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  • Author: Scott M. Thomas, Anthony O'Mahony
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: In February 2019, Pope Francis became the first pope to visit the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Like John-Paul II before him, he has also visited Egypt, and he went to Morocco in March 2019. The pope participated in a colloquium on “human fraternity” and interreligious dialogue sponsored by the UAE-based Muslim Council of Elders—the brain-child of Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the most important Sunni Muslim university in the world. The Council of Elders sponsors initiatives to engage young Muslims on Islamist ideology by promoting a more “authentic” interpretation of Islam. Islamist violence—with its beheadings and mass executions—has provoked disgust across the Muslim world and is causing young Muslims to become more distant from their imams and mosques. It is becoming clear to many Muslim intellectuals in Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon that, in order to defeat Islamism, there needs to be greater dialogue and coexistence with Christians. Pope Francis is attempting to lead the way, extending his “culture of encounter.”
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Culture, Violence, Catholic Church
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, United Arab Emirates, Vatican city
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The clergy’s ambitions for global Shia revolution made the city of Qom uniquely vulnerable to the disease, and their resistance to modern medical science weakened the state’s ability to combat its spread. On February 19, two days before the Iranian government officially announced the arrival of coronavirus, an infected businessman who had recently returned from China to Qom passed away. The location and timing of his death illustrate how the Shia holy city and the religious leaders and institutions who call it home have played an outsize role in the disease’s disproportionately rapid spread inside Iran compared to other countries. How did this situation come to pass, and what does it say about the current state of the clerical establishment, its relationship with the regime, and its alienation from large swaths of Iranian society? (Part 2 of this PolicyWatch discusses the regime's role in the outbreak and its resiliency to such crises.)
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Health, Religion, Shia, Coronavirus
  • Political Geography: China, Iran, Middle East, Global Focus, United States of America
  • Author: Sarah L. Edgecumbe
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: The contemporary displacement landscape in Iraq is both problematic and unique. The needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq are many, particularly as protracted displacement becomes entrenched as the norm rather than the exception. However, minorities originating from the so called ‘Disputed Territories’ and perceived Islamic State (IS)-affiliates represent two of the most vulnerable groups of IDPs in Iraq. Iraqi authorities currently have a real opportunity to set a positive precedent for IDP protection by formulating pragmatic durable solutions which incorporate non-discriminatory protection provisions, and which take a preventative approach to future displacement. This policy paper analyses the contemporary displacement context of Iraq, characterized as it is by securitization of Sunni IDPs and returnees, as well as ongoing conflict and coercion within the Disputed Territories. By examining current protection issues against Iraq’s 2008 National Policy on Displacement, this paper identifies protection gaps within Iraq’s response to displacement, before drawing on the African Union’s Kampala Convention in order to make recommendations for an updated version of the National Policy on Displacement. These recommendations will ensure that a 2020 National Policy on Displacement will be relevant to the contemporary protection needs of Iraq’s most vulnerable IDPs, whilst also acting to prevent further conflict and displacement.
  • Topic: Security, Migration, Religion, Refugees, Displacement
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Benjamin Tua
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: American Diplomacy
  • Institution: American Diplomacy
  • Abstract: Efforts to portray Muslims and their faith as threatening diminish our society by stigmatizing a significant American minority. They also can facilitate costly foreign policy blunders such as the 2017 Executive Order banning entry into the US of visitors from several Middle Eastern majority-Muslim countries, an order purportedly based on terrorist activity, technical hurdles to properly document these countries’ travelers, and poor coordination with US officials. Two recent books, “Mohammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires” and “What the Qur’an Meant: And Why it Matters,” take on the task of broadening Americans’ still unacceptably low understanding of Islam. The authors – Juan Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan, and Garry Wills, a Pulitzer Prize winning lay scholar of American Catholicism – approach their subject in distinctly different manners. Yet, their message and conclusions are remarkably similar – namely, that ignorance of and distortions of Islam and what the Quran says both alienate vast numbers of Muslims and have led to foreign policy missteps. The books complement each other nicely.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Islam, Peace Studies, Religion, Judaism, Islamophobia, Xenophobia
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Ukraine, Middle East, Eastern Europe, Soviet Union, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Haviland Smith
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: American Diplomacy
  • Institution: American Diplomacy
  • Abstract: It is clear that there are powerful people both in the United States and in Iran who would like to force a real confrontation between our two countries. What is completely unclear is whether or not those hawks on both sides want a modified Cold War type confrontation, built perhaps on cyber warfare, or an all-out military confrontation. What this situation, with all its incredibly profound dangers and possible disastrous outcomes, has done is once again prompt the question, “what is the United States doing in the Middle East and what precisely are our goals there?”
  • Topic: Cold War, Islam, Religion, Terrorism, Minorities, Ethnicity
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Vicki Valosik, Isabel Roemer, Nancy Howar
  • Publication Date: 12-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies
  • Abstract: A profile on A. Joseph Howar, the CCAS benefactor behind one of Washington’s most iconic cultural and religious institutions. A. Joseph Howar, an immigrant from Palestine who became one of the most prominent Arab- Americans of the early 20th century, touched the lives of countless people during his 103+ years. A talented real-estate developer with an uncanny instinct for location, Mr. Howar was determined to give back to both his adopted country and his homeland. A proponent of education, he built a school and mosque in Palestine, and was the catalyst behind the creation of the Washington Islamic Center, which remains an important cultural and religious icon on Washington’s Embassy Row. Even closer to home, Howar’s legacy continues at Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, where for more than 25 years, the Howar family has generously funded a scholarship in Joseph’s memory for students of the Master of Arts in Arab Studies program.
  • Topic: Religion, History, Immigration, Culture, Higher Education
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Palestine, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Jonathan Benthall
  • Publication Date: 01-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International and Regional Studies: CIRS
  • Abstract: This paper records and interprets the rise and decline of Saudi overseas humanitarian charities, with special reference to the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO or IIROSA). Founded in 1975, IIROSA grew as a vehicle for a distinctively Saudi version of Islamic humanitarianism. By the mid-1990s, IIROSA was the world’s largest Islamic charity. Following the dismissal of its secretary general in 1996, and the crises of 9/11 and the Al-Aqsa Intifada, which cast a cloud to varying degrees over nearly all Islamic charities, IIROSA’s activities were reduced but efforts were made to revive them. In 2017, however, the kingdom’s new policy of centralization, and its disengagement from the “comprehensive call to Islam,” resulted in a remodeling of IIROSA’s role in support of the kingdom’s diplomatic interests but marginalized and stripped of religious content.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Humanitarian Aid, Religion
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Persian Gulf
  • Author: Khogir Wirya
  • Publication Date: 03-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: With the military defeat of Islamic State (IS) militants in Mosul and other Iraqi territories, the Government of Iraq (GoI) is moving ahead with plans to stabilize violent environments, rebuild war-ravaged physical infrastructure, and restore vital services. Equally important is the need for developing a feasible national reconciliation strategy among the country’s various ethnic, religious, and social groups, through dialogue and trust-building mechanisms. In light of warm historical relations and significant political influence between Iraqi Kurds and Shi’ites, reconciliation between them is of paramount importance for lasting stability in the country. Indeed, in the absence of Erbil-Baghdad rapprochement, overcoming future political challenges will be very difficult. Towards that end, the Middle East Research Institute (MERI) and Al-Rafidain Centre for Dialogue (RCD) jointly organized a series of unofficial meetings involving representatives of Shi’ite political parties and a MERI-led Kurdish delegation between 28 February and 01 March 2018. Religious leaders, academics, political party representatives, members of parliament from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), Baghdad and Najaf attended the meetings, organized under the themes of “The Future of Governance in Iraq: Crises and Partnership Opportunities” and “The Role of Decision-makers and Political Elites in Building Confidence Among the Components of Iraqi Society.” The MERI-led delegation also visited the Marja’iya (Shi’ite religious authority) in al-Najaf city.
  • Topic: Religion, Islamic State, Political stability, Reconciliation
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan, Mosul
  • Author: Dlawer Ala'Aldeen
  • Publication Date: 03-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Ever since Saddam’s regime was toppled in 2003, Iraq has three competitive parliamentary elections in 2005, 2010 and 2014. In all of these, pre-election alliance building and post-election coalition building processes were fairly predictable given the confessional nature of Iraq’s political system. Essentially, the system is centered on a politically conventional power-sharing arrangement among the country’s three main ethno-sectarian powerhouses: Shi’ite Arab Muslims, Sunni Arab Muslims, and the Kurds. This arrangement has prompted small political parties to forge alliances with these confessional powerhouses. This time round, this trend is likely to continue in the upcoming elections scheduled on 12 May 2018, but perhaps on a smaller scale. What gravitates political entities are political expediency and nationalist sentiments. These two factors seem to be shaping and forming some alliances such as between secular and civil-minded parties, the Shiite Sadrist movement via Hizb Istaqama (the Integrity Party), and the Iraqi Communist party. On 22 January 2018, Iraqi legislators ratified a decision to hold much-debated anticipated parliamentary elections on 12 May 2018, thereby ending the stalemate by some lawmakers to postpone it. Iraq is at a crossroads, and much of what is at stake will depend on which of the 27 registered electoral alliances emerge as winners. The large number of alliances suggests that political entities are aware of the competitive advantages inherent to forming these, versus running independently. Indeed, because of Iraq’s particular parliamentarian arrangement, the 24 million eligible voters in the 18 national electoral districts, representing the country’s 18 governorates, will not be electing the next prime minister – they will, instead, be picking an electoral alliance, which will engage in post-election coalition building negotiations to nominate the prime minister and form the next government. While it is still premature to forecast the ultimate composition of the next government, it is most likely to be led by one of four viable options: Eitilaf al-Nasr (Victory Alliance) led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi; Eitilaf al-Wataniya (National Alliance) led by former Prime Minister Ayad Alawi; Eitilaf Dawlat al-Qanun (State of the Law Alliance) led by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; and Tahaluf al-Fatah (Conquest Alliance) led by al-Hashd al-Sha’abi (Popular Mobilization Units) commander Hadi al-Ameri. However, given the unpopularity of Iraq’s political class, no single alliance is expected to win a majority of parliamentary seats, forcing the formation of a grand-coalition government. This, nevertheless, may help build broad-based support and legitimacy given Iraq’s oversized economic, security, and political challenges. Furthermore, the next election is expected to maintain the status quo due to the existence of potent structural forces inspired by political and electoral confessionalism. However, and encouragingly, the status quo may prove ephemeral in the face of internal divisions within the traditional confessional centers of power, the rising popular discontent with the quality of the existing democratic system and the limited progress it has made over the past fifteen years. It would be safe to say that an inclusive government can increase popular support, reduce the likelihood of ethno-sectarian civil war, minimise the influence of external powers, and bolster the nation’s attractiveness to foreign investors. In the long term, Iraq needs a government that is ambitiously reformist to transform the state’s political, electoral, and economic systems.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Nationalism, Religion, Elections, Democracy
  • 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