Trying to Find a Rhyme: The Middle East’s New Age

The skyline of Cairo, Egypt, December 18, 2008
The skyline of Cairo, Egypt, December 18, 2008 (Ed Yourdon)

It’s tempting to compare developments in the Middle East to historical ones. The current geopolitical struggle has been likened to Europe’s Thirty Years’ War when deadly religious and political conflicts raged before the establishment of the modern “Westphalian” nation states. The Syrian Civil War can be compared to the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s which was heavily swayed by foreign intervention. Regional tensions are eerily reminiscent of the Cold War’s chilling peace, assured by the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation, especially as Iran develops nuclear arms. Receding American power reminds some of the midcentury decline of the British Empire, the erstwhile “global policeman.”

However, as Mark Twain (apocryphally) said, history doesn’t repeat itself, it rhymes. Many analysts extrapolate the Middle East’s future based on historical parallels. When taken together, however, these disparate rhymes don’t quite make a neat harmony. The cacophony of comparisons reflects the difficulty to grasp and forecast the Middle East’s future. It reveals social and political shifts unprecedented in the region’s modern history, as strained governments repress a growing desire for more freedoms. Read more “Trying to Find a Rhyme: The Middle East’s New Age”