The project is based on a structural-functional approach (assuming consideration of the political sphere as an integral system with a complex structure, each element of which has a specific purpose and performs specific functions aimed at meeting the relevant needs of the system and its expectations). It allows predicting post-crisis social and political transformations. The main research method is the system method based on the modern theory of political systems. In addition, the study used situational analysis, methods of political sociology, as well as essential elements of the political-historical and political-philosophical approaches.
Empirical base of research
Results of field research in Iran and Lebanon, as well as the CNTS and Freedom House databases were addressed in the analysis.
Results of research
a) The phenomenon of relative deprivation has been analyzed as a factor of social and political instability during the events of the Arab Spring using the methods of correlation and multiple regression analysis. Relative deprivation was operationalized through such an indicator as a subjective feeling of happiness, based on the assumption that a person in a state of relative deprivation cannot feel subjectively happy. It is shown that the change in the level of subjective feeling of happiness between 2009 and 2010 could serve as a powerful statistically significant predictor of the level of destabilization in the Arab countries in 2011. The next most powerful predictor was the average value of the subjective feeling of happiness in the respective country for 2010. At the same time, the fundamental economic indicators we tested when controlling for variables related to the subjective feeling of happiness were extremely weak and at the same time statistically insignificant predictors of the level of socio-political instability in Arab countries in 2011. Of course, we don’t want to say that the degree of relative deprivation was the only or even the most powerful factor of destabilization in the countries of the Arab Spring. Thus, researchers have shown that in the genesis of explosive social and political destabilization in Arab countries in 2011, such factors as objective prerequisites for instability in modernizing societies, including political ones (type of regime, intra-elite conflict, inefficiency of power transfer tools), social (the presence of emerging intertribal, interfaith and intra-elite conflicts and contradictions), demographic (structural and demographic risks, for example, "youth bulge”, unemployment among young people with higher education, etc.), historical (large-scale conflicts in the near past), confessional (in particular, the legal basis for the functioning of the Islamist-oriented opposition), economic (second wave of agflation, which led to an explosion of food prices) as well as subjective (socio-psychological and cultural-historical) indicators of instability arising in a certain period of time — say, the appearance of an attractive (although, maybe, imaginary) alternatives to existing regimes, etc. In addition, it is naturally necessary to report that the level of subjective feeling of happiness is the closest, but not the final cause, since, in turn, it depends on a number of other indicators. Nevertheless, the conducted study shows that taking into account the factor of relative deprivation and the reduction of the subjective feeling of happiness generated by deprivation in models of social and political destabilization seems urgently necessary.
b) The events of the “Arab Spring” were not only the brightest example of socio-political destabilization in the last decade, but also launched deep structural shifts of the entire World System. Studies have shown that it was the “Arab Spring” that served as a starting point followed by a global wave of social and political destabilization, which went beyond the “Afrasian zone” of instability and affected various regions of the world. The beginning of the “Arab Spring” marked the rapid growth of various manifestations of socio-political destabilization, from anti-government demonstrations, uprisings and political strikes to armed partisan actions and terrorist attacks. The studies have also shown that for two manifestations of socio-political destabilization, political crises and political assassinations, there was no statistically significant increase at the global level. On the other hand, such a significant indicator as the number of coups d'état shows a statistically significant decrease. Taking into account the structural factors that formed the basis of the global wave of socio-political destabilization in the early 2010s, it can be concluded that the prevalence of collective mass forms of destabilization (demonstrations, uprisings, strikes) in comparison with the manifestations of intra-elite struggle (coups, political killings) is a logical consequence of demographic, economic and social changes at the global level in the previous period. In addition, although the “Arab Spring” was one of the largest crisis events of the last decades, its consequences on a global scale significantly exceeded the consequences of events in the “Afrasian” zone. Thus, the “Arab Spring” played the role of a trigger mechanism, launching a wave of socio-political destabilization in 2011-2015.
c) The events of the “Arab spring” have shown that the modern world has begun to radically change under the influence of global processes, and therefore there are assumptions that particularly strong changes will now occur in peripheral countries, the immediate consequences of which are largely unclear. This is due to two directly opposite development vectors, which, nevertheless, can be considered as components of one process: (1) weakening the former core of the World System (US and West) and (2) simultaneous strengthening of the positions of a number of peripheral countries (and overall growth of the role of developing countries in the world economy and politics). With regard to the Middle East, it can be stated that, firstly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer the main problem in the region, and, secondly, we are witnessing a deepening split in the Islamic Middle East. For quite a long time, one could observe a certain antagonism between Shi’a Iran (which supports Shi’a movements in Lebanon, Iraq and some other countries of the region) and the Sunni monarchies of the Persian Gulf led by Saudi Arabia, but at the same time, there is a split between the Saudi and Qatari-Turkish blocks.
d) It was shown that the transformation of the world order in the Arabian subregion can be divided into several stages. The period of 1990-2011 was marked by the Kuwaiti crisis and the consequences of the American coalition’s response to Iraq, which transferred the traditional political rivalry in the Persian Gulf from a triangular to a bipolar configuration, breaking the traditional equilibrium. This change was reflected in the displacement of the axis of previously existing rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the ethno-cultural plane. Simultaneously, there occurred no less significant event for the Arabian subregion, the merger of two Yemeni states in 1990 and the formation of the Republic of Yemen. The new Arabian actor possessed a colossal geopolitical resource and an equal population with Saudi Arabia, potentially becoming the competitor of the recognized leader of the peninsula. The next major stage of transformation was opened by the events of the 2011 Arab Spring, which brought the region to a state of instability, the growth of cross-border conflicts and the emergence of non-systemic actors in the face of the al-Qaida and Islamic state terrorist groups in several countries of the Middle East. The decline or weakening of a number of authoritative republican regimes in the Arab world contributed to strengthening the role of non-traditional factors in the texture of Middle Eastern politics, shifting the ideological axis of the struggle to a quasi-religious plane that united a wide range of conflicts aimed at solving the problem of fundamentally new balance of forces in the region and creating fundamentally new balance of forces. The positioning of Saudi Arabia as the center of the Sunni world, and of Iran as the center of the hostile Shi’a world, bore an enormous conflict potential throughout the region. The underlined dichotomy of this scheme gave rise to a whole series of latent and new contradictions and conflicts on the basis of ethnic and religious identity, encompassing all Middle Eastern societies, including the states of Arabia.
e) Currently, we can talk about the following main contenders for regional hegemony in the Middle East: (1) Saudi Arabia, leading a fairly large coalition, which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE (although the Emirates are clearly competing with Saudis in Yemen), Egypt (financially dependent on Saudi Arabia), and some other states financially dependent on the Saudis. (2) Iran, which has significant influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and northern Yemen, and can put significant pressure on Saudi Arabia and Bahrain through the Shi’a population in these two countries. (3) The Turkish-Qatari alliance, which also relies on the Muslim Brotherhood’s cross-border network. The Qatari-Turkish alliance, using the Pan-Arab network of the Muslim Brotherhood Association, as well as their ideology as a tool to achieve regional hegemony, managed to achieve impressive successes during the Arab spring of 2011-2012. After the Egyptian revolution on January 25, 2011, this alliance succeeded in strengthening the position of the Muslim Brotherhood, which eventually came to power in Egypt in 2012. In Libya, Qatar and Turkey strongly supported the uprising against Qaddafi (Qatari special forces even took part in Tripoli’s last assault) and managed to translate this support into a very strong growth in the position of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood after the assassination of Qaddafi. In particular, the Muslim Brotherhood achieved dominance in the General National Congress, elected by the Libyans in July 2012. In Tunisia, the en-Nahda movement (fairly close to the Muslim Brotherhood), with the financial support of Qatar and Turkey, managed to win the first free elections in October 2011 and form a government. On the Syrian Front, Turkey and Qatar managed to secure the leading positions of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in the main coordination center of the Syrian opposition outside Syria, the Syrian National Council, formed in August 2011 in Istanbul, while the rebel groups supported by Turkey and Qatar have made very serious territorial acquisitions within Syria. In Yemen, forces close enough to the Muslim Brotherhood gradually came to power after Ali Abdullah Saleh resigned in November 2011. In addition, the influence of Qatar and Turkey increased dramatically in Palestine (to the detriment of Iranian influence). In Morocco, in November 2011, the head of the party ideologically close with Egdogan’s Party was appointed prime minister. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party Abdelail Benkirani (who heads the party with the same name as Erdogan’s one), who also received financial support from Qatar in the form of charitable subsidies. In Jordan, the Muslim Brotherhood led the protests in 2011 and were even invited by the king to the Jordanian cabinet. The influence of the Qatari television channel Al-Jazeera in 2011 increased tremendously, its broadcasts played a big role in spreading the tsunami of the Arab Spring, and some analysts even called the Arab uprisings “the Al-Jazeera revolution”. Also in 2011, Qatar made an (almost successful) attempt to secure the election of its foreign minister as Secretary General of the League of Arab States. Last but not least, Qatar won its bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in December 2010, which became an additional important asset in the desire of the Qatari-Turkish alliance for regional leadership (due to the extreme popularity of football in the Middle East). Another important point is that by mid-2013, Qatar and Turkey achieved support from the United States and Western Europe for the Muslim Brotherhood (especially in Egypt). One should note that the Qatari-Turkish Alliance turned out to be a rather effective mechanism. Indeed, despite the enormous economic, demographic and military potential (comparable to Iran, Saudi Arabia or Egypt), Turkey (as a non-Arab state) hardly had any real chance of achieving regional hegemony in a predominantly Arab region (by the way, this is a serious obstacle for Iran’s efforts). On the other hand, Qatar, despite its vast financial resources and Arab identity, is too small to make any serious attempts to achieve regional hegemony alone. Qatar and Turkey managed to make in 2010-2012 a rather impressive challenge to regional hegemony only after they joined forces, adding to this the enormous political potential of the Pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood Association. However, in 2013, Saudi Arabia and its allies managed to conduct a fairly successful counter-offensive. Its central element was the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, carried out in alliance with the Egyptian military and some other internal Egyptian and international forces. In January 2014, under enormous pressure, al-Nahda was forced to resign from power in Tunisia. In Libya, with the support of Saudi Arabia and its allies, Khalifa Haftar launched his energetic operation “Dignity” in May 2014, which led to a sharp decline in the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood (and, therefore, Turkey and Qatar) in that country. On the “Syrian front”, Saudi Arabia was able to significantly reduce the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (which replaced the Syrian National Council as the main coordination center of the Syrian opposition outside Syria) and for some time to increase the influence of pro-Saudi factions in Syria. The influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan has declined sharply. Saudi Arabia launched a fairly successful attack on the Muslim Brotherhood in the entire Arab world (including Saudi Arabia itself). In Yemen, Saudi Arabia and its allies managed to prevent the establishment of control of the Houthis over this country after 2014, and, although paid a very high price, they established control over more than 50% of Yemeni territory. As a result, Saudi Arabia has achieved a reduction of influence in this country of not only Iran, but also Qatar. At the moment, Saudi Arabia seems to remain the only Middle Eastern power that is seriously seeking regional hegemony, but the potency of the Turkish-Qatari-Ihvan alliance should not be underestimated.
f) Muhammad bin Salman today is the personification of that part of the Saudi elite, which is in favor of "changing the traditional way of life". Thus, the young crown prince opposes not only the Muslim clergy, whose influence is a priori in question, and the Saudi elite, who will be cut off from wealth, but also the broad masses of the population that will experience the costs of unpopular economic reforms. Therefore, the key issue for the Kingdom is the well-being of the forthcoming procedure for transferring the title from Salman, whose legitimacy raises no doubts among the members of the dynasty to his son Muhammad, who made a dizzying career takeoff according to the new, not yet established rules. Saudi Arabia’s withdrawal from the conservative framework of the Wahhabi doctrine, which contributed to the artificial conservation of archaic patriarchal-client relations in society, influenced by crises and the influx of modern information, as well as liberal ideas, requires tremendous experience and caution. The experience of the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Iranian Shah Pahlavi and even Hosni Mubarak shows that the necessary, but unpopular reforms contain high risks for the system and especially for the ruling elites. The struggle of Saudi Arabia for leadership in the region amid a wave of instability triggered by the events of the Arab Spring, revealed the vulnerability of its fundamental principles. A series of foreign policy fiasco faced by the Kingdom in Yemen, Syria, was complemented by further difficulties unexpectedly encountered before the Kingdom inside the GCC, where its role did not cause doubts before the current wave of crises in the Middle East. An important milestone in Saudi-UAE relations was the outbreak of the conflict between these countries in 2016 during their participation in the military operation in Yemen. The independence that emerged in early 2016 in Abu Dhabi's Yemeni policy ultimately led to the coalition allies being de facto on opposite sides of the barricades. While Saudi Arabia relied on forces loyal to the president in exile, Mansur Hadi, under the command of his son Nasser, as well as military units controlled by Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, the UAE relied on an alliance with the Southern Movement, which stands for South Yemen’s independence and dislike the family of al-Akhmar and the functionaries of al-Islah party.
g) The Arabian Peninsula has added to the list of subregions of the Middle East that have entered a band of instability and conflicts on the basis of determining the status of each actor in a new, unclear so far regional policy structure, which should be determined in the final move away from the vector defined by the initial phases of the revolutionary upturn. The affiliation of this subregion to the most sensitive for the world economy places of the planet is particularly wary of both the terrorist threats in the region and the risks of possible direct intervention in its affairs by global actors, whose strategy remains perhaps the least known value in the overall process.
h) The last series of multi-level Russian-American talks has once again demonstrated that no significant positive changes in this direction can be expected. The list of topics on which the leaders of the two countries can talk is small, and those on which there are points of contact is even smaller. In particular, on the Middle East agenda, Washington is trying to discuss three topics with Moscow: the Iranian presence in Syria and the Middle East, post-conflict Syria (the US is clearly trying to stipulate the possibility of maintaining its participation in political processes), the problem of Palestinian-Israeli settlement. At the moment, the parties were only able to confirm the existing statute: restoring the situation on the Syrian-Israeli border in accordance with the 1974 treaty, withdrawing the Iranian and pro-Iranian forces in the south of the SAR, and also de facto maintaining the American presence in the north-east of the country. From the point of view of pro-Kremlin politicians, during the Helsinki meeting of V. Putin and D. Trump in July 2018, the Americans also recognized for Russia the right to dominate the peace settlement in Syria, which, however, leaves some questions open. At this, the points of contact for the two countries are almost finished. Moscow clearly does not consider it necessary to discuss the problem of a Palestinian-Israeli settlement with Washington, while the D. Trump administration is actively trying to implement the “Kushner plan”. Moscow rightly proceeds from the fact that this initiative is poorly feasible and can only kindle further conflict. On Syria, the subsequent negotiations largely come to a standstill due to the fact that Washington is tying them to the problem of the Iranian presence in the region, which the US presidential administration hopes to reduce in a substantial way. From the point of view of the American administration, the key to the success of the implementation of this plan is the introduction of a split between Moscow and Tehran. Left without the support of their “forced ally” in the face of Russia, the Iranians, allegedly, will inevitably be forced to reconsider their presence in the region. An important emphasis is placed on the fact that in the conditions of the revival of anti-Iran sanctions and the growing domestic political struggle, Tehran simply physically will not be able to implement an active regional policy. Washington's calculation, however, is not entirely correct in this case.
Level of implementation, recommendations on implementation or outcomes of the implementation of the results
The results of the research can be used to optimize the foreign policy of the Russian Federation in the Middle East.