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Tennessee World Affairs Council Brings Arab Spring Expert to Belmont

Dr. Richard W. Bulliet, Middle Eastern history professor at Columbia University, spoke to students on “Understanding Muslim Societies: Political Authority in a Changing Middle East” on Wednesday.

“The issue is not who is going to fall, but what comes next, how it affects world affairs economically and from a cultural point of view,” he said.

A timely topic given changes and current events in the Middle East, Bulliet’s lecture discussed the Arab Spring and the challenge it presents to American foreign policy and interests across North Africa and the Near East.

He outlined historical background on Iran, Syria, Turkey, Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt. Military officer-led regimes control the economy and are involved in money-making activities, serving more as internal security than traditional military because, with the exception of Saddam Hussein’s regime, no Arab country attacks another, Bulliet said. Even when constitutionally elected, new regimes are underlined by the same military officers.

“These are not true revolutions. They are changes in governing structure,” he said.

He said he predicts an unstable future for the Middle East, punctuated by officers trying to retain their power and resources.

Bulliet directed the Middle East Institute of the School of International and Public Affairs for 12 years. He is a specialist on Iran, the social history of the Islamic Middle East and the 20th century resurgence of Islam.

His visit to Belmont was part of the Tennessee World Affairs Council distinguished visiting speaker program through a grant by the Carnegie Corporation in association with the World Affairs Councils of America. Housed at Belmont University, Tennessee World Affairs Council is an independent, nonpartisan nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote understanding of important international issues throughout the community and with a special focus on the region’s schools.