A new pirouette has begun in Syria. Only after the US elections will it become clear who is on the dance floor and who is sinking in a quagmire.
Writings in the New York Times, other Western and Saudi publications have been talking of a “divided city of Aleppo”. This is ominous.
A Turk who supports an Arab cause is welcome from a distance. But a Turk casting himself in a regional role, scares the Arab as a potential Ottoman. That is where Erdogan is stuck at the moment.
Saudi Arabia has in the last few days seen its hold on the GCC countries loosen. To keep himself and his Kingdom in play, Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal, addressing the GCC, suggested that the Kuwait Foreign Minister lead the group to Washington protesting against the deal. Kuwait refused as did the UAE Foreign Minister who, instead, travelled to Moscow to sign different another affidavit.
There are two different appraisals of Saudi vulnerability in the context of the deal. First is the power struggle behind the curtains, a fierce war of succession. A regime so divided and debilitated is more likely to acquiesce in the new arrangement of power in the Middle East. But the opposite can also happen. A regime weakened internally is unlikely to be able to resist the ultra conservative clergy.
The decision making systems in Washington must be saturated with memos, position papers, backgrounders, by dove-nosed hawks and hawk-nosed doves, both in and outside the administration, on the atmospherics required for the initial moves with Iran after the recent signs of a thaw.
President Hassan Rouhani, meanwhile, must also be casting a glance on the internal dynamics in Iran. That a casual meeting with President Obama on the margins of the UN General Assembly did “not” take place is, by the admission of Iranian diplomats, a “good outcome” because a “casual” meeting at such a delicate juncture would give out misleading signals.
If there is one group the Saudis fear and suspect more than Iran and Shiaism, it is the Muslim Brotherhood. Iran is an outside power. Brothers are available even within Saudi society and they despise monarchies just as the Prophet of Islam despised monarchies.
So, the coffers of the House of Saud have been opened for Gen. Abdel Fattah el Sisi to break the back of the Brothers in Egypt. Al Jazeera, which became a mouthpiece for the Brothers during the year that Morsi was in power, is in the process of packing up its bags in Egypt.
Between American and Saudi diplomatic choreography the “hidden” is often more important than the “apparent”. American effigies being burnt in Cairo by anti-Morsi crowds shows the American hand is still in the hand of the Brothers. But Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel talking to coup leader Gen. Abdul Fatah al-Sissi on the phone, points to exactly the opposite.
Heads I win, tails you lose. Don’t forget, Americans have lived with Egypt’s army for 50 years. That’s the important equation. So don’t worry, Americans and the Saudis are in bed under the same sheet.
To the various puzzles America pores over has been added one more: Iran’s President elect, Hassan Rouhani. As an opening gambit, he is being described as “moderate”.
It is being speculated that he will be “moderate” on the nuclear issue even though he has deep roots in the country’s conservative establishment whose views on the issue are known and not liked.
Years ago, “moderation” in all discourse concerning West Asia had a distinct meaning. It was an adjectival expression approving of states which were willing to tow the Western line on the Israeli-Palestinian question. The antonym for moderate those days was “rejectionist”.
For two and a half terms Erdogan and Abdullah Gul kept up a plausible manner: they were non ideological, moderate Muslims. Yes, there was an occasional skirmish on trifles like headscarves for women but no serious threat of a Shariah flag being hoisted on a nation restored by Ataturk.
Why, then, did Erdogan manage to shuffle off the moderate image which had caused his reputation to rocket sky high?
First, the constitution does not allow a Prime Minister more than three terms. Thus, Erdogan saw the end of the road for himself in internal politics. He will probably try swapping jobs with Abdullah Gul in 2014-15. But will people let him? After all, 70 percent are opposed to conflict with Syria.