The Ever-Tense Middle East

The Middle East is a tough cookie to swallow. Of all the different multi-ethnic regions in the world, the most complicated and unstable territory lies situated between Europe and Asia.

No one, since the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, has been able to figure out the correct solution to the continuing geopolitical problems of the region, not even on paper.

As a result, the inability to deal with the problem, and in some cases, the total lack of interest to do so, is causing havoc all around the globe.

It used to be Europe that had a similarly distressful internal politics. The dispute climaxed with two devastating world wars that almost brought civilisation to its knees.

Of course, Europe has for some time been more populous and prosperous than the Middle East. And it is probably for this reason that most nations believe that the latter region is too inconsequential to threaten world peace.

The past two weeks have injected another machination into the region’s complicated situation – the plot has thickened.

Qatar, a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), is in hot waters with its closest allies and neighbours. Figuring out which nation is friend or foe with which other country in the Middle East has always been tricky, but with Qatar becoming more and more isolated within the Arabian Peninsula, it has just become muddier than ever.

Qatar is being accused of funding terrorist and radical groups, chiefly, by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Diplomatic and economic relationships between these countries and the small Arabian country are on hold.

Qatar is being asked to comply with some grievances – like shutting down the Al Jazeera news network – that has nothing to do with combating terrorism.

The sun did not rise thrice before these new dynamics rippled across East Africa. Qatar, faced with inconveniences, removed its peacekeeping forces from a disputed border between Djibouti and Eritrea, without giving a reason why.

Eritrea rushed to exploit this weakness on Djibouti’s side, causing more diplomatic tensions between the two countries and of course Djibouti’s closest ally, Ethiopia.

Dealing with Arab nations has been the chief duty of almost every leader and government where foreign policy is concerned in Ethiopia.

The country is very close to the Middle East, and as a result, cultural and commercial ties have been very strong. The second largest religion in Ethiopia is Islam, and most significant trade, for millennia, has been with Arab nations in the East.

Djibouti, a tiny, mostly unobtrusive country, owns the port where the populous East African nation’s shipments come through. Ethiopia’s close relationship with this country is detrimental.

At the same time, Ethiopia has next to nought diplomatic dealings with Eritrea. Somalia, another neighbour, is one of the most unstable countries in the world, with an inept government that would otherwise crumble away if not for foreign military assistance.

So it is undeniable that the Djiboutians, however insignificant in the eyes of the world, are very significant to Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian government, following the recent events, has offered to mediate. But there is little it can do in the face of all the complicated problems that continue to bog down the Middle East.

This particular discourse between Qatar and members of the GCC is just another hindrance, some would say a relatively minor one, for a region that has bigger frictions to be fretting about.

The government’s intention, in trying to find reasonable conclusions to the border tension between Eritrea and Djibouti may sound like a good idea, but it also may be an example of why peace in the Middle East is so precarious.

No one is keen enough to believe they can fix their problems. In their strife, the Muslim states pull in more allies and opponents than there are combatants in the arena, to begin with.

As in the days of the Cold War, proxy wars have continued well into the 21st century, mostly plaguing the Middle East.

Since Great Britain and its Allies won the First World War and preceded to remap the entire area occupied by the once great Ottoman Empire, regional conflicts have skyrocketed.

The fault of the Western Europeans was in believing that the entire Muslim community was analogous, that there were no sectarian differences.

Mistreatment of the Arab world rose when it was clear that the region is ripe with natural resources. Eager to get a piece of the pie, Western nations propped up dictators and kings that fitted their respective country’s economic and political interests.

A case in point is the animosity between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Both, despite their sectarian differences, more or less, got along well until the 1980s.

When each nation’s government paid fealty to the Unites States, they quickly became adversaries once Iran toppled its American-backed Shah.

Perhaps it is not up to Ethiopia or Western nations to bring about peace in the Middle East and by extension some glimmer of hope for world peace.

Maybe all our political leaders and concerned private parties could do is to appeal to the international community and hope for the best.


By Christian Tesfaye
Christian Tesfaye ( is a writer/film critic at large whose interests run amok in both directions of print and celluloid/digital storytelling.

Published on Jul 01,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 896]



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