Cascades of breaking news stories flood front pages and social media feeds, cataclysmic events happen every day, entire industries have been formed around dissecting and understanding the news. With The Gateway, we'll go in-depth on developments submerged under the ocean of breaking news developments and explore issues poorly or under-reported on. From our offices in Amman, Jordan, we at Al Bawaba are breaking through the news.
What a Biden Presidency Holds for the Middle East, with Kristian Ulrichsen
Barring the success of a fantastically ill-conceived attempt by Trump to stay in the White House, Joe Biden will be the 46th President of the United States. And with that position comes nearly unfettered power to shape American foreign policy.
And with a lot happening in the Middle East, it’s important to get a general grasp of where Biden’s governance may differ from Trump’s. The so-called ‘Deal of the Century,’ the blockade of Qatar, the starvation of Yemen, the withdrawal from diplomatic negotiations with Iran, the escalations of wars and threats to start new ones; it’s safe to say Biden will inherit an imperial enterprise marred by chaos.
So today I’ll be speaking with Kristian Coates Ulrichsen about what a Biden foreign policy doctrine could look like in the Middle East. Dr. Ulrichsen is a Fellow for the Middle East at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University and is also the author of several books
Re-Greening The Middle East, with Motoharu Nochi
One of the biggest unfolding events in our time is climate change. With such an overwhelming global scale and with such existential stakes, climate change and the broader health of our world is perhaps the most important issue of the 21st century while also being one of the hardest to personally respond to. If you want, you can spend your entire waking life consuming endless reports of how exactly climate change will steadily make the world we live in uninhabitable for organized human civilization.
After witnessing a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami wreak havoc on his home country of Japan in 2011, Motorahu Nochi decided he couldn’t merely consume the news and return to his comfortable life. The tragedy helped Nochi realize he shared a connection with others on this planet, and that there was a responsibility built into that connection.
He gave up his life and moved to a region with little arable land, The Middle East, where he has dedicated himself to greening the landscape by making soil and planting trees. He has found pioneering ways to combine agricultural techniques developed in Japan with local plants and customs to build sustainable forests in Jordan.
Over the past four years, Nochi has become one of the country’s most innovative environmental caretakers, creating green spaces he hopes will last a century or more.
Breaking Down the Defense Intellectual Complex, with Daniel Bessner
When trying to isolate state policy and priorities, it’s impossible to disentangle the relationship between official institutions like the U.S.’ Department of State or Defense from think tanks such as the RAND Institute, Brookings, or Carnegie Endowment. If a politician wants to justify starting a war or identify a danger to the national interest, he or she will often rely on think tank reports and their employed staff to bolster this assessment.
I’m speaking today with Daniel Bessner, who is the Joff Hanauer Honors Associate Professor in Western Civilization at the University of Washington. An historian on the defense intellectual complex and its relationship to power and democracy, Bessner is also the author of the book Democracy in Exile: Hans Speier and the Rise of the Defense Intellectual.
In our conversation, we’ll go over the relatively recent history of think tanks and the function they serve. Much of the talk will revolve around a little-known figure in this world named Hans Speier, who helped usher in the age of defense intellectuals and whose legacy, though obscure, contains valuable insights into the mind of the modern policy expert.
The Neoliberal Future the Awaits Palestinians, a Debate with Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor
Since the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, an economic bypass is being designed to side-step the official diplomatic negotiations between Israel and Palestine.
Much of it revolves around integrating Palestinians into a globalized market, whose rules and regulations are made by American, Israeli, Emirati, and Saudi business interests. Rather than focusing on the political status of Palestine, the plan calls for cultivating Palestinians primarily as a labor pool out of which profit can be extracted.
Today, I’ll be speaking with a key champion of this market-driven approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem for Foreign Relations, Fleur Hassan-Nahoum. A politician dubbed Jerusalem’s “foreign relations minister,’ Hassan-Nahoum is also the Co-Founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council, which seeks to strengthen the business ties between both countries.
The first part of the talk will lay out the neoliberal vision of Palestine advocated by Hassan-Nahoum, while the rest is a debate about three major flaws of this approach. First, its endorsement of Israeli settlements deemed illegal under international law. Second, its promise to send mass infusions of Israeli cash and tech to the UAE who could then use it to ramp-up its brutal war in Yemen that is desecrating that country. And third, the real danger that rather than having equality, Palestinians will be relegated as a hyper-exploitable group who has no real economic or political protections.
The Slow Enclosure of Jordan’s Civil Society, with Sara Kayyali
Since late 2016, the Jordanian government has been slowly stifling civil society organizations and media outlets. Through a combination of subtle acts of intimidation, cooptations, overt crackdowns, and passage of new laws restricting dissent, Jordan’s political landscape has been radically changed.
The most dramatic example of this years-long strategy has been the ongoing crackdown against the country’s powerful teachers union, called the Jordan Teachers’ Syndicate or the Jordan Teachers’ Association.
The union successfully executed one of the country’s longest strikes in 2019 to secure a wage increase for public school teachers before the government backtracked on the agreement Spring of this year.
Then in July, the government raided its offices and arrested its leaders, accusing them vaguely of breaking the law. The action prompted mass gatherings of teachers and union supporters across the country in the biggest act of national defiance since the Arab Spring of 2011. It was soon violently suppressed.
But the actions against the teachers can be taken as a sign that the government is more willing to engage more overtly to restrict expressions of dissent. In other words, it could foreshadow even more aggressive moves by the state.
Al Bawaba spoke with Sara Kayyali, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, on the causes and impacts this years-long crackdown has had on Jordan’s civil society, and what recourse organizations have to continue operating in this new political landscape.
Beirut's Explosion and the Death of the Resilience Narrative, with Sara Mourad
word that gets tossed around international press coverage of conflicts, poverty, or general deprivation is “resilience,” which refers to the ability for a society to endure hardship.
Stories of unmitigated disasters and unspeakable horror can be turned into hopeful human-interest stories simply by packaging the tragedy within a narrative of ‘resilience,’ and overcoming.
Today I’m speaking with Sara Mourad, an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at the American University of Beirut, on how this ‘resilience’ narrative took hold in post-war Lebanon, and how it naturalizes otherwise preventable injustices.