No end to Middle East problems
THE YEAR 2012 has seen challenges and opportunities, new beginnings and familiar setbacks, victories and defeats.
The most glaring example is the attempts by the United Nations to end the bloody 21-month-old Syrian conflict through diplomacy which have been a resounding failure. There is little reason to expect a quick change given the Russian-United States disagreement on Syria.
After a year of intensive diplomatic efforts, United Nations-Arab League peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi of Algeria has made no more progress than his predecessor, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in getting the government and rebels to come to the negotiating table.
Brahimi heads to Moscow on Saturday to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the United Nations said, but expectations are low. Syria’s opposition leader rejected an invitation from Russia to attend peace talks, which was a blow to Brahimi’s efforts.
There is no reason to expect anything different in early 2013. After three joint Russian-Chinese vetoes on Syria, the Security Council has all but given up on the issue. There seems no end to the deadlock and it’s hard to make a difference beyond humanitarian aid.
In addition to the rocky relations between Washington and Moscow, there are strategic reasons for standing by Assad. He has been a staunch ally, a major purchaser of Russian arms and host to Russia’s only warm-water naval port, even though it realizes Assad could be ousted sooner or later.
Quite apart from Syria, the entire Middle East has, for the entirety of 2012, been making global headlines. Sadly, however, it has been said that the only business which has flourished in much of that region has been that of gravediggers.
There has probably never been a period of history during which another region of the world seemed to experience the same levels of abject destruction on so many levels that the Middle East is experiencing today.
Throughout 2012 there were as many empty words, meaningless statements and peace plans as there have civilian deaths. In many cases, these failed attempts at brokering peace have even led to more deaths and greater destruction.
Looking outside of Syria, the rest of the region also seems to be in freefall. In Yemen, Libya and Algeria there is the increasing militarization of extremist groups, all vying for power. Egypt and Iraq appear ever more blemished by sectarian fighting.
Jordan and Lebanon are struggling with huge influxes of Syrian refugees. Lebanon is facing a dire security situation, and a weak economy. Fighting between Sudan and South Sudan continues, and Bahrain is increasingly unstable.
The rest of the Gulf may at first appear immune to the tide of uprisings, but unless serious attempts are made to allow more sections of society to participate in governance, the leaders of those countries are unlikely to remain isolated forever.