Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Emirates solution

The well-known Middle East (ME) analyst Dr. Mordechai Kedar from the Begin-Sadat Center (BESA) at Bar-Ilan University spoke at Netanya AACI.  In a coherent and informative presentation he gave a unique perspective on the ME. This is my attempt at a summary.

He pointed out that the term "Peace process" or "Peace in the Middle East" is taken to refer only to Israel and the Palestinians. Yet, almost every country in the wider Muslim ME is at war.  For example: Morocco is waging an almost unknown war against the Polisario guerillas for control of Western Sahara; Algeria had a disputed election that the Islamists won, but the Army took over and suppressed them, resulting in a civil war in which ca. 500,000 were killed; Libya is a mess, after the downfall of Qaddafi, the various tribal groups are currently battling for control; Egypt is now under a quasi military dictatorship that is suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood and fighting a civil war in Sinai; Syria is engaged in a tragic civil war that has killed at least 160,000 and made ca. 9 million homeless; Lebanon has had a major civil war and is now teetering on the edge of another with Hezbollah taking greater control; Jordan has barely concealed hostility between the majority of Palestinians and the Beduin supporters of the Hashemite Monarchy; Iraq, that was an invention of the British imperialists who cobbled together a state consisting of mutually hostile Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shia Arabs, is now falling apart and engaged in a sectarian civil war that will probably result in it splitting into at least three separate states; Yemen is fighting two wars one between the east and west and one between the military and the Islamists; Iran is fighting barely known wars against the Kurds in the north west and the Baluchis in the south east, both of which want their independence from Iranian domination; Turkey is fighting a continuing war against the Kurds, and if the Iraqi Kurds try to establish an independent Kurdistan with the Kurds of Syria and Turkey this will precipitate a major war with Turkey, and so it goes on.

The question is why is "peace in the ME" taken to refer only to Israel when there are major conflicts all over the region and the death toll of those conflicts are infinitely more that the losses of those killed in fighting with Israel.  It is about time that the stupid idea that has gained traction that all conflicts in the ME derive from the Israel-Palestine conflict is ditched.  I challenge anyone who believes this is the cse to explain the connection between any of the above intra- and inter-necine conflicts and Israel.  There simply isn't any.  So the question arises, why is the Muslim ME the most conflict-ridden and down-trodden region of the world (even the conflicts in Africa, such as in Mali, the Central African Republic and Somalia turn out to be Muslim-related). 

For the answer to this question we must note that the only Muslim Arab states that are not in conflict and are currently affluent, are the Gulf States, namely Kuwait (that was previously occupied by Iraq), Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  This is a federation of seven independent sovereign Emirates or Sheikhdoms that have joined together for mutual benefit and security.  If we find the reason for their stability it should help to explain the instability of the rest of the Muslim world.  And the answer is that these states are relatively small entities in which the rulers have legitimacy based on their local tribal, religious and ethnic homogeneity.   In other words there are no intra-tribal, ethnic or religious forces that threaten their established order.  Whether this is good or not is beside the point, that is the apparent reason.

There are four origins of conflict in the ME (as elsewhere), namely tribal, ethnic, religious and sectarian.  Whereas in the countries of the West, such as the UK, France and the USA, the absence of tribal and eventually religious conflicts has allowed liberal democracy to develop, a concept that is unknown and totally inappropriate in most of the Middle East, where tribal, ethnic, religious and sectarian factors play a far larger role.  For example, the Iraqi army that was 900,000 strong collapsed in the face of the Sunni ISIS advance because the Iraqi soldiers were not from Mosul and so it made no sense to them to die to defend it. 

There are examples of each source of division, for example the Alawis of Syria fight for the regime of Pres. Assad not for political reasons, but because they are ethnically aligned to it.  Bahrain is a case of sectarianism, where the Sunni dominated kingdom rules over a majority Shia population, this Sunni-Shia sectarian divide is predominant throughout the Middle East.  In Lebanon there are inter-religious conflicts, especially between the Christians and various sects of Muslims, and in this context the Israel-Palestine conflict may be seen as a religious conflict.  But, basically tribal conflicts are ubiquitous throughout the ME.  One reason why the Palestinians cannot form an effective State is that they are riven with tribal conflicts, each city has its own tribe or tribes that rule and control that city.  Pres. Abbas has almost no authority in the seven major cities of the PA.  For example Ramallah is controlled by the Tawil and Barghouti tribes, Jerusalem by the Nashishibis and Husaynis, Jenin by the Yahya, and so on.  Most casual observers are completely unaware of this tribal infrastructure of power within so-called Palestinian society (note that Palestine is not originally an Arab name).

A potential solution to the Israel-Arab conflict could be through the establishment of seven emirates in the West Bank, where each would be a self-governing entity controlled by the tribe to which the inhabitants owe their allegiance.  In that case the Sheikh or Emir would be the natural ruler, and a federation of the Tribes could be organized, called for example the United Sheikhdoms or even the Palestine Emirates.  Such entities would be legitimate and peaceful and could deal with Israel on a friendly and mutually cooperative basis. 
Only when we try to resolve the problems of the ME on the basis of the real social characteristics and interests of the inhabitants will there be peace.  In the meantime the various interest groups, tribal, ethnic, religious and sectarian in the ME will have to battle it out, as they did in Europe not so long ago. 

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