The challenges, turmoil and civil unrests in the Middle East can be traced back to socio-cultural, religious, and political issues. In the last decade, the Middle East has dominated international media coverage for all the wrong reasons. Conflicts have dominated the region in particular, resulting in a great deal of political instability. The situation has harmed the economies of countries in the region and beyond, resulting in a humanitarian crisis unprecedented in the region. These conflicts are having a significant influence on the Horn of Africa. The region has seen some of the deadliest hostilities in recent history, from the Iraq war with Iran to the Iraq invasion of Kuwait, to the ongoing disputes between Israel and Arab states such as Egypt, Iran, and Syria, to male chauvinism and gender discrimination caused by rigid religious beliefs. The wars in the Middle East are strikingly similar to those in seventeenth-century Europe. Their foundations are ideological and religious, not economic, as in the Atlantic region and the Western Hemisphere, or strategic, as in Asia.
The Middle East region and North East Africa have a long complicated relationship that goes all the way back to over millennia. This complex connection is fueled by a combination of trade and the rise of Islam. The Horn of Africa has emerged to be one of the most politically diverse areas in the world. It’s worth noting that there is almost no other place where global pressures and regional goals have collided to present such turbulent outcomes. Over the last three decades the region has witnessed emergence of two post-colonial states of Eritrea in 1991 and South Sudan in 2011. The effects of the cold war led to the ousting of Emperor Haile Selassie who had taken his nation from the U.S to the Soviet Union’s control nearly in a fraction. This action of Ethiopia led President Siad Barre of Somali to flip his nation to the American as a counter move to that of Ethiopia. Whereas the global attention is centered on the territory’s “great power competition,” chiefly between the America and the republic of China, the Horn of Africa has also emerged as a main battleground for authority among several competing regional and Middle East players, including Saudi Arabia’s competition with Iran, Saudi competition with the UAE among other strives.
The Horn of Africa (HoA) refers to the continent’s easternmost extension, which includes Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, and Djibouti, whose history and culture have become increasingly intertwined in recent years. This region has recently been in the spotlight because to the so-called “Middle East Cold War.” In this part of Africa, a new battle for domination is raging. It was formerly considered one of the continent’s most unsecure and dangerous locations for any foreign engagement, but today a slew of nations are clamoring for a piece of the action.
Why is the Middle East region plagued with so much conflict?
Conflict is inherent in human nature, according to Waltz’s book “Man, State, and War.” Modern wars are often the consequence of attempts to dominate natural resources, politics, culture, and the environment. To claim that the Middle East has always been in conflict is a cliché. Ancient rivalry between the Sunni and Shia worlds have sparked crises in the Middle East and Muslim nations, notably the civil war in Syria and the violence that has paralyzed Iraq. To some degree, it is accurate that the Middle East has witnessed more than its fair share of violence as a nexus of cultures. The Middle East was a battlefield in ancient times between major nations such as Egypt, Babylon, and the Hittites. During the middle Ages, the Middle East was a hotbed of conflict between Christian and Muslim forces vying for sovereignty of the region known as the Holy Land. For ages, this sliver of territory has been strategically important as the birthplace of Abrahamic religions and as a crossroads for trade routes between Africa, the Mediterranean, and Asia.
The Middle East is endowed with a rich religiously diversity. In this volatile region, religion has proven to be a major source of strife. There are other smaller various religions like the Druze religion, in addition to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in the region. Religious strife has erupted in the region as a result of the region’s variety and mix of religions. The main contention, however, is found inside the Islamic religion. Even through the two major Islamic sects, Sunni and Shia, concur on the majority of Islam’s fundamental beliefs and concepts, there has been a significant rift among them for that spans over 14 centuries ago. For starters, historical disagreements between these two Islam sects remain one of the key sources of Middle Eastern strife. The Sunni-Shiite conflict began after the Prophet Muhammad’s death in 632 AD, but it has become increasingly political throughout time, particularly since the 1979 Iranian revolution, which was ideologically exploited by Ayatollah Khomeini. This is at the heart of so many conflicts that have engulfed the region. The schism between Shiites and Sunnis arose since the tussle for succession following the death of the Prophet Muhammad. These feuding factions couldn’t agree on who was to succeed their leader as the head of the Muslim religion.
As per the Council on Foreign Relations, nearly 85 percent of the world’s Muslim population is represented by the Sunni while the Shia constitutes only 15 percent. A large number of Shia is found in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, and Azerbaijan, as well as a multitude in Lebanon. The Sunnis are the predominant in more than 40 additional nations. Regardless of their differences, these two Islamic groups have lived peacefully in relative peace for most of time. However, in the late 20th century, the schism widened, culminating in bloodshed in many regions of the Middle East as radical Sunni and Shia Islam fought for doctrinal and political dominance. As a result, the Sunni nations, influenced Saudi Arabia, has fought the Shiite cohort, led by Iran, for regional dominance in the Middle East in recent decades.
The British initiative to resettle European Jews in the Mandate of Palestine, which Britain wanted to turn into a Jewish homeland, was a second element in the Middle East crisis. Questions arose around the end of the 1800s about how Jews in Europe could overcome growing persecution and anti-Semitism. The formation of Zionist movement was motivated by the issue of biblical Promised Land and which sought to create an Israelite state in the Middle East. This act was castigated by the British Empire who had mandate over Palestine from 1920 to 1947. As a result, the Muslim world was outraged by this action. At the time, Palestine included all of Israel as well as the current Occupied Territories, including Gaza and the West Bank. As the Jewish population trying to immigrate to the Holy Land has increased, ethnic tensions have soared. The British generated a tremendous deal of strife by reshaping the ethnic and religious character of the Mandate without consulting present residents. Old and new residents contended for power and resources, and their dispute became wrapped in religious themes. The British designed a proposal to divide Palestine into two states: a Jewish majority state and Transjordan, a Muslim majority state. Britain was able to pioneer the foundation of the state of Israel with the support of the United Nations. This was after proposing parties overwhelmingly agreed to subdivide Palestine in order to give room for creation of a Jewish state. The United Nations General Assembly enacted the Partition Resolution in 1947. Jerusalem would continue to be under UN administration under this agreement. Jerusalem is now recognized as Israel’s capital by the United States. Although some claim that this adds to the strife in the Middle East. Some argue that Israel’s progress in proclaiming her right to exist to the rest of the world adds salt to the region’s already-healing wounds.
In the most basic words, Israel wishes to exist and recognizes her Arabic nation’s right to exist as well. Several countries like Syria, do not accept the Israel’s right to exist. In fact, 30 UN nations, including 17 out of 22 Arab League countries, refuse to recognize Israel as a state. Bhutan, Cuba, and North Korea are among the countries that do not recognize Israel. Every poll conducted across Arab countries reveals that the vast majority of Arabs want the Jewish state to vanish. Since Israel’s founding in 1948, this has been the mindset. The major Arab governments have been at odds with Israel since the passing of the Partition Resolution in 1947, which allowed for the foundation of the state of Israel and the following declaration of independence by the Jews of the mandate on May 14, 1948. They have refused to acknowledge the existence of the Partition Resolution. This act by Israel provoked a strong response from Muslims in the Middle East, resulting in an ongoing cycle of atrocities and counterattacks that have come to define the present Middle East problem. Western countries lavished aid and armaments on Israel, resulting in a power imbalance and providing the Israeli administration a decisive advantage in defending itself against neighboring countries.
Israel has been at the center of both internally and externally crises over the past six decades of its existence. Other nations have attempted to wipe Israel off the map, while Arabs living within Israel’s borders, or the limits of the Palestinian territories, have used terrorism and resistance to gain independence for the Palestinian territories.
According to some historians, the existence of several radical groups in the Middle East, such as Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, ISIS, the Houthi Muslim Brotherhood, the Zionist movement Mujahedeen, and other internal dangers, play a significant role in the region’s continuous wars. In their ambition for conquest, control of economic resources, and the spread of ideas, these organizations are involved in continuous battles. They are linked to a rise in terror incidents in the region, as well as the propagation of propaganda both within and outside the region. Iraq’s vast oil deposits, as well as her desire to control other countries’ and non-state actors’ resources have sparked various confrontations in the region, according to some Middle East scholars. According to Michael Klare, oil has also played a big influence in the deepening of the Middle East issue by attracting more external forces to the region and establishing their presence. Some of the oil fields and reserves captured by extremist organizations have been exploited to generate cash, which has been used to fund their destabilizing actions. As a result, oil is at the center of many wars, notably in the Middle East.
The Middle East’s history is one of war, although the cause and character of the battle have shifted dramatically over time, but the bottom line has remained remarkably consistent: the struggle to control resources such as water, oil, and land by favoring one tribe over another. The current Middle East problem is sometimes portrayed as a conflict between Jews and Muslims, but there is a deeper history of power relations at play that has resulted in this complex and seemingly intractable predicament. The situation is still tense, and it appears that no solution will be reached unless all parties agree to give up some of their desired outcomes in order to achieve peace.
The Implications of the Conflict in the Horn of Africa
The Horn of Africa became the epicenter of a so-called “Middle East Cold War.” The continuing Middle East hostilities have had a massive effect on the Horn of Africa, as native states attempt to position themselves and take sides with the conflicting parties. The region’s ancient powerhouses, the United States, France and the United Kingdom are progressively supplanted by a new generation of Middle East emerging global economies, all vying for a footing on what is rising to be one of the world’s most contested regions. This newly developed quest for allegiance has been accompanied by a few merits and a suspicion of disastrous consequences for the Horn of Africa. The Horn’s leaders are undertaking a dangerous endeavor with the region’s emerging powers.
According to Harry Verhoeven, the Middle East and North East Africa’s closeness geographical proximity has resulted in a history of alternating between deep cultural borrowing and biased hatred stemming from conflicting conquests and devastating carnage. Iran’s battle with Saudi Arabia for control of North East Africa is primarily motivated by its desire to gain influence near important waterways while also increasing its economic and military might in the region. Iran is also leading the dissemination of Shi’ite ideology and the establishment of a logistics base for supporting regional proxies. Iran has long been a close ally of Sudan and a staunch defender of President Omar al-deposed Bashir’s regime. Its favorable stance toward Eritrea aided the Iranian naval troops to access to its ports, establishing an advantage for Tehran. This moved move helped Iran to gain access to the Red Sea and the Gulf. This act prompted Saudi Arabia to form a strong naval base in Saudi Arabia’s immediate vicinity. Recognizing the threat that loomed above it, Saudi Arabia moved quickly to invest extensively in a bid to offset its adversary’s influence in the region. Notably, Saudi Arabia managed to induce a breach in Sudanese-Iranian relations. Sudanese officials were evicted from Khartoum in 2014; they were accused for propagating Shi’a Islam through the Sudanese cultural institutions. Subsequently, Khartoum declared that it was moving into the Saudi camp. Aside from monetary incentives, the Saudis employed their diplomatic might in persuading the Sudanese to change their minds, promising to assist Sudan in breaking out of its diplomatic isolation with Iran. Sudan’s transition position has ever remained even after fall of President Omar al- Bashir’s regime and the country’s considerable governance change. While the Iranians appear to be interested in taking advantage of the new political atmosphere in Khartoum, it is unclear if they have the financial or diplomatic capabilities to compete with the Gulf powers.
Saudi Arabia was able to win the control competition with Iran due to its substantially greater economic clout and status as the leader of the Sunni Islamic world. As a gratitude for Khartoum’s royalty, Saudi Arabia extended financial assistance to Sudan. It also used its financial might to strengthen bilateral relationship with other nations like Djibouti, Eritrea, and Somali that have cut ties with Iran. Whereas Iran’s lengthy involvement in the Horn of Africa posed a significant threat to Saudi Arabia and its interest in the past, the kingdom’s “security belt” has been stretched as a result of recent attempts to increase Saudi influence in the region. In 2017, the Saudis and Djibouti offered to build a military facility there, but it has yet to be completed. The Red Sea Alliance was founded in late 2018 by Saudi Arabia with the main objective of intimidating regional foes, especially Iran. Apart from Iran’s ongoing participation with the Houthis all over the Bab el-Mandeb in Yemen, the Saudis and Emiratis have totally excluded the region from Iranian influence, with military bases in Somaliland and Eritrea, as well as a joint presence on the Yemeni island of Socotra.
Another central theme in the Middle East is the conflict between Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as Turkey and Qatar. The apparent support for terrorist groups by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar’s Bahrain triggered an intra-GCC crisis in July 2017 that spread over into the Horn of Africa, with disastrous consequences. Qatar’s determination to remove its peacekeeping mission force from the Djibouti/Eritrea border provoked another round fighting s some states choose to side with the Saudis and Emiratis. Djibouti and Eritrea, for example, elected to maintain their connections with the Saudis and Emiratis.
As is traditional, US policy is playing an important role, notably in its longtime ally, Ethiopia. Since the 1991 revolution in Ethiopia, the U.S has forged a strong relationship and cooperation between the two nations. The United States decision to work with Ethiopia is based primarily on Ethiopia’s role in the global position on terrorism, its large size, skilled, efficient army and powerful state military establishment. However, as several fractious Middle Eastern war lords contest for regional power, Saudi Arabia and the UAE vis a vis their bitter adversaries, Qatar and Turkey – look to forge closer ties with the region’s nations to aid them in achieving their objectives. The US is moving from traditional away from violent extremism and toward economic and political threats. Ethiopia, as the Horn of Africa’s most strong, dominant, and influential country, is expected to have a regional impact. As a result, for the competitors vying for a footing in the Horn of Africa, establishing connections with Ethiopia has been a top priority. The United Arab Emirates was lauded for its tremendous achievement in fostering an Ethiopia-Eritrea discussion, but that appreciation has waned lately as Addis Ababa and Asmara’s opposition to the Tigray Popular Liberation Front has splintered (TPLF). The Emiratis are also contributing to Ethiopia’s economic growth by giving investment and balance-of-payments assistance. Their participation in high-profile soft power projects, such as the reconstruction of the presidential palace, has further boosted their popularity among Ethiopians.
Ethiopians, on the other end, are grateful for Turkey’s help. In truth, Turkey is Addis Ababa’s most important commercial partner, having invested heavily in Ethiopia’s light manufacturing sector, notably in textiles. As per a recent Brookings study, some Turkish experts see the potential for Turkish-Ethiopian regional cooperation, specifically in Somalia, where Ethiopia’s stance has shifted and the Turks play a crucial role. Saudi Arabia’s contribution to Ethiopia, on the other hand, is mostly overlooked. Saudi Arabia’s decision to expel 500,000 Ethiopian immigrant workers is perceived to have worsened the issue of homeless in the Country and increasing violence in Ethiopia. Additionally, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has condemned Saudi support for Salafist mosques and madrassas for weakening Ethiopia’s native religious values, which are much more oriented to Sunni Sufism.
Notwithstanding the Ethiopia’s political and economic importance in the area, neutrality of Sudan and Somalia has made the two nations to be a major battlefields between Saudi Arabia’s and the UAE’s ambition; Turkey’s and Qatar’s. Turkey and Saudi Arabia had developed close connections with former President al-Bashir and pursued a “neo-Ottoman” ideology in Sudan, according to some analysts. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish President
Erdogan promised to rebuild Suakin Island, an Ottoman trading port off the coast of Sudan. The $650 million project aims to improve Turkish-Sudanese military relations and create a military-civilian docking facility. Fears of a Turkish military presence in the Red Sea arose as a result of the idea, which generated alarm in Egypt and the Gulf. However, the ouster of al-Bashir and the ensuing political turmoil in Khartoum hampered Turkey’s engagement. The public uprising forced the Turks between either maintaining their buddy Omar al-Bashir and meeting the aspirations of the Sudan citizens.
The defeat of Turkey prepared the stage for a more significant Saudi Arabia and Emirati role. Even though these nations initially appeared to have the advantage in Sudan, they have faced significant opposition. According to AU monitors in Khartoum in mid-2019, the Saudi Arbia and UAE played a “spoiler role.” Burhan’s visit to the UAE is said to be linked to Sudanese junta leader Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Whilst in Abu Dhabi, Al-Burhan was given $3 billion in Saudi and Emirati help to “maintain Sudan’s security and stability,” according to reports. Muslim Brotherhood members, i.e. pro-Turkish organizations, were thought to be a secondary target, according to regional observers. The proposed aid put a halt to ongoing military-civilian discussions. The Gulf monarchies and Egypt are suspected of supporting a new military dictatorship in Khartoum, which might be led by al-deputy, Burgan’s Lt. Gen. Mohamed who led the notorious militia group in Sudan. Up to date, the military had to agree to a power-sharing agreement with civilians due to widespread popular opposition. However, the shift is far from complete, and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt may still favor a new Sudanese strongman.
Somalia: The intra-GCC dispute and rivalry between Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey, and Qatar has affected Somalia and increased its centrifugal stresses more than Sudan. Somalis have commended Turkey for its long-term support and soft power efforts in Somalia. The famine in Somalia in 2011 ushered in a new era of Turkish-Somali cooperation. Development aid, schools, and institutional capacity building were all part of the Turkish-Somali relationship, which extended beyond humanitarian relief. Turkey built its first foreign military presence in 2017, with 200 Turkish personnel stationed there, and began training Somali government troops in 2017.
Turkish Airlines maintains regular air flights, and Turkey runs ports and airports in today’s robust Turkish-Somali relations. The Turks are happier than their Gulf colleagues to have more contacts with Somalia. However, unlike Saudis, the UAE’s involvement in Somalia has traditionally been motivated by financial interests. The UAE required private sector investment to help Somalia achieve stability. Emirati maritime bus operations, such as Dubai Ports World (DP World), were heavily involved in the construction of Somali seaports such as Berbera and Bosaso. Most of the UAE-Somali private sector activities are handled by a number Somali experts in Dubai. Saudi and Emirati perceptions of Turkey as being a strategic competitor in the Horn have evolved as a result of Turkish backing for Doha in the intra-GCC dispute and expanded military connections with like-minded states in the region. The presence of Turkey and Qatar in the Horn of Africa is a serious risk to Saudi and Emirati ambitions than Iran. The political process in Somalia has been hurt by this increased competitiveness. Somaliland, Punt land, Hirshabelle, Galmudug, and Southwest are pro-Saudi federal states, while Mogadishu’s central government backs Turkey and Qatar. Somalia’s political elites have been stretched by these competing ideas.
Furthermore, Mogadishu’s relations with Somaliland and Puntland have been strained as a result of Emirati investing in the ports of Berbera and Bosaso. Somaliland promised to pay DP World $440 million to manage the port of Berbera in 2018. After that, the Somali Parliament canceled the agreement and ejected DP World. In 2019, a bizarre alleged assassination plan funded by a Qatari businessman was purportedly behind it, with the goal of forcing Dubai business interests to leave Bosaso. The Emiratis’ de facto independence from Mogadishu risks sabotaging efforts to pacify the country.
The refugee crisis is on the rise, according to Bariagaber (2016), as a result of external and internal crises in nations that have undergone coups and civil disturbances. Ethiopia and Kenya have the biggest refugee camps in East Africa. Hartisheik camp in Ethiopia was named one of the world’s biggest refugee camps by the UNHCR in 1991. It is a refugee camp for people from the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. Somalia, for example, is constantly beset by conflict and terror assaults. Dadaab, which is less than 100 km from Somalia is home to nearly a hundred thousand Somali refugees who fled wars and extremism, famine, climate changes, and instability. More than 10 million people in the Horn of Africa, primarily in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, are in critical need of emergency help. The wave of migrants into the Horn of Africa is expanding tremendously as a direct consequence of the Middle East situation. Considering continuing wars in the Middle East, Somalia, and political unrest in the two regions, separated yet connected by the Red Sea, this subject has disturbed the United States of America. The US has continued to provide substantial aid to the Horn of Africa in order to help the refugees, but Al-efforts Shabaab’s to prevent non-governmental groups from reaching distant areas have resulted in starvation-related deaths in the region.
The Middle East issue can be blamed for the proliferation of banditry and the establishment of radical groups in the ‘Horn.’ The Sunni-Shia split in East Asia has migrated to North East Africa, with both sides vying for resource control, power, and the spread of their religious beliefs and doctrines. As a result, arms smuggling from the Middle East into the region has increased, leading to an increase in incidences of instability and terror acts in several East African countries. The ‘Middle East Cold War’ has had economic and destabilizing consequences for the Horn of Africa. The wars have had a significant impact on most enterprises in the area, and many are now facing starvation.
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