Wadah Khanfar Headshot

Goodbye, and Good Riddance, to Superpowers in the Middle East

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Wadah Khanfar, a member of the WorldPost editorial board, is the President of Al Sharq Forum. He previously served as the Director General of the Al Jazeera Network.

QATAR -- The Middle East is currently going through a state of deep strategic change, the likes of which have not been seen since World War I.

The Arab Spring, which began three years ago, wiped out the political stalemate in the Arab world and unleashed the process of change. This process has proven to be difficult and its impact was not only limited to the countries witnessing the revolutions, but affected all the countries in the region because it shook the structure of regional relations.

The Arab Spring affected the structure of the axes that dominated the Middle East during the past two decades; the axis of moderation declined with the fall of Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt, which was allied with Saudi Arabia and was close to the West. The other axis, the axis of resistance, collapsed at the beginning of the Syrian revolution against Bashar Al-Assad's regime, Iran's strongest ally in the region.

With the collapse of the axes system the region was driven into a state of instability with the emergence of new players, starting with the political Islamic movements, as well as the growing influence of Turkey.

On an international level, and while facing the state of confusion in the region, the American and European policy for dealing with the Arab world was affected as they seemed hesitant and worried. This was clearly reflected in their positions towards the Syrian Revolution and their reluctance to support the Syrian rebels.

Meanwhile, Russia benefitted from the state of instability and was able to develop a clearer and more consistent policy and supported the Al-Assad regime in every aspect, as well as prevented the issuance of international resolutions condemning the Syrian regime. Moreover, it was able to avoid a U.S. military strike against Damascus by promoting the Syrian agreement on chemical disarmament. After this political maneuver , Russia appeared to be more influential and its policies seemed to be more farsighted than the policies of the West.

Furthermore, the last few months of 2013 brought more strategic changes as the military coup in Egypt against the democratically elected president pushed the region toward greater fragmentation. The last five months have shown that Egypt did not settle for the coup and instead is going down the path of political disintegration and economic decline.

Given that Egypt is the largest Arab country, and the most influential, the repercussions of the unrest in Egypt will continue to hinder the path toward change during the upcoming period, that is, of course if the events in Egypt do not become more bloody and violent.

However, the greatest strategic change in the balances of power in the Middle East will become clearer over the next few years; if the US and Iran are able to resolve the key issues between them, mainly the nuclear issue, and Iran's relationship with Israel.

So far the negotiations seem optimistic. The countries of the region are going through the most worrying phase as the increased influence of Iran is linked to a partial withdrawal of U.S. influence. This worries the Arab capitals. Until the new landscape is painted all actions of the countries in the region should be read in terms of this deep fear.

The Middle East's main problem is that, since World War I, it has remained reliant on foreign forces and has been unable to establish a regional balance based on the interests of the countries in the region itself.

Therefore, the events of the past decades have been a reflection of the interests of the superpowers and the balance of global politics. These past few years have proven that the Middle East's dependence on international powers is no longer fruitful.

Clearly, it is time for those in the region to think of a new strategic model that is based on geographic and historical facts and achieves stability and security for all the nations in the Middle East, which is far from impossible. The demographic melding of the region's nations, mutual economic interests and a deep historical memory would be a suitable and solid platform for such a project.