Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Tue, Jan 2nd, 2018

New Year, Old Crises

Ringing in the new year brings with it all kinds of wishes for something better. When it comes to the political, economic and environmental crises facing people in the Middle East, however, this is usually wishful thinking. Predicting what will happen would be silly, as it always has been. It is not that anything can happen, but events often take on a life of their own rather than a textbook scenario. Reality is closer to poetry than logic.

The main problem facing the region in 2018 is that the numerous problems unresolved in 2017 are not going to disappear. Consider the litany of suffering. ISIS may have been denied their futile attempt at a mercenary-based caliphate, but the intolerant sectarian worldview that sustained them is as alive as ever. Iraq is plagued not only with the insecure aftermath of its “liberation,” but now has a renewed Kurdish push for autonomy. Syria is still stagnant from the ability of Asad, with Russian and Iranian support, to hang on and the chaos among opposition groups. There is no safe haven for Syrian refugees to return to. Lebanon is still coming to terms with the Saudi puppeteering of their harried prime minister; Jordan has absorbed more refugees than it can handle. Palestine remains a tragedy, made even worse (as if that is possible) by Trump’s tweeting of an embassy move to Jerusalem, much to apocalyptic evangelical delight.

Yemen remains the worst humanitarian crisis in the region, with an estimated million cases of cholera, an air bombing campaign that knows no end nor any mercy, an entrenched Huthi presence in the north that shows no signs of relinquishing control, regional factionalism fueled by outside interests and fears of famine. Yemen is but a bit player, every bit the victim, of a proxy war between the oily potentate of the House of Saud and Rouhani’s Iran, a Sunni-backed and baked drive for power over influence on the whole Islamic ummah. The billions ransomed from the Guantanamoized Ritz Carlton elite may help defer the cost of a brutal war (and perhaps yet another yacht for the Crown Prince). The blockade against Qatar is the straw that has broken the GCC’s back.

Across the Red Sea lies Somalia, which continues to defy any semblance of becoming a state again. Mogadishu is less a city than a bad movie set, as though the farce of Delta Force streams on and on with real blood spilled. Libya has dropped off the radar, the successors to Qaddafi unable to strongman their way into the power he wielded for decades. Tunis is, of all the Arab Spring venues, a bright spot, but deficits are unfriendly to even the best regimes. Morocco remains the haven for Europeans seeking an Oriental vacation close to home.

Turkey looks more and more like an Ottoman revival, recreating the regime hunger of a sultan in Western clothes. Egypt has become an autocratic playground with little lessening of the tensions that fueled the Arab Spring. The crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood has encouraged more radical Islamic groups to commit terrorist acts, especially against the Christian Copts. Tourism, the lifeblood along the Nile, has dried up considerably due to the lack of assured safety. It is hardly poetic justice that Ozymandias remains a shattered visage. Were the poet Shelley alive today he would have to write:

My name is Sisi, King of Kings

Look on my Works, ye Western Neocons, and despair!

Nothing beside remains the same. Round the decay

Of that colossal democratic Wreck, freedom-less and bare

The millions of unemployed stretch far away.

Still, let us wish for a happy rather than a hapless 2018.

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.