English Pages, 27. 6. 2014
The current increase of international tension is also reflected in the dramatically changing situation of the Arab countries, the fusion and interconnection of individual crises in the Near and Middle East.
The unexpected offensive of the Sunni militias of the radical movement of ISIL (the Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant) that already controls an important part of northern and central Iraq including the second largest city of Mosul has drawn the world's attention. The unclear background of this new-born force leads us to believe that the reformatting of the region's political powers has progressed into the next phase.
The first phase was the „Arab Spring“, a chain of revolts against authoritarian rulers, mostly long standing former allies of the West, loyal supporters in its war on islamic terrorism. The West has thrown these loyal allies overboard, welcoming the Arab Spring as an expression of the world's allegedly unstoppable progression towards liberal pro-western democracy, and started cooperating with mostly underground islamic movements that have become the main force of the victorious opposition.
In countries where the opposition failed to score an easy victory, Western powers either launched a direct military intervention as in Libya, or worked through their traditional allies in the oil monarchies of the Arab peninsula, supporting in this way the respective anti-government uprisings (Syria). The result of it all is the political and economic upheaval and chaos that we see throughout the region. The West's original propaganda calling this process a spontaneous spreading of democracy and human rights quickly vanished, as soon as the advancing radical islamic movements started the implementation of their concrete political actions. Local communities in countries engulfed by the Arab Spring found themselves on the verge of a cold, or even open, hot and bloody civil war that we see in Syria for example.
Following the Muslim Brotherhood's victory in Egypt's parliamentary and presidential elections, the local elites have been trying to stop these malignant developments with a military coup and the reintroduction of military dictatorship. Tunisia is in a state of fragile ceasefire, while Libya, Yemen and Syria have joined the ranks of Iraq and Somalia, disintegrated states turning into conglomerates of divided tribal elites waging religious wars on one another.
Current developments in religiously and ethnically colorful Syria pose an exceptional danger. This conflict between Assad's regime and the various Sunni movements links the conflicts born out of the Arab Spring with the old Arab-Israeli conflict in the Near East, the conflict in Iraq, and the thousand years old Sunni/Shia rivalry of the Muslim world. This brings into play the developments in Lebanon and Israel on one hand, and the political ambitions of Iran competing for influence with Saudi Arabia and Turkey on the other. These developments also overlap into other sources of conflict and tension – namely the hopeless Afghanistan that will see the withdrawal of American troops soon, Pakistan and Central Asia, with possible aftershocks in Ukraine and the Balkans as well as Sub-Saharan Africa.
However, these are mere local players in a local field. Above it all, as always, we see the conflicting moves and interests of the big powers, the United States, the EU, Russia and China. The result is a complicated and non-transparent game full of bloody clashes, intrigue, and changing alliances among individual powers.
The success of the above mentioned ISIL offensive of Sunni radicals (who have been fighting Assad in Syria so far) against the US-imposed Shia government in Iraq, is a good example of such surprising moves and changes on the Near East chessboard. The running speculation is that this can give birth to an alliance of former archenemies of the United States and Iran who have been jointly fighting Sunni extremism in Iraq, but the motive in the background could conversely also be the linking of the Iraqi and Syrian crises and the beginning of a new round of resistance of the West and the western-supported Sunni islamists, against the spreading influence of Iran in the Near East etc. There is a number of similar possible speculations and scenarios.
One thing is certain, though. The Arab world, the Near East and other neighboring regions are in the middle of a long crisis with no easy solution in sight. Today, the Arab world, inspired by Europe a hundred years ago to dream about its unity, is fatally diveded again. Its geography will – it seems – be redrawn according to religious rather than ethnic criteria. It seems that the borders of the Near East, as defined by the Sykes-Picot Agreeement between the governments of United Kingdom and France almost a century ago, have no chance of survival. It is impossible to foresee the outcome of the violent confessional division of Iraq and Syria, the birth of the Kurdish state and an open rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. One thing is certain – the Near East will remain a keg of gunpowder and the Arab-Israeli conflict will not be the most explosive kind.
Jiří Weigl, executive director of the Václav Klaus Institute
This article was first published in Czech on June 27, 2014 by the tablet weekly Dotyk.
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