Rethinking the Middle East

Courtesy Reuters

In the period immediately following the ceasefire in the Gulf War many voices were raised saying, "Everything has changed. The Middle East will never be the same again; this is a new world, a new Middle East, and all the problems and answers are different." And then, when the new world order failed to materialize in days, or weeks or even months, many voices—some of them the same voices—were heard saying, "Nothing has changed. Everything is back where it was before, the same actors playing the same parts and acting out the same scripts."

Momentous events may happen quickly, as they surely did in Kuwait and Iraq last year, but some time is needed to understand the changes that events have revealed, accelerated or caused. By now it is becoming increasingly clear that there are indeed many changes in the Middle East, and that while these vary considerably in their scope, scale and range, few things and few participants remain as they were before.

These changes are related to two sequences of events: one short?term and regional, namely the war in Kuwait and Iraq; the other long?term and global, namely the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Some changes may perhaps be ascribed directly to these events; others—probably most—had been in progress for some time and were revealed, and perhaps also accelerated, by the cataclysmic events in the region and in the world.


We may begin with the regional events—the Gulf War and its aftermath. Many of the consequences of this war are still problematic. Some are becoming clear and can be listed without much danger of disagreement. One of them, a cause rather than a consequence of the Persian Gulf crisis and war, is the failure—some would say the demise—of pan?Arabism and perhaps even of the Arab world as a political entity. The decline of pan?Arabism as a force shaping the policies

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