The much heralded “Arab Spring” has swiftly morphed into an Arab nightmare. The successive lauded popular uprisings across the Middle East were to an extent only the end of the beginning and not a quick-fire solution to the complex network of Middle Eastern disputes.
The aftermath of the Arab Spring has been far bloodier, protracted and troublesome than many expected. The new Middle Eastern horizon has brought with it new crises and new rules. One in which the US and the West are struggling to take a view on.
The uprising in Syria has unearthed a deadly civil war that has directly or indirectly sucked in most players of the Middle East. The short-lived euphoria over the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt has been replaced by social turmoil and a deep-rooted battle over political Islam that threatens to send Egypt into full blown conflict. The removal of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya was seen as reality straightforward by the West but his removal has witnessed more instability and violence. In Tunisia, an oppositional leader has been assassinated in renewed friction.
All the while in Iraq, sectarian violence threatens to return to levels not seen since the peak of 20007.
The rapid plunging of the Middle East into conflict has drawn many analysts to the roots of conflict, the role of Western powers in sowing the seeds of today’s strife in the aftermath of the First World War and historical vendettas.
But while typically the arguments point to the artificial boundaries of Middle East and sectarian fault-lines, the greatest travesty of the Middle East is often ignored – the failure to give the Kurds, the fourth largest nation in the Middle East, a nation of their own.
Too often the recent Middle Eastern fault lines are ascribed to Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict and secular versus political Islam; somewhat replacing the old focus on the Arab-Israeli struggle.
Conflicts in Syria and Iraq are narrowed to sectarianism. The polarisation of Turkey is generalised as between Islamists and those who uphold the mystical secular foundations of the republic.
Yet it is the selfish and ruthless carving of the Kurdish lands that will always serve as a critical destabilisation factor in the Middle East. The ethnic angle of the Middle Eastern conflict is not just between Jews and Arabs. It’s a travesty that in the 21st century that the Kurds have the unfortunate distinction of been the largest nation without a state.
It’s remarkable that the Kurds have to struggle for even “minority” rights in the lands of the forefathers, yet so much of the world’s focus is on Arab strife and Islamist positioning in governance. The Arabs view the lack of a 22nd state in Palestine as a great injustice whilst the Kurds are often viewed suspiciously or as overreaching when seeking rights. This sums up why equitable dealing of arguments or disputes is non-starter in the Middle East.
Syria is viewed as a confrontation between the Alawite minority and Sunni majority, whilst the Kurds who were roped into the state boundaries are often overlooked.
The redrawing of the Middle Eastern map is not just a necessity but a natural unravelling that would always happen at some point. Iraq is the starting point for such unravelling, with Kurds finally able demonstrate strategic and political clout in terms of new geography.
Yes, the new Middle East is hardly the advert for harmony and communal peace, but all that has been done is to let the cat out of the bag. All the problems and ingredients for conflict where always there, but they were caged and held tightly by dictatorial regimes supported by the West.
The Middle East is at an acute cross road, unfortunately with players intent on resolving differences the region knows all too well – conflict.
Ironically, as the West has found out bitterly in Iraq and Egypt, democracy and religion is not always the perfect tonic. What happens when the people select a party or system of government that the West never wants or fears?
It will take decades for the dust from the new Middle East to settle, but contained for so long it won’t be easy for such a crisis zone filled with high emotion, history and natural resources to take its new shape.
But let there be no doubt – the Kurdish question is central to any prospects of real peace and stability in the new Middle East.