Ever since Britain and France occupied the Middle East, the myth of the “Arab” Middle East spread across the world. Large parts of the world saw the Middle East as one homogeneous unit—the Arab nation—with other unwanted minorities to blame for the woes of the region.
We learn this to be an illusion, especially following the Arab Spring. Iraq’s liberation from the hands of Saddam Hussein provides the most telling example. The de-facto division of Iraq into different minorities—Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds—exemplifies the myth of the regions homogeneity. Especially in northern Iraq, the long-standing Kurdish minority sprung forward and demands its historical rights in the renewed wave of self-determination.
The same process occurs in the greater Middle East. The breakup of the Soviet Union granted independence to Armenia and Azerbaijan. The two countries, although geographically distant from the core of the Middle East, feel historically and culturally connected to the region. The Armenians see themselves as the original Christian followers and zealously guard the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City. And, the Shiite Azeris see their legacy deeply rooted in the ancient Persian Empire, no less than the Iranians themselves.
Additionally, Southern Sudan, which recently gained independence, illustrates another example as it represents the first time in modern history that sovereignty was passed from an Arab to a Christian country. Finally, Libya’s recent civil war exemplified the insurmountable divide between the Tripolitania, Benghazi and the Touareg tribe of Fezzan.
The aforementioned examples demonstrate that the “Arab” North-African countries are not so Arab. Among them we find enormous minorities—tens of millions of people—including Berbers, Darfuris, Coptic Christians, and many other who have nothing in common with the Arabs.
Syria illustrates the most recent example heading toward an “Iraqi” future of its own. One would expect opposition to unite in times of strife. Nevertheless, as the death toll rises and Assad’s regime continues to struggle, no unified opposition is prepared to take the lead and raise the flag following victory. The somewhat organized changes of government in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen are not expected to repeat in Syria. On the contrary, Syria is on the verge of a second civil war, and can easily split into various minorities including Alawites, Christians, Sunnis, and Druze among others. Syria today risks becoming its Eastern neighbor—Lebanon—which has been divided since its establishment. Such future composed of an endless mosaic of tiny minorities that stretch from the Beirut shores on the Mediterranean Sea to the Basra shores in the Persian Gulf.
The Arab Spring revealed that all that is known about the Middle East could change overnight. More specifically, as the once all-mighty leaders can now be overcome, so can Middle East borders be subject to changes in accordance with the rising minorities. The Arab Spring exemplified the desire of Arab youth to have their voice heard. More importantly, however, the Arab Spring illustrated that the Arab Spring is not only Arab and that there are many other voices ignored and forgotten that now demand to be heard. This is the Minority’s Spring, which signals the end of the Arab hegemony in the area. We have been introduced to a new Middle East—a Minority’s Middle East.
* Omer Gendler is a researcher in the field of International Relations specializing in Civil Wars. He is based in Jerusaelm.This article was originally published in rudaw magazine.