The year 2020 has left its mark on much of the Middle East. While some developments have shone a glimmer of hope over seemingly intractable conflicts, other dynamics have exacerbated existing problems in the region.
In the tenth year of the war, which not only claimed more than 500,000 lives, but displaced an estimated 13 million people – more than half of all Syrians – lasting progress on a resolution is still not in sight .
Turkey and Russia have agreed on a new cease-fire in early March for the last rebel stronghold, Idlib.
However, President Bashar al-Assad continues to affirm his intention to regain control of every square inch of Syrian soil, including the northeastern regions controlled by an administration led by the Kurds and Idlib.
Despite the ceasefire between Moscow and Ankara, Israel continued to carry out military attacks against Iranian-related targets in Syria.
The resurgence of ISIS (ISIS) adds to the volatility of the situation.
Aided by the pandemic and the vacuum created by the US withdrawal of its forces from certain areas, the group has launched several attacks and continues to regain its strength just a year after the collapse of its physical caliphate in eastern Syria.
The overall situation is made worse by the relentless US sanctions against the Syrian government which have hurt the country’s economy, as well as the 2021 Syrian presidential elections, as former Syrian Ambassador to Turkey Nidal Kabalan told Al Jazeera.
“While the Syrians cannot wait to conclude one of the worst years in a decade of catastrophic conflict, their main concern will likely be overcoming the impact of stifling and politically suffocating sanctions on the upcoming presidential elections and the ramifications relevant, ”Kabalan said.
War between government forces led by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Southern Transition Council (STC) continued in the south, as Houthi rebels continue to fight the Saudi-led coalition and government forces in the north.
The Saudi Arabia-led military alliance has fought alongside the government since 2015 against the Iran-backed Houthis.
The Houthis control the capital Sana’a and large areas in the north and west of the country. The conflict is increasingly becoming a burden on international shipping, with the Houthis increasingly attacking Saudi tankers.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people have been killed over the past 10 years. Yemen faces worst, UN says humanitarian crisis in decades.
However, international aid has declined considerably compared to previous years. In June, an international conference of donors lost $ 1 billion from the UN’s target of $ 2.4 billion, compounding the devastating situation.
At the end of December, Hadi swore in a new government which was formed through a power-sharing agreement negotiated by Saudi Arabia last year.
The new government, headed by Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik, represents the northern and southern regions of Yemen with an equal number of members from each region. It includes five members of the JTS.
Foreign actors had previously influenced the conflict between the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA) of renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.
The Turkish-backed GNA made gains on the battlefield earlier this year against the ANL, which is backed by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, among others.
The GNA regained full control of Tripoli after being besieged for more than a year by Haftar’s forces.
In August, the GNA announced its commitment to a ceasefire and a political solution.
It allowed for a somewhat constructive dialogue, culminating in a real progress plan, drafted at a September meeting in Switzerland, and with the approval of key Libyan actors and members of the United Nations Support Mission. in Libya (MANUL).
Most importantly, the two sides agreed to hold presidential and parliamentary elections within 18 months, scheduled for December 24, 2021.
However, obstacles remain, especially due to the pandemic.
COVID-19 has diverted Europe’s attention away from Libya and given Russia additional leeway, said Nicolai Due-Gundersen, policy analyst at the United Nations Training and Research Institute.
“As many states in the EU and the world grapple with COVID-19, sadly Libya may not be a priority. It could also allow Russia to continue its interventions and support for Haftar, including through military means.
The government continues its fight against the local ISIL affiliate on the Sinai Peninsula, while President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has tightened his grip on the country.
However, he faced increased friction among the Egyptian population, pinching en masse protests against the government in September in a context of repression of journalists by el-Sisi and mass executions.
The president and two employees of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights were recently stopped and accused of spreading false news and endangering public order and security.
These developments have alarmed the European Union. Its parliament passed a resolution urging member states to consider imposing targeted restrictions on Egypt for its crackdown on human rights activists.
However, the Egyptian government continues to reject any international criticism, denouncing it as “interference”.
Persistent inequalities in the country are helping to fuel the situation. These could lead to more protests, political analyst Hamid Chriet said.
“Egyptian society is unequal in terms of income distribution, with around 35-40% of the Egyptian population earning less than the equivalent of $ 2 a day, while only around 2-3% can be considered rich.
Additionally, COVID-19 will likely make the situation worse.
“The health crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, reinforces inequalities. The latter may trigger new, larger protests, ”Chriet said.
With standardization agreements signed between several Arab states and Israel, the Palestinians have become increasingly isolated. The President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Mahmoud Abbas, has promised elections.
However, the potential reconciliation with Hamas has not yet progressed sufficiently and the paralysis persists.
“The abandonment of the Palestinians by autocratic Arab regimes, and in particular by their own incompetent leaders, are deeply entrenched trends and will certainly continue into the new year,” Nader Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the ‘University of Denver, told me.
Palestinians saw how Israel advanced its interests during the last days of the Trump administration.
With the decision of advanced plans to build the settlement of Givat Hamatos, previously a red line for the international community, Israel will build the first new settlement in occupied East Jerusalem in 20 years.
It establishes a de facto separation of predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem from the city of Bethlehem, making a two-state solution under the previous parameters, with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, almost inconceivable.
While US President-elect Joe Biden is a supporter of the two-state solution and has pledged to restore US aid to the Palestinians, he is unlikely to significantly change the status quo.
“Israeli colonialism will continue in the West Bank, perhaps at a slower pace due to the departure of Donald Trump,” Hashemi said.
While the normalization agreements are detrimental to the Palestinians, they are of paramount importance to Israel in terms of economic prosperity and increased security against Iran’s common adversary.
Moreover, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not so underground trip recently in Saudi Arabia could be seen as the critical stage of Israeli-Arab normalizations.
As for Israel’s relations with Palestine, “not much will change in 2021,” Hashemi said, while US support will remain substantial and equally unconditional.
“Joe Biden will take American politics back to the Obama era. This means very strong American support for Israel and a constant refusal to consider using American influence to force Israel to respect international law.
However, while Netanyahu has facilitated significant achievements on the international stage, his domestic situation remains problematic.
The coalition between his Likud party and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party was unable to agree on a budget before the December 23 deadline and, as a result, the government dissolved.
Israel is now facing its fourth election in two years.
It’s a scenario that becomes all the more complicated with the founding by Likud Gideon Saar’s separatist party, New Hope, which polls suggest could not only become the third most powerful force, but could deeply shake up majorities. traditional Knesset – and therefore set up that of Netanyahu. political future in jeopardy.