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Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today

Egypt, Syria, Russia and Saudi Arabia

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today egypt syria russia and saudi arabia

Walid Choucair

The countries of the Arab Spring are experiencing a re-shuffling of the deck, which requires us to monitor the impact of new developments on the stances of the Great Powers and other foreign powers, which are in conflict with one another vis-à-vis these changes. We should also monitor the changes in the calculations of these influential countries, especially when it comes to Syria. There is the violent confrontation in Egypt pitting the army, supported by liberal, nationalist, youth and religious groups, including some Islamists, against the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition, there is a political struggle which has seen bloodshed and assassinations in Tunisia, between the Nahda movement (the Tunisian version of the Brotherhood) and various secular, leftist, liberal and moderate Islamist groups. These developments are at the heart of the re-shuffling of the deck that the region is witnessing. If what is transpiring in the region – taking the developments in Egypt and Tunisia along with what is happening in Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Lebanon – can be termed chaos, the most important thing revealed by this chaos has been the confusion in the stances of the Great Powers, including Russia. The United States is setting a condition on the Syrian opposition – it must confront the extremist Islamist forces in the country, especially the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, for it to receive support in the form of weapons. Meanwhile, the US has been trying – since before the Egyptian police and Army broke up the Brotherhood's street sit-in – to broker a reconciliation between this group and the 30 July popular uprising. In doing so, it was ignoring the acts of the Brotherhood, which aborted the rise of a pluralist order in Egypt. The US sympathized with the Brotherhood when the protests were broken up, ignoring both its role in inciting violence and the million-person popular demonstrations against the Brotherhood's usurpation of power. Meanwhile, Russia is allowing the Syrian regime to pursue tactics that Moscow has mastered, such as turning over some areas to hardline Islamists a few months ago (Nusra and ISIS), in the province of Raqqa. This was in order to spark a struggle between these two groups and the rebel Free Syrian Army, as well as with the Kurdish forces in the country's northeast. Moscow looked on, even though its chief excuse in supporting the Syrian regime is its concern about the control over Syria by hardline Islamists and terrorists, if the regime falls. In Egypt, Moscow ignores the regime's repression of the Brotherhood for the sole reason that Washington has been critical of the crackdown. The Great Powers are dealing with conditions in each Arab country in localized fashion, based on what their interests require, even if this exposes the absence of harmony in their policies from one place to the next. It is not hugely creative to say that the Great Powers are surprised each time by the developments in these countries and by the events produced by the dynamism of Arab movements. These Great Powers alter or change their stances based on the changes in the balance of power. This once again proves that the making of events in the Arab Spring takes place as a result of local social movements, and that eternal forces seek to adapt to them. As long as they cannot directly intervene to manage affairs in this or that country, they seek to adjust their policies to the new developments. In April, when Russian President Vladimir Putin met with John Kerry, the US secretary of state, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow, the two sides agreed to the Geneva 2 conference on a political solution the following month. The conference continues to be postponed from one month to another, until Lavrov last Friday expressed his hope that it would convene in October. Moscow was wagering that the regime would make military progress, such as the occupation by regime forces and Hezbollah of the city of Qusair. It was later proved that this progress did not mean that the regime would be able to cement its victories, as it suffered defeats in other regions. One of the ironies about the impact that the balance of power on the ground has on the stances of other countries is that while US-Saudi relations are seeing disputes and differences over events in Egypt, and the option of providing qualitative arms to the Syrian opposition, Russian-Saudi relations are characterized by tension. This is because Russia is vetoing any United Nations Security Council resolution that is tough on the regime of Bashar Assad. There have been attempts to revive previous understandings, which were raised between the two sides in 2008, in talks a few weeks ago. These discussions took up the future of Syria and the possibility of arriving at a political settlement over the country, one that would end with Assad's departure. This openness between Russia and Saudi Arabia represents a limited breakthrough, which establishes the beginning of serious dialogue – if this is the case, the two countries are bound, during the current circumstances, to confront a common rival, namely Islamic extremism. Moscow fears that this hardline Islamist current will have an impact on the Republic of Chechnya in the Russian Federation. It is most likely that the progress of Islamic extremism depends on the situation on the ground in Syria, in parallel to what finally stabilizes in Egypt. Thus, Moscow is moving toward reducing the repercussions of its disputes over the Syria crisis with all other countries, including Europe, on its relations with these countries. The views expressed by the author do not necessarily represent or reflect the editorial policy of Arabstoday.

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