A year ago, after noting that making predictions about the Middle East is a foolish endeavour, I made a series of predictions about what might happen there in 2012. To my amazement, most of them held up reasonably well. For those interested in grading them, my 2012 predictions can be found here.
A sensible person would leave well enough alone and not try it again. So here goes with some predictions for 2013:
The year of decision on Iran’s nuclear program (possibly): For many years, the prospect of an attack on Iran’s nuclear program has been hyped. No longer. Iran is getting sufficiently close to nuclear weapons capability (finally), and U.S. President Barack Obama will not want this issue to dominate his second term. I am therefore coming to the view that something decisive is going to happen in 2013. Mr. Obama will likely start with a final offer to the Iranians to resolve the issue, and an attack by the United States and/or Israel will then take place if the discussions fail. One way or the other, 2013 could well be the year when this interminable issue comes to a head.
The breakup of Syria (likely): The Syrian opposition is tough but not unified. After President Bashar al-Assad falls, different regional, ethnic and religious groups will seek to dominate a weakened central government, which will ultimately collapse. Powerful regional enclaves will emerge, with attendant ethnic cleansing and brutality. Look for Turkey to be a big loser in this, as an independent Kurdish-Syrian region forms and links to the increasingly independent Iraqi-Kurdish region. As a consequence, Turkey’s violent Kurdish area will become even less stable.
The end of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process (likely): The peace process has been on life support for years. Neither side has the political support, or the will, to make the compromises necessary for a “two states” deal. Instead, we will now witness the launch of a multi-year process that will ultimately see the emergence of an absolute Palestinian majority in the land of Israel/Palestine, governed by an increasingly repressive and embattled Jewish minority. Ultimately, an explosion will result that will make the intifadas of old look tame. (Note: If the Netanyahu government loses the upcoming Israeli election, this prediction is tentatively postponed – but the chance of that happening is slim.)
A messy, indecisive year in Egyptian politics (probably): President Mohammed Morsi and his colleagues on the moderate wing of the Muslim Brotherhood will continue trying to push Egypt in the direction of a soft Islamist government. A significant proportion of the population will continue to resist. Meanwhile, the Egyptian government will prove itself woefully incapable of dealing with the country’s pressing economic and social problems and will lose public support rapidly. The Egyptian Army will continue its game of allowing the Brotherhood enough rope to hang itself – without allowing it to really govern – and will wait until public opinion turns before acting decisively.
A “quiet” year for the Arab Spring – but with lots going on under the surface (maybe): With the sole exception of Syria, no Arab government will be overthrown this year, but a yearning for deep change will quietly bubble in many countries. Pushed along by stubborn youth unemployment, high prices for food and other staples and the inability of entrenched elites to meet these challenges, this process will see the continued weakening of institutions and governments across the region. “Political Islam” will try to capitalize on this, but its failure to make things better in those Arab countries where it is in power will see it increasingly discredited. All of this will set the stage for further unrest across the region in the years to come.
The cementing of Canada’s new irrelevance in the region (probably): Canadians have overstated their significance to the region’s politics for decades, but what relevance we did have has been traded away by the Conservative government in return for its own ideological “feel good” objectives. Arab governments will have no interest in seeing Canada play any kind of role in the region’s affairs. Many of them will increasingly look away from Canada as a trading partner. The loss will be Canada’s, not the region’s.
Happy New Year.
Peter Jones is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa.