Middle East futures: Decade(s) of defiance and dissent

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This article is featured in the ORIENT I 2021

If the 2010s were a decade of defiance and dissent, the 2020s promise to make mass antigovernment protests a fixture of the greater Middle East’s political landscape. Protests in the coming decade are likely to be fuelled by the challenges Middle Eastern states face in enacting economic and social reforms as well as reducing their dependence on energy exports against the backdrop of a global economic crisis and depressed oil prices and energy markets. Complicating the challenges is the fact that the youth, which often constitutes a majority of the population, has lost or is losing confidence in government and religious establishments at a time in which social contracts are being unilaterally rewritten by political elites. Pressure on the Middle East’s autocratic rulers is likely to increase with the departure of US President Donald J. Trump, a staunch supporter of strongman rule, and the coming to office of President-elect Joe Biden. In contrast to Trump, Biden has suggested that he would emphasise democratic values and freedoms. In doing so, Biden could contribute to renewed public manifestations of widespread discontent and demands for greater transparency and accountability in the Middle East and North Africa.

James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist, senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, and the author of the syndicated column and blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

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