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.

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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.

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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. 

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