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  • Author: Jessa Rose Dury-Agri, Omer Kassim, Patrick Martin
  • Publication Date: 12-2017
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: The liberation of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sh­am’s (ISIS) urban holdings in Iraq was necessary but not sufficient to secure America’s vital national interests. ISIS has lost neither the will nor the capability to fight, even as it withdraws into desert hideouts and sleeper cell formations in November 2017. Rather, dispersed ISIS militants have begun an insurgent campaign in northern and western Iraq as some of its foreign fighters have returned to their home countries to serve in ISIS’s external operations network.
  • Topic: Islam, War, International Security
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Kheder Khaddour
  • Publication Date: 07-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Abstract: Since the early days of the Syrian uprising in 2011, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has made it a priority to keep state agencies running, allowing Assad to claim that the regime is the irreplaceable provider of essential services. Breaking the regime’s monopoly on these public services and enabling the moderate opposition to become an alternative source of them would weaken the regime and prevent the radical jihadist Islamic State from emerging to fill power vacuums across the country.
  • Topic: Civil War, Democratization, Islam, Governance, Sectarian violence, Authoritarianism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arab Countries
  • Author: Lina Khatib
  • Publication Date: 06-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Abstract: The self-proclaimed Islamic State is a hybrid jihadist group with a declared goal of establishing a “lasting and expanding” caliphate. Its strategy for survival and growth blends military, political, social, and economic components. Yet the U.S.-led international intervention against it has largely been limited to air strikes. The gaps in the international coalition’s approach as well as deep sectarian divisions in Iraq and the shifting strategies of the Syrian regime and its allies are allowing the Islamic State to continue to exist and expand.
  • Topic: Civil War, Islam, Terrorism, Insurgency, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Arab Countries, Syria
  • Author: Samuel Helfont
  • Publication Date: 10-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The term “post-colonial” has presented a seminal problem for historians of the 20th century Middle East. As this essay will detail, debates over the term have provided an important axis around which discussions of political identity revolve. Following World War Two European power in the Middle East crumbled and a number of post-colonial states emerged. These states often justified their existence in terms of ideologies that were tied to specific post-colonial, political identities. Endless debates have occurred over how much emphasis to put on the post-colonial nature of these states and their political identities. In this essay, I will discuss whether a state’s status as post-colonial matters. If so, how? And what are the consequences? Following a general discussion of debates over post-colonialism, will look more closely at three case studies: Egypt, Iraq, and Iran.
  • Topic: Development, Islam, Nationalism, Post Colonialism
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Arab Countries
  • Author: Dr. W. Andrew Terill
  • Publication Date: 11-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College
  • Abstract: In an unexpected effort to protect a key Middle Eastern ally, the Kremlin intervened in Syria with military forces in late September 2015. This effort was undertaken to protect the Bashar Assad regime from Islamist and secular rebels now threatening his regime. Moscow initiated this action with a limited force that may be primarily designed to prevent Assad’s ouster but does not have the capabilities to help him retake large tracks of the country from the rebel groups that are now holding them. The Russian leadership made the decision to use military units in Syria at some political cost, aware that it was poisoning relations with many conservative anti-Assad Arabs and complicating its troubled relationship with Western powers.1 At some point, the Russians will have to consider the questions of how well these efforts have met their goal of bolstering the regime and what will be their next moves. They may also be rapidly faced with pressure to escalate their commitment to support the regime, if current actions do not produce meaningful results. They may also learn the painful lesson of other great powers, that military intervention in the Middle East is often much more problematic than national leaders initially expect.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Civil War, Islam, Politics, War, Military Strategy, Military Affairs
  • Political Geography: Russia, Middle East, Syria
  • Publication Date: 01-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Growing numbers of Central Asian citizens, male and female, are travelling to the Middle East to fight or otherwise support the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIL or ISIS). Prompted in part by political marginalisation and bleak economic prospects that characterise their post-Soviet region, 2,000-4,000 have in the past three years turned their back on their secular states to seek a radical alternative. IS beckons not only to those who seek combat experience, but also to those who envision a more devout, purposeful, fundamentalist religious life. This presents a complex problem to the governments of Central Asia. They are tempted to exploit the phenomenon to crack down on dissent. The more promising solution, however, requires addressing multiple political and administrative failures, revising discriminatory laws and policies, implementing outreach programs for both men and women and creating jobs at home for disadvantaged youths, as well as ensuring better coordination between security services.
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Terrorism, International Security
  • Political Geography: Central Asia, Middle East, Asia
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: King Salman has confirmed his reputation as a religious conservative through the reappointment of traditionalist clerics However he has also made some effort to streamline the Saudi government Recent changes have given considerable power to two men from the next generation: King Salman's son and his nephew The result may be good for hard security measures, but less certain for the soft measures necessary for Saudi Arabia to weather the storm.
  • Topic: Security, Development, Economics, Islam, Political Economy, Governance
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The Islamic State's murder of Jordanian hostage Lt Moaz al-Kasasbeh was both a message to the group's fighters that it can counter the coalition's relentless airstrikes as well as an offensive move designed to provoke a high-profile overreaction The air campaign against the Islamic State has been relentless while at the same time has receded from the headlines-a double blow to the group in that it suffers the losses but doesn't benefit from the attendant spectacle The drawn-out 'negotiations' over this past month-while the hostage was already dead-were likely intended to sow division and tension in Jordan, and draw attention to the issue as long as possible before the gruesome finale While Jordan is understandably enraged and will have to strike back, the most effective response might be an escalation that continues to kill the group's fighters away from the headlines.
  • Topic: Security, Political Violence, Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: Like a page out of the 2004 extremist manifesto "Management of Savagery," the Islamic State has tried to goad the international community into near-sighted reactions without long-term approaches by highlighting the barbarity of its executions of hostages This tactic has thus far failed to ignite the overreaction (outside of press reporting) of Western powers, leaving the group without an important recruitment and incitement tool The Islamic State needs consistent replenishment of fear to overcome its inherently terrible local governance, and so it depends on shocking savagery to serve as both its recruitment magnet and opposition suppression As the group encounters less and less Westerners, given the danger of their presence in the region, it will find increasingly fewer ways to incite the 'us-versus-them' battle it needs to survive.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Islam, Terrorism, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: While the threat of an immediate escalation between Israel and Hizballah appears to have subsided after deadly tit-for-tat attacks, the trend lines suggest greater conflict ahead In an important and ominous speech on January 30, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah created, in effect, one long front against Israel that now includes Syria and the Golan Heights as well as Lebanon, increasing the potential for conflict with Israel Iran is no longer moving in the shadows but rather is openly coordinating strategy with its proxy Hizballah as the two seek to strengthen and expand 'the resistance' against Israel All parties involved have specific reasons to avoid a near-term conflict-the upcoming Israeli elections, ongoing Iranian nuclear negotiations, Hizballah's commitments in Syria-but shifting regional power dynamics will only increase the likelihood of serious fighting between them.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Israel, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 01-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The still-unresolved hostage situation involving Jordan, Japan, and the Islamic State is unlike any of the group's previous kidnappings Jordan is in a precarious position, as it seeks the release of one of its citizens-a national hero who comes from a prominent tribe-while not wanting to free one of the perpetrators of the worst terrorist attack in the country's history By demanding the release of failed suicide-bomber Sajida al-Rishawi from Jordanian custody, the Islamic State is trying to elevate itself to the status of negotiating nation-state, and weaken and embarrass a vital member of the coalition seeking its destruction In a striking difference with previous Islamic State hostage situations, current circumstances provide a chance for the group to bolster its standing in the vital Iraqi province of al-Anbar-where al-Rishawi is from-and perhaps slightly lessen tribal pressure on the group The issue is causing tensions between the Iraqi-born leadership of the Islamic State, who want to make the exchange, and a small faction of primarily Saudi fighters, who want to execute the Jordanian pilot for bombing the group.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Islam, Terrorism, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Japan, Middle East, Arab Countries, Jordan
  • Publication Date: 03-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The Islamic State and al-Qaeda have more in common than sets them apart, as both groups embrace 'bin Ladinism' even as their leaderships differ on tactics and priorities As the fortunes of the two groups wax and wane, their shared characteristics are likely to become more pronounced and their rivalries less so For the moment, the competition between them weakens their appeal and blunts their impact; any trend towards reconciliation or partnership could magnify the threat they pose across the Arab world.
  • Topic: Islam
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Yemen, Arabia
  • Author: Bilal Y. Saab
  • Publication Date: 12-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: September 2015 marked the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's speech outlining the administration's strategy to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Yet, ISIS celebrated in June its own first-year anniversary of setting up a state by conducting three nearly simultaneous terrorist operations in three different countries—France, Tunisia, and Kuwait. Just this past month, ISIS also shocked the world with its attacks in Paris and Beirut and its downing of a Russian airliner in Egypt, killing more than 400 people combined and injuring hundreds more. While nobody expected the destruction of a resilient and agile foe such as ISIS within a couple of years, it is deeply troubling that the coalition is having such a hard time even disrupting its activities.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, War, Counterinsurgency, Fragile/Failed State, ISIS
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Author: Aaron Rock-Singer
  • Publication Date: 11-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Religion was a pillar of pre-modern political identity in the Middle East, arising out of Muslims’ understanding of Islam’s foundational moment and state institutions that developed with the spread of Islamic Empire. Beginning at the turn of the 19th century, European colonial powers and indigenous reformers questioned the centrality of religious identity; instead, it was to be the nation that defined the political community. Since then, the nationalist project has permeated 20th century ideological conflicts in the region, equally shaping the claims of secularists and Islamists. Today, advocates of religious change refer back to early Islamic history as they seek to place religious over national identity, yet they, like their competitors, are unmistakably shaped by the secular nationalist project.
  • Topic: Islam, Nationalism, Post Colonialism, Religion
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arab Countries
  • Author: Lev Weitz
  • Publication Date: 11-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The majority of the Middle East’s population today is Muslim, as it has been for centuries. However, as the place of origin of a range of world religions – including Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and many lesser-known faiths – it remains a region of remarkable religious diversity. This article considers the place of religious minorities in the modern Middle East from three angles: their distinctive religious and communal identities, their place in the major transformations of the region’s political landscape from the nineteenth century to the post-World War I era, and the challenges of contemporary political conditions.
  • Topic: Demographics, Islam, Religion, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arab Countries
  • Publication Date: 10-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: We live in an age of identity politics. We define ourselves by one or more objective measures: measures of race, ethnicity, gender, politics, religion, sexual orientation, to name just a few. Those measures then define who we are to others. They determine our place in society, the communities with which we identify, our attitudes towards others and other communities. The politics of identity are fraught, and they interact in ways that both liberate and confine. On the one hand we prize diversity. On the whole, this is a good thing, since it reflects a larger transformation in American life. Like it or not, the fact is that we are becoming, have become, a “multi-cultural society.” No matter what terms we use to define diversity—racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, gender, whatever—we are more diverse now than we have ever been, and we are destined to grow more so. Multi-culturalism is not an option; it is the future. The only question is how, and how well, we are going to deal with it.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Islam, Religion, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Author: Michele Flournoy, Richard Fontaine
  • Publication Date: 08-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Center for a New American Security
  • Abstract: In the 11 months since President Barack Obama committed the United States to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS), the group has expanded its international reach, metastasized to form offshoots across multiple regions, and increased its perceived momentum. Although U.S. government officials cite a reduction in the overall size of the group’s sanctuary in Iraq and Syria and the killing of thousands of ISIS fighters, the fall of Ramadi and much of Anbar province to the Islamic State served as a wakeup call that current efforts to counter ISIS are not adequate to the task.2 Meanwhile, the threat posed by the terrorist group to Americans at home and abroad appears to be growing as ISIS-inspired individuals conduct attacks targeting Westerners around the globe, including here in the United States.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Security, Civil War, Islam, Terrorism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arab Countries
  • Author: Robert Sedgwick
  • Publication Date: 11-2015
  • Content Type: CIAO Focus
  • Institution: Columbia International Affairs Online
  • Abstract: A brief overview and timeline examining the origins and trajectory of the little known terror group that was initially shunned and finally disowned by al-Qaeda as it developed into the world's most feared militant Muslim organization.
  • Topic: Islam, Post Colonialism, Terrorism, War, Counterinsurgency, ISIS, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Cornelius Adebahr
  • Publication Date: 01-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Abstract: After years of tension, sanctions, and deadlocked negotiations, Hassan Rouhani, Iran's relatively moderate new president, has provided an opening for improved relations between the Islamic Republic and the West. While Rouhani has not ushered in a new Iran, Tehran has adopted a more conciliatory tone on its nuclear program since he took office. This shift is more than just talk, but the West will have to carefully calibrate its response to determine whether Rouhani's changed rhetoric signals the beginning of a new direction for Iran.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Islam, Nuclear Weapons
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Robert D. Lamb, Sadika Hameed, Kathryn Mixon
  • Publication Date: 01-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: The United States has a number of interests and values at stake in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, or "South Asia" for the purposes of this analysis. But it also has a broader set of such concerns at stake regionally (in the greater Middle East, Eurasia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia)—and, of course, globally as well. Any long- term policy or strategy frame- work for South Asia needs to be built around the global and regional concerns that are most likely to persist across multiple changes in U.S. political leadership regardless of political party.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Security, Foreign Policy, Islam, War, Insurgency
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, South Asia, Middle East, India