The Region: Keeping score in the Middle East

Events in this region move and change so quickly, we might be better able to understand things using a point system.

Events in the Middle East have moved so quickly that one almost needs a daily scorecard. Have Iran and revolutionary Islamists gained in recent months? Yes, because of the belief that Islamism is advancing at the expense of declining Arab nationalism as well as other reasons.
From the Muslim Brotherhood’s perspective, yes, because of perceived gains made in Egypt (which also helps its ally Hamas), Jordan, Libya, Syria and Tunisia for Brotherhood-affiliated groups.
From the Iranian perspective yes, because of perceived gains made in Bahrain (though it is unhappy at how Saudi intervention blocked its clients from taking power), Lebanon, and Yemen along with all other places except Syria. Moreover, Tehran can take satisfaction in the removal of Egypt, its most important Arab foe, from the anti-Iran and pro-US category.
And all Islamists can take pleasure in the dramatic decline of US credibility, with Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia and probably soon Yemen no longer cooperating with US policy.
LET’S LIST the main aspects of US policy:
• It is not opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood or Hezbollah being in government, and has helped create a situation in Egypt where the Brotherhood is making a bid for leadership.
• It backs Syrian repression of its own democratic upsurge because it sees dictator Bashar Assad as a “reformer.”
• It does nothing about Lebanon.
• It thinks the Turkish regime is just fine – in fact, a model for other countries (which is strange, since the regime is now an ally of Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah).
• It is highly critical of Bahrain’s suppression of its opposition (part of which is pro-Iranian).
• It is intervening in Libya – an operation to which none of the Islamists are opposed because they hope to benefit from it. In addition, US forces could get bogged down there. Isn’t the Libya war just another version of Iraq, except with less to gain and more to lose?
• It is distancing itself more from Israel than any administration in the past 50 years.
• It refuses to back the Saudis, thereby creating the worst friction in the history of the US-Saudi relationship.
So what’s for revolutionary Islamists not to like? Obviously, they’d like an end to US sanctions on Iran, but generally speaking, American policy is terrific from their standpoint.
Let’s take a quick country-by-country survey:
Bahrain: The regime has used repression, Saudi intervention, and offers of compromise well to split the moderate (which wants a fairer share of power for the Shi’ite majority) from the radical opposition (which wants a pro-Iran Islamist republic). Minus one point for Iran, no thanks to US policy.
Egypt: The Brotherhood is more powerful than ever, will probably win about one-third of parliament, will shape Egypt’s cultural, educational, intellectual and religious atmosphere, and can now help Hamas. Egypt is no longer in the anti-Iran and pro-Western camp. Two points for the Brotherhood, two points for Hamas, one point for Iran. Minus two points for US interests.
Gaza Strip: Egypt is turned from enemy to ally. Arms and terrorists flow in freely. Two points to Hamas and one each to the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran. Minus two points for US interests: Hamas (and revolutionary Islamism) gets stronger, a future Israel-Gaza (or even Arab-Israeli) war is more likely.
Jordan: While the monarchy should survive, the Brotherhood there is more demanding. It also undermines another anti-Iran Arab state that is pro-Western.
Two points to the Brotherhood, and one each to Iran and Hamas.
Lebanon: Everyone seems to forget Lebanon, which went from having a moderate government friendly to the West to being now largely controlled by Hezbollah and other clients in the Iranian- Syrian sphere. The moderates (Christian- Sunni allied forces) tried to build protests against the new regime but failed. One point to Iran. Minus one to the US.
Libya: Hard to say, since the opposition is complex. On the other hand, it is not clear that Western interests will benefit, so the impact of Western intervention is unclear. While Muammar Gaddafi was historically an anti-Western sponsor of terrorism, he hasn’t caused much trouble in recent years. No points awarded yet.
Palestinian Authority/Peace Process: The Palestinian Authority knows it will never face a rebellion for being too hardline.
The peace process is certainly dead now. One point to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran. Minus one to the US, which has again sabotaged its own peace-process effort.
Saudi Arabia: While the anti-regime effort hasn’t gotten far, the Saudis feel that their relationship with the US and the West is undermined, and that they need to appease Iran and Syria. Plus one to Iran. Minus one for US.
Syria: This is also complicated. Syria is an ally of Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.
Thus, its destabilization is not in their interests. But what if an Islamist government comes to power, probably a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated one (though non-Brotherhood Islamists could also play a leading role)? Minus one for Iran and Hamas, but plus one to the Brotherhood.
Tunisia: While Islamists are weak in Tunisia, the fact that they can operate legally and that Tunisia will probably move into a neutral position is a gain for Islamists and a defeat for the West. Score one point for the Brotherhood and Iran.
Turkey: Everyone in the West seems to forget that the Turkish regime, which may well win reelection this year, is now an ally of Iran, Syria and Hamas. One point to each. Minus one for the US.
Yemen: Also complex. In Yemen, all politics is local. But the destabilization of a country that has at least partly cooperated with the US against terrorism is to Iran’s advantage, whether or not it influences some domestic rebels. Score one for Iran. Minus one for the US.
Extra credit: Tensions make oil prices rise. Score one for Iran.
Obama administration factor: The US has lost four friendly regimes – Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia and Turkey (some would add Yemen) – as well as the confidence of Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia (one might add Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates).
With the Palestinian Authority seeing that it can – and in some ways must – ignore US requests, that is another defeat. For general loss of credibility, minus one for the US.
For failing even now to understand the material in this article – and thus by not recognizing defeats or errors, another minus one for the US.
Totals: Muslim Brotherhood: 8 Iran: 8 Hamas: 6 US: -11
The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center ( and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal and Turkish Studies. He blogs at