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  • Author: Alaa Tartir
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The Palestinian political leadership’s obsession with the idea of statehood as a means to realise self-determination and freedom has proved to be detrimental to the struggle of decolonising Palestine. By prioritising “statehood under colonialism” instead of focusing on decolonising Palestine first and then engaging in state formation, the Palestinian leadership – under pressure from regional and international actors – disempowered the people and empowered security structures which ultimately serve the colonial condition.
  • Topic: State Formation, Colonialism, Decolonization, Repression
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine
  • Author: Carmen Geha
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Lebanese women have been leaders in the revolution that has shaken Lebanon since October 2019. This paper argues that the next stage will be critical if women want to transform their involvement into equal rights. For them to do so, they need to move beyond informal revolutionary politics to formal electoral and party politics with meaningful and substantive representation.
  • Topic: Gender Issues, Human Rights, United Nations, Social Movement, Feminism, Revolution
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon, Beirut
  • Author: Roger Asfar
  • Publication Date: 01-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: On 22 September 2018, a boat carrying 39 refugees sank while sailing illegally from the Lebanese coast towards Cyprus. Five-year old Syrian-Palestinian Khaled Nejme drowned in the incident, drawing attention to the plight of Palestinian refugees from Syria seeking refuge in Lebanon. Once considered lucky compared to Palestinian refugees in neighboring countries, Palestinian refugees from Syria are now experiencing secondary displacement and are among the most vulnerable refugee groups in Lebanon.1 This paper attempts to provide a better understanding of the attitudes toward the return of Palestinian refugees displaced from Syria. More specifically, the paper addresses the challenges faced by Palestinian refugees displaced from Syria’s Yarmouk camp and currently residing in Lebanon. Since the Syrian regime and its allies have retaken control of Yarmouk, and amidst increasing calls from Lebanon for the “voluntary return of refugees”, what are Syrian-Palestinian refugees’ prospects of return? What are some of the major obstacles preventing their return? And what are some of the basic conditions to be met for a truly voluntary return to be encouraged? To answer these questions, the authors conducted a series of interviews in Shatila camp and Ain el-Hilweh between 26 June and 16 September 2018.2 The interviews were constructed in a way that allowed ample space for the representation of different political positions, ideological orientations, social backgrounds, and age groups.
  • Topic: United Nations, Diaspora, Immigration, Refugees
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Syria
  • Author: Omar Said
  • Publication Date: 04-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Four years into the war that engulfed Aden since March 2015, the city in the South of Yemen might look tranquil and safe in the eyes of foreign observers as the interim capital of the internationally recognized government of Abd Rabou Mansour Hadi. To its inhabitants, however, it is a satellite out of orbit with no institutions or a state to govern or uphold the rule of law and where civilians face many challenges daily. Civilians were relieved, in July 2015, when Popular Resistance Forces (a mix of different factions from Aden, independent, Salafists, reformers and followers of many factions from the Southern Movement) and forces of the Arab Coalition (led by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirate, UAE), defeated the Saleh-Houthi forces, expelling them from the city. They began to dream of a normal life and a fresh start for real institutions that will build a modern civilian state and remedy their decades long suffering, exclusion, marginalization, and inability to run their own city. Simultaneously, fighters raised the flags of Saudi Arabia and UAE along with the flag of the former People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. Meanwhile, elements loyal to the Southern Movement renewed their demands of secession of Southern Yemen from the North. These hopes died shortly after, however. The mandate of the interim government intertwined with that of the National Council, and so did the interests of the Coalition states that sponsor these two bodies. As a result, Aden slipped into a state of insecurity with a multiplicity of armed militias and widespread corruption. This paper seeks to describe the fragmentation process of the Yemeni State, four years after the Coalition’s offensive to restore legitimate authority. It highlights the practices of Abd Rabou Mansour Hadi and his government in running the country and how rivalry between Saudi Arabia and its ally, the UAE, translated, on the ground, in the form of a contest for authority between the Interim Yemeni Government and the Transition Southern Council. The paper also highlights corruption, insecurity, and the rise of civilian protests against the status quo in Aden.
  • Topic: Corruption, United Nations, Fragile States, Protests, International Community
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, UAE
  • Author: Nadim El-Kak
  • Publication Date: 07-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The latest Lebanese parliamentary elections took place a little over a year ago. In May 2018, eleven groups, comprised of 66 candidates (including 19 women) from independent and secular segments of civil society, formed a coalition called Kulluna Watani (we are all our nation) to challenge the hegemony of traditional political parties. Considering the increasing inefficiency and unaccountability of state institutions, and widespread public frustration with the performance of public institutions, one may have expected Lebanese voters to want to vote in a few fresh faces. Nonetheless, they overwhelmingly chose to re-elect the same parties and leaders. This paper examines why activists and progressive opposition groups who try to challenge entrenched sectarian politics have been failing. It analyses the institutional and repressive mechanisms, exercised by political elites, that determine patterns in voting behaviour and thwart the emergence of alternative forces. It also looks at shortcomings of political efforts by opposition groups and outlines recommendations for the future. The findings rely on fourteen original interviews with political activists conducted in December 2018 as well as a review of scholarship on sectarian politics.1
  • Topic: Government, Political Activism, Elections, Political and institutional effectiveness
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon, Beirut
  • Author: Ali Al-Mawlawi
  • Publication Date: 07-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The decentralization agenda emerged in Iraq after 2003 as an imperative to create an internal balance of power that would mitigate against the rise of another authoritarian regime. By exploring the political motivations and calculations of elites, this paper sheds light on why devolution of powers to sub-national entities failed to bring about meaningful change to the daily lives of ordinary Iraqis. While administrative authorities have been largely devolved, fiscal decentralization lags due to resistance from concerned central authorities, leaving sub-national actors with limited capacity to exercise their newly afforded powers.
  • Topic: Authoritarianism, State Formation, State Building, Decentralization
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad
  • Author: Bassma Kodmani
  • Publication Date: 07-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Before the Syrian uprising morphed into a full-scale war, Syria was probably the most authoritarian regime in the Arab region, unequalled in the scale of its repressive practices except by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. Authoritarianism is hardly compatible with decentralization. An authoritarian government’s key concern is to spread the tentacles of its surveillance apparatus across all regions in order to exert full control over the lives of the citizens. A process of decentralization – in which power is genuinely devolved – is practically impossible, therefore, in an authoritarian system of governance. Yet equating centralization with authoritarianism and decentralization with democracy is an assertion that deserves discussion. Some democracies have functioned in a highly centralized manner. Perhaps, one of the best-known examples is France (on which the Syrian state was modelled) that remained highly centralized since the early days of the state formation almost 1000 years ago. The French revolution of 1789 upheld freedom and equality and announced a democratic system. The very idea of decentralization was rejected at the time in the name of equality understood as uniformity. Yet even France found it necessary to engage in some form of decentralization. Since the early 1980s, it engaged in a process of decentralization, mainly for administrative and financial efficiency. Although it continued to consider identity politics as dangerous for the unity of the nation, it was forced to concede to one particular identity-driven demand, that of the Corsicans, by designing a special status for the island.1 And decentralized systems do not necessarily produce democratic or more representative systems. Mexico is a case in point. Although it was always a federation, its political system remained a one-party rule for some seventy years before it transitioned to democracy in the early 2000s. Decentralization and democracy are, therefore, not inherently inseparable. However, a centralized system, even if democratic, inevitably reduces and often denies the specific identity of certain groups within society. It might operate in a democratic manner when national identity is homogeneous, but the world is composed of states where homogeneity is an exception. In diverse societies such as those of the Middle Eastern countries, centralization together with the demagogic discourse of authoritarian regimes using national cohesion as a pretext and brandishing foreign interference as a permanent threat, have served to deny diversity and basic rights of both individual citizens and specific communities. Syrian society faces a historic challenge and possibly an existential one: it needs to craft a model of decentralization as part of a new social contract while its national institutions are all but failing and its regional environment challenges the integrity of its territory and its sovereignty. Given the uncertainty shrouding the future of Syria, the paper is organized in two parts. The first lays out the discussion about decentralization based on the current reality of the Syrian regime in a scenario in which it regains control after having lived through nine years of gradual foundering of state institutions. The second part considers options for a new decentralized order in a context of democratic political transition. This is not to say that the first option is viable while the second is an ideal order for a fictitious future. On the contrary, the paper shows that the destruction of state institutions is a reality and a consequence of the conflict, that violence and other forms of resistance will continue, and that peace cannot be brought to the country under the existing political system. The second option is, therefore, a necessity which Syrians will need to define with the support of the international community. The paper lays out the process with concrete steps for achieving democratic decentralization.
  • Topic: Fragile/Failed State, Democracy, Decentralization , regionalism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Damascus
  • Author: Marie kortam
  • Publication Date: 08-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Those who visited Palestinian camps in Lebanon last month could not have missed a new upsurge in the popular mobilization on Palestinian streets. Their enthusiasm can be sensed in the spirits of the youth, their chants, and round-the-clock occupation of public spaces. This upsurge in mobilization was not only the result of the Lebanese Labour Minister’s implementation of his plan1 to combat businesses employing foreign labour without a permit – after giving them one month to regularize their situation.2 It was also the outcome of an accumulated sense of frustration, injustice, humiliation, indignation, deprivation and finally, anger that crystallized in these latest rounds of collective political action. The question then remains: why have Palestinians in Lebanon reached a breaking point at this stage, and why did the movement take this shape? There is no doubt that this anger accumulated gradually. First, it arose from the political-security arrangement for Palestinians in Lebanon, along with the historical absence of a socio-political contract with the Lebanese state. Second, it is the outcome of the deprivation, oppression, racism, and discrimination against Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, which was finally exacerbated by international resolutions hostile to the Palestinian cause, threatening the refugee cause and the right of return. Moreover, the economic situation of Palestinian refugees has deteriorated and was further compounded after the USA cut off its funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). However, alone these factors are not enough to fully explain this mobilization. These latest developments are also the product of a degree of practical awareness among the Palestinian youth and their discourse which explains their involvement in a movement demanding civil rights and an arrangement in which Palestinians are an agent of change against injustice. This movement is also proof of the existence of a new paradigm of the oppressed, who no longer identifies with the oppressors and becomes dependent on them, but instead seeks to break free from their oppression, and in so doing, spontaneously and effectively imposes a new social formula and project. This paper discusses the emergence of this popular mobilization and its transformation into a social movement, the challenges it has faced, and how its actors built a common framework for action to address their status as oppressed. It relies on field interviews – formal and informal – with actors and politicians, participatory observation, the analysis of organized groups, and contributions via WhatsApp and Facebook. The paper focuses on the movement in Ain al-Hilweh camp as one of the largest Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, with its political and security context that distinguishes it from other camps.
  • Topic: United Nations, Diaspora, Social Movement, Refugees, Social Media, Repression
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon
  • Author: Osamah Al-Rawhani
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Local governance has been viewed by academics, analysts and some political leaders in Yemen as a panacea to redress the excessive control of the central government, bring the state closer to its citizens and provide those citizens with socio-economic and political stability. Federalism, as a form of local governance, was adopted at the end of the National Dialogue Conference in 2013-2014, although there were disagreements over the number of regions and the federal map. It was posited as a viable vehicle for power-sharing and decentralization in Yemen and is considered a likely outcome after the conflict. However, there are several prerequisites for the effective devolution of power that are not yet in place in Yemen, most prominently the existence of strong consolidated central institutions. In short: it is a mistake to view federalism as a means of achieving stability, rather than a future goal once stability has been achieved.
  • Topic: Democracy, State Formation, Decentralization , Federalism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Sana'a
  • Author: Anis Chérif-Alami
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: This paper examines the uprisings that have been taking place in different parts of Lebanon since 17 October relying on direct observation of the protests and interviews with various participants. Acknowledging that the protest movement and the situation in Lebanon remain highly dynamic, it proposes some elements to better understand and contextualize the movement. Although Lebanon generally avoided the wave of protests that swept the Arab world in 2011, there were early attempts to criticize the sectarian system and dysfunctional public services. The paper outlines what current events owe to a recent history of protests in Lebanon, in particular, the short-lived 2011 protests demanding the fall of the sectarian regime and the 2015 “you stink” movement (Tala’at Rihatkum) which denounced the public mismanagement of garbage and called for accountability for political corruption. While the current protests have some roots in past citizens’ activism, it is also clear that there are new aspects that continue to evolve as protesters experiment day by day with new ways of doing politics.
  • Topic: Corruption, Social Movement, Political Activism, Arab Spring, Protests
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon, Beirut
  • Author: Hashim Al-Rikabi
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The stability and legitimacy of the post-2003 Iraqi state are undermined by the provision of poor basic services, soaring unemployment, and political paralysis. This has driven ordinary citizens towards waves of protests that peaked in August 2018 and re-surged again in October 2019, demonstrating that without addressing the underlying causes behind these protests, much larger and more aggressive protest waves may shock the system, again and again, threatening its existence. The initial phase of the 2019 protests was similar to the first period of 2018 protests (April - June) in terms of their small scale, their focus on specific issues such as unemployment, and their largely peaceful nature. But quickly, within a few weeks, the 2019 protests escalated with protesters blocking key economic facilities and attacking government buildings and political parties’ headquarters. This escalation mirrored the trajectory of the 2018 which also intensified over time, but what is striking is the speed with which the 2019 intensified and moved from socio-economic focused demands to demands for fundamental political reforms, including new elections. While the involvement of political actors was evident in efforts by politicians, such as Muqtada Al-Sadr, to try to ride the wave of protests as well as the crackdown on protests by armed elements of certain political parties, the 2019 mobilization has also shown the emergence of a new generation of protesters and the rising role of new social actors, such as professional groups. The increasing frequency of protests since 2018 and their widening and deepening scope suggest that the post-2003 Iraqi governance model, with its stalemate between the different political actors, needs a fundamental new formulation that is able to renew trust in a reformed political system. The stalemate could either develop into genuine reforms to address the ills of the post-2003 political and economic system, away from ethno-sectarian politics, or descend into violence.
  • Topic: Imperialism, Social Movement, Protests, State Building
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad
  • Author: Fares Halabi
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Only a few hours after the start of 17 October 2019 demonstrations in Lebanon, protesters started to demand the overthrow of the regime under the slogan “all [of them] means all [of them]”. What does this slogan mean in Lebanon today, eight years after it was first launched? And how has the discourse of overthrowing the regime developed since 2011? When I was a university student in 2011, I took part in several demonstrations calling for the overthrow of the regime. However, it quickly dawned on me that the immediate conditions for such a demand were not then available, making the slogan, without it being adapted to the Lebanese context, inappropriate relative to other countries. In this paper, I aim to revisit the 2011 campaign to critique it and highlight the reasons behind its failure. This is pertinent given its close affiliation with what have been observed in Lebanon since 17 October. In the last few weeks, I have had conversations with six people1 who were active in the 2011 campaign and are involved in the current revolution. We discussed their understanding of the developments in the Lebanese political landscape since 2011, the accumulated experiences that have pushed the Lebanese public to revolt against the regime in a broad mobilisation that has been ongoing for more than two months. We discussed how the slogan “overthrowing the regime” has developed into its current formulation of “all means all” which is met with broad public resonance.
  • Topic: Social Movement, Arab Spring, Protests, Revolution
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon, Beirut
  • Author: Bassma Kodmani
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The Collapse of the Syrian state is largely a reality. Both Russia and Iran, Assad’s allies, know he is not the guarantor of the continuity of the state any more but continue to hold on to him to sign off on projects that consolidate their control. This paper argues that instead of a failed state, a two-headed system has emerged, with Iran and Russia each pushing for their own vision of the country.
  • Topic: Imperialism, Fragile/Failed State, Authoritarianism, Military Intervention, Repression
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, Iran, Middle East, Syria, Damascus
  • Author: Alimar Lazkani
  • Publication Date: 06-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The Syrian Army has inherited a few of the norms and customs the French used for running army affairs following the French occupation. These did not include any provisions on regulating the army. After the Baa’th Party came to power, particularly after Hafez Assad had assumed office, the norms and customs guaranteeing minimum rights for army soldiers, non-commissioned officers, and officers faded gradually, leaving room for cronyism and allegiance to individuals and to the regime as the sole guarantor for the military to gain their rights. Leaders of military units became almost governors of their own units where nothing could take place without their blessings The Russians became fully in charge of the Syrian Army and started to instil rules and regulations that would ensure discipline and transform the army to a professional force capable of actual missions on the ground. Such rules included entrenching among Syrian soldiers, non-commissioned officers, and officers’ allegiance to Russian military officers and meant to subdue and prevent them from exercising their authority. This has established the Russians as the de facto leaders in the minds of members of the Syrian army. This has mainly shifted the responsibility for all the atrocities committed by the Assad forces under the Russian leadership to the Russians together with the regime’s officers and leaders. Despite their inability to make decisions, they are responsible, in terms of political structure and posturing, for all cases of genocide, chemical attacks, displacement, starvation and other violations. It has therefore become difficult in the Syrian context to separate between the Russian leadership and the Syrian Army, except in terms of differentiating between the leader and the follower, a divide that Russia has been working on consolidating in the media and in its diplomacy as an entity “assisting to achieve peace and combat terrorism”, while it undoubtedly deserves the description of “occupier” with its ability to run a lot of important issues on Syrian soil.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Genocide, Political structure, Military Intervention
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Isam al Khafaji
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The 12 May Iraqi elections – the fourth since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein – provided several surprises and contradictions for Iraq’s political landscape. Primary among them was the unprecedented objections to and questioning of the results as announced by the Independent High Electoral Commission – a central focus of this paper. Previous election cycles witnessed objections and complaints, yet none reached an extent that would damaging the clean bill issued by national and international organizations or the Federal Court’s validation of the results. Criticism of electoral transparency reached a point where the Council of Ministers was obliged to create a “higher security committee” to investigate accusations sent to the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), and the United Nations representative in Iraq to send a letter calling on the IHEC to do a manual ballot counting of an arbitrary number of ballot boxes to ensure conformity with electronic ballot counting adopted for the first time this year. This multi-stage drama has reached the point where the Parliament decided, in an extraordinary session, to freeze the IHEC and assign a committee of nine judges to replace it, as well as to cancel the votes of internally displaced persons (approximately 3 million) and of Iraqis abroad (around 1.5 million). Therefore, any interpretation of the current election results must be cautioned with the knowledge that they are subject to change. The results most in question are from several predominantly Sunni governorates (such as Anbar and Salaheddin), Kurdish governorates (such as Sulaymaniyah, Erbil, and Dohuk), or ethnically mixed regions (such as Kirkuk) – where Arabs, Turks, and Kurds are in multiple ongoing disputes. However, the final decisions taken with regards to these appeals will not change the overall results as there is no serious questioning of the accuracy of the results in predominantly Shia governorates, which constitute the majority of Iraq’s population. That most of Iraq’s post-2003 prominent political movements resorted to unprecedented election rigging in 2018 is a tacit acknowledgement of the loss of trust they incurred before massive sectors of their electorates, a trend that has been observed by many for quite some time. Similarly, the public’s loss of confidence in the political class is also manifest in the alarming decline in voting rates, despite the high stakes of this year’s elections. Out of 24.5 million Iraqis eligible to vote, less than 11 million (44.5%) voted. Participation rates in all previous elections – except for governorate council elections – exceeded 60%. This low turnout translates the frustration of many voters at the possibility of changing the political establishment, despite changes in the political parties’ formation and election lists. Contrary to previous elections, where forces of Shia political Islam led by the Islamic Dawa Party were guaranteed to win, the 2018 elections involved bitter conflict among different political visions, each with serious consequences regarding Iraq’s future, and the form of the state to be rebuilt after the destruction wrought by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) and the policies of previous governments. However, most voters saw the fierce electoral competition as merely a repetition of the same faces, stances, and policies.
  • Topic: Islam, Elections, Geopolitics, Kurds
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad, Kurdistan
  • Author: Nayla Moussa
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: On 6 May 2018, Lebanon had its first legislative elections in nine years. But what was celebrated as a “victory for democracy” may have been merely a game of musical chairs between existing political actors. The elections may even be seen as a setback, with the return of major figures from the era under Syrian presence. For Lebanon, simply holding the elections – considered routine in most democracies – was seen as a victory. Parliament had extended its mandate three times since the last elections in 2009. Many obstacles had prevented the elections from taking place including the fragile security balance; the war in Syria and its polarization of Lebanese politics support for the Assad regime; the direct involvement of Hezbollah in Syria; and finally, a lack of consensus between major political parties and figures on a new electoral law. This last issue was the most crucial as the 2018 law emerged as a mix of elements designed to please all parties. Its key tenets were proportional representation and a division of electoral districts that satisfied most political actors. This paper explores the lessons learned from these elections and analyzes specific points such as the electoral law, political debate, and post-election perspectives.
  • Topic: Religion, Social Movement, Elections, Democracy
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon, Syria, Beirut
  • Author: Alimar Lazkani
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: There is constant talk of the “soft conflict” between Iran and Russia in Syria. Most research and media reports focus on the areas of influence and control of each party. Without going into the relationship between Iranian and Russian forces on Syrian soil, in which the Iranian of influence weakened following the entry of Russian troops, it is important to distinguish the nature of these two forces to help identify the characteristics of this conflict, which are not limited to areas of influence. In fact, there is a clear difference between Iranian and Russian interests as well as strategy on two major issues. The first is the relationship with Israel. While Russia sees Israel as a strategic ally in the region, Iran gains its regional legitimacy by emphasizing the continuity of conflict with it. The second is the way each party sees the future of Syria, and its own role in it. Iran is not capable of establishing a centralized state in Syria because of its ideological hostility to the Sunni majority there. Therefore, a state based on sectarian militias will be the cornerstone of Iran’s continued presence on Syrian soil as it has the capacity to manage militias with no national project. Russia, on the other hand, has a vision of a centralized state that is based on the fundamental pillar of a disciplined and dutiful army. Thus, the “soft conflict” involves not only the geographical divvying-up of Syria, but also fundamental matters related to the structure of Syria’s security and military system. This paper is the second part of a broader study of Russia’s policy of establishing a military influence in Syria. It will look at the Syrian militias that Iran has fostered and supported, and Russia’s approach in dealing with them on the ground. However, it does not consider non-Syrian militias on Syrian soil brought by the Iranians, such as Hezbollah, the Fatemiyoun, the Zainabiyoun, and other Shia militias because of their close association with Iranian politics and their temporary posting in specific conflict areas, making them a foreign presence on Syrian soil.
  • Topic: Military Strategy, Military Intervention, Sunni, Shia
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Middle East, Israel, Syria
  • Author: Chiara Ayad
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: This paper lays out fundamental issues about transparency in legislative processes and government accountability in establishing legal frameworks for the protection of citizens in the Palestinian context. It addresses how a protective citizen-centered cyber-security law that seeks to improve citizens’ digital security can become a tool for quashing civil dissent and silencing political opposition. Certainly, the Israeli government’s practices of mass surveillance and control of ICT infrastructure limit the protective capacity of Palestinian cybersecurity measures. However, this paper will not focus on the role of the Israeli government but rather on the role the Palestinian government has had in increasing its citizens fear of surveillance and insecurity on digital platforms. By examining the Palestinian Authority’s first cybercrime legislation, Law no. (16), the paper will discuss how such measures have backlashed, negatively impacting civil liberties and the general political climate. It will also discuss the role civil society organizations had in pressuring the government to issue new cybercrime legislation, law no. (10).
  • Topic: Cybersecurity, Surveillance, Accountability, Transparency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Gaza, West Bank
  • Author: Alimar Lazkani
  • Publication Date: 11-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: By monopolizing political, economic and social life in Syria, the Assad regime has barred the emergence and growth of independent, popular or influential local leaders and equated voicing reservations or being neutral towards its policies to opposition. With the outbreak of the revolution, the rules of loyalty to the regime have not changed for fear of reprisal or loss of opportunity. The opening of the market to large businesses have fed the ambitions of small entrepreneurs, making them more loyal. Neutrality and reservations have come from opponents who are waiting for the opportunity to organize, and from some cultural and artistic actors. This paper draws a rich map of the political, economic, cultural and religious elites of the Syrian coastal area and the extent to which they can become an actor able to build a national inclusive project for post-war Syria.
  • Topic: Civil War, Social Movement, Revolution, Dictatorship
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Damascus
  • Author: Bassma Kodmani
  • Publication Date: 12-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Eight years of a high intensity conflict in Syria resulted in the forcible displacement of over half of the population of the country, some internally, while over six million others fled outside, causing the most severe refugee crisis the world has known since World War II. Little is written however on the estimated 18 million Syrians who have been living abroad for years, often decades. These Syrians emigrated in waves and settled in some 30 different countries worldwide, including in the most remote lands of South America and the Caribbean islands. Together with the refugees who fled as a consequence of the conflict, the number of Syrians outside the country is now three times higher than those living inside. This is not specific to Syrians. The number of Palestinians, Lebanese, Armenians and, of course, Jews scattered across continents is also three to four times higher than those inside Palestinian occupied territories, Lebanon, Armenia or Israel. But the Syrian conflict and its toll on civilians has undoubtedly triggered a new awareness of the existence of a strong Syrian diaspora which had, so far, kept a rather low profile. To the stories of suffering and misery about refugees, diaspora communities oppose inspiring stories of the successful integration of individuals and families in their host societies. The Syrian diaspora is no exception. Its story contrasts with the dire situation of desperate boat people and helpless refugees. In general, the Syrian diaspora is economically self-sufficient and composed of well-integrated communities spreading across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. This report is the result of a collective effort to draw the first comprehensive picture of the de-territorialized Syrian people encompassing the old diaspora and the recent refugees. Co-authored by 13 experts, it describes the socio-economic and cultural features of the old diaspora communities (a subject largely under-researched by scholars) and captures the fast moving but very uneven process of transformation of recent refugees into a new component of the Syrian diaspora. Scholarly research and interviews with key members of the diaspora in their different living contexts reveal the considerable effort that the diaspora has mobilized to support Syrians during the conflict and its potential to be a major player in the reconstruction and development of Syria when the conflict ends.
  • Topic: Civil War, Diaspora, Immigration, Refugees, Revolution
  • Political Geography: Africa, Europe, Middle East, South America, Syria, North America