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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: Laila Rifai
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Abstract: The religious sphere in Rural Damascus Governorate is poised to become a political battleground as both the regime and the exiled opposition seek to court a new rising group of religious leaders. The uprising in Syria, which began in 2011 and is ongoing, has altered the Sunni Muslim religious landscape of the capital, Damascus, beyond recognition. Ironically, both the regime and the Islamic opposition have achieved an important goal: The regime has fashioned, and asserted control over, a religious establishment previously made up of disparate and competing fiefdoms. Meanwhile, long fractious Damascene religious institutes and individuals, now forced into exile, have united within a single opposition organization, the Syrian Islamic Council (SIC).
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Syrian War, Sunni
  • Political Geography: 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: Alberto Gasparetto
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Rest: Journal of Politics and Development
  • Institution: Centre for Strategic Research and Analysis (CESRAN)
  • Abstract: This paper focuses on Turkey’s foreign policymakers’ attitudes in the context of the 2003 US decision to wage war against Iraq. The main goal is to assess and downplay the impact of religion in relation to security-related concerns. Drawing on official speeches, interviews, declarations by key figures in the foreign policy process, the paper argues that religion is nothing more than an intervening factor in the case of Turkey’s approach to the 2003 war in Iraq. Therefore, notwithstanding the role of Islamist elites in the foreign policy decision-making of Turkey, Turkey’s foreign affairs were rather inspired by realist behaviour, driven by pragmatic considerations, aimed at pursuing rationalist goals.
  • Topic: Security, Religion, War, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Europe, Turkey, Middle East, Asia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Ksenia Svetlova
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Mitvim: The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies
  • Abstract: This article reviews the changed attitudes of Arab states (especially the “core” states of the Middle East) toward the Jews from the turn of the millennium to the present. It places these changes in a broad diplomatic context, which also relates to improved ties between Israel and Middle Eastern states and these states’ strengthening alliance with the US. The article presents the difficulties of Arab regimes and societies in differentiating between Jews and Israel, briefly describes widespread manifestations of anti-Semitism in the second half of the 20th century in Arab culture and media, and reviews the changing geopolitics and awareness in Arab states that have affected the development of interfaith discourse between Jews and Muslims. The article argues that a significant turnaround has occurred over the past two decades in the attitude of Arab regimes toward the Jews by virtue of the geopolitical changes in the Middle East and a desire to project enlightenment and modernity to the West. The resulting increased Jewish-Muslim dialogue could imbue future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations with an added dimension and contribute to their success.
  • Topic: Demographics, Religion, Ethnicity, Judaism, History
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Arab Countries, Egypt