Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1252, (25 June - 1 July 2015)
Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Issue 1252, (25 June - 1 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Getting the region in order

The deterioration of the Arab regional order into conflict and strife in the last decade is virtually unprecedented. The rot must be halted before there is little left to save, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Al-Ahram Weekly

Three tasks need to be undertaken in order to restore a good degree of stability to the Middle East: the restoration of the state, the restoration of religion, and the restoration of the regional order. The latter is our subject today. It is also perhaps the most complicated of the tasks. A cursory glance around this region is sufficient to realise that it is not feasibly possible to draw the lines between allies or enemies or even between one state and the next. We have no idea what lays behind or what will come of the communications and meetings between heads-of-state and foreign ministers. Do their kind words about the compatibility of their points of view truly signify something real?

Before I began writing this article, the Islamic State (IS) staged four bombings targeting the Houthis in Sanaa. The wounded are receiving medical treatment in Saudi hospitals while the aircraft of the Saudi-led coalition are continuing their missions over Yemen and, at the same time, contingents of the Fatah army, which is supported by the coalition, are engaged in successful assaults against the forces and areas controlled by IS.

This state of affairs is the product of the circumstances surrounding battles in which so many lines intersect. The news we hear of the advances and retreats on the Syrian-Iraqi front make it seem as though each side is awarded opportunities to feel the euphoria of victory only to pay the price of a sudden defeat. In all events, the bloodshed continues, the Arab states are crumbling, and the Arab League rushes to convene now and then and issue statements, while the regional situation remains unchanged.

Naturally, this cannot be allowed to continue. Anyone who believes that the process of dismantling Arab states has ended with those that have already been dismantled is fooling himself. A “virus” is on the rampage in the region and there is no permanent immunity. Time may offer the opportunity to resist, but this does not guarantee victory. Victory can only come about by planning and by formulating a bold and comprehensive strategy for marshalling all available resources and channelling them towards the realisation of clear objectives.

Firstly, we must draw a line in the sand that proclaims a halt to the anarchy, to the dismantlement of the state, to the assault of religious fascism against Arab states that are still holding themselves together. The Arab monarchies have so far managed to escape the curse. But this very fact makes them more vulnerable than ever. Egypt and Tunisia survived by a miracle, but they still suffer post-surgical pains amidst ongoing terrorist attacks and economic straits. Algeria, too, has largely managed to escape, perhaps because it had already experienced a gruelling decade of civil war. Apart from the Arab monarchies, which include the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, plus Morocco and Jordan, and Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria, all else is one huge disaster zone. Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Lebanon teem with the plagues of terrorism, chaos and sectarian, regional and ethnic strife. The starting point, therefore, is to fully protect the stable or semi-stable bloc in order to prevent the infiltration of the “virus”. This requires not just close communication and coordination, but also and more importantly a strategy for the future, a strategy that pre-empts the strategy formulated by IS and its allies, which not only include other terrorist organisations but the states that wittingly or unwittingly support them.

Secondly, forging this Arab-regional alliance entails the readiness and preparedness to deal with enemies that are different in nature to the types of enemy conventional security forces have been trained and equipped to confront. There is a vast difference between the war against terrorism and other types of guerrilla warfare and classical warfare. The Joint Arab Force that is to be created may be able to accommodate to the different nature of the battle if it is equipped with much better intelligence capacities than those that currently exist, excellent rapid deployment and aerial and amphibious landing abilities, and rapid manoeuvrability that wins it the advantage of surprise against the type of forces that are professionals in the tactics of “surprise” by attacking soft, civilian targets.

Thirdly, military/security preparedness must proceed in tandem with political and economic preparedness. This must extend beyond raising levels of domestic “satisfaction” to promoting a project for the future that engages youth and all other segments of the populace on the basis of the principle of citizenship and decentralisation, in accordance with the circumstances particular to each country. Frankly, a declaration on the part of the 10 still standing Arab states, stating a firm commitment to a set of ruling principles for the future, could establish the contours of the type of regional order we would like to build.

As there is, of course, no such thing as a regional order without constituent states. One of the chief principles should be to underscore the territorial integrity and geographic unity of the member states of the Arab League. This principle forms a deterrent against the separatist movements that tend to rise up and kill Arab states at their weakest moments. It would also send a message to those forces such as IS that are opposed to the very concept of the Arab nation state that if they continue their campaign to demolish the Arab state these states will sustain a war against these forces until they are ultimately destroyed.

Another no less important principle is that the new Arab order will guarantee the protection of minorities, not through intervention in the domestic affairs of member nations, but rather through the moral and political commitment to oppose all encroachment on the right of minorities to a dignified life on the basis of equality, justice and freedom. Arab states today are facing a situation similar to that encountered by European states at the end of the Thirty Years War. That war concluded with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which recognised the territorial sovereignty of the signatory states but, simultaneously, recognised the right of minorities to live as citizens of the state they inhabit rather than as extensions of another state in which they form the ethnic or religious majority.

A third principle would address certain repercussions from the creation of this Arab bloc and the resolve it intends to demonstrate against those forces that reject the Arab nation state. Non-Arab regional powers are likely to feel threatened by this development. Some of those powers are already trying to penetrate the tattered Arab order, taking advantage of what they see as a historic opportunity. A stronger, more cohesive and more resolved Arab order would pose a far more formidable challenge. The behaviour of Iran, Turkey and Israel towards the Arab region is shaped by the contrast between opportunity and challenge. Dealing with this problem requires considerable thought and wisdom. There is no handy “recipe”. But the worst remedy is to be found in how we are dealing with it now, which is to say without a plan or a strategy, and only by ad hoc reactions to circumstances and events, and sometimes through independent actions on the part of this or that Arab state motivated by a desire to outshine others, or by adventurism.

We need to deliberate, put our heads together and learn from our past experiences and those of others. The downward spiral we have experienced since the outset of this decade is unprecedented in our contemporary history since, perhaps, the Palestinian catastrophe. At that point, Palestine was lost, but the other Arab states remained, claimed their independence and began to progress in varying degrees. Today, we have lost five Arab states and if a new regional order is not formed the rest will remain vulnerable to similar fates.

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