The Middle East -encompassing the Arabian peninsula, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Egypt- remains an arena of conflicting interests, with numerous actors weaving a web of power and struggle. To comprehend this complex web, we need a closer examination of the diverse and influential players defining the region’s destiny.

Ever since the Arab Spring and the war on terror, the focus on the Middle East has been ever-present, as the world tries to understand the complex dynamics of the area. The Middle East is home to many prominent states, such as Turkey, Iran, Israel, Turkey, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. It also houses a complex network of non-state entities, such as the Islamic State, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda, and Hamas.  Each of these players has a significant role in shaping the geopolitical and economic environment of the area, as well as its presence in global affairs.

States stand at the helm of the Middle Eastern power matrix, starting with the most obvious players. Bound by geography and separated by their respective interests, the powerful countries of the Middle East exert their influence through various means. Saudi Arabia, with its wealth and religious significance as the birthplace of Islam, is maneuvering a turbulent region in its attempt to promote stability and maintain its influence. On the other hand, Iran is a historical powerhouse that seeks regional hegemony and defense against its neighbors. Adding more pieces to the puzzle, Israel is in constant regional conflicts, trying to secure its place amongst hostile powers, Turkey and Egypt are major historical players trying to maintain stability, and the UAE is an up-and-coming power seeking to assert dominance in the Gulf region.

The geopolitical instability of the region is fueled further by regional rivalries, such as that between Iran and Saudi Arabia, ongoing hostilities like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, terrorism, and the involvement of non-state actors. Entities like Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, operating beyond the boundaries of sovereignty, wield considerable influence and often interfere in inter-state affairs and conflicts. This involvement complicates an already charged landscape, making it seem like a political minefield ready to explode. The key entities causing unrest include ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Al Qaeda, the Islamist organization founded by Osama Bin Laden, gained global infamy for its attacks on 9/11. It started as an anti-Soviet group in Afghanistan, seeking to spread the ideology of jihad and unite the Muslim world. The group’s actions became a catalyst for change in global security policies and contributed to the rise of other jihadist movements.

Similarly, ISIS, or the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” is another Sunni jihadist group that was established in 2004 and seeks to impose the Sharia law across Iraq and Syria. Originating after the US invasion of 2003, the group was initially inspired by Al Qaeda but later differentiated itself from the organization. They made their name using brutal tactics and violence, even against Sunni Muslims.

Another group that has recently been the focus of the global sphere is Hamas. The Palestinian group whose name stands for “Islamic Resistance Movement” has been operating in the region of Gaza since 2007. It is a Palestinian Sunni Islamist group seeking the establishment of an Islamic state in the historical region of Palestine.  Considered by many countries as a terrorist group, Hamas aims to destroy Israel, which it sees as part of Palestine, and replace it with an Islamic State. Their most recent attacks on Israel in October have brought the organization to the forefront of global interest.

Also opposed to Israel, Hezbollah is a Muslim political party and military group operating in Lebanon. Born during the Lebanese Civil War, the group is represented within the Lebanese government and maintains a large paramilitary service. Hezbollah receives significant support from Iran, as their ideologies share many common elements and serve each other’s interests.

A more peaceful organization, the Muslim Brotherhood has taken root in Egypt, where it was first founded by Hassan al-Banna. It is a religious and political movement seeking to implement the Quran as the correct way of living. The organization has spread to many countries, including Sudan, Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon. It enjoyed legality for a few years, partly due to the Arab Spring but it was later labeled as a terrorist group by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

Having discussed the main players in the region, it becomes clear that there is a multitude of conflicting interests, ideologies, and cultures. Just like a dictionary, it comprises many different terms. The Middle East is an area in constant conflict, partly due to all these players trying to co-exist. One of the most prominent conflicts is that between Iran and Saudi Arabia. This two states are fighting over control and influence, each supporting different sides to impose a regional hegemony. The conflict is waged primarily on a political and economic level, mixed with religious juxtapositions and the age-old conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims is ever-present, adding fuel to the fire.

The area is also witness to many other conflicts, such as that of Israel- Palestine, the Yemeni and Syrian civil wars, and the conflict in Libya. All this has a significant global impact in many areas, including geopolitics, security, and humanitarian concerns. The involvement of external players, like the US and China further contributes to the geopolitical instability in the area, as it enhances the lines drawn between the players. Additionally, the conflicts between states present fruitful ground for organizations like ISIS and Al Qaeda. Their operations pose great threats to global security and often create or perpetuate humanitarian crises. All this creates a complicated chain of entities, each fighting for itself and on behalf of others.

We can thus conclude that, despite taking place in a specific region, the conflicts in the Middle East, from the Israeli–Palestinian war to the complexities of the Syrian Civil War, have a profound and far-reaching impact. It is increasingly difficult to identify the root cause of the problems, as there is a web of different participants and interests working in the background. To navigate this complicated landscape, it is essential to have a comprehensive and multilateral approach to it. If these conflicts are to be solved, the global community needs to focus on long-term solutions, as well as developing a deeper- understanding of the intricate relationships between the players.

Author: Έλλη Ματθαιάδη


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