Transnational Connections in the Middle East: Political Economy, Security and Geopolitical Imaginaries

While some view the rise of free trade zones in the Persian Gulf starting in the 1970s as the inevitable advance of neoliberalism, Arang Keshavarzian astutely links it to the logic of state formation in a rapidly changing geostrategic environment. This is but one of the many observations of the authors of a new special issue in Geopolitics, entitled “Transnational Connections in the Middle East: Political Economy, Security and Geopolitical Imaginaries.” The four articles (along with an introduction by the editors) aim to bridge the large analytical gulf dividing the fields of International Relations (IR), security studies and American foreign policy, on the one hand, and the academic work of Middle East experts in political economy and comparative politics on the other. Editors of the special section, Arang Keshavarzian of NYU and Waleed Hazbun of American University of Beirut, have put together a distinct set of articles from diverse disciplinary backgrounds in an attempt to bridge this gap. They skillfully place the political economy of the Middle East within the context of geopolitical wrangling, globalization and US foreign policy.

The special section draws on three themes: Aslı Bâli & Aziz Rana (UCLA and Cornell, respectively) and Waleed Hazbun explore notions of “imagined geographies” suggesting that “any treatment of the Middle East’s relationship to the global order must begin with the (il)logics of those who have sought to fashion the region and position it within global hierarchies.” Essays by Keshavarzian and Najib Hourani of Michigan State University, on the other hand, examine the far-less explored world of intra-regional relations, where Lebanese bankers, Gulf monarchs and international firms interact to map their own vision of the region.

The essays in this volume also explore relations in the region outside the statist box, challenging classical IR and Middle East area studies for their overstating of the Middle East state. To this end, they investigate interaction, broadly speaking, from the Mediterranean through the Persian Gulf and beyond to South Asia. Their conclusions are a sweeping challenge to the oft-stated truism that the “contemporary economic, political, and environmental challenges facing the region” are a function of “a lack of integration.” Instead, they insightfully argue that the contemporary political and economic struggles of the region can best be understood through the prism of specific policies “associated with current modes of international political and economic hierarchy.”

Perhaps the most remarkable contribution of the special section is its emphasis on the interconnectedness between security concerns and political economy interests in the region, playing out amongst major powers, regional actors and private interests. To this end, this special section is an excellent collection of critical geopolitics, highlighting some of the major academic and policy related issues of the contemporary Middle East.

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