Nature & Politics
The coronavirus pandemic is vividly highlighting the fundamental links between people, health and the environment. This issue on nature and politics probes the essential but also sometimes fraught relationships between people and their environments in the Middle East. It provides insights into crucial issues of energy, water and climate change and the political struggles between states and their citizens over environmental stewardship, sovereignty and the allocation of resources. It also takes us into spaces of human-environment interaction that are not so commonly discussed—bird markets, Iraqi landscapes contaminated with toxins, sinkholes around the Dead Sea and Turkish wetlands teeming with wildlife. Through these contributions, “Nature and Politics” offers a critical take on contemporary challenges across the Middle East.
Issue Editors: Jessica Barnes and Muriam Haleh Davis with Guest Editor Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins
The discovery of oil in Turkey’s southeast encouraged state elites to imagine that development would lead to the assimilation of Kurds into Turkish culture and language. Instead, oil infrastructures and the resulting social changes had very different consequences. Zeynep Oguz explains the historical dynamics of the quest for oil and how it nurtured Kurdish dissent and critique of the state. Forthcoming in MER issue 296 “Nature and Politics.”
When the massive explosion in Beirut’s port ripped through the city on August 4, 2020, members of the Palestinian Civil Defense Lebanon sprang into action. Although based in Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps and despite entrenched suspicion and bias against refugees, the group immediately rushed to help their Lebanese neighbors. Erling Lorentzen Sogge tells their story.
Morocco’s massive Noor solar power installation in Ouarzazate is celebrated as an important step in the transition to renewable energy. But the benefits are not flowing to all citizens. Rural unrest and other demonstrations of discontent in recent years are piercing the government’s techno-optimism. Long-standing repression, economic marginalization and lack of investment in services or infrastructure as well as water pollution are among the local realities faced by residents. Forthcoming in MER 296 “Nature and Politics.”
The idea that the Syrian civil war was partly caused by climate change induced drought is widely repeated and yet deeply flawed. Jan Selby excavates the sources of misleading information and dismantles the simplistic cause and effect argument. Most importantly, he explains the real political and economic reasons behind agricultural crisis in Syria’s northeastern breadbasket region. Forthcoming in MER issue 296, “Nature and Politics.”
As Turkish scholars residing in the United States when the pandemic began to curtail normal life, Ergin Bulut and Başak Can signed on to take the Turkish government’s evacuation flight home. This experience and their time spent in government-managed quarantine yielded interesting insights into the state’s intense efforts to rebrand itself as caring and effective, particularly after consolidating power during the 2018 switch from a parliamentary to presidential system.
In Iraq, birth defects are a visible embodiment of the enduring toxic legacy of war, burn pits, sanctions and other military interventions. War and occupation shattered public infrastructures necessary for health and well being, but also triggered cascades of environmental degradation. Kali Rubaii investigates the consequences for the forthcoming MER issue 296, “Nature and Politics.”
One of MERIP’s signature issues over the years has been the question of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict—partly because of its intrinsic interest but largely because so much myth and cant clouds the mainstream media coverage of this subject that independent analysis is particularly necessary. This primer by Joel Beinin and Lisa Hajjar is a good place to start in understanding what is at stake as events unfold.
(Photo of Israeli separation barrier by Alfonso Moral.)