FUTURE Briefs

How do Middle Eastern Countries Deal with Major Regional Transformations?

Sunday، July 16، 2017
 How do Middle Eastern Countries Deal with Major Regional Transformations?

Major and sudden transformations in the Middle East have been ongoing for the past few years. The relative stability which dominated internal and regional interactions in the Middle East ended with the end of ideological polarization among elites and the end of implicit agreements over the principles of regional subsystems. The Middle East thus became a place where there are major and consecutive transformations that influence the domestic, regional and international scenes. It began with the Arab revolutions. Afterwards, Arab domestic conflicts emerged, ISIS expanded through Syria and Iraq and political Islam movements surfaced and then receded. All this reinforces the significance of policies that aim to adapt to major transformations and deal with sudden regional developments.

Options to Confront Crises

Middle Eastern countries’ major challenge is how to confront and adapt to sudden transformations and restore "the normal" situation by avoiding or mitigating these transformations’ negative consequences, seizing opportunities and, more importantly, taking measures to quickly deal with future crises. Within this context, countries’ options to deal with regional crises vary according to their regional status and capabilities, to the extent of closeness to the center of crisis and to the extent of these crises’ influence on security and stability. The most significant options are:

1. Cautious anticipation: Cautious anticipation and waiting until the situation gets clearer is the best option for countries that are far from the center of the crisis and which seek to avoid the crisis’ repercussions and prefer to adopt neutral policies especially if they’re not directly involved in the crisis. Decision makers think that the crisis’ eruption marks the tip of the iceberg which will reveal much more once all details emerge. They also think that taking decisive decisions during this phase comes at a high cost that they cannot bear. One can now understand the initial position of countries like Jordan and Tunisia towards regional crises. Possible complex costs and results of different options can push them to wait longer before taking a public stance. Most of the time this public stance is marked with neutrality with varying degrees. 

2. Fortifying the domestic front: When dealing with crises, countries focus on securing the domestic front and fortifying the domestic scene from the crisis’ expected repercussions. This is their priority which may affect their approach when dealing with the problem and push them to adopt conservative or cautious measures at some point, at least in the preliminary phase, or escalatory measures to confront threats. In terms of the civil strife in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco have responded by fortifying their domestic fronts against threats. Meanwhile, Egypt launched air strikes against terrorist organizations’ strongholds in Libya before the end of May 2017. These groups were targeted because some of their members were involved in terrorist attacks against Copts in the Minya Governorate.

3. Seizing opportunities: Some crises may carry opportunities for some regional parties and the latter can seize them to achieve qualitative gains. Some of these countries may exploit the global economic crises to pass economic reforms that have a high cost on the social level. An example is exploiting the decrease in oil prices to gradually lift governmental support and reduce budget deficiency. Some natural disasters may also include opportunities to restructure the collapsing infrastructure and build facilities according to safety and security standards. Some regional crises give countries that are not part in the conflict a chance to play mediation roles or achieve gains by taking sides. Even parties involved in the conflict can use the society’s solidarity with the decision makers to pass important decisions that have a high political cost and that the public opinion would not accept in ordinary circumstances.

4. Comprehension and containment: Policies that comprehend shocks and contain consequences fall within the context of defensive measures that may be taken if there are expected losses linked to sudden transformations. In these cases, countries focus on preparing the appropriate contexts to avoid high costs. They take several measures that focus on gradually resolving the crises’ consequences. Economic crises in a country first require finding quick solutions to resolve social repercussions, mitigate them and contain them and then they address the crises’ root causes.

5. Preempting threats: The policy of preempting threats falls within the context of offensive measures that countries take to confront possible threats before they occur and during their initial phases. For example, some analyses of Russia’s military intervention in Syria are based on theories that Russia sought to confront the threats of the return of around 5,000 Russian-speaking ISIS members. According to these analyses, Russia wanted to confront the organization in the field in the Syria before threats reach its territories. The Arab coalition’s intervention to support the Yemeni government can also be interpreted as a preemptive attempt to address Houthi threats against the Arab Gulf’s regional security and the Gulf of Aden’s naval security especially after Houthis, who seized the Yemeni capital Sanaa, seized ballistic missiles and armament systems that can threaten neighboring countries’ security and stability.

6. Direct confrontation: Options to completely escalate the situation and engage in a direct confrontation are no longer excluded or avoided in the Middle East. Amid the escalation of threats and their effects on security, stability and states’ existence, preventive and defensive policies are no longer enough. Adopting escalatory policies and confronting or clashing with the sources of threats are no longer unlikely. For example, directly confronting ISIS and directly targeting its strongholds in Syria and Iraq could not be postponed as the organization became a threat to global security.

The same applies to confronting Iranian-backed militias’ threats against regional security and to confronting some of the regional countries’ support of terrorist and extremist takfirist organizations that threaten countries’ stability and survival.

7. Regional restructuring: Restructuring the regional system can be viewed within the context of radical options on the medium and long terms. This option can be adopted to deal with continuous regional crises and different sources of threats. Countries that want to maintain stability can thus establish a regional system that’s based on rules that the majority of the region’s countries agree on. This system would confront and besiege sources of threats, prevent them from spreading and expanding and confront regional parties that aim to achieve their ambitions of regional domination via hostile policies that rely on infiltrating and dividing neighboring countries and sponsoring and funding armed militias and terrorist organizations.

Finally, one can say that offensive policies, measures to engage in a direct confrontation, calculated escalation and establishment of a system for regional security have – despite their cost – become strongly proposed as the center of gravity and effectiveness to confront regional crises by the major powers in the region. These powers are now directly responsible for protecting and defending regional stability after international powers withdrew and their efficient roles declined in terms of addressing regional crises and after their interests varied in a way that no longer harmonizes with regional stability and security.

Keywords: middle eastConflictQatar CrisisPolarization