Much of what passes as media commentary on developments on the Arabian Peninsula is as misguided as it is misinformed. Articles about Yemen or the “new” Arab unification in face of threats to the Sunni Arab community read as if these were newly-grown green shoots (no pun intended) of conflict and response. These developments are more appropriately characterized in the Hollywood sequel metaphor, like Rocky III or Fast and Furious 6.
Take the developments on the Arab side of the Arabian/Persian Gulf. These peoples have been seeking solace and security together against the Persians for quite a while now: centuries not weeks. Take f’r’instance the creation of the United Arab Emirates in 1971 in the wake of British withdrawal of its dominant presence from east of Suez. (Yes, we even forget that in the first half of the 20th century – until 1967 – it was Great Britain, not America, that provided military security, political stability and colonial domination across much of the Middle East.) The former Trucial States banded together to protect themselves from the aggressive policies of the Shah. And then there was the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, and other developments in the region at the time to include the Islamic revolution in Iran, that launched the creation of the Gulf Cooperation Council, to provide for their common defense. Neither of these “improvements” of course could give Iran the least moment of pause, weak as they were.
At the same time, however, Gulf states have been accused of recklessly arming themselves to the teeth with the latest and fanciest gadgets and weapons of war over four decades. That, too, was in large part to protect themselves against aggressive neighbors—first and foremost of them, in the eyes of the Arabs, Iran. Whether they had the capacity to maintain and sustain this weaponry on their own – let alone use it effectively – had been open to question for years. Until now.
So a new Arab coalition, now including Egypt and other states, is hardly new. In fact, Egypt’s efforts to unify the Arab world have also had a long history, certainly beginning with Gamal Abd Al Nasr in the 1950s. What might be different is that these nations today are better armed, better educated, more experienced at combat, and perceive a real and growing threat to their stability.
Finally, the Yemen saga is noteworthy for its history rhyming very nicely. I won’t go into detail. Suffice it to say that the Egyptians and the Saudis have fought on opposite sides of the battlefield in the Yemeni revolutions beginning in the 1960s. Yemen as a nation never really recovered from that. Although it is worth pointing out that Houthi grievances date from that period of time.
All of this to say: we have seen this same movie before, many times. We just need to write the screenplay anew, with a much better ending. For some ideas, see previous blogs of mine on these pages.