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  • Author: Harith Hasan, Kheder Khaddour
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Abstract: The Iraqi-Syrian border continues to be geopolitically restless. Kurdish parties have taken advantage of central government weaknesses to increase their autonomy in these areas. Even after the collapse of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the Iraqi-Syrian border continues to be one of the most geopolitically restless areas in the Middle East. In the last few years, a variety of Kurdish entities and groups have increasingly shaped the dynamics across the northern section of this border. In particular, there are two dynamics that deserve attention. First, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Kurdish-dominated Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria have come to effectively control new border crossings in this area as the Syrian government has lost access and the Iraqi government’s presence has been contested. This means that the movement of people and goods in this area is largely controlled by two entities that are neither state nor nonstate actors. The reality on the ground reflects hybrid arrangements that have emerged as a result of the weaknesses of both central governments and the increasing autonomy gained by Kurdish parties (which, in the case of the KRG, is stipulated constitutionally). Second, the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), by virtue of its participation in the war against the Islamic State and by taking advantage of the consequent power vacuum, managed to augment its influence along the border. Its ideological and organizational ties with local groups, such as the People Protection Units (YPG) in Syria and Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) in Iraq, enabled it to exert security and political influence. On the one hand, this turned segments of the border into an arena for transnational, pan-Kurdish militancy. On the other hand, these groups’ presence intensified intra-Kurdish rivalries, especially between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which is the KRG’s main ruling party, and the PKK. This rivalry reflects a clash of two visions for the border: the PKK’s revolutionary, transnational vision that seeks to eradicate or at least underplay the reality of the border; and the KDP’s pragmatic and territorial vision seeking to assert the border’s reality as a demarcation of the KRG’s authority and future statehood. In addition, the KDP is allied with Turkey, which has been fighting the PKK for several decades and is currently waging a military campaign against the group in northern Iraq and Syria. To a large extent, the future of this border is predicated on this geopolitical conflict and whether the PKK manages to entrench itself further or becomes isolated and marginalized as the KRG, the Autonomous Administration, and the Iraqi federal government assert their territorial authorities.
  • Topic: Governance, Conflict, Borders, Kurds
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Zaha Hassan, Daniel Levy, Hallaamal Keir, Marwan Muasher
  • Publication Date: 04-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Abstract: A new U.S. approach should prioritize protecting the rights and human security of Palestinians and Israelis over maintaining a peace process and attempting short-term fixes. The authors of this paper identified four overarching areas of focus: (1) prioritize rights and protect people, (2) roll back the Trump administration’s actions and reassert international law, (3) clarify expectations for Palestinians and Israelis, and (4) support new multilateral approaches and accountability.
  • Topic: Security, Diplomacy, Territorial Disputes, Peace
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, United States of America
  • Author: Lydia Assouad
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Abstract: To survive its ongoing financial crisis, Lebanon needs a new economic system that addresses massive income inequality. Paired with political and institutional reform, tax reform can help. Over the past three decades, Lebanon’s ruling class—which comprises intertwined political and business elites—has run the country into the ground. To survive its ongoing accumulation of challenges, including the financial crisis that erupted in October 2019, Lebanon requires a revamped state backed by a new economic model with social justice at its core. Tax reform is central to such an endeavor—and to ensuring that the state has the means both to deliver basic services and to tackle poverty and inequality.
  • Topic: Poverty, Inequality, Economic structure, Business , Social Justice, Tax Systems, Elites
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: Peter Liberman
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Political Science Quarterly
  • Institution: Academy of Political Science
  • Abstract: By showing that mass vengefulness helps democratic leaders bring their nations to war, this wonderful book significantly advances our understanding of how cultural values affect international politics. Its most important contribution is demonstrating that democracies that retain death penalty laws were significant more likely to initiate the use of force than non-death-penalty democracies in the 1945–2001 period. The finding is robust to a variety of control variables and specifications, although skeptics may wonder whether it might be inflated by ethnocentrism, beliefs about the utility of violence, or other unmeasured potential covariates. Rachel Stein attributes the belligerence of death penalty states to cross-national differences in vengeful cultures, on the grounds that citizens’ vengefulness predicts both cross-sectional support for the death penalty and cross-national differences in the penalty’s retention. Her rigorous analysis greatly strengthens the case that the unusual bellicosity of retributivists, observed by Stein and other researchers, affects actual interstate conflict.
  • Topic: War, Prisons/Penal Systems, Leadership, Book Review, Elites, Capital Punishment
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: Leah Mesnildrey
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Journal of Public and International Affairs (JPIA)
  • Institution: School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University
  • Abstract: Since the Fifth World Parks Congress in Durban (2003) and the Seventh COP on Biological Diversity in Kuala Lumpur (2004), the definition of protected areas has evolved. Now, the definition incorporates principles of participation and inclusion, as well as traditional and local knowledge. This newfound recognition on the international scene shed light on the role of non-state actors, including indigenous peoples and local communities, as guarantors of conservation, and marked a decisive turning point in the evolution of international policies on this issue. Despite the growing awareness of the importance of biodiversity conservation and the role played by local communities to this end, national legislation and policies in Morocco do not yet give due recognition to areas conserved by local communities. Developed around the case study of a traditional natural resource management regime—the agdal—practiced by communities of the Moroccan Atlas, this piece highlights the extent to which traditional modes of managing common-pool resources (CPR) are compatible with a government’s strategy to decentralize natural resource management. Despite the benefits that community conserved areas and territories represent for maintaining ecosystems, traditions, and livelihoods, as well as their advantages in terms of decentralization, these practices are under threat due to a lack of policies and programs directly supporting or recognizing communities' agency over local natural resources.
  • Topic: Environment, Natural Resources, International Development, Indigenous, Biodiversity
  • Political Geography: Middle East, North Africa, Morocco
  • Author: Ellinore Ahlgren
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Journal of Public and International Affairs (JPIA)
  • Institution: School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University
  • Abstract: This paper examines whether frequent engagement with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the body of independent experts monitoring the implementation of the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, is linked to improved compliance with women’s rights commitments. It further explores whether the relationship between treaty body interaction and compliance holds for states that have made reservations to articles concerning women’s rights. Data from state reports submitted to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and indicators from the Social Institutions and Gender Index show that frequent engagement with the body is associated with improved equality for women, irrespective of state reservations. The results from this study challenge the idea that reservations undermine global governance regimes and are detrimental to human rights. Finally, this paper illustrates how compliance mechanisms work using a case study from Iraq. Through participation in the report-and-review process, states engage in negotiation around contentious areas of women’s rights with experts, civil society and the public, which facilitates respect for women’s rights.
  • Topic: International Relations, Civil Society, Governance, Women, Compliance, Case Study
  • Political Geography: Africa, Iraq, Middle East, Asia-Pacific
  • Author: Asha Asokan
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Journal of Public and International Affairs (JPIA)
  • Institution: School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University
  • Abstract: One in five children lives in a country affected by conflict (Save the Children 2019). Despite concerted international and national efforts to protect children, these 415 million children face grave human rights violations that continue to rise. More political will and resources are needed from governments and parties to the conflict to prevent such violence against children and protect children in armed conflict. However, research confirms that out of 431 ceasefire and peace agreements, less than 18 percent of peace agreements included child protection provisions (Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict). Often, peace-related documents that mention child protection issues do not mention integrating children's participation into peace processes, which is essential to understanding and addressing children's needs during and after the conflict. To end the cycle of violence against children, a paradigm shift must be made in the way peace agreements address children’s issues and rights. Guided by the “Global Policy Paper on Youth Participation in the Peace Process,” commissioned by the United Nations Envoy on Youth, this paper recommends that mediators and child protection actors employ three integrated but non-hierarchical layers for including child protection issues and children’s participation in the peace process: “in the room,” “around the room,” and “outside the room” of formal peace negotiations. This multi-layered, inclusive approach may help achieve the desired results: preventing violence against children and reaching a sustainable peace.
  • Topic: International Relations, United Nations, Children, Peace, Armed Conflict
  • Political Geography: Africa, Middle East, Asia-Pacific
  • Author: Elizabeth M. Holt
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Journal of Palestine Studies
  • Institution: Institute for Palestine Studies
  • Abstract: For the last decade of his life, the Palestinian intellectual, author, and editor Ghassan Kanafani (d. 1972) was deeply immersed in theorizing, lecturing, and publishing on Palestinian resistance literature from Beirut. A refugee of the 1948 war, Kanafani presented his theory of resistance literature and the notion of “cultural siege” at the March 1967 Beirut conference of the Soviet-funded Afro-Asian Writers Association (AAWA). Articulated in resistance to Zionist propaganda literature and in solidarity with Marxist- Leninist revolutionary struggles in the Third World, Kanafani was inspired by Maxim Gorky, William Faulkner, and Mao Zedong alike. In books, essays, and lectures, Kanafani argued that Zionist propaganda literature served as a “weapon” in the war against Palestine, returning repeatedly to Arthur Koestler’s 1946 Thieves in the Night. Better known for his critique of Stalinism in Darkness at Noon (1940), Koestler was also actively involved in waging cultural Cold War, writing the United States Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Congress for Cultural Freedom 1950 manifesto and helping the organization infiltrate Afro-Asian writing in the wake of Bandung. Kanafani’s 1960s theory of resistance literature thus responded at once to the psychological dislocation of Zionist propaganda fiction and the cultural infiltration of Arabic literature in the Cold War.
  • Topic: Cold War, Zionism, Literature, Arabic, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon
  • Author: Tareq Baconi
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Journal of Palestine Studies
  • Institution: Institute for Palestine Studies
  • Abstract: In contemporary conversations around Israel/Palestine, the Gaza Strip is construed as a state of exception, rendering the territory either hypervisible or entirely invisible. Through the prism of the Covid-19 pandemic and Israel’s possible de jure annexation of portions of the West Bank, this piece argues that rather than being exceptional, the Gaza Strip represents the very embodiment of Israeli settler colonialism in Palestine. Its isolation and de-development constitute the endpoint of Israel’s policies of land theft and Palestinian dispossession. This endpoint, referred to as Gazafication, entails the confinement of Palestinians to urban enclaves entirely surrounded by Israel or Israeli-controlled territory. The Trump plan, otherwise known as the “deal of the century,” along with the Covid- 19 crisis, have inadvertently exposed the reality of Gaza as an enclave of the one-state paradigm.
  • Topic: State Violence, Settler Colonialism, Nation-State, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Gaza
  • Author: Anna Borshchevskaya
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Moscow is in Syria for the long haul and will continue to undermine American efforts there. In recent months, Moscow intensified its activities in Syria against the backdrop of a changing US administration. The Kremlin sent additional military policy units to eastern Syria, and continued diplomatic engagement through the Astana format, a process that superficially has international backing but in practice excludes the United States and boosts Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Moreover, Moscow also unveiled at its airbase in Syria a statue to the patron saint of the Russian army, Prince Alexander Nevsky. A growing Russian presence in Syria will further hurt Western interests.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, Conflict, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Pavel K. Baev
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The recent incidence of war in the Caucasus has shown that, when facing deep domestic troubles, Russia and Turkey demonstrate strikingly different patterns of international behavior. While Russia has become more cautious in responding to external challenges, Turkey has embarked on several power-projecting enterprises. Its forceful interference in the long-smoldering conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh took Russia by surprise and effectively secured a military victory for Azerbaijan. Moscow has assumed the main responsibility for terminating hostilities by deploying a peacekeeping force, but its capacity for managing the war zone and its commitment to deconflicting tensions with Turkey remain uncertain. The United States and the European Union have few levers for influencing this interplay of clashing agendas of local actors and regional powers and fewer reasons to trust Russian and Turkish leaders to put peacebuilding ahead of their ambitions.
  • Topic: Security, War, Geopolitics, Grand Strategy, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Turkey, Caucasus, Middle East
  • Author: Flavio Fusco
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: Located at the heart of the Middle East, connecting the Levant to the Persian Gulf, Iraq has always been at the centre of regional dynamics. Yet, the country is today reduced to a quasi-failed state fundamentally damaged in its political, social and economic fabric, with long-term consequences that trace a fil rouge from the 2003 US-led invasion to the emergence of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) and the country’s current structural fragility.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, European Union
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Europe, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: Nathalie Tocci, Riccardo Alcaro, Francesca Caruso, Silvia Colombo, Dario Cristiani, Andrea Dessì, Flavio Fusco, Daniela Huber
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: Winds of change are blowing in North Africa and the Middle East. They originate from Washington, where the new Biden administration is expected to abandon its predecessor’s zerosum, erratic approach and take steps towards supporting regional balances and cooperation. Effects are visible especially in the Gulf, with the US pondering its options to re-activate nuclear diplomacy with Iran and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates grudgingly agreeing to put their feud with Qatar on ice. One way or another, these winds of change are working their way through the Levant, the Eastern Mediterranean and Libya. Admittedly, they are still feeble and can easily fade out like a morning breeze. Were that to happen, Europeans would be amongst the most affected – aside, of course, from regional populations themselves. It is now high time for the EU and its member states to leave the backseat they have (un)comfortably been sitting in for years, seize the opportunity of a cooperative US administration and work to play a more proactive role in North Africa and the Middle East commensurate with their considerable financial, diplomatic and military resources.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Military Affairs, Finance
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, North Africa, United States of America
  • Author: Anahita Motazed Rad
  • Publication Date: 04-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: As the Biden and Rouhani administrations’ position to renew diplomatic efforts on the Iranian nuclear file with European support, they face more challenges than their predecessors did in 2015, when the Iranian nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was originally signed. Today, domestic, regional and international confrontations have increased; hardliners and conservatives in Tehran and Washington, on the one hand, and in Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the other, are now more aligned and coordinated against a diplomatic success than they were in 2015.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Nuclear Power, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Flavio Fusco
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: Building on emerging debates on the need to develop de-escalation mechanisms for the Middle East, the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) and the Brussels-based Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), with support from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, launched a one-year research and outreach project entitled “Fostering a New Security Architecture in the Middle East”. Connected to the research, an expert survey targeting European, US, Russian, Middle Eastern and Chinese experts and practitioners was conducted on key themes, principles and approaches associated with a potential new security architecture for the region. The results of the survey – first published in an edited book volume jointly published by IAI and FEPS in November 2020 – are analysed below, complete with tables and infographics on key themes associated with the research project and the search for new, inclusive mechanisms for dialogue and de-escalation in the Middle East.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Security, Foreign Policy, Politics
  • Political Geography: Russia, China, Europe, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: Daniela Huber
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: Historically speaking, the European Community and then the European Union have always reacted with paradigm changes in their foreign policies to watershed moments in the Middle East. In response to the two Arab-Israeli wars in 1967 and 1973, the European Community actually set up its own foreign policy in the first place and initiated the Euro-Arab Dialogue. After the Camp David Accords, the nine foreign ministers came out with the Venice Declaration in 1980 which reminded its partners in Washington and Tel Aviv that the Palestine question had been ignored and set the parameters for diplomacy in the 1990s. After the Cold War, however, the European Union became absorbed into the so-called Middle East Peace Process (MEPP), resulting in less independent EU agency on Israel/Palestine. This trend has become particularly obvious over the past four years of the Trump presidency, during which time the EU seemed almost paralyzed. While Europeans are now counting on the incoming Biden administration, during the election campaign Joe Biden stated that he will leave the US embassy in Jerusalem and that he is also favourable of the normalization deals between Israel and certain Arab states which President Trump had pushed for. At the same time, the Biden team seems hesitant to return to negotiations.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Human Rights, Territorial Disputes, European Union, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, Israel, Palestine
  • Author: Antonella Caruso
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Iraq on 5 March 2021 for a historic three-day visit. The Holy Father aims to promote a message of hope and support to thousands of Iraqi Christians who have returned or are yet to return to their homes after the official defeat of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) in December 2017. The first-ever Pontifical visit will also include stops in Mosul and the Christian enclave of Qaraqosh, in northern Iraq, in a province which has been ground zero for so much violence and ethnic and religious cleansing over the past years. All minorities have suffered in Iraq – but none as much as the Yazidis, slaughtered by the thousands by IS militants. While other minorities have slowly returned home, the Yazidi future remains bleaker than ever.
  • Topic: Religion, Minorities, Yazidis
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Turkey, Middle East, Vatican city, Mediterranean
  • Author: Amer Al-Hussein
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: The Syrian conflict entered its eleventh year on 15 March 2021, bringing this “living nightmare” back to our minds.[1] This ominous anniversary should remind the world of the importance of addressing the bleak reality inside Syria. While the new US administration provides a glimmer of hope for a return to diplomacy, multilateralism and an end to the mercantilism of the past years, Europe would be wrong to simply wait for the US lead on Syria.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Politics, Sanctions, European Union, Institutions, Coronavirus
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, United States of America, Mediterranean
  • Author: Julien Maire, Adnan Mazarei, Edwin M. Truman
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: Among the best-known sovereign wealth funds (SWFs)—government-owned or controlled investment vehicles—are those funded by hydrocarbon revenues in the member economies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which comprises all the Arab countries in the Persian Gulf except Iraq, namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. This Policy Brief compares the GCC SWFs with each other and with other funds in terms of their transparency and accountability on the fifth SWF scoreboard, available here. Several factors, including the decline in oil prices in recent years, have slowed the growth of the GCC’s SWFs. This slower growth could further diminish their governance and transparency standards, which are already weaker than those of other SWFs. Efforts to improve their governance and accountability will be important to garner public support for these SWFs.
  • Topic: Energy Policy, Government, Markets, Governance, Regulation, Capital Flows
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Saud Al-Sharafat
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The pandemic has not ended terrorism in Jordan, and ISIS is still a significant threat. Last year’s abnormally low terrorist activity in Jordan could be interpreted as an indication that the threat of ISIS in the country has diminished significantly. Unfortunately, this is not the case; while there are several explanations for the low occurrence of terrorist attacks in Jordan in 2020, none of them point to a future in which ISIS does not continue to pose a threat to Jordanian security. On the contrary, the decrease in ISIS activity in Jordan last year was primarily a result of effective counterterrorism efforts, not the special circumstances of the pandemic or any other factor. Accordingly, Jordanian anti-terror institutions should not relax their guard. Rather, they should capitalize on their successes, expanding cooperation with their partners and enhancing their resources in combatting extremism. Jordanian security forces should be especially concerned with activities along their borders. There have been several recent international and UN reports that confirmed the rising activities of terrorist groups in countries that border Jordan. Iraq in particular has seen a recent rise in terrorist attacks, including two suicide bombings in Baghdad on January 21, 2021 that killed 32 people and injured 110 others. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. In turn, ISIS's mounting activities in Iraq have led to increased terrorist activity in the Badia al-Sham region and the Jordanian Syrian-Iraqi border triangle, where terrorist militants move in small, highly mobile groups. This increase in activity has prompted Jordanian security forces to strengthen their presence on the borders with Iraq and Syria. Following a Russian air campaign in the Badia region in late February, in which Russian planes launched at least 130 air strikes in one day against terrorist groups in the area, Jordan started to strengthen and tightened its security presence on the borders to prevent infiltration of ISIS elements into Jordan. Russian strikes were especially targeted at ISIS, which extends between the governorates of Homs and Deir al-Zour at the border with Iraq.
  • Topic: Security, Counter-terrorism, Peace, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Jordan