Archives For PL SC 357 Middle East- Political Systems

Introduction: The Perils of Ignoring History

Written during and immediately following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and first published in 2004, the 2005 edition of Rashid Khalidi’s Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East bears a new introduction, taking into account what Khalidi terms twenty months of U.S. mismanaged occupation. Khalidi covers what he deems the true motives of the Bush administration in invading and occupying Iraq and what he terms their perilous disregard for history.

Chapter 1: The Legacy of the Western Encounter with the Middle East

In chapter 1, Khalidi goes over the history of Western intervention in Middle East politics from World War 1, through the period of colonial expansion, and into the present. He adeptly compares and contrasts the history of past Western European intervention with present U.S. intervention. In so doing, he draws parallels between them meant to demonstrate the imperial colonial nature of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. He points out that while most Americans ignore this history, Middle Easterners don’t.

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Christopher Hurtado —  December 15, 2008 — Leave a comment

Turkey’s geographical location, between Europe on the one side and the Middle Eastern on the other, positions the nation at the cross roads of both east and west. Turkey holds the distinction of being the only Muslim nation with a viable democracy, a member of NATO, and one that maintains a “strategic partnership” with the U.S. Turkey is also unique in the Muslim world in its quest to join the European Union. At the same time, the Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, and a majority in the administration are Muslims who observe “conservative faith-based values.”  In order to qualify for EU membership, Turkey must practice policies such as human rights and government accountability. With this in mind, Turkey is being very careful with its Kurdish problem, seeking to form policies that honor Kurdish cultural rights and the “Kurdish identity.” Turkey’s desire to join the EU affects both domestic and international policy and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Turkey faces a number of serious challenges at home and abroad. One domestic challenge is maintaining a secular government and a balance between the various factions in a country with a strong Islamic base. Turkey’s push to join the EU continues to be a major focus. A number of Western European countries, in particular the right wing parties of France and Germany, are adamantly opposed to Turkey’s membership in the EU. They suggest that instead of membership, Turkey be given the status of a “privileged partnership,” a position Turkey is likely to reject. A majority of EU governments support eventual membership for Turkey, so the opponents seek to slow down the negotiations with “technical obstacles” and reference to the Cyprus problem.

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Egypt’s pre-eminence in the Arab world is based on history, culture, population, and the political transformation of Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser. Nasser became a role model for Arab leaders for decades calling for pan-Arabism and socialism Following Nasser in 1970, Anwar al-Sadat broke with the Soviet Union, promoted capitalism, sought American friendship, and made peace with Israel. For this he incurred the enmity of radical Islamists and Egypt was expelled from the Arab League. After Sadat’s assassination in 1981, Hosni Mubarak once again brought Egypt back to its traditional role as a leader among the Arab nations, and led the Arab state’s opposition to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Under pressure for greater popular political participation in 2005, Mubarak’s government passed an amendment allowing for direct election of the President. While pursuing economic reforms, the Egyptian economy continues to be challenged by a growing number of young people in need of jobs. Though Mubarak appears well entrenched, he faces a host of challenges caused by a stagnant economy, rampant corruption, and radical Islamist violence. During the 1980s and 90s Mubarak ruthlessly repressed opposition groups and silenced dissent to maintain stability. Thousands of political prisoners are still held in Egypt’s jails. However, the election reforms have encouraged groups to work toward fairer and more competitive elections in the future. While Mubarak continues to maintain a firm hand on the nation, his successor will most likely face greater demands for reform.

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Syria and Lebanon

Christopher Hurtado —  December 15, 2008 — Leave a comment


Syria, under Bashar al-Asad who assumed the Presidency in 2000 with the death of his father, Hafiz al-Asad, faces severe problems including rampant corruption, the influx of nearly a million refugees from Lebanon and Iraq, and a stagnant state economy. Its close ties to Iran and militant Palestinian groups and its implication in the murder of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hairir in 2005 isolate it from the West.

A history of repression and autocratic rule during the two decades Hafiz al-Asad held power appears to be continuing under his son as evidenced by the 2006 mass arrests of human rights activists and opposition figures. The government continues to be highly centralized and authoritarian, held up by a large domestic security force. Bashar al-Asad’s power base appears to be shrinking following Syria’s forced withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005.

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The Arab-Israeli Conflict began to develop over the control of the same land once Jewish settlements began to expand in Palestine to the extent that they posed a threat to the Palestinians. While the Israeli Jews were no threat to the sovereignty of other Arab states, they began to use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to gain advantages for their regimes.

Though the Arab leaders have used the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to enhance their positions within the Arab Cold War, they have never gone to war against Israel to liberate Palestine nor have they worked together to create diplomatic solutions to the problem. Without real commitment to the Palestinian cause, posturing has replaced substantive dialogue. Arab states demonstrate a great reluctance to take the risks that might actually lead to Palestinian liberation.

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The politics of war and revolution in the Persian Gulf

Conflicts of the late 1970s through the Gulf War of the 1990s have demonstrated the significance and fragility of the Persian Gulf, an area that contains over 60 percent of the world’s reserves of oil. Because of the importance of these oil reserves, every conflict in this region becomes an international event. While the collapse of the Soviet Union has reduced U.S.-Soviet tensions it has created new problems for the world and the Gulf region.

Political, economic, and religious interests of the region overlap oil interests to create complex regional issues.  Basic problems such as the problem of national identity and political legitimacy have remained unresolved and have taken a back seat to oil interests. For the most part, the Arab states have resisted the forces of democratization that have been sweeping the world and have remained monarchies.  They use their oil wealth to maintain their power, reinforce tradition, and crush or dominate their political rivals.  The relative stability of these states is attested by the fact that of eight Persian Gulf states, only Iran and Iraq have experienced revolutions during this period.

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Arab governments have, for the most part, claimed legitimacy based on Arab nationalism and persist despite being challenged by Islamicists. The oil-wealthy Arab states attempt to buy the loyalty of their people by providing them with goods and services, while precluding widespread political participation. Neither the poor nor the rich Arab countries have produced nation-states based on a broad base of political participation. As a result, the legitimacy of these governments will continue to be disputed throughout the state building process.

Aside from a large, organized and effective Islamicist opposition, many of these countries also face a potentially large, unstable, unorganized mass of discontented urban lower class. To further complicate matters, this group is apt to be mobilized by revivalist Islam or other radical organizations. The response of these governments to these real or potential threats has been attempts at appeasement through strategies such as food subsidies, and to divide and conquer the opposition, pitting one group against another.

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