Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor, Religion and Global Security, The University of Tokyo

The Middle East seems to be back to normal.

No. The high speed of the spread of coronavirus is not mitigated in the Middle East. Turkey, Iran and Egypt compete with each other as if the large number of infections is tantamount to their status as regional powers.

Saudi Arabia is forced to limit the number of Hajj pilgrims to the minimum and domestic, preventing millions of world Muslims who in a usual year flock to Mecca and Medina for the yearly pilgrimage. Clearly it shows the Middle East is still in an abnormal situation.

Unfortunately, however, the most unwelcome feature of the Middle East came back first and foremost. That is, conflict.

As if coinciding with the partial opening of activities, Middle East conflicts are coming back. Israeli air strikes across the border with Syria resumed. Efforts to annex the settlements in the West Bank accelerated. Turkey’s intervention in Libya expanded, coupled with the resumed incursion in the northern Iraq in its effort to quell Kurdish separatist’s activities. Egypt declared redline on Libya against Turkey. Egypt is faced with the heightened tension with Ethiopia on the Renaissance Dam water issue. Yemen and Syria are evermore splitting and fighting each other even among their ranks.

The Middle East seems to be back to normal, as if nothing has happened.

COVID-19 affected the life in the Middle East so much and we might have justifiably hoped for the dawn of “pandemic peace” when restrictions on human movements suppressed not only the spread of virus but the spread of conflicts and casualties as well.

There is a theory of “democratic peace” according to which democratic countries are less tend to make wars each other. The Middle East is not known for too many democratic neighbors and Western theorists and activists, one after another, proposed and promoted democratization as a cure for the Middle East conflicts. That prescription remains to be proven but the hope and enthusiasm for the promotion of democracy have been largely lost in view of the turmoil and destruction ushered into the region in the past decade.

If there is any peace, it is better than none and we might have hoped for the “pandemic peace” for the Middle East as a poor but precious substitute for the “democratic peace.” But even that hope was just a wishful thinking and dashed in vain.