It has become somewhat of a cliché to state that the Middle East, with the Arab World at its heart, is undergoing a period of profound change. Political revolution, proliferating regional conflicts, and escalating intervention by outside powers have all produced a situation of upheaval without precedent since the formation of the modern Middle East following WWI. What the future holds for the region has now become an open question with implications beyond the Middle East itself.
It is this focus on Middle East futures that forms the theme of the SPRING 2019 issue of the Cairo Review. A diverse group of authors from the region delve into the trends and trajectories that are shaping the politics and geopolitics of the region.
In our lead essay “Thinking Arab Futures,” Paul Salem offers a penetrating analysis of how the field of future studies can—and should—inform policy choices about the future for a region that has seemingly lost the ability to chart its own destiny. Karim Haggag looks at the multiple challenges undermining the prevailing regional order and addresses the question of what will replace it. Abdel Monem Said Aly shows that while geopolitics can be a source of competition, the emerging geo-economics of the Middle East can be a powerful driver for regional cooperation.
The rise of the “non-Arab Middle East” is a constant theme that pervades the region’s politics. The roles of Iran and Turkey are addressed in several insightful essays featured in our special section. Soner Cagaptay and Birol Baskan explore the nexus between Turkey’s domestic politics under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and its aspirations to assume a regional leadership role. While Iran is seen as a driver for much of the region’s conflicts, Seyed Hossein Mousavian offers a vision for Iran’s role in the formulation of a diplomatic model for conflict resolution and crisis management in the Middle East. Focusing more on Iran’s domestic context, Ali Fathollah-Nejad’s essay offers a sober assessment of how multiple intersecting challenges—political, socioeconomic, and ecological—are producing a situation of creeping crisis for the Islamic Republic.
This analysis is complemented by other features in this issue. Dan Perry and Allison Hodgkins tackle Israel’s election and what the renewed electoral mandate secured by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds in store for Israel and the region. Guney Yildiz highlights how regional developments are confronting the Kurds—the region’s largest ethnic group without a state—with existential choices that they must address.
As with many of the themes featured in these pages, the debate about “Middle East Futures” is ultimately meant to inform policy. In his introduction to our special section, Nabil Fahmy, dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo, highlights how this debate is at the heart of the initiative recently launched by the university to mark its centennial anniversary under the title of “Al-Mostakbal” or “the future” in Arabic—an ambitious three-year project to chart alternative futures for the Middle East, and the policy decisions that must be made to realize them.