How has global influence in the Middle East shifted?
We are now seeing relations between the countries in the Middle East evolving in a positive manner; becoming united rather than divided against a backdrop of a change in overall influence in the region.
In late December 2022, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Saudi Arabia’s crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The two leaders signed agreements on behalf of their respective countries, including one with Tech Company Huawei and another securing an increase in oil exports to China. This marks a remarkable shift for Saudi Arabia, which has even stated that it is open to settling trade outside of the USD; something that Saddam Hussein attempted to implement over twenty years ago, and which contributed partly toward his downfall at the hands of Western powers.
Such warming of relationships between China and Saudi Arabia will shock many in the West who have always considered Saudi Arabia to have deep ties with the US. Indeed, Saudi Arabia has always had very strong relations with the United States since around 1933. The core logic underpinning the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia was that in exchange for military protection from the US, the Saudis would support American foreign policy across the world and provide a reliable oil supply to the US.
This dramatic shift in the warming of relations between Saudi Arabia and China is happening against the backdrop of other changes in relations in the Middle East, as well as the growing Russian influence in the region. Russia has always had strong ties with Syria historically. However, Russia’s current support for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has contributed to the Syrian President successfully retaining power, despite international pressure and attempts to oust him. Furthermore, Russia was also instrumental in providing the Syrian government with medical aid and helping the government in its fight against armed groups. Russia has always enjoyed a strong and stable relationship with Syria. Historically, relations between the two countries were established in 1944, when an agreement by the Soviet Union to support Syrian independence was signed.
Turkish President Erdogan has also recently suggested that he is open to talks with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. This represents a fundamental change in policy, having, for years, supported terrorist groups in Syria. The Syrian President has already consolidated ties with many Arab countries. Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, and Iran have always been supporters of Al-Assad. However, he has also reestablished connections with other Arab countries, such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
Such a meeting between Al-Assad and Erdogan would undoubtedly be welcomed by Russia and would also render the position of the US troops in Syria increasingly untenable. Currently, the US still maintains a military base within Homs Governorate in Syria. There are approximately 200 soldiers operating there. However, the Syrian government regards the presence of the troops as an act of aggression and occupation. They are unlawfully based in Syrian territory, and in the event that Al-Assad and Erdogan fully reconcile, one can only hope that they would be forced to leave their base, which they were never granted authority to place, in Homs. If such an event was to occur, it would mean the absence of the West’s presence in Syria and the further embedding of Russia’s influence in the region. Russia also has a friendly relationship with Turkey, which is also a NATO member.
Furthermore, Russia has started developing warmer relationships with other Middle Eastern countries, such as Iran. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, relations between the two countries were not as cordial as they currently stand. In fact, Russia had an oppressive role in Iran during these two periods. However, the two countries currently have a strategic alliance cooperating both militarily and economically. They are united by the fact that they have both been placed under sanctions by the West. Furthermore, Iran has allegedly provided Russia with drones, which it has used in its military conflict with Ukraine. Russia has also opened up its market to Iran in terms of light consumable goods. Such a relationship between the two countries furthers the embedding of Eastern rather than western influence in the region.
There has also been a remarkable change in internal dynamics within the Middle East. For instance, the Saudi Crown Prince has recently stated that he is open to a meeting with the Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Relations between these countries have always thus far been fractious, and the statement by the Saudi Prince does demonstrate an important policy transformation. One cannot help but think that we are now seeing relations between the countries in the Middle East evolving in a positive manner; becoming united rather than divided against a backdrop of a change in overall influence in the region.
Hopefully, the East will be different than the West in regards that instead of imposing their ideology and doctrines on the Middle East (as the West did in Iraq and Libya), countries in the East (such as China and Russia) will strengthen economic and political ties between countries allowing each country to flourish independently. Thus, the basis of such a relationship between countries in the Middle East and those in the East would not be related to dominance, influence, and ultimately control, but rather, mutual respect for each country’s independence, as well as for their individual cultural and religious background and forms of government.