Current Political Outlook in the Middle East,

On June 24, 2013, INCIPE organized a Work Breakfast under the heading, Current Political Outlook in the Middle East, due to the anticipated visit of Eduardo López Busquets, the Director of the Arab House. The Work Breakfast outlined the main lines of change experienced in the region since the so-called “Arab awakening,” which began over two years ago. The reconfiguration of state institutions emerged in the first half of the twentieth century and is the most problematic consequence for the Middle East. In this sense, the effects of the Syrian conflict could be paradigmatic.

In Syria, there are recurring themes throughout the region like the political importance of ethnic minorities, control of institutions by a regime, and the Alawite (which does not represent the majority of the population but is not backed exclusively by that minority). Assad’s alliance with the Sunni bourgeoisie is a key issue and is often overlooked in analyses. In addition, interventions from peripheral states like Iran and Saudi Arabia, in defense of strategic interests, are leading many to predict a new territorial distribution of political power in Syria.

In this sense, they are questioning old paradigms such as the Syke-Picot agreement, which would review the current borders. Syria would be the detonator in conformation, or not, of these new maps.

Other transforming elements in the region include the arrival of political Islam and the so-called “conflict demography.” Political Islam came from the hand of the so-called “Arab Spring.” Evidence of this includes the victories of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Ennahada in Tunisia, and the Justice and Development Party in Morocco. Some of these countries are in transition, and this process is understood as a situation in which the lines are not strictly laid down for the future. The big issue is therefore whether access to political institutions leads to greater radicalism of these movements or to acceptance of the political game in all its dimensions. This is a difficult issue considering other decisive factors in the Middle East as its “conflicting demographics,” with 60% of the population under the age of 25 and in the search for identity.

In fact, since the outbreak of the revolution in Tunisia in late 2010, sectarianism has increasingly favored the establishment of two geopolitical axes, one Sunni, spanning from Tunisia to Turkey via Qatar (an emerging power in the region against the traditional Saudi), and the other Shiite from Iran to Pakistan, including Lebanon. In that sense, one of the key points of analysis about the region is the interpretation of political and social events in recent years in the Middle East as a result of this geopolitical tension between the two axes. However, arguably the geopolitical issues are associated with such political and social tensions are pre-existing.

In the discussion that followed the presentation, issues such as the position of Iran, the geographical location of Iran by tectonic faults in the region, and the role of minorities were addressed. The role of the U.S. and Russia, and the Spanish position in the UN mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL), were among many other topics.

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