Numerous papers and commentators have questioned why pro-Western nations in the Middle East have not sided fully with their UK, US and EU allies against the invasion of Ukraine. Among these nations is Israel and the Gulf states. As politics professor Mark N Katz put it in The Hill: “It comes as no surprise that the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria [has backed Moscow’s actions]… But for the most part, [the West’s] Middle Eastern allies also have made it clear that they are not about to support the US and its European allies in imposing sanctions on Russia, or even to openly criticise Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” For Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of Cornerstone Global Associates, the culprit for this lack of enthusiasm was quite clear: the more than 20 years of EU foreign policy.
Brussels, he argues, has not viewed the Middle East as strategically important during this time, so has put little emphasis on improving relations with these countries – leaving them to be taken under the wings of other powers, namely Russia and China.
Mr Nuseibeh told Express.co.uk: “The EU was very bad for Western influence in the Middle East.
“It created a gap that was filled by the Russians and the Chinese. And that is why we are finding many of our allies in the Middle East just standing by, asking themselves ‘why should we upset the Russians’.
“That sort of reaction would not have happened 20 years ago.”
During the same period, Mr Nuseibeh added, the UK’s role was “relegated”, given its position in the EU – a “prominent example” being the Quartet on the Middle East, involved in the Israeli–Palestinian peace process, which is made up of the UN, the US, Russia and the EU. Not the UK.
Having worked with officials from around the world in the Middle East in recent years, the Cornerstone Global Associates founder said: “Whenever you asked a British diplomat during the past 20 years in the Middle East ‘why isn’t the UK getting more and more involved’, the answer would be ‘we are part of the EU and the EU is leading on this’.”
He added that the US has also been “terrible” at dealing with these countries over the past two decades.
Because of the EU’s undervaluing of the Middle East’s strategic importance – engaging, in Mr Nuseibeh’s words, in “close-minded, trade-only relationships” and stopping short of preparing for dealing with “long-term strategic issues” such as the one we now find ourselves in – the West’s response to Putin’s action in Ukraine has been weaker than it might otherwise have been.
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“Now we are seeing the impacts of this.”
Asked whether the half-hearted response to Putin’s actions in much of the Middle East might have acted as a wake-up call for leaders in Brussels, Mr Nuseibeh was far from confident.
He told Express.co.uk: “They are narrow-minded, closed-minded. I think they will continue with those mistakes.
“The way they have been behaving so far does not give much confidence with the way they deal with the Middle East. I don’t think they have learnt from their mistakes.”
The UK, on the other hand, was tipped to “reclaim 20 or 30 years of lost ground” now that it is out of the EU.
Mr Nuseibeh suggested that some action is already being taken in Whitehall in this regard, but he stressed the Government “needs to do a lot more”.