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  • Author: Manuel Langendorf
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: European Council On Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: The growth of the digital economy in the Middle East and North Africa could become one of the key solutions to the region’s youth unemployment crisis. Governments in the region have taken steps to create an environment in which technology startups can thrive. However, they need to overcome challenges such as flaws in their education systems, bureaucratic inefficiency, and a lack of funding for new businesses. Digitisation not only creates new opportunities for employment and political participation but also enables digital authoritarianism in the region. Europeans must help construct the region’s digital infrastructure, to prevent China from popularising its internet governance model there. The European Union should support the digitisation drive in the Middle East and North Africa through regulation, capacity-building, and funding.
  • Topic: Science and Technology, Digital Economy, Political stability, Digital Policy
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, North Africa
  • Author: Julien Barnes-Dacey
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: European Council On Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: After nine years of conflict, the US is mounting a ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Syria, seeking the regime’s demise. But, with Assad having effectively won the war, he is unlikely to succumb to US economic pressure. Assad bears responsibility for the country’s freefall but this strategy will further accelerate societal collapse, especially as coronavirus looms, and will not deliver a transition. European governments should pivot to a longer-term strategy focused on protecting those societal forces that are still standing and that can help salvage a better future aligned with European interests. This should include increased – and cautious – support to them within government-controlled Syria. The unpredictability of the Trump administration means persuading the US down this track is not impossible – Europeans should seek to influence Washington to widen space for societal support.
  • Topic: Sanctions, Conflict, Syrian War, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Bashar al-Assad
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Asli Aydıntaşbaş
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: European Council On Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: Turkey now controls a long stretch of Syrian territory along its southern border that hosts nearly four million people, most of them Sunni Arabs. The challenges for Turkey there include a difficult balancing act with Russia, the huge financial costs of direct rule, the presence of radical Islamist factions, and the lack of a modus vivendi with the Kurds. Turkey faces the risk of the “Gazafication” of the area – the emergence of a militarily controlled territory that is perennially poverty-stricken and unstable. EU member states can find ways to cooperate with Turkey to support stabilisation in parts of the safe zone, without violating their interests and core principles. They should single out the Euphrates Shield Zone for stabilisation work, on the understanding that other areas captured from the Kurds are politically sensitive for European governments and voters alike. Europe should aim to strike a grand bargain with Turkey: in return for targeted European reconstruction aid to the safe zone, the country would lift its veto on stabilisation in Kurdish-controlled areas, allow trade between these zones, or agree to Kurdish participation in the UN-led political process on Syria.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Treaties and Agreements, Border Control, Geopolitics, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East, Gaza, Syria, Idlib
  • Author: Ellie Geranmayeh
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: European Council On Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: Europeans wish to persuade Iran to compromise on strategic issues – but, unless they understand the dynamics of domestic Iranian politics, they will not get far. Three main power blocs compete to influence Iran’s supreme leader, including the ‘modernisers’, who were instrumental in building the case internally for the nuclear deal. The US ‘maximum pressure’ campaign has placed them on the back foot. Improving the economy remains the most pressing issue in Iran. Without a Western economic offer, the other two power blocs – the conservative ‘Principlists’ and IRGC-linked ‘securocrats’ – will continue their recent ascendancy and press for a confrontational ‘maximum resistance’ response. Immediately after the US presidential election, Europeans should embark on shuttle diplomacy with Washington and Tehran to agree an interim deal on the nuclear issue. This could also strengthen modernisers ahead of Iran’s own presidential race in 2021.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Bilateral Relations, Elections, Donald Trump
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Raiman Al-Hamdani, Helen Lackner
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: European Council On Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: Since the 2010s, a wide range of separatist movements have represented the main political demands in southern Yemen. These groups are motivated by their geographical and historical origins, backed by various foreign powers, and divided by their demands for independence or autonomy. The Southern Transitional Council, the most prominent separatist group, claims to represent the south as a whole but it has limited control over parts of western governorates. The 2019 clash between the council and the internationally recognised government poses the most serious threat to the anti-Houthi coalition since the start of the Yemen conflict. The implementation of the Riyadh Agreement is far behind schedule and it is unclear whether Saudi Arabia will be able to enforce the deal, given the UAE’s withdrawal from Yemen. The European Union should continue to support development and state-building in Yemen, increase its efforts to mediate between Yemenis, and develop institutional and democratic platforms on which southerners can achieve self-determination.
  • Topic: Development, Conflict, Separatism, Houthis
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Yemen
  • Author: Cinzia Bianco
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: European Council On Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: Since 2011, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have become increasingly assertive players across the Middle East and north Africa, particularly given the shifting US role in the region. European countries, long used to working under a US umbrella in the Gulf, have struggled to recalibrate their relationships with Gulf states and have been increasingly marginalised as relevant actors. Europeans urgently need to strengthen their geopolitical role in the Gulf, overcoming competition between one another to shape a more autonomous, strategic, and forceful role in defence of their key interests. Europeans can shift the balance of power in the Gulf in their favour and help address key crises by approaching the Gulf through flexible new frameworks based on core coalitions that address specific issues.
  • Topic: International Relations, Regional Cooperation, Geopolitics, Gulf Cooperation Council
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, North Africa, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Camille Lons, Jonathan Fulton, Degang Sun, Naser Al-Tamimi
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: European Council On Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: China has significantly increased its economic, political, and – to a lesser extent – security footprint in the Middle East in the past decade, becoming the biggest trade partner and external investor for many countries in the region. China still has a limited appetite for challenging the US-led security architecture in the Middle East or playing a significant role in regional politics. Yet the country’s growing economic presence is likely to pull it into wider engagement with the region in ways that could significantly affect European interests. Europeans should monitor China’s growing influence on regional stability and political dynamics, especially in relation to sensitive issues such as surveillance technology and arms sales. Europeans should increase their engagement with China in the Middle East, aiming to refocus its economic role on constructive initiatives.
  • Topic: Security, Power Politics, Geopolitics, Trade
  • Political Geography: China, Middle East, Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Nour Samaha
  • Publication Date: 05-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: European Council On Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: As Syria transitions into a post-conflict phase, its government is trying to survive in much the same way it has over the last eight years. This involves a series of short-term fixes, heavy reliance on foreign allies, and a process of endurance it calls the “long breath”. Damascus wants to create a functional system that serves its ambitions, particularly its desire to re-establish strong central control rather than succumb to external demands. Crippling Western sanctions have led to increasingly drastic shortages of fuel and electricity, disrupting the supply – and increasing the price – of essential goods such as food. As a result, the state is increasingly relying on an array of racketeers, oligarchs and war profiteers to circumvent the sanctions, further entrenching Syria’s corruption networks. The West’s expectation that an economic war will eventually force the regime to acquiesce to its demands is short-sighted and counterproductive.
  • Topic: Corruption, Sanctions, Conflict, Syrian War, Bashar al-Assad
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Eman Alhussein
  • Publication Date: 06-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: European Council On Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: Saudi Arabia is embracing a new nationalism that is transforming domestic politics and the country’s foreign policy. The state is actively nurturing this nationalism, and has radically reduced the influence of the long-dominant religious establishment. A core purpose of the new nationalism is to speed the rise of the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and back his reform agenda. Social media and traditional outlets have swung forcefully in behind this, spreading ‘lines to take’ and exalting the state and its leadership above all else. But the leadership may have created a Trojan horse: already nationalists appear to be training their ferocity back on the state that created them.
  • Topic: Nationalism, Religion, Leadership, Ideology
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Hayder al-Khoei, Ellie Geranmayeh, Mattia Toaldo
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: European Council On Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: ISIS has suffered significant setbacks in both Iraq and Libya with the battles for Mosul and Sirte representing potential turning-points. • Without a clear political strategy to guide post- ISIS efforts, these military gains could quickly be lost. Both countries could again become breeding grounds for conflict and extremism, exacerbating European security and migration challenges. This risk is especially high for Iraq given the conflict in neighbouring Syria. • The new US administration is likely to invest less energy than its predecessors in strengthening political orders which provide stability. European states must step up their own efforts
  • Topic: International Relations, International Security
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Global Focus