How does the scene in the Middle East look at the end of 2021, keeping in mind that most observers and those who follow the situation in the region agree that we have been living in a chaotic regional system for years…A system that has seen a weakening or regression of the international rules or customs that anchor relations between states and, on the one hand, allow for organizing, containing and managing disputes, and, on the other, strengthening the links that tie them together and building on them?
That happened when regional forces adopted doctrines based on subnational identities- religious, confessional, ethnic, and transnational, in their objectives and discourse- that serve those forces’ strategies. Encouraging this (the success of this discourse and the appeal it somewhat enjoys) in particular cases is the weakness and fragility of several countries’ national pacts on the one hand and the wars, conflicts, and various aspects of vulnerability that attract the interventions seen in some countries on the other.
The region has been witnessing three wars for years: a regional cold war, proxy wars in hotspots, and civil wars. Each of these wars fuels and feeds on the other two. Facing them are promising signs of change, but they have not yet crystallized or had a strong impact on the ground; they have yet to become new policies that mark the beginning of a rupture with the region’s trajectory.
Among the most important of these new elements is the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership held on August 28. To ensure the success of this forum for dialogue and cooperation, the conference, which launched a path for dialogue between powers hostile to one another or have almost no communication with one another- in the first place, of course- adopted the logic of states and the rules that organize their relations, both in cooperation and dispute, that we referred to above.
That is certainly not achieved through the adoption of the logic of revolution or the right to intervene, directly or through non-state actors, in other countries’ affairs, whatever the slogans or justifications. This course has many challenges it must first overcome, but Iraqi, Arab and international factors are pushing in that direction.
Another factor promoting change is the resumption of the (P5+ 1) negotiations with Iran on a nuclear deal. These talks are pushing in the right direction despite the fact they are staggering in light of the conditions and counter conditions being put forward by both sides, and the threat of Iran reaching the “nuclear threshold,” which gives the capacity to build a nuclear weapon.
Such a development would lead to a major, dangerous crisis that could lead to military confrontation and have dangerous repercussions for the region. Successfully bringing back the nuclear deal, with the improvements and reassurances sought out by the parties to it, whose visions contradict one another, is no easy task given the changes in circumstances to those that had been prevalent in 2015. However, it is not impossible. One certainty is that the outcome of this course will have major ramifications, whether negative or positive, for regional stability and security, as well as other issues in the region.
Arab normalization with Syria is another course, one that is taking different forms and moving at various speeds, with no Arab consensus on the matter, of course. That is happening, as those pushing in this direction say, with the aim of bringing Syria back to the Arab League, to create a balance with the role played by other actors, particularly Iran, and the danger it presents, considering, as they say, Syria’s geostrategic significance.
The resumption of exploratory communications, or their gradual resumption, between Iran and some of the primary Arab power is another path. Though it is also moving at various speeds, and whatever the remaining impediments may still stand in its way, it reflects the change brewing in the region.
The course of normalizing and “going back to normal” in terms of Arab-Turkish relations, even though the pace differs from one country to another, is also another major development in the region that has an impact on and is impacted by the other paths, each of which has its own dynamics and is pivotal to the Middle East’s transition from the current state of chaos into a region governed by “international norms.”
The new order could be described as a “new Westphalia:” a regional order built on the logic of states rather than that of interventions in the name of transnational ideologies that talk over states and don’t recognize their sovereignty. This could be manifested in a multilateral Arab initiative that brings the parties seeking this order together.
The foundations that should form the basis and patterns of the kinds of relations that must emerge could thus be established and crystalized in the Middle East. Launching such an Arab initiative in this vein and working on ensuring that it receives the support needed - keeping in mind that regional stability is in the entire world’s interest as well, even if the major powers’ interests diverge - is more than necessary so long as the Arab world remains an arena for these wars and pays their costs with its stability and prosperity.