A hundred years after Sykes-Pickot agreement between Britain and France that crafted the current Middle East map, a new one seems to be in the making. However, unlike the previous attempt, this time there is no one power that is fully in control and more important the new push is not completely driven from the outside. Rather various forces within the region are playing a role and trying their best to influence the outcome.
In a noticeable move US President Donald Trump opted to make his first trip abroad to Saudi Arabia, where he attended three summits with the Saudis, its Gulf fellows and an Arab, Islamic one, where 55 leaders were hosted in Riyadh. The outcome was the Riyadh Declaration of the Arab, Islamic and American summit that could be seen as a step in the direction of establishing a new Middle East. Though that declaration raises more questions than providing answers, but already it has started to have its impact on the general set up and policies applied in the region.
The gist of it is the changing of the narrative that now centers on combating terrorism, fighting ISIS, or Daesh, and standing up to the Iranian expansionist and destabilizing activities. The Riyadh Declaration went as far as setting up a 34,000-man strong Islamic “NATO” as it is being dubbed.
This is a significant development setting up a new alliance that could easily be seen as a reaction to other alliance being created by Iran. In fact Tehran went step further bragging that it has already controlled the decision making in four Arab capitals: Baghdad, Damascus, Lebanon and Sanaa.
In the words of Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman Iran is pursuing an ideological agenda that works towards an end game of controlling the region along its own version of Islamic indoctrination, which leaves no room for any pragmatic approach and co-existence that usually govern relations between states.
This approach takes the tensions in the region to new heights as it becomes an existential one and the defining line will be from now on: are you with us or against us regardless of geography or some real politics calculations. Against this background and this new criteria the latest flare-up between Qatar and its fellow Gulf states could be understood. That Qatar needs to toe the line against Iran.
To what extent such approach will be successful, or whether alliances being created out of different countries with their different agendas and priorities can hold and more important to what extent the Trump administration will stick to this new narrative, all remains to be seen.
One of the main perplexing question marks relates to the future of Iraq. Ironically both Washington and Tehran have been working hand in hand in Iraq to fight ISIS. In fact it was Washington, who under both Obama and Bush administrations have paved the way for Tehran to be the de facto force managing Iraq. And the question now is whether that arrangement will continue or that the new alliance will undermine it.
Moreover, the new alliances brings to memory the days of the Cold War, where the main concern is to win friends and alliance members regardless of what is happening on issues like human rights or degree of freedom and democratization. These factors are now taking a back seat at best.
If this will be the case it will improve Sudan’s chances of having sanctions completely lifted come July given its track record in joining the alliance against Iran to the extent of sending its own soldiers to fight in Yemen and more important sharing intelligence and becoming an active player in the game of terrorism combat.
Yet one of the main hanging issues will always be how effective members of this new alliance will be. In fact for any country to be effective in any outside diplomatic or military role it needs to be in harmony with itself, achieving a degree of socio, economic and political stability so as to be able to contribute its best.
And that brings the issue back home. Will the new alliance be a vehicle for domestic change with outside help, or will that outside help be a factor in consolidating the existing political and economic conditions in various member states in the new alliance that helped in a way or another in creating the terrorist and extremist tendencies in the first place.
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