The Middle East is changing so radically that in 10 years several countries
could disintegrate, experts said Tuesday during a panel discussion held in
memory of former Mossad chief David Kimche.
“Here we have a new situation
with countries – which shouldn’t have been nations anyway because they didn’t
have the glue that makes them nations – falling apart,” said Shmuel Bar,
director of studies at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the
Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.
“I’m not sure in 10 years’ time we’ll
be talking about Saudi Arabia, but maybe we’ll be talking about the Arabian
Peninsula. It’s more natural for Yemen just to disintegrate, because it’s a
tribal society and some parts of Yemen are closely affiliated with parts of
Bar spoke during an Israel Council on Foreign Relations
(ICFR) discussion entitled “Perspectives on the Current Maelstrom in the Middle
East,” held on the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Givat Ram campus.
panel also included Shlomo Avineri, professor of political science at the Hebrew
University and a former Foreign Ministry director-general, and David Sultan,
former Israeli ambassador to Egypt and Turkey.
Bar also said Syria is
ripe for a split.
Northern Syria has a growing jihadist presence, and
Alawites in the north are converting to Shi’ite Islam because they predict they
will have to eventually align themselves with Shi’ites in Lebanon.
events in the Arab world have also scuttled the Israeli-Palestinian peace
process, said Bar, because Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is no longer in
power, and the leaders of Jordan and Saudi Arabia are consumed by internal
“One of the major forces which brought [Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas] to do what he never wanted to do – move ahead in the
peace process – was that Abdullah, Mubarak, and the Saudis were always
pressuring him,” he said.
“So his willingness to move ahead and make
compromises is less today than when he had the backing of a strong, pro-Western
Sultan disagrees with commentators who claim the Muslim
Brotherhood is intentionally keeping a low profile in order to wait for the
right opportunity to seize power. He said the organization is beset by internal
“Besides,” said Sultan, “I trust the army will do its best
to prevent [the Muslim Brotherhood from achieving] a sizable representation in
With a population of 84 million and an annual birth rate of
1.5 million, half of Egypt’s population lives in poverty. This is one reason why
no post-Mubarak government will scuttle the country’s peace treaty with
“Sadat’s decision was the result of a gradual realization that
Egypt cannot afford to continue with cycles of war with Israel,” said Sultan.
“Allocating resources needed for confrontation left very little for the needs of
a growing population.”
With the Egyptian government having to create one
million jobs a year, Egypt needs the billions of dollars it receives from
tourism, American aid, the operation of the Suez Canal, and the oil industry in
Furthermore, the peace treaty was not only signed by Egypt and
Israel, but by the US, with which no Egyptian government would want such a major
“The cold peace may become colder, but it will remain,”
Avineri said Egypt’s history shows it has the tools to
become a working democracy. “Egypt has a secular tradition and had a liberal
constitution in the 1920s and ’30s,” he said.
However, he cautioned that
Egyptians demonstrating in Tahrir Square do not necessarily mean Egypt is ready for democracy
right away. “Democracy is an outcome of many decades of civil society and liberal
development,” said Avineri. “In the French Revolution people were able to
liberate Bastille, but the outcome was not democracy. France became a democracy
100 years later.”