THE FRAGILITY OF INTRA-ARAB RELATIONS:
A SEARCH FOR THE ROOTS OF CONFLICTS IN THE MIDDLE EAST
(Direktur Eksekutif ISMES)
One of the most fragile regions in the world today is the Middle East. Its fragility has come into being not only because of a lot of conflicts in it but also the fragility of intra-Arab relations. This essay is trying to focus on the fragility of intra-Arab relations as one of many factors involved in Middle East conflicts. It will be discussed into three categories: the conflict of Arabs-Israel, the conflict of internal Arabs, and the conflict of external interests.
The conflict of Arabs-Israel is a conflict which we can watch from TV, hear from radio, and read from newspaper almost everyday. This conflict is more complex than the others and the solution for it is still a big question. At the beginning, this conflict was about the land of Palestine which was fought by two nations, the Jews and the Palestinian Arabs, who felt that they had the right to settle there. The UN tried to solve this problem in a form of a resolution, that is UN resolution no. 181 (II) November, 29, 1947. The point of it was to divide the land into three areas: one for the Jews, one for the Palestinian Arabs, and the other one, that is Jerusalem, was under international mandate. However this effort was considered unfair by the Palestinian Arabs. Three days after the resolution, the first war broke up. The result of it was the state of the Jews, Israel, was proclaimed by David Ben Gurion in 1948. This conflict has been more complicated because the other Arab states, such as Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, were involved after the first war. They have their own national interest which they struggle for. Unfortunately, today, this conflict is viewed not only as a conflict of land but also as a conflict of religions: the Jews versus the Muslims. As a result, this conflict is more and more complex than the first time it erupted.
The second conflict which makes this region fragile is that of internal Arabs. Actually, there are some worrying conflicts in this category. Firstly, the conflict of boundary disputes. The well-known examples were between Irak and Kuwait and between Syria and Lebanon. Irak claimed that Kuwait was part of its teritory. This claimed happened twice, in 1961 and 1990. The second claim caused the big war named Gulf War III in which Kuwait was backed up by the US and its allies. The same case happened in Syria-Lebanon boundary disputes. Syria claimed that Lebanon was part of its Greater Syria. According to the history, Syria claimed, that the land of Syria and the land of Lebanon was actually one region of Islamic era, named Syam, before the colonialization of Europeans. Secondly, the conflict of ideology. In this case, the conflict consists of Sunni-Syi’i rivality, two dominant sects in Islam, and the rivality of Arab-Nationalism a la Gamal Abdel Nasser from Egypt versus Ba’th ideology a la Syria and Irak. Thirdly, the conflict of economic and social disparity. This was caused by the natural resources, especially oil, whose supplies are not the same in each countries. Therefore, this causes the migration from the poor countries, such as Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Egypt, to the rich countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. This will lead the socio-political problems in the regions. Besides, sometimes in the regional forum, such as the Arab League, the rich countries tends to dictate or force their interest to the poor countries. However, the poor countries do not always accept them. If it happens, the quarrel will erupt. The last, the conflict of leadership rivality. There are some strong leaders in this region. Unfortunately, they do not use their capabilities for the sake of region but often for rivality. It means that each wants to show his own ego. By this, each of them fells deserving being the regional leader. For this case, such leaders are Saddam Hussein from Irak, Husni Mubarak from Egypt, Hafez al Assad (the late) and his son Bashar al Assad from Syria, and Muammar Khadafi (the late) from Libya.
The third category of conflict is that of external interests. It means that the countries outside this region have a share to cause conflicts. This occurs because they have interest in this region, especially about oil reserves , ideology, and Israel. Two big countries which have had big influences and interests here so far are the US and the Soviet Union (now Russia). Because these two countries have had rivality in every aspects of international relations, their appearences in this region have big impacts. The split of Yemen into two states: North Yemen and South Yemen since 1960s to 1989 was a prove of their influences (South Yemen adopted socialism ideology). Besides, one thing that made the war of Irak-Iran lasted for 8 years (1980-1988) was because either the US or the Soviet Union sold their weapons to the fighting countries. The most crucial of their influences and interests in this region, however, has been their effort to oil supplies which are very important for their industries. Another prove about this was the US invasion into Irak at Gulf War III. Moreover, the US still has one big interest in this region, that is, to defend the sustainability of its important satellite country in this region, Israel. That is also why the first category of conflict in this essay becomes more and more complex.
From all of the categories of conflicts above, at least we can answer the question: why is the intra-Arab relations so fragile? To get the whole understanding about it, the three categories must be seen as integral, not partial. By doing so, hopefully the roots of conflicts in the Middle East can be elaborated more clearly.
Wallahu ‘alam bish-showab
(And Allah knows the right)