Conflicts and geopolitical tensions shape the Middle East

The Abu Dhabi skyline where the Future Center for Research and Advanced Studies is based.

Intractable conflicts and geopolitical tensions in the Middle East are changing the balance of regional and international power, according to a book on the region. Ahmed Abdul-Rahman delves into the arguments.

When will peace come to conflict areas in the Middle East? This is a simple question but is problematic and complex to answer. The question has been asked a lot but has not been asked among researchers for more than half a century. No one, until now, has presented a comprehensive and conclusive vision because the conflict is constantly growing and changing. A book that does this is entitled "Intractable Conflicts, When Will Peace Come to Conflict Areas in the Middle East?" It is issued by the Future Center for Research and Advanced Studies in Abu Dhabi, UAE, as part of the "Book of the Future" series. It includes multiple papers and analyses by 12 experts and researchers and explores the potential reasons behind the intractable conflicts in the Middle East over the past decade.

The book starts from the vital question: When will peace come to conflict areas in the Middle East? The book's editors make it clear that the Middle East hardly ends one conflict when it enters another that is more exhausting for the capabilities of states and societies. After decades of regional and international conflicts in the region, the last decade has brought a new pattern of protracted conflicts in which internal issues overlapped with external forces in the region, especially following the outbreak of the Arab uprisings at the end of 2010.

Intractable compromises

Through those uprisings, the peoples of the region were looking forward to economic and political recovery and moving on from perpetual conflict for which the Middle East is known. These peoples also reveal crises that have moved from covert to open to create the appearance of weakness for state and societies.

The editors' identified three main features of the conflicts over the last decade. The first feature is the difficulty to make settlements, as these conflicts initially erupted against the background of the demands of the internal parties to share in power and wealth, and the recognition of marginalized identities. On top of this, the peoples of the region were exposed to the interventions of external forces, and the conflicts became difficult for peace. These conflicts required a consensus between the interests of internal and external forces, especially the spread of proxy wars.

External forces have different degrees of involvement in each internal conflict. This has made the political circles describe the conflicts in the Middle East as being of a local nature that has undergone internationalisation.

The second feature focuses on patterns of conflicts, proxy wars and compromises of interests between outside powers. Cross-border threats are producing unconventional threats and risks to the fragile state crisis. The last decade witnessed a sharp escalation of cross-border conflict. The effects extended to Europe across the Mediterranean, exemplified by the formation of terrorist organisations, especially ISIS, organised crime groups and illegal immigration among others. Therefore, it has become difficult to separate what is happening in the Syrian, Yemeni or Libyan conflict from its counterparts in Iraq, Mali, Somalia and Afghanistan.

The third feature is that the conflict areas in the Middle East have become geopolitical and aim to change the regional and international balance of power. Russia regained its international role by becoming involved in the region's conflicts, where it supported the Syrian government, and later extended it towards Libya.

This has been a strategic jumping platform to enter Central and North Africa, and to pressure countries in the global competition for energy. This has been helped by the decline of the American role and the hesitation and the division of European positions.

The spread of the Covid-19 pandemic since early 2020, has not led to a halt in regional wars. The political and military balances have increased exposure to health and the economic structures of the region, thereby strengthening political, societal and economic grievances.

Several complications

The book argues that the basic features of the Middle Eastern conflicts have produced major dilemmas, whether it be lasting peace settlements that can bring about a fundamental transformation in the reality of the region, or reaching the mature moment that was once indicated by William Zartman, Professor Emeritus at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University

Much of the news is intertwined with peaceful settlement issues, or issues such as justice and accountability for those responsible for violations along with disarmament, rebuilding institutions, power sharing, and how to deal with ex-combatants in society.

Such entanglements make it difficult to reach a stable peace. Even with the initiation of peace-building measures and entering into peaceful settlements with the parties to the conflict, primarily armed organisations and militias, there remains the possibility of a relapse into violence.

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Saturday, 30 September 2023