Separatism and the Reshaping of the Middle East: A Conversation With Ariel I. Ahram

Ariel I. Ahram speaks with Marc Lynch about his new book, Break all the Borders: Separatism and the Reshaping of the Middle East. In Break all the Borders, Ariel I. Ahram examines the separatist movements that aimed to remake the borders of the Arab world and create new independent states. With detailed studies of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the federalists in eastern Libya, the southern resistance in Yemen, and Kurdish nationalist parties, Ahram explains how separatists captured territory and handled the tasks of rebel governance, including managing oil exports, electricity grids, and irrigation networks.

“I think an assumption about the way the Middle East worked— especially after 2011— everyone talked about state failure, but no one had any idea what the real forces were that were emerging from state failure,” says Ahram. “The presumption about the region was that if the states were broken, they would break into a million little pieces. In fact, I found that there were only certain actors and certain countries that were really pushing to redraw borders. Most of the political contestation in the region was focused on trying to take power in the center not to break away. What I wanted to do them with the book was to focus on the actors who were really pushing to address territorial issues within the state.”

Ahram is Associate Professor in the Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs in Alexandria, Virginia, and non-resident fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. He earned a Ph.D. in government and M.A. in Arab Studies from Georgetown and B.A., summa cum laude, from Brandeis. He writes widely on security issues in the Middle East and North Africa. He was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington D.C. and has spoken and lectured at the World Bank, Marine Corps University, and the German Institute for Global Affairs. In 2015, he testified before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee on the Islamic State’s abuses of women and children.

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