Publisher Description

Borders are a fundamental yet tricky issue in international politics. Despite their seemingly static nature, shifting frontiers are at the heart of many historical changes, not just through war. The region of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is experiencing important transitions in several respects, some of which are traumatic. We may describe the overall state of play in the Middle East as a “great imbalance”, in the sense that power relationships are contested and far from clear; as a consequence, the credibility of commitments and alliances, as well as the very resilience of state institutions, are repeatedly tested. Such a strategic outlook is especially conducive to violent conflict, given that stability is neither guaranteed by a well-understood balance of power (via deterrence, diplomacy backed by credible military commitments, etc.), or pursued through institutional arrangements (formal cooperative security treaties, international mediation, etc.).

In this unsettled context, one of the transitions currently underway has to do with state borders and their practical meaning.

Most states in the region belong to the theoretical category of “weak states” – by which we can generically indicate those political entities which, despite being internationally recognized, have a limited capacity to supply basic “political goods” of comparatively adequate quality (especially the rule of law). The weakness of a “weak state” is not necessarily external, but first and foremost internal, and it often equates with a lack of accountability. The problem is that an internally hollow structure will eventually fail to manage external pressures.

Precisely because these states exhibit significant gaps in their capability to enforce the rule of law, poor or very uneven economic performance, and sometimes openly contested institutions, they now also face direct threats or challenges to their borders that they are ill-equipped to manage peacefully. Indeed, the custodians of state borders risk being overwhelmed by regional forces that were not nearly as powerful or pervasive just a few years ago.

In the MENA region, several governments currently in power are seen by their citizens (or by sizeable minorities among the population) as not fully legitimate and accountable; and members of the political establishment can often be described as “rentier elites”, given the sharp limits imposed on truly competitive politics as well as on the market economy. This situation has given rise to an apparent paradox: civil society (as opposed to state institutions) is mostly fragmented and unable to exert genuine popular sovereignty, but sectors of civil society are also restless and more mobilized than in the past – especially following the Arab revolts. Well-educated youths, in particular, have demonstrated the ability to organize themselves as active civic “movements” and are to some extent “globalized”, i.e. open to influences coming from all over the world in real time and with little government interference. In other words, the meaning of borders is changing in many ways.

Some trends of contested political legitimacy are regional and cross-border, but other key dynamics are local and sub-national. 

The flows of migrants from the southern shore of the Mediterranean (origin or transit countries) to Europe have recently attracted enormous public attention, and rightly so in light of their manifold repercussions: humanitarian, social and economic, political, and of course in security terms. These flows are largely a consequence of the very phenomena of state collapse or chronic unaccountability that we put under the spotlight in the following pages. Terrorism is of course the most acute, violent and tragic manifestation of protracted instability beyond Europe’s borders, but possibly not the most macroscopic as the political map of a whole region seems to be changing before our very eyes.

The interplay of these diverse forces makes a single analysis impossible – and a simplistic analysis pointless, in fact misleading. There are indeed general and recurring trends, but these are not unifying trends: most states in the Middle East are challenged, but each is challenged in its own way. 

The chapters of the ebook cover (individually on in conjunction with other countries) Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, Syria, Turkey.

February 17
Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana fondata da Giovanni Treccani
Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana

More Books by Autori Vari