How have the uprisings since 2011 affected the geopolitics of the Middle East?

How have the uprisings since 2011 affected the geopolitics of the Middle East?

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The essay discusses the geopolitical effects of the Arab uprising in 2011 in the Middle East. The essay discusses the rise of sectarianism in countries and conflict of or opposition among various factions to gain control of the region. While it became relatively unstable, some of the factions such as the Muslim Brotherhood were weakened and some such as Hamas changed tact, countries such as Bahrain used different tactics to regain fast eroding authority in the country. The main result of these events was weakened and failed states, especially where autocratic leadership was practiced. Some argue this opened the door for new groups such as ISIS to emerge to increase terrorism in the area and major parts of the world.

The uprisings that started in Tunisia in 2010 and 2011 have led to major events in how the Arab countries are controlling themselves and changing their relationship with the West. There has been a tussle of power among the states owing to the weakening of former powerful regimes. Countries in the region have fought for dominance in the region and they still engage in diplomacy and military approaches. For example, after Saddam Hussein was toppled in Iraq, there was a contest between Saudi Arabia and Iran over control of the region (Salloukh, 2013). The countries have appeared as the dominant power in the region. Their involvement in Syria, the new area where the conflict spread to and has since not ended, attracted the two countries to be involved in the domestic wrangle in the country. This support of different factions by Iran and Saudi Arabia and the search for dominance in the region also opened doors for increased sectarianism in the country. It also meant that Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab states that took sides were divided in opinion as far as the domestic affairs of individual states. Iran emerged as the winner, following the willingness of the United States to engage in various issues including nuclear weapons.

This sectarianism meant that the seeds of discord were sown and unity was unlikely in some of these countries. While it may not be accurate that the uprising brought by these divisions, there seems to have been cracks in unity within the state but these were expanded in the wake of these uprising. The divisions seem to have resulted from failed inclusivity in the share of resources. Dalacoura (2012) observed that Syria, Yemen, and Libya experienced war and conflict due to internal divisions. Barzegar (2012) noted that the 2011 uprising led to an increased division mainly due to the differences in values and ideology and the fight for self-interests among the parts in these sectors. However, Gelvin (2015) noted that there is a difference between sectarianists and nationalists that also emerged during this time. Sectarianists do not seek any sovereignty like nationalists do. Because of this, it was concluded that the Arab state remained intact as the factions offered no challenge to this.

The 2011 conflict might have led the countries to seek space for democracy as they sought better representation and governance. This meant that they had to take down authoritarian regimes. The involvement of Western powers in a bid to manage this conflict led to the feuds taking a different dimension. In analysing the possible outcome of the conflict, the BBC noted that people in these countries, mostly monarchs in the Middle East feel detached from the ruling class compared to where leaders were elected countries. Due to this, countries such as Bahrain during this period chose to use heavy-handedness tactics such as brutality where a protest was detected. Law (2013) noted that in 2011, during this period of the Arab uprising, peaceful protests in Pearl Roundabout were quelled but this led to further other conflicts. This happened not just in these areas but various parts of the country including villages where heavy presence of police was in place just in case the people revolted against the government.  Not many other monarchs were toppled during this time due to the fast response from the government.

Middle East conflict in West Bank and Gaza Strip between Palestine and Israel was also noted during the time. There were conflicts for supremacy between different factions in different countries and different groups. The use of different tactics such as nonviolent demonstration was noted in Palestinians to gain global attention and take control of the region. Using mass demonstrations rather than bombs and terrorism led to new challenges for Israel in the long-running conflict (Bhavnani & Donnay, 2012). This was a strategic move to gain control over the region. It also meant that no legitimate authority led to increased insurgence of groups to gain control in various regions. Milton-Edwards (Milton-Edwards, 2017) noted that socially conservative groups such as Ben Ali, the Muslim Brotherhood, and ISIS emerged during this time in a bid to stamp their authority in governance. Besides, Salafism also emerged from the political characterisation of these facets in the Arab region. Militant Islamism increased during this time but their goal was not unique to what was in previous regimes in the past, especially in Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq where Kurds and Sunnis sought similar political supremacy. Hamas has used proxies that seek to overthrow political regimes in various Arab states. The factions used the narrative of extended liberalisation to seek in various states in the Arab world. For example, the goal to liberalise Egypt was seen as an extended revolution in Palestine. Hamas is a major faction that supports or opposes several internal groups or governments as was seen in Palestine, Syria, and Egypt.

In the unstable Arab world during the uprising, a notable fact was competition between Western powers and some Arab countries over control of some countries, each diverting attention on their objectives. An example of this was the United States and its allies that competed with Iran over the Levant. This is the way it has done for other regions, especially Israel and Palestine. Such moves led to a shift of powers and political interests in the Arab world as major factions ended up being weakened as was the case of the Muslim Brotherhood in various countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, its influence has waned (Alsoudi, 2017).


The Arab Spring that was sparked by dissatisfaction with governance in Tunisia led to a massive fallout between citizens, led and supported by anti-government political factions in various Arab states. The conflict seems to be far from over in some regions such as Syria while protests were quelled in Bahrain. The uprising led to the weakening of these groups in the end. There was a shift in strategies used by these groups to gain dominance in the region but countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran also sought to gain influence and dominance not only in Syria but Arab region in general.



Barzegar, K. (2012). A Turning Point in the Middle East Geopolitics. Council of Foreign and Defense Policy.

Bhavnani, R., & Donnay, K. (2012). Here’s Looking at You: The Arab Spring and Violence in Gaza, Israel and the West Bank. Swiss Political Science Review, 18(1), 124–131.

Dalacoura, K. (2012). The 2011 uprisings in the Arab Middle East: political change and geopolitical implications. Imternational Affairs, 88(1), 63–79.

Gelvin, J. L. (2015). The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Law, B. (2013, August 23). Bahraini detainee case highlights price of protest.

Milton-Edwards, B. (2017, April 12). Hamas and the Arab Spring: Strategic Shifts?

Salloukh, B. F. (2013). The Arab Uprisings and the Geopolitics of the Middle East. The International Spectator, 48(2), 32-46.

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