The Evolving Dynamics Of Islamic Spheres Of Influence

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Context

During the World Wars the region of South Asia, especially modern day India and Pakistan, were responding in their own peculiar way to the changes that were shaping the Middle East, such as the break-up of Ottoman Empire. The responses were taking the form of Deobandism and Khilafat Movement etc. The purpose here is not to go in the detail of what each one of these movements represented. More importantly, the intent here is to present how the Muslim states of the periphery, including the emerging and established global powers, are responding to the present day transformation underway in nations that embody the Islamic core.

Analysis

Islamic Spheres And Arab Spring

The classification of the Islamic core and periphery helps in understanding the different characteristics of these regions. For example, the core is dominated primarily by the Arab speaking countries, while the peripheries includes the Turks, Persian, and other nations of South Asia and the Asia Pacific. The more traditional and literalist interpretations of the Islamic teachings have emerged from the core, while the contemporary understanding of Islam originated in the peripheries and have Turkish and Iranian roots. Additionally, autocratic rulers have mostly dominated the Islamic core while the peripheries have had a more mixed result and evolution.

While the West has shifted its support over the years from one school of thought to the other based on its needs, 9/11 changed it decisively against the traditionalists. However, the Afghan and Iraq wars, and the arrival of Arab Spring, have complicated the ground reality of the Arab world as well as the peripheries. Moreover, the West was forced to abandon its support of dictators that had become a symbol of the status quo.

As the Arab world passes through this transformation, the transition process in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt have thus far presented mixed results. On the one hand, as the scope and reach of the war against extremists has spread, Islamists have gained grounds. On the other hand, the Arab awakening has crept inward towards the core, and it has turned bloodier in states like Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. Customarily, it’s the developments of Egypt that have profound ideological influence on the rest of the Islamic world and the changes there are being closely watched.

This sea change that continues to unfold in the Islamic core, has implications for the emerging and establishing powers, and the Islamic peripheries, and they are all in a bind to adjust to these fast moving events of the region.

The Islamic Spheres And Emerging, Established Powers

Whatever the causes, the established players are attempting to temper the change and prevent the extreme Islamists from gaining influence in the Islamic core and the periphery. On the other hand, the emerging nations of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, China, India, and South Africa) are striving to ensure their interests in the energy rich states of the Islamic core and the peripheries vis-à-vis the West.

The interplay of the above dynamics has resulted in hardening the position of Russian and China on what these uprisings have come to represent. While these powers, including India, had abstained on the vote of imposing a no-fly zone in Libya. Russia in particular regretted it and subsequently opined that the resolution was used by the West as a pretext for military intervention, regime change, and in gaining security, economic and political gains.

This has further complicated the situation in Syria that can now be termed as a proxy war. The rebels are being supplied by Western powers using Qatar and Saudi Arabia as intermediaries while Russia continues to back the Assad regime. Now, the Syrians have finally employed the support of Kurds on its side of the border, to be used against Turkey, from where most of the interference in Syria is believed to be occurring. The shape of emerging alliances is represented by NATO, Turkey and GCC countries on the one side, while Russia, China, Iran and Syria on the other. This is somewhat similar to how during World War I and II, Muslim regions and colonies were either allying with the Central or the Etente, and the Axis or the Allied powers respectively.

The Dynamics Of Islamic Core Vs. Periphery

Now the question is, what do these changes in the Islamic core mean for the periphery states?
 As the core countries of the GCC ally with NATO and Turkey, the periphery countries are under pressure to select one or the other grouping.

In the emerging alliances, however, the Gulf countries have the most precarious position, as they are dependent on the West and the peripheral powers for their defense and security needs. On the other hand, the peripheral powers of Turkey and Iran are not dependent in a similar fashion. Moreover, the Gulf countries have a credibility issue that Turkey and Iran do not have, when it comes to their affairs with Israel.

With Turkey putting itself squarely in the middle of the Syrian crisis by supporting the rebels there, some in the country are questioning if Turkey has unnecessarily placed itself in the cross winds of the brewing storm. Perhaps it wants to position itself correctly this time, and to undo the loss it suffered when the Ottoman Empire went under.

This unprecedented situation in the Islamic core has also put peripheral power of Pakistan under pressure to decide one or the other grouping. This was amply visible in the recent vote in the UN Security Council on Syria that was vetoed by Russia and China for the third time, while Pakistan and South Africa abstained. On the other hand, India, including 11 other nations, voted in favor of the resolution that threatened tougher sanctions against Assad regime. India appears to be leaning more and more towards the NATO, GCC, and Turkey alliance.

The call from Saudi Arabia last week for the 4th emergency meeting of the OIC in August can be better understood under this context. It’s a panic call from the GCC countries for support from the periphery, as they fear the Syrian crisis is about to spill over.

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