The Middle East: Thinking About and Beyond Security and Stability

by Lorenzo Kamel (Volume editor)
©2019 Edited Collection 226 Pages
Series: Global Politics and Security, Volume 5


In this edited book, several leading scholars address a number of security-related issues, all connected to one main research question: What (in)security means from the perspective of people living in the Middle East and North Africa? In doing so, the contributors shed light on the contours of a stable and legitimate order that responds to the needs of the peoples in the region, on what history tells us about the ongoing debates on security and stability in the region, and, last but not least, on «human security», which encompasses the dimension of human rights, political rights and social/economic security.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: From Sectarianization to De-Sectarianization: How to Advance Human Security in the Middle East
  • Chapter 2: Selective Arms Flows and Arms Control: Producing Insecurity in the Middle East … and Beyond
  • Chapter 3: Insecurity, Order and Pluralism in the Middle East: An Agenda for a Critical Approach to Security Studies
  • Chapter 4: Beyond Security and Stability
  • Chapter 5: Contra-Identity: Psycho-Nationalism after the ‘Middle East’
  • Chapter 6: Islamists and the Arab Counter-Revolutions
  • Chapter 7: Dahlan vs Belhaj: The Maghreb in the Arab War of Narratives
  • Chapter 8: Dialogues in New Middle Eastern Politics. On (the Limits of) Making Historical Analogies to the Classic Arab Cold War in a Sectarianized New Middle East
  • Chapter 9: Whose Stability? Assessing the ‘Iranian Threat’ Through History
  • Contributors
  • Abbreviations

Nicolò Russo Perez


This edited book is the result of some of the reflections shared on the occasion of an international conference – held in Beirut on 7–8 February 2019 – that was hosted by the Department of Political Studies and Public Administration of the American University of Beirut (AUB). The meeting, entitled ‘The Middle East: Thinking About and Beyond Security and Stability’ and co-organized by Lorenzo Kamel (University of Turin and Istituto Affari Internazionali) and Karim Makdisi (AUB), took place within the frame of the New-Med Research Network and addressed the two deeply intertwined issues of ‘stability’ and ‘security’ from non-Western perspectives.

Established in 2014, New-Med is a research network of Mediterranean experts and policy analysts with a special interest in the complex social, political, cultural and security-related dynamics that are unfolding in the Mediterranean region. The network is developed by the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), in cooperation with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Secretariat in Vienna, the Compagnia di San Paolo foundation, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

A priority of the network is to promote a non-Eurocentric vision of the region, featuring as much as possible views from all shores of the Mediterranean basin. The network also seeks to provide a platform where emerging researchers can put forward new perspectives about regional cooperation. By undertaking research and outreach activities, this ‘track II’ initiative aims to foster scholarly reflection on the changing scenarios in and around the Mediterranean and provide key input to the political dialogue taking place in international forums, including in the context of the OSCE Mediterranean Dialogue. Since its inception, the New-Med research network has organized several international conferences – many of them in Middle Eastern and North African countries – and published ←7 | 8→more than forty edited books and research studies on various themes tied to Euro-Mediterranean relations.

New-Med was therefore conceived from the very beginning as an open, inclusive platform for dialogue on a variety of Euro-Mediterranean issues. It aims to leverage the expertise of practitioners, researchers and academics from different ‘Mediterranean spaces’ to promote a truly ‘two-way dialogue’ on Mediterranean cooperation beneficial to a plurality of actors, particularly featuring non-Western perspectives.

In this framework, the New-Med conference hosted by the American University of Beirut provided the opportunity to analyse the historical dimension of the concept of ‘security’ and ‘stability’ in the Middle East and North Africa. The increasingly common – across academic and journalistic publications – description of this region as an inherently violent area was framed in a historical perspective, where these perceptions were explored and deeply challenged, also in the light of the role played by external powers in the establishment of ‘sectarian’, and thus often destabilising, institutions in the region.

Another topic of great relevance developed both during the conference and in the present volume is the analysis of how the intensification of political violence in the region and the rise of populism and Islamophobia in the West requires a deep re-evaluation of the meaning of security and insecurity for the people living in the Middle East, in the Mediterranean and Europe, on both the regional and local levels. At the same time, the production of (in)security, stability and order, as this volume demonstrates, needs to be framed within broader security-related topics, such as conflicts in the region and the role of global and regional powers in them, arms flows, securitization of refugees, the use of demographic movements, the politicization of identities and the role multilateral institutions can play in the production of security (international law, the UN, the ICC, UNRWA, UNHCR, the GCC, the JCPOA, a proposed ‘Arab NATO’ and others).

The Beirut conference and this volume provide the opportunity to look at the region and its stability as seen from within. A critical approach in thinking about (in)security in the region, in fact, means that we need to better understand the perspective of the people living in the Middle East and North Africa. For decades, global actors such as the ←8 | 9→US, European states and Russia have supported authoritarian regimes for ‘security’ reasons. Together with some regional powers, they have invested enormous amounts of resources in opposing the rise of any government or party/movement that could have represented a credible alternative to authoritarian regimes. For the large majority of people living in these areas, this has provided a context of insecurity in their daily lives, including political, social, economic or identity insecurity.

The New-Med research network, with its original, fresh and sometime ‘lateral’ perspectives, provides precisely this: a tool that can be useful for shedding some light on all these aspects and better defining the contours of a stable and legitimate order that responds, first and foremost, to the needs of those living in this ancient region.

Lorenzo Kamel


A country does not have to be deemed fit for democracy; rather, it has to become fit through democracy.1

According to data provided by the US State Department, ‘incidents of terrorism’ increased globally by 6,500 per cent (199 attacks in 2002; 13,500 in 2014) since the beginning of the ‘war on terror’ in 2001 and half of them have been registered in Afghanistan and Iraq. The number of casualties resulting from terror attacks has increased by 4,500 per cent over this same time period.2

Washington is responsible for about 33 per cent of global arms sales and the Middle East is the primary destination of a large majority of US-made weapons (with Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates topping the list and Iraq and Egypt making the top ten).3

French arms deliveries to Egypt jumped from 39.6 million euro in 2010 to 1.3 billion in 2016 despite the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council declaring (August 2013) that member states had to suspend export to Egypt of any equipment that could be used for domestic repression.4

←11 | 12→

German arms exports doubled in 2015: Saudi Arabia and Qatar were two of the major markets5 and German-built weapons and technology are still today (2019) used in the context of the war in Yemen.6 Similar data apply to Great Britain (Saudi Arabia is the UK arms industry’s biggest customer) and a number of other European countries.

In 2019, Italian defence company Leonardo expects to boost its annual Middle East sales beyond 1.5 billion US dollars as it pursues deals for its naval combat systems, cybersecurity and helicopters and aims to sell large part of them to Saudi Arabian Military Industries (a state-owned company launched in 2017) and Egypt,7 where human rights abuses and ‘zero-tolerance policy towards dissent’ have been documented by all major international organizations.8

1.35 billion euro in rifles, rocket launchers, heavy machine guns, mortar shells and anti-tank weapons are currently exported from Europe (especially the Balkans) to the Middle East and North Africa; a meaningful percentage of them is used by terror groups in Syria and Yemen.9

This short list represents only a tiny fraction of a much broader and more articulated ‘structure’ that goes well beyond weapons. Despite this, a common claim that any interested observer can often hear or read in Brussels and other ‘Western capitals’ is that ‘peace in the Middle East ←12 | 13→[cannot] be imposed from the outside’,10 as if (many) European/Western countries did and do not play an active role in the destabilization of the Middle East and in supporting authoritarianism in the region.11 No less common is the claim that the Middle East is somehow inherently violent and thus conducive to extremism. A number of well-renowned scholars, for instance, are shedding light on this by resorting to sociological analyses focused on goals and values. Peace, in the words of McGill Professor Philip Carl Salzman, ‘is not possible in the Middle East because values and goals [such as ‘kinship’] other than peace are more important to Middle Easterners’.12

Indeed, in a number of articles published in many Western media in recent years, the Eastern and Southern Mediterranean appear as somehow distant and obscure areas. The sense of a largely artificial region, characterized by conflictual and ‘sealed off’ minorities (or a ‘mosaic of minorities’13) has become widespread, to the extent that the word ‘stability’ continues often to be paired with concepts such as ‘division’, ‘partition’ or ‘natural borders’ (that is, the adjustment of border features to mirror ethnic or religious differences).14 Yet, what most of the region is experiencing should not in any way be perceived in these terms, or as someone else’s history. This not (or not only) in light of a relatively distant past, but, as this volume confirms, in consideration of a present that hinders the construction of a sustainable future.15


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (November)
Middle East Security Stability
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 226 pp.

Biographical notes

Lorenzo Kamel (Volume editor)

Lorenzo Kamel is Associate Professor of History at the University of Turin and a faculty member of the PhD program in «Global History of Empires». He is also director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI)’s books and research studies series, and, since 2014, the scientific director of «New-Med, The Future of Cooperation in the Mediterranean».


Title: The Middle East: Thinking About and Beyond Security and Stability
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228 pages