This is the web version of the newsletter sent to Century International subscribers on September 20, 2022.
The breakdown in the international order has spawned serial emergencies for so long that it has become hard to clearly see the crisis. Two underlying problems have accelerated the decline in security and well-being across the globe: failing states and the collapse of international solidarity.
In the Middle East, Century International has chronicled the epic failures of states to take care of their people. Ruling cliques once stuck to unspoken governing compacts: they would take care of the basic needs of the governed, and in exchange they would get and keep power. Today, those elites have abandoned this arrangement, trampling on essential rights along with basic livelihoods. Government routinely use state resources and lethal force to suppress any effort at accountability or systemic change. The trend toward power for power’s sake and the active undermining of rights and governance is a worldwide phenomenon, though perhaps nowhere is it more acute than in the Middle East.
The erosion of the international order is also a global problem. That order, despite its many faults and limitations, drove much progress in security and livelihood around the globe from the end of World War II until the end of the Cold War.
Today, the mutually reinforcing decay of states and the international system is evident in avoidable emergencies that no power seems able, or willing, to resolve. To take just one case in point: Regional and international diplomacy has brought the ceasefire in Yemen into its sixth month, but the war there seems poised to resume. Even with a clear plan and price tag, the looming environmental disaster of the FSO Safer hasn’t been addressed. The decaying supertanker floats off the coast of Yemen with 1.1 million barrels of crude oil in its hold, but the United Nations has been unable to raise the $80 million needed to prevent a spill that could destroy one of the world’s most important coastal ecosystems.
Plenty of additional crises are driving untold human suffering, and we know what to do to remediate them, but so far are unwilling to do so. Climate change has arrived in full force, as the dying agricultural zones of Mesopotamia attest. The leaders gathering in New York this month for the seventy-seventh annual United Nations General Assembly plenary have newly awakened to the immediate dangers of the abdication of governance and international cooperation. The emergencies that have galvanized many governments over the last year—the war in the Ukraine, the spike in oil prices, the rise of extreme weather, and the dependence of many Western democracies on dictatorships to supply their petrochemicals—have made clear once more that no country can ignore the rest of the world, and no region is an island, exempt from our planet’s shared fate.
Century International is launching a new policy initiative to look for ways to break the impasse, which we call Networks of Change: Reviving Governance and Citizenship in the Middle East. The effort is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Open Society Foundations. In the coming months we’ll tell you more about our new climate change project, as well as our research into ways out of the dysfunction in Iraq, Lebanon, and elsewhere.
Our work at Century International aims to build a network of researchers in the Middle East, who make the case for human-centered policies. This fall, we will release in Arabic the Transnational Trends in Citizenship project, which draws connections between the crises of our age in the Middle East, the West, and further afield, for policymakers and a broader public. More than forty collaborators worked together for nearly two years to generate a stream of ideas to shape new policy and research.
There can be no stability or security unless states take care of the people they’re supposed to govern—and that means not only providing core services, but also extending comprehensive rights. Governance, citizenship, rights, and cross-border cooperation are the cornerstones of any sound international policy. And that’s what we work for every day at Century International.
Director, Century International
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Read: Crisis in Iraq
Iraq’s political crisis escalated to a new, more dangerous level over the summer and early fall, with the country’s fragile democratic system at stake in a power struggle between two rival political camps. Century International held a roundtable to talk about the crisis with some of the researchers in our Shia Politics Working Group, which has been studying the evolution of Islamist politics in Iraq in the period since 2003. The participants were Taif Alkhudary, Marsin Alshamary, Thanassis Cambanis, Sajad Jiyad, and Maria Fantappie.
Full-scale violence was narrowly averted once, but risks remain in the confrontation between cleric Muqtada al–Sadr and his political competitors. Over the long term, the power struggle threatens the foundations of Iraq’s power-sharing arrangement and democratic institutions.
Listen: Order from Ashes Podcast
On Century International’s Order from Ashes podcast, some of the forty researchers involved in the Transnational Trends in Citizenship project discuss, with Naira Antoun, the project’s most germane findings. Antoun hosts a stand-alone eight-episode podcast season, including vibrant analysis of the connections between ISIS and white supremacists, the parallels between Black Lives Matter in the United States and accountability protests in Lebanon, and farther afield, the burgeoning global police-training complex, and the question of whether militias really are on the upswing.