Borysfen Intel

What Does 2014 Have in Store for Us?

February 4, 2014
<p>What Does 2014 Have in Store for Us?</p>

Vadym P. Volokhov, Middle East Programme Manager.


2013 has fallen into oblivion, having left us a legacy of unabated bloody conflicts, a pile of unsolved problems and unfinished semidormant negotiations.

 Meeting with the President of Iran Mohammad Khatami. Tehran, July 1, 2002
Meeting with the President of Iran Mohammad Khatami.
Tehran, July 1, 2002

Here we should remember the former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's concept of “Constructive Chaos” that comes from violence and wars throughout the region in order to allow the United States, Britain and Israel to redraw the map of the Middle East in accordance with their interests. It is also important to note that the “rapid breakthrough” in relations between Washington and Tehran occurs just at the time when the Middle East is engulfed in wars, conflicts and chaos.

Egypt, the former key state in the Arab world, on which largely depended security of the entire Middle East, is today in a period of instability, when the country can be overtaken by a new coup or a civil war.

De facto, it has turned into a state in dire need of international assistance to overcome its deep socio-economic and political crisis. Cairo has lost its leading role in the League of Arab States (LAS).

In Syria, the civil war continues, chances for peace through dialogue are extremely small, although the ruling regime, based on the Russian political support and Iran and Hezbollah's military aid, in whole controls the situation and most likely will survive. But in the current situation Damascus cannot play an active role in Middle Eastern affairs yet.

As for Turkey, having participated actively in the Syrian conflict, a wave of powerful protests significantly undermined the authority of Prime Minister Erdogan and reduced the international role of Ankara. Its stability itself was threatened by mass protests of the population unhappy with the policy of the Prime Minister. Replacement of many Ministers in the government did not defuse the situation. In these circumstances, Ankara has significantly reduced its foreign policy activity in the Middle East included.

Libya, which used to play a prominent role in inter-Arab affairs and in North Africa, de facto has actually been divided into three enclaves — Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Azzan, which has recently declared its autonomy. The central government barely controls Tripoli and its surroundings.

Yemen, which had had a special place in the Arabian Peninsula as a Republican counterweight to the conservative monarchical Saudi Arabia, everywhere is embroiled in a grueling internal struggle with rebels — Houthis in the North — and Al-Qaeda militants of the Arabian Peninsula. Besides, it is threatened by a split into North and South. The country is mired in infighting, and it is not up to foreign policy.

In Jordan, the situation is somewhat better, but the risk remains of sharpening of confrontation between supporters of the current monarchy and radical Islamists.

Tunisia, after the Islamist coup, is experiencing a period of deep political and social crisis that threatens to escalate into civil war. Tunisia has lost its past importance of a serious player in the politics of the Arab Maghreb.

Algeria, against the background of the growing activity of al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb, is living in anticipation of the change of power of generations. Its former role of one of the poles of forces along with Egypt and Iraq in the Arab world has actually been lost.

In Iraq does not ease off the sharp intensity of the Sunni-Shiite confrontation, fueled from outside by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and some other members of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC). But the central Shiite government is still able to retain overall control over most of the country, where the socio-economic situation is gradually improving. But internal problems do not allow to lead active foreign policy, in the Persian Gulf included.

Obviously, if the Iraqi Kurdistan eventually dares to declare its independence, it will be joined by the Kurdish areas of neighboring countries, especially of Turkey and Syria. And the creation of a powerful Kurdish state in the heart of the Middle East will be a new geopolitical reality. Its anti-Arab and anti-Turkish orientation means inevitable alliance with Iran.

Kuwait is in a strip of permanent parliamentary crisis, which is also connected with the suppression of the Shiite minority.

In Qatar they decided to immediately replace the Emir and Prime Minister with the majority of his government to save the country from internal political turmoil. This step has slightly calmed down the population.

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, surpassing Egypt, Algeria, Syria, Iraq and other countries in the region, has begun to largely dictate the rules of the game in the region, taking the lead in the LAS included.

At the same time, Qatar and Saudi Arabia — the main sponsors of radical Islamists — have tough conflicts between themselves. Moreover, in its confrontation with Riyadh, Doha has started to secretly make contacts with Tehran.

Washington's failure to bring order, its disengagement from finding solutions to these and other conflicts generated by it, also creates the illusion that the USA is tired of the Middle East that it is leaving it, shifting the center of gravity of their activities closer to the Chinese border, into the Asia-Pacific region. But this is only an illusion. The USA is only trying to redistribute powers within its regional allies, intending to continue to monitor the situation.

And while in the Middle East the “Arab Spring” has already calmed down, and today Islamists' victories do seem so indisputable, as they did a year ago. The parties from the numerous family of “Muslim Brotherhood”, which have headed the “Arab Spring” countries, have shown their helplessness and either have already lost power or are about to lose it. However, some Arab Gulf monarchies rather indifferently perceived the obvious threat and continue their social and economic experiments. As a result, after the beginning of the “Arab Spring”, majority of Arab countries have faced with the need to revise the strategy of modernization and begun a hasty search for a balance between the need for its continuation and mental peculiarities of Islam as a way of life.

So we can say that the world is no longer bipolar, but not unipolar. It is not multipolar either. It has sooner become a non-polar one.

So it's time to peep into the future and to try to predict what 2014 has or can have in store for us.

Experts in numerology have already put 2014 into their calculation tables. What is the result?

1514. Turkish conquerors subjugated Eastern Armenia, Kurdistan and Northern Mesopotamia up to the city of Mosul, included (the area of modern Syria and Iraq), which gave them complete control over the most important trading centers in the Mediterranean and Red Seas.

In 1514 also broke the largest in the history of Germany anti-feudal uprising (“The Great Peasant War”), headed by “Poor Conrad” secret alliance.

1614. Sharp aggravation of confrontation between Protestant Union and Catholic League initiated the all-European military crisis (1618-1648 Thirty Years War), the center of which became Germany.

1714. The end of the War for the Spanish Succession. Again, global redistribution of spheres of influence.

1814. Napoleon's defeat, France had been defeated. The beginning of a new era for the winners. Again, a global redistribution of spheres of influence.

1914. The beginning of the World War I, the collapse of the old world, the beginning of a new era, and again — redistribution of spheres of influence.

Perhaps enough. But what is ahead? It's safe to say that 2014 will be determined by the following factors:

  1. Inexorable worsening of the Sunni-Shiite conflict in Islam that could lead to a regional war or a series of small conflicts, both, in the Persian Gulf and in the whole Middle East.
  2. Further development of relations between Iran and the United States and the response of Israel and Saudi Arabia. If Tehran has outwitted the West in negotiations on the nuclear issue, it can be considered the end of the non-proliferation regime.
  3. Further growth of nationalism and extremism in the “good old” Europe in response to the increasing flow of migrants to European countries not wishing to adopt European standards of life, but entirely using European aids and actively exploiting liberal European legislation.
  4. China's return to the course of “tough” policy.
  5. Energy policy of Russia towards Europe.

But as they say, let's return to our muttons, back to the Middle East.

Sunni-Shiite confrontation.

“Shiite crescent”
“Shiite crescent”

Today it is absolutely clear that the confrontation of Sunnis and Shiites in the Muslim world was largely triggered by the implementation of the American concept of a “Greater Middle East” or, in other words, the “democratization” of the Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) by replacing the decrepit and corrupted Arab regimes with new democracies of Western-style. The leading role at carrying out the “revolutions” in the Arab world was assigned to Saudi Arabia, as the richest and most powerful country in the region, where authorities are Wahhabis and Salafis, whose belonging even to the Sunnis is very conditional. True, at this Washington had not fully thought out what to do with the conservative Arab Gulf monarchies. There was no clear understanding of how to make changes and not to disturb the already delicate balance between the two main branches of Islam — Sunni and Shiism. But, as it turned out, they least of all cared about that.

In 2003 the United States began the process of “democratization” by invading and occupying the most vulnerable in terms of Sunni-Shiite confrontation, country — Iraq. And then there was a failure — the Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein had always been oriented to the Western system of values, while the Iraqi Shiites, who make the majority of the population of the state, were the most oppressed part of the Iraqi society and traditionally focused either on Iran or on the ideas of Marxism and communism, behind which at its time had been the Soviet Union.

And already three years later, after the American “democratic” experiments in Iraq, there broke out a full-scale war, with which Washington could not cope. Having thrown Sunnis out of all power structures, Americans brought to power Shiite organizations and groups. For the most part they are of openly pro-Iranian orientation.

But this seemed not enough, so Washington, being pushed by Wahhabi regimes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who feared strengthening of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) while there was emerging alliance with Iraq, began actively and purposefully escalate tensions around Iran, using the thesis about nuclear threat from it.

A little later came the “Arab Spring” with its crashing regimes in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya and the outbreak of civil war in Syria, which gradually took the form of confrontation of the Sunni insurgents and radical Islamists of all stripes against the Alawite regime of Bashar Assad supported by Iran, Iraqi Shiites and Hezbollah. And here suddenly all began to speak like one about the insidious plan of Tehran to create a “Shiite arc” or “Shiite crescent” against the Sunni-Wahhabi alliance, based on the United States and the West.

Mass demonstrations in the countries of the “Arab Spring”Mass demonstrations in the countries of the “Arab Spring”


The Shiites in the Arab world often tend to identify themselves
first of all as Shiites, and only then as Arabs.
While Sunni Arabs put their Arab identity higher.


The term “Shia crescent” for the first time was used in 2004 by the Jordanian King Abdullah II, with regard to Iraq. And in 2006, the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak pronounced the historic phrase, “The Shiites in the Middle East are more loyal to Iran than to their own countries.”

In the same 2004, the King of Saudi Arabia's Adviser on Security Issues stated that Saudi Arabia's religious duty was to invade Iraq because of the dangerous situation in the country. Arab media with substantial financial support from the GCC countries largely supported this statement, making often completely unrealistic stories about strengthening of the Shiites in Iraq. They trumpeted about the “Shiite wave” and “Shiite danger”, about a “Shiite revival”. These statements, mainly related to changes in the political situation in Iraq and its smooth transition under Shiite control after the U.S. aggression. For the first time in history an Arab country was in the grip of the Shiites.

Regime change in Iraq had caused drastic changes, both, in the country and in the region as a whole. It called inter-confessional tensions and created an explosive situation for the entire region.

National flag of Iran
National flag of Iran

The term “Shia crescent” has caused most heated debate also because today this term is being used largely to explain the violation of the regional balance of forces and the growing role of Iran as the most promising and powerful regional state. The “Shiite crescent” from the western borders of Afghanistan to the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon and Syria, due to its exceptional geographic location and the ability to rally faithful Shiite Muslims, united by religious and political views, has now become a new reality in the Middle East, which in the nearest future will have to be taken into consideration by the United States and Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt. Israel will not be the exception either.

Paradoxical as it seems, but the “Arab Spring”, planned and initiated by the United States, most objectively served the interests of Iran, having created favorable conditions for the emergence of the “Shiite crescent” which can become a catalyst for the growth of Iranian influence in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region.

That is why Saudi Arabia so desperately is trying to prevent the termination of the war in Syria and solving of the Sunni-Shiite armed conflict in Iraq. It is clear that the KSA is able to infuse sufficient funds for the current civil war in Iraq to be turned into a larger scale version of the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988, when the fight will no longer be between two nations, but two camps, divided along confessional lines. In Riyadh, they really fear the growing influence of Iran in the region. With the strengthening of its positions, will significantly increase the role of Shiites in the region, and this, in turn, will inevitably lead to a new balance of forces in the Middle East. And then the “Shiite crescent” can be called the whole region where Shiites live, including the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, part of Kuwait, whole districts of Qatar and the UAE, in which Iran, to achieve its political goals, will really be able to mobilize its “brothers in faith”.

Shiite communities in the countries of the Persian Gulf make in Iraq up to 65 % of the population,
in Bahrain — 75 %, in Kuwait — 30 %, in Dubai — 30 %, in Abu Dhabi — 20 %.
Problematic has been and remains the position of the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia itself,
where it makes up to 15 % of the population.


Shiites praying
Shiites praying


Under the new scenario, there will be no place for Saudi Arabia as it is today. It is threatened by an imminent disintegration into five enclaves. The first to declare its independence may be its Eastern Province, where most of the population is Shiite, and where today about 90 % of all Saudi oil is produced.


The Shiites of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia used to have
their own state, and they voluntarily merged with the Wahhabis in the early 20-th century.
Now the, Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, where there are the main oil reserves of the Kingdom,
since spring 2011 has been actually on the threshold of the civil war between Sunnis and Shiites.


This is what Saudi Arabia can look like in the nearest future
This is what Saudi Arabia can look like in the nearest future

Making up to 15 % of the population of Saudi Arabia (i. e. at least 4 million), the Shia are a victim of discrimination of Saudi authorities in almost all areas — from public service and a career in law enforcement agencies to disrespect of their religious rights.

The Eastern Province's Shia population is represented by “isnaashariyya”- followers of the twelve Imams. This trend prevails in Iran. Followers of “isnaashariyya” also constitute the majority of the population of Bahrain, Iraq, and Kuwait.

In case of split of the KSA, the oil market may explode, putting the world to the brink of an economic collapse. Western experts are sure that the USA will not allow this, unless in the Gulf there will be created a new system of security based on Iran's participation in it.

Bahrain, located 18 km off the coast of Saudi Arabia and connected to it by the bridge, can really become the second Arab state where the power will go to the Shia. Power there belongs to the Sunni al-Khalif dynasty, but three-quarters of the population are Shiites.

Shiites' demonstrations in Bahrain
Shiites' demonstrations in Bahrain


Demonstrations of Shiites in 2011 were so powerful that the security forces of Bahrain were not able to restore order — and it could be done only with the help of Saudi and Emirati troops.

In Riyadh, were convinced that the unrests in Bahrain were provoked by Iran in order to dislodge the ruling dynasty and to bring to power the Shia majority. And this will almost inevitably happen if the country has free elections. Then Iran, according to Riyadh, will reach its long-standing strategic goal — to get a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula and will control both shores of the Persian Gulf.

After a rough and ruthless suppression of the Bahraini revolution, Tehran accused Saudi Arabia of aggression, and the West and the United States accused it of double standards. At the same time, Washington and European countries passed over in silence the most severe repressions of Saudi Arabia in Bahrain.

After Bahrain, as in a chain reaction, will raise the question of maintaining the monarchy in Qatar, where Shiites make up over 10 % of the population, many Shiite clans occupy leading position in construction, trade, banking and service sectors. Fardan alone, being a multibillionaire and owner of the largest commercial bank in Qatar, can seriously “undermine” the Qatari economy, if he wants to support fellow believers.

Besides, one should also take into account the fact that Qatar wants to turn Yemen into its “strong and long arms” to fight against the Saudis for leadership in the Arab world, and the USA has actually turned Yemen into its military base on the way to China.

And then Kuwait and UAE’s turn will come.

“Arab Spring” in Tunisia“Arab Spring” in Tunisia


With the development of the situation in this scenario, along with Shiites, Russia would win. Arabian monarchies, especially Wahhabi Saudi Arabia and Qatar, by their ideology are deeply hostile to Russia, and their corrupted elite are directly tied to the USA and the West. Moreover, they tend to support radical Islamist currents in the territory of the Russian Federation up to direct assistance to Wahhabi-Salafi groups of the North Caucasus. But the basis for closer partnership with the Shiite crescent is already available in the form of long-standing and friendly relations in many spheres with each state of the “troika” (three) — Syria, Iraq and Iran. And placing the bet on this alliance, Russia has all chances to return to the agitated by “Arab revolutions” region on new positions.

Already at the end of last year, having eventually realized malignancy of Saudi Arabia and Qatar's inflammatory policy to destabilize the situation in the Middle East, Washington adopted a policy of rapprochement with Iran. The IRI may well replace Saudi Arabia as the main strategic partner in the area of ​​the Persian Gulf, with its rich energy and human resources. This, by the way, is partially reflected in the article by a specialist on the Middle East Robin Wright which appeared in the Sunday apps of the influential American newspaper “New York Times” September 28, 2013, i. e. the day after the vote in the UN Security Council for Resolution 2118, which sets out the basic parameters of the elimination of the chemical arsenal in Syria.

Ralph Peters, “Blood borders: How a better Middle East would look”Ralph Peters, “Blood borders: How a better Middle East would look”


The author, though not making direct reference to the published in June 2006 in the Armed Forces Journal article by Colonel Ralph Peters, “Blood borders: How a better Middle East would look”, in which he predicted the current reshaping of Middle Eastern borders, but he actually copies it with slight changes. In fact, in a new form and from the current positions of balance of forces in the Middle East have been revived the ideas of ​​Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and Bernard Lewis, who worked in British intelligence in the Middle East during the Second World War.


British experts on the region of the Middle East, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
and Bernard Lewis developed plans for ethno-confessional order of the Middle East,
in which they explained the unnaturalness of the established after World War
I borders between states along ethnic, religious and linguistic lines of “division”.


The plans provided for “demarcation” of borders, which would solve the problem of establishing the rule of the West in the region. Without creating conflict zones by unnatural separation of inhabiting the Middle East nations and confessions (Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims, Christians, Alawite, Druze, etc.) it would be difficult to impose on the countries that emerged from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, the West's rule. “Divide and rule” this English principle had been the basis for the policy of the West until recently. Views and concepts of these British experts were based on solid academic and methodological approach that allowed them to turn the theoretical outline into effective action plans.

This implies that the fate of Saudi Arabia is almost a foregone conclusion. It is up for the division into five enclaves, of which the present Eastern Province (historical name — Al-Ahsa), populated by Shiites, will be a source of oil supplies to the West without the need to share the profits with the Sunni areas. The historic district of Hejaz will get under its control the main shrines of Islam — Mecca and Medina, while Al Saud family will have central desert areas (the historic district Najd), together with the Wahhabi ideology.

Al-Athir, located in the south–west, is likely to reunite with North Yemen, the more so because Yemeni tribes live there, and northern regions of the country can join Jordan.

True, at the same time the author “divides" even Syria, and also confirms the current de facto disintegration of Iraq along ethnic and religious lines. But most importantly — on this map Iran remains unchanged. Perhaps that is why the United States intends to place the bet on Iran, Israel and the Shiite new states arising from the wreckage of the current Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf.

Shiites’ demonstrations for their rights

Shiites’ demonstrations for their rights

Such a lay out cannot suit monarchical regimes, but by playing the card of “Shia factor” as a kind of Iranian interference into internal affairs of the Sunni monarchies, the GCC states, led by Saudi Arabia are very much at risk to really raise the “Shiite” wave at their own home. But this time behind all this will stand not Tehran, but their own Arab population of Shiite religion, which for many years has been subject to discrimination and oppression. And then it is quite possible that the Persian Gulf will turn into an “internal Shiite Sea” where Iran and Iraq will play the role of natural leaders, taking into consideration their military-political, economic and human potential.

One must admit that, having started the “revolution”, conservative Arab monarchies, have eventually harmed themselves as they undermined the role of the Arab world in general, and led it to the threshold, after which comes the collapse. And on the stage appears a new powerful player — Iran. It will count on the Shiites in the Arab countries, which fact will further redraw the political map of the Middle East.

To be continued

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