Hazem Saghieh

A Region Is Collapsing and Solutions Are Elusive

Three weeks ago, Arab and western diplomatic efforts to silence the Israeli killing machine and reach a ceasefire began gaining steam. Some are betting that this ceasefire can be made permanent and enhanced, giving rise to some kind of peace. While there is an urgent need to go in this direction despite the immense obstacles that remain, there is an equally pressing need to ponder the conditions of Arab countries, which vary from undergoing explicit catastrophes to having catastrophes whose postponement or latency does not blur its possible advent.

As Israel continues its relentless assault on Gaza, several Arab countries are facing a blend of crises: erasure of their national borders, subjugation to militias, and the collapse of their economies and educational systems. All of that is accompanied by two hemorrhages coupled with mass death: hemorrhaging people, who have migrated, sought refuge, or been displaced in overwhelming numbers, either within their countries or to others, and continuous and increasing hemorrhaging economic resources.

Let us take a moment to ponder one of several examples. Writing for "Daraj," my Sudanese colleague Youssef Bachir lays out the facts and figures of his country’s conflict. "Violent clashes between the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese army have forced 7.6 million Sudanese to flee their homes, including 6.1 million internally displaced persons living in dire humanitarian conditions. Long-term displacement has led to the loss of livelihoods and the depletion of savings, exacerbated by the depreciation of the local currency."

"Among the displaced, 3.5 million children have been compelled to leave their homes, according to UNICEF representative Mandip O’Brien. O’Brien emphasizes that Sudanese children are living a harsh reality, with 14 million out of 24 million Sudanese children needing assistance in health, nutrition, and protection. Additionally, 19 million school-age children are not attending school, resulting in an estimated loss of $26 billion for Sudan."

"The catastrophe of war affects all aspects of life, particularly the escalating violence against women and girls facing threats of abduction, forced disappearance, and gender-based violence associated with the conflict. The United Nations anticipates that over 6.9 million women and girls are at risk of gender-based violence."

Bachir does not forget to point to the widespread fears in Sudan "of the ongoing conflict evolving into a protracted dispute, with insufficient international pressure to compel the conflicting parties to end it peacefully."

While countries plagued by open-ended civil wars - namely Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Sudan - are at the forefront amid this catastrophic state of affairs, it has become obvious that the parties to these domestic conflicts are not interested in changing the painful reality they have created and continue to create for personal gain, and that non-belligerents or neutral parties are not capable of doing so.

Although piecemeal international initiatives for resolving these "crises" have been launched in the past, genuine solutions now require a substantial and concerted effort that addresses the region as a whole, a comprehensive international conference or something equivalent to that. While the current state of foreign relations might not be conducive to achieving this task due to international divisions (the war in Ukraine, the dispute over Taiwan...) and the state of the global economy is discouraging, arriving at such a theoretical perception could offer a horizon, whose presence is currently faint, if not totally absent.

An array of experiences have accumulated to demonstrate a fact that makes this push for a major international initiative an existential question: in many countries, the nation-state model, as understood in the region during the Cold War, is losing all credibility, as well as its capacity to endure. It might be time to consider alternative political and legal frameworks that are more aligned with realities on the ground and the will of the region’s people.

There's no doubt that the United States becoming "entangled in the region" once again, after a phase in which it had been said to be "withdrawing" from it, is something to build on as we move in this direction.

In many Arab countries, the situation can only be described as "secessionist." Exacerbating the belligerence, be it explicit or concealed, is the presence of occupying forces and aggressive neighbors.

In the Arab Levant in particular, the conditions of Syria - with everything we are seeing in Idlib, Daraa, and the northeast, which has been coupled with the erosion and reach of central authority, to say nothing about the toxic presence of Iranian officers and the Israeli responses to their presence - might best exemplify what we are suffering from.

However, Iraq, where one of its militias has suspended its military actions to avoid "embarrassing its government," is not very different, although its secessionism is hidden behind the fragile curtain of the state. In Lebanon, growing segments of the population find themselves branded "traitors" for rejecting the militia’s dictates, prohibitions, and conceptions of politics, patriotism, life, and perhaps even the afterlife.

Faced with this picture of broad fragmentation, decay, and collapse, we must delve deeply into our souls and ask: why? while resisting the temptation of quick and easy answers, whose magical allure has seduced us too many times before.