Two Views on… The Mid­dle East to­day

With An­drew Ham­mond and Rola El-Hus­seini


As the world wit­nesses a re­shap­ing of the Mid­dle East, Turk­ish Re­view dis­cusses de­vel­op­ments in the re­gion with two ex­perts: An­drew Ham­mond, pol­icy fel­low at the Euro­pean Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions (ECFR) and au­thor of ‘The Is­lamic Utopia: The Il­lu­sion of Re­form in Saudi Ara­bia,’ and Dr. Rola El-Hus­seini of the Mid­dle East and Mid­dle Eastern Amer­i­can Cen­ter (MEMEAC) and au­thor of ‘Pax Syr­i­ana: Elite Pol­i­tics in Post­war Le­banon’ TURK­ISH RE­VIEW: How would you eval­u­ate the state of the Mid­dle East to­day? AN­DREW HAM­MOND: It is the midst of a painful process of re­con­fig­u­ra­tion. The post-colo­nial regimes lasted a long time, partly be­cause they had honed their le­git­i­macy dis­courses in­ter­nally, per­fected po­lice state op­pres­sion and knew how to win, sooner or later, Western sup­port. All three fac­tors in­ter­acted to keep them in place be­yond their sell-by date. Things reached a cli­max with the Arab up­ris­ings. Their obit­u­ary has been writ­ten by ev­ery­one and their mother -- ev­ery­one has an opin­ion -- but who ex­pected such a his­toric up­heaval to pass easily, just like that? Four years into the French Revo­lu­tion the fun was just be­gin­ning. His­tor­i­cal pro­cesses are con­vo­luted by their very na­ture. In this case, the po­lit­i­cal and fi­nan­cial pow­ers in­volved, and the re­gional and in­ter­na­tional in­ter­ven­tions, are re­ally mas­sive. Since we’re deal­ing with de­formed Franken­stein states -- prod­ucts of colo­nial­ism and its ef­fort to not just main­tain borders and regimes but, since the 19th cen­tury, man­gle their ex­pe­ri­ence of moder­nity through on the one hand chastis­ing po­lit­i­cal back­ward­ness while on the other hold­ing back eco­nomic and in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment -- it’s no sur­prise that the in­ter­ests in­volved in keep­ing regimes chug­ging along as be­fore 2011 are throw­ing ev­ery­thing they have at sav­ing their skins. Who would have imag­ined: A Gulf-backed coup in Egypt, Gulf coun­tries fund­ing their fa­vorite mili­tias in Libya and en­gag­ing in air raids, and re­gional con­nivance in de­stroy­ing Syria -- where it’s not just Iran and Rus­sia to blame as cheer­lead­ers and fa­cil­i­ta­tors, it’s Saudi Ara­bia and Qatar, too. TR: You men­tion Saudi Ara­bia and Qatar. Why do you think such states have been in­volved un­ex­pect­edly in the con­flict? What has prompted their in­volve­ment? AH: In the con­flict in Syria? It hap­pened in both cases in stages. In Qatar’s case, there was a con­vic­tion -par­tic­u­larly un­der Sheikh Ha­mad (who stood down in 2013) -- that Qatar had a role to pro­mote rev­o­lu­tion­ary change, but one: out­side the Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil (GCC), and two: Prefer­ably if the Mus­lim Brother­hood or its al­lies around the re­gion could be a ben­e­fi­ciary. The Qataris is­sued public ad­vice to Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad to lis­ten to his peo­ple when the protests first started but when he didn’t, it was strik­ing how Qatar and its [tele­vi­sion] chan­nel Al Jazeera im­me­di­ately turned on

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