Prof. Dr. Volker Perthes
Political Scientist, Director of the SWP
DAAD Scholarship 1986–1987
Volker Perthes was a student when he first visited Saudi Arabia, where his father was working as an engineer building a cement factory for Krupp. Fascinated by his impressions, he took Arabic courses in addition to studying political sciences at the university in his home town of Duisburg. After graduating, he spent two years conducting research in Damascus, Syria, with a DAAD scholarship.
If we today seek a heading that characterises and categorises the developments in the Middle East since 2011, and even more since 2013–2014, with regard to their international historical significance, then the term ‘disintegration of order’ appears appropriate.
In 1991, a year after completing his doctorate, he went to the American University of Beirut in Lebanon as an assistant professor. One year later, he began working in the Middle East specialist group at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), which was then based in Ebenhausen near Munich. The SWP is a largely publicly funded, but independent research institute that advises the Bundestag and Bundesrat on all questions of foreign and security policy on the basis of its own academic research.
Perthes is still with the SWP, which moved to Berlin in 2001. In 1999–2000, he was responsible for the SWP advance team in Berlin; later, he headed the SWP Middle East and Africa Research Division for several years. “If we today seek a heading that characterises and categorises the developments in the Middle East since 2011, and even more since 2013–2014, with regard to their international historical significance, then the term ‘disintegration of order’ appears appropriate,” says Perthes. In 2005, he was appointed director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and executive chairman of the Board of SWP.
Today, Perthes is a sought-after political adviser, speaker and discussion partner for the media. He is often described as a “Middle East expert”, which annoys him. However, the Middle East now belong to the core areas of German foreign and security policy, on which the SWP and therefore also Perthes focus. The subjects include transatlantic relations, the challenges of European security and dealing with global shifts in political power.
The political consultant is also well known as the author of numerous publications about the Arab world: for example, his book Geheime Gärten – die neue arabische Welt (Secret Gardens: The New Arab World, Berlin 2002), in which he describes the political and economic history of Arab countries in the 20th century. Perthes has also remained true to his original research subject with the books Der Aufstand. Die arabische Revolution und ihre Folgen (The Uprising. The Arab Revolution and Its Consequences) and Das Ende des Nahen Ostens, wie wir ihn kennen. Ein Essay (The End of the Middle East as We Know It. An Essay), which were published in 2011 and 2015 respectively. “The popular uprisings in the Arab world must be understood as a major historic event comparable in significance to the 1989 sea change in Central and Eastern Europe,” wrote Perthes in 2011. “The huge task of building up and consolidating new, democratic or at least more representative, responsible and better governed political systems in the Middle East will certainly take a decade, perhaps longer.”