Saudi In Yemen

Building off of the potential increases in power of Iran following the recent nuclear deal with the P5+1 comes the issue of how Saudi Arabia will react to this change in the balance of power.

With an increasing Iranian power the region will shift from a Saudi centered unipolar power dynamic to a bipolar system in which the two powers will offset each other. This has the potential to create a regional mini cold war.

One of the many issues associated with a cold war is the increasing likelihood of proxy wars. This currently appears to be the case in Yemen following the Saudi response.

An interesting op ed by David Roberts in a recent BBC news article titled “How far is Saudi-Iranian Rivalry Fueling Yemen War?” addresses this very issue.

What Roberts argues is that this is not a sectarian issue as many in the media have played it off to be. The Saudi’s historically have had no issue with the Shiite Yemen. This issue only came about in recent years. Further the evidence of cooperation between the Houthi Rebels and Iran is much lower than previously reported. There are many discrepancies in the previous reporting of this conflict with the association between Iran and the Yemeni conflict.

In reality this is much more of a response by Saudi because they are feeling encircled by the expanding Iranian influence in the region. This is evident across Iraq and Syria most notably. It makes sense that Saudi would panic that there is the potential of Yemen to become loyal to Iran however, this is not currently the case. Ultimately, this appears to be more of a preventative scramble to ward off a future possibility of an encircled Saudi Arabia by pro Iranian states.

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Course Reflection

This semester I had the unique opportunity of taking both of Professor Webb’s courses on the Middle East and North Africa. The first, Authoritarianism and Change in the Middle East and North Africa, and the second, Intentional Relations of the Middle East and North Africa.

I sincerely believe that taking these two courses a the same time or in close proximity to one another is hugely beneficial to anyone interested in understanding the region on a deeper level.

I could easily tell you all about the youth bulge or the shifting of regional power following the Iranian nuclear deal. I can discuss the roots of the Tunisian Revolution and why they have been successful in facilitating democratic transition while other states have not. I can talk about the arab-israeli conflict in great depth.

If I have learned anything from this semester it is that there is no one root cause to an issue and nothing can be analyzed from a single issue. Often the issues are transnational and global in cause and their effects can have just as far reaching impacts. Not only did this semester provide me with the opportunity to understand how these states act from a comparative politics standpoint, but also from an international relations standpoint. While they may seem similar in subject both are needed to understand the region as a whole.

Ambiguities of Domination-Lisa Wedeen

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One of the topics we covered this semester in Authoritarianism and Change in the Middle East and North Africa was the events that lead to the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. To do this we covered a variety of sources to provide a comparative narrative as to the circumstances that lead up to revolution in each country.

Lisa Wedeen’s book Ambiguities of Domination was the source we use primarily in relation to the events leading up to the Syrian Revolution. This book provided a great insight to the circumstances under which Syrians were pushed to the breaking point of revolution. This was through the heavy government censorship, the cult of personality under the Assad regime and the constant fear of secret police to list a few.

Perhaps the best part of this book was the section containing the political cartoons which were poking fun of the Assad regime and the system of governance. I found it absolutely incredible that the government allowed some of these cartoons to be printed. However, after some consideration, the government due to all of its censorship and heavy handed policy, allowing these cartoons to be published is a statement in itself as to how much control the regime had over the people. It was basically saying “we know everything especially how much you criticize us.”

The true benefit of this book comes in the similarities found between pre-Revolutionary Syria and other states in the region. For my final paper I addressed the topic of the Tunisian Revolution and why it was so successful compared to others in the region, especially Syria’s. The important takeaway here is the similarities between the countries under the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia and the Assad Regime in Syria.

All in all I found this book to be a great tool in understanding the region as a while even if at times it was a bit difficult to understand the vernacular of Wedeen.

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Arab Spring and the Role of Social Media

The Arab Spring of 2011 was widely publicized as a movement created out of social media which allowed people to communicate both within the state and abroad. While social media did play a major role in shaping the revolutions it was not nearly as important as news sources made it appear in the overall outcome of some of the success stories such as Tunisia.

First, it is important to understand that in the case of revolution, many of these countries were under extremely oppressive rule that restricted communication among citizens and with the outside world. A key element in the success of the Arab Spring movement was the communication with the outside world and with media outlets. While some of this was done over social media the vast majority was done through bluetooth communication between cellphones. This passed information and videos from person to person until it could escape the boarder and reach a news outlet such as CNN or Al Jazeera.

The benefits that social media have provided in the case of these revolutions is that it is much easier for people to communicate and build organization. This allows people to organize protests and marches with much greater ease as well as disperse information to a greater audience much quicker than ever before. The remaining issue is that it is still very difficult to complete a revolution.

There are many challenges associated with successfully completing a revolution as evidenced by the disarray of the majority of revolutionary states in the Middle East and North Africa. The important takeaway is that social media plays a very important role in facilitating a discussion and organizing the origins of an uprising even if other factors limit the later stages of the revolution

The future will undoubtedly see many more revolutions rise out of a strong social media organization.

End to Sykes Picot Agreement?

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One of the potential consequences of the Syrian Civil War is the ending of the Sykes Picot Agreement and the breakup of the boarders established by French and British interests. Generally this would be a good thing for the region as ethnic minorities would be able to gain statehood and autonomy in their region. This would  potentially solve a great deal of the recent conflict in the region as states with oppressed minorities would become much fewer.

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The realities of this are very distant due to the nature of authoritarian rule in the region. Essentially no state wants to give up any of its territory even in the interest of peace. This has long been an issue throughout the region and has been bitterly contested.

However, could this be the final straw which leads to the dismantling of boarders?

One of the largest movements for a restructuring of state boarders comes out of the Kurdish movement. The above map which shows the Kurds in dark red clearly demonstrates this is a multinational issue. Spanning across the boarders of Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran, the Kurds have long been pushing for independent statehood.

This issue has historically been oppressed in nearly all of these countries but this time may be different…

The effects of the Syrian Civil War have had far reaching effects across the region. One of these effects is the growth of ISIS. ISIS erupted as a terror organization that has been ravaging both Syria and Northern Iraq. Currently one of the most successful forces to combat this threat are the Kurdish militias.

If the Kurdish militias can continue to repel ISIS and gain more and more territory for themselves there is the very real possibility of them gaining their own state. Part of this comes from the general disarray of the Iraqi government following years of fighting as well as the current state of turmoil in Syria.

The Kurdish issue has been ongoing for decades now without much success for Kurdish independence. This could finally be the tipping point that ends the Sykes Picot Agreement and creates an independent Kurdish nation.

Iran’s Water Crisis

Water has been a dominant issue throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Historically Iran has found themselves better off than most in the region with higher rates of annual rainfall and larger groundwater reserves. However, after years of mismanagement and unsustainable development Iran is currently in the midst of one of it’s worst water crisis ever. This crisis has the potential to make almost the entire country uninhabitable.

Like many countries in the region Iran is dominated by desert. This desert region found in the south and central areas of the country have little access to water and little rainfall. This is compared to the Caspian region and western Iran which experiences greater rainfall and has access to river sources.

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These river sources, the tributaries of the Tigris are experiencing extremely low water levels due mainly to overuse of water in unsustainable agricultural practices as well as the wasting of water in modernizing development. Additionally, groundwater sources have been severely depleted beyond repair.

Further, while the north and western portions of Iran experience much greater rates of rainfall per year this rain comes in seasonal wet and dry periods. The lack of consistent rainfall throughout the year poses a problem as reservoirs are only replenished half of the year.

The dwindling sources of water has become an ever growing issue in Iran as population has skyrocketed since the 1979 Revolution.

So what’s the future?

Currently Iran is implementing the use of desalination plants along the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf. This however, only benefits those in the immediate proximity of the treatment plants as it is too expensive to transport the water. There have recently been projects to pipe water to stop the desertification of central Iran.

Iran is quickly developing new methods of desalination. This ranges from nanotechnology to solar powered plants.

The only real solution to Iran’s problem is to implement severe restrictions on water usage as well as the use of sustainable measures. This includes a restructuring of the agricultural industry to ensure water is used efficiently, further the water that is available must be recycled and reused in order to ensure this resource is available in the future.

Turkey’s Growing Energy Demand and What it Means for Regional Stability

Turkey has long been a central hub in natural gas and oil markets. Pipelines from Russia, Iraq and Azerbaijan pass through the region. Additionally there major ports along the Mediterranean as well as along the Black Sea provide major ports for oil tankers.

In a country with so much oil and natural gas passing through it seems unlikely that they would need to diversify their energy sources. However, this is exactly what Turkey is doing. According to the U.S Energy Information Agency, demand is set to double within the next 10-15 years. This demand is currently being met through imports of oil and natural gas.

As indicated above Turkey relies almost entirely on imports to satisfy this energy demand. Also made evident by the above graph is the low production rates of hydrocarbon production within the country.

An important development in Turkey’s search for energy sources is the easing of sanctions on Iran following the most recent nuclear deal. While Iranian natural gas is currently more expensive than Russian natural gas, and the Russians have proposed continued price cuts to undercut the Iranian exports, Turkey has definite plans to increase trade with Iran. This would provide the Iranians the opportunity to increase their volume of production and will eventually, as the Turk’s hope, reduce the price of Iranian natural gas.

The necessity of diversifying energy sources beyond just Russia comes can best be summed up by the foreign relations of the two countries. Richard Weitz¬†described the relationship as “overt friendship and restrained competition.” This stems from lingering Cold War tensions as well as disagreement on various issues throughout the region.

This is a very interesting issue given the regional politics especially considering the recent strains in relations between Iran and Turkey over the Syrian Civil War. Both countries are at odds with each others response to the conflict.

Ultimately Iran needs to build stable and maintain stable and long lasting relations with Turkey if they want to gain market access to Europe as the majority of pipelines will pass directly through Turkey.

This is undoubtedly an issue that will come up with greater frequency in the future as Iran enters the global markets following the lifting of economic sanctions and as Turkish energy demand increases with their growing population.

What this will mean for the future is a much stronger Iran. If Iran has easy and unrestricted access to European Markets their power will increase significantly as their economy improves. Further, Turkey, an already powerful regional player will grow in power as their prospects of energy security improve. Ultimately in a region plagued by instability this could be a much needed step in the road to rebuilding the Middle East.