The Changing Map of Middle East Power

BERLIN – The eruption of the Arab revolts in late 2010 and early 2011 put power relations among Middle Eastern countries in a state of flux, and both winners and losers have emerged. But, given that the strengths and weaknesses of most of the actors are highly contingent, the regional balance of power remains highly fluid.

As that balance currently stands, Egypt continues to be one of the region’s most influential actors, with the success or failure of its political and economic transition affecting how other Arab countries develop. But Egypt is weighed down by domestic concerns, including a plummeting economy and a security situation in which the military is used for police tasks.

The expansion of Egypt’s soft power will depend on the ability of its first democratically elected government, led by President Mohamed Morsi, to take difficult decisions and forge domestic consensus. Success in establishing effective governance would establish a model that many of Egypt’s neighbors would seek to emulate, at least partly.

In this respect, Turkey is a good example. Turkey’s power rests primarily on its vibrant economy. Its impressive military strength is of limited use as an instrument of power, and its political clout has been overestimated, particularly in Syria. A rapprochement with Israel and, more important, a lasting peace with its Kurdish population, would boost Turkey’s regional influence.