The battle for Aleppo could be a turning point in Syria’s civil war — not simply because it may prove a decisive moment in the struggle between the government and the opposition, but because the leadership of the rebel forces is at stake.
Rebel groups have struggled to reorganize and recover from the heavy blows dealt them by the joint Russian and Iranian military surge that began last fall and has shifted the military momentum back toward the government. Yet the already powerful Qaeda franchise Jabhat al-Nusra (or Nusra Front) has now moved to ensure its indispensability and consolidate its influence over more moderate opposition militias.… Seguir leyendo »
“Islamism is dead!” announced Said Ferjani, a leader of the progressive wing of Ennahda, Tunisia’s main Islamist party, as we drank coffee in a hotel cafe here last month. Mr. Ferjani, a former hard-liner who once plotted a coup against the regime of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, was upbeat as he described the historic transition his party was about to make.
His wing had combined with the party leadership to push through a raft of resolutions that would not only rebrand Ennahda but also break with the tradition of political Islam that began with the Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in Egypt in the late 1920s.… Seguir leyendo »
In Levantine landscapes, history is piled high. The present is layered on the remnants of the past, both modern and ancient.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut. Sparkling buildings and sweeping urban highways rise up out of heaps of rubble that remain a quarter-century after the 1975-1990 civil war. Yet the crumbling edifices of earlier eras are also, amazingly, still inhabited.
Beirut is an organic museum, vibrant and wretched. Pain and hope coexist on its overflowing, labyrinthine streets, and on sinuous coastal roads, shameless wealth lies alongside desperate poverty. A struggling middle class is caught in between.… Seguir leyendo »
The closing of Al Jazeera America, expected in April, is a sad conclusion to a project that was by turns uplifting and inspiring as well as troubling and depressing. Its demise offers a lesson in both the limitations of public diplomacy and the obstacles to providing high-quality television journalism.
Al Jazeera America was the latest, and perhaps most ambitious, branch of a media empire that the tiny but wealthy Gulf emirate of Qatar has used to project its influence, first regionally and then globally. The American-specific incarnation, begun in 2013, was partly an effort to rebrand for the United States the earlier iterations of the franchise, Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera English.… Seguir leyendo »
Donald J. Trump’s scandalous proposal that the United States bar entry to all Muslims — though he later clarified his view that American citizens and a few others might be allowed in — raises two fundamental but largely unaddressed questions: Who and what is a “Muslim”?
Mr. Trump presupposes that the government could create an immigration policy that discriminates against Muslims. But implementing such a policy would be completely impossible under the current circumstances.
How would consular or immigration officials determine who is, and is not, a Muslim? This is the most obvious question, but almost no one is asking it.… Seguir leyendo »
Taking advantage of the paralysis of American policy in Syria, Russia’s dramatic escalation of military activity in that country seeks to reorder the strategic landscape of the Middle East.
Few appear to grasp the full scope of what Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, is attempting. This is partly because, in theory, this should be beyond Russia’s capabilities. But Mr. Putin cannily senses an opportunity, at the very least, to restore Russia to the role in the Middle East that it lost in the 1970s.
Russia’s intervention anticipates a resolution of the Syrian conflict through de facto partition. The Reuters news agency reports that, months ago, Iran proposed the joint offensive, now underway, to save the dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad from imminent collapse.… Seguir leyendo »
After more than two years of perceived slights and supposed snubs, the new contours of a revitalized but evolving partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia are beginning to take shape. This month’s visit to Washington by King Salman solidified the defense and security aspects of this new version of an old relationship. The Saudis are also strongly pushing an economic agenda as the centerpiece of what King Salman identified as a “new strategic alliance for the 21st century.”
Last May, when President Obama hosted leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council for a summit meeting at Camp David, the Saudi monarch was conspicuously absent.… Seguir leyendo »
If the Iran nuclear deal was an earthquake shaking the Middle East’s strategic landscape, one of the most dramatic aftershocks was the surprising arrival last month in Saudi Arabia of a high-level delegation from Hamas. The visit by the Islamist organization that rules Gaza is the latest sign of an about-face in Saudi policy, which is now seeking a rapprochement with the regional Muslim Brotherhood movement, to which Hamas belongs.
Saudi Arabia has long been mistrustful of the Brotherhood. Traditionally, the kingdom has regarded the Islamists as a political threat and a rival source of Islamic authority in the Middle East.… Seguir leyendo »
The old joke among foreign policy wonks began thus: After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the world was surprised to discover that it still had two superpowers: the United States and … Kuwait. And, it went on, after Kuwait was chastened by the Iraqi invasion and the Persian Gulf war, by the mid-1990s the world again found itself with two superpowers: the United States and … Qatar.
This wisecrack lampoons the attempts of tiny but ultrarich Gulf states to punch above their weight in international relations. Kuwait may have once set the pace, but for the past 20 years Qatar has tried to leverage its vast energy wealth to build and project its influence throughout the Middle East.… Seguir leyendo »
When, at its March summit meeting, the Arab League announced that it intended to create a unified command for a joint Arab military force, eyes rolled. Given how divided the Arab states are, and how poorly most historical efforts at Arab military coordination have fared, this was widely assumed to be another empty rhetorical gesture.
Yet Arab governments are persisting in laying the foundation for this joint force. On April 22, the chiefs of staff of the Arab militaries met in Cairo to begin formalizing its precise makeup, rules of engagement and budget. Their proposals are to be ratified by the heads of state within three months.… Seguir leyendo »
A dramatic split in the Muslim Brotherhood of Jordan could be one of the most important developments in the recent evolution of Islamist movements. And a crucial experiment in developing a new modus vivendi between Arab states and moderate Islamist groups may well be unfolding in the process.
In the early and optimistic days of the Arab Spring, mainstream Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood garnered all the attention. Many assumed, wrongly as it turned out, that Brotherhood parties would be swept into power in country after country once Arabs were able to vote freely.
With their well-established brands, strong grass-roots organizations and lack of taint of association with former dictatorships, Brotherhood parties did indeed quickly come to power in Egypt and Tunisia.… Seguir leyendo »
The waves lap languidly against the coastline as flickering, spectral images crackle back and forth across the screen. A seemingly endless parade of black-clad assassins, each leading his own sacrificial victim, files across the beachfront in a skillful montage with multiple angles, overhead shots and MTV-style rapid editing.
The camera lingers on the terror on the victims’ faces as one of the killers, singled out by his camouflage outfit, issues dire threats in distinctly American English with a light Arabic accent. The victims are then pushed facedown onto the sand and gruesomely decapitated, each man’s severed head being placed on top of his torso.… Seguir leyendo »
It has lately become the accepted wisdom that the Middle East peace process is dead, finished, kaput. This belief has been reinforced by Al Jazeera’s release this week of some 1,600 documents that are said to describe the inside workings of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in 2008.
The arguments claiming that the peace process is dead come from all corners: Some contend that the Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank, is ineffectual or illegitimate. Some say the asymmetry of power between Israel and the Palestinians is simply too great for a genuine compromise. Some insist the conflict is driven by unabated anti-Semitic incitement on the part of the Palestinians, or by irredeemable Israeli racism.… Seguir leyendo »
The recent announcement by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas that he would not seek a second term in office or run in elections has prompted considerable speculation, even confusion, around the world. His decisions contains much ambiguity while conveying different messages to different parties at the same time.
It is almost certainly true that Abbas would prefer to no longer continue as president. He clearly feels let down and betrayed by most if not all his allies, including the Arab states and the Obama administration, and seems genuinely fed up with being put in impossible political situations over issues such as the elusive Israeli settlement freeze agreement and the Goldstone report into the Gaza war.… Seguir leyendo »
President Barack Obama‘s bold re-engagement in Middle East peacemaking is beginning to show signs of progress, but in order to build significant momentum he is going to require much more co-operation, especially from Israel and the Arab states.
After several months of hammering away at the frozen tundra of entrenched positions in the region, cracks in the ice are starting to develop. Israel is inching closer to accepting the settlement freeze, although with some face-saving caveats that will allow Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to assure his cabinet colleagues that he has not capitulated completely to the US president. And while Netanyahu is moving toward an agreement on a freeze, Washington is thus far holding firm to its insistence that Jerusalem must be included in the understanding.… Seguir leyendo »