Follow us on social

Shutterstock_1616047888-scaled

We Must Shift the Focus of the Middle East's Problems away from the U.S.-Iran Standoff

Seeking stability in the Middle East must start with putting the security and needs of people across the region first.

Analysis | Middle East

A common conversation often takes place in the Middle East when social movements or major disruptive political developments are discussed: a supporter of the status-quo complains that the country is doomed (khirbet el-balad), to which an opposition supporter responds that it was already damaged (ma heyye aslan kharbane).

Those looking to quell United States-Iran tensions could learn a lot from the familiar anecdote. Amid the clamor surrounding Iranian General Qassem Soleimani’s killing, the issues underpinning instability in the region, and ways to address them, have barely been mentioned.

With warnings that the region could be on the brink of war, footage emerged of Iraqis and Syrians celebrating the death of the man they saw as the driving figure behind Iran’s destructive role in their countries. In Iraq, protestors chanted slogans such as “we want a homeland” and “no U.S. and no Iran,” conveying their rejection of getting Iraq caught up in a U.S.-Iran confrontation. Many in the region see the struggle for influence among the U.S., Iran, and indeed, wider competing geopolitical interests as having robbed aspirations for change in their countries, and masking the political and economic issues affecting them.

When Syrians took to the streets in 2011 calling for freedom, dignity, and justice, Iran supported the brutal oppression of the uprising, driving it into armed conflict. The later interventions of Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., Israel, and Russia in trying to shape the outcome of the conflict ensured the Syrian people were left out of the equation, leaving the country shattered with deep societal ruptures.

More recently in Iraq, Iranian-backed militias cracked down on anti-establishment protestors, resulting in the deaths of over 500 people. At least 26 activists have been assassinated since October last year. In Lebanon, the sectarian ruling elite have been maneuvering around protestor demands to form a government to manage the economic crisis. Both Iran and the U.S., along with the political blocs associated with them, have been shifting the narrative in both countries to fighting a foreign conspiracy and pushing back Iranian influence respectively.

In Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates’ devastating war against the Houthis’ 2014 coup, along with Iran’s believed enhancement of the Houthis’ military and security capabilities, has stripped the country of a political transition that had unprecedented opportunities for the participation of women and young people.

The U.S.’s recent Middle East peace plan is a huge injustice to Palestinian rights and gives further pretext for Iran’s regional mobilization under “anti-imperialist” and “resistance” discourses to facilitate its expansionist security policy. In the eyes of the region’s people, both U.S. and Iranian meddling has brought immense suffering and made progress impossible.

Advancing regional stability requires addressing public concerns

Despite the destabilizing environment, movements pushing for change persist and have been gathering momentum in the Middle East. Last October, uprisings erupted in Iraq and Lebanon against corruption and economic mismanagement by the ruling classes — and flawed systems of sectarian power-sharing. Attempts to normalize the post-war status quo in Syria have been challenged by recent demonstrations in the south of the country, bemoaning harsh living conditions and security measures.

Yet Iran and its political allies have used Soleimani’s assassination to invoke “anti-imperialism" and bolster their legitimacy — again using the narrative of geopolitical struggle as a pretext for squashing and co-opting movements for social and political change.

The U.S.-Iran standoff is deeply connected to the region’s wider conflicts, governance dysfunctionalities, and the social movements that are trying to push for solutions to them. This means that mediation initiatives to facilitate de-escalation between the U.S. and Iran, such as those taken up by the EU, Oman, Qatar, and Japan, need to take a multi-layered approach.

These initiatives will likely prioritize reviving a nuclear agreement among Iran, the U.S. and other international powers, and addressing regional tensions. But seeking stability must start with putting the security and needs of people across the region first. To sustain de-escalation, the initiatives need to be connected to progress in allowing people to pursue their aspirations for just, democratic governance and fairer economies.

Security in the Middle East will be fragile and unsustainable if the roots of instability — repressive political systems, corruption, inequalities, injustice and conflict profiteering — are not addressed. In Syria and Yemen, policymakers and mediators must make much greater effort to ensure that peace processes prioritize people’s grievances and offer them channels for shaping their countries’ futures. Viable political settlements cannot be shaped only in the interests of external powers.

In Iraq and Lebanon, the U.N., foreign countries, and international monetary institutions should pressure the ruling classes to respond more constructively to demands for fairer societies, accountability, and a departure from exclusively sectarian political systems, and avoid backing repression and sectarianism.

They must likewise protect and invest in peacebuilding efforts by making funding available to growing civil society movements. Refocusing on improving people’s lives will not only reduce U.S.-Iran tensions, but will lay the groundwork in the region for steps on the long road toward just and sustained peace.

Analysis | Middle East
New poll: Nearly 70% of Americans want talks to end war in Ukraine

Handout photo shows US President Joe Biden (C-R) and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (C-L) take part in a bilateral meeting, on the final day of a three-day G-7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, on May 21, 2023. The final day of the three-day of the Group of Seven leaders' summit is under way in the western Japan city of Hiroshima, with focus on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his talks with international leaders. Photo by Ukrainian Presidency via ABACAPRESS.COM

New poll: Nearly 70% of Americans want talks to end war in Ukraine

QiOSK

Roughly 70% of Americans want the Biden administration to push Ukraine toward a negotiated peace with Russia as soon as possible, according to a new survey from the Harris Poll and the Quincy Institute, which publishes Responsible Statecraft.

Support for negotiations remained high when respondents were told such a move would include compromises by all parties, with two out of three respondents saying the U.S. should still pursue talks despite potential downsides. The survey shows a nine-point jump from a poll in late 2022 that surveyed likely voters. In that poll, 57% of respondents said they backed talks that would involve compromises.

keep readingShow less
Seizing Russian assets: A feel good bill that will absolutely boomerang

Wonder AI

Seizing Russian assets: A feel good bill that will absolutely boomerang

Europe

The Washington foreign policy establishment is on the precipice of making yet another strategic blunder.

The Senate is poised to ram through the Rebuilding Economic Prosperity and Opportunity (REPO) for Ukrainians Act. This legislation will provide the president the authority to confiscate Russia’s frozen sovereign assets in the United States and transfer them to Ukraine for its reconstruction.

keep readingShow less
What a Prabowo win signals for US-Indonesia relations

Prabowo Subianto, running for president, in Bandung, Indonesia. (Shutterstock/Dhodi Syailendra)

What a Prabowo win signals for US-Indonesia relations

Asia-Pacific

(JAKARTA, INDONESIA) — Soon after voting ended in the world’s fourth-largest country and third-largest democracy, Prabowo Subianto is claiming a knock-out blow winning more than half the vote and the necessary number of provinces to eliminate both his challengers.

According to unofficial tallies, which have been historically accurate, Prabowo has garnered 58% of the vote in today's contest. The official count will not be announced until mid-March and his opponents have yet to concede defeat.

keep readingShow less

Israel-Gaza Crisis

Latest