Imagining a Remapped Middle East

Discussion in 'West Asia & Africa' started by parijataka, Oct 4, 2013.

  1. parijataka

    parijataka Senior Member Senior Member

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    With Kurds and Arabs, Shias and Sunnis etc at each other's throats this opinion piece makes the case for redrawing of national borders.

    Imagining a Remapped Middle East
    By ROBIN WRIGHT
    Published: September 28, 2013

    THE map of the modern Middle East, a political and economic pivot in the international order, is in tatters. Syria’s ruinous war is the turning point. But the centrifugal forces of rival beliefs, tribes and ethnicities — empowered by unintended consequences of the Arab Spring — are also pulling apart a region defined by European colonial powers a century ago and defended by Arab autocrats ever since.

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    How 5 countries could become 14
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    A different map would be a strategic game changer for just about everybody, potentially reconfiguring alliances, security challenges, trade and energy flows for much of the world, too.

    Syria’s prime location and muscle make it the strategic center of the Middle East. But it is a complex country, rich in religious and ethnic variety, and therefore fragile. After independence, Syria reeled from more than a half-dozen coups between 1949 and 1970, when the Assad dynasty seized full control. Now, after 30 months of bloodletting, diversity has turned deadly, killing both people and country. Syria has crumbled into three identifiable regions, each with its own flag and security forces. A different future is taking shape: a narrow statelet along a corridor from the south through Damascus, Homs and Hama to the northern Mediterranean coast controlled by the Assads’ minority Alawite sect. In the north, a small Kurdistan, largely autonomous since mid-2012. The biggest chunk is the Sunni-dominated heartland.

    Syria’s unraveling would set precedents for the region, beginning next door. Until now, Iraq resisted falling apart because of foreign pressure, regional fear of going it alone and oil wealth that bought loyalty, at least on paper. But Syria is now sucking Iraq into its maelstrom.

    “The battlefields are merging,” the United Nations envoy Martin Kobler told the Security Council in July. “Iraq is the fault line between the Shia and the Sunni world and everything which happens in Syria, of course, has repercussions on the political landscape in Iraq.”

    Over time, Iraq’s Sunni minority — notably in western Anbar Province, site of anti-government protests — may feel more commonality with eastern Syria’s Sunni majority. Tribal ties and smuggling span the border. Together, they could form a de facto or formal Sunnistan. Iraq’s south would effectively become Shiitestan, although separation is not likely to be that neat.

    The dominant political parties in the two Kurdish regions of Syria and Iraq have longstanding differences, but when the border opened in August, more than 50,000 Syrian Kurds fled to Iraqi Kurdistan, creating new cross-border communities. Massoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, has also announced plans for the first summit meeting of 600 Kurds from some 40 parties in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran this fall.

    “We feel that conditions are now appropriate,” said Kamal Kirkuki, the former speaker of Iraq’s Kurdish Parliament, about trying to mobilize disparate Kurds to discuss their future.

    Outsiders have long gamed the Middle East: What if the Ottoman Empire hadn’t been divvied up by outsiders after World War I? Or the map reflected geographic realities or identities? Reconfigured maps infuriated Arabs who suspected foreign plots to divide and weaken them all over again.

    I had never been a map gamer. I lived in Lebanon during the 15-year civil war and thought it could survive splits among 18 sects. I also didn’t think Iraq would splinter during its nastiest fighting in 2006-7. But twin triggers changed my thinking.

    The Arab Spring was the kindling. Arabs not only wanted to oust dictators, they wanted power decentralized to reflect local identity or rights to resources. Syria then set the match to itself and conventional wisdom about geography.

    New borders may be drawn in disparate, and potentially chaotic, ways. Countries could unravel through phases of federation, soft partition or autonomy, ending in geographic divorce.

    Libya’s uprising was partly against the rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. But it also reflected Benghazi’s quest to separate from domineering Tripoli. Tribes differ. Tripolitanians look to the Maghreb, or western Islamic world, while Cyrenaicans look to the Mashriq, or eastern Islamic world. Plus, the capital hogs oil revenues, even though the east supplies 80 percent of it.

    So Libya could devolve into two or even three pieces. The Cyrenaica National Council in eastern Libya declared autonomy in June. Southern Fezzan also has separate tribal and geographic identities. More Sahelian than North African in culture, tribes and identity, it could split off too.

    Other states lacking a sense of common good or identity, the political glue, are vulnerable, particularly budding democracies straining to accommodate disparate constituencies with new expectations.

    After ousting its longtime dictator, Yemen launched a fitful National Dialogue in March to hash out a new order. But in a country long rived by a northern rebellion and southern separatists, enduring success may depend on embracing the idea of federation — and promises to let the south vote on secession.

    A new map might get even more intriguing. Arabs are abuzz about part of South Yemen’s eventually merging with Saudi Arabia. Most southerners are Sunni, as is most of Saudi Arabia; many have family in the kingdom. The poorest Arabs, Yemenis could benefit from Saudi riches. In turn, Saudis would gain access to the Arabian Sea for trade, diminishing dependence on the Persian Gulf and fear of Iran’s virtual control over the Strait of Hormuz.

    The most fantastical ideas involve the Balkanization of Saudi Arabia, already in the third iteration of a country that merged rival tribes by force under rigid Wahhabi Islam. The kingdom seems physically secured in glass high-rises and eight-lane highways, but it still has disparate cultures, distinct tribal identities and tensions between a Sunni majority and a Shiite minority, notably in the oil-rich east.

    Social strains are deepening from rampant corruption and about 30 percent youth unemployment in a self-indulgent country that may have to import oil in two decades. As the monarchy moves to a new generation, the House of Saud will almost have to create a new ruling family from thousands of princes, a contentious process.

    Other changes may be de facto. City-states — oases of multiple identities like Baghdad, well-armed enclaves like Misurata, Libya’s third largest city, or homogeneous zones like Jabal al-Druze in southern Syria — might make a comeback, even if technically inside countries.

    A century after the British adventurer-cum-diplomat Sir Mark Sykes and the French envoy François Georges-Picot carved up the region, nationalism is rooted in varying degrees in countries initially defined by imperial tastes and trade rather than logic. The question now is whether nationalism is stronger than older sources of identity during conflict or tough transitions.

    Syrians like to claim that nationalism will prevail whenever the war ends. The problem is that Syria now has multiple nationalisms. “Cleansing” is a growing problem. And guns exacerbate differences. Sectarian strife generally is now territorializing the split between Sunnis and Shiites in ways not seen in the modern Middle East.

    But other factors could keep the Middle East from fraying — good governance, decent services and security, fair justice, jobs and equitably shared resources, or even a common enemy. Countries are effectively mini-alliances. But those factors seem far off in the Arab world. And the longer Syria’s war rages on, the greater the instability and dangers for the whole region.

    Robin Wright is the author of “Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World” and a distinguished scholar at the United States Institute of Peace and the Wilson Center.
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2013
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  3. parijataka

    parijataka Senior Member Senior Member

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    continued...

    How 5 countries could become 14

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    SYRIA: THE TRIGGER?
    Sectarian and ethnic rivalries could break it into at least three pieces

    1. Alawites, a minority that has controlled Syria for decades, dominate a coastal corridor.
    2. A Syrian Kurdistan could break off and eventually merge with the Kurds of Iraq.
    3. The Sunni heartland secedes and then may combine with provinces in Iraq to form Sunnistan.


    SPILLOVER TO IRAQ
    In the simplest of several possibilities, northern Kurds join Syrian Kurds. Many central areas, dominated by Sunnis, join Syria’s Sunnis. And the south becomes Shiitestan. It’s not likely to be so clean. In a more powerful twist, all or part of South Yemen could then become part of Saudi Arabia. Nearly all Saudi commerce is via sea, and direct access to the Arabian Sea would diminish dependence on the Persian Gulf — and fears of
    Iran’s ability to cut off the Strait of Hormuz.

    YEMEN SPLITS
    The poorest Arab country could break (again) into two pieces following a potential referendum in South Yemen on independence.

    LIBYA UNGLUED
    As a result of powerful tribal and regional rivalries, Libya could break into its two historic parts — Tripolitania and Cyrenaica — and possibly a third Fezzan state in the southwest.

    PRE-MONARCHY SAUDI ARABIA
    Long term, Saudi Arabia faces its own (suppressed) internal divisions that could surface as power shifts to the next generation of princes. The kingdom’s unity is further threatened by tribal differences, the Sunni-Shiite divide and economic challenges. It could break into the five regions that preceeded the modern state.

    In a more powerful twist, all or part of South Yemen could then become part of Saudi Arabia. Nearly all Saudi commerce is via sea, and direct access to the Arabian Sea would diminish dependence on the Persian Gulf — and fears of Iran’s ability to cut off the Strait of Hormuz.
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2013
  4. nrupatunga

    nrupatunga Senior Member Senior Member

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    How exactly is current day saudi should be split??? One can understand that eastern saudi which is mainly shia go away, western region which houses mecca and median have separate identity whereby all muslims can come for piligrimage?? But what is the region north but south of jordan??

    But anyway saudis will never approve this as the eastern region(gulf facing) contains oil and western region(red sea facing) contains mecca/medina. If they loose these regions, what is left for saudis??
     
  5. parijataka

    parijataka Senior Member Senior Member

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    Ha...the title of the opinion piece is rightly `Imagining...` !

    The author is talking about re-organising by Shia-Sunni-Kurd etc

    BTW the Eastern oil bearing areas of Saudi are Shia dominated.
     
  6. dhananjay1

    dhananjay1 Regular Member

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    Today's middle east map itself is a product of 19th and early 20th century colonialism.
     
  7. nrupatunga

    nrupatunga Senior Member Senior Member

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    Reorganising shia/sunni/kurds reions in west asia need not mean breaking north/west/south arabia. All these are sunni lands.
     
  8. The Messiah

    The Messiah Bow Before Me! Elite Member

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    The borders were carefully crafted by the west so that they are at each others throats.

    Divide and rule.
     
  9. The Messiah

    The Messiah Bow Before Me! Elite Member

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    dates and sand. the al-said family is from there only.
     
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  10. nrupatunga

    nrupatunga Senior Member Senior Member

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    Might be so. But having come so far will they like to go back is the Q now. Am not sure how/why did the author imagine that arabia would be divided in the maner he has articulated??
     
  11. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Why did Robin Wright use the suffix -stan all over Arabia? It is not an Arab word, and is not likely to be used in the Arabic speaking world. I agree in general, but the maps seems rather simplistic. Also, the colour coding is haphazard, with no legend.
     
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  12. I-G

    I-G Tihar Jail Banned

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    In eastern Saudi Provinces .. Arab Shias consist of just 28% who are further divided into different cities and towns and villages and are hardly between 300,000 to 400,000 .

    GCC alliance is to unite the Arab countries in one banner . As soon as the Syrian regime will fall. Syria along with Jordan, Libya would join GCC alliance and at last Egypt after the creation of Independent Palestine state on 1967 borders .
     
  13. Bilal

    Bilal Regular Member

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    Divide and rule has been the policy of the masters for many years...
     
  14. nrupatunga

    nrupatunga Senior Member Senior Member

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    Ohh, so sunni al-saud have successfully sunni-zed the eastern region then?? It was shia dominated region at early 20th century, maybe even mid-20th century. Had read an article about sunni-zing of eastern regions, whereby none of shia mosque or any religious authorities are allowed and various other methods.


    Somehow seriously feel this will not happen, even if it happens it will soon break down. Even previously syria-egypt or syria-iraq mergers were totake place or had taken place only to disintegrate soon. These pan-arabism is all nice to read on papers and practically not going to happen imo.
     
  15. I-G

    I-G Tihar Jail Banned

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    It was never Shia dominated region , Banu Khalid tribes are in majority of Eastern Provinces long before the Ottoman Caliphate came into the region .



    The region is transforming and the GCC is reshaping . GCC itself came into existence because of the Baathist regimes in the region namely Syria, Iraq, Libya,Yeman and Somalia. As the Baathist regimes have been fallen , GCC union is becoming reality.
     
  16. LETHALFORCE

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

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    Middle East and Asian nations are always getting remapped and renamed
    With exception of russia, western nations seem to have more stability and
    Internal security issues under control.
     
  17. Bilal

    Bilal Regular Member

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    Arabs face a difficult time in this decision making process,just hope the best prevails.
     
  18. LETHALFORCE

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

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    Arabs are powerless to make any decisions if the leader is not a puppet he will soon be replaced by one.
     
  19. Bilal

    Bilal Regular Member

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    Agreed,but same is the case with many other countries,but yes monarchy is the way in the arab countries,and it only suits the ruling class and not the ruled class.
     
  20. I-G

    I-G Tihar Jail Banned

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    There is a big reason for this as the borders were artificially drawn by the British and French during the invasion of Arab world and its the same even in Asian countries .

    Russia is even facing separatists problem not just from the Muslim dominated provinces but even from the non Muslims provinces in far east and Europe .
     
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  21. nrupatunga

    nrupatunga Senior Member Senior Member

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    Ohh is it. Maybe but i have come across many articles over net that eastern region is/was dominated by shias esp the oil producing regions.

    For example 1979 Qatif Uprising - Wiki
    Maybe sunnis are/were in majority always, but not sure.


    Though it was formed in early 80's GCC mainly gathered momentum post gulf war-I after kuwait was liberated. But even after 20 years or so still any sort of political unity is still far away. Even in 2010/11 or so they told they will form a confederacy. But that will not hold for long if at all they do form one.
     

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