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Research Report

The Game of Camps: Ideological Fault Lines in the Wreckage of the Arab State System

Eran Lerman
Copyright Date: Sep. 1, 2016
Pages: 53

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 1-4)
  2. (pp. 5-6)
  3. (pp. 7-8)
    Eran Lerman
  4. (pp. 9-12)
    Eran Lerman

    Within the last five years, much of the post-Ottoman state system has essentially ceased to exist. The basic geopolitical units put in place a century ago by the victors of World War I are less and less relevant. Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen have been torn apart. Lebanon, which had fallen under the thumb of an externally controlled terror organization, had already lost any semblance of true sovereignty even before the misnamed “Arab Spring” began. The Palestinians have been governed by two hostile governments since 2007. The GCC, too, saw deep divisions emerge over ideological orientation.

    These events cannot be...

  5. (pp. 12-16)

    Extensive literature has emerged since 2011 to account for the dramatic collapse of what had been an extremely stable – indeed, ossified – political order for well over a generation.³ The roots of this collapse can be traced to developments set in motion by the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and their consequences. It has brought to the surface powerful forces and dangerous fault lines which had been lying dormant for years. The use of the term “Arab Spring” to describe this collapse is both sad and ludicrous. If a natural phenomenon is to be used, it should be an earthquake,...

  6. (pp. 16-18)

    When mapping the new landscape of the region, it has proven increasingly useful to speak of four distinct categories, or “camps.” They are essentially ideological in nature, with sectarian affiliations playing an important but not always a determining role. These camps now dominate the post-”Spring” landscape:

    The Iranian regime and its network of allies and clients, proxies and agents, many of them Shi’a, but some Sunni or even non-Muslim

    The Muslim Brotherhood and the parties associated with it, backed by two powerful regional allies: Erdoğan’s Turkey and the Qatari monarchy, each for its own reasons

    Global jihadists, derivatives of Bin...

  7. (pp. 18-20)

    The unfolding drama in the region requires an analytical framework that can take into account ideological affiliations as independent factors, rather than look upon them as strictly epiphenomenal to the interplay of state interests. The demands of “raison d’état” lose some of their explanatory force in situations in which there is no longer an état. Modifications of old wisdom are reflected in “constructivist” evolutions of the theoretical grounding of international relations. They point to situations in which ideological imperatives and ideas play a central role in the formulation of foreign policy and the behavior of both states and sub-state actors....

  8. (pp. 20-26)

    Still firmly led by Supreme Leader Ali Kahmenei (despite repeated reports about his declining health),15 the present regime in Iran remains highly committed to a revolutionary interpretation of the Shi’a faith. The regime integrates that interpretation with traditional elements of Persian pride, an acute sense of threat from powerful neighbors, and the imperatives of a trading nation dependent on oil markets. It is still driven, as its policy towards Israel reveals, by strong ideological imperatives.

    Those imperatives may borrow from old Sh’ia templates (undoing a history that went wrong), but they are essentially modern in nature and radically different from...

  9. (pp. 26-30)

    The MB, which dates back to the late 1920s, is the oldest branch of the modern Islamist totalitarian tree. It is also the most adept at using the tools of legitimate politics to advance its cause – side by side, on occasion, with violence and subversion. In the 1990s, this duality gave rise to a fierce debate, largely driven by the dramatic turn of events in Algeria, over the true nature of the MB (and the Front of Islamic Salvation). Some saw these groups as social movements responding to real problems of repression and corruption; others saw them as totalitarians...

  10. (pp. 30-34)

    In terms of basic outlook, there are clear similarities between the MB and IS and other Salafi jihadists. They share a vision of a universal Caliphate restored and reject democracy, nationalism and other modern notions of human and political rights.

    However, in the 1970s, the MB chose to turn away from terror (Hamas, which emerged later, is the exception to the rule) and to endorse the tools of party politics, social services and other non-violent means as the road to power. This choice led groups like the Jama’ah and the Jihad in Egypt, forerunners of al-Qaeda and IS, to draw...

  11. (pp. 34-38)

    It may not be entirely accurate to describe this disparate group as an ideological camp. But led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which have taken dramatic measures to tighten their relationship in recent months including a visit by King Salman to Cairo, a wide and varied group of forces now finds common cause in directly facing the other three camps (albeit with different degrees of hostility).

    The list includes, in some respects, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (as well as Kurdish secularists, Saudi Wahhabists, and Arab leaders as diverse as King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Bashir of...

  12. (pp. 39-42)

    In essence, the current version of the “game of camps” is dominated by internal imperatives in the region itself (unlike the old days of the Cold War, when US and Soviet influences were paramount). Still, three different types of intervention did leave their mark on the balance of power and the dynamics of conflict, although the consequences were all too often different from those the international players had envisaged.

    American input: The original hopes pinned by both sides of the American political aisle on the so-called “Arab Spring” were very much in line with the American belief in the power...

  13. (pp. 42-43)

    Efforts to reduce the intensity of fighting on several fronts of the “game of camps” may alleviate some of the suffering, but the ideological divides are too deep to be bridged. In the case of IS, decisive action is needed to further degrade it to the point that the game will be reduced to a three-way contest. In the case of the MB, unless they gain unexpected political victories or use communities in the West to shift the balance of power, it would seem likely that it too is destined to decline (but remain a strategic irritant).

    As recent events...

  14. (pp. 44-50)
  15. (pp. 51-52)