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Where Is the Middle East Headed?


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Efraim Inbar
Israel Hayom
August 24, 2017


Since the Middle East events of 2011 (mislabeled "the Arab Spring"), the region has been in turmoil. The inability of the Arab statist structures to overcome domestic cleavages became very clear. Even before 2011, Lebanon, Iraq, Somalia, as well as the Palestinian Authority failed to hold together. After 2011, Syria and Yemen descended into a state of civil war. Similarly, Egypt underwent a political crisis, allowing for the emergence of an Islamist regime. It took a year for a military coup to restore the praetorian ancient regime. All Arab republican regimes were under stress. While the monarchies weathered the political storm, their future stability is not guaranteed.

Growing Islamist influence put additional pressure on the Arab states. The quick rise of the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq was the most dramatic expression of this phenomenon that spread beyond the borders of the Middle East. Despite its expected military defeat, the ideology behind the establishment of an Islamic caliphate and variants of radical Islam remain resonant in many Muslim quarters. Therefore, the pockets containing ISIS and al-Qaida followers, as well as the stronger Muslim Brotherhood are likely to continue to challenge peace and stability in the Middle East and elsewhere.





Yet extra-regional powers can hardly change the political dynamics in the region. The regional forces are usually decisive in determining political outcomes. Moreover, Middle East history provides many examples of external actors being manipulated by regional powers for their own schemes.

Adopting such a perspective on outsiders, and in view of the deep crisis in the Arab world, it stands to reason that the relations between Iran and Turkey will be a key factor in designing the future trends in the region. They are the two largest powers and they are both ambitious and capable enough to play a serious role. Despite the historical rivalry and the dividing Shiite-Sunni religious identity that could lead to competition, it seems that they are cooperating. Turkey and Iran have discussed possible joint military action against Kurdish militant groups. Both are siding with Qatar. Both are using Islamic motifs and anti-Israel positions to win hearts in the Arab world. We may well see an Iranian-Turkish duumvirate in the Middle East, but the statist interests and the different interpretation of Islam could push the two former empires into an adversarial relationship.

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