Babel will take you beyond the headlines to discuss what’s really happening in the Middle East and North Africa. It features regional experts who explain what’s going on, provide context on pivotal developments, and highlight trends you may have missed. Jon Alterman, senior vice president, Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, and director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts the podcast along with his two colleagues, Will Todman, associate fellow, and Amber Atteridge, associate director. This podcast is made possible through the generous support of the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed here should be understood to be solely of those of the speaker(s).
A Mezze: Dying for Power
Amidst a tangle of political banners, martyrs’ portraits, and crisscrossing power lines in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, the image of a boy gazes down. Sixteen-year-old Muhammad Okasha is celebrated in death, but unlike the fighters whose images otherwise line the streets, he did not die for the Palestinian cause. Hailed as an “electricity martyr,” he died struggling to bring power to his home.
Song Credit: "Uncertain Ground" from Duck Lake.
Iran and the New U.S. Administration
This week on Babel, Jon Alterman talks with Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Middle East North Africa Programme at Chatham House, where she leads the Future Dynamics in the Gulf project and the Iran Forum. Sanam and Jon talk about how Iran is thinking about the Biden presidency. They also talk about the upcoming election in Iran and what that could mean for Iran's strategy towards the United States. Then, Jon, Natasha, and Will discuss the Biden administration's likely approach to Iran.
Sanam Vakil, "Five Key Learnings for the Biden Administration," Chatham House, November 12, 2020.
Jon Alterman, "Actions in Anticipation of the Iranian Election," CSIS, October 5, 2020.
Jon Alterman, "The Killing of Quds Force Commander Qasim Suleimani," CSIS, January 3, 2020.
Sanam Vakil, "By Pulling Out of Nuclear Deal, Trump Hands Gift to Iranian Hardliners," Chatham House, May 9, 2018.
Transcript, "Iran and the New U.S. Administration," CSIS, November 17, 2020.
A Mezze: Reading the Signs in Istanbul
In July 2019, Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu denounced the excessive use of Arabic on the city’s storefronts.
Song Credits: "Bir Demet Yasemen" from Turku, Nomads of the Silk Road; the track Gambrel via Blue Dot Sessions; and the end music is from Syrian street musicians Munzer Sheikh Alkar and Jemal Shber in Istanbul.
How the Middle East Views the U.S. Election
This week on Babel, Jon is joined by Hassan Barari, a professor of international politics at the University of Jordan who is currently on leave teaching at Qatar University. Jon and Hassan talk about how the Middle East has viewed past U.S. administrations and the current one. They also talk about what a Biden administration might mean for the future of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Then, Jon, Will, and Danny discuss anti-Americanism in the Middle East.
Jon Alterman, "Pivoting to Asia Doesn't Get You Out of the Middle East," CSIS, October 19, 2020.
Jon Alterman, "Actions in Anticipation of Iranian Elections," CSIS, October 5, 2020.
Will Law, "From Obama to Trump: U.S. Policy in the Middle East," Arab Digest, September 25, 2020.
Episode Transcript, "How the Middle East Views the U.S. Election," CSIS, November 3, 2020.
A Mezze: Seoul Music
Some treat diplomacy in the Middle East like political theater—but for South Korea, it’s more of a musical.
Music Credits: Highride & Club Felix from the album Radio Pink via Blue Dot Studios.
The Rise of Iraq’s Shi'ite Militias
This week Jon is joined by Hassan Hassan, director of the program on non-state actors in geopolitics at the Center for Global Policy and the editor-in-chief of its new online journal, Newlines Magazine. Hassan talks to Jon about his late colleague, Hisham al-Hashimi, and the research Hisham was conducting on the rise of Shi'ite militias in Iraq. Then, Natasha, Will, and Jon talk about the effects of Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.
Hassan Hassan, "How Iraq's Top ISIS Scholar Became a Target for Shi'ite Militias," Newlines Magazine, October 4, 2020.
Hassan Hassan, "ISIS in Iraq and Syria: Rightsizing the Current 'Comeback'," Center for Global Policy, May 12, 2020.
Hisham al-Hashimi and Renad Mansour, "ISIS Inc." Foreign Policy, January 16, 2018.
Episode Transcript, "The Rise of Iraq’s Shi'ite Militias," CSIS, October 20, 2020.