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Khalil al-Anani

The changing political dynamics of the Arab world

The road ahead: Constants of politics in the Arab world are no more [Getty]

Date of publication: 10 February, 2015

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Comment: Much of the Middle East is in a state of flux, and the old constants have disappeared. The next few months are only likely to usher in further change.

The Arab world is going through unmistakable regional changes, which may have substantial repercussions for the local and regional order over the next few months.

First of all, it should be noted that for more than four years we have been going a period of "regional disorder". It began with the first wave of the Arab Spring, which turned the region on its head and reshaped the local and regional balance of power. The effects of this are still being felt.

The first of these new changes underway is related to Saudi Arabia. Without exaggeration, it can be said that Saudi Arabia is in an exceptional period, both domestically and in its foreign relations. The new resident of the royal palace is trying to install the pillars of his rule in a way that ensures his control over the state, especially given attempts by long-established parties to maintain their influence and power after the death of King Abdullah.

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The changes the new king has brought about have revealed he was not pleased, one way or another, with the Saudi government's performance - especially with the treatment of sensitive issues like foreign relations with Egypt and neighbouring countries such as Qatar and Yemen.

Without exaggeration, it can be said that Saudi Arabia is in an exceptional period, both domestically and in its foreign relations.

It is clear the new king is more preoccupied with internal issues and reshuffling the government than he is with external affairs - which may seem natural, given the challenges the kingdom is likely to face, especially after the sudden drop in oil prices and the internal unrest caused by the way the kingdom has managed its foreign affairs in recent years.

These changes indicate the monarch may be reverting to old policies, based on caution and containment rather than escalation and confrontation. It also reveals he has rearranged priorities and will be mostly preoccupied with internal affairs, followed by the situation in Yemen and then Iran.

South of Saudi

The second set of changes are related to Yemen, which has fallen into such a downward spiral of division and conflict that it will not be saved without regional and possibly international intervention.

The gravity of the situation in Yemen stems not only from its regional implications - Iranian/Saudi Arabian relations, sectarian conflict and the rise of militant Islamic groups - but also from the serious possibility the country will break up into two states, one in the north and another in south, as happened a few years ago in Sudan.

The situation in Yemen confirms the miserable failure of Arab countries to contain local and regional conflicts. The contagion of civil strife that has erupted in Yemen may spread to other Arab countries in which people suffer from marginalisation and exclusion.

Counter-revolution

The third set of changes is related to the failure of the regional counter-revolution to achieve its goals, the most important of which was getting rid of Islamic political groups.

In spite of two years of military campaigning targeting Islamists, they still exist, have influence and have a negative effect on several regional dynamics.

The near future may see governments reconsider their treatment of Islamists in some countries such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Saudi Arabia needs the Islamists in Yemen, in particular the Islah party loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood, to counter the rise of the Houthis and stop Iran from extending into its backyard.

Jordan also needs the Brotherhood to counter the barbarism of the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as Isis) and ensure domestic support for the Jordanian government - especially after the crisis caused by the IS murder of Moaz al-Kassasbeh, which shook the kingdom to its core.

Internationalisation

The last set of changes is in the extraordinary linkages between various domestic, regional and international issues, never before seen in the history of the region.

As local conflicts have become entangled with regional conflicts, the link between the two cannot be broken without all parties being represented in negotiations, such as is the case with Yemen, Syria, Libya and Egypt.

The region has been rocked by transformations in way that has not happened in over half a century.

The old constants of the region have gone.

It has been rocked by transformations in way that has not happened in motre than half a century.

The changes have been accompanied by a clear retreat of the US from the region and fears the area will become entangled in a long and difficult conflict that could have serious and unpredictable repercussions.

One of the results of the pervasive sense of uncertainty in the Arab world is the fluidity of regional alignments and alliances. We have seen this before in several countries, and it means more change and transformation is likely to happen, the results of which may become clear in the next few months.

Currently, the only constant in the Arab world is the instability that has sometimes reached the point of chaos. The region will probably stay this way for a long time. All sides must prepare themselves for what may come.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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