by Ghassan Kadi

As the world citizens watch with horror the escalation between the USA and Russia on one hand and with China on the other hand, and as they fear the worst; a nuclear holocaust, citizens of the Muslim World watch the escalation between Saudi Arabia and Iran and fear the “regional worst”, and that is an all-out Sunni Shiite strife.

It must be remembered that even though Muslim Sunnis and Shiite never really liked each other, they had been living together in peace, though uncomfortably, for many centuries. The last recorded battle between the two was the battle of Karbala, in which Imam Hussein, son of Ali (founder of Shiite Islam) and grandson of Prophet Mohamed was killed. But that was in 680 AD.

It wasn’t till towards the end of the 20th Century that the feud between the two major Islamic sects resurfaced. The rise of Imam Khomeini to power in Iran spelt bad news for his Sunni Saudi rivals, and the presence of the oil wealth in the region has only helped lubricate the crisis.

That feud was restricted to exchanges of words and accusations, and blood was not spilt until after the infamous “Coalition of the Willing” invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam. The biggest battlefield, thus far, has definitely been in Syria, in which tens of thousands of Sunni Jihadis flooded in to kill the Alawite (Shiite sect) “infidels”. Even though they killed many Sunnis, Christians and others along the way, their prime objective was to stamp out anyone who stood against their fundamentalist version of Sunni Islam.

With all the atrocities committed thus far, the “big one” hasn’t happened. In the scale of things, they have been mere skirmishes that will either lead to an all-out war between Sunni states and Shiite states, or die out.

The Muslim World has been living this nightmare for centuries, and never before has it seemed to be so close, possible and even tangilbe. And after the Saudi attack on Shiite Houthis in Yemen and the support of Iran to the Houthis, Iran and Saudi Arabia grew a step closer towards a direct confrontation.

With the current escalation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the Muslim World has moved yet another notch towards an Iranian-Saudi war; especially that Qatar is allegedly seen to be, or at least accused of flirting with Iran.

However, as we wake up almost every morning to unfathomable news reports, some we would not expect to hear in our wildest of imaginations, we must brace and prepare ourselves for more to come, in the most unexpected manner, when least anticipated and predicted, and events unfolding quicker than we ever thought.

The Middle East is undergoing a huge and rapid change that even the world of the Internet and its social media is finding hard to keep up with. Once the dust settles, when it does, the political map of that part of the world will never be the same as it was back in 2011.

It has already changed. Libya is now at least two Libyas, or may be three. Not officially and internationally recognized, they remain to be factual and real.

In Syria and Iraq, as the territory of ISIS is shrinking, no one is to know yet what will be the final border lines between what is left of ISIS. What is clear about Syria and Iraq however, is that the new dividing lines, ie borders between them and any other implant state that the USA is trying so hard to create, is not going to be a sectarian divide. If the USA succeeds in creating further subdivisions to Greater Syria, this time the division will be drawn on ethnic grounds; not sectarian.

The creation of a Kurdish state, God forbid, would be a devastating blow for Syria, but its ramifications and repercussions will not go as far as Jakarta and Nouakchott as a Sunni-Shiite war can.

In between the mess and mental rubble however, there seems to be a faint glimmer of light. To this effect, it seems that we are about to witness a significant politico-strategic change in the Middle East. Old lines of defence and alliance seem to be beginning to fade away and become redundant, all the while new ones are just beginning to push their noses out of the water and emerge.

Even though the last few years leading up to this particular moment in time have given the premonition that the new dividing line was going to be a Muslim sectarian Sunni/Shiite divide, one that could bring out a massive blood bath that the Muslim World has not seen the likes of at all, in a twist of fate, events of the last week are possibly pointing at a change in direction; and this could mean good news down the track.

In his recent infamous visit to Saudi Arabia and clinching a third of a trillion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia, a deal that is aimed at extorting the most possible out of Al-Saud and pouring oil on fire, American President Trump has in fact dug the first nail in the coffin of the Sunni-NATO-to-be before its inception.

Ironically, as the Sunni-NATO is meant to be placed into the incubator, NATO itself seems to be on its way to the intensive care unit.

With the EU leaders steadfastly defiant to Trump’s attempts for extortion, there is enough reason to foresee what can come next. But let us stay in the Middle East and leave the USA/EU relationships alone, or can we?

Turkey, both a NATO member and a Middle Eastern nation, is a Sunni Muslim nation, a major regional power, and no regional deal is going to pass without its endorsement or at least tacit support. At the present time however, Turkey, embodied by its hardline Islamist nationalist “sultan” Erdogan, does not know if its relationship with NATO is coming or going. Judging by his actions, Erdogan seems to be prepared to accept that it is “going”, and he is making all the provisions, lining up his troops and options, and preparing himself and Turkey for a divorce from NATO, should he see this necessary. To this effect, Erdogan and his current NATO partners all know that unlike the time when Turkey joined NATO out of need, NATO now needs Turkey more than Turkey needs NATO and the decision for Turkey to be in NATO or to leave is one that is Turkish.

The once joint American-EU-Turkish-Israeli-Saudi-Qatari plot against Syria has failed as a result of the resolve of the Syrian Army, Syrian leadership, and friends of Syria; mainly Russia and Iran. Erdogan, who once aimed to pray at the Omayad Mosque in Damascus now sees himself getting bullied into accepting a Kurdish state south of his border; courtesy of his former anti-Syrian Allies, and existing NATO partners.

To deaf Obama ears, and more deaf Trump ears, Turkey has screamed loud that America has to choose between its partnership with Turkey and the Kurds, but to no avail.

It is not by accident therefore that Turkey has decided to send troops to Qatar. Erdogan is trying to present a new redline for the USA (his partner) and the Saudis (his friends) after his first Kurdish redline has been breached, or almost.

But there is more to Erdogan’s move towards Qatar. He is replacing Iran as a supporter for the now besieged Principality that exports gas and imports everything else; including water. In doing this, he (the Sunni) is absolving Iran (the Shiite) from coming to Qatar’s (Sunni) aid with its conflict against (Sunni) Saudi Arabia.

Is this the beginning towards a new direction of a religious-political Middle Eastern paradigm in which alliances take precedence over sectarianism? Does this mean that the worst dreaded of all Middle Eastern all-out Sunni/Shiite wars is going to be put to bed and that the potentially warring members are now going to see reality from a new pragmatic and rational vantage point?

If we are indeed witnessing the birth of a new wave of political alliances in the Middle East, we must brace ourselves to expect what was yesterday the least expected.

The way events are shaping up now, and this can change before this article gets published or even before its proverbial ink dries, in the not too distant future, new alliances are beginning to take form, and if they do, we are likely to end up with the following ideologically and strategically united teams:

1. Team One: America/NATO, Israel, Saudi Arabia, UAE and perhaps Egypt.

2. Team Two: Russia, Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, Turkey, Qatar and perhaps Egypt.

The emergence of such alliances is wrought with danger and potential conflict, but nothing could be worse for the Muslim world than an open ended sectarian war and a license for Sunnis and Shiites to exterminate each other.

Egypt is likely to be the wild card that can go either way. The biggest shock in all of this will be, if it happens, a Turkish rapprochement in terms of finding the right balance in between being a regional power and former colonial, a Sunni regional major power, a defiant party in accepting the establishment of a Kurdish state (or two) to the south of its borders, a NATO member, a Muslim Brotherhood supporter, a friend of Saudi Arabia, a good neighbour and trading partner of Iran, a friend of Russia, a prime mover in the “War on Syria” in many more ways than one, and a sovereign state. These are too many balls to juggle. Is maverick Erdogan up to the task?

Erdogan is a very stubborn man, but he will soon need to realise that his long-term interests are in coming down from his ivory tower and making peace with Assad, if Assad accepts him.

In reality, Erdogan deserves to be left out in the cold, just like Qatar, and Assad perhaps should not accept any of the leaders coming back for redemption even if they come back on their knees and pleading. But sometimes, political pragmatism may dictate otherwise.

If Erdogan and some Muslim Arab leaders are indeed waking up to the need of abandoning their sectarian associations, there is little evidence that they are replacing them with rationality and an intention to reform their own minds and the minds of the masses who follow them. However, any step away from sectarian divisions and a sectarian bloodbath is a move in the right direction.

Irrespective of the intentions of Arab and Muslim leaders, in the confusion they are creating, the mess and contradictions, they are inadvertently presenting to their followers and the world the invalidity and danger of their argument. They are giving the message for those who have minds to think among their flocks that the sectarian rhetoric has failed. Such a revelation should be most revealing for members of the masses who never were able to think outside that sectarian square that was impregnated in their minds by their leaders and the preachers that their leaders appointed and paid handsomely to brainwash them.

At the end of the day, what seems to be an impending Sunni-Shiite holocaust is not necessarily an unavoidable future fact. It can be avoided, and even Sunni fundamentalists like Erdogan are beginning to see that his interests are not necessarily aligned with his “Sunni brothers”.

Will Muslims take heed and learn from the religious wars of Europe? Are we seeing he early signs of an awakening? Within and around the trouble-stirring state of Qatar, that was quick to send its air-force to ravage Libya and to herald the failed Arab Spring, will the current events be fated to instigate a “real” Muslim spring? Time will tell.

The Essential Saker: from the trenches of the emerging multipolar world