In shifting sands of Middle East, who will lead? (+ video)
Leadership in the Middle East is up for grabs as the Syrian war intensifies, the Arab Spring changes regional power dynamics, and Israel's airstrikes and Hamas rockets again roil Gaza. Last year, Turkey was the assumed role model for the region. But it has fallen down on the job.
(Page 3 of 3)
Finally, observers have tended to conflate Turkey’s soft power with an ability to shape regional politics. The posters of Erdogan in Lebanon’s Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps may be a testament to the Turkish leader’s stance on the Palestinian issue. But this kind of grass-roots popularity cannot hide the fact that Turkish efforts to cool hot spots like Libya, Syria, and Gaza have failed. Erdogan was unable to influence his ally Muammar Qaddafi, the former Libyan dictator, to reform. Neither was he able to pressure his once friend and protégé in Syria, Bashar al-Assad, to call off his murderous attacks on peaceful protesters. And he also failed to force an end to Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.Skip to next paragraph
Gallery Monitor Political Cartoons
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
If not Turkey, then who will emerge as the Middle East’s regional power or powers?
The other contenders – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, Iran, and even Israel – have their own deficits in soft power and limited capabilities that will make it hard to establish themselves as the region’s undisputed leader.
It will even be difficult for a coalition of countries to lead given differing interests and regional rivalries. It is no secret that the Qataris and Saudis dislike each other, and Arabs are unlikely to submit to Turkish leadership even in partnership with Arab countries. Cairo, for example, has been lukewarm to strategic relations with Ankara.
These problems are abundantly clear in the failure of the Qataris, Saudis, and Turks to forge a broader, more unified Syrian opposition – something that required US pressure to achieve.
Without a clear leader, regional states will continue to maneuver around each other, seeking advantage and influence wherever they can until some diplomatic or geopolitical change – perhaps the fall of the Assad regime, or a strike on Iran’s nuclear program – provides an opportunity for one country to step forward and lead.
Steven A. Cook is the Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the author of “The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square” (Oxford University Press).