In Focus: The Old Middle East

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CAIRO: The United States didn’t need the Pearl Harbor crisis in 1941 to break its isolation and end the state of uncertainty that prevailed in the international order throughout the first half of the twentieth century.

Neither was Soviet Russia in need of the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989 to know that it was no longer an internationally respected pole by its enemies, let alone allies. In both cases, there were harbingers paving the way for such a shift, only needing recognition.

On the other hand, the Arabs were not in need of three defeats by Israel to understand that a regional order has been consolidated by international consensus to give Tel Aviv the upper hand in determining the interactions of the region for decades to come. Thus Israel has ventured into three wars in order to establish its position as an emerging, anticipated power.

Now, many Arabs refuse to recognize that a new regional order has been consolidated over the past six years, and that what is taking place now are not just altercations dictated by temporary conditions or attempts to impose the will of one party, but rather the painful labor of this regional order that effectively puts an end to the old Middle East argument.

Everybody seems to be unaware that three wars in less than six years (2003-2009) are capable of reversing weights, re-ordering positions and roles, and blurring the rest of the features of the old regional order. In this context, it would not be surprising that emerging regional powers, such as Iran and Turkey, would seek not only to strike a balance with Israel, as traditional powers used to do, but also to replace these powers and end their regional supremacy.

Four characteristics constitute the general features of the new Middle East. First, the center of gravity in the interactions of the regional order has moved from the heart (Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq) to peripherals (Iran and Turkey), in addition to the end of the Arab-Israel balance myth.

Second, strategic shifts have occurred in the regional security system, practically reflecting the end of the the Arab regional security proposition to be replaced by bilateral security arrangements , whether between Israel and the United States, or between Israel and European countries within the NATO framework.

Third, the State-model or the State-leader pattern has spilled out from the Arab region to its regional counterpart, which is clearly reflected in the cases of Iran and Turkey, which currently represent impressive examples for the Arab street.

Fourth comes a shift in the nature of the common enemy , which virtually means the end of the collective action proposition vis-à-vis the consolidation of the policy of pivots and the divide between moderates and opponents.

It is a milestone to the end of the main features of the old Middle East when Israel was the undisputed ‘enemy .

The results of the above are bitter. Arab-Arab relations are being poisoned – the differences in vision and direction are now being portrayed as differences in interests and goals.

The Arab arena is also being inflamed to enter into a direct confrontation with Israel or indirectly with the Iran-backed Hamas and Hezbollah movements, as well as in an indirect confrontation with Iran under the pretext of blocking the Persian expansion in the area. Therefore, it is not surprising the region is witnessing, behind the scenes, a fierce conflict with its various organs in order to control the compass of the new Middle East .

Khalil Al-Anani is an Egyptian expert on political Islam and democratization in the Middle East and is a senior fellow at Al-Ahram Foundation. E-mail: [email protected].

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