Welcome to the New Middle East

How Palestinisation, Afghanisation, and Balkanisation are reshaping the Arab world.

Fighters from the Ahrar al-Sham group walk toward army positions in the western Akrad Mountain region in the coastal province of Latakia, Syria [AP]
Syrian rebels walk towards army positions in the western Akrad mountain region in the coastal province of Latakia, Syria [AP]

Travelling with Syrian friends nowadays can be truly unpleasant. Even in the Arab world. Or should I say: especially in the Arab world.

At times, it’s plain drama, other times it’s utter comedy; depending on the immigration officer and the backroom intelligence agent.

Despite the solidarity with their cause in the West and East alike, officially, they are mostly unwelcomed, even rejected.

Syrian refugees continue flowing into Europe

I tell them half- jokingly that they’ve been “Palestinised”. They take it in part as a compliment; part as a curse.


Sadly, it’s the curse that’s the truth, considering what they face because of violence and displacement and that the worst will likely continue. 

Alas, none of this is Syria-specific. Indeed, much of the Arab world is facing a similar process of Palestinisation due to war and repression and certainly, in part, thanks to their very own military dictatorships. 

Many wonder, how is it that their own leaders can be as bloody and indifferent to their suffering as the Israelis?

Also read: State of the world: In search of leadership

But Palestinisation is also the result of US wars and occupation, especially under George W Bush, whose Israeli-like doctrine and mindset – call it Israelisation – has had terrible consequences for Arabs and Americans alike.

The mutation of the ISIL phenomenon in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and other countries is showing no signs of decline or retreat.


The end result is Palestinisation of the Arabs, which translates in Arabic into victimisation, humiliation and occupation.

It also translates into resistance, resoluteness and fighting for justice.

But that’s not to say there’s honour in death, joy in war, or pride in being a refugee. Certainly not in Afghanistan, where it’s become a way of life.


Foreign intervention has had horrific consequences on the Afghans, as well as on their tormentors, and perhaps everyone else.

Russian and US interventions have transformed Afghanistan into a failed state and into becoming a leading importer and exporter of violent religious extremism, including al-Qaeda.

The US intervention in Iraq in 2003 planted the seeds of Afghanisation in the Arab world. And for the last decade, Iraq has overtaken Afghanistan as a major producer of instability and violence. Enter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Not only has ISIL proved to be bloodier, bolder and deadlier than al-Qaeda or the Taliban, the regional/international group has defied all predictions and forecasts.

Also read: Can anyone stop the killing in Syria?

The mutation of the ISIL phenomenon in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and other countries is showing no signs of decline or retreat. Indeed, it’s been expanding like a hydra throughout the region despite US-led multinational efforts to “degrade, defeat and destroy” it.

Russian military support crew inspects missiles attached to their jet at an airbase in Syria [AP]
Russian military support crew inspects missiles attached to their jet at an airbase in Syria [AP]

And ISIL is not alone. The Afghanisation of various parts of the Arab world is producing super violent Salafi or Jihadi groups like never before.

But like the Americans and the Europeans before them, the Russians seem destined to repeat their mistakes again and again and again. So here they are, with Vladimir Putin’s Russia acting as if it can re-win the Afghan war by fighting it in Syria.

But like the US intervention in Iraq, Russia’s intervention in the Levant, coupled with Iranian interference, will also accelerate the break-up of the East along sectarian lines.


A number of Arab states, like the former Yugoslavia, are unravelling before our eyes, live on television. Ethnic cleansing is already under way, and national borders are becoming as obsolete as they already are in Iraq and Syria.

Also read: Israel in Palestine: Separating fact from fiction

Civil wars in Libya and Yemen could also lead to the break-up of these countries, despite desperate attempts to preserve the state.


The new sectarian faultlines and divisions within these countries, as well as across the region, are only deepening further as the cycle of war and conflict shows no sign of retreat.

The twin processes of victimisation (Palestinisation) and radicalisation (Afghanisation) are galvanising sentiments and hatreds beyond state lines.

It is the same global powers – the US, Russia, Europe – and other regional powers that contributed to the Palestinian and Afghan tragedies, who are cynically toying with the Arab East.

If this continues, the improbable will become possible as the entire East breaks up with incalculable geopolitical consequences for its people and the world.

One can only hope that even if they can’t learn from their own mistakes, they might be able to open their eyes and minds by learning from the failures of their enemies.

Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.