How Far Can the Reconciliations in the Region may Stand?

This Policy Paper examines the Middle Eastern countries orientation to explore the opportunities and mechanisms of cooperation among themselves to manage conflicts, and seeks to answer a key question: would the reconciliations in the region stand and reflect positively on regional realities, or is such reconciliations a temporary trend, which its results will remain limited?

by Dr. Shehata Al-Arabi
  • Publisher – STRATEGIECS
  • Release Date – Jun 2, 2022

Since the outbreak of the unrest of the so-called "Arab Spring" in 2011, the region has experienced complex conflicts and disputes, resulted by the intersection of positions and ambitions between a number of "political projects" of regional and international powers, that exacerbated by their severity and tools the challenges on various countries in the Middle East.

Foreign interventions, by these forces, in the domestic affairs of some countries in the region, were exacerbated, and were reflected in political, economic, and domestic conflicts. While hindering opportunities for achieving consensus, peace, and stability in such states, the matter which was particularly clear in Iranian interventions in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and elsewhere.

An Orientation Towards Reconciliation

After a decade of regional competition and domestic conflicts, the year 2020 witnessed a general trend towards appeasement among Middle Eastern countries. The competing regional powers began to review their calculations, and explore the opportunities and possibilities of cooperation in conflict management, in a manner that reduced the cost and implications of conflicts on the political, economic, humanitarian, and security aspects.

The most significant moves and breakthroughs cane be briefly be notices as follows:

The Egyptian-Turkish Dialogue

The Egyptian-Turkish dialogue, was the first to other dialogues, where it began in 2020, at the level of the security and intelligence services. It was related to the issue of the Libyan crisis, especially since the two countries pursued contradictory policies there, and were close to the threat of direct confrontation. As well as the issue of Ankara's support for the Muslim Brotherhood, its safe havens, and media platforms, attacking the Egyptian authorities.

In May 2021, exploratory talks were held in Cairo with a delegation from the Turkish Foreign Ministry to discuss the files of dispute. Then a second round was held in Ankara in September of the same year. Although the results of the talks did not lead to restore the diplomatic relations between the two countries, but they contributed to the military lull in Libya, and limited Turkish support for the Muslim Brotherhood, after it took a series of steps aimed at restricting the Group, particularly at the media level.

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Al-Ula Summit and the Gulf States Reconciliation

The January 2021 Al-Ala summit, in Saudi Arabia, restored the diplomatic relations between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain with Qatar, following a sever to such relations since 2017. The Summit's final statement stressed "not to compromise the sovereignty of any country or target its security, develop the rooted ties, and to respect the principles of good neighborliness".

The Egyptian-Qatari Reconciliation

One of the results of al-Ula Gulf Summit, and the statement issued by it, was the reproachment of Egypt and Qatar, where Qatari Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammed Abdul Rahman Al Thani, visited Cairo in May 2021; where he said then that his country is dealing with the Egyptian state, not with political parties, referring to Doha's relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the main reason for its divergence with Cairo. The Qatari minister, during the visit, met the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and handed him an invitation to visit Qatar. The culmination was in March 2022 when Doha and Cairo agreed to invest $5 billion in Egypt.

The UAE-Turkish Reconciliation

The UAE-Turkish rapprochement was the fastest amongst other reconciliations, culminated in the official visits between the leaders of the two countries. In November 2021, the UAE President, Mohammed bin Zayed (then Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi) visited Ankara. Then in February 2022, the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, visited the UAE, where he stressed out that "We do not differentiate between our security and that of the Gulf region". 

The Saudi-Turkish Reconciliation

The Saudi-Turkish contacts began after the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlutoglu's visit to Riyadh on May 10, 2021. But the major shift in the economic and political relations between the two countries was marked by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit to Saudi Arabia, and his meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in April 2022.

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The Saudi-Iranian Dialogue

Despite the high tensions in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which peaked in January 2016 when Riyadh announced severing of diplomatic relations with Tehran, following attacks on the Saudi embassy and consulate in Iran, this did not stop the dialogue between the two countries. The Iraqi capital, Baghdad, hosted five rounds of Saudi-Iranian dialogue, most recently in April 2022. Reports indicated that the sixth round of dialogue between the two countries will be at the political and diplomatic level, after they were limited to security and regional affairs.

Arab-Syrian Rapprochement

A marked breakthrough in Arab-Syrian relations was made during Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's visit to the UAE on March 18, 2022. Although this visit is the most prominent feature of Arab-Syrian rapprochement since Damascus's membership in the Arab League was frozen in 2011, there are many other aspects of rapprochement, particularly on the Egyptian-Syrian, or the Omani-Syrian, Jordanian-Syrian, and other aspects of rapprochement.

Heading Forward

The aforementioned reconciliations raise a fundamental question: can they stand and head forward, or would they face setbacks, and then, things go back to point zero again, or -at least- would the reproachment be frozen, and therefore, not achieve its desired objectives?

Perhaps what calls to ask such question is that the regional arena has similar precedents of reconciliation, that abruptly began and came to an end. This prompted many experts and observers to look at the atmosphere of regional appeasement with great caution, while the American magazine, Foreign Policy, hinted that the ongoing rapprochement between the countries of the region "will not last".

Although the answer to the previous question may not be absolute, as Foreign Policy said, where it is difficult to be sure on the final track of reconciliation, amidst effects of a series of unprecedented developments and changes at the international level, and its impact they have on the region. However, we can depend on a set of considerations, that are capable of providing a future perspective on the courses and features of such reconciliations, like the conciliations' parties, the history of their relationships; and the nature of their positions and motives.

In this context, many considerations suggest that the reconciliatory track may lead the countries of the region to achieve positive results in terms of their relations, at the level of internal crises. The most important of which are:

  • Consecutive Conflicts and Far-to-Reach Reconciliations

Conflicts and disputes in the Middle East imposed significant political and economic costs on the states of the region. Their results seemed to become more complicated and intense, expanding its damage to all states in the region without exception. Such states found themselves facing two possible paths: either to continue to uphold the contradictions and rivalries that cannot be resolved, and venture with the associated risks, or to shift their priorities towards overcoming disputes, and trying to seek negotiated solutions and peaceful conflict management.

Otherwise to the foregoing, the region will continue to suffer from the loss of a conflict resolution matrix, amid a marked increase in the roles of non-State actors in conflict zones, who adopt violent policies, and stand against to the efforts of the main actors of settlements and talks. Ultimately leading them either to fail, or to accept and temporarily approve such satellites, without having the capacity to sustain them.

This is in addition to the role of foreign interventions and attempts to use the arenas of conflict, in order to impose geopolitical realities that serve the foreign interventions' objectives at the international level, using different patterns of hybrid and proxy warfare to achieve this end. It is even that settlements require reconciling the interests of local parties with the objectives of foreign forces, and in such a way that it is impossible to reconcile them.

Concerning what we said earlier, the regional forces are now aware of the importance of dialogue and understandings, to stop the attrition of their resources, and to resolve intractable conflicts, which has prompted those forces. Especially those involved in conflict zones, to review their policies and change their attitudes towards attempting to hold dialogues and negotiation with other states involved.

  • The Economic Reason

Economy is one of the main reasons and motives of the region's tendency towards appeasement, and towards the re-adjustment of its economic tools in order to achieve development and recovery from the repercussions of Covid-19 pandemic, rather than using its resources in useless conflicts and conflicts. This is clear in the Turkish case, which was driven by economic difficulties to reconsider its foreign policy, and its attempts to rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt.

  • the Shared Concern of a Greater Regional Conflict Eruption

The region countries realized that the relations between their forces have reached a critical stage, with the imminent possibility of a direct conflict eruption, which could have disastrous consequences on all. Egypt and Turkey were close to the military confrontation in Libya, as well as Turkey and Greece in the Mediterranean, Saudi Arabia and Iran in Yemen.

  • A Response to the Change of the US Policy in the Region

The U.S. variable is of a high importance, given its previous role in anchoring the balances, and its adoption of the rules of the Middle East peace process. While the United States moves to shift its strategic weight to confront China, the countries of the region are aware of the Middle East decline of the importance in Washington's strategic balance, especially after the US sudden withdrawal from Afghanistan, and its tendency to revive the nuclear deal with Iran. This causes many questions to rise among some Middle East countries about Washington's commitment to the security of the region, and how much Washington takes into account the region states' concerns about the nuclear deal, whereby neglecting it has serious strategic consequences and implications.

The U.S. transformations prompted the countries of the region to seek ways and frameworks to strengthen their regional relations and alliances, in order to establish new rules and arrangements that include joint cooperation, in order to preserve their interests and security.

  • Conflict "Management" Strategies

The prevailing view of the region countries towards conflict management has changed beyond finding resolutions to them or striking the opponents. This is why it is noted that the course of reconciliations and rapprochements did not include preconditions, except for the Egyptian-Turkish talks. This contributed to preserving the privacy of states in the face of their positions and concerns, and avoiding making concessions to the other party.

Temporary Direction and Limited Results

The positive path to the future of reconciliation corresponds to another more cautious and questionable one, based on a set of indicators, indicating the complexity of the regional environment and the difficulty of predicting their future directions, as well as the outcomes of their issues. Perhaps the most significant of which are:

  • Dispute Results Still Exist

It is true that the region is witnessing a track of appeasement and reconciliation between its states, but the implications for conflict zones remain unnoticed. It may continue as long as bilateral talks and reconciliations are avoiding going into disputes and overcoming contradictions.

  • Apt-to-Exacerbate Crises

Some crises and regional conflicts, which caused confrontations between the regional actors and powers, are still in place. They may even be more likely to be further exacerbated. After a period of relative calmness in Libya, the country continues to experience a division between the Governments of East and West, which threatens to bring it back to square one of the conflicts, but with more severity and complexly. Meanwhile, the Iraqi and Lebanese arenas are opened on different scenarios in the coming period, as a result of changes in the composition of parliamentary bodies, that may require new visions or mechanisms to enable them to form governments. As well as the truce signed in Yemen, signed by the military build-up of Ansar Allah al-Houthi, are leaving a wide field for their intentions in the coming days.

  • Doubt and Skepticism Barrier

Although the countries of the region are moving towards appeasement, they still maintain a nature of caution and suspicion, which in turn reflects on the nature of modern relations between them, so that bilateral relations are moving according to the logic of "one step forward and another backwards". While the Saudi-Iranian or Egyptian-Turkish talks are proceeding, the major steps towards openness are still very limited. Sometimes, hesitant impressions of the usefulness of these talks appear, as such talks are mostly confined to narrow circles, that have not yet exceeded the security and intelligence circles.

  • The Iranian file Developments

The developments in the Vienna Talks are one of the important determinants of the nature of relations and interactions in the region, whether or not they succeed in returning to a nuclear agreement. Their success is related to the risk of a military escalation between Iran and Israel. While the failure of such Talks may lead Tehran to stick more to its regional tools, cards, and agenda, which means rising the tensions with the countries of the region again.

Conclusion

In the light of the above, it is difficult to say that the course of reconciliation in the region will be temporary, and that it soon will be receded under the weight of changing dynamics at the international and regional levels. Also, the reconciliations may not lead to a radical or strategic change in the system of relations, alliances, and balances in the region.

The nature of the regional process stems from the need to cool down the conflicts, and from the need of states to review their tactics, due to the reasons already mentioned, so that the region would not be expected to return its relations and interactions to square one in the near term, especially since states' continuation of the path of appeasement is related to urgent interior political and economic considerations.

The ability to weight a particular course of those reconciliations remains time-bound, requiring more time to predict their final destinations and future, as the Middle East retains a dynamic, rapidly changing, difficult-to-understand, or extrapolated region.

The opinions expressed in this study are those of the author. Strategiecs shall bear no responsibility for the views and/or opinion of its author on security, economic, social, and other issues, as they do not necessarily represent the views of the Think Tank.

Dr. Shehata Al-Arabi

A Researcher on Political Islam