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New Axis of Evil?

New Axis

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In widely publicized comments, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia included Turkey, Iran and radical religious groups in his new definition of ‘axis of evil’. He reportedly said this while speaking to Arab media in Egypt. Al-Ahram broke the story. The Crown Prince met the heads of 20 leading newspaper in Egypt where he purportedly said that there are ‘forces of evil’ in the region and these include Turkey.

The story was later picked up by Al-Jazeera and other international and national news agencies in Pakistan as well. A statement by the Saudi embassy in Turkey, however, denied these comments being attributed to the Crown Prince. The statement further added that ‘the Crown Prince was referring to the so-called Muslim Brotherhood and the radical groups’.

The people in the region are the ones who end up suffering. What is needed is an honest dialogue between the leaders of different nations involved in the conflict. A serious effort needs to be made to end the conflict by diplomatic means.

The term of ‘axis of evil’ was first used by President George W. Bush. In his infamous speech where he included Iraq, Iran and North Korea in the ‘axis of evil’ by stating, “North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction,Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror. Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility towards America and to support terror. States like these and their terrorist allies threaten the peace of the world,” he stated. Soon after this speech, the US invaded Iraq.

Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been escalating in recent years.  When a senior Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia was hanged after being convicted of terrorist offences, the Saudi embassy in Iran was ransacked and burned by protestors as a reaction to the hanging. More recently, Egypt, Bahrain, UAE led by Saudi Arabia cut ties with Qatar. Qatar was accused by the three Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia of supporting terrorism and destabilizing the region. Qatar, on the other hand, restored ties with Iran, ignoring the demands of its Arab neighbors. 

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The diplomatic rift had an impact on the economy of Qatar which led the Qatari government to establish new sea lanes for trade and transport. Iran also sent planes full of food items to Qatar while Qatari citizens and diplomats were given 14 days to leave by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and UAE. Qatar also held talks with Turkey to provide food for its citizens. Ankara, on the other hand, has maintained warm relations with Riyadh despite the Qatar crisis.

The breach of relations has continued since June last year. Now, the Gulf States are, reportedly, considering ending the Saudi-led boycott.

The Middle-East has remained unstable for decades and there doesn’t seem to be any sign that the situation will improve any time soon. The great powers such as the US and Russia compete for influence in the region, siding with local players i.e. Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively.

The conflict in Syria is another theatre of competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia sees no role for Bashar-al-Assad as Syria’s ruler while Iran backs the Syrian regime. Turkey, however, has interests in Syria that are not obviously opposed to Iranian interests. Turkey launched Operation Olive branch to prevent the formation of a Kurdish corridor in Afrin district along its border in Syria. Iran-backed Assad regime has fought back in Afrin and there’s a danger that this might lead to new tensions in a region which has been embroiled in conflict for 7 years now.

Other than Iran, the statement by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia included the Muslim Brotherhood and radical religious groups. The Muslim brotherhood has become highly controversial since 9/11, with attitudes globally tipped against Islamist political groups. The Muslim brotherhood was formed in 1928 by an Islamic scholar by the name of Hassan al Banna. Initially, it was a social movement opposed to colonial rule and sought to reform existing political systems by political activism at the grassroots level.

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US designated terrorist groups such as Hamas are also said to be offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood. Under Fatah al Sisi, political activities by Muslim brotherhood were banned as the Egyptian regime considered the group a threat to its rule. The group was popularly elected in Egypt after the Arab Spring and Muhammad Morsi was elected Egypt’s president.

Iran also sent planes full of food items to Qatar while Qatari citizens and diplomats were given 14 days to leave by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and UAE.

The Muslim brotherhood has offshoots in various Muslim and non-Muslim countries, some more radical than others. The Muslim brotherhood is banned in a number of Gulf countries except Qatar, which is considered to be backing Muslim brotherhood affiliates. This is the reason the Muslim Brotherhood was arguably at the center of the Qatar crisis and why the Crown Prince may have included it in the ‘forces of evil’.

Read more: US urges UN to investigate chemical weapons in Syria

The Middle-East has remained unstable for decades and there doesn’t seem to be any sign that the situation will improve any time soon. The great powers such as the US and Russia compete for influence in the region, siding with local players i.e. Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively. The people in the region are the ones who end up suffering. What is needed is an honest dialogue between the leaders of different nations involved in the conflict. A serious effort needs to be made to end the conflict by diplomatic means.

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