Monday,23 April, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1352, (13 - 19 July 2017)
Monday,23 April, 2018
Issue 1352, (13 - 19 July 2017)

Ahram Weekly

The arts of coalition building

For the Arab fate to be in Arab hands, the ad hoc grouping of Arab states that confronted Qatar should become a permanent regional alliance, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

اقرأ باللغة العربية

Two things are needed if the Middle East is to return to a reasonable degree of rationality. The first is a central force strong enough to counterbalance and restrain forces that seek to destroy this region. The second is a project for domestic reform in this region’s countries and for building regional security. The two requirements are interrelated. Historically, when Egypt and Saudi Arabia worked together against Israeli expansionism, the Iranian revolution or Iraqi unruliness, the result was stability in the region and opportunity for growth and development at home. Today, the quartet of nations (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain) that insists that Qatar must abide by the rules of the war against terrorism and that backed this demand with various types of embargo has been asked by the people of this region to do more. Qatar is a small country, but it is also the facade of diverse radical and terrorist forces as well as of major regional powers (Iran and Turkey) that have exposed their true faces in the course of the past few weeks. What is important, therefore, is that we do not let the Qatari tree hide the dense and dark forest behind it, a forest in which lurks numerous terrorist groups, foremost among them the vast, hugely funded and tightly organised Muslim Brotherhood with branches in more than 81 countries in the world. Probably no other political force has influenced Qatar as much as the Muslim Brotherhood, especially when it comes to the arts of deception, which entail knowing what to do in moments of weakness and what to do in moments of strength and, above all, how to manipulate a double discourse: one in Arabic; the other in English, and one smooth and liberal; the other violent and extremist.

Qatar has learned quite a bit thanks to major world powers. Qatar, itself, has confessed that since the US and a number of European powers were unable to deal with and communicate with terrorist groups, Doha acted as the bridge to the huge cocktail of groups from the Taliban to IS, all of which are intimately connected beneath the Muslim Brotherhood mantle. This was a great experience for Qatar that found itself airing radical perspectives from Al-Jazeera while speaking the language of moderation through Western channels and websites. In the process of playing both sides of the field, Qatar did not shrink from using terrorist instruments at the same time it entered the ranks of the war against terrorism. In all events, the countries that have used Qatar have outdone one another in the role of mediator during the past few weeks, pleading to the Arabs to resolve their crisis as though the quartet members had done more than ask Qatar to cease its aggression, incitement and intrigues against them.

The chief benefit of the so-called Qatari “crisis” was that it exposed the hidden facets of a particular issue: the war against terrorism. However, what was revealed betrayed diverse levels of geographical ambitions in the countries that have fallen victim to civil war and internal strife. The “Astana coalition” (Russia, Iran and Turkey) was not so much an alliance forged to halt the bloodshed in Syria as it was a diplomatic arrangement to set the stage for determining Syria’s fate which, by dint of geography, will also determine the fate of Iraq and Lebanon. As this regional coalition presented itself as a diplomatic avenue for organising the state of the Middle East, all regional and international stakeholders awaited the results of the meeting between Putin and Trump on the sidelines of the G20 Summit. Amazingly, only half an hour was scheduled for that meeting. We then learned that the US project for Syria, as outlined by the US secretary of state in an official statement, is to delegate the management of the Syrian question to Russia on the condition that the mutual enemy is unified as the remnants of IS while the continued presence of the Syrian regime is contingent on its non-use of chemical weapons. In the process, the US will offer its military might and help in the creation of permanent safe zones and no-fly zones. What does the US or Trump expect in return? Does the answer lie in Iraq? Or could it involve Russia’s relinquishing its alliance with Iran and Turkey? Certainly, it takes more than half an hour to settle such matters. There has to have been communications and consultations during the preceding weeks and months.

Questions abound. They are impossible to answer in the absence of a sufficiently strong counterweight that takes the interests of the states and peoples of this region into account.

Previously in this column I proposed a concept for a political charter for regional conflict settlements. It would be based on such principles as the preservation of the existing states in the region within their current borders, the revival of the power the state that would have the sole monopoly on recourse to military force, and the protection of minority rights. However, charters, no matter how intrinsically worthy they are, do not apply themselves. Political and sometimes military capacities are required to carry them out. Therefore, the four quartet members should transform themselves from a mere coalition against the Qatari facade for various antagonistic forces into an alliance cemented by the will and determination of the Arab countries that want to play a major role in the arrangements for this region and the realisation of regional security. Such a bond is not about embarrassing Arab countries that prefer to remain aloof or that imagine that their safest route is to keep as far away as possible from the flames. Rather, it is a process for those who understand that the fires of partition, disintegration and terrorism spare no one.

From the military standpoint, the four quartet members have worked together closely in many activities during recent years, as has been exemplified in the periodic manoeuvres that featured variegated combinations of military contingents on land, in the air and at sea. However, the armed forces cannot operate together in the absence of a policy that steers relations between partners, a policy for managing relations with other countries in the Arab region or abroad, and a policy for dealing with great powers and superpowers. In strong alliances, such policies are part of a comprehensive strategy that also delineates roles, spreads costs and, before all else, identifies objectives and the means to attain them. All this requires more than constant consultations, understandings between security agencies and sustained communications between leaders. It is crucial to engage the whole of Arab public opinion. Otherwise put, genuine and lasting international alliances in the Arab region derive their authenticity from Arab public opinion. After all, it is the Arab public that offers both support and sacrifices.

The quartet’s effort to dot the i’s and cross the t’s with regard to Qatar was a major step towards explaining to the Arab peoples, including those in Qatar, the negative role that Qatar has been playing in Arab society at a critical juncture in which the fates of Arab nations and, indeed, the fate of the entire Arab region, are being determined. Now, this courageous step can form the beginning of something more important and worthier. The Arab fate must not be determined by another Sykes-Picot arrangement that will have us crying for decades to come. We are therefore compelled to stand a major test. We can succeed in it if we understand how to forge an alliance and what to do with this alliance in the face of other alliances that have set the Arabs in their crosshairs.

The writer is chairman of the board, CEO, and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.


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