The Middle East is in crisis. The hopeful Arab Spring has now turned into a harsh winter filled with frustrated dreams and failing states. Strongman rule is back in Egypt, while Syria and Libya remain trapped in long and bitter civil wars.

At the same time, popular protests across the region give voice to widespread anger at government corruption, religious sectarianism and endemic economic failures. The explosion that took place in the Port of Beirut almost two weeks ago is the latest bitter blow in a country whose political system has empowered sectarian elites, fuelled mismanagement, and crippled reforms.

“A new Middle East constantly struggles to be born. But each attempted birth is abortive, with visions of utopia replaced by dystopia.” So writes Emma Sky, Senior Fellow at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, in her recent book, In A Time of Monsters: Travels Through a Middle East in Revolt. It is a striking assessment, capturing the sense of anguish and helplessness that has gripped so many in a region beset by tragedies. Yet Sky also sees some hope for the future – among a young generation tired of sectarian conflict and kleptocratic states, and which continues to work towards positive change.

Why exactly has political stability proven to be so elusive in the Middle East? And what impact has the coronavirus crisis had on those living in its struggling states and conflict zones?

In the latest episode of The New World, I hosted Emma Sky alongside Robert Fox to learn about the origins of the problems facing the Middle East, and to discuss what the future holds for the region. The podcast was recorded in July, before the explosion in Beirut on August 4th.

You can listen to the episode here:

Few people in the UK know the challenges faced by the modern Middle East as well as Sky. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, she witnessed the United States-led regime change in all of its hopes and failures, as Governorate Coordinator for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Kirkuk Province. She later served as a political officer in Afghanistan and as senior adviser to US General Raymond Odierno during a crucial phase of the Iraq War, in 2007-2010.

Robert Fox, Defence Editor at the Evening Standard and Reaction’s chief foreign affairs commentator, has also seen the region’s troubles first hand. A veteran foreign correspondent who has worked in war zones from Algeria and Afghanistan to Iraq and Yemen, Robert warns of a dangerous disconnect between events on the ground and policy-making circles in Western capitals.

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