise to the
phenomenon of American messianism. In contrast to previous messianic
(and in effect imperial) theories, it was confined to the advancement of
democracy. Thus, the Greater Middle East initiative was also aimed at
modernization and democratization of the Arab world by involving political,
economic, financial, scientific, military, and other elites of some Arab
countries in world processes. It was speculated that such involvement would
perhaps stimulate radical sociopolitical reforms, desperately needed for
resolving growing internal tensions and for creating appropriate conditions
for development in these societies.

Indeed, discounting several palace coups that did not really change
anything, Arab societies have been full of increasing contradictions since
the early 1950s. They constituted (and continue to constitute) in effect a
strange mosaic, where medieval thinking is combined with an overall desire
to exploit the achievements of contemporary civilization. All this has been
based on the strong belief in the infallibility and rightness of Islamic
dogma. Apparently, this has prompted Americans and others to conclude that
the sophisticated mosaic will inevitably crumble. Moreover, such collapse
will cause serious and at times bloody shocks, especially in those parts of
the Arab world where ruling elites will try to resist the process. Hence,
the West reportedly decided to organize inevitable sociopolitical explosions
in the Arab world in order to guide the revolutionary energy toward
modernization and democratization.

Thus, the interpretation insisting on the Wests critical role in
organizing revolutions in Arab countries stretching from Libya to Syria may
be divided into two lines of arguments. The first line puts the Wests
geopolitical and geoeconomic interests at the center of explanation, while
the second line attributes the organization of uprisings to the Wests
desire to modernize and democratize the regional states. Both lines of
arguments are highly questionable.

As we mentioned earlier, proponents of the first line of argument suggest
that the Arab Spring was basically aimed at:

* Changing regimes disloyal to the United States and leading European
powers in order to strengthen the Wests influence in this strategically
important region, and
* Putting energy production and its transit in the North Africa and
the Middle East regions under the Wests control by creating loyal and, in
fact, puppet regimes.

This interpretation sounds plausible from a geopolitical point of view.
However, the implementation of the suggested plan leaves many points
unclear. Indeed, regime change in Libya and Syria might well be considered
desirable in Washington and some European capitals. Tripoli and Damascus
were trying to play independent roles in the region and were therefore
consistently resisting all Western initiatives. In the case of Libya, the
situation was even worse. Colonel Gaddafi often carried out openly
confrontational policies regarding his Western friends. However, under
this scenario, it is even harder to explain, and even more so to justify,
the regime changes in Tunisia and Egypt, which were extremely loyal to the
West. In the case of Egypt, things appear yet more unclear. From the 1970s
on, Cairo was obviously playing a stabilizing role in the Middle East.
Further, it consistently stood as a guarantor of all-Arabian nonalignment
against Israel. On the other hand, attempts to explain the Egyptian and
Tunisian revolutions as struggles for energy resources led to a dead end.
Egypts energy resources are very limited, while Tunisian oil and gas
scarcely cover that countrys own domestic needs. In contrast, there is
plenty of crude and natural gas in Algeria, where roughly ten years ago we
were witnessing a genuine civil war. And it is worth remembering that the
methods the Algerian government used against armed but civil rebels and in
suppressing popular protests were much bloodier and ruthless than those we
have seen in Syria and even Libya. However, the West then did not even think
about interfering in Algerian domestic issues, let alone consider military
intervention. At the same time, Western policymakers enthusiastically agreed
with the claim of Algerian authorities that they were fighting Islamic
extremism. Although todays Syrian government is making the same claim, the
Wests reaction is diametrically the opposite. However, it is worth
mentioning that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently
acknowledged that if the West finance and arm Syrian opposition forces, it
will most possibly strengthen Al-Qaeda, which is behind this opposition.[4]

As for the second line of argument, it urges us to ask the question, if the
West has financed and organized the recent Arab revolts in order to
modernize and democratize the Middle East, why then did it not start with
Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Oman; namely, with genuinely
medieval and, all the more, hereditary Oriental despotisms that possess
roughly half of the worlds discovered energy reserves? If the reason is
these countries pledges to reform their political systems, modernize
social life, and stay loyal to the West indefinitely, that is out of the
realm of Realpolitik and thus cannot be considered a satisfactory
answer. Rather, the oil monarchs made an offer the West could not refuse,
specifically to reshape the entire Arab world in its image and likeness; in
other words, to make it politically loyal, trouble-free in economic and
financial terms, and, most importantly, religiously autonomous, especially
from Iran and its bid for religious domination in the Islamic world.

The last point explains a lot in terms of the Wests readiness to accept
the inevitable ascendance of orthodox Islamic movements and organizations to
power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and possibly Syria. One may assume
that once the Islamists come to power in these countries, their
transformation into fundamentalist regimes that stifle every sign of
democracy and civil freedoms will be inevitable. However, that hardly
bothers Western policymakers. What is genuinely important to the West is
that the process will result in the division of the Islamic world into at
least two antagonistic camps: pro-Western, led by Saudis and other regional
monarchies, and anti-Western, where Iran will stand as a dominant power.

Thus, having at one extreme theocratic Iran, capable of forging a new
coalition of fundamental forces and movements, and at the other Saudi
Arabia, successfully preaching its own version of orthodox Islam
(Wahhabism), we may soon observe a serious crisis of orthodox Islam.

In sum, the situation is exactly opposite to that suggested by proponents of
the clash of civilizations concept. In the not-distant past, the latter
were bullying the world with their premise that the Wests policy in the
Middle East was aimed at consolidating the Islamic world in order to turn it
into a real and dangerous opponent to Western civilization (in Samuel
Huntingtons term). Without such confrontation, which must stimulate
revision of religious tolerance, the chimera of multiculturalism, liberal
migration policy, and adoption of tough mobilization models of economic and
financial development, Western civilization will not be able to cope
with increasing economic crises and moral, spiritual, and cultural
degradation, and it will soon fall.[5]

However, it is worth reiterating that by coordinating and encouraging
changes of secular regimes in a set of Arab countries, the West is by no
means consolidating but rather splitting up the Islamic world. As for Saudi
Arabia, it has assumed the role of general financier in this
political-military game. Riyadh is lobbying this process in international
organizations from the United Nations to the Arab League, hiring and arming
opponents to the secular regimes in the Arab states, organizing and
coordinating vast propaganda campaigns in the world mass media, and so

Undoubtedly, Riyadh is pursuing its own agenda in this political
undertaking. As we noted earlier, one of its basic purposes is to impede
Irans bid for spiritual leadership in the Islamic world. Another not less
important purpose is an aspiration to revive an all-Arabian national idea
with apparently far-reaching plans of becoming the leader of the Arab world.
Indeed, the weakness of the all-Arabian national idea is among the reasons
of disunity in the Arab world. Instead, what today uniting roughly 400
million Arabs in more than a dozen countries between the Atlantic and Indian
Oceans is the hatred of Israel.

So how long will this process continue? While the interests of the West and
the Saudi monarchs coincide, and while their plans regarding Middle Eastern
geopolitics are being fulfilled without contradicting one another. What is
crystal clear is that in the foreseeable future, we will witness substantial
changes in the geopolitical situation of the Middle East. And it is hardly
plausible that these changes will be acceptable to all regional actors,
including the architects of the Arab Spring. We address these issues in the
second part of our pragmatic point of view.


The first part of our article was aimed at revealing the actual organizers
and sponsors of the Arab revolutions and the goals they pursued. The
analysis of the events in North Africa and the Middle East provides us
enough ground to suppose that the Arab Spring was organized with direct
involvement of Persian Gulf monarchies and with the approval of the Western
powers. This initiative was aimed at:

* Division of the Islamic world into at least two antagonistic camps,
which would impede the formation of a somewhat anti-Western
political-religious union, and
* Revival of an all-Arabian national idea with far-reaching
geopolitical goals.

In the second part of our work, we will mostly focus on the question: What
consequences may the social, political, and other processes in the Arab East
have in regional and perhaps global terms, and how will these consequences
influence the states of the Greater Middle East and the whole Islamic
Crescent stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Wall of China?
Let us start with the most apparent developments.

Arab Countries

The countries of Libya, Yemen, Iraq, and possibly Syria will be actively
splitting for the foreseeable future. The Libyan oil-rich province of
Cyrenacia has already declared its autonomy from the central government and
has started demarking new territorial boundaries with barbed wire.[6] A
similar secessionist movement was sparked recently in the south of the
country.[7] Yemen has failed to become a unified state. Its expected
division into North Yemen and South Yemen currently seems unreal, and it
will probably split into more than two de facto independent entities. Iraq
has practically divided into three parts and maintains the status of a
unitary state only in diplomatic documents. Egypt, according to many
analysts, has all the preconditions for splitting into more than two
separate entities.[8] The same sources suggest that the Egyptian armys
refusal to accept such a perspective was the central reason that prompted it
to assume power in this country for an interim period.

However, the above-mentioned transformations do not bother the genuine
initiators and financiers of these processes, which, according to widespread
opinion, are Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich monarchies of the Persian Gulf.
[9] Moreover, splitting the Arab states is exactly what these countries were
striving to achieve because of the obvious benefits they can derive from it.
The benefits are primarily political (or geopolitical) and in part economic.
The disintegration of regional countries and the formation of smaller
entities will make the latter much more susceptible to external political
influence and therefore will ease the task of reviving the all-Arabian
national idea. So too it is with oil. Influencing the oil policy of smaller
and consequently weaker political entities will require lesser diplomatic
and political efforts. It is also worth mentioning that the oil-rich
monarchies can derive huge benefit in terms of regional domination and
participation in large-scale geopolitical projects and maneuvers. We will
discuss the Saudis and their satellites benefits more thoroughly
throughout this work. Meanwhile, it is more important to pay attention to
what may hinder the plans of those who are projecting to redraw the spheres
of influence in the region and possibly the map of the Greater Middle East.
The first and foremost of these is Iraq.


As we have mentioned earlier, the division of this country into three parts
is gaining momentum. As a result, the possibility of new states emerging in
southern, central, and northern Iraq is becoming more and more realistic.
Northern Iraqpopulated predominantly by Kurdsneeds to be examined in
connection with the larger and multifaceted Kurdish problem. For this
reason, we left this issue for the latter part of our work. Yet, it is more
important currently to focus on southern Iraq. The developments around this
part of the country (richer with hydrocarbons) may influence regional
geopolitics greatly. Although this area is populated mainly by Arabs, they
are Shiites and recognize Tehran as their spiritual (religious) center.
Hence, one may infer that if a new state emerges in the south of Iraq, it
will most likely be oriented toward Iran politically and thus may be
influenced by Tehran significantly, or even fall under the latters
control. It is worth reiterating that such a perspective is not unrealistic
given the weakness of the Iraqi central government and above all the fact
that religious identity prevails over ethnic identity in this region.
Moreover, Iraqi Shiites have not forgotten the oppression and persecution
they were exposed to by Sunni Arabs under Saddams reign.

This is a worrisome issue for the Persian Gulf monarchies. Needless to say,
the emergence of an oil-rich, pro-Iranian state in the south of Iraq will
significantly change the regional balance of forces in Tehrans favor.
Hence, the Gulf monarchies cannot underestimate this imminent threat when
waging their regional initiatives, nor can this factor be underestimated by
Iran. Tehran well understands the power of this trump card in projecting its
regional policy.


Although it sounds paradoxical, Iran may find itself in a winning position
as a result of the Arab Spring. First of all, one of Tehrans regional
archrivals, Egypt, was considerably weakened without much effort by Iran.
Despite being a secular state, Egypt had claimed the position of spiritual
leader in the Middle East and was promoting its claims by significant
financial expenditures aimed at religious education in neighboring states
and even in the post-Soviet space.[10] Moreover, Cairo was effectively
resisting the attempts of Arab states to build up an anti-Israeli
political-military coalition. Using its large and well-equipped army and
strong secret service, Egypt was checking the activities of Islamic radicals
and extremists, including the Saudi Wahhabites and the Iran-sponsored
military-religious organizations.

The Arab Spring democratic revolutions swept out the regimes that were
resisting Irans bid for spiritual hegemony and ended up giving way to
Irans greater influence in the region. Today, Tehrans anti-Western,
anti-American, and especially anti-Israeli rhetoric, maintained in the
background of the extensive Islamization of Arab countries, will strengthen
Irans position in the Greater Middle East. At the same time, it should be
noted that the eastward spiritual expansiontoward Afghanistan and
Pakistanmay hardly be reckoned by Iran as a promising one. There has been
no direct evidence indicating Irans support to the Taliban during the last
thirty years, particularly while Afghans were fighting against the Soviet
invasion and currently with NATO. Such a position by Tehran can be explained
by some geopolitical implications, particularly Irans reluctance to enter
into conflict with China and India, which will be inevitable if Iran tries
to activate pan-Islamic ideas near the borders of the great powers.
(Although Pakistan employs the religious factor in its regional policy, too,
it appears to be a supportive instrument in Islamabads half-century
quarrel against India over the Kashmir province.)

The Middle East, however, is another story. Iran seems to be lacking
competition here in terms of advancing its influence and projecting
geopolitical maneuvers. Moreover, the circumstances stated below are also
playing into Irans hands:

* Arabs have no experience in using a national idea as a means for
consolidation, and
* Persian Gulf monarchies and, most of all, Saudi Arabia will hardly
be able to claim leadership of the Arab world due to their pro-Western
political orientation.

Indeed, for the last six decades, these monarchies were protecting economic
and geopolitical interests of the Western powers rather than that of Arabs,
whereas the anti-Israeli rhetoric of Iran has struck a chord with the
majority of the population in Arab countries.

The question then arises, is it possible that such predictable consequences
of the Arab Spring were not calculated in advance? This is practically ruled
out! However, this seemingly superficial answer generates another more
difficult question, namely, why have the organizers of the Arab Spring
aimed at splitting the Islamic world and weakening Irans influence on it
gotten the diametrically opposite result? Here we enter the domain of the
forecasts that in our opinion perfectly match the logic of regional as well
as global politics.

Iran vs. Egypt or Iran with Egypt?

While there is little doubt that Iran will lead the anti-Western camp of the
dividing Islamic world, the possible leader of the opposite (pro-Western)
camp may hardly be identified with the same confidence. Until recently,
Egypt was recognized as potentially the most appropriate country for this
role. In contrast to Saudi Arabia, Egypt has both the aspiration and
capability to lead the Arabs consolidation process based on the revival of
the all-Arabian national idea. The revolution in this country has just
temporarily slowed the strengthening of Cairos regional position. However,
the Egyptian uprising by no means made the idea unpromising or its
implementation undesirable. In other words, Egypt has not given up its claim
to regional leadership and will hardy do so in the foreseeable future, which
is crystal clear to the Iranian political elite.

The struggle between Iran and Egypt for dominance in the Islamic world dates
back to 1979 and continues today, despite gestures of goodwill from both
sides. (These gestures are represented in particular by Cairos permission
to Iranian warships to pass through the Suez Canal and the visit of 50
Egyptian social, cultural, and religious figures to Tehran.)[11] All these
happened after the deposing of Hosni Mubarak, which shows that Egypt
continues to be perceived in Iran as potentially the most influential
regional force. Iranians rightly suppose that the future balance of forces
in the Greater Middle East will be determined mainly by their relations with
Egypt. However, their general concern is whether Egypt will remain in the
Wests orbit of geopolitical influence or? It cannot be ruled out that
Cairo may come to terms with Tehran, which would result in Egypt turning its
back on the West, rejecting the latters economic aid and getting Irans
approval (and possibly support) to take the energy resources of the southern
shore of the Persian Gulf under its direct control. In addition to crushing
the established geopolitical schemes in the region, such a deal would
literally destroy the Gulf monarchies.

One may fairly argue that such an agreement between Tehran and Cairo is
unrealistic. Even if the agreement were achieved, the logic of regional
geopolitics dictates that it would not herald any durable union between the
two countries. However, we should not underestimate the probability of this
scenario. Cairo has clearly identified those who prominently wish it ill and
will hardly forgive the numerous oil-rich kings, emirs, and sheikhs who
financed Egyptian, Tunisian, Libyan, and Syrian uprisings. Above all, in
post-Mubarak Egypt, rapprochement with Iran may well be considered a
powerful trump card, over Riyadh first of all and also others for whom the
idea of an Iranian-Egyptian union is equal to catastrophe.

Saudi rulers currently understand that by weakening Egypt, they have just
played into the hands of Iran (perhaps even against their will) and have won
nothing in return. By virtue of the factors noted earlier, they have found
themselves unable to lead the process of all-Arabian consolidation and thus
have gotten uncompromising enemies in Egypt and Syria. Moreover, the Arab
revolutions have prepared a fertile ground for another regional power to
renew its claims to once-held leadership in the Islamic world.


Recapturing the leadership in the Islamic world has been the goal of the
entirety of Turkish foreign policy in the last three years. We covered this
issue several months ago (see Suren Grigoryan, Dr. Vardan Grigoryan, The
Neo-Turkish Gambit, Foreign Policy Journal, October 26, 2011)[12] and here
just want to emphasize the most important aspects of Turkish foreign policy.
In particular, these are:

* Strengthening anti-Western rhetoric in Turkish mass media and among
Turkish officials, which is due at first glance to the issue of Turkeys
membership in the European Union but has, in fact, deeper roots;
* Dramatic deterioration of Turkeys relations with Israel; the
previous mutual understanding of and cooperative approach toward major
regional issues has been superseded by deepening confrontation that is
reaching animosity;
* Crushing of the armys leadership, which traditionally stood as a
guarantor of the secular principles of this state;
* Political and material assistance to the Islamic movements in the
Arab countries;
* Rapprochement with Iran upon a set of regional problems and even
readiness to undertake the mediator role between Tehran and the West in
solving the Iranian nuclear issue.

All these points indicate Turkeys aspiration to participate in the
already-commenced re-division of the Greater Middle East and to find a new
geopolitical niche. However, on the way to realizing its ambitions, Turkey
will inevitably clash head-on with Iran and Egypt equally. Earlier in this
work, we argued that there is a plan to split up the Islamic world into at
least two antagonistic camps. However, Turkeys renewed bid for regional
leadership indicates that the Middle Eastern geopolitics will be dominated
soon by three competing power centers.

Will this competition escalate to conflict, and the conflict to immediate
military action between the competitors? This is quite possible. It is worth
remembering that history witnessed such a precedent merely three decades ago
when a similar struggle for geopolitical domination in the region between
Iran and Iraq escalated into a large-scale war. Both parties of the conflict
then spent the considerable part of their exchange reserves, lost roughly a
half-million people each, and were compelled to abandon their geopolitical
ambitions for a long time. If a similar collision starts today, the
situation will be the same: numerous human losses and tremendous financial
expenditures, and, again, none of them will become a regional (let alone
Islamic) leader.


The only state that may find itself in a winning position in this situation
is Israel, whose most dangerous opponents will weaken each other. Even
though Ankara, Cairo, and Tehran refrain from the application of force
against each other, the immanent tension between themmanifested mainly by
blocking each others political initiatives in the regionwill sideline
Israeli issue from the top priorities of their geopolitical agendas.

However, Israel can still damage its promising position by an inexpedient
military strike on Irans nuclear installations in hope of pulling the
Western powers into the war such an action would unleash. But the
persistence with which President Barack Obama has been trying to convince
the leader of the Jewish state to back away from such a move indicates that
the West is reluctant to sacrifice its own interests for Israels.

As for the Arab uprisings, Israels position in this regard is quite
cautious. During all of 2011, Jerusalem officially refrained from sounding
its opinion on the Arab revolutions. This was apparently due to the thorough
understanding of the destructive consequences the process might entail. As
the destabilization of Egypt has strengthened Iran, the fall of the ruling
regime in Syria will bring about political chaos near Israels borders.
Moreover, it may strengthen Turkeys influence over Syria and even result
in a Turkish military presence in that countrymaintained certainly under
the pretext of struggling against Kurdish separatists.

The Kurdish Issue

This is perhaps the most important and acute problem of the contemporary
Middle East. Kurds are indigenous people in these areas (in contrast to
Turks, for example) and live compactly in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey,
where their population reaches twenty million. The Kurds claims for (at
least) autonomy remain unanswered in all these countries except perhaps in
Iraq, where a sort of semi-official autonomy was received as a result of
external (particularly Western) pressure on destroyed Baghdad. It is worth
mentioning, however, that Iraqs Kurds are in fact beyond Baghdads
control. It is perhaps for this reason that Iraqi authorities have no
objection to frequent Turkish military intrusions into Iraqs territory
when pursuing Kurdish fighters.

In effect, neither the international community nor regional states are
enthusiastic about opposing the Kurds oppressions. Hence, it is not
difficult to see that the emergence of a new and particularly unruly state
is not desirable for either regional countries (which will be forced to cede
part of their territories to Kurdistan) or the international community.
However, such a possibility is very real. If the re-division of the Middle
East gains momentum, Kurds will inevitably create autonomous areas in Syria,
Iran, and Turkey (as they did in Iraq). The creation of autonomous areas
leading to their unification into an independent state is just one step.
Meanwhile, without any traditions of statecraft, a Kurdish state can turn
into an uncontrolled and even unpredictable force in the Middle East (with a
population exceeding roughly thirty million people). Given such unpromising
prospects for the international community, it is hardly plausible that the
latters support to Iraqi Kurds in the creation of autonomy had
far-reaching goals of establishing a Free Kurdistan as some analysts
suggest.[13] Any support, rather, was aimed at solving a concrete tactical
issue: a complete weakening of Iraq and possibly its partition. Does this
mean that the international community is not yet ready to place strategic
importance on solving the Kurdish issue? It seems so.


Likewise, the international community currently is trying to solve similar
tactical issues in Syria, though it hardly wants to see this country
partitioned. Weakening Syrias ruling regime, isolating it, restraining its
ability for independent decision-making and therefore carrying out ones
own policy in the regionall this is quite desirable for major political
actors in the Middle East and the global powers behind them. But this is all
they want. Otherwise, the complete destruction of Syria and its partition
would give greater leeway for Turkeys geopolitical maneuvers, which is
premature and unconstructive, as Ankara has not determined its geopolitical
orientation in the Middle East. In other words, Turkey has not yet decided
if it will remain the Wests strategic partner and therefore oppose Iran
seriously or if, as it declares, it will carry out an independent policy
aimed at regional leadership. The second option would undoubtedly put Arabs
on alert, primarily those in Riyadh and Cairo. They want to weaken Syria and
make it their satellite in the unfolding big regional game, but by no
means at the expense of strengthening Turkey.

As the Syrian regime demonstrates steadiness and more importantly a resolve
to struggle for the countrys unity, the material and financial support
reportedly provided by Saudi Arabia to Syrian opposition will shrink. Hence,
Turkey may soon be left alone in doing the dirty work of adding fuel to
the fire of the Syrian uprising, which may pit Ankara against the rest of
the Arab world.

Even the Western powers have abandoned the idea of active assistance to the
Syrian revolution, let alone consideration of overthrowing Bashar al-Assad
s regime through military intervention. In effect, with Syria, the Wests
protest has been confined to diplomatic dmarches (recalling ambassadors
from Damask). The assumption that this might be the result of Russias and
Chinas positions on Syrian issue is implausible. (Neither Moscows nor
Beijings nor anyone elses objection shook Washingtons determination to
attack Iraq in March 2003.) Rather, Western policymakers well understand
that further weakening Arab states will strengthen Turks and Iranians. This
would not only create a growing geopolitical disparity in the Middle East
that may seriously undermine the regions fragile stability, but it could
reduce the Western influence over the region significantly. It is perhaps
for this reason that the West is currently trying to restore equilibrium
between the major powers in the Middle East. If anything, the United States
has recently resumed $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt.[14]

Russias and Chinas Positions

The final point we would like to touch on is Russias and in part Chinas
position in Middle Eastern affairs. It would be incorrect to suppose that
Russia vetoed the UN Security Council resolution on Syria because Moscow
wants to get its debt repaid for arms supplies. Kremlin policymakers well
understand that Damascus will hardly ever pay this debt, as it has not paid
Egypt, Iraq, and Libya for similar arms supplies. Russias position is
rather demonstrative and expresses its solidarity with the Chinese. Both
Moscow and Beijing are striving to demonstrate their resolve and readiness
to oppose the color revolutions in the zones of their traditional
influence, not to mention their own states. This is extremely important for
China given the problems with Tibet and the provinces with Muslim
populations (namely perpetual separatist tendencies in these areas). So too
is the case for Russia, whichalong with numerous domestic problems
(including the permanently insurgent North Caucasus)needs to prevent
socio-political explosions in the whole post-Soviet space. However, the
greatest source of concern for the Russians in this connection is
post-Soviet Central Asia. If the Arab-Spring-style revolutions spill over to
the Central Asian states, Russian ideologues and politicians argue, Russia
will have a number of hostile Islamic states at its southern borders, which
are practically unprotected.

However, let us return to the Middle East. It will definitely take much
time, if it will ever happen, to unravel the tangle of problems there. This
gives rise to perhaps the most important question of our work: are the
ongoing processes in the Middle East genuinely aimed at maintaining
permanent tension and stimulating insoluble problems in the region? We do
not have an answer to this question yet. Perhaps we will after some time.
However, history suggests that relative stability in the Middle East has
been achieved solely under the rule of empires, be they Persian, Roman,
Arab, Ottoman, or British.


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