In the wake of three major shocks – the pandemic, the Ukraine invasion, and climate change – the geopolitics of the Arab world are shifting, leading to a reshaping of relations between Arab states. Longstanding rivalries have been temporarily shelved due to factors such as exhaustion from military adventures, economic constraints, and perceived lack of protection from the US. A newfound confidence among Arab leaders has also encouraged a move toward finding common ground with like-minded autocrats.
Recent examples include the halt of discord between Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE on one side, and Qatar and Türkiye on the other. Additionally, Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed in March 2023 to restore diplomatic relations and reopen embassies, with China playing a crucial role in brokering the deal. However, these de-escalation moves should be tempered by reality, as conflicts like the recent fighting in Sudan and the ongoing shadow war between Iran and Israel demonstrate that the region is far from achieving lasting stability.
The Saudi-Iran agreement signals Beijing’s desire to expand its influence in the Middle East, but it is unlikely that China’s approach will provide a path toward lasting stability. The US still commands significant influence in the region, and it remains the security patron of choice for many Arab governments.
Despite moves toward reconciliation and growing multipolarity, it is unclear if these measures will produce enduring peace or sustainable domestic orders. Ultimately, these accords are a form of authoritarian consolidation with little input from their societies. Furthermore, challenges such as poor governance, socioeconomic exclusion, climate change, and the transition to the post-oil era remain unresolved.
As the Middle East continues to experience significant change, capturing the implications of this dynamism requires a lens that is attuned to both local specificities and worldwide trends. The shifting and complex tableau of Arab polities and societies defies simple narratives and highlights the need for a deeper understanding of the forces that are reshaping the region.