Now it's almost official, having become the subject of a detailed article in The Economist.Barack Obama has produced a New Middle East, but it ain't the one he intended. Democracy has not blossomed as called for in his Cairo speech of 2009. The new Egyptian government that the American President cheered and supported, is now in the dust. Its President, Mohamed Morsi, is facing a death sentence, imposed by a court under the newer Egyptian government, and hoping for a reprieve to life in prison.The newer ruler, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, operates in the mold of Hosni Mubarak, whose supporters accused Obama of "throwing him under the bus."
Syria is competing with Iraq, Libya, and Yemen for headlines, with bombing and bullets rather than ballots determining their future. Reports are that 30 organizations are waging war in Syria, with observers unable to sort out a tangle where everyone may be against everyone else.
Russia and Iran are the prominent supporters of the Assad regime, but can claim nothing beyond widespread destruction, shrinking areas under his nominal control, and becoming the world leader in the incidence of displaced civilians.
The number of refugees who have fled their country plus internally displaced persons is the highest in years. Various sources differ in their estimates, but the New York Times reports round numbers of 11 million displaced Syrians (close to one-third of the population), and 3 million Iraqis (about 10 percent of the population) said to be displaced since 2013 . What happened between Bush's invasion in 2003 and 2013 is outside of these numbers. Libya's numbers are smaller, at 250,000, but so is its population (6 million). Chaos there has served to increase the flow of boat people reaching Europe or drowning on the way. They include Libyans as well as other Africans who have found that Libya has become the North African capital of people smugglers.
What President Obama may count among his accomplishments are closer relationships between countries formerly at odds, but now united in viewing Obama and his posture toward Iran as the greatest threat to the region as they desire it.
Us consumers of Israeli media have been aware of this for some time, but now the British who used to rule us all are writing about it. Israelis and Egyptians have been working together against Islamic extremists in the Sinai who have attacked us both, with our cooperation affecting Hamas and other Islamists in Gaza who have been working--along with Iran--with radical Bedouin of Sinai. Officials of Saudi Arabia and Israel have been talking publicly, mostly, apparently, about Iran, seen by both as their greatest threat as well as being Barack Obama's greatest mistake.
The Economist reminds us that the New Middle East has developed only so far. Its headline, The new frienemies, captures the ambivalence and the shakiness of relationships. Egypt and Israel are, of course, closer than Saudi Arabia and Israel. There are embassies of Egypt and Israel in one another's country, as well as commercial flights between the countries. There is no Israeli embassy in Saudi Arabia, no flying of an Israeli flag, and no commercial air service.
While Sunni-dominated countries are generally nervous about Iran, Saudi Arabia is actually engaged in warfare against Yemenites supported with Iranian money, munitions, and advisers. Among those fighting alongside the Yemenites are the Lebanese of Hezbollah, who had been the most prominent Arab allies of Iran until the Houthies reached the headlines.
More than anything else, a poll of Saudi opinion may reflect the impact of the war in Yemen, which has spilled over to civilian casualties inside Saudi Arabia. Only 18 percent of Saudis see Israel as their principal enemy, while 53 percent give that label to Iran.
Palestinians are not among those cheering this New Middle East. Indeed, one of its implications is that they have missed the bus.
Current activities may reflect nothing more than the greater importance of Iranian enmity than support for Palestine in the eyes of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and their Sunni allies."notions of Israel as the Arab world’s main enemy, and of Arab states as champions of the Palestinians, have been wearing thin. . . . (however) even if support for the Palestinians is lip service, few Arab leaders are ready to sell them out in public."
Saudi Arabia is the reputed author of a peace initiative that came out of a 2002 meeting of the Arab League. It proposed giving to the Palestinians everything they wanted (a state with 1967 borders, a capital in East Jerusalem and a just solution for the refugees) coupled with a normalization of Israel's relationships with members of the Arab League.
Except for what may be a shrinking group of Jewish leftists, that proposal has gone nowhere among Israelis.
The initiative may be most important as an early signal of Saudi willingness to deal with Israel. Its current importance may have been blurred by Arab fatigue with the leadership of West Bank Palestinians and their inability to keep talking with the Israelis, and with the more extreme Gazan leadership.
The Economist is cautious is discussing the cooperation between Sunni Arabs and Israel. It notes that "Shuttered Israeli representative offices in Muscat and Abu Dhabi show no sign of reopening."
Qatar is prominent as a friend of Palestine, and appears to be alone in actually delivering money for the rebuilding Gaza after promises came from all over the Muslim world.
Perhaps only Semites can deal with the nuances of Middle Eastern politics. While Barack Obama emphasizes his Muslim roots and dons a kipa for a White House Seder, he is not on the same page as Arabs and Israelis. Currently he's viewed as mistaken and misplaced in cozying up to the Iranians, and taking them at their word.
Historians may describe Obama's Peace Prize as an award for effort, or remind us that money for the Nobels came from the sale of munitions.