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  • Publication Date: 02-2006
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: The bomb attack on a sacred Shiite shrine in Samarra on 22 February 2006 and subsequent reprisals against Sunni mosques and killings of Sunni Arabs is only the latest and bloodiest indication that Iraq is teetering on the threshold of wholesale disaster. Over the past year, social and political tensions evident since the removal of the Baathist regime have turned into deep rifts. Iraq's mosaic of communities has begun to fragment along ethnic, confessional and tribal lines, bringing in stability and violence to many areas, especially those with mixed populations. The most urgent of these incipient conflicts is a Sunni-Shiite schism that threatens to tear the country apart. Its most visible manifestation is a dirty war being fought between a small group of insurgents bent on fomenting sectarian strife by killing Shiites and certain government commando units carrying out reprisals against the Sunni Arab community in whose midst the insurgency continues to thrive. Iraqi political actors and the international community must act urgently to prevent a low-intensity conflict from escalating into an all-out civil war that could lead to Iraq's disintegration and destabilise the entire region.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Ethnic Conflict, Religion
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Arabia
  • Author: Julianne Smith, Aidan Kirby, Daniel Benjamin
  • Publication Date: 04-2006
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: The second phase of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Transatlantic Dialogue on Terror took place against a backdrop of rapid change. When the first conference in this series took place in Berlin in the spring of 2005, scholars and practitioners were still absorbing the details of the previous year's attacks against the Madrid light rail system, the murder of Dutch artist Theo van Gogh and a host of other attacks and foiled plots. Global radicalism continued to be shaped by the deepening insurgency in Iraq, in which radical Islamists from inside and outside that country play a pivotal role. In the months following the Berlin meeting, the bombing of the London Underground, the attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh and Amman, and a stream of revelations about radical Islamist activity from Europe to the Middle East to South Asia and Australia — where a group of conspirators were arrested for plotting an attack against that country's sole nuclear facility — had also to be taken into account.
  • Topic: International Relations, Ethnic Conflict, Islam, Religion, Terrorism
  • Political Geography: Europe, South Asia, Middle East, London, Australia
  • Author: Claudia Baumgart
  • Publication Date: 12-2006
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Cornell University Peace Studies Program
  • Abstract: Israel's disengagement from the Gaza strip in 2005 marked a momentous turning point in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people. After 37 years of occupation, Israel has pulled out from this densely populated strip of land at the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, but it still keeps its military control over all access to the Gaza strip via land, sea, and air. The new government of Ehud Olmert is now debating the next step: to retreat from large parts of the West Bank. While presenting the concept of unilateral disengagement as a necessary step towards peace with the Palestinians, Ariel Sharon and his successor Ehud Olmert made it very clear that, on the other hand, Israel intends to keep and even expand the major Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Olmert's convergence plan reflects these intentions by openly announcing that the settlement blocs would remain a part of the State of Israel forever. But for a certain portion of the Israeli population, this is not enough. In the run-up to the Gaza disengagement, Israel was flooded with Orange – the colour that the disengagement opponents chose to mark their fierce protest against the evacuation of Jewish settlements. Settlers in orange T-Shirts gathered in mass demonstrations, waved Israeli flags with orange ribbons, blocked main roads in the midst of rush hour, quarrelled with security forces and tried to convince soldiers to refuse orders during evacuation. A small minority even threatened to violently resist the evacuation of their homes.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Ethnic Conflict, Post Colonialism, Religion
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel
  • Author: George Adams
  • Publication Date: 03-2006
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: In Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in countless other hotspots around the world, religion has been a major factor in matters of war and peace. Since religion often plays a significant role in conflicts, it also needs to be one of the factors addressed in mediating conflicts. Yet, because the United States separates religion from political matters to a greater degree than many other areas of the world, Americans frequently have difficulty understanding the crucial role religion can play in conflict transformation.
  • Topic: Peace Studies, Religion
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, United States, Iraq, Middle East, Asia
  • Author: Ghazi Ahmad Hamad
  • Publication Date: 04-2006
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces
  • Abstract: Prior to the Palestinian elections of 25 January 2006, Hamas had not been expecting at all that it would suddenly find itself in a position to govern. Until the last moment, the movement had anticipated to gain only some 25 seats. It had not hoped for more, but simply to become a strong opposition force in the new PLC (Palestinian Legislative Council). As such, it wanted to push political and administrative reforms.
  • Topic: International Relations, Government, Religion
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Palestine
  • Author: Reidar Visser
  • Publication Date: 04-2006
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Norwegian Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: This paper discusses the two prevailing interpretations of the political attitudes of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the leading Shiite cleric in Iraq today. It is argued that neither the traditional "quietist" paradigm nor more recent Machiavellian interpretations can satisfactorily explain Sistani's actions. An alternative interpretation is offered which highlights Sistani's historical oscillation between passive and activist positions. It is suggested that, after an activist intermezzo from June 2003 to December 2004, Sistani has reverted to a more secluded role, again showing an increasing reluctance to fulfil the wishes of his many wooers in Iraqi politics, and limiting his interference to matters directly connected with the Shiite faith and its institutions. It is concluded that Sistani's professional interests as a cleric – rather than any constant desire on his part to control and manipulate domestic politics – may be the key to understanding any future intervention in the political process in Iraq. Scepticism is also expressed toward the notion of Sistani as a guarantor for a "moderate" or "secular" Iraqi political system that would supposedly be fundamentally different from that of Iran – an idea that has featured prominently in policy-making circles in the United States and in other Western countries currently involved in Iraq.
  • Topic: International Relations, Politics, Religion
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East
  • Publication Date: 12-2006
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Lebanon has badly lost its balance and is at risk of new collapse, moving ever closer to explosive Sunni-Shiite polarisation with a divided, debilitated Christian community in between. The fragile political and sectarian equilibrium established since the end of its bloody civil war in 1990 was never a panacea and came at heavy cost. It depended on Western and Israeli acquiescence in Syria's tutelage and a domestic system that hindered urgently needed internal reforms, and change was long overdue. But the upsetting of the old equilibrium, due in no small part to a tug-of-war by outsiders over its future, has been chaotic and deeply divisive, pitting one half of the country against the other. Both Lebanon's own politicians and outside players need to recognise the enormous risks of a zero-sum struggle and seek compromises before it is too late.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Ethnic Conflict, Religion
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Lebanon, Syria
  • Author: Abdeslam Maghraoui
  • Publication Date: 05-2006
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: Throughout the Muslim world, Islamist parties have emerged as major power brokers when allowed to compete in free elections. Yet their positions on many crucial governance issues remain unknown or ambiguous. Most debates on the potential to moderate and integrate Islamists in the democratic process have focused on Islam's compatibility with democracy or on debates over Islamists' normative commitment to democracy separately from the mechanics of achieving political power.
  • Topic: Democratization, Development, Government, Religion
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Author: Robert Rabil
  • Publication Date: 08-2006
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: With the ongoing clashes between Israel and Hizballah raging without respite and Lebanon sustaining significant human and material losses, the sociopolitical scene in Beirut is bursting with both centrifugal and centripetal forces. While these forces threaten the country with implosion, they are sparking a national debate on Lebanese national identity that may prevent Lebanon from disintegrating as a sovereign state. While many Western observers see the civilian deaths in Qana as galvanizing Lebanese support for Hizballah, national solidarity against Israeli attacks should not be mistaken for a widespread embrace of Hizballah.
  • Topic: International Relations, Religion, War
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Lebanon
  • Author: David Schenker
  • Publication Date: 06-2006
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Acting Lebanese interior minister Ahmad Fatfat arrived in Washington June 20 for his first official visit in his new capacity. The U.S. trip comes one month after a radical Sunni Islamist organization was legalized in Lebanon, and just weeks after thousands of Shiite Hizballah supporters rioted in Beirut after the broadcast on LBC television of a comedy skit satirizing Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah. These developments highlight growing tensions between Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon. Unchecked, this dynamic could lead to a resumption of the type of conflict that has long plagued Lebanon and threaten the gains of the Cedar Revolution.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Development, Religion
  • Political Geography: United States, Washington, Middle East, Lebanon