Middle East Revolutions Combined With Diplomacy Could Stumble Into Peace

Middle East Revolutions and Diplomacy May Lead to Peace

The Middle East has been a burning cauldron of warring factions for generations. Many of these have been created internally while others have been created or exacerbated due to foreign influences. Tribal conflicts have historically fueled frictions within the Middle East. The Sunni and Shiite divide within the world of Islam has drastically magnified this problem. This split has grown so bad that it potentially may evolve into a large war within the Middle East.

The long history of European colonization of the Middle East has fueled these divisions due to the partitioning of regions and the artificial drawing up of new national borders. Colonization also stunted the growth of representative government and taught Middle East leaders that authoritarianism worked at least in the short term. The involvement of the United States in the Middle East since World War II has been marked by alternating diplomacy, oil resource exploitation, and the threat or use of force.

Fortunately a recent mixed brew of revolutions, diplomacy, and threats of force have set the scene for possible peace talks on several fronts. Some of this has occurred by fortunate accident while much has been developed by way of earnest diplomacy.

I will analyze within this Hub the several countries within the Middle East which are haphazardly lurching towards a possible peaceful rapprochement with both their neighbors and the West. I will also examine the factors that precipitated this trend and how they interconnect. Finally I will analyze where these fortunate developments may be headed both positively and negatively. The future of the Middle East and its relations with the West are most certainly at stake.

The Arab Spring uprisings that swept much of the Middle East in 2011 created a tremendous political and social tumult within this region. The authoritarian governments of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya fell. Several others have been thrown into civil wars such as Yemen and Syria. These uprisings have precipitated cautious steps towards democracy in several countries. They have also created a dangerous dilemma.

Muslim extremist groups have been strengthened all over the Middle East mostly in response to tyrannical regimes. Countries that overthrew these despotic leaders now have a wide array of choices to vote for as their governmental leaders. Unfortunately Muslim fundamentalist parties are very strong and have built in structural advantages over the numerous other fractured parties.

The country that most vividly depicts this dilemma is Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in a massive but largely peaceful uprising in 2011. The military subsequently administered the government after this episode until a new Constitution and resulting elections were completed. The Egyptian people voted and narrowly elected Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi in 2012.

President Morsi almost immediately began consolidating power and attempted to amend the new Constitution by initiating Sharia law compliant changes. Many rights of the people were restricted causing a powerful public backlash and resulting massive demonstrations. The military felt compelled to once again intervene. They overthrew and arrested the President and resumed administering the government until new elections can be held.

This turmoil continues in Egypt highlighting democracy's perils in this region but also its advantages. The Egyptian people rebelled en masse when the Muslim Brotherhood began usurping their civil liberties. Maybe they have learned and will get it right the second time around. The rest of the Middle East will be watching and absorbing its lessons.

The recent nomination and ratification of John Kerry as United States Secretary of State earlier this year ushered in a new period of concentrated diplomatic effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kerry's first diplomatic effort was a six week long campaign of shuttle diplomacy to persuade the Israelis and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. This is an encouraging development after years of talking over one another but still only a baby step.

Unfortunately the Palestinians are represented by split government. Hamas, who are in charge in Gaza, still refuse to negotiate with Israel and have even renewed a call to violence against them. Fortunately President Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the West Bank Palestinians, is optimistic that a peace accord can be reached.

President Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel appears to be a reluctant convert to these peace negotiations. His reluctance may be a smoke screen to mollify his most conservative supporters. Ironically he may also be quietly trying to court the Obama Administration to take a harder line regarding the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

There have been very positive signs coming from the new President of Iran. He appears to be softening the past hard line Iranian stance regarding the sovereignty and legality of the Iranian nuclear weapons program as well as its relations with the West in general. The Obama Administration has reacted positively to these overtures and they appear willing to explore more intensive negotiations with this new Iranian Administration. I will explore these developments more fully later in this Hub.

President Netanyahu appears alarmed by this new U.S. - Iranian diplomatic thaw and may want to exert more influence on the Obama Administration. He may be doing so by showing a greater willingness to engage at least nominally in negotiations with the Palestinians.

Syria has been involved in their own civil war for the past two years. United States policy in regards to this conflict was initially limited to calling for President Bashar Hafez al-Assad to step down while supplying the rebels with only humanitarian aid. Several months ago President Obama inadvertently placed himself into a political box regarding his policy towards Syria. He stated in an interview that if Syria employed their known supply of chemical weapons against the rebels or any Syrian citizens, it would be a red line crossed that would have to be addressed.

On August 21, 2013, the Syrian government shelled a rebel controlled area of Damascus with Sarin gas killing over a thousand people. The worldwide outcry over this atrocity forced President Obama's hand. He and his national security staff decided that they must retaliate against the Syrian government once its complicity in this act had been proved.

President Obama had a change of mind and heart practically on the eve of this military action. His legal background and inate spirit was to have a national debate regarding this military action so he submitted his plans to Congress for its approval. Unfortunately support for this attack in Congress began to wane almost immediately and on a bipartisan basis. Great Britain had already gone through this process with the Parliament denying its Prime Minister the approval to act against Syria.

All seemed to be lost until Russia intervened diplomatically with the Syrian government. Russia convinced them to submit to international inspections of their chemical weapons program. They also agreed to surrender these weapons once they were fully disclosed to the inspectors. This process is underway and Syria appears to be complying according to the inspectors. Doubts about their full intentions regarding these weapons are still there. Time will tell.

A total diplomatic disaster was averted by of all things, Russian diplomacy. Could this be a sign of new policies and cooperation with the West by Russia? I and many others have strong doubts. There are hopeful possibilities that they may wish to raise their standing with the West and gain the respect that they feel has long been denied to them. Hopefully they will continue with this constructive diplomacy.

I turn now to the most immediate and grave threat to peace in the Middle East. This involves Iran and their budding nuclear weapons development program. The Obama Administration had tried to revive talks with Iran regarding this program from the inception of President Obama's first term in 2009. Unfortunately this effort went nowhere due to the intransigence of Iran's President Ahmadinejad.

Hassan Rouhani won a new election for President of Iran on August 3, 2013 changing the entire dynamic between Iran and the West. President Rouhani ran as a moderate and he almost immediately began making positive overtures towards the West after his election. On September 25, 2013 President Rouhani made an important speech to the United Nations General Assembly in which he called for tolerance and understanding. He also reiterated that nuclear weapons had no place in Iran's future. President Rouhani is close to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamanei making this a much stronger statement.

The Iranian government has lied before so western leaders are approaching these overtures apprehensively. President Obama called President Rouhani shortly after his U.N. speech and they had a cordial fifteen minute talk. Secretary of State Kerry had already conducted substantive talks with his Iranian counterpart. Further negotiations regarding the Iranian nuclear weapons program are planned for the near future.

There are two major obstacles to my scenario of a possible wider Middle East peace. The first is Israeli intransigence regarding Palestine and to a much greater degree towards Iran. Israel is highly wary of both due to terrorist attacks conducted by Hamas and backed by Iran against Israel. Iran and Hamas are both on record in favor of the destruction of Israel as a state making this an existential issue for Israel.

Hamas has recently stated that they will renew attacks on Israel. This is most likely an effort to sabotage the peace talks. Hopefully Iran, if they are serious about peace, will pressure Hamas to stop their terrorism. Iran helps fund Hamas making this a possibility. A strategic and diplomatic move such as this would go a long way's towards gaining Israel's confidence regarding their newly found peaceful intentions.

A second obstacle that has become increasingly worrisome is the growing rift between Sunni Muslim nations and Shiite Muslim nations. Saudi Arabia is at the heart of this new potential divide and threat to peace. There has always been great antipathy between these two religious sects going back many centuries. This divide has grown larger and become more dire since the U.S. - Iraq War.

Iraq was a predominantly Shiite nation ruled by a Sunni despot, Saddam Hussein. His overthrow opened up the country to democratic elections. Naturally a Shiite President was elected due to the country's demographics. This has given Iran much greater influence over Iraq and has sent shock waves throughout the Sunni Middle East. Iran no longer is the sole Shiite ruled nation. They also fear a nuclear Iran.

The Sunni Middle East nations fear this new potentially nuclear partnership to such an extent that an alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel has been whispered about. Saudi Arabia has castigated the United States for warming up to Iran in response to their positive overtures in recent months. A major conflict between Sunni and Shiite Middle eastern countries would blow up all hopes for peace in this region on all fronts.

Where do all of these elements place us in regards to the potential for peaceful relations in the Middle East? As I have stated throughout this Hub, the outlook is murky. Yet there are more hopeful signs in the Middle East currently than at any other time since the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo peace accord. These signs cannot be dismissed out of hand. It would be callous to do so.

The Israeli-Palestinian issue is at the core of most of the antagonism that Middle Eastern countries have with the United States. Diplomacy is always preferable to both violence and disengagement when it comes to this region. American relations with Middle Eastern countries inevitably suffer when we abandon the diplomatic stage in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We are seen as acquiescing to Israeli dominance in Palestine whenever we do this.

Secretary of State Kerry has been working furiously to move Israeli-Palestinian peace talks along. President Netanyahu refuses to budge off his initial requirements. He refuses to discuss new borders, halting settlements, and opposes any concessions regarding Jerusalem. Hamas threatens renewed violence aimed at torpedoing the peace talks.

Fortunately U.S. diplomacy has been intensified even in the face of these enormous obstacles. This is a key signal being sent to the region. It will also have a strong influence on the Iran nuclear weapons talks. The signal is that the United States is serious about these issues and is in it for the long haul.

Israel is tremendously fearful of Iran and incredibly wary of their diplomatic overtures. Bringing Israel into our confidence regarding our Iran negotiations could provide us with valuable leverage in encouraging President Netanyahu to compromise with the Palestinians. Hopefully the Iranian talks will provide fruitful results in the near future facilitating this trust from the Israelis.

The situation in Syria perfectly depicts the importance of diplomacy over military action. President Obama, at the last minute, turned to Congress for approval of military action against Syria. Russian President Putin swept in at this point and convinced the Syrian President to acquiesce to chemical weapons inspections and the subsequent turnover of those weapons. Our behind the scenes influence on Egyptian political power centers helped to influence two despotic regime changes. This Egyptian democracy is most certainly a work in progress but it is proceeding.

The opportunity and lesson to be derived from all of these events in the Middle East is that persistent diplomacy and involvement in the Middle East will eventually improve relations and lay the groundwork for possible peace. The politics of force employed by the neo-conservative George W. Bush Administration led to years of war, massive distrust, and the further radicalization of larger swaths of the Middle East.

The fortunate confluence of events currently occurring in the Middle East has been nudged along slowly but surely by renewed American diplomacy. Secretary of State Kerry has employed a massive flurry of talks with several Middle Eastern countries in an attempt to accelerate events and to not allow peace efforts to atrophy. The jury is still out as to what the results will be. Nevertheless the effort the United States is showing in this region has proven that the Obama Administration is serious in promoting peace in the Middle East.

Hopefully the Middle Eastern countries with the biggest stakes in these peace efforts will reciprocate and negotiate with determination and honesty. If they do, with United States help, maybe, just maybe, a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East will emerge. The ancillary advantage for us is that with greater peace and prosperity in the Middle East, terrorism will surely decline. I most certainly hope that all parties will take advantage of this opportunity for our sakes and for theirs.

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21 comments

Borsia profile image

Borsia 3 years ago from Currently, Philippines

I don't believe that peace in the Middle East is looming in the near, or even distant, future through any means save annihilation. No diplomacy has ever taken root in the region in the last 1000 years or the years before that. There has never been any widely accepted peace nor even a widely accepted truce.

It is a land of tribal warlords each hating the others and each wanting total rule over all others. It takes someone so ruthless and cruel to hold them at bay that only dictators can hold sway.

Iraq, as we see in the daily news, is breaking down rather than unifying with the departure of a strong US military presence. It wasn't much better when we had full force there. Even if it were to split into separate country states each would covet the other's holdings and the hate that boils so deep will lead them to war against one another.

Israel will never want peace as it would stop their expansion and the Palestinians have no intensions of letting them take all they desire. If they succeeded to it at face there would be no end to the continued attacks, and why should they?

The only thing America can do is to get out completely and cut off their one sided support of Israel. Cut ties to all of the corrupt supposed allies who are anything but allies, like the Saudis', Yemeni, Oman, Egypt and all the rest including Israel. Let them do away with each other and few will be left to bother the west.

But peace? No, its not on the horizon.


HSchneider 3 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

I agree with you, Borsia, that peace in the Middle East is always a longshot. There are too many competing tribes and other special interests fighting each other for power. There are , in my opinion, certain conditions that exist there right now for some worthwhile peace which I have written about in this Hub. I still believe that it is vital for the United States to be involved in this region and helping the sides negotiate for peace. Otherwise things would spin totally out of control. Nuclear and chemical weapons have made this a very dangerous world for everyone. We need to be involved here to keep these countries as friendly as possible without nuclear war breaking out. It could happen at some time. There is too much oil money in the Middle East to finance nuclear weapons programs. That is why I respectfully disagree with your stance that we should pull out of the Middle East entirely. Thank you for your comments.


HSchneider 3 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

The new and historic Iranian Nuclear Weapons program freeze agreement is a key first step to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. There is rightly plenty of skepticism regarding the intentions of Iran. This agreement is a six month deal and a bridge to a more permanent and comprehensive agreement. Israel and Saudi Arabia remain vehemently opposed to any deals. Still, this agreement is vital to peace in the Middle East. The alternatives of war against Iran or Iran acquiring nuclear weapons are far worse. Let us give this agreement a chance. It is the only palatable solution and could lead to a much broader thaw in tensions within the Middle East.


rebelogilbert profile image

rebelogilbert 2 years ago from Hacienda Heights, California

You did a great job of recapping all the foreign relation news I have seen this past year on CNN. I hope our peaceful negotiations with Iran, Israel, and other third world countries work out, too. But I have concerns about Muslim rebels. There are reports members of Al- Qaeda are infiltrating into their group. I don't mind them fighting Syria but they're definitely a threat against U.S. interest. Sometimes our foreign intelligence do an excellent job of foiling terrorist plots but we never know when a foreign terrorist will attack us somewhere in the U.S. I haven't heard any recent news about how the chemical weapon inspections have gone in Syria. I understand it is a complicated mission because of the constant fighting. U.S. boots on the ground would probably achieve quicker results in Syria. But America has made it clear they are weary of war, that doesn't mean the Obama administration will stop drone strikes. Many interesting complications developed this past year as you excellently described in your article. God only knows what will happen in the year ahead.


HSchneider 2 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

Thank you for your comments Rebelogilbert. You are right that there are constant threats in this region. That makes this a very dicey situation. Syria has been complying with the weapons inspectors and the process of removing chemical weapons is ahead of schedule. The Iran six month treaty was a great development but we will have to see how it develops. The Israel-Palestinian talks have stalled and this is where intransigence will most likely blow up peace talks. If they do fail, another round of violence will probably come. I appreciate your contributions to this Hub.


rebelogilbert profile image

rebelogilbert 2 years ago from Hacienda Heights, California

I appreciate the information about the chemical weapons inspection in Syria, HSchneider. I watch CNN and Fox News a lot but can't watch them 24 hours a day. Sometimes too many politicians are fighting over Obama care and we don't hear enough about what's happening inside Syria, unless it's more scenes of bloodshed which we've seen plenty.


HSchneider 2 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

You are welcome, Rebelogilbert. You are also correct about your assessment of the news. Syria was once a high profile case but the threat of war is gone. The media have moved on to more controversial news but Syria is still important. There is a Civil War going that could spread. Syria needs close watching. Thank you again for your comments.


GreenPrince profile image

GreenPrince 2 years ago from Philippines

It is hard to fight ideology, especially the ones that are deeply ingrained into the ways the people see and understand things. the problem in the middle east can only be solved by themselves. I mean, when they come to fully understand that -the way to peace and harmony is through forgiveness and letting go. It's hard to grasp except you practice it once, then you will see the result.


HSchneider 2 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

Thank you for your comments, GreenPrince. You are right that it is up to the people themselves to make peace in the Middle East. The situation there is so complex and intricate that sometimes you need outside forces to help spur reconciliation. Not to solve the problems but to shape the environment that is conducive to real peace talks.


GreenPrince profile image

GreenPrince 2 years ago from Philippines

You are right HScheider. They need outside interventions the like of which we haven't seen yet since the history of globalization. Pardon my harsh statement but Unless selfish motives of the existing outside forces are divorced from the peace agenda, lasting peace will be an illusion there. Well, I 'm resorting to the moral conviction that stems from people's soul after much struggle for peace to let them cross "the bridge of hate" to harmonious living.


HSchneider 2 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

I hope they are able to cross that bridge of hate for the sakes of their peoples. The peace talks are currently barely moving. It is a shame. Thank you again for your wise comments, GreenPrince.


Borsia profile image

Borsia 2 years ago from Currently, Philippines

Time has passed and the Arab Spring has sprung into Fall.

The one thing that we universally aren't seeing is peace at any level. What we are seeing is the rise of the extremist on all sides. The Muslim Brotherhood, Taliban and others are making their comeback. Iraq is falling into ruin as many of us predicted.

The only light seems to be that in a few places the populace appears to be getting fed up with being the fodder and is actively attacking the extremists, but this is on a tiny scale.

Revolution without direction is simply chaos and the result sim0ly anarchy.

The stage is set for the rise of the next Saddam, someone who can organize ruthlessness and rule by fear.


HSchneider 2 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

Religious extremism is definitely prevalent in the Middle East and must be fought at every turn. You are absolutely correct that revolution without direction is chaos and anarchy. Look back at the French Revolution compared to the American Revolution. That is why it is essential for other countries to provide true mediation with Middle Eastern nations and aid them into peaceful negotiations and the setting up of fair and efficient governments. I know this is still a longshot for this region but we must try and not let the whole Middle East explode. Thank you for your comments, Borsia.


cecileportilla profile image

cecileportilla 2 years ago from West Orange, New Jersey

Hi HSchneider:

Your are correct about need for continued diplomacy with middle eastern countries. If any county can help create peace in the region it will be the US despite the deeply rooted ideologies. Lifting certain restrictions do not necessarily mean that we agree with their actions or want to encourage the behaviors. We have to start by acknowledging them.


HSchneider 2 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

Thank you for your comments, Cecile. You are right that the U.S. has had many conflicting ideologies with countries of the Middle East but we all want and need peace. Our positive influence in this region is necessary due to the deep seeded differences between different groups in the Middle East. The history in this region is that when the U.S. and the world turns away, the Middle East falls apart. The recent rise of revolutions and elections may hopefully portend a positive change.


Borsia profile image

Borsia 2 years ago from Currently, Philippines

The US, or any other country, can do nothing more than offer support. Any actions beyond that will only backfire against both those countries and against these they are trying to help. This has always been the case and always will be.

Sadly the US's idea of support is subversive military support and more often than not to the wrong people. The US is simply too incompetent and too corrupt do the right thing.

The best thing for the US to do is stay out of it completely.

Real change can only come from inside, people can only liberate and free themselves. Nobody can do it for them and anyone who tries will fail. This has held true for as long as history has been recorded and in the Middle East it is more true than anywhere else.


HSchneider 2 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

I agree that military actions will always fail, Borsia. I am advocating for strong diplomatic intervention and financial aid to those countries to help facilitate peace talks. If the sides decide that they do not want peace, then all of this will fail. I totally agree on that. Still we need to help explore peaceful negotiations. Thank you for your comments.


ajwrites57 profile image

ajwrites57 2 years ago from Pennsylvania

HSchneider you cover a lot of ground in your Hub. One point I would like to make is that as long as countries are committed to the destruction of Israel, there will never be stability in the Mid-East. All efforts to strengthen these countries militarily or the militant factions within will further increase the possibility of Israel either being attacked or Israel striking any perceived, immanent threat. Enjoyed the Hub.


HSchneider 2 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

This is true, AJ. Unfortunately the current Israeli administration is not willing to even venture to have serious talks with other Middle Eastern countries. I agree that they have every right to be wary, but President Netanyahu seems to go out of his way to anger the Palestinians and other Middle Eastern countries. Being tough is essential to Israel getting a fair deal but not when it borders on belligerence. Even President Menachem Begin was willing to cut a tough deal with Egypt. Which coincidentally has stood for over 30 years. Thank you for your comments. I am thinking about writing a new Hub on the Middle East. This Hub was written out of perceived possibilities of mine at the time. That has obviously gone astray on many fronts. Now I just hope a wider Sunni-Shia war does not threaten to envelope the Middle East. The consequences could be dire for everyone in the world.


ajwrites57 profile image

ajwrites57 2 years ago from Pennsylvania

I agree with your last point, not sure I agree that Israel has been uncooperative. I think we might agree to disagree. In any event, a Sunni-Shia war would have devastating affects and already has to a degree. Good luck with your new Hub HSchneider! :o)


HSchneider 2 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

Thank you, AJ.

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