With most of those conflicts at a standstill, global focus has shifted to more overwhelming global challenges, such as the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, still raging, as well as new crises in the troubled Tigray region in Ethiopia and the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban.
But the situation in the Middle East has deteriorated significantly in more countries and in more ways in the past two years. Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen are on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe, with skyrocketing poverty and an economic implosion that threatens to drive the region into even deeper turmoil.
“The region has been displaced by other global crises, but there is also a sense of Western hopelessness after so many years of crisis,” said Julien Barnes-Dacey, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the European Council on Foreign Relations. . .
After more than a decade of bloodshed and turmoil sparked by the Arab Spring uprisings and an attack by the Islamic State group, most of the Arab countries in the region have settled into a military stalemate or frozen conflict, accompanied from worsening economies, rising poverty rates and tougher repression.
In Yemen, an ongoing six-year war has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving the country on the brink of famine. The head of the UN food agency warned on Wednesday that 16 million people “are marching towards hunger.” Libya, ravaged for years by rival militias backed by foreign governments, is struggling to find unity. From its shores, more and more desperate people risk their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, once countries that made up the cultural heart of the Middle East, are experiencing major economic collapse, fueled, among other things, by corruption and political leaders focused on preserving their own interests rather than satisfying the basic needs of his people.
The most shocking drop in the past two years has been Lebanon, a small multi-religious nation in the eastern Mediterranean with the highest proportion of refugees per capita in the world. The country has been in free fall since a financial crisis began in late 2019, which plunged roughly three-quarters of the population into poverty in recent months and sparked a brain drain not seen since the days of the civil war. from 1975 to 1990. That has been accelerated by the massive explosion in the port of Beirut in August 2020 that killed more than 200 people and destroyed parts of the city.
Long proud of their entrepreneurial skills, Lebanese are now struggling to get electricity, fuel or medicine, and most households can barely put together enough for their next meal.
“If you are a Lebanese civilian, you are probably more likely to die from a drug shortage in 2021 than from a bullet in the 1970s and 1980s,” said Joyce Karam, a Lebanese journalist and adjunct professor of political science at George Washington. University.
“The economic devastation is eating away at the pillars of the state in a way that is reaching the point of becoming irreversible.”
A total collapse in Lebanon could send a new wave of refugees to Europe. In Iraq, weighed down by poverty, poor infrastructure and an unresolved displacement problem, despair could lead to new violence.
It is also receiving little traction so far this year in this summer’s 11-day Gaza War, the latest round of clashes between Israel and the militant group Hamas that rules the territory. More than 4,000 homes in Gaza were destroyed or seriously damaged and 250 people died, most of them civilians. Thirteen people died in Israel.
“How many more homes will be lost? How many more children will die before the world awakens?” Jordan’s King Abdullah said in pre-recorded statements to the UN General Assembly.
While many UN General Assembly meetings in the past 10 years were characterized by a flurry of diplomatic activity to find a political solution to the crises in Middle Eastern countries, none of them are expected to feature prominently, if it does, at this year’s meetings in New York. .
“Western actors feel out of ideas and energy in terms of focusing high-level attention on putting the region on a better path, particularly given the broader global challenges,” Barnes-Dacey said.
A combination of war exhaustion, donor fatigue and a long list of other global problems has pushed Syria, Yemen and other Middle East conflicts to the back burner, with world leaders seemingly resigned to living with shattered and divided nations. in the foreseeable future.
In his first speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, President Joe Biden did not mention the serious crises in the Arab world, focusing instead on the global problems of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, tensions with China. and the withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan.
Karam, the Lebanese journalist, said that Biden’s team has their hands full between COVID-19, leaving Afghanistan and heading towards Asia.
“But they run the risk of letting these crises escalate and are forced to intervene later when they get out of control or threaten the interests of the United States,” he said.
Still, analysts say that neither Europe nor the West can afford to ignore the economic implosion that is occurring in the Middle East.
“For Europe, that much of its eastern and southern border becomes a major crisis arc is, above all, a missed opportunity of staggering magnitude,” said Heiko Wimmen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon project director at the International Crisis. Group. He said destabilization will be projected in Europe and, to a lesser degree due to distance, in the United States, fueling despair, migration and instability while at the same time giving momentum and credibility to far-right ideological tendencies.
He said that while the United States may want to leave the region, Europeans cannot afford that luxury.
“You can’t be sure if your neighbors’ house is on fire,” Wimmen said.