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  • Author: Anthony Bubalo
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Lowy Institute for International Policy
  • Abstract: The examples of Egypt and Saudi Arabia show the risks in betting on the stability of autocratic regimes in the region. Despite the Arab uprisings of the last decade, most countries in the Middle East remain in the grip of autocrats, with a widespread view that this is the 'default setting' for the region. However, an examination of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where authoritarianism has been revived, reveals both regimes are struggling for popular legitimacy. Increasingly reliant on repression, these regimes risk provoking civil unrest, and external powers should reconsider their assumption that autocracy guarantees stability in the Middle East.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Government, Authoritarianism, Political stability, Legitimacy
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Egypt
  • Author: Tommaso Emiliani
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: The killing of top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani by a US drone strike on 3 January 2020, followed by the Iranian retaliation on US military bases in Iraq, left many Europeans wondering how – if at all – the European Union can foster de-escalation in the Middle East. The EU is presently stuck between a deepening strategic rift with its US ally and its inability to advance its independent interests and policies vis-à-vis Iran. It is now clear that Europe cannot protect its relations with Washington while also salvaging the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iranian nuclear deal. Borrowing from an old Persian proverb, Europe cannot have both God and the sugar dates.
  • Topic: Sanctions, Military Affairs, Trade, Transatlantic Relations, Coronavirus
  • Political Geography: Europe, Iran, Middle East, United States of America, European Union, Gulf Nations
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: A survey of how regional media outlets discussed the congressional impeachment process and its potential ramifications on the 2020 presidential election. Across the Middle East, the story of President Trump’s impeachment and subsequent acquittal received secondtier coverage compared to regional or local issues. Many Arabic-language websites and newspapers translated and republished Western articles as opposed to creating their own content on the issue, such as Al Jazeera publishing a translated version of a Guardian editorial. Moreover, the bulk of the articles just explained the facts or process of impeachment rather than expounding on its significance. Some celebrated the idea that there is a mechanism for peaceful removal of a leader. Most commented on the unlikelihood of Trump’s removal and how America is facing unprecedented polarization. Those articles that did offer their own editorial content were split on whether impeachment will help or hurt Trump’s election campaign. Publications in the Gulf states tended to portray impeachment as an act of “political vengeance” by Democrats against Trump, “who won despite their opposition” (Sky News Arabia). Most Gulf papers posited that Trump will ultimately benefit in the 2020 election “after proving his innocence before the Senate” (Al Seyassah). Yet Qatari coverage deviated from the general Gulf trend. For example, one Al Jazeera article asserted that the impeachment case against Trump “is simple, and established not only by officials speaking under oath, but by his own words and actions.” Egyptian newspapers were more split on how impeachment will affect the election. Anti-American outlets in Syria suggested it will hurt him, with Al Baath noting “all data indicate that Trump’s hope for a return to the White House have faded.” Lebanese publications tended to take a more neutral view. The Hezbollah-controlled newspaper Al Akhbar wrote that the prospect of impeachment weakening Trump’s electoral campaign “is similar to that of his potential main rival,” arguing that Joe Biden was also tainted by the process. Most Iranian media tended to copy Western sources, but two themes prevailed among outlets offering original content: portrayal of impeachment as a scandal that has tainted Trump’s presidential legacy, or neutral analysis of how impeachment may or may not harm his reelection chances. A few analytical pieces suggested that he might be able to transform the scandal into an asset for his campaign, since it may “lead to more popularity among the middle class.” While most Iranian articles leaned against Trump, few appeared to praise Democrats. Turkish articles generally depicted impeachment as a “gift” to Trump’s campaign. SETA, a think tank that supports President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, claimed that what “hasn’t killed Trump will make him stronger.” Sabah News, another pro-Erdogan source, wrote that impeachment will “unite Republican senators and members of the House of Representatives around him.”
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Media, News Analysis, Domestic politics, Donald Trump
  • Political Geography: Iran, Turkey, Middle East, Arab Countries, North America, United States of America
  • Author: James M Dorsey
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Hudson Institute
  • Abstract: It is not the caliphate that the world’s Muslim powerhouses are fighting about. Instead, they are engaged in a deepening religious soft power struggle for geopolitical influence and dominance. This battle for the soul of Islam pits rival Middle Eastern and Asian powers against one another: Turkey, seat of the Islamic world’s last true caliphate; Saudi Arabia, home to the faith’s holy cities; the United Arab Emirates, propagator of a militantly statist interpretation of Islam; Qatar with its less strict version of Wahhabism and penchant for political Islam; Indonesia, promoting a humanitarian, pluralistic notion of Islam that reaches out to other faiths as well as non-Muslim centre-right forces across the globe; Morocco which uses religion as a way to position itself as the face of moderate Islam; and Shia Iran with its derailed revolution. In the ultimate analysis, no clear winner may emerge. Yet, the course of the battle could determine the degree to which Islam will be defined by either one or more competing stripes of ultra-conservativism—statist forms of the faith that preach absolute obedience to political rulers and/or reduce religious establishments to pawns of the state.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, Islam, Politics, Ideology
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Indonesia, Turkey, Middle East, Asia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Qatar, United Arab Emirates
  • Author: Hassan Mneimneh
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Hudson Institute
  • Abstract: In 2020, Lebanon should be celebrating its centenary. It is not. Instead, it is close to terminal collapse as a polity, an economy, and even as a society. Lebanon is under Iranian occupation, although ascertaining this condition may demand some attentive consideration from the uninitiated. Iran’s proponents assess it as a confirmation of the “Axis of Resistance” against imperialism and Zionism; its detractors ascribe it to a deliberate plan of Iranian expansion across the region. However, the Iranian occupation of Lebanon may be rooted in Lebanon’s own tumultuous history rather than in Tehran’s designs. Iran in Lebanon may be more an artifact of history than a product of strategy. In fact, the outcome of Lebanon’s present course may not yield Iran any tangible advantage. And it certainly seems to be on the verge of destroying Lebanon.
  • Topic: International Relations, Corruption, Terrorism, Non State Actors, Radicalization, Hezbollah
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: Adam Garfinkle
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Sadness and tragedy come in many forms. One form consists in knowing how to solve a problem in theory, but realizing at the same time that what that would take in practice is not available. That is the case now with the tragedy unfolding in Idlib. There is a way to turn the crisis into an opportunity, but it would take wise and bold leaderships simultaneously in Washington, Jerusalem, Riyadh, Ankara, and the capitals of Europe. And that is precisely what we lack. What should be done? The U.S. government should privately propose, organize as necessary, and backstop as required a joint Israeli-Saudi intervention, coordinated with an on-going Turkish intervention, to save the million-plus refugees now facing imminent annihilation in Idlib Province, in Syria.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Military Intervention, Conflict, Syrian War, Humanitarian Crisis
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Idlib
  • Author: Robert E. Hamilton
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: On August 26, Politico reported that U.S. service members were injured after an altercation with Russian forces in northeast Syria. This pattern of Russian challenges to U.S. forces was enabled by the Trump administration’s decision to retreat from parts of northern Syria in 2019, allowing Russia to fill the void. Until this decision was made, the two countries had agreed to make the Euphrates River the deconfliction line to keep U.S. and Russian forces separated. Russia stayed on the west side of the river, and the United on the east side, where this incident took place. Robert Hamilton, Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, commented on the story and warned that it will not be a one-off incident: “We need to respond to this immediately and forcefully. Russian forces deliberately escalated against U.S. partners when I was running the ground deconfliction cell for Syria in 2017, but tended to be careful when U.S. forces were present. Unless we make it clear that we’ll defend ourselves, these escalations will continue with dangerous and unpredictable results.” Below, we offer readers an excerpt from a chapter written by Robert Hamilton from a forthcoming edited volume on Russia’s Way of War in Syria.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, War, Military Strategy, Military Affairs, Troop Deployment
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Syria, United States of America, North America
  • Author: Nadav Tamir, Nimrod Goren, Lior Lehrs, Yonatan Touval, Elie Podeh, Ksenia Svetlova, Maya Sion-Tzidkiyahu, Merav Kahana-Dagan, Barukh Binah, Roee Kibrik
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Mitvim: The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies
  • Abstract: Following the publication of the Trump plan, Mitvim Institute experts argue that this is not the way to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace. This document includes initial commentaries by Nadav Tamir, who claims that Israel needs a real peace plan; Dr. Nimrod Goren, who calls on the international community to say “no” to the Trump plan; Dr. Lior Lehrs, who explains that on the Jerusalem issue, Trump shatters the status quo and previous understandings; Yonatan Touval, who argues that Trump takes problematic diplomatic practices of his predecessors to the extreme; Prof. Elie Podeh, who contends that the Trump plan is not even an opportunity for peace; Former MK Ksenia Svetlova, who warns that the Trump plan might endanger Israel’s warming ties with Arab countries; Dr. Maya Sion-Tzidkiyahu, who claims that while the EU remains committed to the two-state solution, it struggles to respond to the Trump plan; Merav Kahana-Dagan, who identifies an opportunity to bring the Palestinian issue back to the forefront; Amb. (ret.) Barukh Binah, who calls on Israeli leaders to seek diplomatic, not only security, advice; and Dr. Roee Kibrik, who thinks that Israelis should decide what type of country they want to live in.
  • Topic: Politics, Territorial Disputes, Peace, Donald Trump
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Jerusalem, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Nimrod Goren
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Mitvim: The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies
  • Abstract: In February 2019, Israel Katz was named Israel’s interim foreign minister, and three months later his appointment became permanent. This ended a period of almost four-years without a fulltime foreign minister, during which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) significantly declined. A year into Katz’s term, an assessment can be made as to whether his appointment has strengthened the MFA and left a policy imprint. This, while taking into consideration the turmoil in Israeli politics since early 2019 and the understanding that deeper change requires a ministerial tenure longer than a year. This article sums up Katz’s first year on the job, based on media reports and information published by the MFA. It examines both intra-ministerial and policy aspects, and concludes that Katz is operating in Netanyahu’s heavy shadow, has failed to address the deep budgetary crisis faced by the MFA, and has focused on developing ties with Gulf States and combatting anti-Semitism.
  • Topic: Government, Politics, Financial Crisis, Benjamin Netanyahu
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Eleanore Ardemagni, Ahmed Nagi, Mareike Transfeld
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: As the war in Yemen enters its sixth year, plenty of new and traditional security providers operate, and compete, at the local level. Changes in security governance describe quick political fragmentation and reordering of security relations: in many cases, the agents of protection are, contemporarily, agents of coercion.1 In the eyes of local communities, multiple security actors fill the same roles and perform similar or overlapped duties. As violence and instability persist, Yemenis have paradoxically had to deal with a rising number of local, “national” and foreign security providers in their everyday life, especially in areas held by the Houthi insurgents. Each territory has its own particularities; but some general trends can be identified, depicting a country where local communities fluctuate between bottom-up decentralization and self-governance. Yemen remains fractured into three main competing political-military entities claiming legitimacy: the internationally-recognized government relocated in Aden, the “quasi-state” of the Houthi insurgents based in the capital Sanaa, and the self-proclaimed and secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC) in Aden and surrounding areas. In the eastern part of Yemen, local authorities remain formally under the internationally-recognized government (as in the case of the Mahra governorate). But beneath these rival “states”, what happens at a community level? Who really provides security on the ground? And since 2015 onwards, what has changed, or not, in terms of security provision and governance?
  • Topic: Security, Governance, Law Enforcement, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Yemen, Gulf Nations