• Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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Reflecting on the Saudi-Iran deal

Reflecting on the Saudi-Iran deal

With the Saudi-Iran rapprochement, it is becoming increasingly clear that this is most likely China’s century, and we are all just living in it as tenants. In nearly every geopolitical trend, there are losers. None is more obvious in the Chinese-brokered rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia than two: Israel and the Uighurs.

The Trump Administration-engineered Abraham Accords, for all of its successes, failed to accomplish one major victory: over-the-top Saudi-Israel normalisation. This was not a problem for the White House which felt that under the radar security cooperation between both will naturally set the course for a full-fledged normalisation in the coming years. Israel badly wanted it to happen because it needs to shore up its anti-Iran coalition in the region.

Now that China has pulled Riyadh and Tehran into a room and had them sing kumbaya, the Saudis wouldn’t be much interested in such deals, at least for now. Although talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia have been going on for close to two years with Israel’s knowledge, last Friday’s announcement still took Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu–who was on an official trip to Italy–by surprise, and the Israelis are not taking it well.

Benny Gantz’s criticism of Netanyahu’s coalition government’s assault on the country’s judiciary, in which he mentioned the China-brokered deal, revealed as much. Israel’s foreign minister Eli Cohen was billed to visit Riyadh on Sunday, but a lack of security assurances by his hosts got him to cancel.

This only means one thing: the Saudis, in a desperate search for security, understand first that the US can no longer guarantee their security against Iran and its proxies, and Israel may not be able to defeat Iran in the present circumstances. It is then in Saudi Arabia’s best interest to have the elephant in the room on their side, even in the most backhanded of ways.

For us in the Global South, achieving a multipolar world with multiple key power centres is hardly possible. Even with the Congress Systems, which began at Vienna Congress in 1815 and ended in 1914, it was mostly a European affair with sub-centres of power who acted as balancers against each other. What we are seeing right now is a return to the post-World War 2 era of two key power centres.

The Saudis, in a desperate search for security, understand first that the US can no longer guarantee their security against Iran and its proxies, and Israel may not be able to defeat Iran

The immediate biggest losers in this context are the Uighurs–the Muslims in China’s North Western Xinjiang autonomous region whose rights have been repressed by the Communist Party of China in its quest for cohesion. China’s decision to get two of the three biggest and most significant centres of Islam into a room to get them to work for Chinese interests (energy security) is a blow to the Uighurs as it robs them of key moral international support.

No major player in the Middle East will give a flying flamingo about their plight. The possible holdout, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, has also shown that he’s interested in all of the Muslim world’s problems except that of the Uighurs.

Using the Uighurs as a case in point for the Global South: I was born five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I did not get to witness Cold War politics first hand, but I have lived long enough to see what I read and studied play out in the rear. That rear is becoming the surface: two power centres are emerging with old, familiar patterns of East and West divides.

Both centres will be shopping for allies and neutrals. As a result, just like the main Muslim power centres are overlooking the Uighurs in their deals with China, so will the East and West, in their quest for allies and non-allied friendlies, be overlooking human rights abuses and autocratic tendencies of governments in the Global South.

As it happened in the Cold War, where smaller dictators played one power against the other to secure their rule and maximise benefits, it will happen presently and in the future. As with the Cold War, one power in the East did not care about democracy and human rights. As a result, the one which at least pretends to will sink deeper into more pretence with less substance in the coming years.

Read also: Russian warship with hypersonic missiles to join drills with China, South Africa

The Americans already indicated as much when in December 2018, Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton laid out the doctrine of strategic competition with China and Russia as the underlying component of the US’s relations with Africa. Security-themed cooperation has given dictators like Yoweri Museveni a lifeblood.

A similar relationship has made President Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti one of the longest-serving heads of state in the world having been in office since 1999.

This also explains why not only has the US been soft on sanctions against the Buhari administration for its anti-democratic actions, but UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak rushed to congratulate the APC’s Bola Tinubu for being declared winner in an obviously flawed election which barely passes the basic test of what representative democracy looks like.

In the final analysis, the idea of a bipolar or multipolar world where one can balance the power of the other seems good on paper. However, a much deeper look and understanding reveals that the world may not necessarily be better off for it.

McHarry is an analyst at SBM Intelligence