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7 July 2017

Hot summer in the Mideast

By: Daoud Kuttab
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The Middle East is experiencing one of its hottest summers; not measured by unprecedented temperatures, but by major burning partisanships, blistering new alliances and heated geopolitical shifts.
The most stable regional alliance, the Gulf Cooperation Council, is on the verge of splitting up, or at least losing one of its main members, Qatar, while possibly gaining an unexpected new member, Egypt.
The Egyptian leader has just signed away two uninhabited Red Sea islands many Egyptian soldiers died defending in the 1967 war and later military conflicts with Israel.
The most rightwing settler Israeli government is boasting about its newly established alliance with some of the Gulf countries, with a television anchor interviewing for the first time a Saudi analyst who was speaking to the Israeli channel from Jeddah.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who used to have strict, principled, conditions to return to negotiations with Israelis, is now eager to have that photo opportunity which he had previously shunned.
Abbas said this week that he was ready to make a “historic peace deal based on the two-state solution”.
Neither the Trump administration nor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are using this term anymore.
Trump, after talking to the leaders of Gulf countries, tweeted that “interesting things are happening in the Middle East”.
Abbas’ effort to return to the limelight was shattered this week when Egypt rejected his plans to visit Cairo, preferring the company of the renegade leader Mohammad Dahlan.
Dahlan, a darling of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and a sworn enemy of the Islamic Hamas movement, is in deep discussions with Hamas regarding the possibility of his return and, along with that, a possible leadership position in running the besieged Gaza Strip.
The above list of Middle East happenings does not even include the possibilities of the post-Daesh changes that could occur in Iraq, Syria and beyond.
Syrian government troops are very close to the Jordanian border, making the possibility of this part of the border reopening real.
At the same time that this geopolitical earthquake is taking place, human rights violations are on the increase, and basic freedoms of expression and assembly, which had become accomplished rights, have now been retracted.
The Gulf countries announced that anyone stating on social media sympathy with Qatar can be punished with a jail term of up to 15 years and a fine of up to $136,000.
The Palestinian attorney general blocked 23 websites supportive of Hamas and Dahlan without anyone noticing. It is not clear why all of the above is happening now.
Is it merely a reflection of the new, unprincipled, resident of the White House, who has no moral backbone and believes only in financial interests to the US?
Is it payback for the millions who dared challenge the political status quo and demanded the right to be involved in the political affairs of their own governments?
Is it a reflection of the corruption and lack of accountability of the regional leaders?
Is it a reflection of a political awakening of the Saudi giant that was for many years taking a back seat as tiny countries like Qatar were filling the political leadership vacuum?
Are the changes that we are witnessing a reflection of a mega regional power struggle due in part to the weakness of Egypt, the largest Arab country with the biggest army that is currently lacking any political gravitas?
Are we witnessing a new power structure that has no ideological logic now that the latest “isms” seem to have failed?
Following the failure of Communism and Arab nationalism are we on the verge of the end of Islamism, and is that a reason we are in this unusual ideological-free, grab-what-you-can phase in the history of this region?
Is the current political tsunami a reflection of the weakness of oil as the US and other nations have made discoveries of their own resources, coupled with a major increase in the use of alternative energy sources?
Following what we can now say was a failed Arab Spring, this hot Middle East summer is showing no signs of cooling down.
The role of the individual in this new Middle East is hardly important as regional leaders decide on their own to redraw political and geographical maps at will.
Can, or should, the people have a say in what is happening, or should we simply sit back and observe our region resigned to not having the ability to make a difference?

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net

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