International relations scholar Henri Barkey foresees continuing collapse of the states of the Middle East:
The state as we know it is vanishing in the Middle East. Strife in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, foreign intrusion from states within the region and outside it, and dreadful rule by self-serving elites have all contributed to the destruction of societies, infrastructure and systems of governance. Nonstate actors of all kinds, most of them armed, are emerging to run their own shows. Generations of mistrust underlie it all.
It is difficult to see how Humpty Dumpty will ever be put back together again. To be sure, many Middle Eastern states were mostly illegitimate to begin with. They may have been recognized internationally, but their governments exercised authority mostly through repression and sometimes through terror. They relied on a political veneer or constructed narrative to justify the rule of ethnic or sectarian minorities, mafia-like family clans or power-hungry dictators. In most countries, the systems that were built were never intended to create national institutions, so they did not.
Let’s take a little tally. Somalia hasn’t been a state for decades. Sudan has split into two states, at least one of which is descending into chaos. Libya, abetted by the stupidity, recklessness, insanity, or malice (take your pick) of the United States, Britain, and France, is in chaos. As long as the two largest factions won’t accept the rule of the other over their territory, the country can never be put back together again.
Iraq (see Libya, above) has split into a Sunni stronghold, a Shi’ite stronghold, and a Kurdish stronghold. Will those territories become distinct states? Not as long as civil war continues in Syria and the Turks have a say over the fate of the Kurdish region. The Syrian government is unlikely to regain control over the country’s territory without more force than the “international community” (such as it is) will allow it.
Yemen appears to be headed in the same direction as Iraq. The shotgun marriage of North Yemen and South Yemen has ended in a violent divorce.
Leapfrogging over Iran, Pakistan has ongoing rebellions in the north, the south, and the west. Its control over its territory has always been notional and now it’s even less than that.
Can anyone really doubt that if U. S. forces completely depart Afghanistan the country will fall into a condition a condition similar to Pakistan’s with some governmental control in Kabul and its environs and little anywhere else? The state there is only being maintained by foreign troops.
That leaves Iran, Saudi Arabia, the various tiny Gulf sheikdoms, Israel, Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Jordan is being challenged by the chaos surrounding it. Saudi Arabia is bombing (and blockading) Yemen, presumably in the hope that if the Yemeni people are made miserable enough it will achieve some imagined objective. Iran is playing hob in various countries in the region. Egypt, through main force, is holding on to its statehood. Tunisia is holding on by the skin of its teeth. Lebanon is what is has been for the last thirty years (whatever that is). Turkey has been making occasional forays into the Kurdish areas of Iraq and Syria in an attempt to maintain its own territorial integrity.
Does that about sum it up? Across a broad swathe of West Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa the Westphalian state which had never been robust in those areas is evaporating completely, not just changes of regime but changes in concept and there is no ready replacement. The United Nations? It is to laugh.
The next step is recognition of the reality. People or regions don’t hold seats in the UN General Assembly. States do. There is a huge area in which the rules just don’t apply and we need to start thinking about the implications of that.