New height of dangerous processes in the Middle East

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Baku, 24 August 2013 –

Alarming information is coming in from Syria and Egypt. There are speculations of armed confrontation, strife among various factions and foreign interference. Notable feature is the deepening discord between religious denominations, supplemented by the efforts to employ ethnic affiliation for political purposes. In general, the region faces a tide of challenges. In the meantime, the bog powers are doing nothing to alleviate the situation.

Denominations strife: deepening rift between the Muslims

Geopolitical landscape of the Middle East is so abundant with contradictions that its fate is vaguer than ever. Problems caused by both foreign and local forces provoked irreversible trends. Experts and analysts are now talking about fragmentation of the region, likelihood of armed conflicts spilling over other regions and division of the countries in the neighborhood. There are two key arguments that draw attention.

First, religious relations are going through tumultuous times. Second, religion is a crucial factor in the geopolitical processes of the region. Historical background of those factors is much talked about. However, for unknown reasons a role of the big powers in the processes is downplayed. Western analysts are more eager to emphasize the activity of radical religious groups. As a result, a following general picture is drawn: Muslim countries of the Middle East are experiencing ethnic identity crisis and radical Islam plays a destructive role. It must be said that it is not just the Western countries that are aiming to create such a perception. In line with their interests, other big powers play the blame game too, accusing the West, their rivals in the region or radical religious factions.

Undoubtedly, all of the abovementioned impacts the processes. However, implementation of the plans to control the Islamic world at the distance, through sowing chaos in the Muslim states, is evident whereas underlying factors fueling the crisis are ignored. Consequences of such a posture are dire – rising daily death toll, denomination clashes and discord among the nations of the region!

Perhaps, Middle East has seen similar developments in the past. This time around, however, the situation may potentially disturb global geopolitical balance, as well as provoke inevitable events in other regions. What is more thought-provoking that double standards tested in the Middle East may be used in other places where conflicts exist.

Two grave danger threats in the region are Egypt and Syria, although in general, the entire Middle East is going through turmoil. Publications in "The Washington Post'', "Foreign Policy'', "Le Figaro'', "Corriere della Sera'', "Le Mond'', "Независимая газета'' and other influential outlets highlight overwhelming agitation and uncertainty all across the Middle East. In light of these processes, evaluation of the regional role of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict evokes certain questions. The Middle East resembles a powder keg ready to explode.

Internal conflicts in Syria entered a new dramatic phase. Incumbent regime, united Syrian opposition and the Kurds are considered to be the key political forces. Opposition itself is divided into two hostile camps – Sunni and Shiite. They are also subdivided by another factor – armed factions belonging to either of denominations! It means that religion-wise, they add political undertone to denominational division, and claim armed groups to be protecting their interests. Ultimately, political map of Syria looks like a colour palette, abundant with contradictions and vague aspects (See: David Ignatus. Syria, shattered // Washington Post”, 14 August, 2013). Conflict of denominations is projected to stay even after the fighting subsides. Just like D.Ignatus’s article reads: "It would be decades before a Sunni police officer would feel safe patrolling in a Shiite or Alawite village''.

Dangerous scenario: region being fragmented?

"Financial Times'' provided a long-term projection. According to the article by Michael Peel, "the Syrian war might become a region-wide religious conflict'' (See: Michael Peel. Middle East: Battlelines drawn //, 31 July, 2013). Destructive activity of certain religious groups is particularly underscored. "Al-Qaeda'', "Jabhat Al-Nusra'', "Ahfad Al-Rasoul'' and "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant'' are the most infamous. "Hezbollah” and "Hamas” are rumored to have an impact on the processes too. Apparently, Syrian government troops are rampantly confronted by religious groups with differing political agenda. All the aforementioned radical religious groups, other than "Hezbollah'', belong to Sunnis. Once the "Free Syrian Army'' is added to the equation, a picture of great denominations standoff emerges. The issue is not limited to religious groups – allegedly, the Arab states and Iran are actively involved with the issue. It is indicative of the fact that religious denominations play a significant role within the Syrian opposition.

It must be said that the official Damascus is playing a religion card to disintegrate the ranks of opposition it faces. According to "Free Syrian Army'', B.Assad is responsible for fomenting the Sunni-Shiite strife. Anyways, at present, it is more about the struggle for influence over the captured territories than the struggle between the government and opposition. Another dangerous aspect concerns involvement of the Kurds as an ethnic party to the conflict. Northern Iraq also became entangled in the processes. The motive was the alleged killing of Kurdish women and children by the "Al-Qaeda” associated rebels. "External factors'' clearly play a key role here.

According to Iraqi officials, however, Kurds of the Northern Syria are the victims of their ethnic affiliation. Armed Kurdish groups are fighting for supremacy throughout the areas they inhabit. They are said to have reached an agreement with Assyrians, Armenians and Shiites with respect to the establishment of autonomy.

Saleh Muslim, the leader of the PKK’s Syrian arm, the PYD (Democratic Union Party), allegedly discussed those issues whilst on a visit to Ankara. According to experts, Turkey is unwilling to hinder the Kurds in that process (See: Курдский кризис – 2 и дезинтеграция на Ближнем Востоке //, 12 August, 2013) because Turkey is reluctant to appease the Kurds living there; a claim difficult to verify. The fact remains that Kurdish guerilla groups in the Northern Syria are fighting "Al-Qaeda'' backed groups and demand autonomy. That is to say that within the political confrontations in Syria ethnic affiliation and religious denominations became correlated.

In the meantime, bloodshed in Egypt signals additional threats in light of the heightened tensions in Syria. The process reached a phase of interstate confrontation in the wake of mass killings of peaceful protesters in Cairo. U.S., Europe, Russia, Arab states and Turkey laid out their positions. Moreover, religious denomination factor plays a certain role in the events in Egypt. Therefore, developments are projected to have a negative regional impact.

Subsiding of Israeli-Palestinian conflict in light of the aforementioned appears as thought-provoking. It is by engaging the parties that American diplomacy had successfully reinitiated a peaceful course of events. Presumably, the West attempts to somewhat appease Israel’s position in the hostile situation. Perturbations and contradictions prevail in every country of the region. For now, Tel-Aviv enjoys serenity but the next location to implode is difficult to forecast.

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