Submitted by: Amanda Jarrett
When absorbing the differences between the states that form the global system, there is a desire to classify each state’s motives by a specific international relations theory. In some respects, this categorization can be successful, though not always reliable. When one enlarges the scope from just the viewpoint of one state to the regional interactions of states, the ability to apply basic international relations theory becomes much more challenging. More specifically, the region of the Middle East has a history of difficulty when it comes to applying theories such as realism, liberalism, and constructivism. The uniqueness of regional interaction between Middle Eastern states requires a new term that discusses the “organic interconnectedness and overlapping between international and domestic dimensions of socio-political processes and interactions,” such as Korany’s term intermestics (Korany, 83). This term addresses the growing effects of globalization by shying away from the traditional sovereignty of states and discusses the trans-state society that is created due to the “circulation of ideas and people” (Korany, 83). Since globalization is a relatively newer concept in comparison to the establishment of modern states, intermestics mainly applies to the post-Cold War era of the Middle East. Korany’s term allowing for there to be a deeper exploration between the relationship of the international and domestic aspects of a state which places intermestics as the best way to characterize the Middle East by allowing an understanding of the complex economic, social, and political conditions of the region. As for the economic aspect, the role of natural resources and rentierism along with the circumstances of the Arab Spring will discuss the complex interdependence of the region. Then there will be an examination of religio-politics and securitization of identity in order to display its significance in the region. Lastly, the interaction between the political structures throughout the region along with their relationship with their citizens will be discussed.
The Middle East is known for being dense in natural resources causing multiple states to become rentier states, which allows for them to become dependent on the rent that it receives from other governments for the use of their natural resource. With this source of income, Arab authoritarian regimes such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have been able to keep the control of the resources in the hands of their ruling elites, allowing them to build up their militaries and internal security. An issue with rentier states is that they develop the inability to recognize the concerns of their civil societies, which can lead to civil unrest. The lack of economic prosperity in the Middle East is what lead to the Arab Spring, a desire for economic development and political autonomy of civil society. It was the authoritative and rentier states that were able to suppress protests within their states as well as assist semi-rentier monarchies to “stave off popular demands for change” (Kao and Lust, 5). The situation of the Arab Spring demonstrates intermestics by showing how the circulation of ideas and people can extend beyond borders and spread throughout the entire region. It also showed how there was an active role by the states to maintain their economic dominance within their state and the region by maintaining the client-patron relationship between them and their citizens, understanding the potential power in their autonomy (Norton). The economic drivers behind the condition of the Middle East relate to the general international theory of liberalism, but can be more detailed and understood through intermestics.
Another important factor within the Middle East is important role of religio-politics and the securitization of identity. One of the main reasons as to why religion is a huge focus within the region is due to the fact that it is home to three major religions. It is because of this that there are tensions between Israel and Arab states and the conflict between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, which has caused religion to become highly polarized. Under the conditions of a polarized climate, there has been a rise of network actors, such as Hawalah, ISIS, and al-Qaeda (Korany, 92-93). This has led to an international spillover of religio-politics through multiple assets such as terrorist attacks, challenges to the economic stability of regimes through the sophisticated financial networks of the non-state actors, and the guarantee of international visibility of the extremists (Korany, 93). In response external threats, regime security becomes more important than ever. The key to regime security is the securitization of identity. Once something is labelled as a threat, than “‘it becomes one’” (Calculli and Legrenzi, 222). As a way to convince people to join the fight against a regime’s enemy, the regime relies on the discourse of shared identity to attract individuals to the conflict. This discussion of religio-politics and the securitization of identity illustrates a bottom-up view of interdependence within the social spheres that span the entire Middle Eastern region as well as applying constructivism.
A huge inquiry of the Middle East is in its inability to democratize. People often assume that it is due to Islam and its incompatibility with liberal ideas, when that is not the case. In reality, democracy is unable to succeed to the resilience and adaptability of authoritative regimes. These regimes have come up with sophisticated techniques which dampen any demands for reform from citizens by limiting political reforms and encouraging surveillance and coercion (Norton). This is where the role of external powers, such as the United States, comes into play with low politics. Additionally, most authoritative regimes are considered rentier states, which are extremely resistant to change. This can be supported by high politics due to the military backing of authoritative, rentier regimes. This final aspect that has been discussed mostly relates to the general theory of realism due to the desire to gain more power, retain it, and keep the status quo of balance.
In summary, general international relations theories fail to fully encompass all the different variables that has led to the current condition of the Middle East. As discussed above, some international relations theories such as realism, liberalism, and constructivism can partly explain the phenomenon that have taken place in the region. Though, intermestics allows for various theories to be applied in a deeper sense as well as allow for all of the levels of analysis to be used. Finally, it is the evaluation of the finer, more important details that is what makes the region’s politics so unique.
Korany, Bahgat. “The Middle East since the Cold War: the Multi-Layered (In)Security Dilemma,” International Relations of the Middle East, Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 79-101.
Legrenzi, Matteo and F. Gregory Gause III. “The International Politics of the Gulf,” International Relations of the Middle East, Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 218-235.
Norton, Augustus Richard. “The Puzzle of Political Reform in the Middle East,” International Relations of the Middle East, Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 131-154.