Babel: Translating the Middle East

By Center for Strategic and International Studies

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Description

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).

Episode Date
A Mezze: Dying for Power
198
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.
Nov 24, 2020
Iran and the New U.S. Administration
1835
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.
Nov 17, 2020
A Mezze: Reading the Signs in Istanbul
259
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.
Nov 10, 2020
How the Middle East Views the U.S. Election
1594
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.
Nov 03, 2020
A Mezze: Seoul Music
231
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.
Oct 27, 2020
The Rise of Iraq’s Shi'ite Militias
1447
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.
Oct 20, 2020
A Mezze: Cyber-Sheikh
226
In years past, a Muslim would ask a religious scholar for a ruling, or fatwa. In Dubai today, a Muslim can ask these questions to a computer.  Song Credits: "The Terrarium" by Sketchbook; "Stipple" by Marisala; "The Spills" by CloudBreaker. 
Oct 13, 2020
Russia in the Middle East: Part Six
1591
In part six, Jon Alterman hears from guests from previous episodes who help him recap everything he's covered so far and look at what's next for Russia in the Middle East. Jon is rejoined by Elizabeth Tsurkov, fellow at the Center for Global Policy and at the Forum for Regional Thinking; Ambassador Mohamed Anis Salem, an Egyptian diplomat with 35 years of experience; Eugene Rumer, senior fellow and director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment; and Phil Gordon, senior fellow in U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Jon is also joined by Natasha Hall, senior fellow with the CSIS Middle East Program. Song Credits: “Pizzicato Waltz” by Kadir-Demir via Artlist.io; “Dusting” from Confectionery via Blue Dot Studios; “Coulis Coulis” from Confectionery via Blue Dot Studios. The theme song is "Tales of Arabia" by GreatstockMusic via Pond5. Phil Gordon, Losing the Long Game: The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East, St. Martin's Press, October 2020. Eugene Rumer and Andrew S. Weiss, "Reckoning With a Resurgent Russia," Carnegie Endowment, September 9, 2020. Elizabeth Tsurkov, "Desperate, Thousands of Syrians Flee Toward Turkish Border," Foreign Policy, February 10, 2020. Natasha Hall, Benjamin Smith, Thomas McGee, Local Cross-line Coordination in Syria, United States Institute of Peace, October 3, 2019. Episode Transcript, "Russia in the Middle East: Part Six," CSIS, October 6, 2020.
Oct 06, 2020
Russia in the Middle East: Part Five
1525
In part five, Jon Alterman looks at how the Middle East views Russia. He starts with Russia's relationships with Israel and Iran, before moving on to how Arab states, particularly Egypt, view Russia. Jon talks with Elizabeth Tsurkov, fellow at the Center for Global Policy and at the Forum for Regional Thinking; Mohamed Anis Salem, an Egyptian diplomat with 35 years of experience; and Anna Borschevskaya, senior fellow at the Washington Institute. Song Credits: “Denzel Sprak” from CloudCover; “Coulis Coulis” from Confectionery; “Tarte Tatin” from Confectionery; “Dusting” from Confectionery, all via Blue Dot Studios. Theme Song: "Tales of Arabia" by GreatstockMusic via Pond5. Elizabeth Tsurkov, "Syria's Economic Meltdown," Center for Global Policy, June 15, 2020. Anna Borschevskaya and Catherine Cleveland, "Russia's Arabic Propaganda," The Washington Institute, December 2018. Mohamed Anis Salem, "Arab Civil Nuclear Energy Programmes in a New Strategic Landscape," The Nuclear Forum: Security Through Disarmament, 2016. Episode Transcript, "Russia in the Middle East: Part Five," CSIS, September 29, 2020.
Sep 29, 2020
Russia in the Middle East: Part Four
1352
In part four, Jon Alterman looks at U.S.-Russian cooperation and competition in the Middle East. He follows how U.S. policy in the Middle East has shaped Russian policy in the region, and how the U.S.-Russian relationship in the Middle East has evolved over the past three decades. During the episode, Jon talks with Anna Borschevskaya, senior fellow at the Washington Institute; Heather Conley, senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia, and the Artic and director of the Europe Program at CSIS; Phil Gordon, senior fellow in U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations; and Becca Wasser, fellow in the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security. Song Credits: "Tarte Tatin" from Confectionary via Blue Dot Studios; “Borough” from Molerider via Blue Dot Studios; "Denzel Sprak” from CloudCover via Blue Dot Studios; and“The Records” from Union Hall via Blue Dot Studios. Phil Gordon, Losing the Long Game: The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East, St. Martin's Press, October 2020. Anna Borschevskaya, "Russia Aims to Preserve the Status Quo in Lebanon," The Washington Institute, August 12, 2020. Heather Conley on Energy 360°, "Race to the Top: China, Russia, U.S. Compete," CSIS, August 3, 2020. Becca Wasser and Ben Connable, "The Limits of Russian Strategy in the Middle East," London School of Economics, May 10, 2018. Episode Transcript, "Russia in the Middle East: Part Four," CSIS, September 22, 2020.
Sep 22, 2020
Russia in the Middle East: Part Three
1473
In part three, Jon Alterman looks at Russian security interests in the Middle East. He starts with an overview of Russia's military presence, and then looks at how Moscow's presence has evolved in Syria, and then spread into Libya. He talks with Olga Oliker, director of the Europe and Central Asia Program at the International Crisis Group; Alexey Khlebnikov, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council; Wa'el Alzayat, CEO of Emgage Foundation and a former State Department official; and Eugene Rumer, director and senior fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program at Carnegie. Song Credits: “Calisson” from Confectionery via Blue Dot Studios; “Dusting” from Confectionery via Blue Dot Studios; “Coulis Coulis” from Confectionery via Blue Dot Studios; and the theme song is "Tales of Arabia" by GreatstockMusic via Pond5. Wa'el Alzayat, "The Syrian Crucible and Future U.S. Option," in Re-engaging the Middle East: A New Vision for U.S. Policy, Brookings, September 22, 2020. Eugene Rumer, Russia in the Middle East: Jack of All Trades, Master of None, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October 31, 2019. Alexey Khlebnikov, "Russia looks to the Middle East to boost arms exports," Middle East Institute, April 8, 2019. Episode Transcript, "Russia in the Middle East: Part Three," CSIS, September 15, 2020.
Sep 15, 2020
Russia in the Middle East: Part Two
1317
In part two, Jon Alterman explores Russian economic interests in the Middle East. He covers Middle Eastern investments in Russia, the arms industry, and the recent battle over oil production between Russia and Saudi Arabia. He also talks with Carole Nakhle, founder and CEO of Crystol Energy, Nikolay Kozhanov, a consulting fellow at Chatham House, and Olga Oliker, director of the Europe and Eurasia Program at the International Crisis Group. Olga Oliker, "Putin's Future: Reading the tea leaves," Inkstick Media, January 21, 2020. Nikolay Kozhanov, Russian Policy Across the Middle East: Methods and Motivations, Chatham House, February 21, 2018. Carole Nakhle, "Russia's Energy Diplomacy in the Middle East," in Russia's return to the Middle East: building sandcastles?, European Union Institute for Security Studies, 2018. Episode Transcript, "Russia in the Middle East: Part Two," CSIS, September 8, 2020.
Sep 08, 2020
Russia in the Middle East: Part One
1433
In the first episode of our new podcast miniseries, Russia in the Middle East, Jon Alterman gives an overview of Russian policy in the Middle East and how the Middle East fits into Russia’s worldview. He covers Russia's return to the Middle East and looks at how Russian foreign policy has changed since the fall of the Soviet Union. Jon also sits down with Dmitri Trenin, director of Carnegie's Moscow Center, and Celeste Wallander, president and CEO of the U.S.-Russia Foundation, for their insight into Russia’s foreign policy decisions. Song Credits: Episode one songs were “La-danza” by Olivier-Olsen and “Spring-in-Barcelona” by Ian-Post, both via Artlist. Celeste Wallander, "Putin's Gamble: U.S.-Russian relations in an era of global change," Krasno UNC, November 14, 2019. Jon Alterman, "Chinese and Russian Influence in the Middle East," House Testimony, May 9, 2019. Dmitri Trenin, What is Russia Up To In The Middle East?, Polity Press, 2018.
Sep 01, 2020
Lebanon's Latest Explosion
1622
This week Jon is joined by Nora Boustany, an award-winning former correspondent and a professor at the American University of Beirut. She draws on her own experiences living in Lebanon during and after the Civil War to provide perspective on Lebanon's current collapse. Then, Natasha and Jon are joined by the Middle East Program's new program manager and research associate, Danny Sharp, to discuss the impact of sectarianism on life in Lebanon. Natasha Hall, "Lebanon's political bosses are the real problem," The Hill, August 16, 2020. Jon Alterman, "Why the U.S. and Its Allies Should Keep Lebanon from Blowing Apart," The Hill, August 6, 2020. Jon Alterman, "Sectarianism in Lebanon," Babel: Translating the Middle East, CSIS, March 10, 2020. Nora Boustany, "Devalued Currency Terrorizes Beirut," Los Angeles Times, November 29, 1987. Transcript, "Lebanon's Latest Explosion," CSIS, August 25, 2020.
Aug 25, 2020
Why Women Join the Islamic State
1725
Azadeh Moaveni joins Jon Alterman to discuss her new book, Guest House for Young Widows. Azadeh is a writer and journalist who serves as the gender project director at the International Crisis Group. She tells Jon about some of the women she encountered while writing the book and why they joined the Islamic State. Then, Natasha, Will, and McKinley discuss the deradicalization process for women returning to their home countries. Will Todman and Erol Yayboke, “Refugees Could Help Solve Lebanon’s Economic Crisis,” CSIS, July 10, 2020. Will Todman, “Cross-Border Aid, Covid-19, and U.S. Decisions in Syria,” CSIS, May 8, 2020. Azadeh Moaveni, Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS, Penguin Random House, September 8, 2019. Transcript, “Why Women Join the Islamic State,” CSIS, August 11, 2020.
Aug 11, 2020
The History of Saudi-Iranian Competition
2059
Kim Ghattas joins Jon to discuss her new book, Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East. Kim and Jon trace 40 years of competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran, starting with 1979 and ending with today. Then, the Middle East Program’s new senior fellow, Natasha Hall, joins Jon and McKinley for a discussion on the U.S. role in Saudi-Iranian competition. Jon Alterman, “Covid-19, the Iranians, and Us,” CSIS, July 21, 2020. Kim Ghattas, “The painful truth for Saudi Arabia: it needs the Iranian regime to survive,” The Guardian, January 29, 2020. Kim Ghattas, “What Jamal Khashoggi’s Murder Tells Us About the Saudi-Iran Rivalry,” The Atlantic, October 2, 2019. Episode transcript, “The History of Saudi-Iranian Competition,” CSIS, July 28, 2020. We would love your feedback! Please follow us @CSISMidEast on Twitter, send us an email at middleeastprogram@csis.org or leave a review on iTunes.
Jul 28, 2020
A Mezze: Blessed Bling
262
As demand for religious jewelry booms in the Middle East, fake gemstones are flooding the market.
Jul 21, 2020
The Changing World of Arab Television
1595
On this week's episode of Babel, Fadi Ismail joins Jon to discuss Arab television and how it's changing. Fadi Ismail is the founder and general manager of DKL studios in Dubai and has over 30 years of experience with Arab media. During their discussion, Fadi breaks down how and why he brought Turkish programming to the Arab world, what Arab audiences want, and what Arab youth are watching. Then, Jon, Will, and McKinley discuss how audiences are changing in the Arab world.  Jon Alterman, New Media, New Politics? From Satellite Television to the Internet in the Arab World, The Washington Institute, 1998 Ravale Mohydin, “Soap operas, fatwas and censorship: the Turkey-UAE battle for hearts and minds,” Middle East Monitor, June 1, 2020. Nabih Bulos, “Game of Shows: In the Middle East, TV programs launched as weapons of war,” LA Times, December 9, 2019. Episode Transcript, “Changing World of Arab Television,” July 14, 2020.
Jul 14, 2020
A Mezze: Bad Love
210
Egyptian talk shows are increasingly telling women to “love themselves,” but not everyone is on board with this new messaging.
Jul 07, 2020
Jordan’s Economy During Covid-19
1590
On this week's episode of Babel, Minister Mohamad al-Ississ joins Jon to talk about Jordan's economy before, during, and after Covid-19. Minister al-Ississ is the Kingdom of Jordan's minister of finance and was previously the minister of planning and international cooperation. During our discussion, the minister breaks down Jordan's recent economic history, the economic recovery plan, and efforts to formalize the informal sector. Then, Jon, Will, and McKinley discuss the impact refugees have had on Jordan. Harun Onder, The Fallout of War: The Regional Consequences of the Conflict in Syria, The World Bank, 2020. Jon Alterman, “The Middle East’s Challenges Aren’t Just Combatting the Virus,” CSIS, April 28, 2020. Bruce Riedel, “Jordan’s unique coronavirus challenge,” Brookings, April 16, 2020. Manjari Singh, “Jordan after COVID-19: From Crisis Adjustment to Crisis Management,” The Washington Institute, April 15, 2020 Episode Transcript, “Jordan’s Economy During Covid-19,” June 30, 2020
Jun 30, 2020
A Mezze: Fodder for Debate
242
Saudi Arabia’s dairy industry is stirring debate around food security, depleting aquifers, and fodder imports.
Jun 23, 2020
The Internationalization of Libya
1604
This week on Babel, Jon is joined by Frederic Wehrey, senior fellow in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. During their discussion, Fred breaks down the conflict in Libya, explaining who is involved and why. Fred and Jon also talk about foreign fighters, drones, and what's next for Libya. Then, Jon, Will, and McKinley discuss similarities and differences between the conflicts in Libya and Syria. Sandy Alkoutami and Frederic Wehrey, “China’s Balancing Act,” Lawfare, May 10, 2020. Frederic Wehrey, “Libya and Coronavirus” in Coronavirus in Conflict Zones: A Sobering Landscape, ed. by Jarrett Blanc and Frances Z. Brown, April 14, 2020. Frederic Wehrey, “’Our Hearts Are Dead.’ After 9 Years of Civil War, Libyans Are Tired of Being Pawns in a Geopolitical Game of Chess,” Time, February 12, 2020. Frederic Wehrey, “Libya’s Bloodshed Will Continue Unless Foreign Powers Stop Backing Khalifa Haftar,” Guardian, February 2, 2020. Episode Transcript: The Internationalization of Libya, CSIS, June 16, 2020.
Jun 16, 2020
A Mezze: Cut from Whole Cloth
199
Middle Eastern governments are struggling to combat purchases of military uniforms by malign actors attempting to impersonate soldiers.
Jun 09, 2020
The Climate-Security Nexus with Marwa Daoudy
1478
This week on Babel, Marwa Daoudy, assistant professor at Georgetown University, joins Jon to talk about the climate-security nexus in Syria. Marwa and Jon discuss issues with past reforms in Syria, the relationship between climate change and human insecurity, and government corruption. Then, Jon, Will, and McKinley discuss a report Will released earlier in May on cross-border aid in Syria. Episode Transcript: The Climate-Security Nexus with Marwa Daoudy, CSIS, June 2, 2020. Marwa Daoudy, The Origins of the Syrian Conflict: Climate Change and Human Security, Cambridge University Press, March 2020. Marwa Daoudy, “The Structure-Identity Nexus: Syria and Turkey’s Collapse (2011),” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 29 (3), 2016. Will Todman, Cross-Border Aid, Covid-19, and U.S. Decisions in Syria, CSIS, May 8, 2020.
Jun 02, 2020
A Mezze: Speaking the Same Language
239
Syrians seem to be laying the groundwork for an enduring Russian presence in the country with an increase in Russian language education.
May 26, 2020
Changing Gulf Economies During Covid-19
1704
This week on Babel, Gregory Gause joined Jon to talk about how Gulf economies are changing during Covid-19. Greg is the head of the international affairs department at Texas A&M University and holds the John H. Lindsey '44 chair. Greg and Jon discuss Saudi Arabia's labor markets, economic reforms under MBS, and the future of the kingdom. Then, Jon, Will, and McKinley, talk about initiatives to change how young people relate to both each other and the government in the Gulf.  Jon Alterman, Ties that Bind: Family, Tribe, Nation, and the Rise of Arab Individualism, CSIS, December 2, 2019. Gregory Gause, “Saudi Arabia and Sectarianism in Middle East International Relations,” POMEPS Studies 38, March 2020. Will Todman, “Manufacturing New Loyalties in the UAE,”CSIS, January 9, 2020.
May 19, 2020
A Mezze: Wife Goes On
219
Lavish celebrations with cakes, wedding halls, and invitations are marking a new trend in Saudi Arabia—divorce parties.
May 12, 2020
Disinformation During Covid-19
1576
This week on Babel, Nabih Bulos, the Middle East bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, joined Jon to talk about disinformation in the Middle East during Covid-19. Nabih and Jon discuss alternatives to state-run media, disinformation bots, and information lockdowns during Covid-19. Then, Jon, Will, and McKinley talk about state-run news agencies in the Middle East. Jon Alterman, “The Middle East’s Challenges Aren’t Just Combatting the Virus,” CSIS, April 28, 2020. Jon Alterman, “Russian Disinformation in Syria” on Babel: Translating the Middle East, CSIS, November 5, 2019. Nabih Bulos, “ Iraq’s derelict Baghdad tower is a metaphor for a broken country,” Los Angeles Times, April 18, 2020. Nabih Bulos, “Coronavirus becomes a weapon of disinformation in Middle East battle for influence,” Los Angeles Times, April 8, 2020.
May 05, 2020
A Mezze: You've Got Mail
258
A lack of mail boxes, accurate addresses, and even agreed-upon street names has continued to make postal reform in the Middle East a source of frustration.
Apr 28, 2020
COVID-19 in Iran
1433
This week, Jon talks with Ariane Tabatabai, a Middle East fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund. They discuss the internal political backlash in Iran, tensions between the IRGC and the Rouhani-led government, and the role of the United States. Then, Jon, Will, and McKinley talk about how the coronavirus is affecting Iran’s relationships with its regional neighbors. Jon Alterman, “COVID-19 and Cascading Crises in the Middle East” Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 25, 2020. Jon Alterman, “Add coronavirus to other crises, and the Middle East faces a catastrophe,” The Hill, March 22, 2020. Ariane Tabatabai, No Conquest, No Defeat: Iran’s National Security Strategy, Hurst Publishers, September 2020. Ariane Tabatabai, “Don’t Expect a Thaw in Iran,” Foreign Policy, December 10, 2019.
Apr 21, 2020
A Mezze: Moral Test
200
The UAE government is attempting to instill morals in its students from a young age, with mandatory lessons on ethics and Emirati culture that are tested with a standardized exam.
Apr 14, 2020
Economic Implication of COVID-19 in the Middle East
1314
This week, Jon talks with Tarik Yousef, a senior fellow in the global economy and development program at Brookings and director of the Brookings Doha Center. They discuss where countries in the region were several months ago, where they are now, and what that means for their futures. Then, Jon, Will, and McKinley talk about how the spread of COVID-19 will affect middle income countries in the Middle East. Jon Alterman, “How Will the Middle East Cope with COVID-19?” Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 26, 2020. Tarik M. Yousef et al. “Brookings experts on the implications of COVID-19 for the Middle East and North Africa,” Brookings, March 26, 2020. Jon Alterman, “Add coronavirus to other crises, and the Middle East faces a catastrophe,” The Hill, March 22, 2020. Tarik M. Yousef et al. “The Middle East and North Africa over the next decade: Key Challenges and policy options,” Brookings, March 3, 2020.
Apr 07, 2020
Iraq’s Explosive Plague
223
From dens of snakes attacking Iraqi villagers to a swarm of locusts descending on Baghdad, a changing climate has unleashed plagues of biblical proportions on Iraq in recent years.
Mar 31, 2020
COVID-19 and Cascading Crises in the Middle East
778
In this special episode of Babel, McKinley Knoop interviews Jon Alterman about how COVID-19 is exacerbating a series of existing crises in the Middle East. The episode includes the current status of COVID-19 in the region, how states with various capabilities are reacting, and what could come next. Jon also explores potential areas for U.S. involvement in the region, and why it’s important that we pay attention.
Mar 25, 2020
Jihadi Poetry in Yemen
1649
This week, Jon, Will, and McKinley talk about who joins militant jihadi groups and why. Then, Jon talks with Elisabeth Kendall, an Oxford University-based scholar of Arabic literature who has focused on poetry among Yemeni jihadis. They discuss poetry in Yemen, what makes “good” jihadi poetry, and differences between al Qaeda and ISIS poetry.  Jon B. Alterman, Religious Radicalism After the Arab Uprisings, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2015. Elisabeth Kendall, “Militant Jihadist Poetry and the Battle for Hearts and Minds,” The Anglo-Omani Society, 2019.  Elisabeth Kendall, “Contemporary Jihadi Militancy in Yemen: How is the Threat Evolving,” Middle East Institute, July 2018.  
Mar 24, 2020
A mezze: Sana’s Solar Revolution
173
Solar panels are giving Yemenis access to affordable power solutions, even as traditional electric grids are failing.
Mar 17, 2020
Sectarianism in Lebanon
1767
We start the second season of Babel: Translating the Middle East with a conversation with Hanin Ghaddar, a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute who focuses on Shia politics throughout the Levant. Jon and Hanin discuss sectarianism in Lebanon, the changing role of Hezbollah, and what’s next for a country mired in economic troubles. Jon Alterman, “Iran is not one crisis, but three, for the US,” The Hill, January 10, 2020. Jon Alterman, “Lebanon’s Government Collapses,” CSIS, October 20, 2019. Hanin Ghaddar, “Here’s how the US can pressure Lebanon’s new government to tackle corruption,” The Hill, January 26, 2020. Hanin Ghaddar, “Iran is Losing the Middle East, Protests in Lebanon and Iraq Show,” Foreign Policy, October 22, 2019.
Mar 10, 2020
China in the Middle East: Part Six
1311
In the sixth and final episode of our podcast miniseries, China in the Middle East, Jon Alterman looks at the future of China in the Middle East with Nadège Rolland and Deborah Lehr. They discuss the community of common destiny, political warfare, and opportunities for private company growth in the region. Jon explains why countries roll out the literal red carpet for foreign heads of state, and what that symbolism means for foreign powers acting in the region. China in the Middle East is a six-part miniseries that is part of our regular series podcast, Babel: Translating the Middle East. We release new episodes every Tuesday. Deborah Lehr, “Green Financing in Egypt,” Middle East Institute, February 11, 2020. Deborah Lehr, “How the U.S.-China Tech Wars Will Impact the Developing World,” The Diplomat, February 23, 2019. Nadège Rolland, “China’s Vision for a New World Order,” The National Bureau of Asian Research, January 27, 2020. Nadège Rolland, “A Concise Guide to the Belt and Road Initiative,” The National Bureau of Asian Research, April 11, 2019.
Feb 25, 2020
China in the Middle East: Part Five
1228
In the fifth episode of our podcast miniseries, China in the Middle East, Jon Alterman looks at U.S.-Chinese cooperation and competition in the region with Robert Manning and Dawn Murphy. They discuss how the United States is changing its traditional role in the Middle East, and what that means for China’s role in the region. Jon also discusses how Somali pirates have brought China closer to multilateral military cooperation. China in the Middle East is a six-part miniseries that is part of our regular series podcast, Babel: Translating the Middle East. We release new episodes every Tuesday. Robert Manning, “The beginning of the end of a US role in the Middle East?” The Hill, October 15, 2019. Robert Manning, “AI ripe for US-China cooperation,” Global Times, October 6, 2019. Dawn Murphy, “China’s Approach to International Terrorism,” United States Institute of Peace, September 2017. Dawn Murphy, hearing on “China and the Middle East,” testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, June 6, 2013.
Feb 18, 2020
China in the Middle East: Part Four
1040
In the fourth episode of our podcast miniseries, China in the Middle East, Jon Alterman explores the Middle East’s perspectives on China with Mohammed Sudairi and Ariane Tabatabai. They talk about how the Middle East holds high hopes for China’s future role in the region and focus on Iran and the Gulf as examples. They also discuss the myth of Chinese workers speaking fluent Arabic and what Iranian storekeepers tell shoppers about bicycles made in China. China in the Middle East is a six-part miniseries that is part of our regular series podcast, Babel: Translating the Middle East. We release new episodes every Tuesday. Mohammed Sudairi, The Communist Party of China’s United Front Work in the Gulf: The “Ethnic Minority Overseas Chinese” of Saudi Arabia as a Case Study, Dirasat, March 2018. Mohammed Sudairi, China as the New Frontier for Islamic Da‘wah: The Emergence of a Saudi China-Oriented Missionary Impulse, Journal of Arabian Studies, September 2018. Ariane Tabatabai, The Islamic Republic’s Foreign Policy at Forty, Atlantic Council, February 8, 2019. Ariane Tabatabai, Don’t Expect a Thaw in Iran, Foreign Policy, December 10, 2019.
Feb 11, 2020
China in the Middle East: Part Three
1058
In the third episode of our podcast miniseries, China in the Middle East, Jon Alterman explores China’s security interests in the Middle East. Jon also talks to Dean Cheng, Evan Medeiros, and Andrew Scobell about China’s current security capacity in the region, and how China is using a blend of military, economic, and technological capacities to advance China’s interest in stability and security in the region. China in the Middle East is a six-part miniseries that is part of our regular series podcast, Babel: Translating the Middle East. We release new episodes every Tuesday. Dean Cheng, Middle East Lessons for China: Internal Stability, The Heritage Foundation, March 21, 2011. Evan S. Medeiros, The Changing Fundamentals of US-China Relations, The Washington Quarterly, October 11, 2019. Andrew Scobell and Alireza Nader, China in the Middle East: The Wary Dragon, RAND Corporation, December 5, 2016.
Feb 04, 2020
China in the Middle East: Part Two
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In the second episode of the podcast miniseries, China in the Middle East, Jon Alterman looks at China’s economic interests in the Middle East. Jon also sits down with Scott Kennedy, Doug Paal and Karen Young for their insights into the Belt and Road Initiative, changing export markets, and how economic interests influence regional security concerns. China in the Middle East is a six-part miniseries that is part of our regular series podcast, Babel: Translating the Middle East. We release new episodes every Tuesday. Karen Young, “US policy faces blind spots on China, Middle East,” Al-Monitor, June 11, 2019. Scott Kennedy, “Building China’s One Belt, One Road,” CSIS, April 3, 2015. Douglas Paal, “The US and China Take Their Rivalry into More Dangerous Waters After Collapse of Trade Talks,” South China Morning Post, May 30, 2019.
Jan 28, 2020
China in the Middle East: Part One
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In the first episode of our new podcast miniseries, China in the Middle East, Jon Alterman gives an overview of Chinese policy in the Middle East and how the Middle East fits into China’s worldview. Jon also sits down with Doug Paal, Dean Cheng, Sulmaan Khan, and Evan Medeiros for their insight into China’s foreign policy decisions. China in the Middle East is a six-part miniseries that is part of our regular series podcast, Babel: Translating the Middle East. We release new episodes every Tuesday. Jon Alterman and John W. Garver, The Vital Triangle: China, the United States, and the Middle East, CSIS, May 20, 2008. Dean Cheng, “What defines the Chinese outward cyber-posture?” ISPI, October 26, 2018. Sulmaan Khan, Haunted by Chaos: China's Grand Strategy from Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping, Harvard University Press, 2018. Evan Medeiros, China’s International Behavior: Activism, Opportunism, and Diversification, RAND Corporation, 2009. Douglas H. Paal, “Will Xi Jinping’s Charm Offensive Win Over China’s Wary Neighbors,” South China Morning Post, December 11, 2017.
Jan 21, 2020
A Mezze: Santa Claus is Coming to Tehran
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This December, Iranians of all faiths gather to admire Christmas trees and Santa figurines, despite governmental restrictions on Christians and other Western holidays.
Dec 17, 2019
A Mezze: Dodging a Bullet
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Young people across the Arab World are resorting to extreme measures—like cutting off limbs, or faking being kidnapped—to avoid mandatory military service.
Dec 10, 2019
The Rise of Individualism in the Arab World
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How and why are Arabs shifting their loyalty away from traditional networks? In the latest episode, Vivian Salama, White House correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, interviews Jon Alterman on his new report. He also introduces Babel's new 6-episode miniseries, "China in the Middle East," which will air in 2020. Jon Alterman, Ties that Bind: Family, Tribe, Nation, and the Rise of Arab Individualism, CSIS, December 2, 2019 Sarah Dadouch, “Amid economic despair, young Lebanese see only two options: protest or leave,” The Washington Post, November 9, 2019. Amy Chua, “Tribal World: Group Identity is All,” Foreign Policy, July/August 2018.
Dec 05, 2019
A Mezze: Fire Sale
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 Soaring fuel prices are leading Yemenis to chop down trees, and this is only adding to the humanitarian crisis.
Nov 26, 2019
Climate and Conflict in the Middle East
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What is the relationship between the environment and conflict in the Middle East? Peter Schwartzstein, an environmental journalist based in the Middle East, joins host Jon Alterman this week to discuss how climate change concerns exacerbate conflict, and how regional leaders should respond. Then, Jon, Will, and Amber explore how environmental concerns factor into policy discussions on the Middle East. Will Todman, “Iraq’s Explosive Plague,” CSIS, April 15, 2019. Peter Schwartzstein, “Climate Change and Water Woes Drove ISIS Recruiting in Iraq,” National Geographic, November 14, 2017. Peter Schwartzstein, “Death of the Nile,” BBC News, October 10, 2017. Jon Alterman, Clear Gold: Water as a Strategic Resource in the Middle East, CSIS, December 13, 2010.
Nov 19, 2019
A Mezze: Cosmic Intervention
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The Egyptian government seems to be using horoscopes as a new avenue for disseminating pro-regime messages.
Nov 14, 2019
Russian Disinformation in Syria
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Russia is spreading disinformation in the Middle East, especially in Syria, in order to discredit its critics and advance its interests. This week Jon, Amber, and Will discuss the scope of the issue and its consequences. Then Elliot Higgins, founder of Bellingcat, sits down with Jon to explain how his citizen journalist platform detects and counters disinformation. Elliot Higgins, “Chemical Weapons and Absurdity: The Disinformation Campaign Against the White Helmets,” Bellingcat, December 2018. Mark Katz, “When the Friend of My Friends Is Not My Friend,” The Atlantic Council, May 2019. Mark Katz, “What Do They See in Him? How the Middle East Views Putin and Russia,” Russian Analytical Digest, May 3, 2018. Suzanne Spaulding, “Democracy and Justice in the Age of Disinformation,” CSIS, May 1, 2019.
Nov 06, 2019
A Mezze: Bringing Back Babel
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This mezze explores the diverse linguistic landscape of Iraqi Kurdistan. Listeners can expect a mezze every other week.
Oct 30, 2019
Getting aid to Yemen
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In this episode, Jon Alterman talks to Aisha Jumaan about her efforts to deliver humanitarian assistance to Yemenis in need. Dr. Aisha Jumaan is an epidemiologist and the founder and president of Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation. Jon, Will, and Amber also discuss how Congress is thinking about the crisis in Yemen and how it is affected by U.S. politics. Jeremy Sharp, “Yemen: Civil War and Regional Intervention,” Congressional Research Service, September 17, 2019. Tess Bridgemean, “Getting Past the Veto on Ending Yemen War: How Congress’ Next Moves Can Succeed,” Just Security, May 3, 2019. Jon Alterman, “Aid and Conflict: Pitfalls in Yemen,” CSIS, August 16, 2018. Ben Westfall, “Fire Sale,” CSIS, November 27, 2017.
Oct 23, 2019
Do Syrian Negotiations Matter?
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In this episode, Jon Alterman discusses the prospects for Syria’s political negotiations with Syrian journalist Ibrahim Hamidi. Ibrahim Hamidi is the senior diplomatic editor at Asharq Alawsat newspaper and previously served as the senior political editor at Al-Hayat. Jon, Will, and Amber also discuss Russian diplomacy in the Middle East, and we finish with a look at a counter-radicalism rap movement that has emerged in the Levant. Ibrahim Hamidi, “Lavrov to Asharq Al-Awsat: Putin’s visit to KSA promotes partnership to new level,” Asharq Alawsat, October 3, 2019. Ibrahim Hamidi, “Pedersen achieves the first Syrian-Syrian agreement: The constitutional committee and its reference to Resolution 2254,” Asharq Alawsat, September 24, 2019 [Arabic]. Vance Serchuk, “Russia’s Middle East power play,” National Review, September 12, 2019. “Rapping against radicalism,” CSIS, September 25, 2018. (This contains links to the rap mentioned in the mezze.)
Oct 09, 2019
How Iran Negotiates
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In this episode, Jon Alterman discusses U.S.-Iran negotiations with Ambassador Wendy Sherman. Amb. Sherman is a senior counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group. She led the U.S. negotiations team in developing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran and is the author of Not for the Faint of Heart: Lessons in Courage, Power, and Persistence. Jon, Will, and Amber also discuss the role of Iranian soft power in the Middle East, and we finish with a look at religious eulogists in Iran. Jon Alterman, “U.S.-Iran Negotiations,” CSIS, September 13, 2019. Isaac Chotiner, “Q&A with Wendy Sherman: The Dangers of Trump’s Approach to Iran,” The New Yorker, June 19, 2019. Hanin Ghaddar and Dana Stroul, “Pushing Back on Iran in Syria: Beyond the Boots,” Washington Institute, January 22, 2019. “Soul Singers: Modernizing Shi`ite Eulogists” CSIS, July 12, 2018.
Sep 24, 2019
U.S. Diplomacy in the Middle East
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In our first episode, Jon Alterman sits down with Ambassador Bill Burns about the role of the United States in the Middle East. Amb. Burns is the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the former deputy secretary of state, and the author of The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for its Renewal. Jon, Will, and Amber also discuss escalating tensions between Israel and Iran, and we finish with a look at how some couples are opting for a new type of gold in their wedding dowries. James McAuley, “Hezbollah downs Israeli drone in ongoing tension between Iranian-backed groups and Israel,” Washington Post, September 9, 2019. David Halbfinger, Ben Hubbard, and Ronen Bergman, “The Israel-Iran shadow war escalates and breaks into the open,” New York Times, August 28, 2019. William Burns and Jake Sullivan, “We led successful negotiations with Iran. Trump’s approach isn’t working,” Atlantic, May 16, 2019. Hannah Porter, “Fool’s gold?” CSIS, January 18, 2019.
Sep 11, 2019