The Middle East in 2017: A chaotic regional order emerging
Beirut - Five years after the burgeoning of the “Arab spring”, the Middle East has been caught in a long “Arab winter”. Tension, turmoil and all kinds of wars — civil ones fought under different names, wars by proxy and a bloody regional civil conflict — have developed from Iraq and Syria to Yemen and Libya.
Looking back at the last five years, one could observe through the hotbeds of conflicts, which became more and more interdependent because of the grand strategies of the regional and international powers involved, that non-state actors — sectarian, ethnic and extremist religious movements, including the Islamic State (ISIS) and others — are the key players in the transnational fighting. They yield more power than the countries in which they fight their wars under different banners with the support always of major powers.
In many cases in the “Arab spring” countries, the regimes proved to be stronger than the country they have confiscated and privatised to serve their interests. Meanwhile, society is imploding along primordial identity lines — sectarian, religious or ethnic — and weak state institutions are breaking down and collapsing.
The rise of sub-national identities with their transnational solidarities are threatening, with the exacerbated violent conflicts, the future of a country itself. One can easily observe the looming danger and growing number of failed and failing nations phenomena due to the open-ended wars of all sorts.
Interesting enough from a historical perspective, this is happening at the centenary of the Sykes-Picot accord and is allowing many observers to predict the collapse of such an order.
Indeed, the taboo of the sanctity of the country that fell after the Cold War allowed many to consider a post-Sykes-Picot order: The carving of new states out of the existing ones amid the absence of any foreseeable solution to many of the ongoing conflicts and the difficulties if not the impossibilities to put back together the broken de facto pieces of many of the concerned states.
Thus, a decade ago Joe Biden, then a US senator, was among the first to call for the partition of Iraq on sectarian basis as the only feasible way to establish peace, one based on the breaking of Iraq into pieces. The strong return to the front burner of Middle East politics of the Kurdish independence issue raises the spectre of redrawing borders in the Levant in particular.
Yet, it is worth reminding that states’ divorce or splitting does not necessarily lead to peace and to settling conflicts. The clash of sub-national identities in a failing country contributes to and encourages such splitting plans. Breaking up could be considered by certain sectarian or ethnic groups as the only way for final salvation from a historical injustice done to them in the absence of a successful nation-building strategy.
However, the partition of Ethiopia and Eritrea as well as of Croatia and Serbia and later the independence of South Sudan have indicated that breaking up does not necessarily translate into a peaceful situation.
In the war-torn Middle East, three scenarios appear to be plausible:
— The Sudanisation or the divorce and the fragmentation of certain states into two or more ones along ethnic or sectarian lines, a sort of post Sykes-Picot system. Such a scenario is difficult to envisage because it cannot be limited to one particular country. It cannot be done à la carte without having a spillover effect into other countries leading to general chaos and a more complicated situation.
— The Somalisation scenario, which has been ongoing for years in many places. It is being looked at as the lively illustration of failed countries. Such states feature ongoing protracted social conflict that could be contained or managed with no spillover effect outside the borders in the absence of any plausible solution due to the complexities of the conflict. At the same time, they develop the capacity to live with such kind of conflict that witnesses ups and downs in intensity of fighting, at an acceptable cost and as the only possible option.
— The Lebanonisation scenario or the establishment of a political system based on the consociational democracy model, a consensus over power-sharing among different ethnic, sectarian or religious communities. To paraphrase what Winston Churchill said about democracy, such a system is the worst of all systems except for all others. Yet, as the Lebanese model has proven for years through its different crises, it is a system that invites interference and interventions and that needs to be revisited regularly because of its tension- and crisis-provoking nature and for being vulnerable and attractive to regional tensions and crises.
It looks like that after five years and more of the once promising “Arab spring”, a chaotic regional order is emerging in the Middle East carrying more instability, tension and wars of all sorts.