Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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A strong Arab coalition

By Osama Al Sharif


The historic visit by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman to Egypt this week marks a major shift in post-Arab Spring geopolitical reality in the Arab world and the Middle East as a whole. The visit has reinforced the foundations of a long-term strategic, economic and political, partnership between Riyadh and Cairo at a time when the Arab world is suffering from lack of leadership and a common direction.

The destabilization of the region has passed through many important milestones in the past few decades. But one can argue that the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a particularly catastrophic development; one that triggered a series of events that ended up in enabling Iran to penetrate the heart of the Arab world, shifted attention from Israel’s occupation of Palestine, unleashed horrific sectarian conflicts and neutralized the historical roles of Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo. And finally the invasion of Iraq was the catalyst that led to the birth of militant radical groups that waged war in the name of Islam and ushered in a wave of global terror.

One can also argue that regional chaos, which deepened following the events of the Arab Spring, has benefitted powers that saw an opportunity to implement an agenda of expansion, polarization, political opportunism and siege. What is happening in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen leaves no doubt that Tehran has a vested interest in destabilizing the Arab world allowing it to force itself as an undisputed regional power.

Under the Obama administration, the US chose to lead from behind and give up its historical ties with the region. Certainly this policy has its critics, both in the US and abroad, but one cannot deny that it has allowed Iran to have a free hand in a region that is now suffering from a power vacuum.

With this in mind it was pivotal that Riyadh would take it upon itself to act on different fronts in order to build strategic alliances that would challenge Iranian ambitions and fill in for America’s strategic withdrawal. Aside from leading an Arab coalition in Yemen to restore a legal government and derail Iran’s attempt to create a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia remains a chief component in international efforts to bring about a just political solution in war-torn Syria.

It has assembled an Islamic military coalition to thwart threats to the region and in Cairo King Salman announced that an Arab anti-terrorism force will also be created. He noted that terrorism is today the region’s most immediate challenge. And by talking about terrorism, Saudi Arabia is keen to underline that it is not only Daesh that must be confronted but all groups that use religion and divisive sectarian ideologies to sow hatred and trigger religious in-fighting.

And in that sense one must address Iran’s role in backing and leading Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria that seek to kill and displace Sunnis and others. The Riyadh-Cairo strategic partnership acknowledges the important role that a strong and stable Egypt can play in thwarting new and existing regional threats.

Abandoning Egypt would have been a terrible mistake that would deepen the region’s problems and invite additional divisions. Saudi Arabia is well placed to lead a new Arab coalition that would ensure the stability of countries like Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco, and help others rebuild and heal such as Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Syria in the future. Today the GCC remains the only viable grouping of Arab countries that has survived the geopolitical upsets of the last 15 years, which have wreaked havoc on the Arab world.

Saudi Arabia is well positioned to reverse the destructive tide that is sweeping the region. By investing in a stable Egypt that country can assume its responsibilities as a regional power; providing counterbalance and re-engaging in the region’s political processes. The absence of Egypt from the region’s problems is being felt and its role must be restored.

The Saudi strategy is timely. With Iran having a free hand in many Arab countries and with the US quietly stepping down from its historical role, the challenge must be met by building a strong Arab coalition with a clear vision. Economic cooperation will stabilize countries like Egypt and Jordan, two states with close relationship with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region.

Their stability is paramount to a secure Gulf area. But that coalition must be expanded and the formation of an Arab force to combat terrorism is a move in the right direction. It will be important to see what steps will follow King Salman’s bold initiatives in Egypt.

‘Courtesy Arab News’.



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