Eyad Abu Shakra

World Leaderships Look Weaker Than Global Challenges

It would be absurd if we admit how poor the Arab world’s reading of local, regional and global political developments is. Yes, there is a problem in reading, as well as understanding sometimes. However, It would not be fair if a self-proclaimed objective analyst puts all the blame on Arab individuals, politicians or the ‘Arab political order’, if using such a term is still possible.

Our Arab countries suffer from educational systems weakened and burdened by rapid population growth, dwindling natural resources especially in densely population countries, and continuous failures in developing political institutions capable of representing the aspirations of youth anxious for results, while realistically and responsibly interacting with their respective environments.

All these serious problems prohibit the development of proper political strategies. Furthermore, there are both urgent and long-term dangers surrounding the Arab world from all sides, in addition to the Israeli threat in its heart, where it separate its Asian and African land masses.

With regard to Israel and those behind it, the conflict is now in its seventh decade; and yet I believe that the Arabs – as well as the Israelis – are no closer to any realistic vision for any form of co-existence.

Throughout the many experiences, from the days of the first PLO chief Ahmad Al-Shuqeiri to the current chief Mahmoud Abbas, through the ‘historic’ era of Yasser Arafat, it is noticeable that there is deep distrust on both sides.

This makes any talk of peace useless, since the Israelis talk peace while continuing their settlement and militaristic plans, thus pushing the Palestinians to oppose it; and even when Palestinians show willingness to discuss peace, some Arabs and non-Arabs hijack their cause, outbid them and accuse them of selling out. On the other hand, when the Palestinians make a peace and co-existence offer, there comes from the Israeli side those who not only murder the ‘peacemakers’ – as did Yigal Amir, Yitzhak Rabin’s killer –, but also looks for every trick in the book to blackmail and ruin the credibility of moderate Palestinians and Arabs, as we have seen on time and time again.

Thus, today when one looks at the map of what is left of Arab Palestine, Israel’s jailing Palestinian children, and ‘demonizing’ a whole people, one examines the political ideas that deal with this tragic situation; one that the more there one hears about ‘The Two-State Solution’ the clearer it becomes that it is a non-starter. This is the case not only because successive ‘Likud’ governments have incessantly strived to undemand to possibility of a viable Palestinian state, but also because no Israeli political party has any chance of winning elections if it commits itself to genuine peace and agrees to ‘discuss’ the issue of Jerusalem as a part of the promised ‘final agreement’.

Apart from the challenge posed by Israel and the Arab – including Palestinian – failures in dealing with it, there is another ‘occupation’ in southern Syria and southern Lebanon to the north of Israeli borders. It is the Iranian ‘de facto’ occupation, which some prefer to ‘diplomatically’ describe it as “Iranian armed presence”.

The latter is now wider and stronger, and may prove to be of longer duration than the Israeli occupation, more so since it enjoys the acceptance from supportive sectarian environments, which are benefitting from it even in other parts of the Arab world.

Talking specifically of four Arab countries: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, it is obvious that Iran already wields huge influence, and this may soon be legitimised through the imminent elections expected in Iraq and Lebanon. Unfortunately, this weird situation does not seem to bother major world powers, but rather enjoys their approval.

The contradictory messages received by the Tehran regime, since uncovering its negotiations with Washington, which led to the JCPOA (i.e. the Nuclear Agreement), have made it more hawkish, expansionist and dismissive of its neighbours. Even today, despite the apparent change of Washington’s approach, European powers - plus Russia, obviously - seem to be firmly on Iran’s side. Such positions barely encourage moderation, neither in the Arab countries, nor in the Muslim world.

Then there is Turkey. Here ‘Neo-Ottoman’ Ankara leadership is quite different from either Ataturk’s or NATO’s.

Like Iran, Turkey is receiving ambiguous messages from world powers, especially from the USA, its major NATO ally. As a result, as we see, the Turkish leadership has been getting its priorities and alternatives mixed up, mainly due to the following reasons:

1- Europe’s refusal of accepting Turkey as part of its ‘union’.

2- America’s continuous apparent disregard of Ankara’s Kurdish fears.

3- Russia’s opposition of Ankara’s playing an effective role in its former ‘Ottoman’ and ‘Turkic’ domains extending from the Arab Middle East, to the Caucasus and Central Asia.

It is to be expected that European powers would never welcome a populous Muslim country linked to ‘Islamic/Islamist’ tentacles deep inside the continent. Washington, in turn, looks as if it is unperturbed by Ankara’s worries that an independent – or at least an autonomous – ‘Kurdish entity’ that may be in the offing, could soon become a time bomb that could ruin the Turkish state.

On the other hand, Washington’s continuous betting on a ‘role’ played by the Kurds in northern Syria – despite their lost gamble in northern Iraq – has provided an interesting common cause for Ankara and Tehran; simply because any American support for the notion of a ‘Greater Kurdistan’ would surely irritate the two capitals, since Tehran too has its own old Kurdish fears.

The new Turkish – Iranian ‘common denominators’ are currently being opportunistically sponsored by Russia, at the expense of the Arab populations of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. However, what is new, is the political Irano –Turkish expansion in the southern part of the Red Sea and Yemen.

The Houthi takeover in northern Yemen has created a dangerous situation that should have alerted the world powers to the true dimensions of Iran’s expansionist project, and now some other countries are worried that Turkey may be flexing its own muscles in former African parts of the ‘Ottoman Empire’.

To conclude, one may regard Arab confusions, Kurdish aspirations, as well as Turkish and Iranian ambitions, as natural results of the present ‘vacuum’ in ‘Global leadership’. This is to say that the ‘quality’ of leaders in the world’s major capitals is far below what is required to cope with the serious challenges threatening the Middle East, indeed, the whole world.

Do not far. Ask us the peoples of the Middle East!