Chris Doyle writes: “The lamps are going out all over the Middle East”, to update Sir Edward Grey’s doom-laden warning to Europe a hundred years ago. The areas of calm and stability seem like small oases in a multitude of firestorms. Many areas are literally without lights. Gaza has around two hours electricity a day. The power cuts in Yemen are worse and worse, leading to major protests. But, more worryingly, the lights of the democratic, liberal, pluralistic forces that for many months in 2011 lit up the region are also dimming, overshadowed by the twin forces of brutal dictatorship and brutal religious sectarian extremism.
Syria and Iraq are divided and near ungovernable, in the waiting room for failed-state status. The so-called Islamic caliphate or Isis, which in reality bears no resemblance to any caliphates of the past, covers an ever-expanding area, larger than the United Kingdom, including 35 per cent of Syria. Libya is being terrorised by rival militias. Palestinians in Gaza, for the fourth time since 2006, are at the wrong end of an Israeli military aggression that pits one of the world’s most sophisticated militaries against a captive population inside the world’s largest prison. The collective pile of rubble from these conflicts would grace a mountain range.
Those states and areas that enjoy calm become refugee camps. Lebanon and Jordan host almost two million Syrian refugees between them, as well as 2.5 million Palestinians. Tunisia is confronted with a mass Libyan exodus; while Iraqi Kurdistan is home to more than 300,000 Iraqis displaced only since June, as well as 220,000 Syrian refugees. In each case, the numbers are rocketing up – with the number of Syrian refugees alone expected to reach four million by the end of the year. Each humanitarian appeal is underfunded.
Will it get worse? The signs are worrying. The fighting in Lebanon last week, in Arsal in the north Bekaa valley, is yet another example of why the Syrian crisis threatens to move from spilling over, to swamping, its smaller neighbour. The instability could spread to Jordan. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states will not be immune to the regional changes.
Given the epidemic of crises in an area of the world vital to our trade, energy and security interests, the minimal expectation would be an energetic and engaged response. Yet, when asked about Western policy towards the region, my instinctive response is, “There is one?”
The failure is first and foremost one of leadership, at an international and regional level. Who are great international statesmen in the West or in the Middle East? Who do young Arabs, who make up most of the population, look to for inspiration? President Obama has been blasted for his indecisiveness but he is not alone. George W Bush and Tony Blair were decisive over Iraq and destroyed the country. There is no strategy, and often the debate is reduced to a question of to bomb or not to bomb. [Continue reading…]