Nov 19, 2020 in History

Middle East

Tensions in the Middle East

The Middle East has traditionally been a region of high tension. The underlying causes of conflicts in this region go back to antiquity. Ancient manuscripts provide humanity with legends and stories about the controversies, enmity, and clashes between tribes and peoples who lived there. Armed confrontation has always had a territorial (tribal, clan), religious (confessional), and / or nationalist character. Under the guise of a noble struggle for Truth, Faith, Justice, and for human rights lately, these conflicts continue to exist. Moreover, the beginning of the 21st century has become a time of upheaval for the Middle East countries: the rise of Islamic radicalism and the beginning of the global war against terror, the alien invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime, and the renewal of the peripheral Arab-Israeli conflict (2006-2009). In addition, Arab Awakening or Arab Spring that started in 2010 has become an event of historic significance for the region. It is comparable to the Ottoman Empire collapse and the formation of national Arab countries under the British and French mandates after World War I or colonial liberation movements and national revolutions in the third quarter of the 20th century. Against this historical background, the events and processes in the Middle East are unique to the 21st century. The Middle East goes through a period of deep inner transformations under globalization effects, leading to the age of continuous transformation of the whole world.


In the book Stability and Change in the Modern Middle East (2011), Kjetil Selvik and Stig Stenslie emphasize the following:

The Middle East, which stretches from Morocco in the west to Iran in the East, is a vast area. The region has often been characterized as a mosaic consisting of diverse ethnic groups, faiths, languages, occupations, and ways of life. (p. 4)

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Crisis and instability factors in the region led to the emergence of a number of regional military-political, territorial, social, ethnic, religious, and class problems. Thus, the statement that the current strained situation in the Middle East is a continuation of the long-standing tensions in the area is not meaningless.

The Arab world is characterized by inner religious rivalry between individual states and groups of states, which leads to interference in the internal affairs - up to support opposition groups, terrorist organizations, and insurgent movements. Religion plays the main role in everyday life of Middle Eastern people. Furthermore, religion has been intensively used as a tool of manipulation for many centuries. Thus, the evolution of political Islam is an actual issue of the Middle East tensions. The conflicts arising in the area in the 21st century increasingly take the form of religious wars". The shining example is Iraqs sectarian violence. Previously directed against the Anglo-American invaders, the current regular attacks and massacres turned into a religious war. This is a war between the Shiite majority, those in power in Baghdad, and the Sunni minority. Tension between Sunnis and Shiites is growing across the Middle East. Currently, the hottest and most bloody point on the map of the rebellious Middle East is Syria. The regime of Bashar Assad is oriented on the Alawite minority, Shia Islam followers, and military and financially supported by Iran. Approximately 70 percent of the countrys population is the Sunnis, who oppositely support the rebels. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan are arming and supplying the opposition with goods, reinforcements, and money. Consequently, there is a real network of tangled interests of the key regional players.

Thus, the level of tension has significantly increased in this region over the last decade of the 21st century. Moreover, it goes through a period of deep inner transformations: the evolution of Islam, the relations between religion and secular authorities, the problem of modernization, secularism, globalization issues, etc. (Cleveland & Bunton, 2013). These are the reasons to state that the Middle East tensions cannot be just an echo of the past.

During 2011 - 2012, the situation in the Middle East and North Africa changed dramatically. Stormy rebel movements resulted in a change of leaders in some countries and a political triumph of Islamist forces in others. "The Arab Spring" that began with unrest in 2010 in Tunisia swept Algeria, Jordan, Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan, Bahrain, Iraq, and Libya - a total of about 20 countries. The public protests against authoritarianism, corruption of the ruling elite, the violation of human rights and freedoms, and economic problems arose in the so-called closed societies. Historically introvert countries started to manifest dissatisfaction with the social, political, and economic situation.

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Under the influence of new capitalist world changes, moreover, globalization tendencies, the cradle of ancient civilizations has been found in the situation that West and East could not be separate anymore. These two opposite parts of the world are becoming interrelated. Under a strong external influence, most of the Eastern countries made their choice of destiny and path. Political domination and penetration, as well as the longest, deepest, and insidious cultural influence of the West, changed the face of the region and transformed the lives of its people. Deploying it in a new direction, given new hopes and fears, it has created new threats and expectations, unprecedented in its own cultural past.

The Middle East remains a chessboard for the main actors of international relations, whose interests collide over different issues. It should be borne in mind that the top contenders for the role of a regional leader in the Middle East are Shiite Iran and Turkey. By objective geopolitical, ethnic, religious, and economic reasons, they have become important regional "centers of gravity" in the current confrontation, embroiling most states and ethnic groups in this region. Moreover, these two countries do not share the views on the future perspectives of the Middle East region. Other international actors, for instance the United States, have a strong impact on these views as well. Therefore, there are two main views on the situation. The first demonstrates that the rejection of the divine heritage of Islam can bring evil; it protects the return to real or illusory past. This is the way of the Iranian revolution and the so-called fundamentalist movements and regimes in other Muslim countries. Another suggests a path of secular democracy, best embodied in the Turkish Republic founded by Kemal Ataturk (Sorenson, 2013).

Keith D. Watenpaugh (2006) states that the middle class plays an essential role in the ideological transformation of Middle Eastern society. It is a new turn in the consciousness of its people. They are imbued with the understanding of institutional forms of civic society (voluntary civic organizations, political parties), technologies of the public sphere (rational discourse, mass media), prototypical middle-class expectations (fraternal equality, secularism) (Watenpaugh, 2006, p. 65). European example has become a guide for them. It teaches how to undergo some transformation in the Eastern environment. By means of the middle class, the poor masses receive ideological and rational understanding of the possible change in a difficult situation.

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In addition, various groups of political Islam, whose ideology is based on a combination of rich cultural, historical, and religious heritage of the Arabs and modern ideological and political views, aim to convert the Arab-Islamic world to the level of peer world processes. These groups are standing not just for the revival of Islam. First, they are fighting with each other for the approval of their own interpretation of Islam in modern conditions. A common tactic of modernization supporters is not to condemn religion, especially Islam, but to condemn fanaticism.

Thus, despite the evident historical Middle East problematic and conflict heritage manifesting itself in ethical, religious, social, and political tensions, the presence of new realities and processes of the 21st century world gives a new quality to these tensions as unique events of the modern world. This uniqueness manifests through globalization tendencies, democratic influence of the West, the willingness and understanding of the transformational need by the middle class, a new look at the ideas of cultural and social customs (modernization, secularism), and above all the interpretation transformations of the main Middle East citadel religion.


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