In the Middle East, Covid-19 does not appear to have changed previous balances or imbalances, for the time being. We should nonetheless witness a long-term weakening of oil-producing countries. The region is also expected to suffer the after-effects of changes in global balances: Russia running out of steam (but resolute in pursuing its policies), decreasing American engagement, the rise of China. For instance, we should be prepared for the scenario of a more influential China in the Gulf (closer ties both with Saudi Arabia and Iran), more present in Iraq and on the southern shores of the Mediterranean (Egypt, Algeria). We should also note the growing asymmetry between strongly-hit Iran and Israel, which has more successfully controlled the crisis (and who felt encouraged, as a result, to put its threats into action and annex the West Bank?).
Among the great powers, Russia is a special case. Despite certain tensions due to the handling of the pandemic, the Russian leaders have for now chosen to echo China’s offensive attitude. In the intensifying Sino-American competition, they are seeking out an opportunity for triangulation, favorable to their diplomatic game. However, the combined effects of falling oil prices, the constitutional hold-up of Vladimir Putin and the country's greater dependence on Beijing should gradually weaken Russia's stance, though not enough for it to lose the ability to cause harm abroad.
Generally speaking, together with Bruno Tertrais we can consider that Covid-19 is a "trial of weakness" rather than a trial of strength. No power will come out of the crisis stronger than before, but some will be more weakened than others. At the time of writing, four of the BRICS (Russia, Brazil, India, South Africa) seem to be in a sorry state, whereas the "Asian counter-models" (Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan) have the wind in their sails. In total, we don't actually know what new hierarchy of powers could emerge from the current earthquake. The US itself appears to be in a deep existential crisis. The only certainty is that there has been no respite for the crises most threatening to France’s interests (in the Levant, Libya, or the Sahel). To the benefit of the crisis or otherwise, a new danger to our security has appeared: that of Russo-Turkish control over Libya, which has numerous implications, including for migration.
The second unknown: the American presidential election
November 3, 2020 would in any case have been a turning point in the world's state of affairs. The challenges it presents have been further intensified by the Covid-19 crisis. Only after the American presidential election in November will we have a clearer picture of the devastated landscape left behind by the virus.
The crisis, now combined with anti-racist demonstrations, seem to have made Donald Trump's re-election less certain. It has also made the rivalry with China a key issue in the presidential battle. All analyses agree on the fact that, whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump wins, the competition between the two new superpowers will continue to be the dominant focus of American foreign policy. The Middle East will continue to be a lower priority for Washington. Other elements of continuity seem likely, such as a tendency towards protectionism or a rejection of the principle of military interventions in foreign theaters.
We know only too well which direction a second Donald Trump term would take: further dismantling of the international order, serious threats to American alliances, a "reset" with Russia, and one cannot rule out surprise agreements cobbled together with Beijing or with other antagonists of the West. We have to admit, however, that so far, President Trump has not made any strategic errors comparable to the invasion of Iraq under George W. Bush in 2003, or the non-intervention in Syria under Barack Obama in August and September 2013.
Covid-19 has raised Trump’s displays of contempt towards the US’s allies to unprecedented levels. It has also provided the occasion for an unusual rebuff by Berlin towards the White House (Angela Merkel's refusal to attend the G7 in Washington). If Trump is re-elected, we could face a pessimistic scenario similar to the one contemplated by Henry Kissinger, where Europe would turn into "an appendage of Eurasia", and America into an isolated "geopolitical island" in the midst of two oceans and no rules.