Bashir Bashir & Gertraud Auer Borea
For centuries, the logic of Empires dominated the world’s political, economic and cultural domains. According to this logic, the international political order was made of Empires, which served as powerful political entities that expanded territorially and economically through war, imperialism and colonialism. Indeed, one should be careful not to exhaustively impose this imperial order and trajectory on the entire world. One should also pay attention to the dynamic and changing scope, boundaries and character of these imperial forces. For centuries, the Ottoman Empire controlled huge parts of the Middle East. The First World War and the Sykes-Picot Agreement (sought to divide the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire among European Imperial powers) marked the decline of the imperial political order and the rise of new political order manifested partly in the formation of the League of Nations. Sykes-Picot paved the way for the Balfour Declaration and for the introduction of the Mandate System and Westphalian notion of sovereignty. It is in this context that decolonization and national movements of liberation and independence emerged in the third world. The meeting between decolonization and nationalism has considerably contributed to the rise of the national order in several parts of the world in which the nation-state became its main agent and force. The national order drew new boundaries, created identities, cut and split communities, and exercised excessive violence that resulted in oppression, displacement and sometimes ethnic cleansing. The national order that operated according to state sovereignty and borders became dominant also in the Middle East. As a result, new borders and entities were created cutting across communities and groups and shuttering longstanding webs of overlapping interactions and exchange. Under the national order and its colonial coordinates, several groups (Palestinians, Kurds, and numerous minorities) experienced oppression and fragmentation. Furthermore, alternative and possibly competing forms of political configurations to the nation-state and its political, economic, social and cultural coordinates were sidelined, silenced, underdeveloped or eradicated.
A hundred year after Sykes-Picot (1916) and the Balfour declaration, almost 60 years after the Palestinian Nakba, 40 years after the colonial occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and following the recent transformative developments in the Middle-East, North Africa and Europe, the national political order that got created and consolidated after the First World War is demonstrating explicit signs of disintegration. The Palestinian quest for freedom and end of Israeli occupation and colonization is far from being realized, major regional powers such as Iraq and Syria in the Arab Mashreq and Libya in the Maghreb are collapsed into civil war. Iran and Turkey, in addition to Israel, are emerging as regional powers with great influence. Millions of refugees are being locally displaced and crossing borders to neighboring countries and to Europe creating sever human and political crisis. Following the civil wars in Iraq and Syria, the Kurdish question is re-emerging as a pressing regional challenge. These developments and many others in the Middle East and Europe call for refreshing and critical reflections on the Middle East’s political realities, borders, and crosscutting and overlapping identities etc.
The proposed project “Regionalism and Borders” at the BKF seeks to capitalize on the forum’s extensive and rich engagements in the politics of the Middle East and Europe in order to invite leading intellectuals and politicians to a series of workshops to discuss in a protected environment the rising new political order and the most pressing and critical questions and challenges that face the people of this region. A particular focus will be paid to the question of Israel/Palestine, which ought to be seen as a regional question rather than a local or a national one.