Merkel's Resignation and the Middle East
In the wake of a contested Bavarian regional election which saw immense losses for the centrist German-bloc, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s planned resignation in 2021 marks the conclusion of a unique era of bipartisanship in Germany. The rapid rise of the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) far-right party coupled with staunch left-wing parties like the Social Democratic Party (SPD) have fostered a heavily divided political sentiment in Germany, whereby the common ground established by the centrist Christian Social Union (CSU)--in Bavaria--and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) nationally, have largely been abandoned in favor of a “winner takes all” political mentality.
While the AfD are far from winning the upcoming election (polls place the party more or less 10 percentage points away from taking the lead), their increasing public support will force the party-in-power to act more favorably towards the right-wing, compared to the rather leftist policies of Merkel’s current government.
And with a focal point of the current German political discourse centered around the regional issues of the Middle East due to Germany’s intricate involvement in such conflicts, the political trends of the country are likely to hold significant impact on the future of the region.
Over recent years, Germany under Angela Merkel has endorsed a controversial open-border policy, permitting swathes of migrants to enter the country, totalling over 12 million or 14.8% of the populace, per the UN. The policy has caused a fractious rift in German politics, and has been credited as a leading reason for the poor polling of Merkel’s CDU and the left-wing parties, and conversely, the double-digit percentage increase in support for right-wing candidates of the AfD. And Germany’s willingness to tolerate undocumented migrants in disproportionate amounts compared to most other European Union nations is of particular note to voters.
Seven AfD state parliamentarians recently-travelled to Syria, declaring the war-torn state safe, asserting that refugees residing in Germany should be returned there. Ultimately this presents a looming danger to the populace as well as Syria as the return of refugees would almost certainly trigger a response from Bashar al-Assad’s regime, by way of his preferred methods of chemical attacks against civilians or other reprehensible means. From a humanitarian standpoint, such ideology at the forefront of German leadership would be greatly troubling.
Merkel has dually remained a staunch advocate of the JCPOA agreement, with Germany contributing to it’s ultimate signing during the Obama era. While this liberal stance would inevitably continue under leftist leadership, AfD remains unified in their support for Trump’s pulling out from the agreement and would look to do the same.
Merkel has also cultivated relatively firm economic relations with Iran, which she has sought to promote even in the aftermath of the United States’ first round of reinstated sanctions on August 7th. German firms hold a combined interest of more than 3 billion euros in Iran, with the German government adding domestic incentives to companies that operate within Iran to promote the relations between the two states. Yet in spite of the sizable economic loss, Germany in the upcoming years and fiscal cycles will largely be removed from the Iranian market--holding significance for both countries as Iran continues to falter with regards to foreign trade. And with Germany serving as a de facto leader of sorts to the European Union, which collectively trades more than 10 billion euros worth on an annual basis, and serving as the second-largest trading partner of Iran, the ramifications for the Iranian regime would potentially be immense.
AfD and the up-and-coming right-wing of German politics have largely stood in support of Israel, opposing such movements as BDS and advocating expanded ties between the two countries. Yet despite this seeming common ground between Israel and the AfD, the rooted anti-Semitic history of the AfD (already known to be xenophobic and in certain cases, racist) would likely serve as a hindrance to a robust AfD-Israeli partnership economically and diplomatically. A leader of the AfD party, Alex Gauland, spoke at a party-youth event when he called the Holocaust “a speck of bird s**t” compared to the whole of German history.
At a separate engagement Gauland stressed the importance of a relationship with Israel, establishing a contradiction within the AfD. Other party members have been photographed besides Nazi propaganda and other obscene anti-Semitic imagery. The party has received harsh condemnation from Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff, and prominent Jewish leaders like Ronald Lauder who described the party as “abhorrent.” The denunciation of the AfD by leading Israeli and Jewish groups worldwide--as well as members of Israel’s own diplomatic core--make any official relationship with a potential AfD government unlikely. Instead, Israel would do best to remain distanced from the party despite the close diplomatic relationship fostered between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chancellor Merkel, who, in 2008, became the first German Chancellor to speak in front of the Knesset.
As the right-wing continues its meteoric rise through the ranks of German politics, fragmenting the tenuous centrist and leftist blocs, the primary consequence of Merkel’s resignation will almost certainly be a far greater hands-off approach to Middle Eastern affairs from Germany, aligning with the German right-wing ideology. And an AfD leadership is not far-off, with recent polls suggesting that the AfD have passed SPD for second-place, and rapidly decreasing the lead of Merkel’s coalition and increasing the prospect of rightist leadership.