Al-Monitor asked its columnists how events would shape the Middle East, and the world, in the year to come. Here are their predictions.
Image: Dubai celebrates winning the right to host the 2020 World Expo with fireworks in front of the Burj Khalifa, Dec. 1, 2013.
Post-authoritarian polarization in transitional countries requires sober realism
"A thousand days of tyranny," reads a famous Arab proverb, "is better than one day of anarchy." The latter scenario is a risk today in the Middle Eastern societies that have been able to topple or challenge their longtime dictators, but have been unable to build a peaceful, pluralistic and democratic order. This is most evident in Syria, where the uprising against the tyranny of President Bashar al-Assad has led to a horrific civil war; Egypt, where the revolution against the longtime tyrant, deposed President Hosni Mubarak, led to a poisonous polarization and military coup; and even in Turkey, where although democracy is deeply rooted, the recent fall of the quasi-authoritarian military regime did not lead to a harmonious society, as many hoped, but a bitter polarization and power struggle among the new elites. I think this trend will be definitive in the region in 2014 and beyond. For sure, no one should weep for the fall of authoritarian regimes, but hopes for liberal democracies should be replaced by more sober realism. Liberal democracy needs many other qualities than mere ballots — such as rule of law, separation of powers, civil liberties and a culture of consensus.
Mustafa Akyol, columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse
Image: Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi run after riot police fired tear gas during clashes in Cairo, Dec. 20, 2013.
Gaza as benchmark for another spring?
Gaza has always been the city of small prophecies, where events take place and soon move to neighboring countries. It was the first Arab city to conduct fair elections in 2006, the first city ruled by Islamists and the first city to witness a political coup in June 2007. Several years later, history repeated itself, and it seemed as if Gaza served as a small laboratory to confirm the efficacy of the experiment that has now spread across the Middle East. Within this testing ground, economic hardships have encumbered the Gaza government, which assumed power after the elections and the subsequent coup only to augur a heated ending. Will this be the fate of other Arab countries, i.e. an economic crisis succeeded by the toppling of the government? Will the Arab Spring be in need for another spring?
Asmaa al-Ghoul, columnist for Al-Monitor's Plaestine Pulse
Image: A Palestinian keeps guard during a rally marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas in Gaza City, Dec. 8, 2012.
Iran and Syria will be key to stability in Iraq
For Iraqis, projections for the year 2014 are linked to the ability of the political elites to set the tone for the elections that will be held in April. "Elections" is the key word in the recent security and political collapse in Iraq. Hopes for a calm and successful year for Iraq depend on an improved regional environment, especially given the signs that the Iranian nuclear crisis is calming down and international parties are convinced of the need to resolve the Syrian crisis through dialogue. Across the region, one can sense that we are at a sensitive stage in history, one that Iraqis hope will work in the interest of security and stability.
Mustafa al-Kadhimi, columnist for Al-Monitor's Iraq Pulse
Image: A man reacts on a coffin draped with an Iraqi flag during a funeral for victims of a bomb attack outside a cafe in Najaf, Oct. 21, 2013.
The Yemeni political stalemate could worsen
As usual, Yemen will continue attempting to delay facing its critical issues at the cost of more violence, though not necessarily in the capital, where international media can see it. Yemen’s current president's term will be extended via a “selection“ process, and the issues the National Dialogue was supposed to solve will remain. The sectarian tension will escalate in the north, while the southern movement will get stronger and the state will be less able to function there. The humanitarian crisis, already horrible, will worsen and Yemen’s current cabinet (or even the semi-new upcoming one) will continue to fail to draft concrete proposals to effectively utilize donors’ financial aid.
Farea al-Muslimi, columnist for Al-Monitor
Image: A pro-democracy protester shouts slogans in support of the recent pro-military decisions by Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, during Friday prayers at a weekly rally on Siteen Road in Sanaa, April 12, 2013.
The Saudi leadership will face more demands for reform
Saudi Arabia will be compelled to spend more of its oil surplus on adventures abroad in an attempt to regain its position as a key player in Arab politics. Arabs and the international community may appear to indulge the oil-rich kingdom but behind the scenes, they may resent being held hostage to Saudi national interests. The kingdom will remain focused on a difficult victory in Syria and will attempt to undermine a long-term peaceful settlement with Iran. Domestically, there may be a succession issue after the death of King Abdullah II. This will make Saudis more vocal in demanding serious political reform. They will struggle to achieve their objectives under a combination of heavy security, anti-terror laws and propaganda about the kingdom being targeted by alleged foreign agents.
Madawi al-Rasheed, columnist for Al-Monitor
Image: Clouds move over the Riyadh skyline, Nov. 17, 2013.
Arab youth will continue to shape regional politics
2012 and 2013 were obviously the years of youth, yet not necessarily golden ones. For the last two years, youth in the Middle East were the main characters in the political scenario. They tried to effect change and they did so, yet not always for the best, or at least what they were aiming at. For 2014, I logically expect that it will another year of the youth, as their play has not yet seen its end. The Arab Spring will obviously make headlines again, yet no one knows if it will be the year of the "Arab Spring Spring!"
Abeer Ayyoub, columnist for Al-Monitor's Palestine Pulse
Image: A masked Palestinian protester (L) holds stones during clashes with Israeli security officers following the funerals of three Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron, Nov. 27, 2013.
Iran relations with West could bring a new era to Gulf
Two things will mark the year 2014: Iranian-Western openness, and confrontation between political Islam and civil forces on the national level. The first might redraw the political map of the Gulf region and launch changes in Saudi Arabia. The second concerns Egypt, the model and leading Arab country, to elaborate the new civil Islam. Syria faces the “fighting Islamic terrorism” version until it can find a Sunni partner for a consensual democracy. In Lebanon, interdependence with the Syrian crisis will continue. In Palestine, we will see the same stalling. 2014 will be a year of oscillation between lost time and opportunities.
Jean Aziz, columnist for Al-Monitor's Lebanon Pulse
Image: US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif after a ceremony at the United Nations in Geneva, Nov. 24, 2013.
US-Iran rapprochement will be a game changer for region
2014 will become the year of US-Iran rapprochement. That will be a game changer not only for the Middle East but also on a wider and larger scale for the entire international system, and it will have an immediate bearing on the situation in Syria. The United States and the international system will resign themselves to a temporary reign by the President Bashar al-Assad regime in a fragmented Syria. The ultimate decision to shape the destiny of Syria will be postponed to 2015. Turkey will have the moment of truth to define the post-Erdogan period following a chain of elections in 2014.
Cengiz Candar, columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse
Image: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York, Sept. 24, 2013.
Political Islam in decline will be the answer to region’s troubles
The year 2014 will reverse the trend of 2013: “Islam is the answer” will make way for “Maybe it’s not as good a solution as we thought,” or perhaps, even, “Islam is not the answer.” From Egypt through Tunis and perhaps even Turkey, political Islam is receding in favor of something else, as yet unclear. The most prominent symbol of this trend is named Maj. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the new Nasser, the fresh idol of the Egyptian masses. Is Sisi the solution? As with all trends in the eclectic Middle East, this one could last for as little as five months or as long as five years, until the next one comes along.
Ben Caspit, columnist for Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse
Image: A supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi shouts slogans outside the police academy, where Morsi's trial took place, on the outskirts of Cairo, Nov. 4, 2013.
People will demand more transparency in government
Transparency is the trend. The culture of secrecy is over. Power is shifting from the hiders of the truth to its seekers. As more people demand openness and accountability, the trend in 2014 will be increased transparency in government practices around the world. What is concealed is often criminal, and what is concealed is eventually exposed. We witnessed this again and again in 2013. From the embarrassment of Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks for the President Barack Obama administration to the bribery probe that took Turkey’s government by surprise, we saw that truth always has a way of coming out, no matter how thick the veil of secrecy. And that veil is thinning.
Yasemin Congar, columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse
Image: Baris Guler (C, in sunglasses), son of Turkey's Interior Minister Muammer Guler, is escorted by plainclothes police officers as he leaves a medical check-up in Istanbul, Dec. 16, 2013.
The AKP will be on the defensive going into the Turkish elections
There are two scheduled elections in 2014 for Turkey: the local elections coming up in March, and the first round of presidential elections in June. The year-end massive corruption and bribery scandal, however, rendered the election results unpredictable. Once claiming untouched innocence, and building the party's reputation around ak, "white" in Turkish, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has now lost that purity. As an exit strategy, they point to Israel as the cause of this corruption scandal, assuring Turks that relations between the two won’t normalize anytime soon. In 2014, it still looks difficult for Turkey to reorient its failing foreign policy.
Tulin Daloglu, columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse
Image: Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling AKP during a meeting in Ankara, Nov. 29, 2013.
Extremism and sectarianism could rise
2014 will see increased activity by fringe and extremist groups, especially in the so-called Arab Spring countries, and a rise in sectarian tension in the region as a result of the Iran-Saudi tension, exploited and incited as the bitter rivalry between the two regional powers comes to a head. After simmering tensions boil over and explode, ugly scenes of mayhem and bloodshed will again inhabit our news feeds, reminiscent of the darkest days of post-invasion Iraq, but this time region wide. Sectarian powder kegs such as Syria and Lebanon will undoubtedly be at the forefront, with Iraq ever present, but expect flash points such as Yemen and even, surprisingly, some Gulf States to be prominent, too.
Edward Dark, columnist for Al-Monitor's Syria Pulse
Image: A fighter from the Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra is seen in front of a burning vehicle in Raqqa province, east Syria, May 12, 2013.
The region will choose between clear skies or more war
The obvious trend in the Middle East is a clearing of the skies. We will know for certain whether the sanctions and diplomacy were successful in removing the heavy cloud threatening to drag the region into a war, or if Tehran will force the international community to choose between the military option and the danger of a wild armament race. We will know whether the 20-year-old “temporary” Palestinian Authority will become a Palestinian state or evaporate along with the courageous initiative of US Secretary of State John Kerry, making way for violence and Israeli isolation. In 2014, the enlightened world will be forced to decide whether to continue ignoring the genocide in Syria.
Akiva Eldar, columnist for Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse
Image: Israeli soldiers atop a tank prepare to leave their Gaza border position at sunrise, Nov. 22, 2012.
Only John Kerry can slow the movement to boycott Israel
In Europe it’s already a trend: various groups boycotting Israeli products and culture. Israeli lecturers aren’t invited to participate in seminars; artists aren’t invited to festivals. It appears the United States will join the European trend in 2014. It has already started with the American Studies Association (ASA), which voted in favor of an academic boycott. The next organization likely to join is the Modern Languages Association, and the damn will burst. Only one man in the world can help Israel solve the problem. If John Kerry manages to get Israel to sign an agreement with the Palestinians, the erosion will stop. It seems that not only the Israeli military needs the United States. Israel’s academia and culture, too, need US assistance more than ever.
Shlomi Eldar, columnist for Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse
Image: US Secretary of State John Kerry walks to his plane after a private meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Nov. 8, 2013.
The Syria crisis will be a "black hole" for Turkish foreign policy
2014 is an election year in Turkey. Everyone wonders whether Erdogan can achieve his election goals. In the election climate of 2014, the AKP will maintain the "non-conflict" situation rather than taking comprehensive steps to resolve the Kurdish question. The priority may go to revitalizing relations with Europe and pushing for a settlement in Cyprus. The Syrian crisis will be the "black hole" of the AKP’s foreign policy. Threats posed by al-Qaeda groups and the prospect of a transition process involving Assad will present huge challenges for Turkey.
Kadri Gursel, columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse
Image: Turkish soldiers patrol the Turkish-Syrian border in the town of Ceylanpinar in Sanliurfa province, July 19, 2013.
Turkey’s political acrimony will get worse
The crisis in Syria remains intractable and continues to infect the region with its negative influence. It is therefore unlikely that 2014 will be the year peace and stability come to the Middle East. The major regional trend will likely be a growing sectarian divide, which will also fuel rivalries such as the one that is surfacing more visibly between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians do not appear particularly good in this environment, either. As for Turkey, it will most likely witness a year of acrimonious political infighting in the lead-up to local elections in March, which will be bitterly contested. The atmosphere of intense political rivalry will pervade the whole year, as general elections are planned for 2015.
Semih Idiz, columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse
Image: Riot police officers run after demonstrators on Istiklal Street in central Istanbul, July 13, 2013.
Israeli-Palestinian peace will be deferred
The peace negotiations will be extended for another nine months, and no peace agreement will be reached in 2014. Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections will take place in Gaza and the West Bank, and Jerusalemites will be able to vote by mail as they have in the past. Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouti will not be released, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will handpick one of his aides to run for president. Abbas will continue as chairman of the PLO and continue leading the talks. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement will see a global increase in its effectiveness, especially in Europe and the United States. Israel will also have early elections in the later half of 2014. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will participate in the elections.
Daoud Kuttab, columnist for Al-Monitor's Palestine Pulse
Image: Israeli troops and border police run during clashes with stone-throwing Palestinian protesters following the funeral of Mahmoud Wajih Awad, at Qalandiya checkpoint near Ramallah, Nov. 29, 2013.
Russia will face expectations of a new role in regional leadership
In 2014, Russia will need to fulfill the great expectations it created in the Middle East due to its successful policy in 2013. The total failure of the European Union in the region and the US disengagement put Russia in the position of a would-be leader, a role Moscow is not ready to take on and did not aspire to fill. Russian ambition does not go beyond extending economic possibilities and guaranteeing the principle of non-intervention. The liquidation of Syrian chemical weapons will certainly strengthen the Russian stance, while presidential elections in Syria could mean a new escalation of the civil war. Iran will continue to seek a rapprochement with the United States, and Russia will continue to support it. New revolutions are not expected.
Fyodor Lukyanov, columnist for Al-Monitor
Image: Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attends a meeting with Egyptian officials at the presidential palace in Cairo, Nov. 14, 2013.
The sectarian crisis will worsen as Iraqis vote
The most significant event for Iraqis in 2014 is the upcoming parliamentary elections. All parties have been waiting a long time for this election, which each side sees as a solution for the Gordian knot that is the Iraqi political system. The large coalitions have been divided into smaller parties. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is still looking for his third premiership, although he has lost the support of Shiite National Coalition and also the regional and international powers. The sectarian crisis in Iraq depends completely on two main factors: the sharing of power between the most influencial parties in the next government and the future development of the Syria conflict.
Ali Mamouri, columnist for Al-Monitor's Iraq Pulse
Image: Shiite pilgrims run between the Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas shrines as part of a ritual of the Ashura ceremony in Karbala, Iraq, Nov. 14, 2013.
Diplomacy with the Palestinians will shape Israeli political changes
After years of standstill in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, in 2014 the diplomatic process is expected to lead the political agenda, which has been occupied with social-economic issues since the protests of the summer of 2011. The issue will become more central as the US deadline for ending the negotiations approaches. This will be a year of political changes: If the negotiations implode, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni will find it hard to remain in a right-wing government, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may turn again to the ultra-Orthodox parties. In a scenario where Netanyahu surprises and presents an agreement, he would have to part with the HaBayit HaYehudi party and try to include the Labor party, headed by Knesset member Isaac Herzog, instead.
Mazal Mualem, columnist for Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse
Image: Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat (L) and Israel's Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (R) depart together after a news conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department in Washington, DC, July 30, 2013.
A political vacuum in Lebanon could lead to more chaos and terrorism
For the Levant, 2014 will be a year of vacuum. Presidential elections are scheduled for May, yet there are no signs that they will be held according to the constitution and on the specified dates, continuing the governance, legislative and security vacuum that characterized 2013. There is one in Syria, as well, disintegrating the joints of the state and the unity of the country. The Assad regime is based on a power void and survives via foreign support — from Iran, specifically. The opposition is fragmented, and jihadist organizations have filled its many gaps. A vacuum that was generated by another caused by the withdrawal of the Obama administration from the Middle Eastern arena is blinding the east, and it is being filled with chaos, terrorism and sectarian wars.
Sami Nader, columnist for Al-Monitor's Lebanon Pulse
Image: Smoke rises behind buildings from the site of an explosion in Beirut's southern suburbs, Aug. 15, 2013.
"Crowd democracy" will set the course for Egyptian politics
Egypt’s political scene will continue to be influenced by “crowd democracy” mechanics. The Muslim Brotherhood’s infrastructure will be further weakened. Student protests will remain a source of instability. A new constitution will be passed by a more than two-thirds majority vote. Parliamentary elections will initially produce a fragmented legislature. New alliances within the elected parliament may give birth to new political parties and coalitions. Economically, Egypt will continue to limp and rely on Gulf assistance until reasonable political stability allows for growth in tourism and investment. Megaprojects such as the Suez Canal Zone, if launched, may drive growth. Islamist movements will be further weakened in the region but remain another major source of instability.
Wael Nawara, columnist for Al-Monitor's Egypt Pulse
Image: An anti-government protester waves a flag with a picture of youth activist Gaber Salah during a rally against a new law restricting demonstrations in front of Egypt's parliament in Cairo, Nov. 27, 2013.
Transborder Kurdish politics will present both opportunity and challenges
Transborder Kurdish politics will pose new opportunities and challenges to regional stability. Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) crude exports through the Iraqi-Turkish pipeline will commence and Baghdad will pay the KRG in part before the 2014 Iraqi elections, although these shipments and payments will likely be interrupted. Ankara will not circumvent Baghdad and pay the KRG directly for its piped crude, leaving the issue of who will pay the international oil companies, when and how much, still unresolved for Erbil. Polarizations between supporters of Barzani and supporters of Ocalan will continue to play out in Syria, Turkey and Iraq, while the “peace process” in Turkey will stumble or halt, although sustained armed conflict is unlikely.
Denise Natali, columnist for Al-Monitor
Image: Kurds sit in the back of a truck as they celebrate what they said was the liberation of villages from Islamist rebels by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) near the city of Ras al-Ain, Nov. 6, 2013.
A comprehensive nuclear deal will be reached with Iran
Who would have thought at the beginning of 2013 that Iran would elect Hassan Rouhani president and have a nuclear deal signed by the end of the year? Or that Egypt would oust Morsi and return to secular military rule? Or that the United States and Russia would have made strides to rid Syria of chemical weapons? For 2014, I would look to Rouhani and Pope Francis, two relatively moderate leaders who emerged on the scene and moved to ease tensions in the world. I will be bold and predict success for achieving a comprehensive Iran nuclear agreement. And, God willing, progress toward a political settlement to end Syria’s civil war.
Laura Rozen, Back Channel
Image: US President Barack Obama talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a phone call in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, Sept. 27, 2013.
Nationalism will rise and civil society will go on the defensive in Egypt.
Egypt will have yet another full transition, which is becoming a trend in of itself. The draft constitution is expected to pass, albeit with a potentially lower turnout. Former regime elements are likely to reconstitute for the elections, and the Interior Ministry should regain strength in the current climate. The Muslim Brotherhood will continue to be the target of a crackdown, but minor participation in parliamentary elections might be tolerated by authorities. The Nour Party should see a drop in seats. Nationalism should remain strong in influence, and civil society is likely to face a wide probe. Revolutionary elements will be significantly weakened, but not out. Domestic issues should weaken foreign policy boldness.
Bassem Sabry, columnist for Al-Monitor's Egypt Pulse
Image: Bahria Galal, an Egyptian owner of a chocolate shop and supporter of Egypt's armed forces chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, displays her products decorated with portraits of Sisi at her shop in Cairo, Sept. 8, 2013.
US-Iran ties will deepen
The United States and Iran are likely to deepen bilateral contacts in 2014 on both official and unofficial levels. In addition to continuing nuclear talks, Iran will almost certainly take part in discussions on a Syria cease-fire. People-to-people ties between Americans and Iranians should also increase. President Hassan Rouhani has expressed a more welcoming attitude to US think tanks than his predecessor, and US and Iranian universities are gearing up for more exchanges of students and professors. Athletic and cultural exchanges are also likely to see growth in 2014 as part of an overall move toward a US-Iran détente.
Barbara Slavin, Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor
Image: Iran's President Hassan Rouhani laughs as he speaks during an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society in New York, Sept. 26, 2013.
Political turbulence in Turkey could derail peace talks with the PKK
2014 is poised to be full of challenges for the world’s estimated 35 million Kurds, who remain the world’s biggest ethnic group to not have a state of their own. Political turbulence in Turkey could derail peace negotiations between the government and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels. It could also result in the shelving of planned oil exports from Iraq’s Kurds to Turkey, a project seen as a critical step toward independence. In Syria, the Kurds will keep up their struggle against al-Qaeda while seeking to win recognition for their rights. And in Iran, there are signs that PKK-linked rebels will resume their war against the government.
Amberin Zaman, columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse
Image: Kurdish militants demonstrate in Diyarbakir, Dec. 8, 2013.
Al-Monitor columnists look ahead and tell readers what to expect in the Middle East in 2014.