Tova C. Norlén
Dr. Norlén is professor of counterterrorism and international security at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. She previously served as a faculty member at American University's School for International Service and as the assistant dean for research at George Washington University's Elliott School for International Affairs. The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Marshall Center or US Department of Defense.
This article analyzes the underlying human insecurities and changing geopolitical alliances in the Middle East during the past decade to assess the most likely short- and medium-term impacts of Covid-19 on the global security environment. In particular, it focuses on the “pre-existing conditions” for instability in the Middle East, and the opportunity that the pandemic might have to exacerbate them. The region will likely face a growing regional-security dilemma compounded by challenges that are now too familiar: the further entrenchment of political authoritarianism, violent sectarian conflicts, regional rivalries, and the radicalization and recruitment efforts by terrorist and extremist groups. While the pandemic has not led to a significant rise in terrorism and extremist violence, it has worsened fragility and accelerated economic decline. This has increased political instability, which, in turn, makes violence more likely. The civil wars in Syria and Yemen, continued threats from Salafi-Jihadi extremism, massive displacement, sectarianism, and rising inequalities between the rich and the extremely poor are to blame for such fragility. Given the lack of economic resilience and the significant fragility of many Arab states, as well as the availability of advanced military technology in the region, the resulting political, socioeconomic, humanitarian, and security challenges could be devastating.
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