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  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 02-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: A few hours after the official demonstration marking the February 11 anniversary of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stated, "Was the presence of tens of millions of motivated and aware people in the festival of the thirty-first anniversary of revolution enough to awaken [to their mistakes] the internal enemies and deceived individuals who sometimes hypocritically speak of 'the people'?" Khamenei had spent months worrying that the opposition Green Movement would hijack the anniversary. Yesterday, he seemed to regain his self-confidence by proving that he could manage Tehran's streets. In light of this development, how will the Supreme Leader deal with both Iran's political crisis and the nuclear dossier?
  • Topic: Democratization, Islam, Politics
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji, David Cvach, Ali Alfoneh
  • Publication Date: 02-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The means for assessing political fissures in Iran are by nature very limited and have become even more so since the June 12, 2009, election. Independent studies and data on the Iranian public, such as opinion polling, are sparse and not useful, and the Iranian press follows very strict red lines in discussing politics. Western diplomats in Iran are also restrained from understanding the political environment due to the oppressively formal nature of relations with Iranian officials, who rarely discuss sensitive issues with their Western counterparts. The latter are thus forced to gather information anecdotally, in private meetings with business leaders, cultural elites, and journalists -- hardly a sufficient sample of Iranian society.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Politics
  • Political Geography: Iran, Washington, Middle East
  • Author: David Pollock, Ahmed Ali
  • Publication Date: 05-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Two months after nationwide elections, Iraq's government formation process is still on hold. The final voting results have yet to be announced as disputes over recounts and candidate disqualifications linger. Nor is it clear how a governing majority will be formed, and power shared, among the four major party alliances, each of which garnered somewhere between 16 percent and 28 percent of the vote: the Kurdish bloc and its affiliates; the largely Sunni or secular Iraqiyah party led by a former prime minister of Shiite origin, Ayad Allawi; incumbent prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's largely Shiite State of Law Alliance (SLA); and SLA's rival Shiite/Sadrist list, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), a coalition that includes the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.
  • Topic: Islam, Politics, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Central Asia
  • Author: Simon Henderson
  • Publication Date: 05-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: On May 6, Britain went to the polls to elect a new government, producing no clear result but forcing the resignation of Labor Party leader Gordon Brown. Within hours of taking over as prime minister, Conservative Party leader David Cameron had created a new body, a British national security council, whose first meeting focused on "discuss[ing] the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and review[ing] the terrorist threat to the UK." Apart from Britain's economic problems, these issues and Middle East policy in general will likely dominate the new government's agenda -- and its relations with Washington.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Politics, Terrorism, International Security, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Afghanistan, United States, United Kingdom, Washington, Middle East
  • Author: David Schenker
  • Publication Date: 05-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: On Monday, Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri will visit Washington for a meeting with President Obama. In announcing the meeting, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called it "a symbol of the close and historic relationship between Lebanon and the United States." Indeed, between 2005 and 2009, bilateral ties were never closer or more consequential, with the Cedar Revolution ending nearly three decades of Syrian suzerainty in the country. Over the past year, however, Hariri has had to govern in coalition with Hizballah. The Iranian-Syrian backed Shiite militia will be the elephant in the Oval Office during Monday's meeting.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Politics, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: David Schenker
  • Publication Date: 08-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The August 3 fatal shooting of an Israel Defense Forces officer by a Lebanese Armed Forces soldier has sparked debate regarding the utility and wisdom of the U.S. military assistance program to Lebanon. Although such assistance is not new, the program's scope dramatically increased after the 2005 Cedar Revolution ended Syria's thirty-year occupation and swept the Arab world's only pro-Western, democratically elected government to power. In recent months, however, Syrian influence has returned, while Hizballah has secured enough political power to effectively reverse many of the revolution's gains. Even before the August 3 incident, these changes on the ground prompted Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, to place a hold on the 2011 assistance package.
  • Topic: Politics
  • Political Geography: United States, Lebanon, Syria
  • Author: Patrick Clawson
  • Publication Date: 08-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: On July 31, according to Iran's semiofficial Mehr News Agency, presidential chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashai claimed that the West had raised no objections to President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad's open proclamation that the Islamic Republic could build a nuclear bomb. How should this surprising claim be interpreted? And what implications might it hold for Iran's domestic politics, especially when viewed alongside Ahmadinezhad's history of confrontational rhetoric?
  • Topic: Nuclear Weapons, Politics, Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran
  • Author: J. Scott Carpenter
  • Publication Date: 08-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's recent health scares -- including major surgery in Germany in March --have raised critical questions regarding the future of one of America's most important allies. In the event of his death, how would his successor be chosen, and who would it most likely be? Will the next president respect core U.S interests or challenge them? And how would the United States advance those interests in post-Mubarak Egypt? To reflect on these questions, The Washington Institute's Project Fikra recently brought together leading scholars, former senior U.S. diplomats, and other officials and activists for an off-the-record discussion on what to expect from Egyptian succession. Much of this PolicyWatch is based on that discussion.
  • Topic: Politics
  • Political Geography: United States, Washington, Egypt
  • Author: Robert Satloff
  • Publication Date: 05-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The following summary is part two of Robert Satloff's presentation to a June 18, 2010, Washington Institute Policy Forum on the impact of the Gaza flotilla incident. Part one, issued yesterday as PolicyWatch #1670 , focused on implications for U.S. policy. For full audio of the event, which also included presentations by Michael Eisenstadt, Soner Cagaptay, and David Makovsky, click here. The Gaza flotilla episode pitted Israel versus Turkey, with Arabs as bystanders and observers. Yet reverberations of the incident have had a keen impact across Arab capitals.
  • Topic: Politics
  • Political Geography: Israel, Arabia, Egypt
  • Author: David Makovsky, Michael Eisenstadt, Robert Satloff, Soner Cagaptay
  • Publication Date: 05-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Although a full narrative will have to wait until the ongoing Israeli inquiry is complete, it is possible to sketch the outlines of what happened on the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara . The six boats of the "Free Gaza Flotilla" departed Turkey on May 28, and Israeli naval vessels began shadowing them two days later, around 11:00 p.m. on May 30. At that time, Israel requested that the boats divert to Ashdod to allow inspection of their cargo for contraband, but they refused to comply.
  • Topic: Political Violence, International Law, Politics
  • Political Geography: United States, Turkey, Middle East, Israel
  • Author: Michael Knights, Ahmed Ali
  • Publication Date: 08-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: In an August 2 speech, President Obama confirmed that regardless of the status of government formation in Iraq, the U.S. military remained committed to the withdrawal of all combat forces by the month's end. Meanwhile, Iraq is still struggling to form a government in the long wake of the March elections, and the Muslim fasting period of Ramadan -- when much political and business life slows almost to a standstill -- begins next week. If an Iraqi government does not form fairly quickly after Ramadan ends in mid-September, Iraq's political scene may worsen, including an increased risk for violence. Ramadan has always existed in Iraqi and U.S. minds as a break point, when a new government may finally come together. Failure to make progress during the month is thus likely to elicit at least mild panic amongst politicians and the public. So how might the deadlock be broken?
  • Topic: Government, Politics
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq
  • Author: David Makovsky
  • Publication Date: 06-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas conducted an unprecedented sequence of three public events during his visit to Washington last week, during which he articulated his positions on a range of issues. The events included an on-the-record dinner hosted by philanthropist Daniel Abraham, a television appearance with PBS host Charlie Rose, and a speech at the Brookings Institution.
  • Topic: Politics, Peacekeeping
  • Political Geography: United States, Israel, Palestine
  • Author: Stephen Hadley, Michael Herzog
  • Publication Date: 07-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The two-state solution is widely accepted as the ultimate outcome of any Middle East peace process. Despite this consensus, progress toward a solution has slowed to a near halt. The difficulty Israel's right wing coalition faces in making concessions on key issues has proven a major obstacle to negotiations, while the split between a Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank and Hamas in Gaza further diminishes the probability of reaching a solution in the foreseeable future.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Politics, Peacekeeping
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East, Israel, Palestine
  • Author: Robert Satloff
  • Publication Date: 07-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: With smiles, compliments, and a strong dose of hospitality, President Obama did his best to provide a dramatically improved backdrop for U.S.-Israeli relations during Binyamin Netanyahu's July 6 visit to the White House, compared to the climate that greeted the Israeli prime minister upon his strained April visit. This included strikingly specific commitments on key issues important to Israeli security. Netanyahu, in turn, responded with generous and deferential praise for U.S. leadership on the broad array of Middle East policy issues. Given the near-term political and policy imperatives of both leaders, the result was a meeting doomed to succeed. Lurking behind the warmth and banter, however, remain tactical obstacles on how to proceed in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations as well as strategic uncertainty about how each side views the other's regional priorities.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Politics
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East, Israel
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 06-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Although the United Nations Security Council has now voted for new sanctions against Tehran, the Iranian regime and opposition -- preoccupied this week with the anniversary of last year's fraudulent presidential election -- seem more concerned about domestic political struggles. To outsiders, it is an often-confusing contest, with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei continuing to support President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad while leaders of the opposition Green Movement choose their battles carefully.
  • Topic: Politics, United Nations
  • Political Geography: Iran
  • Author: Hassan Barari
  • Publication Date: 09-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: In early September, three senior leaders of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood (MB) resigned from the organization's executive bureau after it voted to dissolve the MB political department -- one of the few remaining components of the organization controlled by moderates. The resignations were a protest against not only the executive bureau's decision, but also the MB's increasingly close affiliation with Hamas. Today, the Jordanian MB is facing an unprecedented internal crisis, pitting the traditional moderate East Bank leadership -- Jordanians who are not originally Palestinian -- against the powerful pro-Hamas Palestinian-led element. Lately, these divisions have been aggravated by Hamas political bureau head Khaled Mashal's apparent efforts to exploit the shifting balance of power within the MB to further his own organization's agenda in Amman. Ironically, Jordanian authorities -- who have long prided themselves on managing the Islamist issue -- have done little to stem the tide.
  • Topic: Security, Political Violence, Islam, Politics, Terrorism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Palestine, Arab Countries
  • Author: Dana Moss
  • Publication Date: 08-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Numerous celebrations in Libya this week will mark the fortieth anniversary of the September 1 revolution spearheaded by Muammar Qadhafi. For the Great Leader, these events are an opportunity to demonstrate the achievements of the Jamahiriyya and to further legitimize his rule. At the same time, the release and triumphant reception of terminally ill Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, convicted of murder for the Lockerbie air disaster, as well as the recent crisis in Swiss-Libyan relations, serve as a warning about Libya's leveraging of its hydrocarbon riches to achieve policy goals.
  • Topic: Politics
  • Political Geography: United States, Libya, Arab Countries, North Africa
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 08-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: On August 19, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad submitted his list of cabinet nominees to the Majlis (Iran's parliament). The president's choice of individuals clearly shows his preference for loyalty over efficiency, as he fired every minister who, while strongly supportive of him on most issues, opposed him recently on his controversial decision to appoint a family relative as first vice president. Ahmadinezhad's drive to install loyalists involves placing members of the military and intelligence community in the cabinet, as well as in other important government positions. Despite the president's positioning, Iran's top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, remains in firm control of the country's vital ministries.
  • Topic: Government, Politics
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Mohammad Yaghi
  • Publication Date: 08-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: On August 10, Fatah concluded its sixth congress, the first in twenty years. Although media attention has focused on some of the summit's disturbing pronouncements, significant political developments have occurred. Over the span of seven days, Fatah leaders discussed the key issues and challenges facing the party, including organizational and political issues affecting its unity, the role of its power centers, the peace process, and the group's relationship with Hamas and the Palestinian government. Whether Fatah is now able to overcome its organizational deficits and restore its popularity and leadership among the Palestinian people remains to be seen. But Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas has undoubtedly emerged stronger, competing powers within Fatah seem to have accepted coexistence, and the conflict between Fatah and Hamas is expected to escalate.
  • Topic: Government, Politics, Political Power Sharing
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Author: J. Scott Carpenter, Ahmed Ali
  • Publication Date: 07-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: On July 25, Iraqi Kurds go to the polls to vote in a joint parliamentary and presidential election. Although a heated competition in January produced massive change at the provincial level throughout the rest of Iraq, the electoral system produced by the incumbent Iraqi Kurdistan parliament prevents such sweeping changes in the north. Both the current coalition governing the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and the current KRG president, Masoud Barzani, will most likely be reelected. Despite the lack of change, the postelection period will create an opportunity for Baghdad, Washington, and the KRG to resolve outstanding issues that cause increased tension between Arabs and Kurds. Resolution can occur only if all parties take advantage of new political openings, however narrow.
  • Topic: Democratization, Ethnic Conflict, Politics
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Arabia