Tourists stroll near the Tunis souq. Long known for its sea, sand and sun, Tunisia has a new claim to fame as the birthplace of the Arab Spring. Image Credit: Gulf News archive

The competition between different forces to gain a place in the Middle East is as old as the discovery of oil in the region. However, the force which ruled the area the longest did not have the luck of entering the arena of competitors.

The Ottoman Empire which ruled for almost four centuries did not make use of the region's oil because the era of oil did not dawn until the end of the Empire. Hence the oil wealth was ready for the new masters who came to the region from overseas.

The Middle East started a new era in its history following the fall of the Ottoman Empire after the end of First World War.

As a result, the new foreign powers were able to re-draw the map of the area and its features, and further placed its destiny in the hands of those who respected foreign interests and maintained their presence.

However, the West at the time was just Europe, as the US had not entered the arena yet. The Soviet Union was also in its infancy, and the people of the region had no option but to harvest what the strong nations decided for the area.

As soon as the Second World War ended a number of military coups and reform movements took place, and most of these upheavals and revolutions succeeded in changing the governments that were western allies. As a result, the Soviet Union entered as a new ally, its aim was to back these new regimes and to become the new player which is capable of challenging the influence of the West and its interests in the area.

The West was obliged to follow the US at all levels to maintain what was left of its influence, and in return allowing the US to become the new leader of the western world. The western world remained united in its declared policies of a defensive/offensive nature in the Middle East under the banner of the Nato all through the Cold War era.

However, the downfall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s revived its hopes of controlling the globe once again, by backing the downfall of the totalitarian regimes that were Soviet allies, from Eastern Europe to the Arab Spring movements witnessed today in the Middle East.

However, the losses that resulted from the fall of the Soviet Union were not only inherited by Russia, as new losses were added because of its -policies.

Therefore, Russia withdrew as a major competitor in order to achieve gains after the Arab Spring. Furthermore, the struggle and competition for the area's natural resources has become limited to the West, along with Turkey's keenness to maintain its presence in the area. Today, the western world is not as united as it used to be during the Cold War era.

The harvest of interests expected of the Arab Spring will be to the benefit of Europe. The role it played in sympathising with the new Arab movements — offering logistical help given its proximity to the region and leading Nato operations — will in the future work in its favour in the Middle East.


Europe has more experience in dealing with the countries of the Middle East. It is also more aware of the culture and history of the area, and lately — which is more important to the people in the region — it has been seen to be less keen to stand by policies that are against the region's nations and those that benefit only Israel.

At a time when US President Barack Obama's administration is in favour of the Israeli stand against the establishment of a Palestinian state, we find that Europe is not united on this issue. France and the UK are keen on holding the stick from the middle and keeping a grey zone,

France has also warned against the US vetoing the bid for Palestinian statehood and has pointed out the negative implications of the veto on America's interests in the area. France has also suggested a middle solution for the Palestinian state. The UK on its part announced that it shall refrain from voting in the UN Security Council.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not immune to the effects of the Arab Spring and the resulting gains and losses.

The mystery that shrouds the situation in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and the resulting repercussions have driven Israel to take a rigid stand against the establishment of a Palestinian state and against going back to the negotiation table with the Palestinian demand for the Israelis to stop building colonies.

The situation in the Middle East has become more complicated after the onset of the Arab Spring. The scene in front of Israel today is foggy and is no longer as easy as it was before.

The Arab people have paid dearly for the Arab Spring. The question here is will the outcome justify the costs? The new phase of this spring is no longer transparent, and its route no longer reflects the slogans and true sentiments which initiated it. Today, the Arab Spring is subject to the game of interests and complicated calculations.

Dr Mohammad Akef Jamal is an Iraqi writer based in Dubai.