British and American policy in the Middle East: causes and consequences for the region and beyond
Leeds University Symposium: Saturday, April 23 2016
10.00 am – 5.00 pm
Room: Parkinson Seminar Room 1.08
1. Afzal Amin Formerly chairman of the Armed Forces Muslim Association, and visiting researcher and lecturer for the UK Defence Academy‘s Research and Assessment Branch
2. Dr. Chris Davidson Reader in Middle East Politics, University of Durham:
3. Ann Feltham Campaign against Arms Trade:
All are welcome to attend this symposium which seeks to explore British and American policy in the Middle East, the factors that have driven this policy, and the consequences – both for the Middle East and for people in the West.
The Middle East is one of the least democratic and most militarised areas of the world. As the centre of world oil production, it is also of global strategic importance. For decades Western policy in the region has arguably been dominated by a number of factors: alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states (as the world’s biggest oil producers), unswerving support for Israel, and concomitant Western hostility towards Iran.
The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq led to profound changes: the sectarianisation of Iraqi politics, a Shiite-led Iraqi government with close links to Iran, the emergence of a semi-independent Kurdish region in the north, and a subsequent civil war, with Iran supporting the Iraqi government and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states supporting Sunni rebels.
In 2011, the Arab Spring led to further massive changes. Following pro-democracy uprisings across the Middle East, dictatorial regimes were overthrown in Tunisia and, for a while, Egypt. In Syria, what began as a popular uprising against the Assad regime quickly turned into a sectarian civil war, with the West, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states supporting Sunni rebels, and Iran, its Lebanese ally Hizbollah and latterly Russia supporting the Assad regime. As in Iraq, a semi-independent Kurdish region has emerged in northern Syria – considered by the Turkish government a threat to the Turkish state itself, as the country’s own very large Kurdish minority increasingly seeks autonomy.
In Yemen, as in Syria, what was originally a popular uprising has given way to civil war, with Saudi Arabia leading an international force against rebels which it regards as allied to Iran. And in Israel/Palestine the conflict, which the United States had proposed for decades would be ended by a two-state solution, now looks increasingly unresolvable with massive Israeli colonisation of Palestinian lands.
Across the Arab world, the economic situation world remains precarious, with oil revenues in Saudi Arabia, for example, constituting 90% of GDP. The collapse of oil prices since 1915, though caused by increased Saudi oil production, now threatens the country itself with economic crisis, and possible further instability across the Arabian Peninsula.
While the 2015 Iran nuclear deal eased US-Iranian tensions, it has exacerbated those between Saudi Arabia and Iran. US-Russian tensions, originally focused on Ukraine, are also being played out in the Middle East, as possibly decisive Russian intervention since 2015 on behalf of a de facto alliance between the Assad regime and Kurdish rebels in Syria leads to the re-emergence of Russia as a regional actor.
In Europe, a secondary consequence of conflict in the Middle East has been a vast influx of refugees, straining the political consensus which has been built up since the Second World War, and even threatening the future of the European Union. The Middle East conflicts have also exacerbated religious and racial tensions between non-Muslims and Muslims in Western Europe.
This seminar will address these issues which are vital importance to us all today. We do hope you can attend.
Dr. Fozia Bora University of Leeds
Prof. James Dickins University of Leeds
Mr. Chris Foren Leeds Crown Prosecutor (retired)
Dr. Tajul Islam University of Leeds
Dr. Hendrik Kraetzschmar University of Leeds
Dr. Mustapha Sheikh University of Leeds