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This chapter examines the landmark series of negotiations between Arabs and Israelis in the early 1990s, culminating in the Oslo accords (1993), which marked the first and so far, the only sustained effort at peaceful resolution of the Arab–Israeli conflict. These events, which dominated the regional panorama and captured the international imagination, assist one's understanding not only of the nature and direction of Middle East politics, but also their positioning within the emerging international order as outlined by then US President George H. W. Bush. At first, it seemed that the accords, in reconciling the two major parties to the conflict — the Israelis and the Palestinians — were a demonstration of an emerging and more liberal international system. Yet the fragility of this system, in the Middle East as elsewhere, was soon exposed.

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This chapter offers critical reviews of the explanatory power of identity and culture in understanding international relations in the Middle East. It focuses on Arabism and other regional ethnicities as sources of political identity. The importance of these identities within the region has been accentuated because of the poor fit between identity and states and regimes — a colonial legacy, but one that remains pertinent today, as revealed in the Arab uprisings. Indeed, the persistence of conflict in the Middle East must be understood through this ‘incongruence of identity and material structures’. Focusing on pan-Arabism, as well as the irredentist and separatist movements that have characterized the history and political development of the region, the chapter shows how the interaction of identity with state formation and development has contributed to numerous wars, and most recently to the evolution of regional developments following the Arab Spring.

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This chapter assesses the critical issue of political reform in the Middle East. The Arab world has been slow to respond to the global processes of democratization. The chapter then highlights the political economy of states, the persistence of conflict, regime type, and the ambiguity over the relationship between democracy and Islam. This relationship is not necessarily a contradictory one. Islamic discourse is marked by participation and diversity rather than by rigidity and intolerance. Further, as the Arab Spring has illustrated, civil society is vibrant and growing in many states across the region. Meanwhile, responses from the West to political reform have been lukewarm, with stability and regional alliances privileged over democracy. The evidence from the region, even before the Arab uprisings, is that peoples want better and more representative government, even if they remain unclear as to what type of government that should be.

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This chapter traces the origins and the entry of Middle East states into the international system after the First World War. The modern states of the Arab Middle East emerged from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the post-First World War settlement. The fall of the Ottoman Empire left the Turks and Arabs ready for statehood, although unprepared for dealing with the international system. Indeed, the Palestine crisis brought to light Arab weaknesses in the international arena and in regional affairs that were a legacy of the way in which the colonial powers shaped the emergence of the modern Middle East. Ultimately, the emergence of the state system in the Middle East is a history both of the creation of stable states and of destabilizing conflicts.

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This chapter describes the changing dynamics of regionalism and alliance-making in the Middle East, processes that are closely related to and reflect states' foreign and domestic policy choices. The Middle East is not a region without regionalism at the societal or interstate level. There have been multiple forces for cooperation, particularly in the Arab world, based upon common identity, interests and beliefs; multiple alliances that intersect the Arab and non-Arab world; and evidence of cooperation in both broader and narrower regional settings like the Gulf. Global as well as regional trends and influences also push the Middle East into new arenas of cooperation. However, outcomes are mixed: an array of factors including regime insecurity, local rivalries, and external influence inhibit attempts at regional cooperation. Events since the Arab Spring have presented opportunities but also further challenges for Arab regional institutions as new divides and regional alignments emerge.

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This chapter addresses the role of Islam in the international relations in the Middle East. In a historically informed account, it shows how Islam has interacted with the domestic, regional, and international politics of the region in a variety of forms. Its influence, however, has ebbed and flowed alongside different currents in regional and international relations. In this regard, globalization has been a facilitator of transnational Islam, but by no means a force for union. Notwithstanding its evident importance, there has been little substantive presence of religion in the foreign policies of Middle Eastern states, even in those more overtly Islamic ones such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, the popular uprisings in the Arab world created new opportunities and challenges for the Islamic movement, which continue to affect states' foreign policies notably through the phenomenon of ‘sectarianization’.

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This chapter assesses the evolution of US policy towards the Middle East. It begins with a historical sketch of US involvement in the area, discussing the traditional US interests. The chapter then considers US policy in the administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald J. Trump. President Obama's attempt to reset relations with the region produced mixed results: he reached an agreement to limit Iran's nuclear program, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and oversaw the successful Bin Laden raid in 2011, but failed to offset continuing regional turmoil following the Arab uprisings and the rise of IS, or to make any progress on the Israel–Palestine question. While there are some observable continuities, President Trump has already upended US Middle East policy in several significant ways, as advisors attempt to restrain his apparent desire to undo his predecessor's legacy.

Chapter

This chapter focuses on conflicts in the Middle East during the 1980s. Despite the Camp David settlement, peace remained elusive in the Middle East. An Egyptian–Israeli settlement could neither resolve the conflict between Israel and the Arab states nor bring stability and peace to the region. Anwar Sadat and Menachim Begin had achieved a limited peace for Egypt. Egypt, for its part, had abandoned the myth of Arab unity between the competing states of the region and pursued national interests. However, other conflicts were taking place in the region, including those arising from the Lebanese Civil War, which added to the fundamental failure to deal with the Palestinian Question. The chapter first considers Israel’s invasion of Lebanon before discussing the Arab–Israeli conflict and the Palestinian Question, the Iran–Iraq war of 1980–8, and the accusation of the US, that Libya was a supporter of ‘international terrorism’.

Chapter

Rosemary Hollis

This concluding chapter explores the evolution and development of European approaches to the Middle East. An expansion of European imperial rule across the Middle East followed the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War. By the end of the twentieth century, the United States was unrivalled power-broker across the region, but the Europeans had turned old imperialist relationships into commercial ones. Bound to MENA by economic interdependence and migration flows, the European Union (EU) formulated a series of initiatives designed to address new transnational security concerns through the deployment of ‘soft power’. By 2011 and the eruption of popular uprisings across the Arab world, the EU was itself in the throes of an economic crisis that forced a rethink in European policies toward the region and a reassertion of bilateralism.

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This chapter focuses on the Middle East during the post-Cold-War era. It introduces some the key themes that have come to dominate contemporary international relations of the Middle East: oil; new and old conflicts; the impacts of globalization; and religio-politics. In considering the major security patterns and trends in the Middle East, one finds a number of enduring issues, such as the Arab–Israeli conflict and border disputes. At the same time, one can see elements of change, both within these conflicts and with the emergence of recent threats, such as Iranian nuclearization, with profound consequences for regional alliance structures. As old and new security issues mingle in the geopolitical order, events of the past few years reflect a region dominated by conflict clusters. It is no surprise then that the Middle East remains a highly militarized region.

Chapter

This chapter focuses on the Iraq war of 2003–11 and the troubles in the Middle East. George W. Bush’s advisers, led by Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, had been considering an attack on Iraq well before 9/11. At the same time, many experts within the government pointed to the lack of any evidence for Iraqi-sponsored terrorism directed against the United States. The threats to US national security were outlined to Bush in a briefing just prior to his inauguration; these threats came primarily from al-Qaeda’s terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The chapter first considers the US decision to invade Iraq, before discussing the war, taking into account the US’s Operation Iraqi Freedom and the war’s costs to the US and to Iraq. It also examines the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and concludes with an assessment of the ‘Arab Spring’.