De-Ummafication: Understanding the Flux in the Middle East- Part II

The conflict between these two major powers has spilled across the region. Source: globalresearch.ca

(Part II of a two-part series)

Recently Malaysia hosted Iran, Turkey and Qatar in a summit at Kuala Lumpur which attempted to carve out a political space in opposition to the Jeddah based Organisation of Islamic Countries or OIC. 

Oman and Kuwait remain neural actors in this scenario, but Oman is the major recipient of Qatari investment, as Omani infrastructure has been utilised in circumventing the Saudi and UAE led blockade.

The Omani Sultan has been a regular go between Tehran and Washington DC during the nuclear negotiations as well as prisoner releases from Iran. Oman acts as a mediator in the Yemeni civil war as well, with injured personnel receiving medical treatment in the hospitals in Muscat.

Oman also hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Muscat in 2018, which was a water shed moment for Israeli-Arab relations. Kuwait has signed a long-term LNG supply agreement with Qatar last week, signalling interdependence within the GCC irrespective of the Saudi imposed blockade. 

Dubai within the UAE has been a magnet of Iranian capital after the 1979 revolution as one of the largest diaspora centres after Los Angeles and Toronto, with Kuala Lumpur not far behind. Abu Dhabi in the UAE on the contrary has been a trenchant adversary of Tehran.

With most of its oil blocks offshore and a large neighbour next door, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed is known to be a fierce advocate of an anti-Iranian front with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in Riyadh. 

Dubai now a days is less divergent to Abu Dhabi on Foreign Policy issues since a financial bailout a decade ago, which has clipped its autonomy via-a-vis an independent foreign policy. 

Middle East as a cartographic notion is a product of the European Imagination with respect to its thoughts about the Ottoman Empire. The Middle East therefore is studied through a dominant western gaze.

As written by Huseyin Yilmaz in the edited book titled ‘Is there a Middle East: The Evolution of a Geopolitical Concept’ by Michael E Bonine, Abbas Amanat and Michael Ezekiel Gasper:

“For British diplomats, ‘the Middle East” was conceived to facilitate the logistics of its imperial establishment. When British interests centered on India, the area was meaningful as the Middle East. When the imperial interests centered on the Ottoman Empire during World War I, the Levant became the center point of the new Middle East.”

Iran is refereed as the country trying to export a Shia Revolution across the region, where as the reality is that Iraq and Bahrain are Shia Majority states, and there are prominent ‘Ajmi’ or Shia communities of Persian decent from Muscat to Kuwait City.

I have had my best Chello Kebabs at Kateh Restaurant in Kuwait and Shabestan Restaurant in Muscat. Iran is the spiritual home for Shia’s as Israel is for the Jews. Iran has spent hundreds of millions of dollars through charitable foundations (directly accountable to the Iranian Supreme Leader) rebuilding Lebanon post the 2006 conflict with Israel.

The Middle East is not just a giant oil well, but a highly complicated geography of networks of faith and flows of capital. Iran leverages it’s influence across the region from Shia Hezbollah in Gaza to the Shia Alawite Regime of President Assad in Damascus.

The nexus between Beirut, Gaza and Tehran is linked through Damascus. The Iranian regime takes the survival of the Assad regime very seriously. Russia has also played a part in Syria. There needs to be a multi stakeholder view of the region, as a power play for the upper hand in an energy rich area is not a winner takes all dynamic.

The non-American view needs to be considered as Iran is a proper regional power with plenty of levers to operate in order to deliver outcomes in its favour, especially through the use of asymmetrical warfare as years of sanctions has degraded its conventional fire power.

In the event of a confrontation it’s half a million strong army and allies across the region, would not be a walkover as President Assad’s forces have shown over the last decade. 

The region has been perennially engaging for scholars and speculators alike in order to separate the signal from the noise. With the killing of Gen Sulaimani, the oil prices are up which would be a welcome start for oil corporations from Houston to Abu Dhabi. The US Presidential elections also make Petro politics prominent on the policy dashboard for geo-political pundits in DC and Doha.

I believe that we are off to a crackling start to the new decade and the Middle East or West Asia as I prefer to refer in my scholarship, never fails to disappoint for its sheer volatility and a penchant for trouble. 

(Read Part I of the two-part series here.)

Manishankar Prasad

Manishankar Prasad is an environmental engineer, sociologist, researcher and writer. He has studied at the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has published across numerous national and international platforms such as the New Indian Express and the Huffington Post, been a panellist on Al Jazeera International and BBC World, and has been interviewed by Forbes and The Guardian.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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