The Middle East has entered uncharted territory. It is on its own, with anarchy spreading. The Islamic State (ISIS) continues its mayhem whilst the Sunni-Shia conflict could engulf the region as Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies push back against Shi’ite Iran seeking regional dominance. But for the first time in 100 years, there is no external stabilising influence. This is dangerous. From 1914 onwards, the Middle East became attractive for its petroleum riches and was stabilised by the UK and France after World War I and by the US from the 1940s.
But after the Iraq debacle, America began to withdraw militarily from the region. It does not want large scale intervention, certainly not with boots in the ground. It will assist with air strikes against ISIS and even send an aircraft carrier to the waters off Yemen as a warning to Iran. But the US is not getting directly involved in the struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia as they push to fill the Middle East power vacuum.
Indeed America now plays the role of equaliser, hoping for “equilibrium”, siding with Arab allies against Iran’s hegemonic ambitions whilst negotiating to lift economic sanctions if Tehran gives up nuclear ambitions. President Obama has also restored $1.3b in annual military aid to Egypt and will host Arab leaders at Camp David next month.
What will ensure US continued detached engagement is its newly acquired self-sufficiency in energy, with shale reserves to last 100 years, ending its 60-year dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Besides, in the present turmoil, Israel is not under any new threat, so no need for the US to become embroiled. Indeed a de facto alliance exists between the Arab states and Israel against the common enemy, Iran.
Iran is all over the region. It finances Hezbollah in Lebanon; provides military support for President Assad in Syria; has attacked ISIS in Iraq and provided arms to Iraq’s Shiite militias; backs the Shiite majority against the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain; supplies money and arms to the Houthi rebels group in Yemen; and has given tens of millions of dollars to Hamas, seeking to rebuild relations with this Sunni group implacably opposed to common enemy, Israel.
On the other side, Saudi Arabia leads a coalition of Arab countries involving the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt, as a unified Arab force against Iranian influence and Islamic extremism and is presently bombing the Houthi movement in Yemen. Indeed, with 2,500 air strikes in one month, the Saudis have demonstrated military power to counter Iran. This has stirred patriotic passion in Riyadh, leading some to say that after Yemen, the Gulf countries, together with Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, should attack Syria to dislodge Assad, Iran’s ally. “We will not stop,” says retired Saudi Colonel Ibrahim al-Marie. “The kingdom is strong and the Arab world is strong.”
In this growing cauldron, the American arms industry is booming. Last year, Saudi Arabia spent US$80 billion on weapons, the Emirates US$23 billion and Qatar US$11 billion for Boeing F-15 fighters, Lockheed Martin F-16s, predator drones, attack helicopters, air defence systems, and thousands of missiles, bombs and other weapons.
This is fuelling a dangerous arms race. Russia, major supplier to Iran, has announced it will sell an advanced air defence system to Tehran. This will certainly lead to demands by Arab nations for F35 fighter jets with stealth capabilities, considered the “jewel of America’s future arsenal of weapons’”. And it will not stop there.
There are reports that nuclear Pakistan is ready to send “an atomic package” to Sunni ally, Saudi Arabia, and some believe a nuclear Iran will share its capability with terrorists. The nightmare of nuclear proliferation is close in the Middle East.
And analysts point to very dim prospects for peace. Richard N Hass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, thinks the situation resembles the Thirty Years’ War, three decades of conflict that ravaged Europe in the first half of the 17th century. He says, “in coming years, the Middle East is likely to be filled with mostly weak states unable to police their territories, militias and terrorist groups with increasing sway, and both civil war and interstate strife.
“Sectarian and communal identities will be more powerful than national ones. Powerful local actors will continue to meddle in countries’ internal affairs, and major outside actors will remain unable or unwilling to stabilise the region.” The volatile Middle East is now on its own. And with an arms race already started! Armageddon coming?Armageddon coming?
The Middle East has entered uncharted territory. It is on its own, with anarchy spreading. The Islamic State (ISIS) continues its mayhem whilst the Sunni-Shia conflict could engulf the region as Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies push back against Shi’ite Iran seeking regiona...See more
Sudanese President Bashir re-elected with 94 percent of vote
KHARTOUM, April 27 (Reuters) - Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir extended his quarter-century in power with landslide election victories for himself and his ruling party, according to results announced on Monday, and dismissed allegations voters were denied any real choice.
The 71-year-old leader of the African oil producer faces a divided and diminished opposition that mostly boycotted the poll held earlier this month.
Bashir took 94.05 percent of votes in the presidential election and his National Congress Party (NCP) won 323 of 426 parliamentary seats, Mukhtar al-Asim, president of the National Election Commission, told a news conference in Khartoum.
Mukhtar put turnout at 46.4 percent, above African Union monitors' estimates of 30-35 percent.
"Voters didn't bother to vote or pay attention because they didn't see it as a real election," said Abdelwahab El-Affendi, a Sudan expert at the University of Westminster in London. "Even for supporters of the government, it wasn't worth their while to go to a polling station because they knew who would win."
Bashir's critics complain of a crackdown on media, civil society and political opposition groups, and the European Union had accused Sudan of failing to hold a genuine national dialogue to ease its conflicts, or to create a "conducive environment" for the elections.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said the outcome of the election did not amount to a "credible expression of the will of Sudanese people" given restrictions on political rights and freedoms and the lack of a national dialogue in the lead-up to the vote.
In his victory speech hours after the results were announced, Bashir defended the poll.
"With these elections, the Sudanese people gave the world a lesson in ethics, they gave the world a lesson in integrity," he told cheering supporters.
"We do not accept the supervision or the dictates of others ... Sudan is a free country and we don't accept others' orders."
Bashir told voters during the campaign that only he could steer Sudan away from the chaos engulfing several Arab countries, where he said Western-backed aspirations for democracy had taken priority over stability.
But Sudan is not free of challenges.
It has faced a rebellion in the Darfur region since 2003, and a separate but linked insurgency in Blue Nile and South Kordofan since the secession of South Sudan in 2011.
Bashir is facing charges at the International Criminal Court that he masterminded genocide and other atrocities in his campaign to crush the Darfur revolt. He has denied the charges.Sudanese President Bashir re-elected with 94 percent of vote
KHARTOUM, April 27 (Reuters) - Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir extended his quarter-century in power with landslide election victories for himself and his ruling party, according to results announced on Monday, and dismisse...See more