Book: The Politics of Cybersecurity in the Middle East
Five questions for James Shires, assistant professor at ISGA, about his new book, The Politics of Cybersecurity in the Middle East. The book is available to order now.
Can you give a summary of your book?
Shires: ‘This book is – as the name suggests - a pioneering examination of the politics of cybersecurity in the Middle East. It focuses on Egypt and the six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Drawing on new interviews and original fieldwork, I show how, in these states, the label of cybersecurity is repurposed by states, companies and other organisations to encompass a variety of issues, including state conflict, targeted spyware, domestic information controls, and foreign interference through leaks and disinformation. These shifting meanings shape key technological systems as well as the social relations underpinning digital development. But however the term is interpreted, it is clear that cybersecurity is an integral aspect of the region's contemporary politics.’
What is the main goal of your book?
‘Cybersecurity is a complex and contested issue in international politics. By focusing on 'great powers' - the US, the EU, Russia and China - studies in the field often fail to capture the specific politics of cybersecurity in the Middle East, especially in Egypt and the GCC states. For these countries, cybersecurity policies and practices are entangled with those of long-standing allies in the US and Europe, and are built on reciprocal flows of data, capital, technology and expertise. At the same time, these states have authoritarian systems of governance more reminiscent of Russia or China, including approaches to digital technologies centred on sovereignty and surveillance. The goal of the book is to advance the study of cybersecurity outside 'great powers', and show how politics, as much as the essentials of technology, often determines the scope and nature of cybersecurity.’
What is the main conclusion/message in this book?
‘The core concept of the book is that of 'moral maneuvers'. A moral maneuver is the alteration of value-based and technological claims within an expert field—in this case, cybersecurity—for strategic gain. Moral maneuvers have two facilitating conditions: first, they are more likely to be attempted in a field that attracts significant attention and resources, i.e., when it has high levels of 'symbolic capital'; second, the issue or field must be esoteric, meaning that its understanding requires significant expertise and investment. Cybersecurity has both these qualities in abundance. The main argument advanced in the book is that moral maneuvers create the multiple forms of cybersecurity now present in the Middle East. In other words, the ambiguity, imprecision and multivalence of the term 'cybersecurity' provides rhetorical shelter in comparison to more highly politicized issues.’
‘This book is also intended to be read more widely, as the issues it discusses are highly relevant outside academic debates. This broader readership includes journalists, policymakers and policy advisors on cybersecurity in the Middle East and outside it, as well as interested general readers’
Who is your audience, who should read it?
‘This book is aimed at both academic and general audiences. The three main academic audiences are scholars of the Middle East, cybersecurity, and International Relations. The key concept of moral manoeuvres is applicable outside the field of cybersecurity, and so the argument of the book is relevant across these disciplines. However, this book is also intended to be read more widely, as the issues it discusses are highly relevant outside academic debates. This broader readership includes journalists, policymakers and policy advisors on cybersecurity in the Middle East and outside it, as well as interested general readers. This book should also be read by students studying undergraduate or masters-level courses in Middle East studies, cybersecurity, and International Relations, as it combines concise explanation of relevant academic positions and ideas with their application in a detailed case study.’
What insights can ISGA-students learn from the book?
‘ISGA students can learn how to look beyond the headlines of the latest spyware revelations, leaked documents, or news of cyberwar to understand how such events are identified, analyzed, and communicated. This gives them an insight not only into the politics of cybersecurity in the Middle East, but also into the increasing importance of cybersecurity issues in the day-to-day lives of individuals, organizations, and states worldwide. Of course, for those ISGA students who take my courses in the Bachelor Security Studies or the Master Crisis and Security Management, they can also get ahead of the reading list! .’
More information about the book can be found here.