Middle East tumult

22 Jan 2020

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FOR nearly a century, ever since the colonial powers firmly established themselves in the Middle East and divided up the pieces of the Ottoman Empire, the region has failed to witness long-term stability. The region — largely due to its geopolitical importance as an energy powerhouse — continues to see instability, with irresponsible external powers fuelling chaos, and incapable local elites unable to handle the demands of their people. In the Levant, Lebanon is on the boil. Protesters are livid at the Lebanese ruling class, while a severe economic crisis threatens the already fragile financial health of the Mediterranean state. In Iraq, people are back on the streets, demanding reform and better governance; ever since the 2003 US invasion, there has been no stable government in that country, while living standards in one of the world’s leading oil producers are abysmal. As for Iran, it has been shaken by the assassination of Gen Qassem Soleimani by the US, with Tehran threatening to leave the NPT if the EU goes to the UN to report Iran’s perceived non-compliance with the nuclear deal. The crisis was sparked when President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of the multilateral deal. The ayatollahs see no reason to comply as they are not getting any benefits from the nuclear deal; instead, the Americans have further tightened sanctions, practically choking the Iranian economy. Meanwhile, Yemen continues to suffer episodes of violence; a recent Houthi missile strike at a government base reportedly killed over 100 loyalist troops.

Though disparate, there is a common thread running through these crises: much of the present chaos in the Middle East is fuelled by the confrontation between two rival axes — the pro-US camp, consisting of Israel and the Arab sheikhdoms, and Iran and its regional allies on the other side. In the long term, for peace to prevail, the US must review its aggressive posture and withdraw its military presence from the region. Instead of flexing its military muscle, let Washington deal with regional states in a spirit of friendship and cooperation. As for Iran and its Arab nemeses, both sides need to resolve their differences at the negotiating table and learn to live with each other, without America interfering. Major Muslim states including Turkey, Malaysia and Pakistan can play a leading role in bringing the two sides together for a more peaceful and stable Middle East.

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2020