Middle East confrontation: What about the protests?

Tuesday, January 21, 2020, 15:00 UK /10:00 EST

The turn of the year saw an escalation in violence between Iran and the United States, focused on developments in Iraq. Following a series of tit-for-tat strikes, US President Donald Trump raised the stakes by ordering the killing of General Qassem Soleimani, head of the IRGC’s external arm. After firing ballistic missiles at bases hosting US troops, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei emphasised that the real revenge would be the expulsion of the United States from the Middle East.

These events interrupted the development of a new atmosphere of popular self-assertion in parts of the Middle East towards the end of 2019. In Lebanon and Iraq, months of demonstrations against economic stagnation and the corruption associated with a sectarian power-allocation system forced the resignation of prime ministers in both countries -- as protesters adopted an increasingly anti-Iranian tone and Tehran encouraged Shia allies to back the existing system that institutionalises their influence. Iran also saw demonstrators on its own streets objecting to petrol price rises, who it brutally but effectively quashed.

With an ongoing risk of military confrontation and an intensified battle for influence across the region, especially in Baghdad and Beirut, an Oxford Analytica expert team will answer your questions on how events are likely to develop – and the impact on protesters’ calls for peaceful, democratic change.

  • With Iraq apparently designated the key battleground, will US troops be forced to leave, and are there risks of civil war or the return of Islamic State?
  • Will Shia demonstrators in Baghdad and the south be more vulnerable to reprisals?
  • How are Lebanese protesters likely to respond to the formation of a government sponsored mainly by Iran-backed Hezbollah?
  • What are the economic consequences of the political standoff for heavily-indebted Beirut?
  • As US sanctions bite further and inflation rises, can we expect new protests in Iran -- and could they threaten the Islamic regime, as the Trump Administration hopes?
  • Might new horizontal structures and avoidance of formal leadership mitigate stop protests being co-opted, or do they just reduce their political impact?
  • Are all these demonstrations unrelated, or can we talk of a new movement in the Middle East and North Africa? Will they spread elsewhere?

Share your thoughts on the above and raise anything else that concerns or excites you about the upcoming elections in our client conference call on Tuesday, January 21, 2020, 15:00 UK /10:00 EST.


  • Toby Dodge - Professor of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Roxane Farmanfarmaian - Affiliated Lecturer, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge
  • Sune Haugbolle - Professor, Department of Social Sciences and Business, Roskilde University

Join us on January 21 to put your questions to our experts.

Chair: Dr Nicholas Redman, Director of Analysis

More details coming soon