Many academic scholars prior to the outbreak of the Arab Spring questioned if there was a “democratic transition” at all. They assumed that these “survivalist” regimes were in a static state and would continue for as long as their political conditions remained the same. This made the region predictable and much simpler than it is now.
The Arab Spring has opened up a huge set of new paradigms for exploration by the west, great powers or countries aspiring for greater power. While things under authoritarianism were much more predictable than now; social forces, economic factors, and political settings are extremely dynamic and intertwined, creating new conditions.
Borders have opened up and new relations in the region are being created. All the major publications of academia on the Middle East are currently outdated. Simply, the events are creating turning points and major shifts.
These important changes in the region are coming as the US and EU are already troubled. Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece are having a difficult time with their economies. The US is also facing huge internal challenges as public opinion is wary of militant external intervention and specifically, the war in Afghanistan.
While Iran has been able to extend its influence over Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon in the past; today it is losing Syria and possibly in the distant future Lebanon as well. Iran has expansionist interests in the region and rightfully sees itself as a civilization with a role to play.
However, even as Iranian influence is being rolled back it will still be a power that must be considered. The west still has its interests in the region and American military bases continue to have a large presence in the Gulf, which has its own internal challenges.
The US and the west obviously do not wish Syria to spin out of their control like Egypt. Thus, the efforts in Syria are largely to re-introduce an elite sympathetic to the west, which been in exile for decades. This helps placate western interests while playing along with the “international community,” which Noam Chomsky once referred to as “the US and everyone else who agrees with it.” While France was quick to recognize the Syrian opposition, closely followed by the UK, the rest are still wary and are observing from a distance.
France has its own reasons to support Qatari intervention, perhaps based on mutual economic interests and a less Eurocentric, newly elected president. However, the Syrian opposition does not guarantee western interests, especially when revolutionaries in Aleppo are overwhelmingly Islamist and have already rejected the expatriate opposition.
Iran, along with support from Russia and China, is having less of a say over the political leadership in the country. There are also a rumour that Bashar Al-Assad has been killed and another that he fled to Moscow.
Iraq has witnessed a US-Iranian understanding over their mutual interests in that country. The US has largely left Iraq to Iranian influence, despite all the violence and turmoil that is ongoing in the country.
The Turks also retain moderate influence over Iraq’s northern Kurdish areas. Nothing is yet clear about Syria, but as global and regional stake holders are watching from the sidelines, the revolutionaries are pushing for their own reality on the ground.
New powers are coming into perspective. Egypt and Turkey are creating a stronger third dimension to the region, which is shifting powers and creating a new reality. Turkey is increasing the pace of its Islamic revival; like removing bans on the hijab in school and later the niqab, as well as other moves that are annoying the old secular vanguard. Egypt has shifted away from its old authoritarian path and is addressing its internal challenges, which before the revolution were dealt with in a cosmetic manner.
Egypt and Turkey have signed 27 agreements and may have begun coordinating intelligence as the Egyptian intelligence chief recently visited Turkey in a formal mission.
This is despite Turkey’s commitments to the west and Egyptian commitments to peace with Israel. Yet Turkey is still propping up Hamas, which the US’s main ally, Israel, detests. Egypt and Iran are trying to smooth things out between themselves despite their conflicting goals in the region. While Egypt and Turkey are at odds with Iran, they do not support Israeli/American military aggression against it.
The Middle East has become much more intertwined and no major push comes without a significant reply by other powers. More than ever, diplomacy and patience should pave the way for a more stable region.