Emile Bustani Seminar: "Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Forty-year Rivalry that Undid the Middle East"

Tuesday, March 10, 2020 at 4:30pm to 6:00pm

Building E51, 325
70 MEMORIAL DR, Cambridge, MA 02142

"Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Forty-year Rivalry that Undid the Middle East"

Kim Ghattas
Senior Visiting Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

“What happened to us?” For decades, the question has haunted the Arab and Muslim world, heard across Iran and Syria, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Was it always so? When did the extremism, intolerance and bloodletting of today displace the region’s cultural promise and diversity? Drawing on her recent book, BLACK WAVE (Henry Holt and Company, 2020) Ghattas identifies the year 1979 as the turning point for the wider Middle East with the confluence of three events that year: the Iranian revolution, the siege of the Holy Mosque in Mecca and the invasion of Afghanistan. Nothing was ever the same again—not for the region and not for the rest of the world, as the dynamics unleased that year had far reaching consequences for the US and the West, paving the way for 9-11, the birth of groups like Hezbollah and ISIS. Before 1979, Saudi Arabia and Iran had been working allies and twin pillars of US strategy in the region – but the radical legacy of these events made them mortal enemies, competing for leadership of the Muslim world, a dynamic that transformed culture, society, religion and geopolitics across the region. This lecture explores key moments and trends from the last four decades to help shatter accepted truths about the Arab and Muslim world, sectarianism and the role that Saudi Arabia and Iran each played in shaping the Middle East we know it today.

Kim Ghattas is an Emmy-award winning journalist and a New York Times best-selling author who covered the Middle East for twenty years for the BBC and the Financial Times.  She has also reported on the U.S State Department and American politics, and is the author of The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power. She has been published in The Atlantic, the Washington Post, and Foreign Policy and is currently a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.  She sits on the board of trustees of the American University of Beirut. Born and raised in Lebanon, she now lives between Beirut and Washington.

Click here to watch the lecture virtually via webcast!

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Public, MIT Community, Students

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School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS)


history, Middle East, international studies, Bustani, CIS, Saudi Arabia, Iran



Center for International Studies


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