On December 22, 2021, InterRegional for Strategic Analysis hosted Dr. Mohammed Ezz-Al-Arab, the head of the Arab and Regional Studies Unit at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, for a discussion panel on projections for the Middle East for 2022. InterRegional’s researchers in Abu Dhabi also participated. The discussion panel highlighted ten expected trends, most notably the complexity of the political transition crises in the Arab region, with reference to certain models, such as Libya, Sudan, and even Tunisia, as well as an emphasis on the postponement of political settlements in conflict areas during the new year, especially in Syria and Yemen.
The panel also emphasized the continued decline of political Islam movements in the Middle East. Hence, those movements will seek to buffer the state of social discontent with their policies in order to relieve the pressure on them while trying to rehabilitate their social networks. They will also deal pragmatically by reducing formal relationships with organizations loyal to them.
In another context, according to the panel, it is likely that actors within states will have a pivotal role in interregional relationships. Some states may see a rising role of groups or individuals within them, which may have a significant effect on political interactions. On the other hand, the adoption of highly-interested patterns among friendly countries in the region is also expected, as has been reflected in the experience of previous years. The management of relationships with allies has begun to parallel, if not exceed, the importance of countering adversaries in the Middle East. Moreover, the panel highlighted the increasing influence of economic interests on inter-Arab relationships. The economy is expected to become the engine that strengthens relationships among Arab states in 2022, as metrics seemed to indicate in the previous year. Arab rapprochement will heighten through the "diplomacy" of water, gas, electricity, and infrastructure, especially amid the common interests among those countries.
On the other hand, the panel spotlighted increasing Arab openness to the Syrian government in 2022, especially given actions indicating intensive Arab receptiveness to Syria at different levels. These movements align with the nature of the current stage in Syria, given the reality in the field, which is tilting strongly in favor of the regime, as well as the regional framework that motivates this. However, this does not deny the presence of obstacles that threaten efforts toward such receptiveness, including internal obstacles linked to the deployment of militias in Syria, foreign roles affecting the current reality, and rejection of this openness on the part of some regional and international powers.
While the panel emphasized the adoption of appeasement policies in tense regional interactions, especially given signs of rapprochement between some adversaries, this is not associated with a potential for full reconciliation. A trust gap continues to exist between some of those parties, which requires certain measures that can be built upon in order to strengthen confidence in the foreseeable future.
Furthermore, the panel stressed a likely trend related to the spreading Iranian problem’s effect on regional security and stability, particularly since Iran and its proxies and roles in the region will continue to be one of the main drivers of interactions in the Middle East in 2022. This is linked to scenarios regarding the likelihood of an agreement with the US administration on the Iranian nuclear program.
The panel concluded by emphasizing an even greater US absence from engagement in regional interactions in 2022. This is related to some regional countries’ description of Washington as an "unreliable ally," which prompts the former to seek out flexible paths of action, such as strengthening their own capabilities, forming Arab and regional coalitions, or even searching for alternative international powers to fill the vacuum of the US role in the region.