A Week of Turmoil in the Middle East

There is a lot going on in the Middle East this week. Daniel DePetris provides an overview.

There is so much happening in the Middle East right now that it’s difficult to know where to start. The entire Arab world seems to be on the verge of a calamitous path toward confrontation, evident in Tunisia’s struggle to form an interim government. Protests continue in Algeria over economic conditions and the rise of food prices, while Jordan — one of the most stable countries in the region — is experiencing its own demonstrations.

But these are all marginal events compared to what is happening right now elsewhere in the region. Here is a brief summary what has happened over the past week in the Middle East and which of these events are likely to continue in full force in the month ahead.

Hezbollah takes over Lebanon

To the dismay of Europe and the United States, Hezbollah has been able to muster enough support in the Lebanese parliament to appoint the next prime minister, effectively kicking the American backed Saad Hariri out of power.

The new prime minister is a man named Najib Miqati, a billionaire businessman and former prime minister who served immediately after Rafiq Hariri was killed by a massive car bomb in 2005. This whole story began when Hezbollah pulled out of the government over Saad Hariri’s refusal to stop cooperating with a United Nations tribunal investigating his father’s death.

In addition to ending the reign of a coalition that was supported in the West, Hezbollah’s takeover signals what analysts in the region have long suspected: that the Shia militant group is Lebanon’s most powerful military and political force.

Washington hasn’t responded significantly yet other than expressing concern with Hezbollah’s rise. But there really isn’t anything the United States can do about it. As Hezbollah gains in strength, American-Lebanese ties are likely to be weakened.

Protests in Egypt

Egyptians who are tired with the iron fisted rule of Hosni Mubarak have taken the time to mimic their Tunisian counterparts by demonstrating against their government. Blake Hounshell of Foreign Policy puts the number of protesters at 100,000, a small number compared to Egypt’s total population of eighty million. And evidently, Al Jazeera television is not concentrating as much on the Egyptian protests as those in Tunisia. But they are protests nonetheless and how the Egyptian security forces decide to fend them off will determine whether the ranks of the opposition grow or fade.

Iran talks collapse

The P5+1 decided to give talks with Iran another chance last weekend. Unfortunately, the discussions didn’t even start. Iranian nuclear negotiators demanded that the UN stop all economic sanctions against their country before the nuclear program could be addressed. Of course, the permanent members of the Security Council refused (as they should have), and the meetings collapsed after two days. An enrichment-for-inspection deal may be the only diplomatic option left to the United States to solve the problem short of war.