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XINHUA NEWS SERVICE REPORTS FROM THE AFRICAN CONTINENT

 

Polarization overshadows chaotic Middle
East, earnest dialogue key to end crises 

By Mahmoud Fouly, Zheng Kailun CAIRO Egypt (Xinhua) -- The restive Middle East region has gone through conflicts and disorders in the outgoing year 2017 with regional and international powers, alliances and blocs as key players, while earnest dialogue and unity are called for to find solutions to the region’s chronic crises.

Extending from northern Africa to western Asia, the region has been the most tense worldwide throughout history, passing through a dozen of conflicts in the past few decades, including the Arab-Israeli wars, the Lebanese civil war, the Iraqi-Iranian war, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the division of Sudan and the tribal conflicts in Yemen.

Over the past few years, particularly following the so-called Arab Spring uprisings that toppled some powerful Arab leaders, turmoil has further hit Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, with Lebanon suffering political instability and the Palestinian-Israeli peace process facing a deadlock.

The world’s two main big powers, the United States and Russia, are obviously key players in the regional developments, with both playing political and military roles along with their regional allies, to maintain their interests in the conflict-stricken region.

The United States under President Donald Trump, who took office in January 2017, showed massive support to its number one regional ally Israel, disregarding its settlement construction on occupied Palestinian territories, failing to exercise pressure on Israel to engage in a real peace process and finally recognizing the disputed holy city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital despite Arab and Islamic uproar.

Receiving hundreds of billions of dollars, Washington vowed support for its oil-rich Gulf allies led by Saudi Arabia against Iran, Russia’s regional ally that is criticized by the United States and the West for its nuclear program.

Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran are considered main regional rivals, with each attempting to expand influence through allying with rival big powers and regional players. Since March 2015, a Saudi-led Arab alliance has been launching airstrikes against the Iran-backed, Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, a group that helped overthrow of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and recently killed former President Ali Abdullah Saleh after he turned against them.

On the other hand, Russia, supported by Iran and its loyal ally Hezbollah in Lebanon, uses its weight and power to protect the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, with Russian troops fighting side by side with the Syrian army against what they refer to as terrorist groups.

Demanding removal of Syria’s Assad and seeking to exercise pressure on Iran and Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia played a role in the recent resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who blamed Iran and Hezbollah for it in a televised speech from Riyadh, although he later went back on the resignation.

“Polarization is so big in many countries of the region that has reached a hard stage of conflict due to the different interests of world powers. So, there is a need to engage in real dialogue between the region’s states, while Western states should limit their interference in the region and their conflict on its soil,” Al-Ahram editor-in-chief Alaa Sabet told Xinhua in a recent interview.

With regards to China as a rising big power, the giant Asian country approaches the Middle East differently and practically, based on mutual economic interests, win-win development of regional developing states and non-interference in other countries’ domestic affairs, stressing that development and dialogue are the main axes for resolving regional conflicts.

“The Chinese role is very important. China has a lot of relations and interests in the region and a real and big desire for openness towards the Middle East, which is very important,” Sabet said, adding that “China diplomatically is doing very well and it approaches the region with very well-studied steps.”

Countering global terrorism, a U.S.-led international alliance, mainly involving the United States and other Western countries besides some Arab states, started in 2014 airstrikes against targets of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group in Iraq and Syria.

Hence, the Middle East region has become the battlefield of a U.S.-led international anti-terror alliance, a Russian-led alliance including Syria, Iraq and Iran and a Saudi-led anti-Shiite Arab alliance against the Houthis in Yemen, with members of each coalition seeking to preserve their own interests.

With the IS defeat and decline in Raqqa and Mosul, the group’s de facto capitals in Syria and Iraq, the IS militants are expected to flee and seek shelter with their fellows in Libya and Egypt, where their affiliates have proved strong presence.

In Egypt, for instance, the IS claimed most of the terror attacks that killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers as well as dozens of the Coptic minority since the former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, together with his currently outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group, was toppled in July 2013 due to mass protests against his one-year rule.

On Nov. 24, a terrorist attack against a mosque in North Sinai killed at least 310 Muslim worshippers and wounded over 120 others, marking the deadliest terror operation and the first against a Muslim mosque in Egypt’s modern history. But no group has yet claimed responsibility for this one.

The Egyptian leadership under President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has been engaging in an anti-terror war over the past few years, accusing the Brotherhood of being behind all terrorist operations that took place in the country since Morsi’s removal, and Qatar of supporting terrorism, sheltering Brotherhood members and interfering in the Egyptian domestic affairs.

The rift led Egypt to join a Saudi-led blockade against Qatar in early June, cutting its diplomatic ties and economic cooperation with Qatar to pressure the rich emirate to give up its support for the Brotherhood and generally to stop interfering in other countries’ domestic affairs, a charge that has been repeatedly denied by Qatar.

The outgoing year has also seen greater world concern for achieving stability in Libya via political dialogue between major Libyan rival parties, while Egypt is keeping a close watch on its 1,200 km western border with eastern Libya that has been a smuggling destination of arms and militants over the past few years.

Libya is torn by a civil war and run by two rival administrations, one in the capital Tripoli northwestern the country and the other in Tobruk city in the northeast, which makes the North African country a suitable incubator for IS militants.

In early November, Egypt arrested a Libyan militant who was involved in a recent anti-police deadly attack in a desert area southern the capital Cairo. Being the only survivor of security raids following the anti-police attack, the Libyan militant confessed that his group leader was an Egyptian affiliated with al-Qaida and that all other members of the group were killed in the raids.

Terrorism and political disorder in the region are closely interrelated, as terrorists find chaotic spots most suitable for their activities and recruitments, as clearly seen in war-torn Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.

Since most of the terror groups claimed themselves as Islamists and justified their violence by misleading and deceptive interpretations of Islamic texts, the Palestinian cause and the Israeli occupation of the disputed holy city of Jerusalem are among the main reasons for growing regional and global terrorism.

In Egypt’s North Sinai governorate for example, the IS-affiliated terrorist group that carried out most of the attacks over the past few years referred to itself in the beginning as “Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis,” meaning “Supporters of Jerusalem,” before changing its name to “Walayat Sinai” meaning “Sinai State” or “Sinai Province” and declared loyalty to the IS.

This is why Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is expected by many to foster extremist thoughts although it is not an excuse for extremism.

Generally, many experts believe that the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq sowed the seeds for the growth of terrorist groups as well as the general chaotic situation in the Middle East region afterwards.

“The regional issues are interrelated and highly complicated. At many times, it is in favor of some countries like the United States that such regional disorders continue. The United States complicates regional conditions for its own interests,” Sabet said.

Years of prolonged chaos and miseries have shown that the use of force and military actions will not solve the Middle East crises and conflicts, but only aggravate them. So the problems could only be tackled in different approaches: namely, the political and economic ways.

Most regional states are Arabs, yet polarizations and conflicting interests disbanded them into a fragile bloc that occasionally gather at the Cairo-based Arab League headquarters at times of emergency with no real effective outcomes on the ground.

Inter-Arab dialogue and unity are a prerequisite for regional settlements, as a united Arab nation would be a significant power to push forward for long-awaited solutions and to be reconsidered by big powers upon making any decisions related to the region.

Regional powers, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, also need to rationalize and prioritize the region’s security and stability over narrow interests, which only serve to escalate the situations in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

Development and economic growth, in turn, are basic factors for regional security and stability, given that the Middle East region in general and the Arab world in particular have sufficient resources for mutual fruitful economic cooperation that would limit chances for polarization, disorder and terror.

“As 2017 was a year full of regional challenges and conflicts, we hope that 2018 will be a year of Arab-Arab and Islamic-Islamic closeness and unity in order to face such challenges,” Sabet said.

             

 

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