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Introduction

The West and the Middle East – The Year Ahead

The “West and the Middle East: The Year Ahead” is the first in a series of two issues on foreign engagement with and influence in the Middle East and North Africa region in Manara Magazine. More information on the upcoming issue can be found on our Submissions page.

The gradual shift of the foreign policy interests of the United States away from the Middle East and towards Asia already began under former President Barack Obama’s tenure, with his decision to withdraw U.S. military presence in Iraq in 2008[1], continued under President Trump as he recalled forces from Syria in 2018[2], and persists under President Joe Biden, with the latter’s most recent announcement ‘ending’ the war in Afghanistan.[3]

American retreat—combined with a loss of appetite among the broader community of Western military powers to intervene in the internal affairs of countries since the debacle of the Iraq war[4]—has created a power vacuum in the MENA region not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union between 1988 and 1991. This period coincides with China’s growing influence in the Middle East[5], Russia stepping up its efforts to reassert its historical role of leadership[6], and Turkey emerging as a middle power[7] with foreign policy aspirations of its own.

Western military presence is decreasing in the region, only to give way to new claimants of power from the East.


At the same time as Western military presence is decreasing in the region, only to give way to new claimants of power from the East, the Middle East and North Africa continues to remind policymakers in Europe and North America that its relevance to geostrategic calculations and immediate foreign policy considerations is not about to dissipate.

Iran continues to cause headaches in Washington with multiple important questions about its nuclear programme remaining unresolved (Biden, Raisi and Iran’s Nuclear File, by Alex Vatanka). Nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament are policy goals that Germany’s new government is expected to work towards as well (A Hint of Change: Prospects for a German Middle East Policy, by Aljoscha Albrecht and Sarah Henkel). With business interests abounding in the Gulf, the Middle East presents too many opportunities—alongside risks—for the UK to ignore, even in a new era of ‘Global Britain’ outside the European Union (The Middle East Still Matters—Even for Global Britain, by Dr Tobias Borck). Migration will continue to present the EU, and Europe more broadly speaking, with important policy challenges at its external borders (Europe and the Middle East: The Non-Strategic Way Ahead, by Judy Dempsey). France’s leadership might prove instrumental in this context as part of the country’s upcoming presidency of the EU (What to Expect When You Are Campaigning: France in the Middle East and North Africa in 2022, by Louis Dugit-Gros), but Rome is also stepping up efforts to protect its interests, whether in terms of curbing migration or pursuing energy security (Rome is back but should strategise its foreign policy towards the Middle East and North Africa better, by Silvia Colombo).

This issue of Manara Magazine gathers the voices of expert commentators, think tank researchers, as well as emerging professionals to paint a picture of Western powers’ actions in the MENA region over the coming year.

Sincerely,

Naman Karl-Thomas Habtom
Managing Editor

Jemima Baar
Senior Editor

Patrik Kurath
Deputy Editor