Hasan Akhtar Usmani
After facing back-to-back adversities, Middle East has become embroiled in crises today. The Arab Spring that began in 2011 and led to dislodgement of dictators, inducing political chaos in parts of North Africa and Middle East, brought about irreversible changes in the geopolitical fabric of the Middle Eastern and North African states, especially in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain. Whether or not social and economic reforms as promised by the Arab Spring were needed in these countries is an academic debate but one thing is certain: The countries affected by it will never be the same again.
It is pertinent to mention here that Arab Spring did not affect each country alike. While Tunisia saw the transition to constitutional democratic governance, the Ikhwanul Muslimun [Muslim Brotherhood] led democratic government in Egypt remained short-lived and the US and Saudi-backed Egyptian General Fateh Al-Sisi imposed military rule and put Ikhwanul Muslimun top brass into detention. In contrast, the outcomes of Arab Spring remained confined merely to riots, uprising and insurgencies in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. The political gulf created by Muammar Gaddafi’s killing was filled by ISIS and tribal warlords in Libya. The Saudi-backed Sunnite regime in Bahrain brutally crushed the Iranian-backed public protests while the Saudi-led Arab Coalition is still battling the Houthi insurgents in Yemen, where war and famine have created a dreadful humanitarian crisis. The conflict in Syria, also known as the Syrian civil war, is no more internecine fighting. The Syrian crisis has grown from bad to worse and its complications continue to compound as regional and global powers, having conflicting regional interests and ideologies, struggle to enhance their role and influence in Syria. Loss of state writ in parts of Syria also created space for terrorist outfits like the ISIS and Al-Nusra Front, that fast consolidated their hold on parts of this war-torn country, before they were annihilated by the US and Russian coalitions. While the Arab Spring changed the entire geopolitical scenario in the Middle East, the US-led war on terror in Afghanistan, too, brought about extreme changes in the Central Asian and South Asian regions. The US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and of Iraq in 2003 led to installation of pro-Iranian governments in these two countries. The Northern Alliance formed the government in Kabul while the predominately Shiite, State of Law, coalition formed the government in Baghdad. Meanwhile, P5+1 i.e. the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China and Germany and Iran agreed to a nuclear deal under which Iran gave International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] access to its nuclear installations in return for which its frozen assets were released, giving Iran the much needed finances to fund its regional ambitions.Iran used its newly gained financial strength and the already established ideological and regional influence to support intervention by Russia, Shiites and pro-regime elements in the Middle Eastern states such as Yemen, Bahrain and Syria.
The global imperialists have prima facie an agenda of creating a predominately Shiite belt and a Sunnite belt in the Middle Eastern region that they can pitch against each other, whenever needed.
The creation of a Shiite, Kurd and Sunnite Iraq and ethnic division of Syria seems to be part of the same agenda.
A recent development in the Middle East that merits attention is the Iranian-backed militant organization, Hezbollah’s victory in Beirut polls. This, too, is a step toward consolidating Iran and Shiite influence in the region.
Feeling the heat of Iran’s ever expanding influence, Saudi Arabia is also taking initiatives — aimed at protecting the royal family and the kingdom, which include but are not limited to the arms deals with the US and western countries, strengthening of ties with Israel, modernization at home to appease the West, supporting anti-Iran forces in the insurgency-hit parts of neighboring Arab states, and targeting pro-Iran elements, especially in its backyard, Yemen — that appear to be anti-Iran and anti-Shiite, and likewise, Iran is doing nothing to deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia.
This harbingers an alarming situation, which, if not redressed, will eventually lead to a direct conflict between the Middle Eastern rivals, entailing widespread devastation not only for these two states but also for the entire region and the wider Muslim Ummah [community] — something the imperialists have planned and will capitalize on once it happens.
It is therefore important that those at the helm of affairs in Iran and Saudi Arabia minutely analyze the situation prevailing in Middle East and the direction in which events are moving. At the same time, there is a need for these two countries to comprehensively revisit their foreign policy, followed by policy revisions, where required, so that matters do not reach to a point of no return.