August 18, 2016

The Middle East at an Inflection Point with Lisa Anderson

"I think it's fair to say we now live in an era of quantum politics. Uncertainty is not a transitory condition, it is a principle. And I think that will be true forever now. The moment where we really thought we could understand with certainty the character of politics, particularly in the Middle East, but globally, is probably over.

So, the interplay of all these revolutions creates an enormous amount of complexity and confusion for us. So what I simply want to do is take off a few issues I think are necessary to construct a description of the region and anticipate what the trajectory of some of these different levels of revolution might be. I think, in fact, there are some patterns of at least winners and losers or shifts in the way politics happen that we can tease out of this very complicated landscape.  

In the first place, keep in mind that the state that we have described for now 10-20 years is in eclipse, is itself a relatively new feature of human society and there are a lot of alternatives to this state. And there historically have been. Other sorts of communities, families, tribes, churches, religious brotherhoods, business networks, secret societies, all sorts of things, have served for millennia as vehicles for regulating social interaction, organizing economic production and exchange, assuring security. And in many parts of the Middle East where formal expressions of statehood - territorial boundaries, standing armies, international sovereignty - are eroding as Haass anticipated, these kinds of communities are reviving. And while they may be partly reinventions of tradition, they are quite robust and I will be returning to them over the course of time.

The state and the way the state was created in the Middle East and North Africa in itself contributed to the character of these kinds of non-state actors. There were two congenital defects, if you will, in the states as they were established, particularly after the First World War. They have an ambiguous, sometimes hostile, sometimes unhealthily co-dependent on relations with non-state communities and identities. I'll elaborate on that. And they have responsibilities they could never fulfill on their own resources. So let me talk a little about that because I think it is important to recognize the way the state and non-state identities and actors have been intertwined since the very beginning of the modern state era in the Middle East and North Africa about a hundred years ago." - Lisa Anderson [11:52 - 14:44 in the video below]. 

Video Title: The Middle East at an Inflection Point with Lisa Anderson. Source: Center for Strategic & International Studies. Date Published: May 6, 2016. Description:
This is the final event in a speaker series on the challenges faced by and in the region in 2016, including the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, the fifth anniversary of the Arab uprisings, and a potential turning point in the battle against the Islamic State group. This session will highlight the strategic challenges of governance going forward.

Dr. Lisa Anderson
Former President of the American University in Cairo

Introduction and Moderated Discussion by
Dr. Jon B. Alterman
Senior Vice President, Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, and Director, Middle East Program, CSIS

Lisa Anderson is a specialist on politics in the Middle East and North Africa. She previously served as president of the American University in Cairo (AUC) from 2011 to 2016, and as provost from 2008 to 2010. Prior to that, she served as the dean of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) from 1996-2008, and as the James T. Shotwell Professor of International Relations at Columbia University. She was also chair of the Columbia’s political science department and director of Columbia’s Middle East Institute. Before joining Columbia, she was assistant professor of government and social studies at Harvard University.