What's in Store For The Middle East in 2022?

Published January 3rd, 2022 - 06:27 GMT
What's in Store For The Middle East in 2022?
A woman poses for a picture during New Year celebrations in the Lebanese capital Beirut's Gemmayzeh neighbourhood, on January 1, 2022. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

To the cynic 2022 is likely to be a mixture of strife, anguish and slight hope for the Middle East! Alas, where would we be without hope?

But the problem, this coming year is likely to be a continuation of 2021 with few adjustments thrown in. It’s a ‘baggage haul’ of the past dominated by the Syrian skirmish, the Lebanon malaise, the Sudan fix, Egypt's freedoms grapple, the Tunisian standoff, Libya nightmare, Palestinian lethargy, Yemen's culture of poverty and much more. A year is like a lifetime in the Arab world.

More’s the pity is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an issue that long permeated the Arab world with an Orwellian wristwatch that never moves. There are two aspects to this - the Arab nation-state normalisation with Israel which is likely to stop in its tracks in 2022 despite Israel’s proverbial hope that more Arab and Islamic countries are on the way. Bahrain, UAE, Sudan and Morocco will likely remain the only four Arab states that were booked to shake hands with the Jewish states thanks to Donald Trump who made the good deed just before he left office as the US president at the end of 2020.

The other issue is the long-stalemated peace process which is likely to continue in its ‘snooze’ and hibernation stage left frozen in time. It is set to continue this way despite the wish by the Biden administration to restart negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel. Joe Biden and the White House would like to move but as long as the political will is not there then its all pep talk and pandering.

However talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel is likely to continue throughout 2022. This ‘shy dialogue’ is likely to continue despite the opposition from Palestinians and Israeli right-right parties and factions that will seek to put stumps and obstacles in spite of the Mahmood Abbas-Benny Gantz repartee.

Further afield in Syria, its factions, militias, terror groups, proxies, Russia, Iran, Turkey and the USA, the biggest file that is likely to dominate the regional and international scene in 2022 is the Iran nuclear file. The parties are meeting in Vienna and likely to clench an agreement and lay a roadmap accord to control Iran’s nuclear activity and reintegrate Washington into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Its too early to say when will that be but bets are on with high stakes.

Off course, and to use strong terminology, Israel has made it clear it would not agree to that and there are reports the Jewish army is already training for a possible strike on Iran to frustrate what is being forged in Vienna. So could this year be an eventful one with much risks! Regardless, there are other analysts who suggest Israel would not be able to act in 2022 because of two things:

First, Israel would be politically isolated on the international level, and not so much from Europe but from the United States. There, American opinion is changing. It’s becoming less pro-Israeli and more pro-Palestinian and this stance was accentuated by the last deadly and destructive Israeli war on Gaza in May 2021.

Second, many argue if Israel strikes Iran it would be an open invitation for target practice. Hamas, and Hezbollah in its different branches in Lebanon, Iraq and maybe Yemen through the Houthis, would be prepared to strike different Israeli cities regardless of the nuclear weapons that Tel Aviv possesses and which for all intense and purposes have become ineffective in any potential military exchange.

Thus, the idea of war will continue to loom in 2022 and add to the instabilities in the region and perpetuating further conflict in the area. In this respect, the seven-year-old bloody, deadly, stalemated Yemeni war is expected to continue despite the endless negotiations starting from the United Nations down to the Houthis, the so-called legitimate government of Yemen and of course, the arms of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. And if anything is to be said of that, the war is intensifying on both sides and likely to continue to do so for the rest of 2022 without let up, diplomacy or not.

Apart from Iraq, the headaches of Lebanon, Sudan, Tunisia and Libya are likely to remain in the news throughout the year because of their incessant malaise and contradictions. Upfront is Lebanon. Its leaders can't fix the economic crisis the country is reeling under both from the lack of political well of its diverse divide between Muslims, Christians, Sunnis, Shiites, Maronites, Phalangists and more coupled with their regional entanglements and support. To make matters worse, the Saudis and the rest of the Gulf states, which have severed diplomatic ties with Beirut, have not shown any inclinations to want to restore relations anytime soon despite French appeal.

The situation in Sudan is no better. Street protests are not likely to end anytime soon. On the contrary, demonstrations are spiking on a daily basis not just in Khartoum but all over the country with Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdok just resigning from his post because of the tense relations between the civilian and military parts of the government signed under a power-sharing deal in 2019 and now compounded by a street that is up-in-arms.  It's early days, this is only just the beginning of the year but goodness knows how will this country cope for the rest of the year.

Tunisia is another hard nut to crack. Already its president Kais Saied had taken over in a coup-like manner last 25 July, "freezing" parliament and ruling by a government which he personally appointed last September. He has promised to introduce a new constitution to be voted on by Tunisians in July 2022 and he will hold elections at the end of the year.

Meanwhile, and at present he is seeking the views and opinions of people as to the kind of changes they want. These are being made through online platforms and special committees select for the task and will continue till March. So it seems 2022 is already "tailor-made" for the country.

However, Saied continues to face opposition from political parties, and especially Ennahda Islamists' deputies which he effectively put out of a job. And the recrimination is likely to continue as indicated by the recent arrest of Ennahda's vice president Noureddine Bhairi, an MP, a former justice minister and a lawyer. His arrest at the end of 2021 doesn't seem to be a good omen of the tense relations that is likely to continue between the Islamists and the Tunisian presidency.

The big balloon to watch out for is Libya that is still reconciling with itself about government, leaders and society. The Libyan pulse is like a barometer of former war-fighting factions, militias and militiamen that have come together in an uneasy relationship that is every bit as a dark as it is potentially hopeful. However crack and even deep divisions are likely to continue after the long-planned-for presidential and parliamentary elections - slated for 24 December 2021 - were postponed under the alleged view that more preparations need to be done.

The elections are still up for grabs as to when they will take place, the participants and leaders are standing by. War-monger Khalifa Haftar has already said and accepted for standing as a contestant for president, so is the unsavory Sief Al Islam Al Gaddafi. He wants to become president to put things right.

For the onlooker such characters may seem as farcical to be standing as they are to be voting for. But this is "Libya-elections" par excellence and anything can happen this year. Will the elections reconcile a country that has two parliaments: One in Tripoli and the other in Tubrouk?

There might be a glimmer of hope for the Middle East in 2022 however. The tail-end of Covid-19, the global pandemic that ravaged society, and which unlocked its virus at the end of 2019, could be reaching its end. While many may say this is utter nonsense and that the proof is in the pudding.  Again, utter non-sense, and the barks maybe getting louder now especially in light of the fact that Europe, USA and even Africa have been introducing stricter measures to fight recurring spikes of Covid-19 infections that could still be deadly but less harmful.

How could that be it might be asked? Well, the new Covid-19 variant, the Omicron, the  initial "super-bug" is a fast spreader but its no way as dangerous. Compared to the Delta and the others before it, its mild and people can live it. Actually this maybe the right terminolgy to use: "We have the Covid pandemic but we can now live with it, something that will definitely strengthen our boots and stature because, don't forget, we now have the vaccines provided to us by big beautiful multinational pharmaceutical companies that are likely to be our saviour!

The final good news prediction for the Arab world - well at least for the oil-producing Gulf countries and maybe Algeria, the price of a barrel of oil is expected  to reach $100. Since this wonderful black raw material is a swing commodity for our continued development, it should make many Arab governments and people very happy in the coming 12 months. See you in 2023!

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