The Middle East is caught up in processes of wide-reaching political and socio-economic transformation. The Arab Spring fundamentally reshaped the region and, as a result, also redefined the order established by Europe’s colonial powers. Nevertheless, hopes that the region would swiftly democratise have largely failed to materialise. Social justice and political freedom were two of the main demands of the Arab Spring protesters, but more than four years on the balance sheet evidences little positive change. Instead, economic and social issues have generally been exacerbated, while the sliver of opportunity that briefly opened up for new, progressive political groups and initiatives has since given way to political repression and violence.
Yet these processes are not playing out uniformly across the entire region. They have been, and remain, subject to perpetual change. The programme primarily focuses on states which are part of the Middle East – Lebanon, Syria and Iraq – and examines political and socio-economic transformation processes both in their national and transnational contexts.
The situation in all three countries has been and continues to be characterised by violent conflicts and wars. Back in 2011, the initially peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad and the ruling Ba'ath Party in Syria grew into a bloody civil war involving various national and international actors. Since then, the conflict has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and left millions of Syrians internally displaced or forced to seek refuge abroad. Lebanon, despite contending with numerous political, religious and social differences across the country and the fact that it is primarily Lebanese Hezbollah members who are involved in the fighting in Syria, has so far managed to avoid being dragged into an armed conflict with its neighbour. However, this does not make the conflict any less dangerous or destructive. An estimated 1.5 million Syrians have sought safety across the Lebanese border. Adding to this are the legacies of the civil war (1975–1989) and the three subsequent wars of 1993, 1996 and 2006, all of which continue to have political and social reverberations. The occupation of Iraq continues to have repercussions, even seven years after the withdrawal of US troops. By driving Sunni elites from power and discharging Sunni officers from the military, the US set the wheels in motion for the country’s political and administrative disintegration along various ethno-religious lines. Rather than promote reconciliation between the rival groups, the politics of clientelism practised by the Shiite-dominated government has led to an at times broad support for the Islamic State among Sunnis. Large segments of the Sunni population feel unrepresented by the Shiite-dominated government, citing democratic and representational deficits.
Positive Peace Programme Office
Director: Miriam Younes
Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Beirut Office
Benoit Barakat Street, Rahhal Street
+961 71 405028