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  • Author: Vanessa Badre, Lyne Sneige, Kate Seelye, Denis Quenelle, Nagham Hodaifa, Bady Dalloul
  • Publication Date: 04-2021
  • Content Type: Video
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: The Middle East Institute's Arts and Culture Center and The Cultural Services of the French Embassy are pleased to host a conversation with leading Syrian contemporary artists, Bady Dalloul and Nagham Hodaifa. The Paris-based artists will reflect on the past decade of conflict and trauma, its impact and influence on their work and their relationship to their homeland. They will be joined by Lyne Sneige, the Director of the Arts & Culture Center at the Middle East Institute. Dalloul grew up in France, the son of prominent Syrian artists. His work confronts the notion of what is real and imagined while challenging the process of writing history. Hodaifa, who left Syria in 2005 to pursue her studies, explores the human condition through the representation of the body. Both artists are in the current MEI Art Gallery exhibit In This Moonless Black Night: Syrian Art After the Uprising, featuring leading contemporary Syrian artists chronicling the hope, trauma, and pain of the past decade through their practice. The artists will be in conversation with Vanessa Badré, art historian, lawyer, and faculty fellow at American University.
  • Topic: Arts, Culture, Conflict, Trauma, Syrian War, Memory
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, France, Syria
  • Author: Charles Lister, Vera Mironova, Eric Oehlerich, Mick Mulroy, Sara Kayyali
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Video
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: Two years after the territorial defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, tens of thousands of fighters and associated civilians remain in various forms of detention, with little sign of any meaningful solution to their status. Until now, few Western governments have proven willing to repatriate their citizens, choosing instead to leave them in the region, where security is weak and humanitarian conditions are dire. Multilateral efforts to determine the prospects for localized judicial mechanisms have failed, leaving behind an unsustainable crisis that threatens long-term security. The Middle East Institute (MEI) is pleased to host a panel of experts in this timely and important discussion.
  • Topic: Security, Human Rights, Prisons/Penal Systems, Citizenship, Islamic State, Foreign Fighters
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Lyne Sneige, Lara Haddad, Maymanah Farhat, Kevork Mourad
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Video
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: Marking the launch of the MEI Art Gallery exhibit, In This Moonless Black Night: Syrian Art After the Uprising, MEI is pleased to host a conversation exploring how Syrian artists in exile have addressed the hope, trauma and displacement of the past decade through their art. Among the 14 participating artists, US-based artists Lara Haddad, Essma Imady and Kevork Mourad, as well as curator and writer Maymanah Farhat, will reflect on their artistic practice and the personal experiences that influenced their work over the past 10 years. They'll also examine how the exhibit's diverse imagery and media helps shape our understanding of the magnitude and complexity of the past decade with beauty, grace and humanity. Lyne Sneige, director of MEI's Arts and Culture Center, will moderate the discussion followed by Q&A .
  • Topic: Arts, Culture, Media, Syrian War, Memory
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Zaher Sahloul, Elizabeth Tsurkov, Charles Lister, Alexander Marquardt
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Video
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: Nearly 600,000 people have been displaced in northwestern Syria in the last two months, in what is now the biggest humanitarian crisis in nine years of war. The brutal military assault being conducted by the Syrian government, Russia and Iran shows no signs of abating and has in recent weeks sparked direct and deadly clashes between Syrian and Turkish troops. Hospitals and schools continue to be struck from the air, IDP camps have reached capacity and humanitarian agencies are warning of an impending humanitarian disaster. Since the Syrian government and its allies began an offensive on Idlib in the Spring of 2019, approximately 25% of the opposition-controlled territory has fallen - roughly 75% still remains. Amid this ongoing crisis and unprecedented levels of civilian displacement and human suffering, the international community appears to have been rendered powerless. The Middle East Institute is pleased to host a panel discussion on the situation in Idlib, in order to discuss the nature of the crisis and the international response; the geopolitical dynamics at play; concerns over terrorism; and what possible paths might exist to resolve the situation.
  • Topic: Geopolitics, Displacement, Conflict, Syrian War, Humanitarian Crisis
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Idlib
  • Author: Amira Roess, Mia Atoui, Essam Daod, Mohammed Abo Hilal
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Video
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: In addition to economic and legal insecurity, many refugees and IDPs suffer from the immediate and long-term effects of PTSD and other mental health issues resulting from their experiences with conflict, displacement, and discrimination in their new environments. While government and NGO initiatives exist in Jordan, Iraq, and other host countries to promote mental health awareness and services in refugee communities, these resources are insufficient to address this dire need. How can aid and development programs prioritize mental health as a key component of refugee support? What are the gaps in the regional mental health systems that must be bridged in order to serve refugee communities? What initiatives exist to empower refugee communities at the grassroots level to advocate for mental health services?
  • Topic: Refugees, Displacement, Trauma, Mental Health, NGOs, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria, Jordan
  • Author: Rime Allaf, James Jeffrey, Qutaba Idlibi
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Video
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: On June 17, the long-awaited Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act came into force, imposing the most comprehensive set of sanctions against Syria’s Assad regime to date. Aimed principally at preventing further war crimes by preventing any foreign investment into the Syrian regime, the sanctions will almost certainly have a consequential impact on Syria’s politics and economy. As the act comes into force, Syria is already beset by a spiraling economic crisis, the effects of which have generated unusually defiant and persistent anti-regime protests in the Druze-majority governorate of Suwayda and rising levels of discontent within regime-held territories. Southern Syria faces an expanding insurgency, ISIS is slowly resurging in the central desert, Turkey is doubling down on a permanent presence in the northwest and for now, U.S. troops appear to be staying. How will the Caesar Act’s sanctions be enforced and with what goals in mind? What effect are they likely to have within today’s context? Does a policy of escalating pressure on the Assad regime promise diplomatic progress or humanitarian suffering?
  • Topic: Human Rights, Sanctions, Syrian War, Legislation, Civilians
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Elizabeth Dent
  • Publication Date: 03-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: Although the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) number over 60,000 and control nearly one-third of the territory of Syria, they face a number of challenges that threaten to destabilize their fragile control. Perhaps the most immediate is what to do with the influx of ISIS members and their families that have poured out of the Middle Euphrates River Valley, particularly since February 2019. The SDF is now holding thousands of Iraqi and Syrian fighters, as well as over a thousand foreign ones. The ultimate disposition of these fighters is a grave challenge. One has only to look at Iraq to see how prison breaks and an incapacity to deal with terrorist detainees can cause an insurgency to spread like wildfire. This paper lays out the problem and explores possible options for what to do, from repatriating the foreign fighters to their country of origin and housing them in Guantanamo Bay to trying them at the International Criminal Court in The Hague and turning them over to the Iraqi government.
  • Topic: International Affairs
  • Political Geography: Syria
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Video
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: H.E. Mohammed Baharoon Director General, b'huth LTG. (ret.) Michael Nagata Former director of Strategic Operational Planning, National Counterterrorism Center; Hanada Bridge, LLC Randa Slim Senior fellow and director, conflict resolution and Track II Dialogues, MEI Gonul Tol Director, Turkish studies, MEI Muna Shikaki, moderator Correspondent, Al Arabiya
  • Topic: Regional Cooperation, International Affairs, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt
  • Author: Rafif Jouejati, Jomana Qaddour, Sarah Hunaidi, Charles Lister
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Video
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: The Middle East Institute hosted a public event featuring a panel of influential Syrian women, focusing on the important role of women within Syrian civil society and in local and international initiatives aimed at shaping a better future for Syria. The panel focused particularly on the contributions made by women in Syria’s ongoing political processes, including the nascent Geneva negotiation track, as well as in the recently UN-convened Constitutional Committee.
  • Topic: Political Activism, Women, Syrian War, Peace, Justice
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Dima Zayat, Serene Dardari, Mona Yacoubian
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Video
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: In recent months, refugees in Lebanon are facing a dismal climate of social polarization, opportunistic political rhetoric, and increasing hostility, with the demolition of some informal camp settlements, enhanced labor law restrictions, and widespread protests. Humanitarian programs must navigate tensions between host, Palestinian and Syrian refugee communities against the backdrop of Lebanon’s serious economic and environmental difficulties. The Middle East Institute (MEI) and Anera held a panel discussion of the many challenges facing Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Dima Zayat and Serene Dardari, two experts with years of experience in the humanitarian sector in Lebanon, were joined by discussant Mona Yacoubian to assess these challenges and explore potential avenues to address them. Randa Slim (MEI) moderated the discussion.
  • Topic: Humanitarian Aid, Labor Issues, Financial Crisis, Refugees, Economy, Protests, Xenophobia
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria
  • Author: Gregory Waters
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: The Tiger Forces is a Syrian Air Intelligence-affiliated militia fighting for the Syrian government and backed by Russia. While often described as the Syrian government’s elite fighting force, this research portrays a starkly different picture. The Tiger Forces are the largest single fighting force on the Syrian battlefield, with approximately 24 groups comprised of some 4,000 offensive infantry units as well as a dedicated artillery regiment and armor unit of unknown size. Beyond these fighters are thousands of additional so-called flex units, affiliated militiamen who remain largely garrisoned in their hometowns along the north Hama and Homs borders until called on to join offensives as needed. Despite a decentralized command structure, the Tiger Forces' capabilities far exceed any other unit currently fighting in the Syrian civil war. The main source of the unit’s success stems from its two full-strength infantry brigades with dedicated logistical support and the ability to call on the Syrian air force—and after September 2015 the Russian air force—at will. While there is likely some degree of higher-than-average competence among the Tiger Forces’ officer corps, this research demonstrates that the true power of the unit does not come from their alleged status as elite fighters but instead from their large size, supply lines, and Russian support.
  • Topic: Security, Armed Forces, Military Affairs, Conflict, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Shiraz Maher
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: A close look at the competing claims, actors, and movements for authority within the Syrian civil war reveals three distinct periods of political and religious influence: that of Syrian scholars, who were the first to inject religious language into the revolution; that of Salafi scholars predominantly from the Gulf; and lastly, that of jihadi organizations like ISIS and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, who were active on the ground. This paper focuses on which figures relied on action—rather than theoretical abstraction—to establish legitimacy and authority on the ground in Syria. Tracing the conflict from the first clerical attempts to coordinate the Syrian opposition to the conflict’s regionalization, and, later, internationalization, this paper demonstrates that the words of actors on the ground are more likely than those of far-off figures—however popular—to resound effectively.
  • Topic: Politics, Religion, Syrian War, Islamism, Jihad
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Tobias Schneider
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: Originally styled as a small detachment of volunteers and refugees mobilized to defend the shrine of Sayyeda Zeinab outside Damascus, the Fatemiyoun formation’s size and presence across Syria has slowly expanded throughout the war. At home, the IRGC began cultivating a narrative of Afghan “resistance” to transnational Sunni jihadism. Joining the Syrian jihad was increasingly promoted as a path to legal and social recognition within the Islamic Republic at a time when thousands of desperate young Hazaras were setting out to emigrate to Europe. This paper analyzes the origins and expansion of the Fatemiyoun Division, its recent role in the Syrian civil war, and the impact its Syrian jihad has had on the Hazara community in Iran as well as transnational militancy in Afghanistan. As the Syrian conflict winds down, the future of the Fatemiyoun as a fighting force remains unclear. But even if the formation were to be disbanded, the networks, narratives, and capabilities developed in Syria could help the IRGC raise a similar formation again in the future.
  • Topic: Armed Forces, Refugees, Syrian War, Shia
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Iran, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Alex Vatanka
  • Publication Date: 06-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: Since its 1979 revolution, the Islamic Republic of Iran has incited violent, radical, and often sectarian nonstate groups across the Middle East to serve as proxies in its military campaigns to influence regional and international politics. This “proxy model” has become increasingly salient since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and more recently in Iraq and Syria, and is now Iran’s primary tool for advancing its regional intersts. The U.S. and the West in general have largely paid attention only to radical Sunni groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. With a few exceptions, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, nonstate Shi‘i militant groups have generally avoided the same intense Western scrutiny. This study compares and contrasts regional conflicts that have been shaped by Iranian proxies and Iran’s successful—and unsuccessful—attempts to recruit to its militant groups. It also identifies the key forces that have shaped Iran’s ideological and operational sponsorship of nonstate militant groups, both Sunni and Shi‘i, as well as its motivations and preferred modus operandi.
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Violent Extremism, Conflict, Ideology, Shia, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Haid Haid, Charlie Winter
  • Publication Date: 06-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: Insurgent strategic communication has rarely posed as great a threat to regional and international security as it does today in Syria, where jihadists are using it to aggressively advance their short- and long-term interests. Using a qualitative mixed-methods approach incorporating semi-structured interviews with activists and journalists operating inside Syria and in-depth, longitudinal content analysis, this paper compares and contrasts the in-theater outreach strategies of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, tracking how each has used propaganda and censorship to entrench its rule over local constituents in recent years. It demonstrates that, notwithstanding the fact that both organizations share the same ideology, there are significant tactical and strategic disparities between their respective approaches toward public diplomacy, disparities that run right to the heart of what drives their enmity for each other.
  • Topic: Media, Islamic State, Propaganda, Jihad, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Nicholas Blanford
  • Publication Date: 11-2017
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: Starting as a revolutionary Shiite militia, the Hezbollah of today dominates the political and military landscape of Lebanon, and possesses tens of thousands of trained fighters as well as an array of sophisticated armaments. Its intervention in Syria on the side of Bashar al-Assad has expanded its influence and reach in the region. As the war in Syria comes to a close, the risk of conflict between Hezbollah and Israel could increase, particularly over the future of the Golan Heights. But the mutual deterrence between the two foes remains strong for the time being. The United States is searching for strategies to limit the power of Iran’s Lebanese proxy, but given the group’s deep immersion within Lebanon’s political, economic, and social milieu, the number of realistic options for external powers to weaken Hezbollah or persuade it to forsake its armed wing are minimal.
  • Topic: History, Armed Forces, Political stability, Ideology, Hezbollah
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Lebanon, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Charles Lister
  • Publication Date: 11-2017
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: The 2011 political unrest in the Middle East provided al-Qaeda and ISIS with an unprecedented opportunity for growth. While both groups share the goal of establishing an Islamic Caliphate, they approached the goal with different strategies and to differing degrees of success. Al-Qaeda responded to the instability by attempting to soften its image. The group specifically instructed its affiliates to situate themselves in local conflicts and to slow down the implementation of Sharia law. ISIS, on the other hand, focused on seizing territory and violently disrupting state-building efforts. By the close of 2017, al- Qaeda’s rebranding has successfully allowed the group to expand its footprint in a number of Middle Eastern civil wars at the cost of its central authority. ISIS, meanwhile, has lost most of its territory but retains the ideological strength to inspire attacks abroad.
  • Topic: Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Ideology, Jihad
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Tim Eaton, Lina Khatib, Renad Mansour, Paul Salem
  • Publication Date: 10-2017
  • Content Type: Video
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: The Middle East Institute (MEI) hosted Chatham House experts Tim Eaton, Lina Khatib, and Renad Mansour for a discussion on the collapse of central authority and its economic impacts across states in the Middle East and North Africa. MEI senior vice president for policy analysis, research, and programs Paul Salem moderated. The panel explored the development of the war economies of Syria, Libya, and Iraq, examined the commonalities and differences in the three cases, and discussed the challenges of combating the economic power of armed insurgents.
  • Topic: War, Non State Actors, Economy, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Libya, Syria
  • Author: Randa Slim, Philippe Lazzarini
  • Publication Date: 05-2017
  • Content Type: Video
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: Lebanon is facing overwhelming socioeconomic, security, and demographic challenges as the civil war in neighboring Syria enters its seventh year. Since the start of the crisis, Lebanon has received $4.9 billion in assistance, but demands on the country's resources, services, and civil order remain heavy. Without a political solution to the Syrian conflict, humanitarian and development aid cannot deliver and sustain sufficient results for the refugees or for the Lebanese people. How will Lebanon continue to deal with these conditions? The Middle East Institute (MEI) and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Foreign Policy Institute (SAIS-FPI) were pleased to host Philippe Lazzarini, the United Nations deputy special coordinator in Lebanon. He discussed opportunities and challenges for shifting the international response to Lebanon's Syrian refugee crisis beyond short-term humanitarian and stabilization efforts to a more sustainable economic growth strategy.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, United Nations, Foreign Aid, Refugees, Economic Growth, Syrian War, Development Aid
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon, Syria
  • Author: Heidi Larbi
  • Publication Date: 06-2016
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: This Policy Paper is part of The Middle East Institute's Regional Cooperation Series. Throughout 2016, MEI will be releasing several policy papers by renowned scholars and experts exploring possibilities to foster regional cooperation across an array of sectors. The purpose is to highlight the myriad benefits and opportunities associated with regional cooperation, and the high costs of the continued business-as-usual model of competition and intense rivalry. Infrastructure serves as one of the key tools available to enhance regional cooperation and build toward an integrated Middle East. Under the reign of the Ottoman Empire, the Middle East and North Africa was an integrated web of railways, arterial and trading routes, much of which has disappeared over the last century. A region unaccustomed to division has since fragmented, with each state erecting numerous barriers that hinder integration—from trade tariffs to poor customs services. The economic potential and benefits for the region as a whole lies within deeper integration. This paper explores feasible possibilities for short-term and long-term infrastructure integration across several key sectors: energy, I.C.T., transport and facilitation.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Regional Cooperation, Infrastructure, Political stability
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Yemen, Syria
  • Author: Aysegul Kibaroglu
  • Publication Date: 09-2016
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: This Policy Paper is part of the Middle East Institute's Regional Cooperation Series. Throughout 2016, MEI will be releasing several policy papers by renowned scholars and experts exploring possibilities to foster regional cooperation across an array of sectors. The purpose is to highlight the myriad benefits and opportunities associated with regional cooperation, and the high costs of the continued business-as-usual model of competition and intense rivalry. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is regarded as one of the most water-challenged regions in the world. The destabilizing impact of its resource constraints is compounded by the fact that some 60 percent of the region’s water flows across international borders, generating and exacerbating political tensions between states. Water insecurity will increase in the MENA region if the current situation of minimal water cooperation persists under the disabling conditions of political volatility, economic disintegration, institutional failure, and environmental degradation. Experiences from around the world demonstrate that countries that have achieved regional water cooperation have prospered together and kept the threat of conflict a remote possibility. It is time for the countries in the Middle East to realize that there is no alternative to sustainable water cooperation.
  • Topic: Security, Water, Infrastructure, Geopolitics, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Antoun Issa
  • Publication Date: 12-2016
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: The Syrian Civil War has shaken the country’s media landscape and provided space for the nascent emergence of an independent Syrian media. Syria’s media culture is undergoing significant transformation from a top-down, state-run industry, to a diverse arena populated by competing viewpoints and driven by communities. This paper maps the changes in Syrian media since the beginning of the uprising in 2011, and explores the constraints facing independent media moving forward. Stronger mechanisms to support independent media in Syria are needed—such as additional and consistent funding, industry associations, and ease of travel—to develop a more open media culture in Syria, and foster a democratic and pluralistic post-conflict society.
  • Topic: Media, Conflict, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Ross Harrison
  • Publication Date: 12-2016
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: This Policy Paper is part of the Middle East Institute's Regional Cooperation Series. Throughout 2016, MEI will be releasing several policy papers by renowned scholars and experts exploring possibilities to foster regional cooperation across an array of sectors. The purpose is to highlight the myriad benefits and opportunities associated with regional cooperation, and the high costs of the continued business-as-usual model of competition and intense rivalry. While the prospects for creating a regional architecture in the Middle East may seem grim currently, it is a crucial time to begin thinking about regionalization as a long-term project. The ongoing conflicts in the Middle East are likely to continue over the course of the coming decades, but it is possible that game-changing events could occur that create the political will necessary for adversaries like Saudi Arabia and Iran to cooperate. By looking at steps taken in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America, this paper analyzes the conditions conducive to creating a regional order and how they arise at critical moments in history. Getting regionalization right can help create a pathway toward a regional institutional architecture and will be fundamental to establishing stability in the region.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Regional Cooperation, Water, State
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Libya, Yemen, Syria