A Necessary Void in International Relations: Non-State Actors in the Middle East

Insight Turkey Volume 18 No 4, 2016

Out of Nowhere: The Kurds of Syria in Peace and War
By Michael Gunter
United Kingdom: C. Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., 2014, 176 pages, $29.97, ISBN: 9781849044356 

Hezbollah and Hamas: A Comparative Study
By Joshua L. Gleis and Benedetta Berti
Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012, 264 pages, $53.00, ISBN: 9781421406145

Inside the Brotherhood
By Hazem Kandil
United Kingdom: Polity Press, 2015, 240 pages, $20.45, ISBN: 9780745682914

There has been a dramatic expansion in the size, scope and capacity of non-state actors around the globe in the last three decades. Providing social services, implementing development programs, participating in international conflicts, non-state actors have played important roles, especially in regions where the government presence is weak. The Middle East is rife with both important humanitarian non-state actors delivering social services as a complement to government action and violent non-state actors operating outside domestic law and international norms. The commonality in both examples is the way in which the non-state actors establish private authorities in the spaces where state sovereignty is weak or absent, and legitimate it in terms of identity, religion, services provided or nothing but violence. This leaves numerous questions to be answered.

The global proliferation of non-state actors has increased the need for a broader theoretical analysis and empirical validation, while the increasing influence of non-state actors in the domestic and international politics of the Middle East also needs specific attention. This article reviews three books which shed light on different non-state actors of considerable importance in the Middle East. In this article, Firstly Gunter’s book on the PYD; secondly Gleis and Berti’s comparative analysis of Hezbollah and Hamas; thirdly Kandil’s book on the Muslim Brotherhood will be reviewed. Operating under different organizational frameworks for distinctive causes and using different methods, all of the non-state actors analyzed in the books play significant roles in regional politics. The striking point that is reached when the books are read together is the shared denominator of the quite different organizations, which enables us to carry out a comparative analysis on the non-state actors in the Middle East. In the last part, two general observations related with the shared denominator of them will be briefly discussed.

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