Saturday, January 1, 2011

Middle East, 2011: Not a Very Happy New Year

by Khaled Abu Toameh

For many Arab and Islamic countries and the Palestinians, it does not look as if it is going to be a Happy New Year.

Instead, 2011 looks as if it is going to bring instability and uncertainty to some of these countries and the Palestinians.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iran and Sudan will undoubtedly witness dramatic developments in the coming weeks and months.

For the Palestinians, the future does not seem to be too promising in light of the continued power struggle between Hamas and Fatah.

In Iran, the situation remains as dangerous as ever as Tehran continues to pursue its plan to develop nuclear capabilities. Iran also appears to be more determined than ever to continue meddling in the internal affairs of others, especially the Lebanese and the Palestinians.

Together with the Syrians, Hamas and Hizbullah, Iran appears set to step up its efforts to export its radical ideology to as many Middle Eastern countries as it can, and undermine moderate Arabs and Muslims.

In Saudi Arabia, the 86-year-old monarch, King Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz, has just undergone back surgery in New York, and his condition does not seem to be good. His brother, the crown-prince, is also sick and no one knows if he will ever become king.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, 82, is also reported to be in bad health. His refusal to name a successor has already created tensions in Egypt. Opposition groups in Egypt are now warning that the uncertainty could lead to chaos and plunge the country into anarchy and lawlessness. Worse, the talk about the president's son, Gamal, as a possible successor, has enraged many Egyptians.

Sudan also seems to be headed toward an unclear future as the people of South Sudan prepare to vote on whether to secede from the North and become an independent nation, or to continue within a united federal Sudan.

Sudan's President, Omar al-Bashir, has been charged by the International Court of backing Arab Janjaweed militias accused of war crimes against the region's black African communities.

Lebanon also seems to be headed toward the abyss as Hizbullah threatens to stage a coup against the government in Beirut if an international tribunal rules that the armed Shiite organization was behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Many Lebanese believe that their country could be headed toward another civil war if Hizbullah is found guilty.

As for the Palestinians, it looks as if they may end up more than the two states they already have in the West Bank and Gaza Strip: the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority is currently facing a severe crisis in light of reports of a possible coup against President Mahmoud Abbas. Mohammed Dahlan and a group of top Fatah officials are suspected of conspiring to topple Abbas's regime.

The tensions in Fatah have divided the ruling faction into two camps: one led by Abbas, and another headed by Dahlan, who apparently regards himself as a "natural successor" to the president.

The Arab world and the Palestinian territories are evidently headed toward turmoil and a great degree of uncertainty, especially with the rising threat of Islamic fundamentalism; it has become a tsunami that could sweep the whole Arab and Islamic world.

The new few weeks and months are going to bring many changes to the Arab countries and the Palestinians -- most changes seem extremely negative, with serious repercussions for the entire Middle East.

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Khaled Abu Toameh

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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