Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: What happened to the Arab superpowers? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
Select Page

In the Arab world, there were four historic superpowers: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria. These four states are split predominantly along two axes, namely the Islamic world and the Arab world. As for Egypt, it had a third sphere of influence in Africa.

Iraq tried to outpace Saudi Arabia in the Gulf, while Damascus and Baghdad also competed to exclude Egypt prior to, and following, the Camp David Accords. This was part of an Iraqi an attempt to revive the Abbasid Caliphate, while Syria, for its part, was attempting to restore the Umayyad version.

After it signed a peace agreement with Israel, Egypt saw its role in the Arab world decrease, while its influence over Africa increased. As for Syria and Iraq, they moved in every direction, but particularly against each other. In the 1970s, another political power emerged surrounding the Palestinian Cause, which had been born in Cairo. However, with Egypt’s isolation, Ba’athist Iraq and Syria pursued this in order to expand their influence and gain more allies.

We can also turn to the smaller countries that were seeking to fend off their larger rivals. Lebanon was viewed as being part of Syria, and Kuwait as being a part of Iraq. Baghdad and Damascus failed to deal with these two respective countries as independent states. Iraq, for example, had three thousand diplomats registered at its embassy in Kuwait—an unprecedented figure. If the Lebanese foreign minister ever visited Syria, he would find himself summoned to the presidential palace to meet his Syrian counterpart, along with the president, speaker of parliament, and prime minister.

The way that the so-called Palestinian revolution dealt with the state of Lebanon was no better. For example, Yasser Arafat had his own private military band at Beirut’s international airport to meet guests. As for Lebanese nationals, they had to obtain special permission to keep their homes and jobs, with this often being denied to “protect” the “security” of the revolution.

The Palestinian resistance left Beirut for Sudan and Yemen, while the Syrian army withdrew from Lebanon, and Iraq no longer even has an embassy in Kuwait, let alone an army of diplomats. Following this, Iraq and Syria have witnessed significant conflict over the years, with the entire region becoming embroiled in the violence.

So what happened?

If you want a short answer, it is because these states failed to act according to laws and international standards and norms. This is not to mention the fact that arrogance and unpredictability ruins everything, and that implementing the concepts and vision of the tenth century in the late twentieth century can only lead to disaster. This is something that demonstrates a failure both to understand history and to respect other people’s rights and dignity.

As a result of all this, Iraq today is as you see it, and the same goes for Syria. As for Egypt, it is waiting for more assistance from Qatar to deal with the problems of over-population, with estimates indicating that the population may hit one hundred million by the end of the decade. Only Saudi Arabia remains within its own borders, and within international standards and norms, and I think that those who previously criticized the kingdom for its “conservatism” are now eating their words.

Samir Atallah

Samir Atallah

Samir Atallah is a prominent Lebanese journalist, author and political analyst.

More Posts