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Vasily Kuznetsov

PhD in History, Director, Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, RIAC Member

Vitaly Naumkin

President of the RAS Institute for Oriental Studies, RAS Full Member, RIAC member

The Middle East broke all records for surprise events in 2019. The unexpected changes of government in Algeria and Sudan, mass protests in Lebanon and Iraq, the sensational election outcome in Tunisia, the never-ending election process in Israel, a new escalation of US–Iran tensions, zigzagging developments in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, and many more – the list may be continued. At the same time, this is not the first time it happens. The situation in the region tended to be changeable in the past as well, and surprise and randomness have long become the landmark of the Middle East political process – as may be clearly seen yet again at the beginning of 2020.



The Middle East broke all records for surprise events in 2019. The unexpected changes of government in Algeria and Sudan, mass protests in Lebanon and Iraq, the sensational election outcome in Tunisia, the never-ending election process in Israel, a new escalation of US–Iran tensions, zigzagging developments in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, and many more – the list may be continued. At the same time, this is not the first time it happens. The situation in the region tended to be changeable in the past as well, and surprise and randomness have long become the landmark of the Middle East political process – as may be clearly seen yet again at the beginning of 2020.

This is probably why someone who originally came from the Middle East, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a Lebanese-American risk analyst, essayist, and economist of Antiochian Greek descent, invented the black swan theory. The black swan theory describes events overturning the natural course of development that have three key characteristics: they come as a surprise, have a major effect, and are often rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. The Arab Spring, armed conflicts and diplomatic crises, revolutions and coups, having stunned the international community at first, were provided with so many explanations later that they came to be seen as perfectly logical and even as the only possible outcome of undercover processes or events that had not been taken into account.

But maybe this is not so, and the suddenness of these events was not the result of faulty political optics but rather a fundamental feature of social development? The baffling interplay of causality and absence of causes, which has long been a feature of the Middle East, has created a surprising combination of changeability and invariability of political reality. There is a constant whirlwind of events, and yet nothing ever seems to change. Surprise developments can transform regional reality overnight despite the sluggish pace of everyday political life. The routine is interrupted by breakthroughs and rapid development, which in turn leads to chaos that becomes a new stability.


Source & Full Text: Valdai Discussion Club








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