Babel: Translating the Middle East

Babel will take you beyond the headlines to discuss what’s really happening in the Middle East and North Africa. It features regional experts who explain what’s going on, provide context on pivotal developments, and highlight trends you may have missed. Jon Alterman, senior vice president, Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, and director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts the podcast along with his colleagues from the Middle East Program. This podcast is made possible through the generous support of the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed here should be understood to be solely of those of the speaker(s).

Society & Culture
News Commentary
A Mezze: Iran's "Cloudy" Accusations
Iran's Cover-Up for Environmental Mismanagement
3 min
Nicolas Pelham: Morocco's Missing King
This week on Babel, Jon Alterman speaks with Nicolas Pelham of The Economist about the Moroccan monarchy and King Mohammed VI’s unusual friendship with a German kickboxer.
33 min
A Mezze: From Stable to Table—Egypt's Donkey Me...
As Egypt's economic crisis continues, a new proposition of introducing donkey meat to Egypt's cuisine causes public uproar amidst soaring food prices.
2 min
Hafsa Halawa: Egypt's Economic Turmoil 
This week on Babel, Jon Alterman speaks with Hafsa Halawa of the Middle East Institute and author of a new paper entitled Gulf Investment in Egypt, A balance of mutual need. They talk about the economic crisis that has plagued Egypt, shedding light on the factors that have contributed to its tumultuous state.
40 min
A Mezze: Power Plays
Suffering from a debilitating electricity and water shortage crisis, some communities in Libya resort to "power plays" and acts of intimidation to ensure their access to basic services.
2 min
Killian Clarke: Egypt's Counterrevolution and t...
Jon Alterman speaks with Prof. Killian Clarke about his forthcoming book tentatively entitled The Return of Tyranny: How Counterrevolutions Emerge and Succeed.
33 min
A Mezze: An Uphill Battle
GCC countries are beginning to tackle their obesity problem, but structural and cultural challenges to improving fitness abound.
3 min
Ayham Kamel: The Gulf's Regional Diplomacy
This week on Babel, Jon Alterman speaks with Ayham Kamel of the Eurasia Group. They talk about the current diplomatic landscape in the Gulf, how leaders perceive their security interests, their views on the U.S. staying in power in the region, and how they are responding to the U.S. retrenchment from the Middle East.
36 min
A Mezze: Help Wanted, But Not Found
What started as a job advertisement for a sandwich maker in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) quickly landed one firm in hot water last December. As the UAE pushes for companies in the private sector to hire more Emiratis, they're finding that there are some jobs that Emiratis don't want.
3 min
Ali Vaez: Iran's Regional Policy
Jon Alterman speaks with Ali Vaez about the Saudi-Iranian agreement to resume diplomatic ties and Iran's wider approach to the region.
38 min
A Mezze: Saudi Arabia's New Anime Journey
Imported entertainment options have flourished under MBS, helping erode the Saudi state’s ability to shape public culture. But now, Saudi state-owned firms are using the growing popularity of anime to shape their own narrative, at home and abroad.
3 min
Iraq 20 Years Later with Marsin Alshamary and H...
In a special episode of Babel to mark the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war, Jon sits down with Marsin Alshamary and Hamzeh Hadad to talk about the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion.
44 min
A Mezze: Going Green with Envy
In Lebanon, neighboring communities are looking to connect and build off one another's initiatives, but a dysfunctional environment makes capitalizing on that opportunity a challenge for international donors and Lebanese communities alike.
3 min
Will Todman: Powering Recovery
Jon Alterman speaks with Will Todman about his new report on the relationship between electricity and politics in conflict-affected environments, and what donors should do differently.
40 min
A Mezze: From Beijing to Jerusalem
Before the pandemic, Chinese tourism to Israel was growing the fastest out of any country. As Chinese tourists begin to return to the market, Israel may continue to be a popular destination.
3 min
Natasha Hall: The Aftermath of Earthquakes in S...
This week, in a special episode of Babel, Jon Alterman speaks with Middle East Program senior fellow Natasha Hall about the aftermath of the recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.
29 min
A Mezze: On the Hook
Egypt's fish farmers have been struggling for years now. Media and industry groups claim its due to climate change and Cairo's growing pollution, but farmers say the Egyptian military is to blame.
3 min
Bilahari Kausikan: The Middle East in a Multipo...
Jon speaks with Bilahari Kausikan about how states in the Middle East can navigate complexity in the U.S.-China competition.
42 min
A Mezze: Salmon Farming in the UAE
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) doesn’t seem like the ideal place for a salmon farm, but aquaculture is becoming an increasingly large part of the UAE's food security strategy.
4 min
Hanna Notte: Russia in the Middle East After Uk...
Jon Alterman speaks with Hanna Notte about Russia's foreign policy in the Middle East in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine last February.
33 min
A Mezze: Untying the Knot
To bring divorce rates down in Egypt, the government is intervening before couples tie the knot in the first place.
4 min
Jihad Azour: The Middle East's Economic Outlook
Jon speaks with the Jihad Azour of the IMF about the Middle East's economic outlook and the political consequences of economic reforms.
45 min
A Mezze: Weed Whacking
As regional conflicts blaze, Lebanese and Israeli drug markets are feeling the heat: over the past two years, hashish prices have fallen 50 percent in Lebanon, while in Israel, prices are rising.
3 min
Khalid Albaih: The Information Bubble
Jon Alterman speaks with Khalid Albaih about how he got his start in political cartoons and the role of the internet for debating political ideas and art.
38 min
A Mezze: Blame it on the Bitcoin
Libya's electricity grid has been struggling for years, but the government thinks it has found a new culprit: illegal bitcoin mining farms it says are popping up across the country.
3 min