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  • Author: Elizabeth Saleh
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Discussions on waste policy in Lebanon tend to focus on the country’s corrupt practices and the health and environmental impact of bad waste management. This paper examines an overlooked aspect: the story of waste pickers — many of whom are economic or forced migrants — who are essential to Lebanon’s garbage management. Through an ethnographic study of a group of underage waste pickers, it argues that it is time for policy debates on garbage in Lebanon to integrate the perspective of waste workers.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Environment, Labor Issues, Recycling, Garbage
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: Omar Al-Jaffal
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: In December 2019, the Iraqi parliament approved a new electoral law following demonstrations calling for fundamental political change. However, it took over 11 months for the president to ratify it as Iraq’s political parties fought over the shape of electoral districts. This article examines the disputes that surrounded the adoption of the law and the compromises that led to diluting its potential for reform. It concludes that while the new law represents a small step in the right direction, it ultimately is insufficient to respond to the aspirations of protestors looking for an overhaul of their political representation.
  • Topic: Reform, Elections, Democracy, Transition
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Joelle M. Abi-Rached, Pascale Salameh
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: As countries begin to roll out vaccination for COVID-19, the Lebanese caretaker government has yet to provide details about its vaccination strategy, raising concerns about its ability to provide vaccines due to the country’s economic and governance crisis. This paper, written by public health professionals, raises a number of questions about the vaccination strategy that the government should address and calls for an open, inclusive, and transparent process to placate the worries of citizens given the privatization and politicization of the country’s health sector.
  • Topic: Public Health, Vaccine, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon
  • 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: Diana Buttu
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Last month, a Palestinian think tank, the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, revealed its survey results following the release of the Trump/Netanyahu plan. In announcing the results, Dr Khalil Shikaki, the head of the polling centre, noted that 94 percent of Palestinian respondents opposed the plan: “I don't think we've ever seen such a level of consensus among the Palestinian public,” he said. These results are unsurprising, of course, as the Trump/Netanyahu plan effectively seeks Palestinian approval for Israeli land theft, ethnic cleansing and continued subjugation. But alongside the results of the question pertaining to the Trump/Netanyahu plan was a more important question: “Do you support the two-state solution?” A mere 39 percent of surveyed respondents answered affirmatively, while 37 percent indicated that they support a one-state solution. These results should be placed in their proper light: for more than two decades, as the Palestinian leadership and the international community have repeatedly called for the implementation of the two-state solution, increasing numbers of Palestinians have moved away from this view and increasingly supported one state, even though there is not a single Palestinian party – whether inside ‘48 borders or in the occupied territories – advocating for it. In fact, Palestinian leaders and the international community both espouse the common view of decrying the concept of one state and adamantly holding that “There is no Plan B.” The reason for this steadily increasing Palestinian support for one state has both everything and nothing to do with the Trump/Netanyahu plan. This plan makes clear that it aims to ensure that Palestinians will never have a state and instead remain forever under Israel’s boot. But it isn’t just the Trump plan. Over time, Palestinians increasingly have seen that the version of “two states” that the international community will support – and indeed press for – is not the version of two states that Palestinians demand. To the contrary, while the world spoke of a two-state settlement, Palestinians witnessed a tripling of the number of Israeli settlers living on their land. The international community appears content with allowing Israel to build and expand settlements, while at the same time allowing it to demolish Palestinian homes and schools and imprison Palestinians into cantons. This approach condones Israel holding our economy hostage and mercilessly besieging the Gaza Strip, with only the mildest, mealy-mouthed international condemnations. The world community has blocked attempts to press for a condemnation of Israeli settlements in the International Criminal Court and has, in some cases, criminalized support for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). Even the European Union has been loath to uphold its trade agreement with Israel, under which Israeli settlement products should be labelled separately and should not benefit from free trade status. It has become clear that while the international community speaks of wanting a two-state settlement, it has shown itself wholly unwilling to do anything to make that happen. As someone who participated in the peace negotiations, I observed that a state for Palestinians was the furthest thing from the Israeli public and political leadership’s thinking. Instead, they were concerned with how to forever contain and control Palestinians, and how to maintain longstanding international community support in this endeavour. In short, the concept of two states has become devoid of all meaning, with the focus instead on form – whether labelled as a “state” and however dysfunctional and lacking any of the powers that actually define a state. This increasing realization has led many Palestinians to abandon the statehood project. This may sound like a defeatist position or the expression of frustration. Indeed, over the years, we have heard PLO leaders threaten to abandon the two-state project and, separately, threaten to dissolve the Palestinian Authority. Some support for one state is undoubtedly borne of that feeling. But not all. To be clear, my support for one state grew not from the futility of negotiations – even though they were indeed futile – but from a sense that the approach was incorrect. The attempt to divide land simply modelled the power structures I was attempting to fight – economic and political structures that aim to maintain Israeli power and control over Palestinians lives. Therefore, rather than focus on land – where Israel always has an advantage –, the focus should be on people and how we, as people, should live. The time has come to look to a model that focuses on equal rights for all, irrespective of religion; a model which seeks reconciliation and not separation and where people are protected and not viewed as subjects of control or, in the case of refugees, of wholesale and heartless exclusion. Today Israel and the occupied territories function as one territory, with rights and privileges granted to some and not to others. There are no separate border crossings for “Palestine” and no separate Palestinian currency. Yet Palestinians, including Palestinian citizens of Israel, are denied the same rights and privileges as Israeli Jews. I am under no illusion that achieving this equality will be easy. Power is never voluntarily given up by those who wield it but taken through pressing for rights. Palestinians will be better able to break down the system of ethnic-religious privilege that plagues Palestinians (a similar system ruled apartheid South Africa) by getting to the root cause – that of Zionism, a nationalist project that favours one group over another –, by pushing for BDS and for accountability internationally and by challenging racist Israeli laws. In short, we can and must create a just system for all, irrespective of whether we demand one or two states. History demonstrates that ethnic privilege ultimately fails in a multi-ethnic world. And given that Palestinians and Israelis are fated to live together, the real question is whether we will continue to allow this system of ethno-religious privilege to prevail or whether we will press for equality, irrespective of religion. Borders, flags, and currencies can wait.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Territorial Disputes, Borders, Peace, Settlements
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine
  • Author: Diana Buttu, Mouin Rabbani
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The “Peace Plan” presented by Trump and his administration as the ultimate solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been overwhelmingly rejected by Palestinians and their leadership. But what comes next? What strategy should Palestinians adopt? These two papers, written by two leading Palestinian analysts, lay out two distinct approaches for attaining Palestinian rights and aspirations. Diana Buttu argues that it is time for Palestinians to push for a one-state solution focusing on equal rights for all, while Mouin Rabbani contends that a one-state approach will not succeed given the current power dynamics and, therefore, favours a renewed Palestinian strategy to preserve the pre-Trump international consensus focused on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 and a just resolution of the refugee question.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Territorial Disputes, Borders, Peace, Settlements
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine
  • Author: Mouin Rabbani
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: It is incontestable that a unitary state encompassing all of historic Palestine in which Palestinians and Israelis live in full equality represents the preferred resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Assuming this entity guarantees both individual and communal parity, and satisfactorily resolves the refugee question, it would achieve the fundamental Palestinian right to national self-determination and be consistent with the broader Palestinian aspiration of greater Arab integration. It is also irrefutable that a democratic one-state outcome in Palestine cannot be achieved without the disestablishment of Zionism, and specifically Israel’s renunciation of the core principles of Jewish political supremacy, demographic superiority, and territorial hegemony that have guided state policy since 1948. The cost-benefit calculation required for a one-state solution is thus one where Israel’s rulers determine that the price of maintaining a Zionist state has become unacceptably high and choose to relinquish it. In practice, there is no political pathway to such a resolution. Israel’s elites, and the overwhelming majority of its Jewish citizens from across the political spectrum, will contemplate a future without Zionism only as a consequence of decisive military defeat. Even then, the temptation of Israel’s leaders to rely on their nuclear arsenal to avert defeat – the so-called Samson option – cannot be dismissed. In view of the geopolitical realities which reinforce, rather than challenge, the prevailing balance of power between Israel and the Palestinians, the only one-state solutions currently on offer are those proposed by the United States in its January 2020 diplomatic initiative, and by the radical Israeli right whose agenda has been embraced by Washington. In other words, proponents of a unitary secular democratic state in Palestine who are unable to offer a credible military strategy for achieving it are dealing in unattainable illusions rather than feasible solutions. The dynamics that have produced these realities may well change, but the current state of the Palestinian national movement and the broader region suggests this will consume decades, not years. It should also be noted that economic pressure – far exceeding that exerted by the BDS movement – has had a particularly poor impact on regime change during the past century, and can play a secondary role at best. How, then, can and should the Palestinians respond to Washington’s latest proposal to formalize permanent Israeli control over the Palestinian people? Should they just abandon the two-state framework in hopes of an eventual democratic unified state? Widely condemned as the institutionalization of apartheid, the Trump-Netanyahu Plan, in fact, goes far beyond the model of structural racism devised by the white minority regime in South Africa. Israel seeks not to exploit a captive population, but rather to achieve its eventual permanent removal. Indeed, this Plan goes so far as to recommend changing the legal status of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel to residents of a Palestinian entity that will be occupied territory in all but name. The Trump-Netanyahu Plan offers nothing to the Palestinians, neither presently nor in the future, and does not even pretend to do so. It was transparently devised to accomplish each and every Israeli strategic objective at the expense of all Palestinian rights, rather than lay the basis for meaningful negotiations between the two parties in which the core interests of each are met within the framework of international legality. The measures Washington has already undertaken concerning Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, the PLO, settlements, the legal status of the occupied territories and other issues reveal this agenda and require no further comment or analysis. It is thus imperative that the various Palestinian leaderships categorically refuse any interaction – whether direct or indirect – with this initiative, as such dealings will only serve to legitimize it and provide cover for regional and international parties to seriously engage with it. The strategic purpose and primary threat of the Trump-Netanyahu plan is to transform the international consensus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For better or worse, this consensus comprises the inadmissibility of territorial conquest, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, living at peace with Israel within its 1949 boundaries, and a just resolution of the refugee question. Against this, Washington and Tel Aviv propose a resolution of the conflict on the basis that might makes right, that rights are irrelevant, and that international law is of no consequence. Rather than mobilize alongside the United States and Israel to denounce the international consensus of a two-state framework and demand its replacement, even if for radically different reasons and objectives, and to promote goals which - as noted above - are simply unattainable, Palestinians should do everything within their power to preserve, mobilize, and activate this consensus and present it as the litmus test for the preservation of the international order Washington is seeking to systematically dismantle. Indeed, under current circumstances, the only alternative is a one-state solution, which would permanently remove Palestinian national rights from the international agenda. One may not be enthusiastic about the two-state paradigm, but it would be dishonest to deny that the purpose of the Trump-Netanyahu plan is to replace it with something much worse. The above notwithstanding, to frame the Palestinian debate as a choice between a one-state solution and two-state settlement misses the point, and is today somewhat akin to a condemned prisoner spending the night before his execution agonizing over whether to spend next summer on the French or Italian Riviera. The core issue in 2020 is not about the form of eventual statehood, but rather about upholding the principle that Israel has no right to incorporate territories that international law and the international community consider to be occupied, and that its continued rule in these territories is both illegal and illegitimate. In contrast to a democratic one-state outcome, there are political avenues to ending the occupation that do not require the military resources that neither the Palestinians nor their regional allies currently possess. The cost-benefit calculation for ending the blockade of the Gaza Strip, reversing settlement expansion in the West Bank, and terminating the occupation does not require the wholesale transformation of the Israeli state. Yet, compelling Israel to dismantle the settlement enterprise and to withdraw from the occupied territories rather than annex them may – in the process – transform the state and establish pathways that in time would produce better outcomes It is commonplace to characterize the Trump administration approach to the Question of Palestine as a radical departure from traditional US policy. While this is true in certain respects, it is perhaps more useful to understand the Trump-Netanyahu Plan as the logical culmination of seven decades of US Middle East policy, and of the Oslo agreements, which never envisioned an end to occupation nor the realization of Palestinian self-determination, in particular. The prevalence of this reality and this debate attest above all to the extraordinarily weakened position in which the Palestinian people find themselves. Surpassing it will be particularly difficult, but is by no means impossible. First and foremost, Palestinians must resolve their internal differences and establish a unified national movement led by a credible leadership, with a clear strategy to disentangle from the matrix of control established by the Oslo agreements, as well as to mobilize Palestinians and their regional and international allies and supporters. Palestine needs to become a cause that stands above and beyond regional rivalries once again, rather than a political pawn used by petty autocrats for trivial advantage. It needs to once again become a primary issue on the international agenda, and a global litmus test for justice and decency, rather than a secondary dispute in a region roiled by conflict. In doing so it will also be able to rely on greater levels of popular support than perhaps ever before. A mobilized Palestinian national movement, capable of activating and – where necessary – coercing the support of regional governments, and deploying their collective wherewithal in the international arena, can successfully implement a combination of popular, political, economic, legal, and even military strategies to effectively challenge Israel’s occupation, and in critical instances compel foreign states to do the right thing out of self-interest. The Palestinians today are experiencing an existential moment. This is not a time to pursue the impossible at the expense of survival.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Territorial Disputes, Occupation, Peace, Settlements
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine
  • Author: Jihad Yazigi
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The already bleak prospects of the Syrian economy have worsened in recent months with the Lebanon crisis, the enactment of the Caesar Act and now the coronavirus pandemic. This paper examines their impact on the Syrian economy and the population at large. While the cumulative impact is hard to assess at this stage, Syria’s population will remain heavily dependent on the international humanitarian effort. The future of this effort will itself depend on major donor countries whose own economies are likely to emerge weakened from the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Topic: Economics, Public Health, Humanitarian Crisis, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon, Syria
  • Author: Fadi El-Jardali
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: In the Arab region, countries have become increasingly dependent on non-state actors, notably the private sector, for healthcare provision and any response that includes the State alone may not be sufficient to address the COVID-19 pandemic. This paper explores how state and non-state actors in Arab countries have collaborated so far and suggests ways forward to ensure quality healthcare services for all.
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Governance, Health Care Policy, Public Health, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Africa, Middle East
  • Author: Fatima Al Sayah
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Testing for COVID-19 is globally supported but is approached differently from country to country. This paper outlines Lebanon’s approach to testing so far and asks crucial questions about what the country can do at this stage given its limited testing resources, fragmented and under-financed healthcare system and dire economic circumstances.
  • Topic: Health Care Policy, Public Health, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: Sirine Anouti
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Data from Lebanon suggests that the country is experiencing a significant decrease in COVID-19 spread. Epidemiologists are monitoring to see if infection rates remain low for at least two incubation periods before declaring a successful containment. The lockdown strategy has come at a great cost to middle-to-low income groups given the absence of any social safety measure and the sustainability of lockdown measures will require urgent relief support.
  • Topic: Public Health, Humanitarian Crisis, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: Ahmed Tabaqchali
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Iraq’s sectarian-based political system has depended on oil rents since 2003 to ensure its legitimacy and buy loyalty. Already running out of steam and challenged by protesters, it faces a major new test due to the drop in oil prices caused by the COVID-19 crisis. Unable to maintain its expensive patronage system, and in the absence of any real political reform, the days of the Muhasasa Ta’ifia may be running out.
  • Topic: Reform, Protests, Public Health, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Ishac Diwan, Joelle M. Abi-Rached
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The Covid-19 pandemic in Lebanon is a crisis within a crisis. It occurred amidst a broader socio-economic meltdown that has shaken the country in recent months. While Lebanon appears to have responded effectively to the pandemic so far, a number of major challenges await it. With little measures to mitigate the economic impact of the confinement and protesters pushing to return to the streets, the country is entering an extremely volatile period. The only way out will be through measures that address the sanitary as well as underlying socio-economic issues that are threatening the entire country.
  • Topic: Governance, Public Health, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: Sami Halabi
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Facing an economy in free-fall, the Lebanese government has finally adopted a financial recovery plan that it has sent to the IMF and international donors. This paper argues that the plan fails to introduce strong accountability measures to address rampant corruption and mismanagement and does not tackle widespread inequality which could be done through a better distribution of losses and the introduction of more progressive taxation. Despite the government’s stated promise to “protect the poorest segments of the population from the dire consequences of the crisis”, the paper expects the plan to inevitably harm Lebanon’s poorest as well as its middle class.
  • Topic: Economics, Financial Crisis, Governance, Recovery
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: Mahjoob Zweiri
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Iran’s regional role in MENA is influenced by the evolution of its state-society relations and shifts within its state institutions. This paper argues that the growing regional role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is a reflection of the militarization and securitization of the Iranian political system. Conversely, frustration by segments of the Iranian population with the political system’s inability to deliver economically has increasingly manifested itself in criticism and contestation of the regime’s regional role.
  • Topic: Civil Society, Regional Cooperation, Authoritarianism, Militarization
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Mansour Omari
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The opening in Germany of the trial of two Syrian security officers accused of crimes against humanity was marked by the absence of regional Arab interest, despite its importance for the fight against impunity in MENA. This paper seeks to understand this lack of coverage by Arab media and the absence of interest from national as well as regional Arab human rights organizations, and highlights the implications of the trial for Syria as well as MENA’s struggle for accountability.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Non State Actors, Media, Accountability
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Saad Salloum
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Afro-Iraqis, who number around 400,000, continue to suffer from racial discrimination and marginalization despite their repeated attempts to demand equality. This paper shows the struggle of black people in Iraq through the struggle and activism of Jalal Dhiab, founder of the Free Iraqi Movement, to restore a forgotten revolution and awaken an identity that has long been marginalized in Arab historical writings, in order to defend the rights of this minority and to combat racial discrimination against it in Iraq.
  • Topic: Social Movement, Minorities, Discrimination, Protests, Racism
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Genevieve Zingg
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: While not the chief cause of Syria’s economic crisis, sanctions have exacerbated difficulties faced by the Syrian people – in particular as new humanitarian needs arise from the Covid-19 pandemic. This paper argues that sanctions are essential to sustain pressure in the pursuit of justice and accountability and should be maintained but that they must be improved to allow for a more effective use of humanitarian exemptions and to lessen their negative impacts on the Syrian people.
  • Topic: Sanctions, Public Health, Humanitarian Crisis, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Ahmed Tabaqchali
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Iraq’s post-2003 political order, characterized by Muhasasa Ta’ifia with political sectarian elites using employment in public services to strengthen clientelism, has become economically unsustainable. The author’s earlier paper for the Arab Reform Initiative examined the impact of the drop in oil prices on the system. This article examines how Iraq’s growing demography erodes the patronage buying power of the sectarian elites, even though spending on clientelism has mushroomed over the years.
  • Topic: Demographics, Inequality, Elites
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East