What Middle East academic experts think

  Political scientists specializing on the Middle East see Jordan as the Arab country most likely to experience major new mobilization during the coming year, but see Bashar al-Assad as the Arab leader most likely to lose power. They see the Obama administration as doing a pretty good job overall in its response to the ...

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Political scientists specializing on the Middle East see Jordan as the Arab country most likely to experience major new mobilization during the coming year, but see Bashar al-Assad as the Arab leader most likely to lose power. They see the Obama administration as doing a pretty good job overall in its response to the Arab uprisings, but performing terribly on Bahrain and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are largely against military intervention in Syria, don’t expect war between Egypt and Israel in the next two years, and don’t expect a negotiated two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians in the next decade. And they are perfectly divided over who they think will win the upcoming Egyptian Presidential run-off election. 

Those are among the interesting findings of a pilot survey I conducted this week during the third annual meeting of the Project on Middle East Political Science, a network of academic political scientists specializing in the Middle East which I direct. The sample for this pilot survey included about forty political scientists at all career levels, all of whom have spent significant time doing research in the region and speak the relevant local languages, and are primarily based at a university or college (rather than a think tank or NGO). This survey is a pilot study for a larger expert panel I’m planning to put together for the Middle East Channel. I hope that expert panel will offer a regular barometer of views of regional issues — and also be willing to offer predictions which might offer some meat for the Philip Tetlock-inspired debate about the value of expertise for prediction. 

Below the break are some of the key results of the POMEPS pilot survey:

–  Just below 10% support an American military intervention in Syria, and the same number expect one, though almost 20% would support the arming of the Syrian opposition in some form, and almost three-quarters expect Bashar al-Assad to still be in power one year from now.

– 50% of respondents willing to venture a prediction expect Mohammed al-Morsi to win the Egyptian Presidential runoff and 50% expect Ahmed Shafik to win.  In other words, for academic experts in the survey it’s a coin-toss. 

– Less than 5% support an American or Israeli military strike against Iran in the next year, while 33% expect one. 

– 55% supported the NATO intervention in Libya at the time, and almost none have seen anything to change their mind since one way or the other. 

– 90% support a negotiated two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, but only 23% expect one in the next decade. 

– Just under 10% expect the Camp David treaty between Egypt and Israel to be amended or abrogated within the next two years — and not a single respondent expects a war between Egypt and Israel in that time frame.

– Bashar al-Assad is overwhelmingly the Arab leader the respondents thought would no longer be in power one year from now. But that reflected less a strong belief that he would fall (around 25% thought he would) than a general expectation that most leaders would survive their challenges in the coming year. No other leader was named more than twice.

– Jordan was the Arab country the respondents expected to witness a major increase in popular mobilization over the next year. 58% named Jordan in an open-ended question, though only a handful predicted that King Abdullah would fall from power within a year.  Other candidates for a new wave of mobilization? Algeria (26%) and Syria (26%), Bahrain (19%) and Egypt (16%).   Eight other countries were named at least once.  

– What is the regional balance of power?  Saudi Arabia is considered to be currently the most powerful Middle Eastern state by a wide margin, followed by Iran and Turkey (tied) and then Israel.  Interestingly, looking ahead five years, respondents expect Saudi Arabia to lose power and Egypt to rise in power, with Turkey, Iran and Israel likely to remain. 

– Finally, respondents were asked to rate American policy since December 2010 on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best.  The Obama administration rated a solid 5.8 for its response to the Arab uprisings as whole, and scored best on Tunisa (7.6), Libya (6.0), Iraq (5.7) and Egypt (5.6). Respondents had a slightly dimmer view of American policy towards Syria (4.7) and Yemen (4.4) and Iran (3.6). And they were downright brutal towards U.S. policy towards Bahrain (2.9) and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (2.6) — and those are with coding "-2500" as "0."

So that’s a snapshot of how this slice of the academic Middle East expert community views the region right now according to the POMEPS pilot survey.  I’m looking forward to expanding the sample size and posing a variety of questions down the road — and welcome your suggestions on how to make the most of it.

P.S. The POMEPS conference itself focused on new research opportunities for political scientists after the Arab uprisings — if you’re interested in the state of the academic field and looking for new research ideas, then I highly recommend that you keep an eye out for the collection of short memos written for the conference which will be published in a few weeks!

Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).

He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements. Twitter: @abuaardvark

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