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Cover Stories Series 2013> New Man for Iran> Archive
UPDATED: December 10, 2012 NO. 50 DECEMBER 13, 2012
A Rough Year in the Middle East
Lasting instability and intensified conflicts have reshaped the region's political landscape
By Liu Baolai

The second is a political solution. For example, if the UN-backed peace plan of reaching consensus between the Syrian Government and the opposition is realized, Assad's fate will depend on the result of the peace talks. There may be another possibility that under domestic and foreign pressures, Assad will suggest an earlier presidential election in 2013, in which he will not run. Or, Assad could be forced to resign and shift power to his vice president to realize a peaceful transition.

The third way is to depend on foreign military intervention to overthrow the Assad administration. In this way, Syrian opposition militants will work with Western countries and some GCC members to take down the current government.

The fourth possibility is that the Syrian military takes power after long-lasting political and economic turmoil. Then the country will be on track to a political solution after a period of transition.

Two Sudans eased up

South Sudan declared independence on July 9, 2011. But its disputes with Sudan have not been settled with independence. Border demarcation remains unsettled, and oil income distribution is not clear. Military conflicts burst out in March and April 2012, as the two countries fought for oil resources in the region. Sudan even declared war on South Sudan on April 18 after the latter's army occupied an oilfield on the former's side. The war ended quickly when South Sudan pulled out, but military conflicts continued from time to time in border areas.

After hard negotiations following the international community's mediation, the presidents of the two countries signed a number of agreements on economic and security cooperation in Addis Ababa on September 27. The two sides agreed to share oil profits, end hostility, and permit the free pass, settlement or working of their people on each side.

Regional power reshuffle

Egypt has started to climb up from its downhill path this year. The new administration has adjusted the country's foreign policy to adopt a principle of independent and balanced diplomacy. In 2012, it took Palestine's side, ameliorated the relationship with Iran, kept a distance with Israel and the United States, and tried to reach a balance among Saudi Arabia, Iran and itself. It regained regional power status by heading Islamic countries' four-member committee on solving the Syria issue.

Iran hosted a Non-Aligned Movement summit in September. Representatives of 120 countries, including 30 heads of state and government leaders, participated in the meeting. The meeting broke Washington's opinion of Iran being "isolated" by the international community. On the Iranian nuclear issue, Iran carried out a toe-to-toe tactic against Washington. It conducted military rehearsals, tested advanced missiles, resisted European and U.S. sanctions, supported Syrian President Assad, and mended its relationship with Egypt. Its regional influence is on the rise.

In the meantime, GCC countries such as Saudi Arabia, once controlled the Arab League on Libya, Yemen and Syria issues and their influence increased. However, they are generally losing influence in the region because of their close relationship with the West, especially after a movie made in the United States insulted the Islamic prophet Mohammed and provoked a strong reaction from Muslim countries.

Turkey did more talking than acting when it comes to supporting Arab nations' "revolution" and resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Therefore, its popularity has fallen this year. Its cooling relations with Iran and biased stance toward Syria limited its role in regional issues. Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan's declaration on bringing down the Assad administration was resisted at home and abroad, putting him in a tough position. His only choice was to ease up the tense relationship with Syria.

Israel has become more isolated than before. The international community paid more sympathy to Palestine, calling for a peaceful solution. People in the Arab world showed a high anti-Israel sentiment. For example, the Egyptian Government limited exchanges with Israel under public pressure, choosing instead to support Palestine in establishing an independent state.

Declining U.S. influence

The United States' soft power in the region has obviously decreased this year. People in the region object to U.S.-style democracy and insist on Islamic-style democracy because they believe democracy should be original, not a transplant.

Washington propagandizes a clash of civilizations. It advertises the superiority of the Christians while belittling other religions especially Islam from time to time. Its stance has outraged the 1.5 billion Muslims throughout the world and triggered several rounds of anti-U.S. tides in the Middle East this year. Four Americans including the U.S. ambassador to Libya were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya's Benghazi.

Washington's double standard in the Middle East was strongly opposed. It always indulges Israel while being tough on Palestine. While treating Hamas as a terrorist force and exerting pressure on the Palestine Liberation Organization, it stood against Palestine's efforts to improve its position in the UN.

Another reason for Washington's unpopularity in the region is its interference in the domestic affairs of countries in the region. It overturned the Muammar Gaddafi regime of Libya last year. In 2012, it supported the Syrian opposition to bring Assad down. It even tried to introduce U.S.-style democracy to Middle East countries in transition, like Egypt. Its deeds were abhorrent to people in the region.

The author is a council member of the China Foundation for International Studies

Email us at: yanwei@bjreview.com

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