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What is Happening in the Region: Precious Opportunities Might Not Recur !

What is Happening in the Region: Precious Opportunities Might Not Recur !

Saturday, 15 May, 2021 - 11:00

As usual, Saudi Arabia has been at the heart of developments, a hub for diplomatic efforts through which regional priorities are determined and contentious issues are resolved. This is the atmosphere currently, and what an atmosphere it is! There has been remarkable and surprising mobilization, rounds of meetings, and discussions over agreements, resolutions, and accords in our region. True, we don’t know the details of what is going on, but what looms on the horizon is sufficiently demonstrated by the intensity of the momentum and the expectations of channels being opened, and several influential regional states sitting together at the negotiating table.

Some analysts see that there are prospects for calm and perhaps reconciliation or a resolution of disputes, what some call putting out the region’s fires. There might be some truth to this, but it would be more accurate to say that the Saudi Crown Prince’s latest interview was a real turning point. It included an initiative to resolve the crisis in Yemen and changed rhetoric on Iran, shifting the path these questions, disputes and their implications had been taking. This coincided with rounds of Saudi-Iranian negotiations, as well as Turkey’s efforts to reconcile by addressing the violations it had been perpetrating against Saudi Arabia.

A frank and serious discussion was also launched to address the Turkish-Egyptian crisis, and Turkey’s determination to resolve both crises is obvious. It was demonstrated by the foreign minister’s visit to Riyadh and his deputy’s trip to Cairo. We also witnessed Gulf-Gulf dialogue to finalize Gulf reconciliation. Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed visited Jeddah, as did the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim, and they met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi Deputy Minister of Defense Prince Khalid bin Salman paid a crucial visit to Iraq as well, giving the evolution of the two countries’ relations impetus and reinforcing efforts to confront ISIS. There are also unconfirmed reports that Syria will return to the Arab world’s fold, although nothing official has been announced yet.

Will there be reconciliations or temporary resolutions of the regional issues in which Iran and Turkey are implicated? We don’t really know, but an objective reading would warn against raising the optimism bar too high. Headlines do not matter as much as the orientations, decisions, and changes of paths that are directed towards promoting calm, dialogue, and consensus that come out of these meetings.

Thus, we could quell the cold war, proxy wars, tensions, and estrangement, allowing our region to enter an era of security and stability in which its countries devote themselves to development and prosperity.

Witnessing what is happening in our Arab world, one finds a scene of chaos, conflicts, crises, and regional and international disputes. Take the ongoing Iraqi crisis, where foreign interference and outlaw militias play significant roles; the recent protests in Karbala unequivocally spoke to anti-Iranian sentiments. Moreover, one does not need a crystal ball to identify the party responsible for obstructing a resolution to the crisis in Yemen, as whenever a serious initiative is put forward, negotiations go far, and we approach a settlement, Al Houthi, carrying out Tehran’s orders, becomes intransigent.

You shouldn’t miss what is happening in Libya either; there, factions are fighting over the details of security and military issues despite the progress seen on the political front. Meanwhile, Lebanon is still breaking records with its leaders’ failure to form a government, and it is the Lebanese citizens who are paying the price. The Syrian crisis remains the most painful; for it has been dragged on by a multiplicity of interests of regional and international forces on the one hand and other parties’ tepid response to what is happening there on the other.

This is a critical phase for the region and requires that everyone seize the opportunity. This is especially true for Turkey and Iran, which have made political mistakes whose only consequence has been escalation, aggravation, and undermining neighboring countries’ sovereignty, security, and stability- to say nothing about their interventions in some African countries (Turkey in Libya and Iran in Morocco). Today is not the time to make an inventory of transgressions, though. Let us look at the half of the glass that is full. This does not mean that we ought to ignore the empty half, but we may see positive developments in the region. Despite the pessimism and obscurity, we could see political breakthroughs, and they could contribute to changing things for the better, especially in light of reports of settlements brewing slowly.

They will not necessarily lead to comprehensive solutions right now, and they are not required to. We know that they are not easy to realize over a short period. Rather, they need a long time and more rounds of constructive dialogue. Despite the light, we can see at the end of the tunnel, however, matters are complicated by previous experiences that have shown that it is tough to trust countries like Iran and Turkey to be true to their commitments.

Indeed, some accuse the two countries of adopting this position temporarily and tactically because of the pressure being exerted on them and that they will swiftly go back to their old ways of doing things once their situation improves. Perhaps this explains Saudi Arabia’s hesitation to react to Turkey’s conciliatory initiative or even address positive Iranian statements. This is legitimate, as it wants to test both countries’ aims and seriousness.

Some believe that Iran has not seriously engaged in peace talks and dialogue over the past decades and that there is no reason to believe it will behave differently this time around. Others find that Iran is facing an unprecedentedly disastrous economic situation and it believes that President Biden’s administration is no different from that of his predecessor, Donald Trump. To these observes, it seems that Iranian acquiescence to the amendments to the nuclear agreement proposed in Vienna is inevitable, as is its opening up to neighboring countries. Turkey’s conditions are not reassuring either, including the country’s domestic situation, with its economic conditions and the upcoming elections compelling it to seek to fix its relationship with Saudi Arabia, which it is pinning its hopes on because the latter is an influential player that is important to Turkey.

In any case, this climate could establish an unprecedented degree of stability and peace in the region if there is a genuine will to do so and find solutions. In this case, the state of non-war that has been draining the region’s states may end and come to be replaced by peace.

The rules of the international game are also changing. The new administration in the White House’s ascension means that international policies on our region are being reconfigured, and there are indications of a solution. What is happening behind the scenes internationally appears to reinforce the seriousness of the need to turn the page on inflamed issues because things cannot go on this way.

It is difficult to predict what will come next, as the region’s crises are interconnected. They cannot be separated from one another or dealt with individually. A comprehensive solution requires genuine will and commitment to taking advantage of the precious opportunities that may not recur. So, let us wait and see.

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