Looking into the Middle East’s Crystal Ball

At around this time every year it has almost become a tradition for political analysts to turn from political science to political fortune telling as we gaze into our proverbial crystal balls. In reality, we look at a computer screen as we scan Internet websites and comb through the thousands of emails most of us receive very day and try to make sense of what the next 12 months will bring in terms of political upheaval, crises and other events in the world.

By Claude Salhani

Published: Mon 21 Dec 2009, 9:28 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 12:51 AM

I only have to worry about the Middle East so in some respect my job is easier; based on political trends, on the region’s recent and past history and on this writer’s experience in covering the region for many years, predicting the future in this part of the world is simplified by the fact that history tells us that more often than not the situation can and most likely will — become more complicated.

Starting with the never-ending conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis, a conflict, which many observers agree remains the cornerstone of most, if not all of the Middle East’s political troubles (although many disagree), it is highly unlikely that anything will change for the better in 2010. In all likelihood the Palestinians will continue to fight among themselves and will remain divided between supporters of Hamas (mostly in Gaza) and supporters of Fatah, (mostly in the West Bank), and in the process provide Israel with a rock-solid motive for not pursuing peace talks with the Palestinians.

Pro-peace groups on both sides will begin to gain some momentum, however, they will remain on the margins of mainstay politics; at least through 2010. One safe prediction to make is that the extension of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land will continue to poison the political atmosphere in the region, giving more fodder to extremists. And here is another safe prediction to make: terrorism by those claiming to represent Islam is likely to worsen before it gets any better. Recruiters looking for candidates for ‘martyrdom’ will find no shortage of volunteers so long as the social-political and economic climate in parts of the Arab and Muslim worlds do not improve. The current pool of idle, unemployed and dissatisfied youths in the Arab and Muslim worlds must be addressed. More than half of the 250 million that populate the Middle East today are under the age of 25 and many of them have college degrees but no jobs and little, if any hope of landing a job for which they trained.

History will also tell us that no matter the size of the country’s armed forces, no matter how incrusted into every fiber of civil society the country’s secret police may have infiltrated and no matter how many tanks a regime can throw against its own people, at the end of the day it remains impossible to subdue the will of the people. It’s just that in some societies that day comes sooner while in others it may take somewhat longer.

While the rest of the world has progressed in leaps and bounds, the Middle East continues to lack behind other regions in terms of advancing individual freedoms, (freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, etc.) and where citizens participate in politics. Eastern Europe and the nations of Latin America have all moved forward in recent years, shedding communism on the one hand and fascism on the other and adopting and adapting to more democratic forms of governments. Meanwhile, an important segment of the Arab world continues to sleepwalk through life, frozen in an era of history that thankfully much of the rest of the planet has given up.

Afghanistan will continue to grab the headlines in 2010 as the surge ordered by President Barack Obama will most certainly not achieve the intended objective in the allocated time. At the end of the 18-month deployment when US troops are scheduled to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan, as President Obama told the corps of cadets at West Point they would, two things are likely to occur. First, the US will realise that pulling out the troops will be unrealistic, but that is still another six months into the following year, in 2011; and second, the Taleban will realise that victory will not be as simple as waiting out the 18-month window Obama mentioned. Short of a miracle, the war in Afghanistan will very probably drag on for years to come.

Across the border from Afghanistan, Pakistan will continue to suffer at the hands of Islamist groups as it has been for the past several years. Iran, one of the central boiling pots of the Middle East will ignore calls to abandon its nuclear programme in spite of pressures from the European nations and from the United States, and will continue to build-up its uranium enhancement centers which may provoke a pre-emptive strike by Israel, in which case 2010 will be a year marred by more violence, some of which could be very serious. In other words 2010 could end up being just another year in the Middle East.

Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times and author of “While the Arab World Slept: the impact of the Bush years on the Middle East.” For feedback, write to opinion@khaleejtimes.com

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