by Andrew Korybko
The politics of the Mideast are intimidatingly complex, with many observers struggling to understand its dynamics and instead falling victim to false simplifications of “Sunni vs. Shiite”. The reality is a lot different than surface stereotypes let on, as the region’s processes are actually determined by the interplay between four official ideologies – Israeli Exceptionalism, Secular Republicanism, Islamic Republicanism, and Monarchic Absolutism – which divide themselves into two blocs, the competition of which has resulted in the creation of two ideological subsets (“Islamic Democracy” and Wahhabist Retrogression), three dysfunctional states (Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen), and the exceptional status of Egypt. The selectively inserted disruption of American-imposed Liberal Democracy and its associated influences makes everything all the more chaotic, and it can truly be difficult to decipher what exactly is going on in the Mideast, how it got this way, and where it’s all headed.
To aid in one’s understanding of this topical but tough matrix of interactions, the first part of the article begins by describing everything that’s essential to know about the ideologies and statuses of the Mideast states, and it includes a categorization of each country’s political identity and present affiliation (both officially and de-facto). Following that, Part II chronicles key events in Mideast history and proves the appropriateness and accuracy of using this ideological prism to explain them. Finally, the acquired understandings are then employed in Part III to forecast a couple scenarios for what the Mideast might look like in the coming years.
This introductory section explains the core of the four official ideologies and then examines their three sub-categories, including Egypt’s exceptional status. It then presents a revised categorization which proves how each non-dysfunctional state clearly falls within one of two competing blocs.
The Big Four
On paper, there are only four official ideologies currently being practiced by the region’s governments:
Israel self-describes itself as a Jewish state and refuses to recognize the rights of the Palestinian population that was forcibly brought under its control. The Zionist ideology of “Israel/Jews first” is observable in the country’s foreign and domestic policies, and a government-manipulated siege mentality is exploited to ‘justify’ this state of affairs. In the context of this article, one of the most impactful manifestations of Israeli Exceptionalism is the Yinon Plan that was conceived of to divide and weaken Israel’s Arab neighbors, and ensure that Tel Aviv can indefinitely exercise regional influence disproportionate to its miniscule size in prolonging its geopolitical survival. It should also be footnoted that this ideology is not necessarily interchangeable with the religion of Judaism, as many Jews do not hold to it that their political entity is a God-given ‘Return to History’ that entitles it to act with impunity towards everyone else, especially its regional neighbors.
There was a point in time when this ideology was all the rage in the Arab world, led first by Nasser and then continued by Hafez and Bashar Assad, who have staunchly kept it in existence despite myriad attempts to snuff it out. It adheres to a left-wing model of development that preaches secularism and social equality, and as such, it’s violently abhorred by Israeli Exceptionalism and Monarchic Absolutism. It also has a strong tradition of Resistance in not kowtowing to the West, however, despite the on-paper adherence of a handful of states to this ideology (Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Egypt), it’s only still in de-facto practice by the Syrian Arab Republic (especially in the geopolitical sense), and the reason for this will be explained as the piece progresses.
The only Mideast state practicing this ideology is Iran, which adapted this form of government after the 1979 Revolution. It mixes together religion and republicanism, and it’s perfectly suited to Iran’s domestic political needs. One might question why the Secular and Islamic Republics don’t fight against one another, considering the major difference they have over the role of religion in their given societies, but the fact is that neither tries to impose its model on the other, and the shared Republican foundation seals together their bonds and fortifies their geopolitical relationship (‘The Resistance Bloc’). Accordingly, the Republics (both Secular and Islamic) continually find themselves being attacked by the Israeli Exceptionalists and Monarchic Absolutists, and this dichotomy is the defining feature of the Mideast today.
Rounding out the four official Mideast ideologies is the one practiced by all the GCC member states and Jordan. These countries prioritize the role of their ruling families over all else, and preserving this state of affairs and retaining the absolutist form of control is the primary objective of their authorities. The unrepresentative nature of Monarchic Absolutism makes its population exceptionally susceptible to pro-Republicanism sympathies, which thus explains the obsession that the Kingdoms have in destabilizing and destroying their ideological opposites. Ironically, because they have the same geopolitical goal as the Israeli Exceptionalists, they’re aligned in a marriage of convenience alongside the US (“ Cerberus ”) that sees them strategically joining forces in pursuing aggression against Syria and Iran (albeit for very different reasons, of course).
Cerberus’ attacks against the Resistance Bloc have been facilitated by the creation three sub-categorical innovations that serve as ideological weapons in their own right:
Otherwise known as the Muslim Brotherhood, this sub-facet of Cerberus was specifically birthed in order to divide the population within the Secular Republics and advance coup plots against their sovereignty. The end goal was to see the imposition of a ‘liberal-democratic’ “Islamic Democracy” take their place, whose ever-cycling representatives then be easily manipulated by each of Cerberus’ three heads (the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia) for their own purposes. This concept posed little chances for blowback in the strictly controlled confines of the Cold War, but afterwards it became a threat to Saudi Arabia, especially after geopolitical upstart Qatar began actively patronizing it as a proxy ideology in the region.
In accordance with the US’ Lead From Behind strategy, Qatar wanted to facilitate a transnational Muslim Brotherhood elite coming to power from Algeria to Syria, functioning as a sort of Arab version of the Cold War international communist party. By this it’s meant that the group would have secret cells all over the region, be dedicated to gaining power, and be financed by a substantial international patron (the US, Qatar, and Turkey in this case) that would use it as a proxy controlling force. This aggressive expansion of covert ideological subversion explains Saudi Arabia’s fears and the GCC ‘Cold War’ of 2014 between Doha and Riyadh (a precursor to the US-Saudi troubles of 2015), which required the ‘ Abdullah-Thani Pact ’ to resolve. Egypt’s place in this ideological rivalry will be explained in the next section.
Lastly, it needs to be stated that President Erdogan has attempted to transform Turkey from a pro-American “Secular Republic” to an “Islamic Democracy” (or more aptly, an Islamic Dictatorship), but he’s been prevented from fully succeeding by the considerable domestic resistance that manifested itself in the last general election. Erdogan, himself an “Islamic Populist”, saw the geopolitical potential in utilizing the Muslim Brotherhood for the aforementioned purposes that the US envisioned, and after the Abdullah-Thani Pact, he sought to steal Qatar’s thunder and become the covert network’s primary patron. By entrenching what can only be described in political terms as his hoped-for dictatorship within Turkey, he hoped to avoid the liberal-democratic voting cycles that could remove him from power within the regional “Islamic Democracy” system that he seeks to control, but his gambit failed at the very moment that he needed it to succeed the most, ergo the country’s present political crisis and the upcoming snap elections.
A virulent and state-sponsored strain of Monarchic Absolutism, it was supported by Saudi Arabia (just as the US and Israel supported “Islamic Democracy”) during the Cold War to subvert the Secular Republics and organize resistance to the Soviet intervention forces in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Wahhabism is the official ideology of Saudi Arabia, where it is kept under strict control, but it’s weaponization as a geo-ideological weapon was bound to become uncontrollable sooner than later, which eventually happened with the creation of Al Qaeda, and later, ISIL . The general idea of Wahhabist Retrogression is that the 7th-century lifestyle experienced during the time of the Prophet Mohammed is the purest one in history, and that all social developments that occurred afterwards are in contrast to the religion’s core and most conservative tenets. As a result, socially advanced and non-Islamic countries such as the USSR and the US are perceived as the greatest evil imaginable, with the Arab Monarchies coming not far behind, but for very different reasons (e.g. their alliance with the US, not being conservative enough, etc.)
It was originally intended to be a temporary recruitment tool that could be called upon whenever it was deemed ‘necessary’ by Saudi Arabia and its American patron, but it soon took on a life of its own and predictably became hard to control. That, however, doesn’t mean that it’s difficult to corral, since Washington has for the most part mastered the art of guiding the terrorists in the most advantageous direction possible, which is why it’s so steadfastly against eliminating the group in Syria while the shared regime change goal still remains unfulfilled.
Saudi Arabia has had a harder time keeping the terrorists under its thumb, ergo its fears that the US might eventually use them as proxy weapons of pressure against the monarchy. It shouldn’t be taken to infer that Saudi Arabia won’t ever again weaponize Wahhabist Retrogression for its own purposes, but that its direct sponsorship of ISIL is likely a thing of the past, replaced by support for the “ Army of Conquest ” and other similar but more easily controllable (for now) ideological groups in Syria. To evoke an over-used but very relevant cliché, Pandora’s Box has been opened, and now it’s impossible for any of the actors to put its contents back in, thereby explaining why those responsible are still attempting to use and exploit the beasts that they’ve unleashed, with all the consequent blowback entailed in this risky and short-sighted venture.
The last sub-category of ideology that Cerberus is responsible for is the emergence of dysfunctional states. These countries (Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen) are the direct result of the trilateral alliance’s destructive policies against the Resistance Bloc, and they’re marked precisely by the presence of no clear-cut ideology, or in the event that there is one (Secular Republicanism by Ansarullah and Hezbollah), it’s very difficult for its proponents to implement on a state-wide level. Such ideological vacuums weaken the Resistance Bloc and play into the hands of Cerberus by creating breeding grounds for “Islamic Democracy” and Wahhabist Retrogression. While to the benefit of the US and Israel (the latter of which has never been attacked by Wahhabist Retrogressionists), this poses a clear risk for Saudi Arabia, although one which its narrow-minded leadership has yet to grasp. The Dysfunctional States are thus battlegrounds between Cerberus and the Resistance Bloc, and their countless domestic problems thus inhibit the practicing of any ideology by its state representatives, thereby creating a category all of its own.
The Egyptian Exception
Egypt stands alone as the ideological exception in this regional construction, and this is because of its unique history of being pulled between all sides. It came to geopolitical maturity as a Secular Republic under the leadership of Nasser, only to have Sadat betray the ideology’s principle of resistance by surrendering to the Israeli Exceptionalists and becoming an American proxy. Mubarak was unlucky enough to be presiding over the country when the US decided to roll out the theater-wide “Arab Spring” Color Revolutions that aimed to usher in the transnational Muslim Brotherhood “Islamic Democracy” that was previously discussed, which explains his patron’s abandonment of him subsequent replacement with Morsi.
For that brief period of time that it was controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, the country was on the brink of becoming an even larger exporter of terrorism than Saudi Arabia (albeit of a different and conflicting brand), but the power reversal by General Sisi preempted this horrifying scenario and moved the country so close to the Monarchic Absolutists that it now acts as their military contractor in Yemen. Still, Sisi seems to harbor grand ambitions to return his country back to its Resistance Bloc roots, but he’s simply unable to do so for the foreseeable future due to the heavy amount of indebtedness he shortsightedly got himself in to with the GCC (barring Qatar, likely spurred on by their shared hate for the Muslim Brotherhood). For this reason, Egypt is officially a Secular Republic but one which geopolitically behaves as an extension of the Monarchic Absolutists, albeit with more leeway to pragmatically practice various policies such as the intensification of ties with Russia.
Taking into consideration all the ideological contours described in this part, it’s now necessary to revise the prior ‘official ‘categorization of the Mideast’s countries in order to reflect their actual disposition. Nothing has changed when it comes to Israeli Exceptionalism and Islamic Republicanism, but one must revisit which countries are included in the Secular Republicanism designation. The only one that still embodies this form of government and has retained its full membership in the Resistance Bloc is Syria, so it’s worthwhile to see exactly why it is that none of the previously listed states qualify for de-facto recognition as Secular Republics in the traditional geopolitical sense. Egypt’s status was already explained above, so thus follows the remaining former members of this category:
Iraq’s Secular Republic was disintegrated into a Dysfunctional State after the 2003 American Invasion, but even before its collapse, it was never a member of the Resistance Bloc and had strained relations with Syria and a legacy of hatred towards Iran. Thus, it was nominally a Secular Republic but satisfied none of the geopolitical criteria for Resistance, and instead was more of a regional ‘rogue’ state in the sense that it had no friendly ties with nearby states, although it did have strong business contacts with out-of-regional ones like Russia, China, and France.
This artificially constructed state is another fake Republic, satisfying the on-paper credentials but functioning as something geopolitically different. The country is officially a “Republic”, but the domestic political system of sectarianism makes it the complete opposite of secular. Furthermore, aside from the period when it was receiving Syrian military assistance and prior to the Cedar (Color) Revolution of 2005, Lebanon has always been pro-Western and opposed to the Resistance Bloc, although the political rise of Hezbollah in recent years has tried to change that. At the moment, however, Lebanon’s domestic difficulties brought about by its sectarianist system have paralyzed its government and threaten to turn it into the latest Dysfunctional State, and even if it pulls away from the abyss, so long as the root of its original problems isn’t eradicated, it will continue to remain this way indefinitely.
Another Secular Republic-turned-geopolitical-fake, this country is presently dysfunctional due to the Saudi war against it. In sum, the Ansarullah want to return the state back to its sovereign nature, having previously been an American and Saudi puppet since the 1990 unification. Prior to that time, only the South (officially The People’s Republic of Yemen) was independent of the West, but afterwards the entire combined entity fell under the Saudis’ sway. By trying to change this, the Ansarullah have provoked the deepest levels of paranoia within the Saudi monarchy, which panicked and commenced a destructive military offensive against it. Presently, the southern part of the country is under the control of affiliated Monarchic Absolutist forces (with southern separatists prepared to unwittingly create a Saudi political proxy whether they realize it or not), while the north is dysfunctional due to the blockade and famine risk , and thus incapable of exerting influence over the rest of the country and interacting with the other Republics (both Secular [Syria] and Islamic [Iran]) on a state-to-state basis.
Turkey was discussed at partial length earlier, but a few words need to be said about its present categorization. As explained, Turkey is on the cusp of becoming an “Islamic Democracy”, but it remains to be seen whether Erdogan can succeed in formally building his vision, and what’s most important, in actually retaining this political system once it’s in place (unlike Morsi, who was quickly ousted by the military). There’s the distinct possibility that Turkey’s current political and ethnic troubles, coupled with Erdogan’s divisive “Islamic Democracy” drive, could combine to make the country a Dysfunctional State in the future. Although right now these chances aren’t likely, they are experiencing a noticeable increase as Turkey’s problems drag on.
Until the second round of general elections on 1 November, when the situation is expected to drastically change in one direction or another, it’s best to describe Turkey as an Islamifying “Secular” Republic under heavy American influence. Except for the Dysfunctional State scenario (which could also be advantageous to the US in a certain strategic context), if Turkey becomes an “Islamic Democracy” or remains a nominal Secular Republic doesn’t really matter because it’ll still be a part of Cerberus in some form or another, much as Egypt has remained such despite shifting from a pro-American Secular Republic to an “Islamic Democracy” and then to a pro-Saudi Secular Republic.