Guns, Power, and Markets: The Military and the State in the Middle East

Guns, Power, and Markets: The Military and the State in the Middle East

In late October, PaCCS Communications Officer Kate McNeil sat down with Dr Yezid Sayigh, a senior fellow at the Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center, to discuss his past work on the AHRC-funded project Guns, Power, and Markets: The Military and the State in the Middle East, 1970-2010, completed during his time at King’s College London. This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and concision.

Kate McNeil: Would you mind getting started by telling me a bit about your background and how you ended up working in the field of security studies?

Dr Yezid Sayigh: I grew up in Lebanon amidst multiple wars and invasions, and my interest in armed forces evolved from there. As a young professional, I followed military developments in various fields, and established a track record as a strategic analyst with a particular interest in defence and security affairs. During that period, I also started working as a practitioner, as a consultant and a negotiator for Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, and I began working on reform issues.

How did you end up working on Guns, Power, and Markets: The Military and the State in the Middle East, 1970-2010, and what key questions were you trying to address in that research?

A lot of my work in the 1990s had been in the security affairs domain – first as a practitioner and then increasingly as an academic. During that period, I published a book on the Palestinian armed struggle which sought to understand its political context and ran a conference in Beirut on the relations between armed forces and their states in societies in the Middle East. That triggered a more focused interest in the relationship between the armed forces and Middle Eastern societies, which I followed up on in the early 2000s with a book chapter and workshops through the European University Institute and the Centre for International Studies in Paris.

I wanted to understand how war changes states and societies, what the processes that influence those changes are, and how countries use, organize, mobilize, and control armed force to achieve various purposes. So, in 2010, the AHRC provided me with funding to conduct a historicized reading of the relationship of the role of the military, the evolution of state power, and how markets evolved certain kinds of economic behaviour which were enabled by the military supporting those in political power. This work, influenced by comparable work in Latin America, seeks to provide a trajectory of the historical sociology of the relationship between the armed forces and societies in the Middle East – especially the Arab states.

What emerged from that research?

I had initially planned on writing a book, but this project occurred at a time in my career when I was beginning to transition away from writing for academic audiences, and towards working predominantly in the policy sphere. So, I produced several pieces of work that examined various armed actors in the Middle East which were oriented towards policy audiences. My research outputs in the years since have included work on Egypt’s Military as the Spearhead of State Capitalism, The Syrian Opposition’s Leadership Problem, Policing the People, Building the State: Authoritarian Transformation in the West Bank and Gaza, and Crumbling States: Security Sector Reform in Libya and Yemen.

What have you been working on in the decade since?

After finishing this project, I resigned my professorship and moved to a think tank, where I found that I was able to reach much wider audiences and achieve a greater impact.  Since I joined the Carnegie Middle East Centre 10 years ago, much of my work has continued to focus on armed conflict, and I have increasingly explored the role of national militaries, nonstate armed actors, and police forces. From this position, I have done a lot in terms of building a new knowledge field and an epistemic community in Arab countries concerning research on civil-military relations – a field of knowledge was previously embryonic. We have published nearly 100 publications in this field. Last November I also published a major, book-length report, Owners of the Republic, which focuses on Egypt’s military economy. This was a major effort to provide the data and analysis to understand something which is known to be a major factor in Egyptian politics, but which people had never previously studied systematically.

I now direct a program on civil-military relations in Arab states, and we are about to launch an innovative new online database that measures through quantitative and qualitative means the outcomes of relationships for the integrity of state institutions, the stability of political systems, budgetary and economic stability, nation building and citizenship, and national defence. We aim to break the taboo on discussing defence affairs in public in most Arab countries, while introducing impartial and innovative new tools for measuring these things.

My team and I have also worked with practitioners over the last several years, engaging under different formats with the Lebanese Armed Forces, Tunisian Defence Ministry, and the UN team in Yemen which is working to create solutions concerning what will happen to armed fighters there if and when a peace settlement is reached. Another of our Carnegie colleagues has previously also provided similar support in Libya, and I have connected with international stakeholders and ministries, including the UK government, and UN teams in Somalia, Libya, Yemen, and Syria, who have been able to use our work.