‘Interesting times’ in the Middle East!

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The Chinese have an amusing saying: “May you live in interesting times.” The catch is that this is not a good wish, but a curse! The person saying it is wishing that life will overwhelm you with surprises, changes and events. The result is a lot of unpredictable disturbances that will not allow you to live in peace. Welcome to the Middle East!

There were less eventful times, only seven years ago. It wasn’t paradise then. It wasn’t all peaceful and quiet. But it did seem much more predictable than today, and events gave us time to breath, absorb and meditate.

It all started with the so-called “Arab Spring.” A man burned himself to death in a street in a Tunisian town because a policewoman confiscated his vegetable cart and slapped his face when he protested - hardly an out-of-place incident in a police-controlled country. People took to the streets to protest all their grievances. The government, unfamiliar with such a response, treated them harshly. The whole country went out calling for regime change, not just some modifications. The rest is history, not only in Tunisia, but also in neighboring Egypt and Libya, and as far as Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. The end of these stories varied, but except for Bahrain, all came down in shatters.

I don’t usually resort to a “conspiracy theory” to explain what happened, but, in this case, I did. True enough, it was the people who took to the streets, and it was the slow and idiotic responses of governments that escalated the situation.

But all things considered, it wasn’t that simple! Otherwise, how do we explain the fact that one party, the Muslim Brotherhood, which was a government partner in most countries, joined the protests and won the game at the end of the day? Why did we see the US, Turkey and Qatar’s footprints on every road the Brothers took? Why did Al-Jazeera channel change from being a professional news media outlet to a party mouthpiece, calling for revolution, change and even the assassination of Arab leaders, as Qatar Mufti, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi called for? Why did non-Arab Turkey become so involved in Arab affairs on the side of the Brotherhood? What happened to the zero-problem policy they advocated in foreign relations, especially with Arab neighbors?

And why would a US president betray his country’s most trusted partners in the region and advocate such violent change? Why would he dare to call the late Saudi King, Abdullah, to warn that Bahrain is a redline, and Saudi and its Gulf partners should not interfere in the Iranian-directed protests on the Arab island, which happens to be a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council?

As if this wasn’t enough, terrorism exploited the vacuum, supported by Iran and company to spread and even establish a caliphate! The world watched the expansion of Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) for years with no serious response. Only under President Trump’s leadership did the US get serious and lead the international coalition to victory. The previous administration seemed okay with the status quo, supporting the number one country sponsoring terrorism, exporting revolution and waging wars - Iran.

However, as the region seemed to cool down, the US again came to disturb the peace. Only this time it incorporated the entire Muslim world. Jerusalem is a very sensitive issue and all previous US administrations since the establishment of Israel on Arab land were wise enough not to touch it. Mr. Trump decided to play with fire and go against the promises to Muslim leaders he met in Riyadh. He ignored all the best advice of his allies and partners and chose to recognize the holy city of three major faiths as the capital of the Jewish State and move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

Today, not even Israel is happy after it has become globally isolated once more with the support of only the US and seven unknown islands. Instead of becoming a launchpad for wider recognition, the American decision brought about the loud rejection of 128 nations, including all permanent members of the Security Council, (excluding the US), the European Union, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League.

Now what? I believe the next chapter will be focusing on Iran and its irresponsible behavior in the volatile region. As crises seem to cool down in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, and come to a conclusion in Yemen, it is about time the world community comes together under US leadership (as it did in Syria and Iraq against Daesh), to resolve the Iranian issue once and for all. We need, this time, to go all the way to Tehran. Nothing less will do!

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi


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