The term “Middle East” has become enormously elastic that once British Foreign Office used in the 19th century by dividing the region into the Near East, the area closest to the United Kingdom and most of North Africa; the Far East, which was east of British India; and the Middle East, which was between British India and the Near East. This is creating confusion and strategizing the challenges of rebalancing of the Middle East.
Today Middle East refers to the predominantly Arab Muslim-dominated countries west of Afghanistan and along the North African shore; with the exception of Turkey and Iran. The understanding of the complexity of Middle East is more conceptual and it varies immensely in the perceptional domain. The makeup of the Middle East has traditionally been countries seen close to European secularism and the one aligned with Islam.
During Cold War one part of the region was secular, socialist and built around the military, while the Arabian Peninsula was largely was Islamist, traditionalist and royalist. The Middle East’s threat comes from its internal composition of tribes, clans, ethnic and sectarian groups divided by the borders traditional and religious loyalties based on sectarian lines.
The political structure of the Middle East has embraced either secularism or traditionalism to manage both the subnational groupings and the claims and their religiosity. This makes it an interesting political model: they are against Israel; the unifying point that all opposed. The secular socialist states, such as Egypt and Syria, opposed Israel and the traditional royalist threatened by the secular socialists, saw an ally in Israel.
Today world is experiencing the effects of Soviet disintegration in the Middle East. The socialist secularist movement of Fatah has lost its backing and credibility. The vacuum is being filled by ideological groups and organizations like al Qaeda and Islamic States. The collapse of the Soviet Union seems to have energized ideological groups as they defeated the Soviets and the first Iraqi Invasion led by United States combined anti-Soviet coalition of Arab countries, but it triggered a sense of Islamic power against United States itself to be taken a great threat to Islam.
The concept of religion or pan-Islamism has emerged in a historical context of transnational caliphate having a single political entity that abolishes existing states, the United States and its partner being the enemy of Islam and mobilization of subnational groups in various countries to overthrow corrupt Muslim secular and traditionalist regimes.
The radical like al Qaeda, Islamic States and Taliban etc. wanted to far enemy العدو البعيد United States close to them to launch a crusade in the Islamic world against near enemy القريب العدو, by sparking uprisings against corrupt and hypocritical Muslim states, then sweep aside to European-imposed borders and set the stage for uprisings. The events since 9/11 indicate manifestation of this ideology that has embroiled United States caught up in the subnational conflicts of Iraq and Afghanistan that involved it in creating tactical solutions rather than confronting the strategic problem.
United States in its urge to defeat al Qaeda unleashed the subnational groups, created a vacuum that they couldn’t fill and weakening of governments empowered non state actors supported by subnational groups, which caused national institutions in the region to collapse. The Arab Spring was mistaken for a liberal democratic rising like 1989 in Eastern Europe. It indeed was only a uprising of pan-Islamic movements that eventually embroiled Syria in a prolonged civil war giving al Qaeda and Islamic State room enough to maneuver.
Today the center of the Middle East is hollowed out to turn it into a whirlpool of competing forces, where non state actors and subnational forces are reality and player of the region. The Islamic State has turned the fight into a war on Shiite heresy and represents a logical continuation of al Qaeda with enormous military and political framework to exploit the situation.
The balance of power is now shifting to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia provided it sustains internal security and political stability being Arab world’s central power and a world power leader responsible for regional stability and development. It requires superior counterterrorism and internal security strategies to combat two potential concurrent conflicts; protect the homeland and simultaneously safeguards its strategic allies. This requires Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to defeat Islamic States, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), state sponsored proxies and regional conflicts by non-state actors including threats against external aggression defining the concept of regional wars.
The any further leaning of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to adopt failed strategic framework of United States and its European allies would create a complex, uncertain, and ever-changing regional landscape beleaguered by internal strives, rebellions, terrorism and sectarian strife to transform Middle East into an unrecognizable political arena plagued by instability, inefficiency, and failing states to impact stability of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. Syed Wajid Ali