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Three distinct timelines are shaping developments in the Middle East: the short-term timeline of daily struggles and politics; the medium-term timeline of geopolitical shifts, which is measured in decades; and the long-term timeline of sociocultural transformation, or what the historian Fernand Braudel called the longue duree. Understanding each is essential to craft an effective strategy in the region.The first timeline certainly receives the most attention. But political thinking in the Middle East is often linked to the second timeline. That order has remained largely intact for almost a century, enabling the emergence of separate, though not necessarily exclusive, political identities in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and, to varying degrees, in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries.Wherever the political and socioeconomic conditions of the short- and medium-term timelines fail to provide order and stability, the confessional, ethnic or tribal identities that emerged over the longue duree gain prominence.Episodes from this timeline thus become as relevant as recent events. Consider ISIS's recent declaration of a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria.
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