Around the World

Frenemies: U.S.-Middle East Relations Over the Centuries

It was a little more than two years ago that a street vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire to protest a lack of job opportunities. His death sparked a people’s revolt in Tunisia that quickly spread to neighboring countries in the Middle East. And so the Arab Spring was born, igniting protests in Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and Syria. As people took to the streets en masse, long-standing political regimes in many of those countries crumbled.

In the revolutions across the Arab world, people demanded more democracy. And it left Americans wondering whether it would bring more instability, more terrorism or if it would stabilize the region -- in short, “Is the Arab Spring a threat to us?”

The Arab Spring came a decade after 9/11, which thrust relations between America and the Muslim world into the height of crisis. But for centuries before that, the United States has had a deep relationship, a deep involvement in the Middle East and the greater Arab world. It’s been a vital relationship because of oil and security, among other things. But it’s also been a vexing, difficult, sometimes tortured relationship. Today, we might call the countries “frenemies.”

And indeed, that’s kind of the name of a new graphic history of the relationship between the U.S. and the Middle East. Christiane speaks with Jean-Pierre Filiu, author of “Best of Enemies: A History of U.S. and Middle East Relations.” He collaborated with the renowned French graphic artist David Beauchard, who calls himself David B.