Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Middle East change for the better or worse?

Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, general manager of AlArabiya TVpenned this analysis in Arabic for today’s edition of Saudi Asharq Alawsat.
 When one regime was toppled – namely, Saddam Hussein’s -- analysts parroted, “New Middle East.”
We’re now without the regimes of Hosni Mubarak, Moammar Gadhafi and Zinedine Ben Ali. Ali Saleh’s regime will most probably fade away, followed by Bashar al-Assad’s. Regimes governing more than 100 million Arabs have evaporated. The map of today’s Middle East is full of holes waiting to see who fills them and how.
Winds continue shifting the region’s sands. Turkey and Iran, yesterday’s allies, have now fallen out like never before. Syria, Libya, Hamas and Qatar used to present an active and united front at the region’s conferences and journeys. Egypt and Saudi Arabia were the region’s primary address. No summits, negotiations or alliances got a green light without Mubarak’s Egypt.
The region swings like a clock’s pendulum. It’s always hard to escape its magnet. We face a newly emerging situation. Foreign alliances, regional blocs and diplomatic, or at times military, clashes were the hallmark of the “Old Middle East.”
“We have to forget about Egypt, probably for another five years,” an Arab official told me in a conversation on how to coalesce against mounting Iranian bullying. “We have to try approaching the (Ottoman) Sublime Porte in Ankara.’
When gauging the speed of a year’s change in the Middle East, I remembered the bid in 2010 to build a four-way alliance involving Iran, Turkey, Syria and Iraq. It was akin to the (1955) Baghdad Pact but aimed against the GCC-Egypt-Jordan camp. That’s why Turkey was invited to the Arab summit in Libya. There, a proposed Arab Neighborhood Policy took aback the GCC-Egypt-Jordan group. ANP was meant to co-opt Tehran and Ankara into the Arab club, chiefly to weaken Riyadh and Cairo and boost the Iran-Syria line.
The proposal was aborted for breaching Arab League bylaws and soliciting outside parties against the Cairo-Riyadh tandem.
With the “New Middle East” still taking shape, it’s too early to determine its directions. But some sound bombs have shuffled the cards already.
The Muslim Brothers, who will set policy in Cairo for the next four years, are traditional allies of the Iranian regime, hostile to the West and opposed to peace with Israel. They signaled their readiness to change their positions. So how will the “New Cairo” deal with the three sides, i.e. Iran, the West and Israel?
In numerous statements, the Muslim Brothers and Salafists expressed their commitment to the peace treaty with Israel and a special relationship with the West. Which leaves Iran. But looming crises -- such as war with Iran, continued conflict with Israel and Iraq’s explosive situation – will unveil the true colors of the Muslim Brothers and Salafists in due time.
As for Turkey, her options to build new game plans are wide open. She has two dangerous front lines, one with Syria, the other with Iraq. She has to reconsider her old policy.
The Middle East thus looks set for a makeover – perhaps for the better or maybe not.