Panel 6d. New Approaches to Identity in the IR of the Middle East

Chair: Prof Raymond Hinnebusch

The ‘Moderate Axis’ and the Link between Domestic and Foreign Policies in Middle Eastern Geopolitics
Ewan Stein / Yaniv Voller, University of Edinburgh

A recurring theme in the history of Middle Eastern international politics has been the division between “moderate” and “radical” axes. Initially used by foreign observers to simplify regional geopolitics, this division has soon come to be used by local actors, either in self-reference or in order to describe other regional actors. Our paper focuses on this latter aspect. It seeks to demonstrate that actors’ self-reference as moderates could underline the link between domestic and foreign policies. Often, we argue, a moderate foreign policy has correlated with radical policies at the domestic front, and vice versa – a “radical” foreign policy has on many cases corresponded with moderate or conservative policies at home. We suggest that maintaining or seeking to alter the internal characteristics of states may be critical drivers of foreign policy in ways not generally noted. Seeming moderates may actually seek to promote specific political models within states in order to sustain particular elite interests. To support this argument we bring four examples: Nasserist Egypt and the “unity of aims” policy; Revolutionary Iraq in the immediate post-revolutionary era; regional responses to the ascent of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt; and regional responses to the rise of ISIS. This paper thus end up making a two-stage argument: 1) moderates seek to preserve the states system; 2) moderates seek to sustain particular forms of sovereignty within the states in that system.

Religion and Politics in a post-Arab uprising setting: Conceptual articulations
Bashir Saade, University of Edinburgh

Any account that considers taking seriously the role of ideas seem to stumble over the particular relationship between religion and politics in the Middle East. Religion seem to be a buzzword for different things ranging from state national imaginaries, social mobilizing techniques, piety practices and identity markers of kinds. But particular relations of power prevailing between different institutions (state, non-state, ecclesiastical, and so on) are engulfed in drastic re-articulations of notions of the religious to fit political concerns. I want to look at one particular case of these constrained articulations where religion is being equated with either peace or war, violence or pacific behavior, redefining the relation between the religious and the political. I will shed light on this phenomenon by looking at three interlinked cases in a post-Arab uprising setting: Israel as a Jewish state and its recent politics in the occupied Palestinian territories, The Catholic Church’s new found interest and recent diplomatic shuffling in the Middle East, and the rise of ISIS as a militant organization that directly links religious identity with most spectacular gruesome acts of violence.

Democracy, Debt, and the Middle East: Rediscovering Foucault’s Politics of Confession
Andrea Teti, University of Aberdeen

This paper draws Foucault’s analysis of confession to argue that its basic tenets also mark the operation of two apparently distinct mechanisms of power: the politics of democracy-promotion in the Middle East, and the politics of debt in Europe. The paper first extends Foucault’s treatment of confession moving beyond conventional approaches to confession as a simple truth-producing technique, and viewing it as a schema for complex relations of power rooted in the tension between an emancipatory imperative enjoined upon the other and conditions that make its achievement impossible. The second part of the paper sketches the application of this analytical framework to two specific cases: Western democracy-promotion in the Middle East, and the politics of debt in Europe. The paper presents a framework within which Middle Eastern and European/Western identity formation and evolution – particularly the symbiotic radicalisation of Islamist extremism and European xenophobia – can be understood as ’twinned’ in specific ways.

Perceptions and Foreign Policy: Israel and the Arab Uprisings
Amnon Aran, City University, London

The Arab uprisings have had significant implications for three of Israel’s neighboring countries. Egypt witnessed the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak, the election of a candidate fielded by the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi, and his removal by a military coup. The Syrian state has all but imploded whilst Jordan has had to cope with the economic pressures created by the influx of refugees and the collapse of the Syrian and Iraqi economies. Amid these turbulent changes Israeli foreign policy towards these countries has remained remarkably consistent with the pre Arab-uprisings epoch. This paper will explain this consistency as a product of the foreign policy perceptions of the main Israeli foreign policy decision-maker during this period, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which have defined what has be termed as the Israeli ‘national interest’ in the wake of the Arab uprisings.

Beyond Borders: The Rise of Ethno-Religious Politics in Israel and the Middle East
Raffaella A. Del Sarto, European University Institute

The paper focuses on the rise of ethno-religious politics in Israel and the Middle East, defined as the framing of politics and policies on the basis of belonging to specific ethnic or religious groups. The paper argues that the rise of ethno-religious politics is a significant phenomenon in the Middle East with far-reaching implications: it impacts on the geopolitics of the region, has implications for the resolution of conflicts and affects the international relations of the Middle East. Moreover, this phenomenon significantly changes the parameters of domestic politics. The paper starts by discussing the shifts marking Israel’s foreign and domestic policies after the collapse of the Oslo process in 2000-2001, by focusing on two major manifestations: First, the constant rise of ethno-religious conceptions of the nation, the state and its borders since the 1970s. And second, the emergence of a relatively new domestic consensus on threats and the regional order, which also follows ethno-religious lines. This development has been particularly salient since the end of Oslo process. While highlighting the implications of this development at the regional, domestic, and international levels, the paper shows that the changes affecting Israel must be put into a regional and historical context, that is, the rise of ethno-religious politics all over the Middle East since the 1970s. The paper concludes with a number of considerations on the theory and practice of the international relations of the Middle East and Israel’s place in the region.

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