Overlapping Contests and Middle East International Relations: The Return of the Weak Arab State
by Bassel F. Salloukh, Lebanese American University, Beirut
The popular Arab uprisings and the concomitant sectarianization of the region’s geopolitical battles intensified the interplay between domestic, transnational, and geopolitical material and immaterial factors in the making of Middle East International Relations (IR). Yet this kind of theoretical eclecticism identified with the ‘Montréal school’ of Middle East IR has yet to find its way to theory-building in IR per se. The return of the weak Arab state after the popular uprisings, and the concomitant securitization of hitherto dormant sectarian identities, is an occasion to revisit and reemphasize the benefits of theoretical travelling in explaining IR in general and its Middle East subtype more specifically. After all, only a mix of realism’s balance of material power, regime-security considerations, and the constructivist emphasis on identity threats can help explain some puzzling but startling trends in contemporary Middle East IR, whether it is variations in Gulf monarchical regime responses to the rise of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, or the absence of both realist-driven alliances and a Sunni sectarian-driven alliance to balance Iran’s obvious geopolitical gains in the wake of the 2003 US invasion and occupation of Iraq. Such theoretical anomalies invite a recursive dialogue between IR theory and Middle East IR.