By: Karl reMarks
Many people are hesitant to talk about the Middle East and its politics because it seems to be quite a complex place that requires extensive knowledge to understand it. While this is certainly true, there are handy phrases you can use that will make you sound like you know what you are talking about without actually bothering to study the area. We have collected these phrases in the form of a handy guide below. Note that if used properly, you can even go on to become a certain moustached celebrated columnist allowed to pontificate on the region with very little knowledge to go on.
‘It’s all about the oil’
This is the mother of all phrases about Middle East politics. It is one of the most effective phrases in the context of Middle Eastern geopolitics and one that can explain everything. It has even been used to explain Saudi Arabia’s 8-0 defeat at the hands of Germany in the 2002 World Cup and the backlash against Haifa Wehbe’s latest video clip.
‘It’s all about the oil’ is best used along with a patronising phrase such as, ‘you’re so naïve, it’s all about the oil’, or ‘don’t believe everything you read in books, it’s all about the oil’. Generally it’s better to use it about countries that actually have oil reserves, but in case you’re stuck and you’re discussing a country that doesn’t have oil, you can claim that ‘an American expedition found a large reserve of oil in Lebanon in 1917 but kept the information secret.’
‘Saudi Arabia, pffft!’
‘Who do you think created all terrorists in the world?’ ‘Saudi Arabia, pffft!’ ‘What is really happening in Syria?’ ‘Saudi Arabia, pffft!’ ‘Who is responsible for the decline of the Arab novel?’ ‘Saudi Arabia, pffft!’
These are typical exchanges that explain how to use this very effective phrase in the right context. Used correctly, the phrase will make both you and the person you’re talking to sound knowledgeable and wise and avoid going into pesky details. But it is essential to make the sound pffft, simply saying ‘Saudi Arabia’ will make you look like an amateur. For added emphasis, you can throw your hands up in the air when you say pffft.
A warning though, in case the person you’re talking to likes Saudi Arabia, skip to the next phrase.
‘The Shia Crescent’
Alternately called ‘Iran’s fingers behind everything’ this is a very popular phrase when talking about Middle Eastern politics. The beauty of the Shia crescent as a concept to explain Iranian expansion is that it actually looks like a crescent and therefore must be true. Other variations like ‘the Shia triangle’ or ‘the Shia Mickey-Mouse shaped region of influence’ failed to inspire the public imagination despite being more geographically accurate.
A popular elaboration on ‘the Shia crescent’ is to use the phrase ‘the Persians are the true enemies of the Arabs’. By calling them Persians instead of Iranians you gave the weight of history to an otherwise mundane statement. See also the next item.
‘Why is Turkey….?’
‘Erdogan wants to revive the Ottoman Empire.’
Much like with Iran, everything about Turkey’s modern politics can be explained by Erdogan’s secret desire to revive the Ottoman Empire, including Turkey’s decision to no longer compete in the Eurovision song contest. Well, clearly the rules were biased against neo-Ottoman revivalist electro-pop.
The strong evidence that backs this approach is Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman presidential palace and the historic uniforms for his honour guard. Whenever anyone brings up Turkey, throw your hands up in the air melodramatically and say ‘Sultan Erdogan!’ Everyone will agree with you and you will feel very clever.
‘Obama is an idiot’
Who was responsible for giving the Muslim Brotherhood control over Egypt? America. Who was responsible for the coup that removed the Muslim Brotherhood from power? America. Who is responsible for Saudi expansion in the region? America. Who is responsible for the Iranian rise? America. Pretty much the answer to any question that starts with ‘who?’ in the Middle East is always America. While this might not be strictly true some of the time, America is a very popular choice that everyone can agree on holding responsible for everything.
In order to use this correctly however, you must simultaneously hold two seemingly contradictory opinions: that America is a clever and scheming power that controls everything in the Middle East and that America is extremely stupid. If you’re questioning this, then you’re not quite mentally prepared to discuss the Middle East intelligently.
On a similar note, you must remember that America is either completely controlled by Israel and does its bidding all the time, or is the puppet master using Israel as its tool in the Middle East, whichever is more convenient under the circumstances.
Regardless of which direction you follow, always close by nodding and saying ‘Obama is an idiot’. Everyone will agree with you.
'Ancient Tribal Rivalries'
If all else fails, you can always resort to the ultimate trump card: 'these are ancient tribal rivalries', which can explain any conflict in the Middle East. Sunnis and Shias? Ancient tribal rivalries. Saudi Arabia and Qatar? Ancient tribal rivalries. Fairouz or Um Kalthoum? Ancient tribal rivalries.
Clearly, colonialism, Western interventions, political rivalries and ideological conflicts have nothing to do with anything happening in the Middle East today. It's all down to who stole whose camel centuries ago. Because the Middle East is that simple.
Lastly, remember not to attempt any nuance or complexity when using those phrases, that will completely ruin them. When talking about the politics of the Middle East, it’s crucial to stick to one-dimensional clichés that everyone can agree on.
This guide will soon be available as a smartphone app in case you can’t remember all the phrases correctly.