HTS 2041: The Modern Middle East

HTS 2041 on Twitter

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

ISIS and the Taliban: A modern day jihad

On Monday, April 21st, reports surfaced that ISIS and the Taliban announced a Jihad against one another.  The disagreement arose over a region in Afghanistan where some small fights have already broken out between the two groups.  While Afghan officials have acknowledged the presence of ISIS in the country since January, recently there have been a series of attacks that have gained the attention of the Taliban.  Most notably there was a suicide bombing in Afghanistan that left 33 civilians dead and over 100 more wounded.  While the Taliban has led many of its own attacks, it has never actively taken credit for the deaths of innocents and viewed this as an evil act by ISIS.  This led the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, to declare that the ISIS flag will never be raised on Afghan soil.  Given ISIS’s rise to prominence in the media, it appears that this could be a dangerous conflict if direct fighting between the two groups begins.

blog 1

But just how dangerous is ISIS compared to the Taliban? In the past months ISIS has dominated the news relative to other military organizations in the Middle East.  Rarely does a week pass without a video surfacing of their acts of terror.  Their public executions and threats have made them well known all across the world and have gained the attention of many governments.  This even led to Obama proposing to congress what some people consider to be a loose declaration of war against the organization.  Given the shear amount of publicity that they have received, some people would assume that they are becoming the dominant military cell in the region.  However, the numbers tell a different story.

The Taliban and ISIS report statistics on their attacks that they take credit for having carried out.  While both groups average around the same number of attacks per month (approximately 1100), the Taliban has been far more effective in theirs.  On average, attacks by the Taliban result in the deaths of 1999 people per month, compared to 208 by ISIS.  In addition, the Taliban has been far more effective in destroying enemy vehicles, at 485 per month compared to only 8 by ISIS.  Most of these numbers are self-reported by the organizations themselves so the validity of the figures is questionable. However it does raise an interesting aspect as to how so much media attention has been focused on ISIS in recent months when the numbers say they are not the most dangerous group in the region. blog 2

So why exactly is ISIS feared by the general public? The relevance of ISIS in the media is largely based on the manner in which they have conducted their operation.  They have openly declared these attacks in grandiose fashion and have chosen to post many of their execution videos for the public.  At first, these were simply public executions meant to convey their lack of tolerance for any opposition, but the atrocities soon escalated.  Some are even as horrific as showing two captives being forced to dig their own graves before being executed by an ISIS official.  In this manner ISIS is using fear as its main weapon, and has embraced terrorism as a method of achieving their objectives.

Another potential reason for the fear that surrounds ISIS is their use of the “shock value” of their attacks.  Throughout the late 20th century, terrorism went through several phases in order to maximize the reaction from the press. Initially, it was the hijacking of airlines and then switched car and suicide bombs.  In each instance there was a strong initial reaction to the attacks, but as more occurred by the same method people became less interested or surprised by them, effectively numbing the general public to the terror happening.  Attacks that would originally generate days of coverage in the media were reduced to only a brief discussion in the news.  It is not to argue that the organizations were less effective in carrying out the attacks, but rather that they did not receive the amount of attention desired by the those performing them.  ISIS has recognized this fact and has chosen to up the ante by introducing their own form of terrorism.  From the beheadings to declaring their attacks beforehand, ISIS has chosen to make their organization as public as possible. And in a horrific manner it has worked to their success.  They have been able to generate media attention that would not have been possible using conventional means.  Even when the Taliban is still killing more people, ISIS remains at the front of media coverage and has been able to spread their ideology to everyone who will listen.

The Taliban on the other hand has continued to focus their attacks on occupying forces, going as far as to claim that their top priority “will be given to safeguard and protect the lives and properties of civilian people.”  Even in the wake of their declaration that this year will be home to the “bloodiest series of attacks in the past decade”, they are still are making it well publicized that they have no intention of harming the citizens of Afghanistan.  This is in sharp contrast to ISIS that has publically stated the death tolls of civilians in their attacks and it appears that they are proud of these figures.

No matter how the numbers depict the two groups, no one can argue with the effectiveness of the methods used by ISIS.  The expansion that they have achieved over the past few months has led to their recruitment of many disillusioned Taliban members and others who now believe in their cause.  It is clear that ISIS has embraced the role of a modern day terrorist group and has been using every means possible to their advantage in order to expand their role in the region.

-Chris Ryan


ISIS and Taliban at war?

ISIS and Taliban at war?

As of April 20, 2015, it appears that ISIS and the Taliban have declared jihad against each other. These reports followed an interview with Nabi Jan Mullahkhil, the police chief in the Helmand province. Nabi Jan Mullahkhil claimed that the police department had received documents stating the intention of jihad between ISIS and the Taliban, Khaama Press reported. [1]


The above two images show: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi [6] (Top) and Mullah Mohammed Omar [7] (Bottom).

It is no secret that the two groups do not get along well. In the past, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (the leader of ISIS) has been quoted as calling Mullah Mohammed Omar (the leader of the Taliban) “a fool and illiterate warlord.” In 2014, the Taliban stated that the group felt that ISIS was too extreme of a group while urging ISIS fighters to abide by the Islamic rule of law in its captured territory. [2] Obviously, when the Taliban declares a group too extreme, it is clear that the group is taking extreme to a new level.

But why the jihad? Is this pointed statement the cause of the jihad declared between the two Islamic fundamentalist groups? No, it appears that alternate motives are behind this. According to IndiaTimes, the driving motivation between this jihad is the opium production in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. [3] This province is the largest producer of opium in Afghanistan, and the two fundamentalist groups are apparently fighting over control of this opium. This is currently only speculative information by the reporters based on the location of the proposed war in the Helmand province.

Helmand Province

The figure above shows the location of the Helmand province in Afghanistan in the red outline. This is the contested territory. Photo taken from Google Maps.

Also according to Khaama Press, the Taliban’s fighters have been told to resist any advances in the province and to not let them occupy the territory.

According to the United Nations office of Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan is the largest producer of opium in the world. [4] One can see from this that it would be economically advantageous for either group to have control of this opium production for funding of the group. Previously, this area was under the Taliban’s control, but ISIS appears to have an interest in expansion in the area for this reason. This report also claims that 42% of the world’s opium comes from this province alone, which is a greater production than the entire country of Burma, the world’s second largest producer of opium.

There have been many jokes and comments posted on Twitter about this proposed war which were recounted on IndiaTimes. Twitter user AboveTopSecret posted, “#ISIS and #Taliban Announced #Jihad Against Each Other  #ATS get your tickets before sold-out” and user 1Penny4Thought posted “Apparently ISIS and the Taliban announced Jihad against each other. I say we let them bomb it out and then winner takes on US air drones.” These two tweets appear to be indicative of many of the popular responses to this topic circulating social media, representing public support for this jihad.

There has been no public mention from the United States for or against any intervention or participation in this conflict so far, so we are left to speculate on the outcome of this. As previously stated, the opinions on social media appear to support leaving the war alone while observing from the sidelines, but no official statement has been made by any government agency. This also begs the question: what will happen if the United States supports one side? If the United States provides support for both sides, one could draw a parallel between this situation and Operation Cyclone when the United States armed the Mujahideen in Afghanistan to fight the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. [5] These fighters then aided the Sunni groups in fighting off the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003, where the US’s own arms were used against them in the war.

It will be interesting to see the results of this, both from the war directly and the US’s hypothetical involvement.

-William Carter


[1] Khaama Press, “ISIS, Taliban announced Jihad against each other,” Khaama Press, 20 4 2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 4 2015].
[2] G. POLLOWITZ, “The Taliban Warns ISIS of Being Too Extreme,” National Review, 13 July 2014. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 4 2015].
[3] K. Anand, “ISIS and Taliban Have Announced Jihad…On Each Other. We Wish Them Both The Best Of Luck!,” India Times, 21 April 2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 April 2015].
[4] UNODC, “UNODC World Drug Report,” 2010. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 4 2015].
[5] R. D. B. Jr., “Operation Cyclone: How the United States Defeated the Soviet Union,” Undergraduate Research Journal at UCCS, vol. 3, no. 2, 2010.
[6] World Tribune, “ISIL’s Al Baghdadi flees Iraq for Syria as U.S. steps up air strikes,” World Tribune, 21 8 2014. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 4 2015].
[7] C. Hughes, “Qari Nasrullah vows feared Taliban commander Mullah Omar will return to rule Afghanistan,” Mirror, 4 10 2013. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 4 2015].

A Good Education And A Job

When people think about the Middle East and its economy, the first thing that comes to mind, usually, is oil. Although oil does play an important role in the economy of the Middle East, human capital is another important factor that I seldom hear people talk about. Human capital can be defined as the skills, knowledge, and experience possessed by an individual or population, viewed in terms of their value or cost to an organization or country. In order to raise human capital countries usually establish and improve upon educational institutions in order to better the capabilities of those that enter the country’s work force. After conducting research, I found that different conferences are held in the Middle East in order to discuss education and career development.

The 5th Gulf Education Conference Abu Dhabi UAE was held last month on March 18th-19th, 2015. The purpose of the event is to provide an atmosphere where people can discuss developments in education and innovations taking place in the world of academia. Also, the conference provides a place where people from across the globe can form partnerships and exchange best practices. The region benefits from these conferences because it gains an opportunity to observe how education is being approached by different institutions across the globe and can adjust its educational methods accordingly. The themes for this year’s conference were vocational education and employer engagement with educational institutions. As a result, much attention was given to workforce development and forming ways to strengthen the region’s talent. One of the highlights of the event is the Gala Awards Dinner which is a networking dinner where awards are given to organizations and institutions that have exhibited exceptional advances in teaching programs, resources, facilities, and academic positioning. Examples of awards include The Most Outstanding Entrepreneurial Project and The Most Effective Scheme in Motivating Academic Staff to Engage with the Employability Agenda. Below is a video sharing the thoughts of different attendees of the Gulf Education Conference that took place in 2012.

Due to the large amount of executives, scholars, and sponsors I can only imagine how much methodology and knowledge is present at the Gulf Education Conference. I thought it was interesting that the themes of this year’s conference focused on the connection between education and the work force. I decided to search for other,upcoming events similar to the Gulf Education Conference and I discovered an event called the Middle East Career Development Conference.

The 3rd Middle East Career Development Conference (MECDC) will be held on April 30th, 2015 at the Canadian University Dubai. During the MECDC, more than 100 career guidance professionals, counsellors, HR leaders and coaches will gather to discuss critical issues concerning education and career development in the Middle East as a whole. Dubai has already offered one topic for discussion seeing as their research shows that only 60% of students across the Dubai region feel prepared for the workplace, and over half of the students would not choose the same subject to study again. These findings are interesting due to the fact that I’ve heard many Georgia Tech students, including myself, testify to the fact that internships and co-ops teach you things that you don’t learn in a classroom. Also many Georgia Tech students change majors or choose a different subject to study if they decide to pursue a second degree.

Officials that will attend the MECDC include representatives from Etihad Airways, Tandeeth, Du and Boyden, The Higher Education Council in Bahrain, European Institute for Business Administration (INSEAD), King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) in Saudi Arabia, the Dubai Knowledge Village, and the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research. Rema Menon, Founder and Director of Counseling Point Training and Development states, “With 42% of U.A.E’s youth in the 15-34 years age group, career counseling is of vital importance.” Dr. Ayoub Kazim, the Managing Director of Dubai Knowledge Village comments, “Ensuring that our workforce has the relevant skills to drive our country’s GDP growth is vital.” Although each person attending the conference has different priorities, the end goal of enhancing the youth and labor market of the region is shared by all.

Picture of an information session being held at the MECDC in 2012.

Picture of an information session being held at the MECDC in 2012.

Picture of an engaged audience at the MECDC in 2013.

Picture of an engaged audience at the MECDC in 2013.

The MECDC even has a website for the 3rd conference that contains helpful information for students seeking to develop their careers. Upon visiting the website, I found a link that led to a list of articles, and the first article title was “Career Development Myths of College Students.” Me, being a college student, decided to click on the link. The article listed 15 Myths, but my all-time favorites were “Good grades and a college degree will get me a good job,” “My family and friends make great career counselors,” and “I posted my resume to the Internet, so I should hear about a job offer soon.” Seeing as we’ve all searched for jobs before we all know the amount of truth held in each of these statements. While exploring the website, I also found a few career development videos. One video in particular was a Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) talk by Larry Smith. The video is called “Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career.” Misleading title, I know, but it was an interesting watch.

What do events such as the Gulf Education Conference and the MECDC say about the Modern Middle East? We’ve learned that in the past, education in the Middle East was mostly focused around religion and the Quran. Over time, however, the Middle East began to experience internal changes. Some wanted to remain faithful to the traditional ways of teaching while other wanted to establish more modern educational institutions by observing the educational methods used by other countries which helped to fuel westernization. Now, centuries later, it can be seen how much the Middle East has progressed in its methods of acquiring academic knowledge and attempting to apply it to the educational structure of the region as well as the work force. Whether the Middle East’s endeavors to improve upon its education and labor force is proving to be effective is open for debate.

-Vontravis Monts


Homepage of The 5th Gulf Education Conference

Summary of MECDC

MECDC 2 Homepage

MECDC 3 Homepage

ISIS releases 217 Yazidi prisoners.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015, ISIS released 217 Yazidi women, children, and elderly from some prison camps in Northern Iraq. The Peshmerga forces, or the Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq, accepted the ISIS release of 217 Yazidi’s in Himera, which is just south west of Kirkuk. These Yazidi’s were held in the prison city of Tal Afar after ISIS attacked the Yazidi city of Sinjar in August of 2014. “General Hiwa Abdullah, a Peshmerga commander in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, said most of the freed 216 prisoners were in poor health and bore signs of abuse and neglect.”


The Yazidi people are one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the Middle East where the beliefs are a combination of Christian, Judaism, and Islam, but its main derivative is from Zoroastrianism. The Yazidi have a high concentration in the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq and speak predominately Kurdish. They believe that God created the world and named a Peacock Angel, named Melek Taus, as the world-ruler. Many other monotheist religions, namely ISIS, consider this angel to be the equivalent of Satan or Lucifer. Calling the Yazidi “devil worshipers” they have been under persecution by many Muslim factions over their entire existence. ISIS, however, has taken this persecution to a whole new level.


In August, ISIS attacked a predominately Yazidi city named Sinjar. In the process 50,000 to 60,000 Yazidi fled to the nearby mountain Mount Sinjar where they were forced to stay for a couple months. Starvation and malnutrition was rampant before relief forces could give them food and assist them to a new city. “The militants took all of our money and jewelry. We have been living under constant fear till our release,” said Jar-Allah Frensis, an 88-year-old Christian farmer. Unfortunately, this was not the only thing that ISIS took from the city.


During the August attack of Sinjar in August, ISIS committed many war crimes against the Yazidi’s of Sinjar. ISIS started the raid with its usual, “Convert to Islam or die” and then proceeded to murder or kidnap everybody anyway. ISIS deals with men and women separately. According to a UN report, ISIS, “gathered all the males older than 10 years of age at the local school, took them outside the village by pick-up trucks, and shot them.” This resulted in roughly 5,000 Yazidi men dead during the month of August. The women suffered a worse fate, though. The women and young children are kidnapped and detained in different prisoners around ISIS territory. They are then placed in the concubines of ISIS fighter’s or sold into slavery, namely sex slavery. “They have been subjected to physical and sexual violence, including systematic rape and sex slavery. They’ve been exposed in markets in Mosul and in Raqqa, Syria, carrying price tags,” said Nazand Begikhani, an adviser to the Kurdistan Regional Government on gender issues. There are a confirmed 4,061 Yazidi women that are currently missing and an estimated 7,000 total. Islamic scholars sent a letter to ISIS claiming, “The reintroduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus.” But ISIS retorted by saying that “Islamic Sharia law allows the enslavement of innocent ‘polytheists and pagans’ but not of those the militants regard as simply heretical”, and ISIS views the Yazidi as Pagans.


While no reasons for the release have been given yet, there are many different speculations on why the prisoners were released. One is that ISIS was much over its capacity to hold prisoners any longer. However, this is difficult to believe because ISIS would probably murder all these people before they decided to let them go. Another may be that these people were much to sick to be taken care of in the prison camps and ISIS was worried about the spread of disease. But the same reasoning for ISIS to not just kill these people applies. The only piece of information known about the release of the Yazibi is that Arab tribal leaders helped to coordinate it. This has been done once before for the release of similar subjects. These exchanges may be some monetary trade for the lives of the Yazidi at a great price. This theory is the most viable because ISIS knows that it will stay alive as long as it has the money to stay alive. The articles stated that jewelry and money was stolen from the Yazidi’s when ISIS attacked them. More than likely the jewelry was sold and added to fund the Islamic States regime, only supporting this theory.

-Sean Sweeny

Works Cited:
ISIS releases more than 200 Yazidis, Kurdish officials say –
Isis releases over 200 Iraqi Yazidis after eight months in captivity –
‘Treated like cattle’: Yazidi women sold, raped, enslaved by ISIS –
Islamic State committing ‘staggering’ crimes in Iraq: U.N. report –
Yazidis –
Persecution of Yazidis by ISIL –

The Iranian Nuclear Deal

The Iranian Nuclear Deal

The big question on the world stage in the past few months has been what will happen with the Iranian nuclear program if the current deal goes through. The deal seeks to reduce sanctions on Iran in exchange for Iran giving up capabilities to create nuclear weapons. In an oval office interview, president Obama stated that the deal is the best option for preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. President Obama stated that bombing Iranian nuclear facilities would simply slow them down for a few years and start another war in the Middle East.  He continues on to state that increased sanctions would lead Iran making “more progress” with their nuclear program as has been the case with previous sanctions. In a Fox News interview, Nile Gardner, Director at the Margaret Thatcher center at the Heritage Foundation and an expert in trans-Atlantic relations and security issues, expressed that by 2030 a sunset clause in the current deal would allow Iran to pursue nuclear weapons proliferation. The clause would force Iran to keep its nuclear program where it is for a period of time in the double digits, most reports hinting at approximately ten to twenty years, before the restrictions are lifted. Gardner also expressed concerns that allowing Iran to gain nuclear weapons would spark an arms race in the Middle East.

The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, says that Iran will comply with the terms of the deal saying “We can cooperate with the world.” The Iranian people, including Rouhani are excited about the deal. Some even quoting a Persian proverb that reads: “A good year is determined by its spring.” Iranians are hopeful that the deal will ensure a successful year to come. I would expect Iran to have many bountiful years to follow if the deal passes as economic sanctions would be lifted and nuclear energy would be more easily researched in Iran.

On the other hand, Israel is not excited about the deal. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, has expressed great concern over Iran achieving a nuclear weapon given its past statements about eliminating the state of Israel. Netanyahu feels that the deal will not dismantle any facilities or centrifuges, and therefore not limiting Iran’s nuclear ambition in a significant way. Netanyahu continues that increased economic prosperity due to reduced economic sanctions will give Iran a solid monetary footing to fund its nuclear and military expansion, ultimately leading to a nuclear weapon and the destruction of Israel.

President Obama also acknowledged Iran’s statements regarding the destruction of Israel saying “We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk.” President Obama feels that the United States is powerful enough to test the proposed deal with Iran, regarding its nuclear program, in that the United States can put Iran in check if they exceed the bounds of the agreement.

I do agree with President Obama that compared to bombing Iranian facilities and simply hoping that sanctions will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, the deal is the most promising option for peace with Iran and preventing more nuclear weapons. However, looking back historically, this situation seems to mimic that seen in Europe with the rise of Germany in the early 20th century. Germany continually pushed the bounds of what was allowed of them following post war agreements of WWI and repeatedly, no one put them in check. Appeasement policy was tried in the case of early 20th century Germany and proved to be a monumental disaster, leading to WWII, the ramifications of which forever changed the world. Iran has already pushed its limits with nuclear research by not being cooperative with inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). For example, say Iran breaks the deal and immediately develops a nuclear weapon; what action will be taken? President Obama say military action is still “on the table” but how? Military action could lead to nuclear war if Iran had a nuclear weapon. Economic sanctions have proven to have had little effect in slowing down Iran and another possible outcome; would Iran sell nuclear weapons to terrorist groups acting in Iran’s interest? I would like to think that Iran’s intentions are noble but it is very difficult to trust a nation that, at its highest levels of government, expressed a desire to eliminate Israel and also gave pushback on previous nuclear verification attempts by the IEEA to ensure Iran was not outstepping its bounds with its nuclear research. Which is what was clearly seen with the underground facilities and testing seen in the past decade. President Obama has assured that the plan will rely primarily on verification rather than trust but reaching a deal by late June that can account for all loopholes seems ambitious to say the least.  I also feel that it is an excessively arrogant, and irresponsible statement to make that “We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk.” This sounds like blatant disregard for the lives of the men and women who are called upon to defend our nation and its allies if the deal with Iran is broken. President Obama and the other members of the committee in charge of seeing this deal through need to tread very lightly and be very careful not to make any promises that they are unable to keep as well as to not overlook any key details that could allow Iran a loophole to attaining, developing, or selling a nuclear weapon or the technology required to create a nuclear weapon. I see no reason that Iran should not be permitted to pursue nuclear energy for the purposes of an alternative energy source but in no way do I want to see nuclear weapons proliferation continue in the Middle East or any other part of the world.


Deal or No Deal: the Latest in Iranian Nuclear Negotiations

Before jumping into the details of what took place this week, allow me to explain in brevity some of the background in regard to the nuclear talks with Iran.


How did this start?

Negotiations with nuclear Iran began in 2002, when two hidden nuclear facilities within the country were revealed to the international community.  The negotiations of late have been catalyzed by the election of Hassan Rohani, who ran on a platform of ending Iran’s international isolation, as well as lifting the harsh economic sanctions that are in place as a consequence of the nation’s nuclear activities.

What does most of the world want?

The majority of the world wants to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.  They are seeking strict limits on Iran’s enrichment program and infrastructure, in an effort to lengthen their “breakout time,” the time it would take Iran to create a single nuclear weapon.

What does Iran want?

The nation’s most pressing need is relief from the severe economic sanctions that inhibit the growth of its resource-based economy.  They want the sanctions removed immediately, but as of now the deal is such that they will be relieved in stages, on the basis of good faith to the agreement.

What is the deal that was signed?

This past Thursday, a framework for the deal was released.  Many were surprised at the level of detail, but nothing is set in stone until the July 1st deadline.  The statement released will ensure Iran reduces its enrichment centrifuges from 19,000 to 6,000, and none of their most advanced models can be used for at least a decade.  These parameters, among others, are worthless if Iran is not held accountable, as such the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) will carry out a routine inspection regime to ensure their compliance.

What needs to happen by July 1st?

The plans need to be finalized and agreed upon, and the regime outlined in detail.  Essentially, nothing is set in stone yet, and everything needs to be solidified by all parties who are taking part in the negotiations.

Who is not happy about this?

Israel for one, is up in arms.  The Israeli prime minister has condemned the deal in the most extreme on terms, describing it as near apocalyptic.  Republicans in Congress are not happy about us “negotiating with terrorists,” and there are powerful groups in Iran who would be happy if they did not have the IAEA snoopy around in their territory.  Their protests are unheeded however, as objecting parties have yet to offer an alternative solution.


                  Israel’s View on the Deal

What does this all mean?

If everything continues along the current path, the world will sleep a little better at night knowing this will hopefully prevent a nuclear arms race, or worse, another war in the Middle East.  While it remains to be seen, there is the possibility that with the sanctions removed, Iran’s economy could become reintegrated into the world, and we could see a degree of trust between nations emerge.

Off the Beaten Path


The Middle East has a long history of enthusiasm for motorsports, beginning when the first annual Dakar rally kicked off in 1978, and in the subsequent years as competitive drivers and manufacturers from around the world flocked at the opportunity to challenge themselves and their machines against the hostile terrain of the rugged desert environment. Sadly, due to security concerns of terrorism in 2008, the Dakar rally was cancelled and subsequently relocated to South America starting with the 2009 race. Other high-profile motorsport events in the Middle East occurred fairly recently. In 2004, Bahrain became the first Middle Eastern nation to host a Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit. The event was so well received that other Middle Eastern nations quickly followed suit. In 2005, the Istanbul Racing Circuit in Turkey held its first Formula One race, followed by the Yas Marina Circuit in the U.A.E in 2009. These Formula One events represent the upper echelon of motorsport competition, and highlight the acceptance and integration of a traditionally western sport into Middle Eastern culture. But what is more interesting, at least to this author, is the enthusiasm for custom-built off-road vehicles and recreational 4-wheel drive off-road events found in some Middle Eastern nations and how similar these vehicles and racing events are to those found in the US.

Born mostly out of necessity for a competent vehicle to traverse the rugged terrain, and partially for the bragging rights to have the “ biggest toy around”, loyal enthusiasts formed clubs and organized off-road racing events akin to what has been done by “motorheads” in the US to share ideas for their common interests and put their vehicles to the test. The video above (filmed at a sand drag racing event in the U.A.E.) is a spectacle that most viewers would associate with a Friday night race in a rural American community. From my travels throughout the world, it seems that building and racing high horsepower 4-wheel drive vehicles is ubiquitous, if not contagious, and the Middle East is no exception. However, as any motorsport enthusiast will tell you, customizing a vehicle is an expensive endeavor.

From the video above, just glancing at those customized 4×4’s with massive turbochargers, air-to-liquid intercoolers and TIG welded stainless steel plumbing to connect it all together represents an investment of tens of thousands of USD. In light of this fact, it comes as no surprise that most of the 4-wheel drive clubs and events found in the Middle East are located in nations such as the U.A.E and Qatar, which boast higher than average per capita incomes for the region due to their petrochemical stimulated economies. Abu Dhabi 4×4, Team Saluki, Qatar 4×4 and Dubai Off-Road Club are just a few notable clubs that stand out in either organizing or competing in off-road racing and trekking events in the Middle East. One of the most famous off-road races in the Middle East, organized by The Automobile and Touring Club of the United Arab Emirates, is the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. At the time of writing this blog (April 1), this annual race is in the final leg of its five-day course. The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is comparable in length (~1200 miles) to the Baja 1000 (~1000 miles) that most in the US are familiar with, but the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is broken up into segments spanning a five-day period, whereas the Baja 1000 is completed in a single race.

Retrospectively, it comes as no surprise that people the world over would become so attached to their 4-wheel drives, especially in an area of such rugged terrain that most Middle Eastern nations encompass. The 4-wheel drive vehicle reigns supreme in mankind’s quest to conquer the unpaved wilderness.They are the workhorses that allow us to travel far off the beaten path, and return safely to civilization. The passion for motorsports is practically universal among people of all nations, including those in the Middle East. While we might think of aggressive off-road vehicles capable of conquering any obstacle the landscape can produce, and the clubs and racing events people who build these machines attend as a purely American (or western) phenomenon, there are people the world over who share this enthusiasm for their machines. This enthusiasm can eventually lead to like-minded people with shared interests finding each eachother and forming a club. In some cases, as we have seen, this enthusiasm sometimes leads to bolting two 130mm turbochargers onto a Nissan Patrol and showing everyone just how fast you can accelerate down a 400m sand track!

-Trevor McElhenny