05.01.2020 Author: Veniamin Popov

2019 Year End Summary


There was a number of geopolitical milestones that defined 2019, as most regions of the world underwent a period of political uncertainty and instability in the last 12 months.

To some extent, the turbulent events that became the trademark of the last year were nothing but a continuation of the processes that began at the beginning of 2011 known to political scientists as the so-called “Arab Spring.”

It’s hardly a secret that mass protests in Sudan, Lebanon, Algeria, and Iraq were sparked by social inequality as those who took their dissatisfaction to the streets were demanding their economic situation to be improved.

Riots that shook the Arab World, as it was pointed out by Andrew Hammond – an analyst of the London School of Economics, were caused by the deep-rooted dissatisfaction of the local populations. The still widening gap between the rich and the poor is the reason why those protests haven’t yet subsided.

The year 2019 witnessed a major shift in the geopolitical balance across the Middle Eastern region. States that seemed dead-set to confront each other have suddenly emerged as allies. In particular, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the UAE, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan has recently expressed his support for the emerging alliance of certain Arab States with Israel on social media. There’s rumors that a non-aggression pact between Israel, the UAE and a number of other states may soon emerge as a counter to Iran, as this development was encouraged by the United States. It has already been revealed that Israel will take part in this year’s major exhibition in Dubai. Also, the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Shlomo Amar has recently attended an interfaith gathering in Bahrain.

If we recall that in 2018 Netanyahu visited the Sultanate of Oman to meet with Sultan Qaboos, then some observers may be tempted to recall the favorite phrase of the President of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, who could often be heard saying “the process has begun.”

Unfortunately, the United States through its reckless steps has significantly undermined the internationally recognized foundation for the broader Middle Eastern settlement – the principle of the two-state solution for Palestine.

Washington is currently seeking ways to finally land a killing blow to the agreement concluded in 2015 (after twelve years of negotiations!) between a total of six states and Tehran on the Iranian nuclear program (known as JCPOA).

On the other hand, a decisive blow was dealt last year to those radical Islamist militant forces that invaded Syria, largely owed to Russia’s intervention in the conflict. However, this does not mean that the radical Islamist groups of the Salafi persuasion have been defeated completely. Some of them, such as ISIS and the Al-Qaeda are still trying to reassert themselves in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, other African countries, as well as in Afghanistan.

The final eradication of those terrorists formations requires a comprehensive join effort taken by the international community.

There’s also tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, where a group is formed consisting of Greece, Cyprus, Egypt that supported by Israel and the US in opposition to the Turkish-Qatari-Libyan alliance, which actually means that new axes of power are emerging in this region of the world. In Washington a 40-year embargo on arms shipments to Cyprus has recently been terminated, which, according to some American policymakers, is going to put a limit on Turkey’s regional ambitions.

The foreign ministers of Greece and Cyprus have recently made it clear that they are not opposing Turkey’s accession to a number of regional energy cooperation projects. It was announced that Israel, Greece and Cyprus were planning to launch such a project on January 2, 2020.

It is plain to see that the past decade was a time of persecutions that sometimes were bordering genocide, and the Christians of the Middle East were on the receiving end of this worrisome trend. This idea, in particular, was voiced last December by EuroNews. However, it was noted that with the improvement of the situation in Syria, Syrian Christians have experienced noticeable relief over the last two years.

Overall, as some Arab observers point out that an ever increasing number of conflicting situations across the region does not promise a calm 2020.

Veniamin Popov, Director of the Center for Partnership of Civilizations at MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations) of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”

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