How will Arabs fare during 2022 compared to 2021?

Mohammed Al Rumaihi
Mohammed Al Rumaihi
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There is no crystal ball that an observer can behold to know the future; but one can use what he knows of the past to build upon and sketch a picture of the events that may come to form during the next year, 2022. It was widely anticipated that 2021 would be the year which sees humanity overcome the Covid-19 pandemic, with vaccines and medications surfacing, coupled with a decline in the overall number of infections in many countries. However, in the last gasp of 2021, apprehension and lockdowns caught up once again with humanity, prompting pessimists to predict a return to square one, whereas optimists saw the rapid spread of the virus as portending its imminent defeat. Nonetheless, we enter the New Year with optimism and pessimism hand-in-hand, both vis-à-vis the pandemic and other issues, with certainty still well out of range.

Uncertainty prevails throughout the Arab political landscape, as the Arabs enter the second decade following the "tempestuous Arab Spring"—whose damaging repercussions are still reverberating in a number of Arab societies, leaving massive destruction in its wake in some of them, the outcome of which remains difficult to predict during the New Year. On the regional scale, a relative change occurred at the top of the Iranian pyramid last year, tilting mostly from relative tolerance toward extremism. This change blurred the lines of the duality between the Supreme Leader’s camp and that of the Iranian President, fusing both camps into one. Some see this fusion as good news, since it precludes conflicting policies at the top of the pyramid, and therefore puts the Iranian leadership in a better decision to make difficult decisions! Others, however, see this fusion as an orientation toward extremism.

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Iran, on the political, health, and—most importantly—the economic levels, is immersed in a sea of uncertainty. Last year witnessed such concerns vented in several grassroots sectors, as popular unrest broke out in more than one province and by more than one ethnicity within the Iranian state. This turmoil drives decision-makers in Tehran to concede the necessity of reaching some sort of settlement that secures swift financial inflows into the treasury—even in the event that some demands are waived—something that the Iranian administration can accommodate because it is capable of justifying such a concession, and even dressing it up in the garb of a victory before its constituency, as the Iranian government has done time and time again.

Indications of turmoil are not only present inside Iran, as hardliners in Tehran have been disturbed by the results of the Iraqi elections, which were held under the banner of “Iran… Out…Out,” and following resistance and intimidation to the extent of attempting to assassinate Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in order to befuddle the political scene, the parties defeated in the elections were forced to acknowledge the results, albeit the battle did not end here. The defeated camp is still waiting for opportunities to pounce on, and it is creating obstacles in the way of Iraq's recovery from its paralysis caused by the "occupation from within"—but the Iraqis are resisting.

On the Yemeni level, despite Iranian cash injections, equipment and military expertise, with the help of the Lebanese "Hezbollah" and the threat of transferring the "Hezbollah Mujahideen militias to Yemen," yet the military effort of al-Houthi and his supporters was incapable of accomplishing any meaningful military objectives. The city of Marib eluded al-Houthi despite its psychological and economic importance to his supporters and the long months of its siege. The situation in Lebanon does not need much explanation in light of the free fall of the state, the local currency, and services in unison to the extent that Hezbollah’s ally President Michel Aoun, for the first time in a long time, concedes the necessity of a “state-led defense policy”!

These were some indications of Iran’s loosening grip on what it used to undisputedly control. In the event of reaching an agreement in the next few months on the nuclear file, where will money flowing into the Iranian treasury go -- if this does indeed materialize? Will it water the stifled Iranian economy at home, or will it go to its clients abroad? If the money goes to the latter, Iranian patience domestically will run out, especially since the Iranian public sees in next-door Turkey a successful developmental model that embraces the global economy.

On another note, Algeria is preparing to host the Arab summit next March, after its forced disruption due to the pandemic, and also because of the tense relations between some key Arab states. Since the summit will be held in the North African region of the Arab world, this region is also tainted with many problems, foremost of which is the quasi-historical dispute between Morocco and Algeria itself, which some will face embarrassment in taking a clear stance from—with perhaps a hidden inclination of the majority towards Morocco’s position.

Tunisia is also awash with a seemingly protracted uncertainty due to an absence of an estimate of the time which the yet-ambiguous political reform plan requires, in addition to the exhausting economic track. Next-door Libya, which is also drowning in division and languishing from interference from East and West, not only politically but militarily, through mercenary militias—the worst armed groups that kill for money.

Thus, the members of the Arab League, as has historically been the case, some of them will tend to plot machinations against others instead of building a broad reconciliation that focuses on common factors and plays down differences. The latter requires statesmen that prioritize openness over reconciliation on paper.

The most stable Arab countries are Gulf Cooperation Council states and Egypt, where undeniably ambitious developmental plans are afoot. These countries have a vested interest in stability and know the cost of conflicts which is much higher than the price of development. Therefore, these countries can be a lever for an Arab effort, a lever whose early indicators began with Egypt's participation in the GCC foreign ministers meeting before the last summit in early December in Riyadh. The Arab region is besieged by the aspirations of its neighbors and beyond its immediate vicinity. The signal given by the holding of a summit for African countries in Turkey, which is geographically proximate to the Arab region, must be read with the significance it deserves. The same is true of the summit between China and African countries in Senegal. Both summits were held during the pandemic in preparation for what is beyond. In the same vein, reading the variables in the current US administration and its approach to the problems of the Middle East—which is an incomplete, confused and in some cases a misleading approach—poses a danger that should not be underestimated.

So, we anticipate an upcoming year in which hopes and caveats are mixed, and thorny and outstanding files may remain open, with the possibility of encountering conflicts that flip from cold to hot. In politics, always expect the unexpected!

Finally, having said all of this, can we really say Happy New Year to everyone?!

This article was originally published in, and translated from, Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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