The reality of the new order taking shape in the Middle East

War-torn Syria (Photo from Adobe)

The most prominent feature in the Middle East is the competition for influence, power and resources, writes Ahmad Abdul-Rahman.

In his opening speech during the Arab League summit, which was held in the Saudi city of Jeddah on May 19, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, welcomed the Arab leaders and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Bin Salman then welcomed the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, who was re-admitted to the Arab League after 12 years of estrangement.

While Syria, which has effectively won the war thanks to Russia, was readmitted into the ranks of the Arab League, Putin's friend, Zelensky,was given a platform to present his case to the Arab world.

Syria's return to the Arab League during the Arab summit in Jeddah was criticized as a Saudi-led campaign to rehabilitate Bashar al-Assad, the leader of a shattered Syria. The Syrian president oversaw the killing of half a million of his own citizens and the displacement of 11 million people - a result of Russian air attacks and the tactical direction and command of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and its militia.

In the absence of the protective American security, critics of the new order in the Middle East fail to appreciate the reality of the situation that is taking shape in the region, according to some analysts.

With brute force and the unwavering support of his patrons, Russia and China, Bashar al-Assad was able to win his war against his own people. He achieved a strategic victory for the Russian-Iranian axis that would allow him to preside over a fractured and shattered Syria indefinitely. The return of Syria to the League of Arab States is an acknowledgment of the reality that the Syrian dictator shaped by force and oppression. It is also a victory for his sponsors, who facilitated his bloody behaviour.

Anti-Russian sentiment

President Volodymyr Zelensky was also in Jeddah. The presence of a powerful Russian adversary and symbol of democracy, at the same time as Bashar al-Assad was in the kingdom to attend an Arab League summit, illustrates the new Middle East.

In the past, initiatives led by US allies focused on preserving American security in the region, but this Arab League summit brings together a region that can no longer be easily divided into well-defined camps guarded by superpower patrons. The most remarkable feature of this new reality is the competition for influence, power and resources.

While competition is not in itself a bad thing, the prospect of a region open to all carries significant risks, both for US interests and for regional stability. Without clear alliances and rules, the risk of armed conflict will increase.

At the same time, the US lacks a coherent strategy for managing its significant interests in the region. Even if its long-term goal is to wipe the region off the maps of American military and economic planners, leaving in a haphazard and piecemeal fashion is a recipe for increased chaos that will negatively affect Washington's interests. Meanwhile, it will harm the Middle East in a way that is likely to have global, not just local, repercussions.

Beijing has also benefited from the power vacuum left by the US, the latest of which was mediating an agreement between Riyadh and Tehran. The enmity between these two capitals is mostly due to Iran's perception of Saudi Arabia as a client of the American regime in the Middle East. Even though Iranians reneged on agreements several times in the past, Chinese guarantees have provided a new level of confidence for the Saudis. The Chinese guarantees include Beijing's assertion of the need to give priority to foreign relations between the two countries, set a model for cooperation and solidarity, and promote common interests.

What does Saudi's restoration of diplomatic relations with Syria mean?

Saudi Arabia's restoration of diplomatic relations with Damascus does not mean that Riyadh has ignored the crimes committed in Syria. The same can be said about its rapprochement now with Tehran and with Beijing . Instead, Saudi Arabia understands that in the absence of a coherent US-backed security structure in the region, it has no strategic need to treat regional actors (Iran and Syria) as pariahs.

It can be said that the allies of the United States have not turned away from it, but rather seek to achieve their own national interests. Nothing illustrates the new realities in the Middle East better than Saudi Arabia hosting both Volodymyr Zelensky from Ukraine and Bashar al-Assad from Syria in Jeddah.

The opportunities and dangers of a region left to manage its own problems and rivalries, without the guarantees and guidance of the great powers, could not be more evident.

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Saturday, 30 September 2023