BREAK ALL THE BORDERS: SEPARATISM AND THE RESHAPING OF THE MIDDLE EAST
Ariel Ahram, Oxford University Press
Since 2011, civil wars and state failure have wracked the Arab world, underlying the misalignment between national identity and political borders. In Break all the Borders, Ariel I. Ahram examines the separatist movements that aimed to remake those borders and create new independent states. With detailed studies of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the federalists in eastern Libya, the southern resistance in Yemen, and Kurdish nationalist parties, Ahram explains how separatists captured territory and handled the tasks of rebel governance, including managing oil exports, electricity grids, and irrigation networks. Ahram emphasizes that the separatism arose not just as an opportunistic response to state collapse. Rather, separatists drew inspiration from the legacy of Woodrow Wilson and ideal of self-determination. They sought to reinstate political autonomy that had been lost during the early and mid-twentieth century. Speaking to the international community, separatist promised a more just and stable world order. In Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Libya, they served as key allies against radical Islamic groups. Yet their hopes for international recognition have gone unfulfilled. Separatism is symptomatic of the contradictions in sovereignty and statehood in the Arab world. Finding ways to integrate, instead of eliminate, separatist movements may be critical for rebuilding regional order.
Shaping the Political Order of the Middle East: Crisis and Opportunity
Ranj Alaaldin, Istituto Affari Internazionali
The Middle East has undergone a radical transformation since the 2011 Arab uprisings. Amid regional contestations, a reawakened and resurgent Russia has disrupted what was previously a US enforced and shaped regional security architecture. Russia’s resurgence in the Middle East also comes amid an increasingly assertive China. Its global ambitions to challenge the Western-led international order has manifested itself through the inroads Beijing has made into cash-poor Middle East countries through investment and reconstruction packages, within the ambit of its “One Belt One Road” vision. In this paper, Ranj Alaaldin analyses the multiple alliances and conflicts that underpin the region’s political and security challenges, looking at how these have enabled opportunity structures for alternative authorities on the ground but also at the international level. It explains how commercial interactions with the Middle East have allowed China to adopt a panoramic, comprehensive strategy for the region, one that has undermined Western influence. It argues this is because Beijing remains an untested power in a region that has a pressing need for Chinese capital inflows but one that has yet to fully comprehend the implications of forging a relationship of dependency on China. Despite resentment toward Western meddling in the region, the US and its allies have established themselves as pioneers of democratic norms and much of the region continue to associate these with the West. The same cannot, and most likely will not, be said about Russia and China in the coming years.
The Rise and the Future of Militias in the MENA Region
Ranj Alaaldin, The Institute for International Political Studies
In recent decades, militias and sub-national armed groups have played a decisive role in politics and security in the MENA region. Their prominence with local and outside actors in areas where state institutions have collapsed presents multiple policy challenges. Armed groups have access to substantial resources and in some cases enjoy considerable local legitimacy. That makes them formidable but also resilient forces. This is why their suppression – through coercive measures or marginalization – can bring more costs than benefits to already fragile state institutions and exhausted populations. This volume, edited by Ranj Alaaldin, Federica Saini Fasanotti, Arturo Varvelli and Tarik M. Yousef, addresses the void in the current debate on subnational armed groups, focusing particularly on the multiple ongoing conflicts and turmoil in the MENA region. It places a particular emphasis on whether armed groups can be integrated into state-building initiatives and whether they can play a constructive role with other key actors.