x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Arab states redraw the map of alliances after revolutions

The region has transformed since the revolutions, but speculation about a conflict between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Gulf fails to understand the new realities.

While Syria's army cruelly and stupidly shells its own people and storms its cities, the so-called "axis of resistance" stretching from Tehran to Damascus is falling apart. Said axis spent the last decade waging a cold war against the "bloc of moderates" led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt in partnership with Jordan, the UAE and Morocco.

Prior to that divide, Arab leaders forged all sorts of axes and alliances. Some survived and evolved, others fell by the wayside. Positions changed, plots hatched and even blood was spilt during the process.

Are Arabs predestined to leave one axis and enter another, or is that something of the past?

The year 2011 brought down a curtain on an old Arab era. A new one is still taking shape. The maps are many and their lines are yet to be defined. What has transpired so far breaks up Arabs into three groups.

There are the stable countries that withstood the spring of radical change but welcomed reform. This group includes Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners.

The Arab Spring countries - namely Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and, certainly before long, Syria - are undergoing political, social and economic revolutions encompassing their ruling elites and the basic nature of their regimes.

The countries of constitutional reform are Morocco and Jordan, where the regimes remain in place but evolve and allow new ruling elites to work their way into power without usurping it. By a stretch of the imagination, Kuwait and Bahrain could be included in this group.

On the touchline are: Algeria, which has every reason to be in the second group; Lebanon, where political change hinges on the outcome in Syria; and Iraq, which would need a mystic to read its future.

Should new alliances and axes emerge, they would not conform to the outdated map, but to the wishes of new ruling elites, to geopolitical realities and, primarily, to economic considerations as politics and ideologies fade along with the dim-witted quest for "leadership" of the Arab world.

In the old Arab era, state-building was a new experience. Maps and borders had yet to become permanent, and infighting among the grandees was natural. Then came the military coups and international interference.

Chances for agreement are greater in this new era - except that past experience shows that Arabs prefer to take the wrong turn. So, better to expect the worst if we want to avoid it.

The most probable confrontation would pit the Muslim Brotherhood axis against the axis of stability. People are already inciting this with speculation about the Muslim Brotherhoods' aspirations to topple regimes in the stable states, and that their new-found power in the Arab Spring states has emboldened their counterparts in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf to move against their governments, making confrontation inevitable.

But I wonder: does an axis of Muslim Brothers exist?

Such an axis could be visualised running from Egypt to Libya and on to Tunisia, bypassing Algeria (for now), and reaching Morocco. Also included would be Sudan, which is governed by Islamists who must be so relieved to see their counterparts govern Egypt.

To the east, there is Hamas in Gaza on the one hand, and Syria's opposition on the other. And the axis would not be complete without Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party in Turkey.

This is hypothetically correct, but partners in a Muslim Brotherhood alliance are unlikely, at least for now, to agree on common foreign or economic policies. They are not of the same fabric, although the common denominator is "political Islam".

Tunisia's Ennahda Party is unlike Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, for example, with intellectual and organisational variations in each of the movements that will take years to settle. They are all making their way through uncharted territory, getting to know one another after being underground for decades.

Years of incarceration, exile and adverse circumstances tore the various Brotherhood organisations from their original shared platform. This is especially true of Morocco and Sudan's "Brothers" who refuse the label. Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Kuwait's "Brothers" are perhaps the most committed to the old school.

But each of these countries belongs to an alliance other than the "Muslim Brotherhood axis".

That's why talk of a Muslim Brotherhood axis to challenge other partnerships is off the mark. Arab states are interdependent in so many respects that it is unthinkable to see them split into two blocs.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt see eye to eye by virtue of a long-standing strategic commitment to cooperation. The Nile partnership drives Egypt and Sudan together, without the latter distancing itself from Saudi Arabia. The Maghreb identity of Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria keeps them together. Here, too, I see Morocco remaining close to Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and with Free Syria and Lebanon.

Note how many interconnected circles can be drawn.

The idea of axes is dead because the reasons for accord are innumerable. The "Brothers" neither wish to nor can meddle in the affairs of the stable counties. They will certainly not line up with Iran after its sectarian support of Syria.

Saudi Arabia, in turn, does not look for a confrontation with the Brotherhood, but for collaboration. Proof came when it received Tunisia's Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, who neatly sidestepped the question of the kingdom's asylum granted to former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Mr Jebali focused instead on economic matters, choosing to meet businessmen at every opportunity during his stay, prompting Crown Prince Nayef to advise Saudi business leaders to invest in Tunisia.

The same template seen in Saudi-Tunisian relations will surely reinforce the Gulf's bonds with Egypt, whoever rules it.

 

Jamal Khashoggi is editor-in-chief of the planned Alarab news channel

On Twitter: @JKhashoggi