Middle East Notes and Comment: Deaths of Despair

Deaths of Despair
For almost a decade, economists have been noting the rise of “deaths of despair” in portions of the American population. Among middle-aged, white, non-Hispanic men and women without a college education, the rates of suicide, drug addiction, and alcoholism have been rising, and life expectancy has been declining. The explanation the economists give is that these populations have been left behind as jobs and status have migrated from their communities to more highly educated and urban populations. They feel aggrieved, disenfranchised, disrespected, and preyed upon. A significant fraction has gone on to embrace conspiracy theories and radical politics.

While Middle Eastern politics are profoundly different from U.S. politics, it is worth considering whether economic change will drive the Middle East toward a period of greater polarization, and even violence. The common view is that the Arab Spring eviscerated both political Islam and broad democratization movements, leaving the region in a durably post-ideological phase. Yet, looking forward at trends in the region over the next decade or two, it is hard to be confident that a coming economic transformation will not have similar social consequences. In fact, many of them already may be emerging. 

Read Jon Alterman's commentary on the CSIS website.

From the Middle East Program

The earthquakes that shook Turkey and Syria on February 6 put further strains on a humanitarian aid response for millions who are fleeing war in Syria. International assistance and volunteers poured into affected areas that internationally recognized governments control, but it has proven a larger challenge getting aid to the five million people living in a part of northwest Syria controlled by forces opposed to the government in Damascus.

In a commentary published earlier this month, Natasha Hall argued that the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria have highlighted the need for greater interest and consistent access for personnel and aid in northwestern Syria to manage the expected and unexpected. You can read her analysis on the CSIS website. 

Babel: Translating the Middle East
In the most recent episode of Babel, Jon sat down with Natasha to talk about the aftermath of the earthquakes in Syria, focusing on challenges to the delivery of humanitarian aid to the country. 

Earlier, Jon spoke with former Singaporean diplomat, Bilahari Kausikan, about how Middle Eastern states should see their role in a multipolar world.

Jon also spoke with Hanna Notte about Russia's Middle East policy and its growing relationship with Iran a year into the war in Ukraine. 

We also released two new mezze episodes: one on the Egyptian military's dominance of the country's aquaculture industry and another on how salmon farming fits into the UAE's food security strategy.

Media Interviews
Will Todman spoke with BBC World News about the Syrian government diverting aid away from opposition-controlled areas of the country. "More than 24 different countries have sent aid to Syria so far. Now we need to make sure it is getting to those who need it and that it's not under control of armed factions who can limit it," he said. You can listen to Will's segment here. (2/16)

Natasha spoke with BBC World Business Report about improving access to aid for vulnerable populations in northwest Syria. You can listen to Natasha here. (2/8)

Natasha also spoke about the situation in Syria with the On the Media podcast and The Irish Time's In the News podcast. 
In the News

Natasha spoke with Politico about getting needed aid to northwest Syria after the Syrian government authorized two additional border crossings for the United Nations. She said that there needed to be an immediate and rapid scale-up of UN operations to take advantage of the three-month window, followed by efforts by UN agencies and other actors to sustain that help and assistance longer-term. (2/14)

Jon spoke with AFP about Russia's war in Ukraine. Jon said there were no signs the war was close to an end as "each side feels that time is on its side and settling now is a mistake." (2/14) 

Natasha spoke with Vox about the "perfect storm" of crises in northwest Syria after the earthquakes. Most of the 5 million people living in northwest Syria have been dependent on emergency aid for years now. "About two-thirds of those have been displaced from other parts of Syria," with about 80 percent of people "displaced between 6 and 25 times," she said. (2/12)

She also sat down with The Guardian to talk about the challenges to getting aid to northwest Syria. She said none of the aid flowing to government-controlled areas is likely to reach opposition-controlled areas. (2/10)

Natasha also spoke to the Wall Street Journal about the compounding crises throughout Syria in the aftermath of the earthquake. "At one point, Turkey was a refuge," she said, but the earthquake "shows the cracks in the region." (2/8) 

Jon spoke with Business Insider about Israel's reluctance to send aid to Ukraine.​​​​ "Russia doesn't try to shoot down Israeli planes, and Israeli planes don't try to destroy Russia anti-aircraft batteries," Jon said, and although the Israelis are worried about growing Russian-Iranian cooperation in Syria, "it would take a lot for Israel to feel that it should jeopardize freedom of action" in Syria by antagonizing Russia in Ukraine. (2/2)