Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

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In Shifting Sands of Middle East, Who Will Lead?

by Steven A. Cook
November 16, 2012

Hamas Prime Minister Haniyeh and the Emir of Qatar arrive at a cornerstone laying ceremony in Khan Younis (Mohammed Salem/Courtesy Reuters)


This article was originally published here on on Thursday, November 15, 2012

Even before the recent round of Hamas rockets and airstrikes from Israel in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian enclave was in the news as the diplomatic destination of choice for the leaders of the Middle East. Last month, the emir of Qatar visited Gaza. Bahrain’s embattled king is also weighing such a trip. Turkey’s prime minister, too, announced his intention to travel to the strip.

News reports speculate that the leaders’ attention will further legitimize Gaza’s militant Hamas at the expense of Mahmoud Abbas’s secular Palestinian Authority, which is based in the West Bank. Yet the sudden diplomatic interest in Gaza has more to do with prime ministers, kings, emirs, and presidents seeking to burnish their legitimacy – or importantly, their credentials as potential regional leaders.

The uprisings, revolutions, and civil wars that have dramatically altered domestic politics in the Arab world have had a profound effect on regional power dynamics – including Iran. The Middle East is up for grabs, yet which country or countries will lead is as unclear and complex as current efforts to build new political systems in EgyptLibyaTunisia, and elsewhere.

The issue of leadership is critical for the region. States with prestige and financial, diplomatic, and military resources can drive events in the Middle East – hopefully for good, but potentially for bad. In the 1950s and ’60s, for example, Egypt’s leadership under Gamal Abdel Nasser shaped regional politics around the myths of Arab nationalism, which led to intra-Arab conflict and regional war. The Arab Spring provides an opportunity for a power or group of powers to usher in a new era of peace, prosperity, and perhaps democracy.

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  • Posted by Raja M. Ali Saleem

    Erdogan’s ppularity has declined during the last year but he is still the most influential leader in the Middle East. It is claimed that Erdogan has failed because he could not influence events in other countries (i.e. Syria and Libya). Well that is a very strict criterion and not very relevant to our times. Anybody remembers for how many years US is trying to change Pakistan’s policy towards atleast a section of Talibans? So, if US, with its sole super power status, biggest military machine in human history and billions of dollars, cannot force changes, which leadership of certain countries don’t like, we should not expect countries to change policies because of Turkey or Erdogan’s influence.

    In the survey quoted in the article, Turkey’s favorable opinion is still in high seventies for most Arab countries and while Turkey’s rating going down from 78% to 69% is a news, there are much more worrying things in the survey. For example, despite Western media’s portrayal of Iran, only 11% of those surveyed considered Iran to be the biggest threat to the region. Israel (46%) gets the top position not surprisingly. What is interesting is that the US(21%) is considered twice as much threat to the region than Iran and that was before the recent show of support to Israel.

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