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The Middle East on a Hot Tin Roof

The Middle East is mired in conflicts and tensions that are driving the region to the precipice of an abyss. I believe these tensions will remain in the region that will suffer from additional problems in the future, not only because the Middle East is a strategic are where influential powers ruthlessly fight for their interests, but also because resolving many of the region’s problems requires a strong political will from its leaders and people. It is this determination that can contribute to resolving their disputes in the face of external interventions that further deepen the crisis. 

It is vital for the Arab people to objectively deal with some of these conundrums, prime among which is the Libyan crisis, where Egypt has been taking positive steps from the outset and has repeatedly stressed that the crisis will not be resolved except via an intra-Libyan settlement and that the Libyan people and their leadership are the ones able to move this crisis from the deteriorating phase into another where they can find better opportunities and where the political Libyan administration will ultimately be the only way to go. 

In order to be realistic in this regard, I do not mean to neutralize or completely eradicate the roles of external forces in such crises, yet I confirm that it is essential that such roles should help facilitate a political settlement rather than complicate the chances of its resolution, otherwise they will remain in a vicious circle. In this case, these roles can be described as suspicious and crippling. 

There are nine determinants that paint the current picture of the Middle East. These are:

The first determinant: The Arab situation as a whole still suffers from various problems, which it had been witnessing for a long time, without any prospect of a definitive solution to any of these crises. 

The second determinant: The foreign forces involved in the region’s crisis are moving within one framework, and that is to protect their interests, even if this requires a deeper, direct or indirect intervention, indifferent to the region’s people’s interests; moreover, even if they claim that their intervention aims at ending crises, it is clear that they aren’t making enough effort to resolve any of them. 

The third determinant: Israel’s investment in the current Arab situation in order to move forward in the normalization of relations with some Arab states, particularly Morocco, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, without making any compromise in the Palestinian question. The prospects for resolving it have been reduced by Israeli ignorance of the peace process, international inaction, and Palestinian division. 

The fourth determinant: Iran has increased its role in the area, especially after the election of the new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, a religious, conservative man, close to the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. This role has evolved to the point where he does not hesitate to engage in certain military actions, without paying attention to their consequences. 

The fifth determinant: Turkey’s efforts to stabilize its influence in the regions in question and to gain new areas of influence in countries that it claims to represent a vital area; therefore, the Turkish role is considered an important role in deepening the problems raised in the Arab region. 

The sixth determinant: The ongoing Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis without any final solutions in line with the demands of the two downstream states (Egypt and Sudan), which is represented in the urgent need to reach a comprehensive, legally binding solution concerning the filling and operation of the dam, while Ethiopia continues to reject reaching the solution which is called upon by the international community. It has been recently noted that the international community has begun clearly focusing on the internal situation in Ethiopia, particularly the humanitarian problems facing the Tigray region, giving it more attention than the issue of the dam. 

The seventh determinant: The rapid developments in Afghanistan may negatively reflect on the security situation of the region, especially with the Taliban continuing to control many Afghan cities following the withdrawal of the United States troops from Afghanistan and the inability of the Afghan government to cope with the movement’s progress.

The eighth determinant: The possibility of the return of terrorism to the region in the upcoming period in light of attempts to revive the activity of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, among other states. Meanwhile, the situation of terrorist organizations in the Sahel and Sahara will reflect on the security situation of the area. 

The ninth determinant: The question of reaching a nuclear agreement between Iran and the United States (the European Union-brokered Vienna negotiations), or in other words, the revival of the 2015 nuclear agreement, will cast a shadow over the situation in the region until this issue is resolved either positively or negatively.  

Applying these nine determinants to the current Arab situation, we will find the following: 

  • The problems affecting the Arab region, primarily the Palestinian issue, continue to exist and there are no signs of forthcoming solutions, especially in the Syrian and Libyan crises. In this regard, attempts and meetings by Libya and the United Nations to establish the constitutional basis for the holding of the legislative and presidential elections scheduled for December 2021 have continued to falter.
  • Iraq and Sudan remain unstable despite all the attempts by their political leaders to support the security, safety, and progress in the two countries.
  • The situation in Yemen continues to be subject to the schemes of the Houthis and their supporting forces, without regional and international initiatives for a resolution. 
  • Other Arab states are being ushered into an “instability belt”, and these countries witness a noticeable amount of tension and increasing internal problems, especially in Lebanon, Tunis, and Algeria, despite the efforts by their leaders to control the deteriorating situations, but the tensions persist and their effects may increase at any time. 
  •  The tension between Iran and Israel is getting more complex, especially as the so-called “ship warfare” escalates, the most recent of which was the Mercer Street ship of an Israeli company was attacked by a marching aircraft in the Amman sea, with Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom accusing Iran of carrying out this act, which has become a threat to international navigation. (There have been more than 20 attacks on civilian ships since 2019 by mines, drones, and commandos, some calling them “shadow wars” between Israel and Iran).
  • The tense situation between Israel and Hezbollah and the recent firing throughout the past weeks of a series of rockets into the cities of the north of Israel in an unprecedented manner is threatening to end the calm that has prevailed in this area, and the same thing can be applied on the unstable situation between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Despite the regional tensions, which at times could implode, particularly between Israel and the United States on one hand, and Iran on the other, the explosion of the situation in the region is currently highly unlikely, especially since all the intertwined forces in the region’s crises are achieving their objectives, without resorting to the option of war, or a full-scale explosion. Furthermore, I believe that some of the tension will persist until a definitive nuclear agreement with Iran is reached. 

At the same time, it has become clear that the United States is concentrating its external attention, in this stage, on the future of its relations with China and Russia as its first priority. As for the problems of the Middle East, the policy adopted by the US administration is to maintain the current situation and focus on addressing the humanitarian aspect, with no possible escalation, in order not to affect the American interests in the region. Thus far, President Biden’s administration has succeeded in doing so, but the question remains: how can the international community control these recurrent tensions and prevent them from deteriorating? This is something that no power can guarantee in the future.

Amidst the tensions in the Arab world, Egypt remains the most important determinant of regional balance and stability, as it enjoys good relations with all the parties and is not motivated by any particular interest in any of the conflict. Rather, the Egyptian political leadership is keen on providing practical and flexible insights into the solution of these crises, either individually or in coordination with the international community, even on issues that are closely linked with Egypt’s national security, such as the Ethiopian dam and the Libyan crisis. The Egyptian political leadership is also seeking to crystallize the strategic alliances with certain friendly Arab states, including, of course, some Gulf states, to achieve stability in the region, in light of the conviction that these alliances are capable of achieving the interests of their member states, and supporting their stability through continued coordination and the implementation of a policy of economic, military and security integration, not only in the political field.  

Finally, despite the Egyptian leadership’s unprecedented efforts on the regional and international levels, as well as its tireless efforts to promote comprehensive stability, this trend still necessitates an Arab and international effort to support these Egyptian actions to come up with political solutions to the region’s crises and serve the interest of Arab nations. Otherwise, the Middle East will remain on a hot tin roof.

Gen. Mohamed Eldewery
Deputy Manager

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