The Middle East and Power Transformation
Since at least the end of the Second World War, the Middle East has experienced a number of social, economic and political changes that have not only profoundly impacted upon the region, but also the entire international system. The creation of the state of Israel in 1948, for example, laid the foundations for Arab-Israeli tensions that were often fueled by expressions of Arab nationalist sentiment in the likes of Egypt and Syria. Simmering tensions often resulted in all-out conflict, most notably the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War six years later. As a result, the Middle East was also the site of Cold War confrontation, with the US and Soviet Union providing moral and material support to the warring parties.
However, the Arab-Israeli conflict by no means accounts for all the problems and challenges associated with the Middle East. While the Iranian Revolution of 1978-79 resulted in the loss of a key Cold War ally of the US, it also set the scene for a protracted conflict between Iran and Iraq. And despite the end of the Cold War, the US maintained its presence in the Middle East by leading the international coalition against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait (1990-91). With the onset of the ‘War on Terror’, the US returned to the Middle East in force with the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
But as our research and analysis continues to demonstrate, the international system is experiencing structural changes that are increasingly shifting the locus of power from the state to the individual. And events over the past two years demonstrate that the Middle East is by no means immune to such transformations. Starting with Tunisia in late 2010, a number of well-established political regimes have fallen across the region. In countries with a reputation for state repression and brutality, civil society utilized social media to air their grievances and organize mass demonstrations. In this respect, the protests that came to be known as the Arab Spring had one thing in common – dissatisfaction with the lack of economic opportunities and political freedoms.
Yet as the ongoing unrest in Libya and Syria demonstrates, an entirely positive conclusion to the Arab Spring remains far from certain. Indeed, continued unrest in these countries will not only affect the security dynamics of the Middle East, but also the strategic calculations of the major regional actors. In order to better understand where the political transformation of the Middle East is heading we begin this week by analyzing the responses to the Arab Spring of the three major regional powers – Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. This sets the scene for discussion on Tuesday on what the Arab Spring means for the Middle East region in the long-term.
As economic and demographic problems fueled the popular uprisings against regimes that had been in power for decades, on Wednesday we consider the extent and depth of these problems. In doing so, we consider how migration flows from the Middle East have impacted upon European perceptions of the Arab Spring. On Thursday we change direction and consider how biblical history and archaeology has been increasingly politicized by Israel and the Palestinians. We end the week by predicting what the power dynamics between a transformed Middle East and the West might look like over the next 50 years.
11 Jun 2012 / Audio
In today's podcast, Marina Ottaway argues that Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey will have little influence over the final outcome of the Arab Spring. Instead, the course of political transformation across the Middle East will be determined by domestic actors. More on «The Arab Spring and Its Counterrevolutionaries»
12 Jun 2012 / Special Feature
It was hoped that the Arab Spring would bring freedom and democracy to the Middle East and North Africa. However, continued unrest in Libya and Syria points to a potentially bleaker future for the region. More on «The Arab Spring in the Long Run»
13 Jun 2012 / Special Feature
A complex array of demographic and economic problems provide the foundations for the political unrest sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. Today we consider these problems and the impact of migration on the security dynamics of the Mediterranean. More on «Economics, Migration and Demography in the Middle East»
15 Jun 2012 / Audio
While energy resources guarantee that the Middle East will retain its strategic importance, Trita Parsi predicts a long-term future in which the geopolitical significance of the region will decline. More on «The Middle East's Decreasing Relevance»
03 Jan 2013 / Special Feature
Despite the seismic changes occurring throughout the greater Middle East, the Israel-Palestine conflict seems frozen in amber. The politicization of archaeology by both sides merely reinforces the status quo, or so argues Jennifer Wallace. More on «Archaeology and the Israel-Palestine Conflict»