Round Table: Hot Topics in the Middle East
Rapaporte Treasure Hall
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
- Prof. Shai Feldman, Judith and Sidney Swartz Director, Crown Center
- Prof. Nader Habibi, Henry J. Leir Professor of the Economics of the Middle East
- Prof. Kanan Makiya, Sylvia K. Hassenfeld Professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies
- Dr. Naghmeh Sohrabi, Assistant Director for Research, Crown Center
- Joshua W. Walker, Junior Fellow, Crown Center
Crown Center faculty and scholars led a discussion on the hottest issues in the Middle East today and the challenges they present for the US and the world. The discussion was followed by a reception with delicious Middle Eastern fare and a unique opportunity to speak one on one with faculty and scholars about their course offerings and research interests.
On the eve of a new round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Washington, D.C., Prof. Shai Feldman assessed the prospects for success and the hurdles facing the Obama administration. First, Prof. Feldman acknowledged President Obama’s ‘audacity’ to launch negotiations in the face of four major hurdles: weak Israeli and Palestinian leaders, a high level of distrust, silent passive majorities in favor of peace, strong and vocal spoilers. However, like an entrepreneur in a bad market, President Obama can find opportunities to make progress. At the negotiations in Washington, Prof. Feldman described four issues which will set the course of future meetings: the level of U.S. involvement, role and timing of bridging proposals, scope of the final agreement, and the principles at the core of the negotiation process.
Prof. Nader Habibi explored a number of broad economic trends in the Middle East. He first argued that while political attempts to unify the region have failed, economic initiatives are succeeding. Driven by the private sector integration across the Arab world has steadily increased over the last 10 years. Prof. Habibi further noted the impact of the oil producing states transforming into more diversified and sophisticated economies, along with the new interest by Turkish business in the Middle Eastern investments.
Prof. Kanan Makiya
Sylvia K. Hassenfeld Professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, Brandeis University
Following the withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq, Prof. Kanan Makiya reflected on the costs and benefits of the war from a variety of perspectives. Prof. Makiya began with a quantitative and qualitative assessment of the costs of war from a U.S. perspective and then turned to analyze the same events from an Iraqi perspective. He noted that the Iraqi outlook is vastly different from the U.S. opinion heard in the public media. Prof. Makiya further explored the war from a historical perspective and described the civil war as more than a local conflict, rather part of a larger regional struggle over the modern Muslim identity. He concluded with the observation that the American invasion broke the ‘state of stagnation,’ a process which began with the first Gulf War.
A year after the contentious presidential elections in Iran, Dr. Naghmeh Sohrabi discussed the current domestic political trends and their implications for U.S. policy options. Notably, Dr. Sohrabi highlighted President Ahmadinejad’s expansion of presidential powers in the face of clerical and parliamentary opposition. Connecting a series of events, she describes a growing rift between the president and the supreme leader, which, if continues, could open an opportunity for real dialogue with the U.S. However she warns that such a dialogue with Ahmadinejad would substantially undermine the Green Movement and the liberal forces in Iran.
Joshua W. Walker addressed the question “What Does Turkey Mean to the West Now?” To answer this question Dr. Walker reflected on some of the strategic shifts in Turkey highlighting the new dominance of the civilian government over the military, the economic focus away from Europe and toward the Middle East, and increasing conflicts with Israel. Dr. Walker further identified the challenge U.S. policy makers are having predicting Turkish actions and sending appropriate signals.