A look ahead at the Middle East in 2017

Sunday 08/01/2017

As a new year begins, journalists and analysts often try to project what may lay ahead for the Middle East during the next 12 months. What major changes are likely to occur? Will the conflicts that have darkened the region finally come to an end? Will its countries mature politically and adopt greater democratic reforms, albeit at their own pace?
Alas, one does not need a crystal ball to predict that the outlook for greater change in a positive manner does not bode well for the region.
Considering the numerous conflicts raging across it, one does not need to be a prophet nor have the capacity to read tea leaves to predict that violence will feature high in the forecast for 2017.
Starting with Syria and the devastating war that has been ripping the country apart for nearly six years, there appears to be no end in sight or any immediate relief for the Syrian people. The probabilities are therefore high that 2017 will be another bad year for Syria and that despite the fact that it may very well be the year in which the Islamic State (ISIS) is defeated.
Even the total defeat of ISIS will not come without serious repercussions for the region and even for countries beyond the Middle East. Several European countries and the United States could feel the fallout effect of ISIS’s demise.
One immediate concern is what is likely to happen to the thousands of young jihadi fighters who left their adopted countries in the West and in the East, too, to join ISIS? How likely is it that they could ever be reintegrated into normal society without raising problems of one sort or another?
And what of the fate of the millions of refugees who have unwillingly created new cities on the outskirts of normality across the region and beyond? Jordan’s second-largest city is a refugee camp.
Is it at all reasonable to plant millions of people in makeshift camps, often amid crime, drugs and prostitution, and expect the results to yield the makings of normal society? These camps are the perfect breeding grounds, the incubators of tomorrow’s problems.
If by some miracle the war in Syria were to end overnight, the country would face new challenges in 2017 as it tries to rebuild. Indeed, this war and the refugee crisis it has created have presented the region with a whole new set of problems.
Lebanon has weathered the war next door and successfully thwarted advances of ISIS. At the same time, the Lebanese have finally agreed on a new president after a more than two-year hiatus. Of course, their choice, much like the American people’s choice for president, leaves much to be desired but that is another story.
Violence continued in 2016 and again very likely to continue in 2017 in the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula as another civil war and proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran goes on and on interrupted by ceasefires and attempts to reinstall calm. Efforts to bring peace to Yemen have been as successful as the attempts to stop the war in Syria.
On the other side of the Arab world, conflict continues in Libya where ISIS may also be playing its last card and where concentrated efforts to eradicate the jihadist terrorist group seem to be working.
Political instability in 2017 will very much be the order of the day in Egypt, Sudan, the Palestinian territories and Iraq. The Turks and the Kurds are very likely to go at each other in 2017 as the Kurds continue to aspire for an independent homeland much to the displeasure this may cause in Ankara, Tehran, Baghdad and Damascus.
Is there good news across the region? Well, Saudi Arabia continues to introduce reforms, albeit at a very slow pace. The United Arab Emirates seems to be riding a positive wave of development despite the drop in oil revenues. Morocco appears to have avoided any great crisis this year and it is hoped that in 2017 it will maintain that stability as will Tunisia and Algeria, though greater efforts in the latter would not hurt.
Here is to wishing you all a very happy new year in 2017.