Introduced: Galip Dalay

June 2020

Galip Dalay is a scholar and think tanker specializing on Middle Eastern and Turkish politics. He was IPC – Mercator Fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), non-resident fellow at Brookings Institution, Doha Centre and visiting scholar at the University of Oxford.


What are you working on as a Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy?

Most of the studies on the Middle East and its relations with the international system usually adopt an outside-in perspective. They usually look at how international processes are shaping the Middle East. This line of reading ascribes political passivity to the Middle East. The region is portrayed as being on the receiving end of global processes and developments. As such, it lacks political agency. By adopting a more inside-out perspective, I want to examine how developments, transformation and (dis)order in the Middle East affect the global processes and debates on international order, with a heavy emphasis on Europe. Given the geographic proximity and demographic linkages, for better or worse, Europe and the Middle East will mutually reshape each other. There is an intimate interconnection between the regional disorder in the Middle East and the transformation of the European political space. Therefore, at Robert Bosch Academy I will look at how Middle Eastern disorder is shaping the European political space. One of the main goals of my project is to intellectually contribute to the debate on the development of a European policy towards the Middle East – one that is forward looking, not solely crisis-driven and reactive. Indeed, an approach that is still underpinned by certain values and principles, and not merely transactional.

What insights are you expecting to gain during your fellowship?

I will be investing part of my time and energy into research. However, I will also reach out to a broad range of German and European scholars, decision-makers and experts who focus on the Middle East and European politics, particularly on foreign and security policies. For this, the Academy’s connections with policy-making and intellectual communities, particularly in Berlin, is a major advantage. Not only do I want to understand what forms the basis of European policies both at the EU and national levels towards the Middle East, I also want to gain better understanding into how these policies are rationalized and framed.

What are the most urgent problems in the Middle East? Do perspectives on these issues differ in Germany and in Europe, on the one hand, and the region itself, on the other?

In Europe, discussion on the Middle East excessively features the questions of refugees and terrorism, particularly when it comes to crisis-ridden countries such as Syria, Libya and Yemen. In response, it offers counter-refugee and counter-terrorism policies. However, refugees and terrorism are only the outcome of deeper malaise in the region. The Middle East is experiencing a series of interlocking crises. Namely, crises of citizenship, governance, legitimacy, state collapse, youth bulge, economic failure, and lack of a functioning social contract between the states and societies. The result of all of these crises is the collapse of authority, fragmentation, burgeoning numbers of the refugees and displaced people, and the emergence of militia armies and terrorist groups across the region.

Europe largely appears to prioritize this latest set of issues. This is understandable to some extent. Because these are the issues that have the most immediate impacts on European politics, societies and security. However, you cannot solve these issues by solely focusing on them or talking about them. Instead, Europe needs to make some big political decisions, not solely policy choices, in the region.

How will the Coronavirus pandemic most likely affect the (dis)order and conflict dynamics in the region?

For the conflict zones in the Middle East such as Syria, Yemen or Libya, the coronavirus pandemic could not have come at a worse time. Despite the UN Secretary General’s call for a universal ceasefire in March, these conflicts are ongoing with no end in sight. At a time when collective action is needed to eradicate the pandemic, warring parties in the region's hot spots still place their bets on a military solution to their conflicts.

In conflict zones, years of wars and devastations have fragmented the sovereignty, diminished state capacity and destroyed most of the hospitals and public healthcare facilities. Lacking access to basic medical equipment and testing kits, the remaining hospitals and medical facilities are utterly ill equipped to deal with a public health crisis of this scale. Furthermore, as many other scholars also argue, the fragmentation of regional states, particularly the conflict-ridden ones, exacerbate the impacts of the pandemic and the fight against it. Similarly, the responses of the different groups and conflict parties to the COVID-19 further deepen this fragmentation.

In spite of the deleterious impacts of the pandemic, COVID-19 is unlikely to become a major determinant or shaper of conflict dynamics in the region. Instead, it will exacerbate the already dire outcomes of war by diminishing state capacity, fragmenting sovereignty, and intensifying violent struggle over resources. And as state and sub-state groups lack the necessary economic buffers to address the repercussions of COVID-19, this struggle for control over resources will only deepen.

And finally, let’s talk about Berlin. What do you like about the city and what is your most favorite spot?

One of the things that I like about Berlin most is its living connection with history. In Berlin, history is not about the past. It is about the present and future. It is a living thing that is visibly reflected through the city's architecture. It conditions the present conversations. There are few cities in the world where history, present and future are so visibly and intimately intertwined. For someone who has deep intellectual interest in history and its impact on the shaping of the present and of conversations on the future, Berlin is an ideal place.

However, there is one place that probably wouldn’t feature high on many people's list that is very special for me. It is a small park close to Schloss Charlottenburg. This park is dear to my heart because it was where I asked my now wife, Zehra Senem Dalay, to marry me and received her beautiful ‘yes’ answer. This park is and will remain a special spot for us forever.

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