Reconciliation has become the political landscape of the Middle East in recent years. In December 2018, the UAE reopened its embassy in Syria, which was closed in 2011. Since August 2020, Israel has normalized relations with Arab countries such as the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan. In early January 2021, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt announced the restoration of diplomatic relations with Qatar that were interrupted in June 2017. After April 2021, Saudi Arabia and Iran conducted multiple rounds of reconciliation negotiations in Iraq and Oman. In April and June 2022, the Turkish President and the Saudi Crown Prince exchanged visits. In August 2022, Turkey and Israel ended the four-year diplomatic crisis and announced the rebuilding of ambassadorial relations. In November 2022, the Qatar Football World Cup became a major stage for Middle Eastern countries to ease their diplomacy. On March 10, 2023, China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran issued a joint statement announcing that Saudi Arabia and Iran had reached an agreement including agreeing to resume diplomatic relations and reopen embassies and representative offices of both sides, which pushed Middle East reconciliation to a peak. To this day, the reconciliation efforts of Middle Eastern countries are still continuing and bearing fruit.

What are the main factors driving reconciliation in the Middle East?

First, the tragic experience brought about by conflicts has made Middle Eastern countries increasingly yearn for peace. After the emergence of modern state groups in the Middle East in the 20th century, many contradictions caused by family, ethnic, border, religious, and regional leadership competitions, coupled with the interference of external powers, made the development of Middle Eastern countries difficult. For most of the time since World War II, conflicts among countries in the Middle East have repeatedly caused irreparable harm to the people, especially heavy casualties. In particular, the power status of major Middle Eastern countries and their different relationships with external powers make it basically impossible for them to gain an absolute advantage or victory over their regional opponents.

Under such circumstances, if one continues to follow the idea of conflict and confrontation, one of the very clear consequences is that the country and the people will have to continue to endure the indefinite trauma and pain caused by the inability to win the opponent. Clearly, this disastrous prospect is one that policymakers and people in the Middle East are working together to avoid, and interstate reconciliation is naturally an ideal choice. Moreover, with a new generation of leaders who are younger and less burdened with historical grievances, Middle Eastern countries encounter less resistance in their pursuit of regional peace.

Second, leaders in the Middle East are paying more and more attention to national development. Although the Arab Spring that broke out at the end of 2010 and lasted for several years did not bring about fundamental changes, it did give enough warnings to Middle Eastern countries, especially Arab countries. Not to mention the countries that are not rich, even the rich oil-producing countries in the Middle East, if there is no healthy economic and social development, their regimes will face increasingly severe challenges. Therefore, striving to promote economic and social development has become an inevitable choice for most countries in the Middle East.

In fact, some Middle Eastern countries have shown greater concern for development and proposed some national development plans, such as Türkiye’s Vision 2023, Iran’s Vision 2025, Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, and so on. Better development of the country is also the best weapon to deal with the ever-changing world, and one of the necessary conditions for national development is peace. Years of continuous conflict and turmoil have proven that the lack of peace is a key factor in the development of Middle Eastern countries. The decision-makers of Middle Eastern countries are well aware of this, so even if they are forced, Middle Eastern leaders need to embrace peace, not to mention that the younger generation of Middle Eastern leaders are mostly educated in the West, and it is easier for them to embrace the world.

Third, the strategic autonomy of Middle Eastern countries is getting stronger. As far as the long-term conflicts and turmoil in the Middle East are concerned, the interference of external powers is also a reason that cannot be ignored. The US-Soviet camp division during the Cold War era, the wars launched by the US against Iraq and Afghanistan in the post-Cold War era, the US unilaterally withdrawing from the JCPOA and promoting Middle Eastern countries to form an anti-Iran alliance, etc., are obviously very detrimental to the peace in the Middle East. The countries in the Middle East have suffered from the interference of major powers for a long time, so they have a very strong will to be independent.

In recent years, on the whole, Middle Eastern countries have been increasing their awareness of strategic autonomy. They are consciously getting rid of or reducing the influence of external forces on the region, striving to develop the country according to their own wishes, and reshaping the region. This is not only the disappointment of the Middle East countries with external powers that have long been involved in regional affairs but failed to help them achieve real development, but also their desire to control the destiny of their own countries and the region under the new situation.

Reconciliation among Middle Eastern countries continues today. It is happening against the backdrop of the Middle East’s own needs and changing relations between world powers. A reconciled Middle East will not only benefit the local people, but also contribute to world peace and stability. It is hoped that the world powers can help rather than obstruct this good development in the Middle East. It should be noted that the current tide of reconciliation cannot be summed up by a simple “up and down” for the regional strategic status of the major countries in the Middle East, because it is not a zero-sum game. More reconciliation and peace, more independent strategies, and more diversified diplomacy can bring Middle Eastern countries more momentum for development and greater influence in the world. Therefore, what the Middle East countries will share will be a larger regional development cake.


By Hongda Fan

Hongda Fan, Professor at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, China.