A political sandstorm is imminent in the Arab World, and it is bringing unification, sought-out alliances, reestablishment of ties, and a call to greater peace with it. The sandstorm was forming for a while – signaled by Chinese brokering of the Iran-Saudi deal as the world witnessed the historic restoration of diplomatic ties between the Shiite Islamic Republic and the Sunni Monarchy last week. Beyond just the commitment to restore trade and security, the promise by Iran to cease arming the Houthi rebels in Yemen makes the likelihood of another regional conflict marred by a proxy-outlook between the two states few and far between. To gauge the magnitude of the storm, one needs to realize the importance of the invitation rendered by King Muhammad Bin Salman to President Ebrahim Raisi of conducting Ministerial-level talks as per Iranian authorities. The make-up of the Middle East rests on the willingness of the leadership of Tehran-Riyadh to ensure that Yemen serves as the right precedent for the entire world, proving that the Arab-World is now self-sufficient and that there are no forecasts for this sandstorm to die down. To see that happen, Tehran must carefully choreograph the engagement process with the Houthi leadership in Yemen, and Riyadh must put in place the right foreign policy with the leadership of Yemen. This could be achieved mutually in three ways: one, to rationalize the UN, and ICRC led talks by implementing the 2018 agreement made in Stockholm that involves the exchange of thousands of prisoners; two, with the establishment of prolonged political conviction between the Houthi elements and Yemeni Govt.; and three, by sustaining ceasefires through and on both ends.
The impact of the sandstorm as it rages across the Arab world does not just stop between the two former rivals, it is carried by Iranian sentiments to further reconcile sharply tethered bonds in the region, especially with Jordan, Iraq, and most importantly, UAE. Post Chinese-brokered detente, Ali Shamkhani who is the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council visited UAE, to meet the Emirati President HH Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed, alongwith Vice President and the the ruler of Dubai, to discuss bilateralism, strengthening of cooperation, and to parley over regional and international issues. This is important in two ways: one, it reestablishes Iran’s position in the Arab world as a nation willing to redraw past foreign policy exercises that were greatly hampered in 2016 and two, it solidifies Iran’s willingness for the future to play a pivotal role in the region’s rapidly changing geographic paradigms. As the momentum of the sandstorm reaches Iraq, Tehran-Baghdad have jointly worked to realize a historic border protection agreement that will warrant greater security and stability at the borders of the two countries. Consequently, the outcome of the deal will likely suppress indulgence from the various armed non-state actors such as Irani-Kurdish cabals and camps, operating from the autonomous Iraqi-Kurdish region that severely fractures the existence of lasting peace in the region as a whole. Not just that, but it would greatly limit any external influence on the groups posed by certain stakeholders that would not want the Arab World in one piece. While historic in essence, this is an adjunct maneuver that supplements the decision made by Iraq last year to reinstate the Iraqi military on the Kurdish-Iraq and Iran border, taking delegating control away from Peshmerga forces.
As the sandstorm pivots towards the Gulf again, the strongest winds of the region are carried this time around by Syria. Bashar Al-Assad, who hasn’t sanctioned official visits within the Arab-World since the start of the Syrian Civil War a decade ago, made his way to Oman to break Damascus’s decade-long foreign policy conventions and then to his confidant Putin – to seek Russia’s help in watering their diplomatic conflagration with Turkey. Besides that, Damascus unveiled its intentions to curb the isolationism it has practiced in the last decade by embracing the affection and warmth of the Emirati president’s statements as Bashar Al-Assad met HH Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed in UAE. The ardor and language poised by HH Sheikh in favor of Syria as it invites it back to the Arab entente signifies the urge that the UAE carries deep within in consolidating relations among the Arab states and the keenness made plain by Damascus in accepting their role. This is important for three reasons: one, it channels hope for a more lasting rapprochement between the two nations thereby ensuring efforts of greater regional integration; two, potentially flags to everyone else in the Arab World – and beyond – that power struggles, and sectarian tensions within the region can be healed with initiative; and three, give free-range to the Beijing-Moscow nexus to broker peace between Assad and Erdogan. If an Ankara-Damascus peace is brokered in the upcoming months, the Arab world can rightly focus on the Sino-Russo state apparatus to gradually solve the protracted crises in Lebanon and then finally pave the way to end the Israeli oppression in Palestine in the years to come.
It is important that all players in the Middle East strive to regain their legitimacy through more diplomatic practice of foreign policy tools such as the promotion of interfaith and intercultural dialogue within the region to move away from the internal stalemates and deadlocks. Decisions like these can cement the Arab world as more capable and qualified at dealing their disputes themselves, with occasional involvement from international stakeholders like the UN or even the Sino-Russo apparatus. Although there still remains an active need to analyze and understand the underlying complexion of a myriad of the problems existing in the region, the need to identify strategies and policies that could help facilitate further improvements in regional relations still remain greater, as shown by all of the states recently. A more self-aware Arab world that establishes control on the Middle East without being pressurized by external stakeholders would ultimately mean that the sandstorm of new and improved alliances, and seismic geopolitical shifts in favor of the region will not settle anytime soon.
Muhammad Abdullah Hamid is a student of Law at ULC, University of Punjab and an international Model United Nations Chair with experience chairing in over 50+ Conferences discussing various international issues. The writer was also the first chair in 37 years to have been selected to attend TEIMUN, The Hague, Netherlands. The writer has also written for different publications locally & has attended Global Goals mission at UN Emirati office, Dubai 2021 where he wrote on SDGs.