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  • 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: Oula A. Alrifai
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The dalliance between the Assad family and Iran’s Shia clerics began in the 1970s. But whereas the Syrian leader held leverage in those days predating Iran’s Islamic Revolution, the tables have now been turned. Observers of the decade-long Syria war understand the indispensable role Tehran has played in ensuring the Assad regime’s survival. But they may be less familiar with its stunning breadth—or its historical roots. The dalliance between the Assad family and Iran’s Shia clerics began in the 1970s, when the shah was still in power in Iran and then president Hafiz al-Assad, a member of the marginalized Alawite sect, sought religious legitimacy to lead his majority-Muslim country. But whereas the Syrian leader held leverage in those days predating Iran’s Islamic Revolution, the tables have now been turned. Lately, Tehran’s relationship with Damascus can be described as one of strategic dominance. In this deeply researched Policy Note, analyst Oula Alrifai, a former Syrian asylee, lays bare the extent of Iranian infiltration of Syrian religious and socioeconomic life. She details the spread of Twelver Shia ideology through seminaries, congregation halls, and academic institutions, while demonstrating Iran’s massive economic clout in Syria through initiatives such as the Marota City housing project. For Washington, only a determined effort to blunt Iranian influence can help deliver much-deserved peace for the Syrian people and enduring stability for the region.
  • Topic: Religion, History, Authoritarianism, Ideology, Syrian War, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Aseil Abu-Baker, Marya Farah
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Journal of Palestine Studies
  • Institution: Institute for Palestine Studies
  • Abstract: The Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth, is one of the natural wonders of the world. Rich in minerals and salt, the lake has attracted visitors for millennia, and the economic value of its mineral riches has been important to both the local Palestinian population and to every colonial power that has ruled the area. Today, Israel exercises total control over the Dead Sea, the northern basin of which lies in the occupied Palestinian territories. Israeli settlements and international businesses, aided by state-funded initiatives, have established a profitable tourism sector and extractive industries based on the Dead Sea’s natural resources, while Palestinians remain effectively excluded from pursuing such opportunities. Qumran National Park, private beach resorts, and the cosmetics company AHAVA, among others, reap enormous profits from settlements in the Dead Sea area, benefiting from Israel’s occupation and unlawful policies and helping to drive a self-serving narrative of the area’s history.
  • Topic: Religion, Territorial Disputes, Settlements, Exclusion
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Dead Sea
  • 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: Ye. Zelenev, O. Ozerov
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Affairs: A Russian Journal of World Politics, Diplomacy and International Relations
  • Institution: East View Information Services
  • Abstract: The “LIMINALITy” and “re-Islamization” phenomena1 caused by the split in the ranks of the Islamic theological elite into the moderate major- ity (minimalists) and radically minded minority (maximalists) [Waghid, 2011: 5-8] came to the fore in some of the North African Arab countries and in many sub-Saharan countries with considerable Islamic popula- tions. Radicalization of a part of the Islamic political elite betrays itself in a much greater political and military activity of Muslim maximalists and a much wider scope of activities of extremist Islamic organiza- tions. passivity of the Islamic moderate forces (minimalists) against the background of much weaker institutions of state power is as a rule accom- panied by neocolonial penetration in the affairs of the African states shat- tered by the crisis and, what is even more important, much wider appli- cations of different interpretations of the theory of jihad to justify not only armed struggle against non-Muslims and Muslims but also “re- Islamization” of Islamic society (ummah) in all spheres, including educa- tion.
  • Topic: Religion, Violent Extremism, Militant Islam
  • Political Geography: Middle East, North Africa
  • Author: Ladan Boroumand
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Journal of Democracy
  • Institution: National Endowment for Democracy
  • Abstract: The Islamic Republic of Iran is confronted with an unprecedented legitimacy crisis. This article, highlighting the heterodox character of Iran’s theocratic ideology, stresses the tectonic social and cultural changes that have resulted in society’s estrangement from the state over the past forty years in a reaction against this ideology. The nature and depth of these social and cultural changes point to a historic process that is taking Iran toward becoming the first Muslim-majority society to weave into its spiritual, social, and intellectual fabric the principled separation of religion and the state characteristic of the liberal-democratic worldview.
  • Topic: Religion, Culture, Democracy, Protests
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Sadia Rafique, Khalid Manzoor Butt
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Journal of Political Studies
  • Institution: Department of Political Science, University of the Punjab
  • Abstract: Social movements are considered by sociologists as agents of social change. They are not isolated entities but an outcome of prevailing circumstances and at, the same time, result from continuity with the historical roots. Moreover, the mobility of contemporary movements can only be shown in comparison with previous kind of collective actions. Two revolutionary movements within one century (Constitutional Revolution 1905-06 and Islamic Revolution1979), and eight years’ IranIraq war (1981-89) and globalization have significantly contributed to the evolution of distinctive nature of contemporary Iranian society. This makes it an interesting subject for research in general, and particularly the case of social movements and their transformation. The paper aims to give an overview of Iranian social movements from the constitutional movement to the recent Green movement of 2009. The intention is to find out, first, whether there was any continuity in social movements during this period; secondly, to investigate the differences of the recent Green movement from the previous social movements of modern-day Iran. An overview of social structure, the state-society relationship, causes of mobilization and the outcomes of each movement will be studied. Moreover, the complex relation between state and social movements that emerged overall will also be examined. The Touraine/Melucci model has been applied in Iranian milieu
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Social Movement, State, Revolution, Society, Mobilization
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Paul Salem, James Zogby, Nahida Nakad
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Video
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: The Middle East Institute (MEI) is pleased to co-host a virtual panel with the Arab American Institute to launch The Tumultuous Decade, a book by James Zogby, co-published by Zogby Research Services (ZRS) and the Middle East Institute, which presents and analyzes the results of the last ten years of public opinion polling across the Arab World, Turkey, and Iran. The book delves into the responses of individuals from the region on a variety of issues including the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Israel- Palestine conflict, Iran’s regional role, and the fate of the “Arab Spring.” How do respondents across the region view the proper role of religion? What are their top political priorities? And how do they assess the involvement of other countries in the Arab World? “The Tumultuous Decade” examines how views on these and other critical issues have changed during the past decade and then asks how the resultant findings can be integrated into the policy discourse relating to the Middle East, especially within the context of popular uprisings and conflicts?
  • Topic: Religion, Public Opinion, Arab Spring, Polls
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Author: Murat Ülgül
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Novus Orbis: Journal of Politics & International Relations
  • Institution: Department of International Relations, Karadeniz Technical University
  • Abstract: What is the relationship between religion and empire, and what role do religious ideas play in the empire-formation process? This paper focuses on these questions by analysing the role of Islam in the formation of the Umayyad and the Ottoman Empires. Although the literature about these Islamic empires is extensive enough, they generally provide a rich historical narrative without theorization. To fill this gap, I use constructivist theory in the analysis and point out that religion as a structural force helps states to turn into empires over time. Nevertheless, following the agent-structure debate, I also argue that the individual characteristics of these states are essential to understand how religion affected their policies and how they interpreted the religion. The findings show that as the Umayyad Empire was not recognized as legitimate by various sects in religious terms in the seventh and eighth centuries, religion played less of a regulatory role in imperial policies and its rulers did not hesitate to adopt ruthless stratagems and a divide-and-conquer strategy. On the other hand, the Ottoman Empire benefited from religion in its conquests and its policies were primarily restricted by religious norms and values. As a result of this dependence, ruthless stratagems were adopted less often, and Ottoman policies were heavily shaped by religious norms and values.
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Empire, Constructivism, Ottoman Empire, Umayyad Empire
  • Political Geography: Middle East