Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Thursday, December 06, 2021

The other day, I was so drawn to the new January issue of Vanity Fair, with cute little Katherine Heigl all dolled up on the cover, that I almost bought it as I was passing a newsstand.

Now that I know that one of the features is about a Middle East with borders re-drawn to skew more closely to socio-ethnic realities, I’ll have to plunk down some cash for a hard copy. It’s a more justifiable reason than covergirl cheesecake.

And more thought-provoking:

Vanity Fair’s four ad-hoc mapmakers — historian David Fromkin, diplomat Dennis Ross and Middle East scholars Kenneth Pollack and Daniel Byman — devised a new set of borders that restore some ancient kingdoms, and even create a new unoccupied zone known as the science-fiction-appropriate “Empty Quarter” on the Arabian peninsula.

It might sound like some kind of fly sci-fi, but the Empty Quarter (Ar-Rub al-Khali) has been an acknowledged geographical fact for ages. Defining it as a no-state’s-land is probably a fanciful exercise — the suspected oil reserves under that desert sand would compel surrounding states to stake their claims in short order.

- Some boundaries basically line up with today’s, as with Oman or Israel.

No Palestine in this “natural” order? Hmmm. I’m sure there’s an explanation in the full offline text; offhand, I’m guessing that Jordan would wind up being home to a Palestinian state. But that would still require big population movements.

- The Wahhabi strain of Sunni Islam at the core of Saudi Arabia would have a homeland carved out of the core of the current nation called the Southern Tribal Area. Portions of Iraq would be combined with new territories constructed along religious and ethnic lines.

- The mountainous parts of Iran would join mountainous Yemen to form a mixed Sunni-Shiite kingdom that was called Arabia Felix in ancient times.

- Egypt would be limited to the Nile’s banks, split into an upper part of cities and commerce and a lower one of villages. The desert either side of the Nile would be named the Western Tribal Area – an Arab domain that would have more in common with the tribal areas across the Red Sea than its neighbors abutting the Nile.

- Not all the divisions would be religious. Kuwait and Qatar would be added to the United Arab Emirates to form a collective of mercantile Sunni sheikhdoms known simply as the Emirates.

- The Levant on the Mediterranean’s east coast would be defined by its traditionally cosmopolitan cities.

These more “natural” divisions were inspired by an uncovered 1918 map by legendary T.E. Lawrence that proposed much the same geopolitical landscape. Would it have avoided the region’s present-day strife? Nation-states based on near-homogeneous populations are no guarantee of peace. In any case, the black gold that lies below trumps any positioning of international dotted-lines.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 12/06/2021 11:50:31 PM
Category: Creative, History, Political
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  1. Alternative Visions of Middle Eastern Political Geography

    Counter-factuals are almost inevitably fascinating - they make for great barroom discussions, angry Thanksgiving debates, and really, really interesting maps. Recently a lot of folks have been discussing possible counter-factual versions of the Middl…..

    Trackback by assorted leviathans — 04/08/2021 @ 09:02:53 PM

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