The Arab Mashreq has been subjected to endless storms of political fluctuations and power shifts over the past few years. In less than two decades, Iraq and Syria have changed completely, and Lebanon is well on its way to change in an overwhelming manner.
Sadly, only a few of the changes that occurred during this period can be considered positive, the majority have been distinctly negative, or in some cases the impact of these changes is yet to be determined.
In 2003, the Iraq war was instigated under decidedly false pretenses ending with the Americans toppling Saddam Hussein. A ruthless dictator was easily defeated after ruling for long years starting from 1968 as vice president, and then as the official Iraqi president in 1979.
The introduction of political democracy as a system in a long-standing authoritarian state has allowed for the surge in sectarian animosity and conflicts which it was covertly preventing. Iran, with its sectarian militias, made sure to have a hand in the conflict and took the lion’s share.
The Iraq of today is almost unrecognizable, and it is still unclear if Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s attempts to lead the country to safety will be successful. Whether he succeeds or fails, there is no doubt that Iraq will never be what it used to. Power dynamics have shifted, and tension has mounted; Sunni-Shiite relations, center- Kurdish periphery relations have been reshaped. The same is true with regard to Iraq’s relationship with its neighboring countries, especially Iran.
As for Syria, in the aftermath of the revolution and the counter-revolution, the country has also become unrecognizable. Many aspects have changed substantially, including Syria’s demographic composition, sectarian relations, class structure and age distribution. This is in addition to what the media has been calling a shift in Syria’s position from a significant regional player into an arena for all kinds of foreign intervention.
Lebanon, in turn, has lost many of its defining strengths, for instance, it has lost its position as a mediator, it has lost its middle class, and it is on its way to lose its cadres and educated youth. The Port of Beirut, and Lebanon’s central bank have now turned from being symbols of prosperity into symbols of deterioration and death.
Sectarian relations have reached a boiling point. The current sectarian system in place has proven its inadequacy, yet no alternative systems are being introduced. Lebanon has long been an embodiment of modernity in the Arab world; however, if things stay as they are this will soon come to an end.
Furthermore, many aspects of the contemporary Arab life have changed considerably especially in terms of religion and values.
For instance, Sunni-Shia conflicts have surged in an unprecedented manner. ISIS rose to power and established its state in two Arab countries, then it was defeated. Viewing Islam as the religion of the majority, thus making it the sole source from which policies are derived is no longer accepted as it was in the past.
In terms of economics and finances, oil no longer plays the same enormous role it used to during the last five decades. Oil has considerably contributed to shaping the current class structure of the Levant. Both conservative as well as liberals have benefited from it.
As for the location of the Middle East, in the past, the fact that it is strategically located between Asia, Africa and Europe was one of the biggest reasons for its importance. Now, the West seems to favor Asia and the Pacific. The Middle East seems to be losing much of its foundational importance.
In the midst of all these colossal changes and variables, which affect tens of millions of people, why is it so surprising that the Palestinian cause can go through some changes as well, especially since the change in this case should have been the most anticipated. Many incidents and developments have paved the way for it.
For instance, after the 1967 War, “returning occupied Palestinian territories” replaced “liberating Palestine”. In 1970, the Jordanian civil war erupted. In 1973, Arab military efforts reached their peak. In 1974, the Palestinian National Council adopted the “Ten-Point Program” and called for the establishment of a national authority on any liberated Palestinian territory. In 1975, the Lebanese war erupted.
In 1978-79, Egypt signed the Camp David Accords, thus ending its conflict with Israel. In 1982, the Lebanese war erupted. Throughout the 1980s, Hafez al-Assad waged a war against the Palestine Liberation Organization. In 1990-91, due to PLO’s support for Saddam Hussein in his invasion of Kuwait, Palestinian-Gulf relations were severed. At the same time, all international support was directed at the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1993, the PLO signed the Oslo Accords. In 1994, Jordan signed the Wadi Araba Treaty. In 2000, the Second Intifada broke after the collapse of peace negotiations between Arafat and Barak. Unlike the first intifada, Israel chose the path of violence which resulted in the destruction of most of what the Palestinian authority had built.
In 2007, further division occurred between the West Bank and Gaza, which witnessed three successive wars (2008, 2012, 2014) that did not receive enough attention from the world.
In the meantime, two Palestinian models were unfolding: a corrupt model in the West Bank, and an underdeveloped model in the Gaza Strip. Both models have failed to serve the cause each in its own way. Afterwards, successive Arab uprisings began erupting all over the Arab world revealing the real concerns of the people.
In parallel, the 2006 Iranian-Israeli war waged on Lebanese soil by Lebanese hands, proved Iran’s dangerous impact on the Palestinian cause. For many, Iran’s expansionism has resulted in shifting the focus away from the risks Israel poses. The Israeli threat is no longer the priority.
Throughout this long Journey, the Palestinian people have been on the losing side. Israel may have caused the most damage, but it is not the only player in the political arena which wronged the Palestinians.
As an observer of all these shifts, I fail to see why any sane individual would find the latest developments shocking. While they may be cause for grief, they should not be cause for shock.
- This piece was originally published in Asharq Al-AwsatSHOW MORE