Robin Wright gave a talk to the World Affairs Council of Oregon in 2015. She discussed various key trends, places, and challenges in the Middle East. She covered countries like Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria. Tunisia and Syria have been selected for the present project.
According to Wright, Tunisia was the birthplace of the Arab uprising. The revolution followed the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor in Sidi Bouzid, a city in the central region of the country. Tunisia is the most democratic country in the Arab world, particularly after the end of the uprising. It has the best constitution in the region. Additionally, the country conducted the best and most successful elections since its independence. However, Wright feels that the country still faces most of the problems it faced before the uprising. For instance, it still has a weak economy that does not support the employment of most of the country’s young people. For this reason, the country is one of the leading contributors of ISIS fighters. Close to three thousand of its youths are currently fighting for ISIS while a further nine thousand have tried, unsuccessfully, to join the dissident group.
Syria currently has the most complicated war in the world. As a result, it also has the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world. Approximately a third of its twenty-two million people population has fled their homes because of the war. Close to three million of the country’s kids are out of school. Poverty levels have risen, and the country depends entirely on foreign aid. An additional close to 3.9 million people has fled the country and is currently living as refugees in countries such as Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, and even Iraq, which is also in a crisis of its own.
According to Wright, the country has had four different wars since 2011. The first war occurred in 2011, immediately after the Arab uprising. The presence of a faction of Iraq’s administration in Syria caused the second war. The third is a proxy war that involves competition for regional supremacy between Iran and Saudi Arabia and the US and the East, particularly Russia. Lastly, the fourth war is sectarian. It involves power struggles between the Sunni and the Shiites.
Wright feels that there is currently neither diplomatic nor military solution to the country’s war situation. Militarily, President Assad has a larger and better-equipped army than his opponents. The President also enjoys the support of many minorities in the country, mainly the Sunnis. According to Wright, dictators require the support of at least 30% of the population to remain in power, and President Assad already enjoys such support, which makes him a dictator who is likely to stay in power for much longer. Additionally, it would not be possible to force ISIS out without destroying the country. The city of Kobane, which lies close to the country’s border with Turkey, is enough proof for this claim. The city was destroyed in the fight against ISIS. Diplomatically, Assad enjoys the support of Russia and China, two countries with veto power in the UN. They block the kind of actions and sanctions that the international community, particularly the US, would lie to take against President Assad.
Wright is highly optimistic about the region’s future. She feels that the region is undergoing a period of transition, just as other parts of the world have done in the past. According to her, the region has a bright future because the majority of its population consists of literate young people who understand diversity. For instance, Yemen’s average age is nineteen while Saudi Arabia’s is twenty-six. Iran has managed to close its gender gap, and close to 60% of its university students are female. Additionally, the region is now open to media from other parts of the world, which enhances the capability of its people to embrace diversity.