With all that you see in the region (Middle East) you have to consider that from 2010 to 2050 the population will double, creating one big problem – a new generation with new demands – while the governments are not capable to assimilate these claims. For instance, high unemployment is already there, women demand their rights as they are an important part of the society.
The fundamental problem of the region is going much further than terrorism, as we have corruption, you have incapable governments and states and fake secularism and subversion, inequality, and injustice and at the same time the spillover of all these problems, from the national borders of some countries to another.
Many reasons for this happening is that the Westerners always look at the security of the region in a traditional manner and they are not looking at it in a critical way, always thinking of the security of oil and the security of Israel and whatever is good for them. Hence, you see their support for killer states. Talking about democracy for the region is a big lie and people feel it.
At the domestic level there is a huge gap between civil society and government. When it comes to the state level, there is a lack of legitimacy since many governments of the region are not legitimate, they cannot bring national cohesion. The tribe is still a source of identity, the concepts of power and state are still very important, but in a very traditional manner. It is obvious that problems that you have you have are ranging from great to small powers.
State sovereignty is an important factor, the main factor behind the notion was control, the exclusive use of power, territorial integrity; all of these have changed due to globalization and we are in the post-globalization era. However, there are still many in the region that does not think of these developments.
Thinking for the era after-globalization is an important frame for what we have to do for this region. In the region, the changing relations of power are not that obvious for where we are going, and for this reason; different states and different governments will look different in the future. There are states and governments that will remain alike for the foreseeable future and the third group of states are those which are experiencing a new type of authority on the ground, while the next group is those states ridden by a conflict- either religious war or civil war like Libya and Syria and the last group of states comprises those governments which are ready for a peaceful transition of power. This is the future of governance for the region. Some people compare the 30 year-war of Europe, mentioning that out of that war the modern state was created, but for this region we cannot make such a comparison, no one can predict the future of the state in the Middle East. We have Iran, Turkey, and Egypt as capable states, including Iran and Turkey among ready and steady states that are experiencing developments.
You will also notice in the future some points, for example, those actors who are pursuing getting the power which they had in the past, namely those groups that want to re-become like in the past. Those are the groups like Houthis in Yemen and non-state Kurdish actors in Iraq and in Syria, we also have Islamists as non-state actors that got to power through ballots, like in Palestine, some are in the control of the state like in Saudi Arabia, some are radicals like Al Nusra, Daesh, Al Qaeda. The borderline between moderation and radicalization is very blurry, we cannot speak in a transparent manner about this issue but there is the potential of power-grabbing by some groups.
In the regional order, you will see because of economic inequality because of authoritarian subversive regimes, because people cannot keep silent anymore, for example in Egypt we witness the clash between the Muslim Brotherhood vs nationalism, in Morocco there is a clash between the kingdom and constitutionalism, in Tunisia and Lebanon we have groups fighting for power-sharing, this will continue, in the Arab part of the Gulf you will talk about development and groups fight for their version of development. You will see differences between Shia-Sunni groups, creating fractions within the communities (both Sunni and Shia) and the region will be going through a lack of stability. In Syria you will see the problem of migration. The seculars are not ready to be in power in a democratic way. After Saddam Hussein, you witness the very fragile situation in the Gulf, Saddam was like a buffer between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Turkey is back in the Middle East, not thinking so much about its relationship with Europe. The Kurdish issue is a two side problem for them. With the election of Erdogan, you will see a new style of operating in Syria. The role of Turkey is to create a strategic deadlock in Syria.
The anarchic model of understanding of what is happening in the region introduced by the realists of the US and the West contributes to problems. They always talk about the international system of the Middle East as a combination of war, conflict, civil and foreign intervention in these wars, they talk about a sectarian conflict as an alternative to Arabism and Islamism and they speak about the eternal cold war about Iran and Saudi Arabia as a source for the conflicts. Balancing the situation in the region would be a fundamental point for the future of the analysis. The next point for the development of the plan would be that the US and Israel to get the support of the Arab government when they try to propagate the real enemy is Iran and Shiism, while they frame it in a sectarian manner. You will see different phases of change and balance of power, most of it comes through the Sunni-Shia version of the conflict in the way it is propagated by the West. Some try to bring ancient history to the conflict, while the reality is that it is a new phenomenon and the root causes are something else. Also, there are some people who try to look at the region assuming a new Great Game and they link the events with the great powers and the superpowers, creating a new Great Game and they say what will happen in Syria is the outcome of this Great Game. Europe is preparing for the future of Syria without President Bashar al Assad while is not real, Russia tries to work on federalism in Syria, the relation Iran-Russia-China-Turkey and Europe is a resemblance with the Great Game. China needs oil not only as a commodity but as a geopolitical issue, meaning the war US-China here.
Finally, the strategy and the foreign policy of the US in the region are important. The future of the Iran-US region will be a determinant factor of what will happen in this region. We do not have Obama anymore who thought of a strategic equilibrium and tried to bring Iran into the question. This president does the reverse. Geopolitics of America are crucial for this region, Trump compares himself with President MacArthur. We will see what the future hold. The personal psyche of the president is very important, he is an absolute impatient person, hasty and short-sighted and some people in Congress talked about him as a serial liar (Comey). He tries to resolve everything from his side. Possibly, the traditional balance of power will shape American policy in this region, and of course I do not talk yet about China – the rising big power. Russia has a big power to be a spoiler to them, though it does not have a budget like China, Russia was able to fill the gap in the Middle East, including Syria. To them Russia is trying to be talking with Americans on equal footing. This is exactly what Russia wants today. Russia is dependent on energy and intervenes in the Middle East. For them Russia is still going down, not evolving, but Russia took a chance in the Middle East.
Lastly, the US – Saudi relations will be a crucial point for the future. The equation between gold and dollar changed into gold vs. oil, this paradigm is in a crisis at the moment because the US is not so dependent on Persian Gulf oil anymore. What would be the new paradigm? It will be a crucial factor for the future of this region. We do not know yet which paradigm is going to replace the equation oil-dollar and when. Saudi might be misled to do something against Iran and it would be a big mistake.
Let us think about the rational argument about what to do in the Middle East. If you think traditionally about security it will not work, unless the West changes its view instead of sticking to the security of oil and security of Israel, it must think of human security. The security of oil is good as long as the security of people is good. Security of Israel does not mean anything to anyone in the region. Some of the structures should change and the zero-sum theory and the win-win theory for the government. A bandwagon effect rather than balancing of power is a proper solution for this region and they do have some logical argument why the bandwagon effect would work. This should apply to Realists ideas and be an important point for the future. The sense of independence and not knowing the intentions of each actor tell us that bandwagon would not happen in the Middle East. The next point is that none of the governments would accept that big powers will always remain mild and they will somehow be aggressive. Hegemonic intentions are also there. Threat is a fundamental element of understanding the region.
As a conclusion, there are some ideas for Washington – do not look at the Middle East as a singular country, do not look only at the challenges, there are opportunities. For instance, four years back Daesh was ruling, now it is gone. The problems in the region will easily go global – for example migration. I think the strategy of Americans should change from a strategy for the Middle East to the US in a strategy for the Middle East in the Middle East. We should distance ourselves from a strategy focused on security instead of thinking for development for this region.
Security and public order should stick together in a region where religion is also important. Restructuring the society means restructuring governance also. Who is supposed to shape the new order of the society of the region? (Assuming the old order is gone because Saddam Hussein is gone) Are the big powers responsible or the people? The people of the Middle East accepted the outsiders but they do not want their decisions regarding their own destiny.
Foreign actors should think of new responsibilities for themselves if we think of the future of the region. They should educate the people of the region about how important is the state for them and then the territorial integrity of the state should be addressed by everybody.
Middle East badly needs an economic model, along with a specific security order; the approach should be focused on humans, not on the material aspects, peace, and security is the first steps.
Note: The speech was presented during the International Conference “The New Geopolitical Environment in the Middle East: between Fighting Terrorism and the Future of the Region ”, held in Bucharest on the 5th of July 2018.