Congrès Mondial des Études sur le Moyen-Orient et l'Afrique du Nord

Barcelone du 19 au 24 Juillet 2010

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(No) Regional Powers in the Middle East (257) - Panel

· Institution: GIGA, Institute of Middle East Sudies, Hamburg (Germany)

· Organisateur: Prof. Dr. Henner Fürtig

· Langue: English

· Description: The world region of the Middle East is highly conflict-loaded. The actual absence of one distinct regional power may be considered both cause and consequence of this structural feature. At the same time, there are significant power gaps between states in the Middle East with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran among the most powerful actors and accordingly defined as potential regional powers. Thus, the question arises how regional actors exert regional politics in the absence of a regional power. How, if not by regional powers, are regional policies constrained? What specific options are available to regional actors? In what way do extra-regional powers determine politics in the Middle East? What are the implications for the regional role in world politics? The panel aims, firstly, at clarifying the major conceptual challenges as aforementioned by presenting a conceptual paper. Then, three selected case studies are presented. Egypt once was a regional power but lost this feature in 1967. How does Egypt cope with this: What elements of its former role are still in existence? or is Egypt simply a shadow of its former self? Also Saudi Arabia is a potential regional power. On the one hand, there is no doubt that Riad exerts some regional influence. On the other, despite its role as the single most important global player in oil politics, Saudi Arabia’s role in the Middle East is still limited. Why so? Among the non-Arab actors aiming at regional leadership is Iran. Due to its revolutionary potentials, Iran uses non-state actors of the region, particularly Hizbullah and Hamas, to exert its regional policies.

Chair: Morten Valbjørn, Aarhus University

Paper presenter: Martin Beck, Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation, Amman, Jordan, The concept of regional power as applied to the Middle East
Due to the specific empirical setting of the Middle East region which lacks one distinct regional power, an analytical design emphasizing relational and procedural dynamics is required. In attempting to develop such a design, the paper utilizes three well-established schools of thought of international relations: (neo)realism, institutionalism (neo-liberalism), and constructivism. These three schools of thought are further used to examine the role of states in the region that are more powerful than others and accordingly defined as potential regional powers. The presentation aims at exceeding the limits of a purely theoretical contribution. Rather, the ideas developed shall be illustrated at some selected case studies. Thereby, emphasis is put both on the regional dynamics constituted by the interplay of potential regional powers and the role of external actors, particularly the USA. Thus, it is demonstrated that the concept of regional power is particularly fruitful for a region without a distinct regional power.

Paper presenter: Henner Fürtig, GIGA, Institute of Middle East Studies, Hamburg, Germany, Egypt: Living on past glory or new leadership capabilities?
Egypt’s status as a regional power has weakened steadily since its defeat in the Six-Day-War of 1967. This is not only due to fundamental, structural shifts in the international system, namely the end of the East-West-conflict, but also the result of radical changes in the immediate environment. The equalisation of the Middle East with the Arab world came to an end. While on the state-level the most promising regional powers such as Turkey, Iran and Israel are non-Arab, many important Arab players are now non-state actors like Hizbullah, or Hamas. A second important disadvantage of Egypt is the loss of a convincing ‘cause’ such as Pan-Arabism under Nasser’s rule. At present, political Islam is the glue that holds the majority of the politically active population of the region together - a fact that favours Iran. However, even if Egypt’s position is declining relative to others, tradition, size, geo-strategic position, number of inhabitants and other comparable factors still matter and provide reasons for careful optimism. The paper intends to balance the different factors and to assess Egypt’s prospects of (re)gaining a regional leadership position.

Paper presenter: Thomas Richter, GIGA, Institute of Middle East Studies, Hamburg, Germany, Saudi Arabia: A regional p(l)ayer hedging external threats and internal challenges
Saudi Arabia’s control of 13 percent of global oil production and of more than 20 percent of proven oil reserves turns the kingdom not only into a leading force on global markets, but has also endowed the country with enormous amounts of money. Additionally, Saudi Arabia hosts the two holiest places of Islam, Mecca and Medina, thus giving the kingdom a unique role among Muslims worldwide. In contrast to that, a comparatively small population, exposed oil facilities, well-equipped but constantly weak armed forces and belligerent neighbours have resulted in a need for external protection, which is traditionally provided by the United States. However, a too intimate cooperation with the West entails the risk of de-legitimizing at home and within the Arab world. The paper discusses the most important premises and constraints of Saudi regional leadership during the past and highlights the future of the kingdom as a regional p(l)ayer.

Paper presenter: Oliver Borszik (University of Hamburg)
Iran: regional policies and ideological ambitions
The Islamic Republic of Iran's foreign policy has always been conducted within a triangle compromising ideologically motivated and pragmatist approaches - all of them, so it is stated, are within the parameters set by the late Imam Khomeini. In many cases - but not in all! - the variety of approaches resembles the positions of Iran's various political factions, (incorrectly) dubbed ‘radicals’, ‘(ultra-)conservatives’ and ‘moderates’ on behalf of the Western media. This paper tries (a) to address the role ideology plays in the formulation and conduct of Iranian foreign policy focussing on the ideological triangle consisting of political Islam, Third-Worldism and Nationalism; and (b) to analyse to what extent ideology serves or hinders Iran's wish to become a regional power or even ‘superpower’.