The Future of Alliances in the Arab World in 2023


Sat, 21-01-2023 07:00 PM, Aden

Dr. Eman Zahran (South24)

The consecutive and nontraditional events including “the direct and indirect impact of the Russian-Ukrainian war on the Middle Eastern countries in addition to the slow economic recovery of all vital fields due to the Covid-19 crisis, the food soaring prices, the growing inflating rate, the increase of the proportional hypotheses and the social turmoil in all sub-regions, especially the Arab region" have imposed disparity in its patterns of regional alliances. This fluctuates between flexible and rigid alliances as illustrated below:

- Flexible alliances: Are those which are always established according to certain political or economic or security issues. They are not necessarily reflected by institutional or organizational frameworks in a way that constitutes what is called “the alliances of necessity” such as the “Arab Alliance”.

- Rigid Alliances: They are characterized by the organizational comprehensiveness in light of the traditional structural frameworks. They are built upon a strategic pattern based on a specific political agenda such as the alliances between Iran and its proxies in the Middle East. 

Accordingly, it seems that the Arab region is in on the verge of a number of accelerating transformations and consecutive tests which would enhance the hypothesis of “change in the pattern of alliances” according to the flexibility of issues, the complexities of their impact and the entanglement of their parties given a number of main files. The first file is the outcome of the Abraham Accords and its deep impact on the relevant economic fields as well as the position of the Palestinian issue and peace process in light of that agreement. The second one is the complexities of the Iranian nuclear deal given the limited available opportunities, especially after Benjamin Netanyahu won the latest Israeli elections and formed the ruling coalition. This includes the developments of internal conditions in Tehran and the impact of the escalatory protests on the regime’s weight and references which became a direct threat against the regional states via its extended arms in the region. The third one is the conditions in Syria where the settlement hypotheses still fluctuate between the national elites and international and regional parties. The fourth one is the attempts to revive the political settlements in Yemen and Libya and to create qualitative agreements among the warring parties. The fifth one is the Sahara crisis and the possibility of breaking the stalemate in Moroccan-Algerian relationships given the size of the diplomatic moves from both countries during the past period. [1]

Determinants of change

During the current century, the Arab region has been the one which has made the most structure and formation of alliances with different and variable patterns. These alliances played a role in creating “political, economic and security” balance in the region. 

Additionally, the divergent events in the troubled countries as well as the international interactions and their direct impact on the Arab state imposed a state of security and political fluidity in the region. This requires launching a new concept under the name of “the flexible alliances” instead of the traditional “rigid alliances''. The flexible alliance has several characteristics, the first of which is agreeing on a specific point as its framework. Secondly, it doesn’t require congruence in views among its countries. Thirdly, it allows each state to form more than one alliance. These features of the “flexible” alliances gave an ample room to the countries to enter alliances which help them to face different threats. Thus, the future of transformation in the mechanism of these alliances in the Arab region can be anticipated according to the following variants:

1- The relationships with the superpowers: The relationships between these alliances and the superpowers are heterogeneous. The countries belonging to the so-called “moderation axis" such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Jordan enjoy balanced relationships with the heavy-weight international parties within the global system. On the other hand, there is international marginalization of the so-called “ axis of resistance” countries” including Iran and its proxies in the troubled states such as the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories and designating them as “supporters of terrorism”.

2- The level of coherence: This hypothesis is built upon the rate of internal tensions among the Arab states and its impact on managing the regional files, especially with the escalation of security threats in the region in addition to the Southern disputes. Moreover, there is the problem of rapprochement with Israel after signing the Abraham Accords. The latter serves as one of the variants which support “dissolving” the structure of existing and potential alliances.

3- The internal factors: They are related to the nature of the internal system stability of the national state in the Arab region and its impact on the structural stability of alliances and agendas in the region. This includes for example the impact of the political settlement failure in the Arab troubled states such as Yemen, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. This is also related to the impact of the escalatory internal protests against the authoritarian Iranian regime which affect the moves of Iran’s proxies and arms in the troubled countries in the region.

4- Intra-relationships: They are featured in the reasons and determinants of the alliance's structure. This includes For example the Quadruple Alliance which was formed in the wake of the Gulf crisis to undermine “supporters of terrorism”” in the region. This alliance ended when its main objective was over following the Arab consensus on Al-Ula summit statement in 2021.

Possible transformations

There are changes which could push to reconsider the structure of Arab region alliances amid an environment full of tangled crises, thematically (politically, security, economically and militarily) and provincially (internal and external). This is related to two considerations [2]:

1- Fending off threats

There has been a change in the regional strategy since the beginning of the 2nd decade of the new millennium. The governing status of alliances is no longer related to building common interests as was known during the era "Arab Nationalism” or the so-called "joint Arab Action". On the other hand, with the growing troubles, the objectives have changed towards what became known as "fending off threats" or "the individual interests" in light of the national view of each country in the first place or the collective understandings in the Arab region. Thus, the alliance framework has become a representative of one of the following interactions:

- The positive interactions: They are characterized by alliances which enhance the whole moves dominated by maximizing common interests as well as institutionalizing the frameworks and entrances for exchanging interests among each other.

- The negative interactions: They are characterized by the qualitative/ phased moves to fend off the threats and counter the adversarial moves in the region. Such negative interactions reflect a “behavioral disorder” in the region. This pushes the states to move within a frame of “mutual mobilization” as part of the arrangements related to the commonalities and building bridges of rapprochement and cooperation regardless of the mechanisms of the movers.

2- The priority of issues:

After the Arab movement in 2011, there has been a decline in the pattern of permanent, comprehensive and rigid alliances which was dominant at both global and regional levels during the era of cold war and bipolarity. This has pushed the Arab states towards reviewing the patterns of their moves as well as making a distinction between files and issues in light of their mutual or collective relationships. It is hard to generalize one pattern (cooperative or competitive) on the relationships and interactions among each other. On the other hand, the pragmatic strategy has been activated in building qualitative patterns of alliances in the Arab region.

Based on these hypotheses, 2023 would redraw the structure of the regional alliances towards the possibilities of change as well as devising new motives that match the size of political and security changes in the Arab region. This may lead to the escalation of the following patterns:

1. Qualitative/standard alliances

The structure of these alliances is based on pragmatic/objective criteria which are directly related to the goals and the national interests of the state. This makes the interactions a mix of understanding, disagreement, coordination and incompatibility. This depends on each issue or file, the connection of each of them with the vitality and strategy of the underlying interests and the level of severity or urgency of the associated threats within the matrix of national security priorities for each country. For example, this includes the flexible contexts of the relationships and understandings between some countries which have no common stances or coordinated policies even if they have policy disputes sometimes. For example, “Abraham Accords” between Israel and a number of Arab countries have variable impact on different economic and developmental coordination’s in the region. 

2. Security alliances

With the growing instability and turmoil in the region, there is a need to reconsider the starting points of cooperation or conflict among the region’s states. This is especially related to the impact of the international turmoil on the Arab region amid the growing negative effects of the Russian-Ukrainian war and its different ramifications on those countries, especially in the energy and food security files. This is in addition to the entanglement of the regional conflicts map and the intersection of its actors with the internal security vicissitudes of the troubled countries in the Arab region. For example, this includes enhancing the “Red Sea Alliance” which aims to find a common ground in understanding the security challenges that destabilize the Red Sea as well as the attempt to treat the limited disputes and tensions which may emerge in the relationships among the countries overlooking the Red Sea. This guarantees a degree of security cooperation, achieving stability in the region and reducing the negative impact of external powers [3] as well as being basically directed to reduce influence and Iranian-Turkish impact on the Red Sea security. [4]

3. Economic/developmental alliances

Amid the moves by a number of the region’s states to overpass the phase of the “problematic conflicts” and the relentless progress towards “the post-weapon phase”, there has been a need to reconsider the structure of alliances to achieve a number of requirements, foremost of which are as illustrated below: [5]

- Achieving reconstruction operations and infrastructure projects in the post-conflict phase in the countries of the region.

- Dual, and multiple coordination regarding the economic, and developmental cooperation in the short term, and its variable importance in the future of the Arab people as well as their future development plans.

- The political mobilization of such binary and multiple economic and developmental arrangements. For example, this includes what was announced during the tripartite summit in Amman on August 25th 2020 about launching the “New Levant” alliance which aims to find and enhance the common interests between Egypt, Jordan and Iraq and to serve as a nucleus for a more expanded Arab union. This tripartite alliance is like a “flexible alliance” which seeks to create trajectories for the Arab cooperation in the fields of security, diplomacy and economic relationships. Moreover, this represents a challenge for non-Arab countries in the region, especially Iran and Turkey. 

4. Energy and technological alliances

Their content is based on carrying out the executive moves of the developmental strategies which form the national frame of the different states in the region according to two paths:

- The first one is related to the “energy” fields, whether traditional (oil and gas) or renewable (such as solar energy). This also relates to water given the different dimensions of the Renaissance Dam crisis. This may foretell more competitive scenarios to the extent of direct conflict, whether at political, legal or military levels. This may include disputes over the sharing of energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean triangle, as well as the water conflict in the Tigris and Euphrates, and other direct and indirect threats to Arab waters in the Nile River, the Jordan River, and the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

2- The second one is related to technological knowledge as most countries have passed the stage of importing or colonizing the technology. They recently began to move towards renewing and innovating technology as well as inventing new technological tools and mechanisms to achieve their goals. The Arab states have paid attention to this which has been translated into a number of technological projects including the “Knowledge City” project in Egypt’s New Administrative Capital” and the UAE’s "smart cities". 

Accordingly, it seems that the regional system in the Middle East will experience a new shift from one which has “traditional” alliances to another which has “flexible alliances” according to the nature of the renewable and variable files in the region. This serves as an attempt to strengthen the frameworks of political settlements in the Arab troubled countries such as Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya or build logical consensus around a number of files of qualitative priority such as food security, water security, climate change, human rights and refugee conditions.

Dr. Eman Zahran 

Egyptian researcher, specializing in international relations and regional security

[1] Dr. Eman Zahran, The Prospects of Global Political and Economic in 2023, 

[2] Dr. Eman Zahran, Egypt and the Regional Alliances:Motives for Continuity and Motives for Change, the Egyptian File, Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Issue 84, August 2021.

[3] Saudi Arabia Announces New Political Bloc for Red Sea, Gulf of Aden States, Asharq Al-Awsat, December 12, 2018, accessible at:

[4] Stephen Kalin, Saudi Arabia seeks new political bloc in strategic Red Sea region, Reuters, December 12, 2018, accessible at: reuters.

5-Dr. Eman Zahran, The Prospects of Global Political and Economic in 2023 (Previous reference)

Arab WorldArab AlliancesIsraelMiddle EastTurkeyIranYemenJordanUAEEgyptSyriaLebanonIraqOmanRussiaUkraine