Why The Middle East Is Falling Apart
남북한 정상회담과 북미정상회담의 연이은 개최로 세계적 냉전의 잔재가 완전히 해체되기를 바라는 기대감이 높아지고 있는 최근 한반도의 모습과는 달리 중동에서는 지역 강대국 간 냉전적 대결이 확대되면서 긴장이 커지고 있다. 사우디아라비아와 이란의 지역패권 경쟁이 바로 그것이다. 사우디와 이란의 대립은 지난 10여 년간 일련의 사건들로 날카로워졌다. 2003년 미국의 이라크 침공으로 시작된 수니파 정권 전복. 2010년 튀니지 혁명을 계기로 촉발된 아랍권의 민주화 시위, ‘아랍의 봄’. 이런 일련의 사건들은 아랍 전역에 정치적 불안정을 가져왔고 이란과 사우디가 혼란한 틈을 이용해 시리아, 예멘 등에서 자국의 영향력을 확대하려고 하면서 상호 불신이 더욱 깊어졌다. 이러한 대결구도에서 친사우디 진영에는 UAE, 바레인, 쿠웨이트, 요르단, 이집트 등 수니파 국가들이 가담하고 있고, 친이란 진영에는 시리아의 아사드 정권, 레바논 헤즈볼라 등 시아파 정권이나 정치단체가 있으며, 이라크는 미국과도 가깝지만 이란의 밀접한 우방이다. 중동국들 가운데 종파 간 대립으로 정정이 불안한 나라들, 예멘, 시리아, 레바논 등은 이란과 사우디의 세력 각축장이 되어왔다. 두 맹주국은 서로 직접적으로 전쟁을 하지 않으나 예멘과 시리아 내전은 사우디와 이란의 대리전쟁 양상을 띄웠고 앞으로 레바논에서 그런 대리전쟁 가능성이 우려되고 있다.
The Middle East has been ground zero for numerous human tragedies in the past century. Scoring high marks in genocide, autocracy, and human rights violation are not what a country should go all out for on their report card. Calamities such as the Syrian, Yemeni, and the Iraqi Civil Wars are omnipresent in news bulletin nowadays. With such a grisly track record, another conflict might just be brewing around the corner. The Middle East did not magically transform into a living hell overnight, so what seems to be the problem?
One fateful historical decision sealed the deal for the Middle East and gave it a snowball’s chance in hell to succeed. The Sykes-Picot agreement was a treaty endorsed by France and Great Britain during the finale of World War I. European powers carved out portions of the defeated Ottoman Empire and set up artificial borders with complete disregard of the indigenous population. Newly established borders disconnected cultures that desired to coexist and made nations consisting of mortal enemies who would rather burn the house down.
Instead of mentoring these newly developed nations to become functioning states, European powers prioritized the exploitation of the land and its inhabitants. Consequently resulting in the rise of factions like the House of Saud, who wanted to establish their fanatical and violent conservative version of Islam called Salafism. With the funding of oil money, their extreme ideology was exported to all corners of the Islamic world. Terrorist cells such as the Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and ISIS emerged as detrimental consequence to Salafism inspiration. The irony of this quagmire is that the US government has historically supported the House of Saud due to its oil dependency, thus indirectly financing clandestine terrorist operations.
It takes two to tango to incite regional instability and this is where Iran enters the picture. The Islamic Republic of Iran and The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are like two peas in a pod, both being governed by radical conservative zealots. Unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran is vehemently anti American and opposes the teaching of Salafism. Saudi Arabia is an authoritarian monarchy with intentions to maintain the status quo, while Iran is on the other end of the spectrum driven to topple the current order.
Iran has not idly watched from the sidelines and has attempted on various occasions to steal Saudi Arabia’s thunder. The constant squabbling between the two nations on who can laugh the loudest has put the entire Middle Eastern region on thin ice. Iran and Saudi Arabia are reenacting the cold war climate that existed between the US and Russia. Syria, Yemen, and Iraq have been major theaters in the proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran and Saudi Arabia’s desires to fulfil selfish interests by putting their finger in everyone’s pie is crippling the capacity of smaller nations to flourish.
The civil wars in the Middle East are blowing up in the faces of Saudi Arabia and Iran and it’s getting out of hand. As the region continues to destabilize, more and more countries are being drawn into the ultimatum and countless lives are being changed for the worse. Innocent communities are forced to flee from their ancestral homeland while children are drowning at sea just to find a little peace and quiet. Rather than pointing fingers and scapegoating, it would be a wiser and perhaps more practical alternative to talk things out.