The Implosion of Order in the Middle East

  • Eric Brown – Senior Fellow, the Hudson Institute
  • Samuel Tadros – Senior Fellow, the Hudson Institute

MERI Roundtable Debate – Monday, 13 June 2016

“People in the west have this narrow discussion of security threats; they say that ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] is the biggest security threat, or Iranian expansionism is a bigger threat, but [we] instead focus on state fragility. Political fragility is a bigger threat,” opined Brown.

The debate was inspired by Brown’s recent paper titled “The Crisis and Implosion of Order in the Middle East,” and Tadros’s intervention on the “Arab Politics and Ethno-religious Minorities in the Middle East.” The debate also addressed the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s (KRI) future, and what the United States (US) and its allies can do to support the KRI to develop its governing institutions over time.

The Middle East and North Africa region is going through another evolutionary transformation; the existing religious, ethnic, and national borders are no longer relevant. As a result of state and political fragility, there is a process of reshaping and changes are occurring. As existing governments turn to violence to bolster their political power, they become more insolvent politically, economically, and socially. The sparking of the Arab spring in 2011 is a testament to that statement.

The younger generation living in this region has not experienced the formation of their republic states. The previous generation’s experience of repression by the political powers has forced them to seek a new political order beyond their national, ethnic, and culture identities. This has made those populations the prey for predatory actors and movements, like ISIS, which brings more instability to the region and the world. This vulnerable status does not only apply to the republics, but also to the Gulf monarchies. They are caving under the political pressure. Their weak foundations have made them fragile and at risk of collapse. Rebuilding these states politically, economically and socially is a 20-30 year project, and with the current unstable security situation, they become a target for groups like ISIS and other regional powers looking to exploit vulnerable states to exert their influence.

On the other hand, in the greater Levant the dynamics is rapidly changing and has become a puzzle to outsiders. Global powers are looking for the sources of politics to stabilize the region. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) can be an example for the greater Levant. The US and the international community must promote the political, institutional, and economic structure as model to build a greater Levant because the KRG has survived many challenges and tests.

As such, Kurds will have a greater role. For centuries, other religious and ethnic minorities gradually assimilated into the Arab nation and lost their identities in an arbitrary trade off to keep either their religion or ethnicity within a broader context of the Arab nation. “Early Islamic conquerors not only converted people of the occupied lands to Islam, but also attempted to melt these cultures and ethnicities into an Arab culture. To some extent they succeeded”, stated Tadros. Some groups including Persians and Turks used different methods to resist this Arabisation wave, but what is less known is how Kurds kept their identities and cultures and carried it on to modern times. As events unfold, the role of Kurds in Iraq and Syria is becoming irrefutable. Kurds are now a greater player in shaping the political and social mosaic of the Middle East. And as the fertility rate among the Kurds is among the highest in the Middle East, they will inevitably have a greater political role to play in the region.

Both scholars believe that the time is ripe for Kurds, and especially those who are living in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, to use this unique historical opportunity – which might not come again – to put their house in order by working on the institutionalisation of their governments, and restoring political, social, and economic order to become a greater factor in stabilizing the region rather than weakening it.

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