Greek Euro Exit Could Herald Anti-Western Shift

The American aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush conducts a port visit to Piraeus, Greece, March 5, 2014
The American aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush conducts a port visit to Piraeus, Greece, March 5, 2014 (USN/Lieutenant Juan David Guerra)

If Greece is forced to leave the euro, the immediate repercussions for the rest of the European Union could be limited. Greece barely accounts for 1 percent of the European economy while both the bloc as a whole and other heavily-indebted states in its periphery, such as Italy and Portugal, say they are now better prepared for a Greek exit than they were in 2010, when the country received its first bailout.

But in the long term, a Greek withdrawal from the currency union or even the European Union altogether could do serious damage to the strategic position of other European states.

In what may turn out to be a sign of things to come, Greece defied its NATO allies earlier this month to sign a €2 billion gas pipeline deal with Russia. The European Union and the United States had both urged it not to and advised Greece to help build the Southern Gas Corridor instead which is meant to deliver gas from the Caspian Sea region into Europe.

The far-left government that came to power in Athens in January has made an effort to repair Greek-Russian relations. Composed of former communists and illiberal radicals who see in Germany and the United States the embodiment of a neoliberal world order they reject, the administration — if it survives a euro exit — can be expected to look to Russia first as an alternative ally if feels betrayed by the West.

Russia is a major trading partner for Greece. It accounted for 14 percent of the Balkan nation’s imports in 2013 and supplies most of its natural gas.

Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, has suggested that his government can serve as a “bridge” to Moscow at a time of heightened East-West tension over Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

In April, he heralded “a new impetus to the Russian-Greek relations which have very deep roots in history.”

But Greek support for a Russian pipeline that would allow Europe’s largest provider of natural gas to bypass Ukraine suggests Tsipras would be less of a neutral arbiter in relations with Russia and more of a Russian proxy.

In a recent report (PDF), the crowdsourced consultancy Wikistrat warns that Greek voters’ desire to “punish” Europe for ejecting it from the euro and likely triggering a deeper economic crisis could justify unorthodox alliances with Russia or even China — which would quickly call the country’s European Union membership into question as well.

The company argues that Greece became a member of the European Economic Community in the early 1980s for geostrategic reasons and that not much in the region has changed since then.

Southeastern Europe is tilting dangerously toward subtle forms of authoritarianism and ethnic tensions are waiting to be revived and exploited and Greece stands out as a relatively liberal democracy. Russia’s expansive tendencies in the Black Sea region and the steady influx of migrants and refugees from Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia across the Aegean Sea underscore the rest of Europe’s need to not turn an ally here into an enemy.

Russia’s strategic goals in Greece extend beyond maintaining a monopoly position on its gas market and finding an ally in Europe that can block another round of sanctions the bloc imposed after it seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine last year.

If Russia is to project power into the Mediterranean, it requires Greece’s acquiescence. Even if it improves relations with Turkey — and Russian president Vladimir Putin appears to have found a like-minded leader in that country’s increasingly erratic and anti-Western president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — it could still be blocked by Western powers in the Aegean. Once Greece succumbs to its influence, however, the Mediterranean will be wide open.

Hence Western support for the Greek national government against the communists during the 1946-1949 Civil War. And hence Greece’s NATO membership, something Tsipras and his supporters aren’t so sure about anymore.

The author is a contributing analyst for Wikistrat.

Frozen Conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas Becoming More Likely

Ukrainian soldiers conduct military exercises in Yavoriv, October 21, 2014
Ukrainian soldiers conduct military exercises in Yavoriv, October 21, 2014 (Arseniy Yatseniuk)

As the war in Ukraine’s southeastern Donbas region seems to be fizzling out, another conflict on Russia’s borders could soon be frozen.

Although a truce negotiated by the leaders of France and Germany last month is still tenuous and although Russia has yet to fully back down, the civil war it instigated in the largely Russian-speaking frontier region of its former Soviet republic is losing intensity.

Edward W. Walker, a comparative political scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, believes a frozen conflict is now more likely. Neither the separatists, who are supported by Russia, nor the authorities in Kiev are in a position to decisively end the war, he argues.

Russia also appears to have concluded that an escalation of the war “would do nothing to solve what it sees as its key security problem,” according to Walker, “which is NATO’s growing military presence near its borders.”

If anything, Russia’s meddling in Ukraine has strengthened NATO’s resolve and aggravated the threat Russia believes it poses to its security. In the wake of Russia’s occupation and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine last year, the Western military alliance for the first time deployed forces in the former East Bloc states that freed themselves from Moscow after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Walker suggests this may have led Russia to conclude “that it will be more effective at promoting Western disunity if it allows a lasting ceasefire to take effect while seeking to undermine Ukrainian political stability using more subtle methods.”

Perhaps this would not be the worst outcome for the rest of Ukraine. The crowdsourced consultancy Wikistrat argues that cutting away the self-declared people’s republics in Donetsk and Luhansk “offers perverse advantages.”

The rump Ukraine that remains could gain a new cohesion through the shared experience of struggle while the West — eager to teach Moscow a lesson — would both require and support the often-painful processes of political and economic reform the country so desperately needs.

Russia too would be better served by reversing its stated objectives. Suffering a serious economic crisis due to falling oil prices and Western sanctions — enacted after it took the Crimea — the country could find itself in an even worse position if it needs to continue to arm, guard, feed and support a puppet fiefdom in Ukraine. It would be better off forcing the rebellious regions back into Ukraine, according to Wikistrat — “like a rusty nail to poison the country’s bloodstream.”

That might not be politically feasible. President Vladimir Putin has staked his popularity on taking a “tough” stance against what Russians see as Western encroachment on their traditional sphere of influence. Retreating from Ukraine could be interpreted by the Russian public as weakness and threaten Putin’s hold on power.

The author is a contributing analyst for Wikistrat.

Erdoğan Victory Reinforces Turkey’s Islamization

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addresses parliament in Ankara, June 10
Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addresses parliament in Ankara, June 10 (AKP)

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is almost certain to win his country’s first direct presidential election on Sunday. A victory for Erdoğan, who has ruled Turkey for more than a decade, would likely reinforce the NATO member state’s Islamization and exasperate opponents who have proven unable to thwart what they perceive as a drift toward authoritarianism.

Erdoğan, who has won every Turkish election for his conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) since 2002, promises to exercise the full powers granted to him if he is elected president — unlike his predecessors who were appointed by parliament and played a largely ceremonial role.

The current constitution, which was written under military rule after a 1980 coup, would enable him to appoint the prime minister as well as top judges and chair cabinet meetings. An election victory could also embolden Erdoğan to push for constitutional changes in order to expand the powers of the presidency further.

Opponents of Erdoğan’s government worry that such a move would allow the Turkish leader to manipulate the country’s democratic institutions and suppress dissent.

Erdoğan has recently been battered by graft accusations he claims were fabricated by supporters of a former ally, the religious leader Fethullah Gülen, who lives in the United States. Numerous tapes of telephone conversations posted online suggest Erdoğan himself was involved in corruption. The premier calls these “montages” and claims foreigners are attempting to undermine his “new Turkey.” He has purged thousands of police officers as well as hundreds of judges and prosecutors who were involved in corruption investigations against members of his cabinet.

The AKP nevertheless won the local elections in March when it got almost 43 percent support nationwide. But the elections were overshadowed by a government ban on social media and voting irregularities, including power outages in provinces where the party was struggling to hold on to seats and claims from opposition newspapers that they had come under cyber attack during election night.

The crowdsourced consulting company Wikistrat warns in a report (PDF) it released shortly before Sunday’s election that Turkish politics could see more conflict and polarization if Erdoğan interprets his victory as a mandate to marginalize and eliminate his opponents. “If the opposition fails to present a formidable challenge, Wikistrat’s analysts assessed that Erdoğan will crush them and establish his power,” it reports. “If, on the other hand, the opposition manages to present a unified front, Erdoğan will need to make concessions and seek reconciliation in order to accomplish much of anything.”

The country’s two largest opposition parties — the secular Republican People’s Party and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party — did jointly nominate a presidential candidate: Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, an academic and former diplomat who lead the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for ten years before stepping down in January. But his nomination itself marks a surrender of Turkey’s secularists, according to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Steven A. Cook and Middle East expert Michael Koplow.

Highlighting Ihsanoğlu’s religious credentials, including his extensive study of Islamic culture and thought, the two write at the Ottomans and Zionists blog, “That Turks are being offered a choice between two religious candidates should be the final death knell for the meme that Turkey is a state being pulled apart by a battle between Islam and secularism.” They add, “The truth is that religion won out a long time ago and the fundamental divides in Turkish politics and society are organized around different fault lines” — such as economic inequality, the role of the state, Turkey’s place in the West and its treatment of minorities.

Cook and Koplow cite a 2012 Pew survey of Muslim opinion worldwide (PDF) — which found that religion is an import part of life for 67 percent of Turks and 44 percent attend mosque at least once per week — to argue that Islam in Turkey is “ingrained in a way that elides a meaningful religious-secular distinction.”

Erdoğan’s particular blend of Islamism and Turkish nationalism is what appeals to this majority of pious and — due in no small part to the economic liberalism of his early years — bourgeois voters who will no longer let a secular city elite dictate what it means to be Turkish.

The author is a contributing analyst for Wikistrat.

Iraq’s Sunnis Likely to Fall Out Once ISIS Campaign Runs Its Course

An Iraqi flag adorns an Iraqi soldier's uniform as an American soldier and his interpreter speak with a farmer in Taji, March 10, 2006
An Iraqi flag adorns an Iraqi soldier’s uniform as an American soldier and his interpreter speak with a farmer in Taji, March 10, 2006 (USN/Michael Larson)

The coalition of Sunni militants that has taken control of much of the northwest of Iraq could soon start to fray, experts predict. Few share the purist interpretation of Islam and Islamic law that its leading fighting group advocates.

Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) shocked Iraq’s government earlier this month when they took control of the country’s second city, Mosul. Backed by Sunni militias and tribes that have long felt marginalized by their Shia rulers in Baghdad, the group has since focused on consolidating its gains by conquering territory and border towns close to Syria — where it is also active, battling the regime of President Bashar Assad.

However, it could struggle to impose its rule. The American Interest‘s Adam Garfinkle argues, “Fanatics are not so good at governance, as Al Qaeda in Iraq proved some years ago, and they are not much better at holding together ideologically heterogeneous coalitions.” The Sunni factions are currently united in their opposition against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government but once the campaign has run its course, Garfinkle predicts, the alliance will probably fall apart.

The geostrategic consultancy firm Wikistrat similarly predicts that “ISIS will find it a challenge to govern a landlocked ‘Mesopotamian Caliphate’ while facing Shia enemies on its eastern and western flanks.” In the report from a crowdsourced simulation the company recently conducted, its senior analyst Jeffrey Itell writes, “While Sunni Iraqis may accept ISIS control and the constraints of strict sharia law in return for peace and stability, experience indicates that tribes will chafe under such rule, leading to intense rounds of internecine conflict and suppression.”

The Islamic state ISIS seeks to erect on the frontier between Iraq and Syria, spanning the Sunni lands between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, will likely remain both unconquerable by the outside and ungovernable from within, according to Wikistrat.

At the same time — and especially if no viable political alternatives emerge — analysts expect ISIS, at least coherent internally, to remain a dominant player, given its access to high powered weapons and stolen cash.

“They point to the lessons of Syria’s three-year old civil war, where a unified [ISIS] leadership steamrolled other groups and entrenched itself as the force to be reckoned with in western Syria,” the Reuters news agency reports.

In Iraq as a whole, a stalemate is likely unless the Shia get significant military support from Iran, the United States or both to fight back ISIS. For now, says Wikistrat, “Iraq’s three components” — including the autonomous Kurds in the northeast — “appear capable enough to defend their territory but weak enough not to encroach on each other. Efforts made to reunite Iraq will probably be fruitless.”

The author is a contributing analyst for Wikistrat.

Western Sahara: An Unlikely Key to American Strategy in Africa

Moroccan flags on the outskirts of El Aaiún, the capital of Western Sahara, September 4, 2012
Moroccan flags on the outskirts of El Aaiún, the capital of Western Sahara, September 4, 2012 (Flickr/Eunheui)

Africa, once the forgotten continent in American foreign policy, has rather abruptly become important again. US Africa Command has been front and center as a result of operations in Libya, Somalia and elsewhere. Terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are active and spreading and Chinese economic expansion into the continent makes it strategically interesting almost by default. It is time, now rather than later, for Western policymakers to consider the place of Africa in the world.

The first and most important way of engaging with an entire continent is developing regional allies. In the case of Africa, these can often be identified by what they oppose. Al-Shabaab may run rampant in Somalia but neighboring Kenya is ready and willing to listen to Western advice and aid. Boko Haram, a key substate actor in Nigeria, is counterbalanced by American diplomatic and economic engagement with the Nigerian government. And AQIM, arguably the most important of Africa’s major terrorist groups, is countered in some areas by a Moroccan constitutional monarchy that has shown great willingness to cooperate with the West on matters of counterterrorism and regional strategy.

None of these regimes are entirely blameless. But they are convenient allies and a realist approach to international relations requires doing business with imperfect people whose interests nevertheless align with the United States’.

Credibility, though, has a lot of different sides. The image that the United States want to project in Africa is a simple one: speak softly, carry a big stick in one hand and carry a lot of aid money in the other. That image is somewhat complicated, in the case of American-Moroccan relations, by the issue of Western Sahara.

Western Sahara is a chunk of desert roughly the size of Colorado and has a population of around half a million. Morocco, a little less than twice that size, has a population of 33 million. The territory has been called the last colony in the world; it may well have been that in 1975 when the Spanish withdrew and Morocco abruptly occupied and annexed it. Sixteen years of often brutal insurgency followed, pitting Moroccan security forces against Western Sahara’s inhabitants, the Saharawi, who do not see themselves as Moroccan and have limited interest in joining the kingdom. A ceasefire in 1991 nominally ended the violence, on the condition that a referendum be held to determine the future of the territory. More than two decades later, that referendum has yet to occur.

Occasional protests in Western Sahara are still often handled violently and a substantial portion of the population lives behind a 1,700 mile long militarized wall, complete with millions of landmines. No country in the United Nations recognizes Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara but the issue tends to attract very little attention outside Africa.

Though it does not much trouble the United States, Western Sahara has been a contentious issue for Morocco’s neighbors. The border between Morocco and Algeria remains closed, partially as a result of Algeria’s support for an independent Western Sahara. The Moroccan government has taken considerable flack for its stance on the territory and the Saharawi people have been a minor magnet for activists and journalists, although much of the territory is technically closed to reporters.

It is not hard to make the argument that no ally is perfect, of course, and maybe Moroccan cooperation on other issues is worth being, as they say, diplomatic over Western Sahara. Maybe Morocco is headed in the right direction on enough fronts that it makes no sense to be picky just now. And certainly, the cancellation of a joint American-Moroccan military exercise last April — in conjunction with an American proposal for human rights monitoring in the Western Sahara — may have made the point succinctly enough for politicians, though probably not for Saharawi activists. Or maybe not.

Nevertheless, it bears thinking about: how far does pragmatism go? If the logic underlying diplomatic alliances with unsavory regimes — of which Morocco is not really one; as far as African countries go, it is doing extremely well in all dimensions — is that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, what does that mean for the Saharawi? If the Saharawi see Morocco as the enemy, and the United States as Morocco’s friend, what does that mean about Saharawi cooperation with, say, Al Qaeda? What does that mean about the relationship between Afghan villagers and the Taliban? Or postwar Iraq and newly conciliatory Iran?

The Saharawi, despite the harshness of their natural environment and the unpalatability of their political environment, are not going anywhere. They were living in the desert when Gaius Suetonius Paulinus marched a Roman army south from the Atlas Mountains to what is now Mauritania. They were still there when Islam arrived several hundred years later. They were there for the Almoravid Empire, for the Spanish protectorate and for the post-1975 insurgency. And, like all marginalized peoples, they will still be there when the geopolitical order shifts once again.

The question of what to do about them isn’t really a question about the Saharawi, or Morocco, or any particular group in any particular place. For America, it is a question of reputation. It is a question about how it wants to look to future historians — and future allies. It is a question about whether a cohesive global strategy for the world’s only superpower requires that superpower to compromise on the moral high ground. And if compromise is required, when is it required? How far need it go before the price of doing business starts becoming too high to justify the sometimes unappetizing but wholly necessary moral grey areas that have always characterized robust foreign policy?

This article was published as the winning entry in an internship competition at Wikistrat, the world’s first massively multiplayer online consultancy.

Trying to Find a Rhyme: The Middle East’s New Age

A woman waves an Egyptian flag in Cairo's Tahrir Square, February 3, 2011
A woman waves an Egyptian flag in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, February 3, 2011 (Al Jazeera English)

It’s tempting to compare developments in the Middle East to historical ones. The current geopolitical struggle has been likened to Europe’s Thirty Years’ War when deadly religious and political conflicts raged before the establishment of the modern “Westphalian” nation states. The Syrian Civil War can be compared to the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s which was heavily swayed by foreign intervention. Regional tensions are eerily reminiscent of the Cold War’s chilling peace, assured by the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation, especially as Iran develops nuclear arms. Receding American power reminds some of the midcentury decline of the British Empire, the erstwhile “global policeman.”

However, as Mark Twain (apocryphally) said, history doesn’t repeat itself, it rhymes. Many analysts extrapolate the Middle East’s future based on historical parallels. When taken together, however, these disparate rhymes don’t quite make a neat harmony. The cacophony of comparisons reflects the difficulty to grasp and forecast the the Middle East’s future. It reveals social and political shifts unprecedented in the region’s modern history, as strained governments repress a growing desire for more freedoms.

The recent economic recession, coupled with events that the West has a hard time understanding and reacting to, has led to significant indecisiveness and inaction. Western nations don’t quite know what to make of General Abdul Fatah Sisi’s coup against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, for example. His brutal crackdown against the Islamist group has put his role as impartial steward in question. In the case of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons or the support of Syrian rebels against Bashar al-Assad, the West has refused to use force and halfhearted diplomatic efforts have frustrated its allies.

Accordingly, regional powers, in particular Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, are taking matters into their own hands.

The Saudis displayed their displeasure with the United States with surprising force by refusing a seat on the United Nations Security Council last month. They have entered the fray in the Syrian Civil War, plotting an independent course in their support of the rebellion. They have also granted a huge sum of money to Egypt’s Sisi, after the United States cut their aid. Iran, meanwhile, backs Assad and seeks to develop a nuclear bomb as a means to defend its own independence of action.

These two countries are doing their best to shape the outcome of what has been dubbed the Arab Spring. That wave of protests, which had different proximate causes and results in every country it affected, had the same underlying pressures: economic difficulties and political exclusion. Rising food and fuel prices, inefficient economies, lack of jobs, a dearth of political freedoms and decades of repression brought about unparalleled frustration which burst onto the scene in early 2011. Only Israel and Turkey had built societies that could adequately handle these issues. Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria and Yemen were rocked by revolutions and proved unable to effectively govern their peoples and manage their economies. Some of these countries, in particular Iraq and perhaps Egypt, are reverting to autocratic tendencies. Although democracy brought great change, it did not fix enough fast enough.

The outcome of these events is hard to forecast precisely because they are so radically different from what has come before in the Middle East. The desire for freedom and progress among Middle Eastern peoples, and its messy struggle against the too familiar autocratic reflex among their rulers, will shape their future. Even in Iran, where sanctions are taking their toll, and in Saudi Arabia, whose king is hard pressed to keep his subjects happy with handouts, governments are finding it difficult to contain the pressures that overwhelmed their neighbors.

Coming full circle, one further historical analogy can cast some light on the outcome of this momentous transitional period.

In 1848, revolutions shook Europe to its core. Similarly to today’s Middle East, the demand for more accountable and participative democracies, along with serious labor disputes, caused explosive public unrest. However, after this “Spring of Nations” — the Arab Spring’s namesake — was quelled, Europe looked rather similar to the way it did before. The social grievances that were aired were nonetheless glaring and Europe would inexorably become more democratic. After catastrophic wars, centuries of autocracy and decades of communism, Europe is now mostly democratic and at peace.

Bearing this in mind, it may be that the economic and social issues brought to light during the Arab Spring won’t be resolved any time soon. Reactionary reflexes and impatience with democracy threaten their future. However, in these revolutionary times, now that the people of the Middle East know the power of their voice, autocrats are unlikely to have the same control they did before. Perhaps this is, like it was in Europe, the beginning of a transition to democracy, one that will be slow and turbulent.

This article was published as the winning entry in an internship competition at Wikistrat, the world’s first massively multiplayer online consultancy.

Middle East Embroiled in Its Own Thirty Years’ War

The Maiden's Tower with vapor rising from the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey, November 4, 2006
The Maiden’s Tower with vapor rising from the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey, November 4, 2006 (Wikimedia Commons)

The Middle East is in turmoil as the third act of the post-Ottoman period — the colonial period and the nationalist regimes like Gamal Abdel Nasser’s that succeeded it being the first two — moves forward in an unstable and bloody fashion.

The events should remind observers of an extremely devastating conflict that once embroiled Europe called the Thirty Years’ War. That massive, and complex, conflict began with the notorious “Defenestration of Prague” in 1618 and was largely a religious conflict between Protestant German princes jealous of their autonomy and faith arrayed against the power of the Catholic Hapsburg rulers of Austria.

The conflict metastasized into a great power conflict between the ruling dynasties of Catholic France led by the famous practitioner of realpolitik, Cardinal Richelieu, and the Hapsburgs of both Austria and Spain.

Along the way, the geopolitical ambitions of Protestant powers like Denmark and Sweden, under one of the great generals in world history, Gustavus Adolphus, became enmeshed in the conflict. The individual ambitions of generals like Austria’s Albrecht von Wallenstein and German princes seeking to secure independence and new territory for their own bloodline dynasties also played a role.

This brutal conflict left between 25 and 40 percent of the German population dead as a result of battle, deprivation, disease and famine. It also led to a series of treaties which became part of the larger Peace of Westphalia and the instantiation of the entire “Westphalian” state system international relations scholars take largely for granted today.

The analogy is important because it shows how the current Middle East is enmeshed in its own way in a complex web of conflicts that are geopolitical as well as sectarian. Even great power intervention in the guise of the United States and Russia, along with some European states, plays a part.

How much does a single self-immolation in Tunisia now seem like that famed event in Prague almost four hundred years ago when Protestants rallied against the closing of their chapels by the Catholic emperor.

Frustration by a small number of individuals sparked a tinderbox long ready to explode. The long dormant Shia-Sunni conflict was originally stoked by the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. The rise of Iran and its looming nuclear program with no Sunni power on its border powerful enough to check it began arranging those flammable pieces of timber as the Saudis and other Sunnis had to prepare for conflict. Meanwhile the rise of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamists and the “Turkish” model began to make itself felt in regional diplomacy. The longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict remained ready for action as did conflict with Iran’s Syrian backed catspaw Hezbollah well ensconced in Lebanon.

The so-called Arab Spring has led to a myriad of tragicomedies from the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and the proliferation of weapons across North and West Africa to the quasi coup that really wasn’t a coup in strategically vital Egypt after the overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

Given Egypt’s population, strategic location, including control of the Suez Canal, and relative peace since the 1979 peace treaty with Israel have given it an outsized role to play in the Middle East. However, since the resignation of former strongman Hosni Mubarak in early 2011 and the recent removal of his elected Muslim Brotherhood successor from office, it is clear that stability will not be forthcoming anytime soon.

While Morsi’s ouster in a relatively bloodless coup opens the opportunity for a more reasonable, technocratic government potentially capable of dealing with Egypt’s wretched economy, there is much reason for skepticism. In the short term, the transitional government will probably be able to pacify the immediate tumult brought to the fore by the Muslim Brotherhood’s overreaching. However, rising food prices have been a prime source for much of the “Arab Spring” unrest. Absent a great power benefactor, like the United States, or a regional power, like Saudi Arabia, offering extensive loans for food for a long period of time, Morsi’s removal might be but one of a series of political transitions that will occur at an accelerating pace until Egypt fully descends into chaos with limited, if any, centralized authority able to maintain order.

The rise of more radical Salafi Muslim parties in the wake of the Muslim Brotherhood’s removal from government will only increase the challenges to maintaining centralized control. At that point, all bets are off as the Sinai may become a flashpoint between Egypt and Israel despite the Egyptian military’s desire to avoid major shooting incidents.

This is happening simultaneously with the descent into hell in Syria. Already a full-scale civil war is underway there with over 100,000 lives estimated lost and atrocities committed by both warring parties. Not only does this exacerbate the backdrop of the sectarian Shia-Sunni battle embodied by Iran’s rise, Turkey’s assertions and Saudi Arabia’s concerns; the added ingredient of renewed great power competition between America and Russia intermingles as well.

As Egypt on the western side of the region descends into its own chaos, it is difficult to envision that there will not be an even greater movement of jihadists regionwide along with terrorism, starvation and a spread of disease such as the new MERS coronavirus. What also will become of Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates? These countries have largely escaped unrest but it seems doubtful they can indefinitely.

The bottom line is that Egypt will become another ideological and quasi-military battleground for jihadists that will open a door for Iranian influence, though not as much as Syria. This will force Saudi Arabia, and an intelligent United States, to act and prop up the military in order to stall state collapse, especially depending on the circumstances on the ground in Syria. Israel will keep its powder dry but is forced to increase vigilance on the Sinai border when the Egyptian army is incapable of effectively policing the area.

If this all seems complex, it clearly is. There is no single cause for the conflicts embroiling the region. While the Defenestration of Prague analogy works well in a certain sense, one could go all the way back to the end of World War I to find the seeds of conflict planted. Or maybe even as far back as 632 when the Prophet Muhammad died and the initial schism between Shia and Sunni emerged. In a way, all these events and so many more have led the region to the point it is now — on the precipice of catastrophe.

Europe’s Thirty Years’ War was massively destructive, perhaps even more destructive in its day than the twentieth century’s world wars. Whether the current miasma of bloodletting in the Middle East will last so long or wreak the same level of carnage is an open question. However, until something dramatic happens to stop a continued spiraling out of control, the Thirty Years’ War likely will represent the most useful analytic lens through which to view the Middle East’s tragedy. A happy ending does not appear to be in the cards. But maybe, as with the Thirty Years’ War, some accommodation like the Westphalian system can eventually be secured out of the ashes of desolation.

This article was originally prepared during a brainstorming session about Egypt’s future involving more than fifty analysts at the geostrategic consultancy firm Wikistrat.