Economic, military or strategic. These are some of the key motives that have driven Middle Eastern countries to forge alliances in recent years. The important differences between many of them have been lessening - not in all cases, as can be seen in the deteriorating relationship between Morocco and Algeria - to give rise to rapprochements that, in the past, would have been unthinkable in the region. This has led to a new geopolitical context in which cooperation between neighbouring countries has increased, driven also by a situation of global instability.
The Central Treaty Organisation, initially called the "Baghdad Pact", is one of those mentioned by Egyptian writer and thinker Abdel Moneim Saeed in an article for Future Research and Advanced Studies. This treaty, he says, largely explains the military alliances, but not the economic ones, which, he believes, have been motivated by threats from other powers. Indeed, in the aftermath of the misnamed 'Arab Spring', ties between many Gulf countries have increased as a result of military movements such as those perpetrated by pro-Iranian militias against the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
This period of instability divided the region between what Saeed calls the 'Quartet Alliance', comprising the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain. What he considers "reforming countries" were pitted against the other regional axis, in which some countries close to the Muslim Brotherhood were positioned. However, the foreign policy moves that have been seen are directly related to what these same countries do within their borders, with clear examples today, such as the starkly opposite cases of Riyadh and Tehran.
While the Saudis are going through a period of economic and social expansion and growth, in Iran, the Ayatollah dictatorship is experiencing its most complicated days due to the protests that have spread throughout the country following the death of Mahsa Amini. They are poles apart in terms of internal stability, but they remain united by the confrontation that has been going on for more than eight years in Yemeni territory, where the revolutionary militias supported by Tehran are perpetuating one of the biggest humanitarian crises in recent history, with no viable solution in sight.
The way forward for the coming year is to follow the steps represented in key agreements such as the Al-Ula Declaration that ended Qatar's blockade with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, or the historic Abraham Accords that normalised relations between Bahrain and the UAE and Israel. Following this, actions earlier this year such as Egypt and Israel's agreement to supply liquefied gas to the European Union in the wake of the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine is another example of what Abdel Moneim Saeed hopes will translate into even greater rapprochement by 2023.
The hope for the coming year is that ties between Middle Eastern countries will continue to strengthen, as there is still a long way to go. One of the objectives is to achieve the long-awaited normalisation of relations between Riyadh and Tel Aviv, which is why Joe Biden travelled to the region in July to encourage this rapprochement. However, what would be a key step forward in Gulf relations will still have to wait, at least until 2023, with high expectations for cooperation.