The Middle East in shambles, but the world has changed for the time being

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BEIRUT (AP) – Not so long ago, uprisings and wars in the Arab world were high on the agenda of United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York.

With most of these conflicts deadlocked, the world’s attention has shifted to more daunting global challenges such as the still raging coronavirus pandemic and climate change, as well as new crises in the besieged region. Tigray in Ethiopia and the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.

But the situation in the Middle East has deteriorated dramatically in more countries and in several ways over the past two years. Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen are on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe, with soaring poverty and an economic implosion threatening to plunge the region into even deeper turmoil.

“The region has been squeezed out by other global crises, but there is also a sense of Western desperation after so many years of crisis,” said Julien Barnes-Dacey, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at European Council on Foreign Relations. .

After more than a decade of bloodshed and unrest sparked by the Arab Spring uprisings and the attack on an Islamic State group, most Arab countries in the region have found themselves in a military stalemate or conflict frozen, accompanied by worsening economies, rising poverty rates and more severe repression.

In Yemen, an ongoing six-year war has spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving the country on the brink of famine. The head of the UN food agency warned Wednesday that 16 million people there “are walking towards famine”. Libya, torn for years by rival militias backed by foreign governments, is struggling to find unity. risk their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, once countries that were the cultural heart of the Middle East, are all experiencing significant economic dismantling, spurred among other things by corruption and political leaders anxious to preserve their own interests rather than respond to basic needs of their people.

The most shocking fall over the past two years has been in Lebanon, a small multi-religious nation in the eastern Mediterranean with the highest proportion of refugees per capita in the world. The country has been in free fall since the onset of a financial crisis in late 2019, plunging around three-quarters of the population into poverty in recent months and triggering a brain drain unprecedented since the days of civil war of 1975- 90. This was accelerated by the massive explosion in the Port of Beirut in August 2020 which killed more than 200 people and destroyed parts of the city.

Long proud of their entrepreneurial skills, the Lebanese now find it difficult to obtain electricity, fuel or medicine, and most households can hardly gather enough for their next meal.

“If you are a Lebanese civilian, you are probably more likely to die from a drug shortage in 2021 than from a bullet in the 1970s and 1980s,” said Joyce Karam, Lebanese journalist and assistant science professor. policies to George Washington. University.

“Economic devastation is eating away at the pillars of the state in a way that is becoming irreversible.”

A complete collapse in Lebanon could send a new wave of refugees to Europe. In Iraq, plagued by poverty, poor infrastructure and an unresolved displacement problem, desperation could lead to renewed violence.

The 11-day Gaza war this summer, the latest round of fighting between Israel and the militant Hamas group that rules the territory, has also had little success so far this year. Over 4,000 homes in Gaza have been destroyed or severely damaged and 250 people have been killed, most of them civilians. Thirteen people died in Israel.

“How many more houses will be lost?” How many more children will die before the world wakes up? Jordan’s King Abdullah said in a pre-recorded speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

While many meetings of the United Nations General Assembly over the past 10 years have been characterized by a wave of diplomatic activity to find a political solution to the crises in the countries of the Middle East, none of them should feature prominently, if at all, in this year’s meetings in New York. .

“Western actors feel short of ideas and energy to focus high-level attention on setting the region on a better course, especially given the broader global challenges,” said Barnes- Dacey.

A combination of war weariness, donor weariness, and a long list of other global issues has forced Syria, Yemen and other conflicts in the Middle East to take a back seat as world leaders appear to be sidelined. resign to living with destroyed and divided nations for the foreseeable future.

In his first address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, President Joe Biden did not mention the simmering crises in the Arab world, instead focusing on the global issues of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change , tensions with China and the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Karam, the Lebanese journalist, said Team Biden has its hands full between COVID-19, the exit from Afghanistan and the pivot to Asia.

“But they run the risk of letting these crises escalate and being forced to intervene later when they get out of hand or pose a threat to US interests,” she said.

Yet analysts say neither Europe nor the West can afford to ignore the economic implosion that is happening in the Middle East.

“For Europe, to see much of its eastern and southern borders turn into a huge arc of crisis is above all a lost opportunity on a staggering scale,” said Heiko Wimmen, Project Director for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the International Crisis Group. He said the destabilization would be projected in Europe and, to a lesser extent due to distance, in the United States, fueling desperation, migration and instability and at the same time giving momentum and credibility to the people. far-right ideological tendencies.

He said that while the United States may want to extricate itself from the region, the Europeans do not have that luxury.

“You can’t be safe if your neighbors’ house is on fire,” Wimmen said.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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