IISS - Addressing the catastrophic instability and insecurity in the Middle East

2015-10-30 - 12:26 م

by Ali Alaswad *

Bahrain Mirror: As we approach 5 years on from the historic events of the Arab Spring the region is yet more unstable and insecure than ever before. What began as a threat of violent extremism has morphed into the terrifying force of ISIS, causing untold bloodshed and suffering in Iraq and Syria. But these events have been felt beyond these borders alone and have reinforced sectarian tensions that have been manifested with a spate of sectarian-intended suicide bombings in GCC states.

Such events are of course fully out of line with the interests of the international community, impacting on a wide range of issues including terror threats, as well as the migrant crisis witnessed in recent months. Foreign Ministers will be arriving in Manama no doubt looking to address these issues and concerns held by their own electorates.


Ordinary citizens exercising their democratic right in calling for greater democracy and freedoms could never be the cause of regional insecurity. It is the brutal reaction of many states in response to these progressive demands that has led to this dire situation, as witnessed in a number of countries.

This coupled with decades of poor governance, weak institutions rife with corruption and self-interested officials has become the breeding ground for extremism. Groups such as ISIS have fed off feelings of discontent and exploited falling levels of public trust, in much the same way Boko Harum have done in Nigeria. No single regional government is exempt from this, with poor governance, nepotism and a lack of accountability accepted as the norm for far too long.

Meanwhile governments have often been prepared to turn a blind eye and even quietly encourage sectarian tensions in order to maintain their positions of power. In Bahrain, the government unleashed a sectarian agenda that underpinned their response to calls for democratic reforms. It is then no surprise that such acts tear at the very fabric of society and have repercussions years on, as violent acts increase and tensions between sects foster.


If violence breeds violence, hatred breeds distrust and disunity, and authoritarianism breeds insecurity then the answers should be self-evident. In the face of calls for internal reforms, respect for basic democratic rights and freedoms, and more inclusive governments, states must be prepared to make the necessary changes.

Responding with repressive actions must be completely rejected by regional governments, who must put the collective stability of society above any family or personal interests. There is also an onus on the international community and the global allies of these states to work towards such a goal and to pursue this agenda.

Bahrain serves as an important case study in this regard. The failure of the Bahraini authorities to respond with a positive set of reforms, following the events of early-2011, has led to further extremism, violence and insecurity, that has had an impact on society and politics, as well as the economy. It is deeply saddening to see sectarian tensions reach new heights, whilst extremists from both sides plot terror-induced attacks.

Yet the opposition is ready to hold talks with any relevant government figures or institutions to help create a roadmap back to stability that would include democratic reform and an improvement of the human rights situation. It is concerning that the lead figure from the opposition who follows this agenda, Sheikh Ali Salman, is currently behind bars. The international community can use its influence to push for his release and a re-opening of talks, as an essential first step.

Herein lies the role of the international community, on the eve of the 2015 IISS Manama Dialogue; to view the ongoing chaos and insecurity of the Middle East as a product of weak governance and state violence. Greater efforts can be made from international allies in the region towards promoting democratic reform, with the perspective that democracy quells extremism and inclusivity can stem violent acts.

For all of the instability currently witnessed in the region there are always glimmers of hope and the nuclear deal struck between the west and Iran is proof that there is always a peaceful solution to potential conflict. There is hope that the spirit of that constructive, yet critical engagement can prove a basis for a regenerated and brighter future for our region, towards stability, security and democracy.

* Former Bahraini MP for Al Wefaq


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