[This website was launched in June 2001. It has proved to be popular with those interested in the international political economy, development, public policy, and complexity. By end May 2013 the website had attracted about 680,615 visits.]
The website is dedicated to the dissemination of ideas that seek to promote a better understanding of the factors that shape social, political and economic events. Its mission is to accelerate the growing shift away from mechanistic perceptions in these fields to a viewpoint that recognises them as uncertain evolving outcomes arising from complex interactions between numerous actors. For technical information please see Complexity.
Visitors to the website interested in the above topics might find the textbooks shown below of interest:
Complex Systems Theory and Development Practice (published by Zed Books) deals with human and economic development as evolving complex adaptive systems. Complexity and Public Policy (published by Routledge), written jointly by Professor Robert Geyer of Lancaster University and Dr Samir Rihani, addresses the application of complexity tools to the broader field of public policy; including among other topics healthcare, education, politics, and terrorism.
Public policy is a fundamental field for the sustainability and resilience of any society. That was the key incentive behind my collaboration with Professor Robert Geyer in the production of the above book on Complexity and Public Policy. In the the Middle East and North Africa this is now a critical deficit that has been identified by numerous studies and reports, including the Arab Human Development Reports (see below). It is of course difficult to immediately see how to progress sound governance and good public policies in the turmoil that now exists in that part of the world but that is a challenge that must be addressed and overcome. That is the main reason why I welcomed the creation of AMEPPA (Association for Middle Eastern Public Policy and Administration) and why I readily agreed to serve on its Executive Board . Much is written about what is going wrong in the Middle East and blame is heaped on this or that power or faction. However, too little is being put forward in terms of concrete proposals for action to change the direction of travel. That is the only task that is worth pursuing despite all the obvious obstacles that are in the way.
Please do visit AMMEPA's website (www.ameppa.org) to read more about the association's aims and activities. Hopefully this might encourage some to take the next logical step of joining AMEPPA. The association held its first global conference in Morocco last year. Its second conference will be held in Ankara, Turkey in November 2013.
Articles Published on the Website
A large number of articles written by Samir Rihani are available on the website. They have attracted much interest from an international readership that includes specialists as well as members of the informed public. Recently Samir Rihani has been busy on a book based on the articles published here suitably updated. The working title, pretty obvious for regular readers, is 'Selfish Donkeys'. Recent articles are available in General Articles, Iraq, and Palestine. Older articles are available in archives. Links to a sample of articles selected to provide an idea of the topics covered: is given at the bottom of this page.
Financial and economic crisis or a painful process of structural global adjustment?
Commentators and politicians, especially in Western industrialised societies, have been busy with the latest so-called 'financial crisis' that emerged in 2008. They assure us that it appeared out of nowhere. They are now assuring us it is all over and we could all go back to our previous mode of living. It would seem lessons are never learnt. Writing in December 2008 I thought it appropriate to outline what successive popes had said about economic liberalism (See Popes and Liberalism). The raging crisis made that topic an obvious choice then and it continues to be so now.
The so-called crisis is part of an ongoing process. Economic liberalism; essentially a free for all ideology that accepts vast inequalities and subversion of political and social considerations in favour of a 'free market' does not make sense as a long-term sustainable strategy (see Neoliberalism, published in November 2006). Crises are the only safe way to handle the inevitable decline in both power and wealth that the minority of rich nations is having to contend with (see West's Chronic Crisis, published in March 2009). Crises, it seems, are the only way to allow the very few to continue to accumulate vast fortunes while governments seek to manage the 'crisis' by reducing welfare and the standards of living of the majority of their citizens. The haves continue to prosper while the have-nots are bearing the brunt of austerity measures "to deal with the crisis'. A deception on a scale that has few parallels in human history.
Decline of the economic and political might of the leading powers does not end there. Historic episodes associated with the demise of a hegemonic power are marked by security turbulence and at times irrational behaviour by the waning hegemon (see America's Suez, published in November 2006). Adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan (and more recently Yemen and then Iran and possibly Syria in future) are symptoms of the decline and should be analysed and understood in that context. Blaming it all on the stupidity of G W Bush misses the point. Highly intelligent Obama is behaving in the same way; possibly with more style and finesse. He will serve a second term and whoever comes next will continue the process. The inevitable reaction of so-called 'insurgency' and 'terrorism' is unavoidable and again should be seen as part of the larger pattern. Blaming it on militant Islam is a diversion designed to muddy the waters.
Accusations about torture and other unsavoury behaviour (such as that exposed at a court hearing in the United Kingdom in February 2010) are also part of the pattern. As the process of decline intensifies the need to discard legal and moral norms in favour of 'results' escalates. UN sanctioned genocide (in the words of Dennis Halliday who resigned his post as UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in 1998 to be replaced by Hans Von Sponeck who resigned two years later for the same reasons) was exercised against Iraq for thirteen years. This was dully followed by a war in 2003 the reasons for which (not to mention its legality) have unravelled at a public enquiry currently taking place in the United Kingdom (a report might by published in 2014 but don't hold your breath!). Public enquiries are to some extent controlled processes set up by governments to deflect public unease, but the Iraq debacle is on such a scale that the facts are emerging in an unstoppable torrent. The transfer of power in Britain from Labour to a coalition governments of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats and the change of leadership at the Labour Party opened the door for politicians on all sides to condemn the Iraq war. The 'blame-game' is now in full swing. Despite all that; the destruction of a country, the death of hundred of thousands of Iraqis, and millions reduced to the status of refugees, the world is not quite clear why this sort of thing had to happen. American and British (and other) casualties are taken as acceptable sacrifices: but in the cause of what? As fro Iraq all indications are (at the time of writing in May 2013) the country is fragmenting in a process that is being referred to in the Middle East as Sykes-Picot Two.
Afghanistan is following a roughly similar pattern. The end result is all too obvious: withdrawal accompanied by declarations of victory. When that happens that country will be left in a worse state than it ever was, which is saying something! The next move is yet to be revealed. Will it be Iran, Syria, Yemen, or Sudan? The first two are the favourite choices at present with a war on Iran expected in Summer 2013. It does not really matter. One of these; or some other target not yet known to us, will be selected and the process will continue. The accelerating decline in economic power has had another unpleasant feature: the 'military industrial complex' is emerging as an even bigger component in some countries economies and that complex needs wars, large and small, to thrive. The actual causes of war are now of secondary importance. These countries' economies need wars: military production requires consumption.
All the above is said not to depress, or to accept or condone the horrors committed by terrorists against innocent people. There is an urgent need to recognise the real disease rather than the symptoms. The 'Western world' needs to understand the implications of its inevitable (and painful) decline and look for less aggressive (and less useless) means to deal with it than perpetual war. The costs of what is being done at the moment far outweigh the benefits.
Scholars who study the international political economy have observed that the waning hegemon always hangs at the shirttails of the upcoming hegemon. The 'special relationship; between Britain and the USA is therefore understandable. Tony Blair's apparent adulation of G W Bush was not unexpected. He was conforming to historic form. However, there has been a new element in the latest cycle: Israel. Ostensibly, Israel was created to give Jewish people a home of their own after the awful genocide inflicted on them by Europeans. Palestine was an obvious choice. That is understandable as well. What is difficult to comprehend is the behaviour of Israel since 1948. Logically, one would have expected its leaders to find ways to compensate the Palestinians for the grievous loss they endured rather than indulge in actions reminiscent of what the Jews experienced in the past. However, to make matters worse Israel has become involved in the death throes of America's decline. Of course there is a price to pay for US support but the matter goes much deeper: Israel is acting as an enthusiastic agent for US machinations not just in the Middle East but in Africa as well, and earning in the process an unwholesome reputation (not to mention serious social and economic domestic problems) in the bargain. This is a mystery that confounds logic (see Israel's worst enemy, published in July 2006).
Update on Iraq's tragic circumstances
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 by the so-called coalition forces, and revelations about death, torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners and civilians, have done little to calm things in the Middle East. The Iraqis have been relieved of Saddam Hussein and his cohorts. They discovered, however, a most unlikely truth: conditions could be even worse than what they endured before. 'Freedom and democracy' have never been so unattractive!
The eventual cost of the war is now put at between $1.2 and $3.0 trillion (yes trillion!). Iraq was of course not the recipient of this largess. Iraqi and American funds are being looted through corruption and mismanagement on a scale unseen before in Iraq or elsewhere. Ethnic and religious cleansing was and is clearly in evidence: many have suggested that this was actively encouraged by the occupying powers. It is obvious now that Iraq will never go back to what it was in the past. A new, hopefully peaceful, reality will emerge but it is not possible to predict what that reality might turn out to be. Iraq is an adaptive complex system and that is how such systems evolve and move on. One thing is absolutely certain: whatever happens will not accord with US original intentions. Complexity's law of unexpected consequences rules supreme.
Ultimately, the solution to Iraq's problems lies in the hand of Iraqis (see Iraq: A Way Forward ). However, the powers working against the country are formidable and totally without compunction (see for instance Plight of Iraqi Academics).
Oddly enough, the venture in Iraq turned round and bit the perpetrators. The political and economic crises that abounded in the summer and autumn of 2008 cannot all be attributed to what was done in Iraq but the costs of that war and lengthy occupation have had obvious negative impact on the economies of both the USA and the United Kingdom. On the political front and thanks to US foreign policies and actions, Iran has emerged as the main Islamic political power in the region: now seen as a threat in need of attack. News in January/ February 2010 suggested Israel might deliver the first blow 'forcing' the US to intervene to 'restore peace'. Welcome back to the 1956 Suez model!
The March 2010 elections in Iraq did not deliver a clear winner. As of October 2010 agreement on a coalition government has not been possible. Interestingly, both Iran and the USA prefer al-Maliki the previous prime minster, to continue in the top slot although he received less votes than his nearest rival. The identical choice preferred by Iran and the USA has baffled analysts. Few have asked what business either country has in promoting this or that candidate!
Am issue that is being increasingly highlighted is the increase in deformities seen in new births in certain part of Iraq where military action was intense. These deformities are being blamed on radioactivity released by traditional and experimental weapons used by the occupying powers. The gathering momentum of reports seem unstoppable and at some point the UN will find it impossible not to launch sort kind of enquiry.
Update: the 'Middle East problem'
What is happening in Iraq could not be divorced from what is happening in the rest of the Middle East.
Publication by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) of five excellent Arab Human Development Reports (the latest was launched in July 2009) was a significant event in many ways. See AHDRs which covers the first four reports. The latest report is equally depressing. When will the Arabs and their leaders learn? So far the documents have not had any discernible impact beyond academic interest. These excellent reports deserved better.
Israel's extremist governments continue to wage war on the Palestinians in the name of peace. The 'Israel Wall' is a rising monument to years of apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Egypt has built its own steel wall (funded it is suggested by the USA and Israel) to keep the Palestinians in place. The situation was summed up well by the Palestinian thinker Hanan Ashrawi in a speech at the Hyatt Regency in Garden Grove on 23 August 2003:
"We are the only people on Earth asked to guarantee the security of our occupier ..while Israel is the only country that calls for defense from its victims .."
While on the subject of penetrating comments, I though the following quote from Haaretz concisely illustrated the twisted logic of Sharon's government when he was in power:
"Following the liquidation of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin this week,... The defense minister explained that the "wave of hits" [by Israel] was intended to meet the "wave of escalation in terrorist attacks that will follow in its wake."
A political twist came in late January 2006 when Hamas candidates won the majority in elections in Palestine. Once again, freedom and democracy did not deliver a government acceptable to the 'world community'; with the USA and Israel in the lead. The situation deteriorated further since then. In the meantime, Israel is busy energetically making new enemies. Its involvement in Georgia in summer 2008 is one case in point. As usual, these ventures, actively encouraged by the USA, will lead nowhere. Meetings held in late-2007 to restart the so-called peace process led nowhere either. This fruitless process continued in 2008. As Obama moved into the White House, there was a promise of talks and as expected Israel began new aggressive operations in Gaza and new settlements in the occupied territories just in case. The talks stalled but calls on the Palestinians to compromise (i.e. leave peacefully) continue.
Attempts have continued in 2010 to engineer a peace agreement of some sort between Israel and the Palestinians. Amusingly, it emerged in October 2010 that Dennis Ross is working behind the scenes between the White House and the Israeli leadership to move the stalled negotiations forward. The choice of Ross is obvious as he has had over many years very close and supportive relations with Israel. He was, it seems, the obvious choice as the US (impartial?) envoy in the Middle East. That pattern mirrored the selection of Lord Levy by Tony Blair as his envoy in the Middle East. Clearly, the Palestinians are expected to place their hopes and aspirations in the hands of these envoys. There are, in Summer 2013, some renewed activates to restart the so-called peace negotiations but no one is optimistic about the outcome. This, it has been suggested, might be in part related to a possible attack on Iran.
Speaking at Aljazeera TV station, the distinguished Arab political commentator Mohamed Heikal put the whole matter into a realistic perspective. He said the debate (after Obama's entry into the White House) will be as always between the 'Israel of the USA' and the 'Israel of the Middle East'. When these two factions, who do not necessarily view matters the same way, come to a conclusion which might take quite a long time a proposal will be put to the Palestinians which they will readily accept. In practice they have no bargaining chips apart from Hamas and more violence which could not produce a lasting solution.
Sample of articles
Half the Truth (May 2013)
Fig Leaf (November 2010)
My Fellow Americans (April 2010)
The USA and War (March 2010)
Life of Make Believe (February 2010)
Destruction of Iraq (August 2009)
Futile Promises (published July 2009)
West's Chronic Crisis (published March 2009)
Popes and Liberalism (published 29 December 2008)
Iraq: A Way Forward (published 21 July 2008)
Lessons from War (published 1 May 2007)
Iraq: Mission in Their Madness (published 12 February 2007)
Neoliberalism (published November 2006)
America's Suez (published November 2006)
Iraq: RIP (published August 2006)
Israel's worst enemy (published July 2006)
Plight of Iraqi Academics (published May 2006)
Time to Divorce God from Religion (published February 2006)
Cost versus value (published June 2005)
Arab Human Development Reports (published June 2005).
Iraq's Holocaust (published 30 August 2004).
America's Turbulent Decline (published April 2004).