The relationships between Arab and non-Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa region are unstable. The interrelationships, both bilateral and multilateral, which seemed to be unbreakable, suddenly became fragile or cold and sometimes hit rock bottom. Circumstances that were not imagined until recently have actually existed, developed, and deepened secretly and publicly, and in all areas. While other ties seem to be inconsistent, sometimes they are active and other times they are lukewarm without any explanation behind the reason for this change.
This instability is the result of a group of factors that emerged after the fall of many taboos that were prevalent in the region, the loss of loyalties, and the eruption of buried grudges. It led to an almost chronic state of uncertainty in the area extending from the Atlantic Ocean to the mountains of Afghanistan. In fact, it has become divided among entities immersed in bloody civil wars and others drained by border disputes, and most of them are involved in ethnic, religious, and sectarian conflicts or economic problems and their subsequent political and social tensions.
Of course, this instability results in widening the gap of mistrust in most of the bilateral and multilateral ties, especially after the margins for maneuver have narrowed or disappeared, prompting all the countries of the region to take more precautions and be constantly prepared for any emergency. They seek major resources to develop their military and security potentials at the expense of construction and development requirements. These countries realize that the world will not shed a single tear of grief for the weak and can live with the reality imposed by the strong.
In this context, it is not surprising that regional countries possess the most weapons in the world. Their military spending in the past decade was estimated at about $500 billion, without calculating the value of locally manufactured arms in some countries such as Turkey, Iran and Israel. Many of these countries, especially those with high population density and limited resources, lag behind in the international indicators of economic and human development.
These unstable ties do not dismiss attempts and initiatives by parties that are either directly involved in the tensions or fear their negative repercussions to bridge the rifts. They claimed efforts to launch bilateral or group dialogues, according to the cases, to find commonalities between the parties concerned to pave the way for achieving serious and acceptable settlements to the conflicts that are rampant throughout the region or at least contain them and limit their repercussions.
However, most, if not all, of these attempts and initiatives were hindered by the fact that some parties do not have sincere intentions to help initiate serious talks. Many experiences have proven that the calls for dialogue were only a pretext to gain time to complete the assembly of the elements of power necessary to change the facts on the ground and impose a new reality, which was evident from their intransigence in several cases.
Therefore, all these efforts failed to settle the region’s problems and its various conflicts. The United Nations and its affiliated organizations stood helpless in the face of the long-lasting and perennial conflicts such as the Palestinian cause and the Arab-Israeli conflict, the emerging differences such as civil wars that have destroyed many countries, including Syria, Libya, and Yemen, and some border disputes such as that over the Moroccan Sahara Region. Added to these is the tension fueled by Ethiopia’s intransigence and failure to ensure fair and legal quotas for both Egypt and Sudan in the Blue Nile waters.
The efforts of local regional organizations, as well as the attempts and initiatives by some regional countries, which cooperated with each other or with foreign powers, did not end up differently. They all failed or spun in closed mazes. The Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have been long paralyzed not only in the face of the existing problems among some of their members but also in issuing common stances on the issues that concern them.
Some of the recent initiatives that have failed to attain their objectives are:
* The US project of a Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), which was first announced during then US President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2017, with the participation of the six Gulf States, the United States, Egypt, and Jordan.
* Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC), which was established in 2015 and comprised 41 countries. Most of these countries announced took part on paper only.
* The Iranian-Qatari proposal to form an organization similar to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to avoid the region’s conflicts reaching the edge of the abyss. It was not even discussed.
In 2017, Germany’s former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer wrote that the defeat of ISIS is likely to open a new chapter in the region’s bloody and chaotic history. “The continuation of this violent pattern seems almost certain because the region remains unable to resolve internal conflicts on its own, or to create anything like a resilient framework for peace.”
Has the region become addicted to instability? Or this is its fate?