The Middle East in Pieces

About a year ago, New York Times journalists compiled a list of new countries to ‘watch out for’ in the near political future. Much unlike the large scale division, distribution and creation of new states during the World Wars and the collapse of the USSR, new states are expected to be born out of the natural; shift in cultures, expectations, economies and dissatisfactions.  

Potential partitions in the Middle East:

“Alawites Go Solo”

 syrIncreasing influence from international superpowers and the flow of independent Islamist global fighters combined with mass exile and persistent ethnic tensions make it difficult to predict what will become of Syria. Rivaling Lebanon in ethnic diversity, Syria may settle into pockets dominated by different ethnic and religious groups. Future elections may only vote in the most organised armed groups to ministerial power to control deserted areas and enfeebled towns.

As the Europeans sliced up the Ottoman Empire, the French split Syria along sectarian lines of Druze, Alawite and so forth. In addition to imperialistic forces, pan-Islamic fighters and mercenaries – sectarian violence has become a key contributor to the long lasting combat in the country. If a strong separatist movement grows, it is likely that it will be already supported by some superpower to further destabilise the Middle East – particularly adding injury to the piecemeal destruction of Syria’s national army and defense system. Those with the greatest claim to Syrian land of many that remain in the country to fight and the greatest chance of creating a serious separatist movement are the Alawites – the most unified force and the most dominant sect in Assad’s Syria. Their stronghold is currently the fertile North Western coast. The Alawites are a sect of Shiite Islam and can therefore expect support from Iran and significant opposition from Saudi Arabia should they wish to form an independent state.

Below is a map sourced from the Washington Post demonstrating the ethnic diversity of the Levant. The boundaries may have seen slight shifts since 2009, yet this is a useful tool in understanding the complexities of the war and the broad scope of regional, religious and ethnic alliances.


“The Arabian Gulf Union”

Consistent threat of Shia revolt and the spreading tentacles of Iranian influence require that Arab nations form a tighter union. The 2011 protests in Bahrain were yet another reminder to the Gulf of the importance of Saudi financial aid.  Their military intervention during the protests only secured the Bahraini position into ‘greater Saudi Arabia’ proving that the solution must consist of more than monetary support. Converting the GCC into a more federal type state on an EU scale and selectively enveloping the Emirates to reinforce the union may become the next potentially viable option to stabilise the UAE as other parts of the Middle East fragment.

“An Independent Kurdistan”


For decades, the Kurdish population of the Middle East have been clawing for an independent state. Claiming rights to Iraqi, Iranian, Turkish and Syrian land, this ethnic minority have turned to violent and non-violent acts in protest against their rulers. Concession to Kurdish calls would be of significant benefit to American and Israeli aims refreshing destabilising forces and in providing securely based allies in the heart of the Middle East. As American forces pull out of Iraq, the Kurdish community which already behaves independently in many cases may find opportunity in negotiations with US and Iraqi forces to claim its own land.  Kurds already fly their own flag and their base is considered the most stable region in Iraq as it carries out its own transnational energy and infrastructural deals.

The region has one of the lowest levels of GDP per capita over the entire Middle East, but the contested land is rich in natural resources and water reserves. The area has the sixth largest oil reserve in the world and it rests at the source of the Tigris and Euphrates, not the mention other rivers that flow to Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. It also encompasses the source of the water from which Turkey produces a significant level of its electrical energy needs. Coal, limestone, iron, gold, marble, zinc and rock sulphur can also be found in significant quantities.

By no means does this list state that these separatist movements are sure to succeed, but it does provide in insight into the most powerful separatist groups in the region. Pan-Arab ideology, protectionist ideals and Israeli threat are the forces which bind Arab nations together to ensure unison, irrespective of internal stability.

(Maps found at NYTimes)

Noora Ismail


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