Originally published in the Greek weekly newspaper “Paraskinio”, issue 608, p. 55, on Dec. 9, 2017
The old world continues to regress between the various crises like Brexit, the quest for the secession of Catalonia and its internal economic and political problems. These directly and indirectly affect the international balance in general, and the Middle East and North Africa in particular. The role played by Europe and mainly the leaders of Britain, France and Germany cannot be overlooked.
The start of the Arab Spring with the fall of Tunisian President Zin El Abidin Ben Ali has created global confusion. The region was booming because of the growing awareness of the Arab peoples and the desire of young people for freedom and transparency against the dictatorship and authoritarianism on which the Arab regimes were built. The safety valve that these regimes created to protect themselves, effectively protected the interests of Western countries and these, in turn, supported them directly and indirectly. This confusion encouraged emerging countries, such as Iran and Turkey, to take advantage of the situation by redrawing their strategy in the region and making themselves as interlocutors who more or less impose their opinion. Furthermore, Russia, which had lost many partners in the Middle East and North Africa, has returned strongly as an alternative.
Germany, which has been transformed over the past twenty years into a leader of the European Union, has entered a tunnel of internal balances. The recent elections forced Angela Merkel to get into a whirlwind of efforts to build a coalition government, but the development is not good since the two big parties do not seem to be co-operating to form. Therefore, the two options are the elections that are not expected to diversify the results, or the formation of a coalition with the less powerful political forces that will weaken the new government internally and externally. Thus, Germany is far removed from its influence in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Similarly, Britain’s external role becomes weaker due to its exit from the EU. At present, President Macron is the strongest leader in Europe, but his vague, unstable and contradictory role in many of the Middle East crises makes the atmosphere more complicated. For example, his stance in the Syrian crisis, the largest in the region, is not entirely clear. Macron has often spoken of Assad’s removal, while the French Foreign Minister said, in a clear contradiction, that France does not oppose Assad’s involvement in a political solution. France, which encourages Saudi Arabia against Iran, is the same as exerting pressure on Trump to maintain the nuclear agreement, which is a key reason for Iran’s growing influence and intervention in the region, another contradiction. In Libya, the French leadership offers nothing good. The country enters the sixth year of internal conflict. France, which played an important role in supporting the Libyan leader of the military junta Haftar, responsible for trafficking in human beings, threatens with direct military intervention it to stop it.
As far as the US is concerned, I have spoken in several of my previous articles on the American role and the reasons for its weakening and confusion. However, the growing Russian role in Syria does not mean that Russia is able to fill its gap in the region. The recent meeting in Sochi between the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran has made clear Moscow’s inability to impose its views and its need for regional powers, unlike the US that once they want something they just do it.
In the wake of these conditions prevailing in Western countries and Russia, it is important to observe the development of the role of regional forces, notably Iran and Turkey. Iran has resumed following the lifting of economic sanctions under its nuclear program agreement. This rebound is reflected in the actual spread of Iranian influence in four Arab countries: in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and terrorism, and the government crisis in Lebanon exists the hand of Iran. As far as Turkey is concerned, it is emerging as an effective force in the region in the Syrian crisis, the crises of Iraqi Kurdistan and the Gulf, as well as Somalia where its role has grown.
In the meantime, the EU is still engaged in its internal affairs, which has a negative impact on the international level. The crisis of refugees and immigrants who have struck and continue to hit European coasts confirms that Europe is inseparably linked to the region, whether it wants it or not. The strategy of escaping from the crises is not the best option, but it has the opposite effect. It can become a weapon against its stability. Cross-border terrorism is a good example.