Remember 19th December 2016. Shocking events unfolded on this day which, in many ways, encapsulated the horror of 2016 in barely a few hours, not the least with regard to the Middle East.
An assassination aimed at the heart of the Middle East’s most dynamic burgeoning alliance motivated by the horrors of Aleppo; a mindless act of mass terror against civilians in Berlin reportedly by an asylum seeker reminiscent of the Nice attacks on 14 July and a gun attack on Muslims at prayer in a mosque in Zurich (largely ignored by the media as so many anti-Muslim attacks are). All this was interspersed with the full and final confirmation of Donald J. Trump as President-Elect of the United States.
All the ingredients are there – terrorism, civilians as victims, refugees, Islamophobia, the far right, the dangers of proxy wars and alliances, Syrian disaster and Turkey’s insecurity. Such events usually spark monumental and feverish speculation, even when facts are few.
Who ultimately is responsible for Ankara, Berlin and Zurich is yet to be determined but in this social media age, the arrows of abuse and accusation have to be shot early. Donald Trump has become the master of conclusion jumping, no facts or intelligence briefing needed it seems, a worrying trend for the future most powerful man on earth. Within hours he had determined that the Berlin massacre was the work of ISIS.
German police are rightly far more cautious. In Trumpworld you do not wait to find those responsible, ISIS has to be “eradicated from the face of the earth.” It is a sordid calculation that the political bonus of being right, if this was ISIS inspired, is much greater than any political damage if it transpires that it was not. Similarly, German opponents of Chancellor Angela Merkel were all quick to blame her policies for the killings.
The year 2016 has exposed a world in which insecurity and uncertainty is going to be a feature of life for some time. Political hatred is on the rise and people are increasingly prepared to use violence to express itChris Doyle
Rumour mill running overtime
But Trump was not alone. Within minutes of the news of the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Ankara, the rumour mill was in full swing. The key determination will be whether the killer acted alone or was aided, abetted and inspired by an external actor.
It is clear that for President Erdogan the most convenient guilty party must be the Gulenists. If he persuades the Russians this is the case, Erdogan preserves and even cements his ties with Moscow, and gets their assistance in the latest brutal crackdown on Turkish opponents launched since the 15 July attempted coup.
It will not suit Erdogan if it is determined that a Syrian of extremist group was behind the killing. Russia will blame Turkey for having backed Syrian opponents of Assad, and for having done too little against the extremists operating in Syria. The worst case scenario for the Turkish supremo will be if one of his inner circle was involved in the operation.
Yet it seems clear that Erdogan and Putin want to strengthen their alliance amid the speculation that there was a gruesome deal over Aleppo whereby Turkey agreed to Russia and the Syrian regime capturing the city in return for assistance in thwarting Kurdish aspirations.
The Russia-Turkey deal on a ceasefire and evacuations had incensed Iranian leaders hence the obstacles and shootings that delayed and protracted the process of getting civilians out of eastern Aleppo. The Syrian opposition feels largely betrayed by Erdogan even if they do not utter this in public. It was Turkey after all that pushed Syrian fighters to go into Aleppo all the way back in 2012.
It was Turkey last year who compelled Syrian fighters not to accept the Aleppo freeze deal that the UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura was touting. Plenty of actors in the region will not want to see this Russian-Turkish alliance bear fruit so expect the conspiracy theories to get out of control.
Many Syrian opponents of the Syrian regime celebrated, the raw emotional feeling that at least somebody is making the Russians pay a little bit for Aleppo. But the more rational Syrians are well aware that ultimately it may be Syrians who pay for this and that it may harden Putin’s resolve.
Yet Russian officials may also pause to consider the costs of remaining sucked into the Syrian conflict. Putin seems to be searching for an exit strategy and will probably not want to foot the bill for Syria’s reconstruction. The assassination is a reminder that Russia will be forever associated with the ashes and rubble of Aleppo, and many may choose to seek revenge.
The fact remains that the year 2016 has exposed a world in which insecurity and uncertainty is going to be a feature of life for some time. Political hatred is on the rise and people are increasingly prepared to use violence to express it. No place is safe even a Christmas market or a mosque. No person is safe, even an Ambassador of a superpower.
Above all murdering civilians has become the default mode of expressing this anger and hatred as they bear the burden of the international community’s political failures. Instead of electing leaders who can bring calm and reason to global affairs, electorates are increasingly opting not for those who have solutions but for those who channel their anger the most effectively.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English’s point-of-view.
Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio and gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. He tweets @Doylech.