When reports surfaced in April that senior security officials from Saudi Arabia and Iran had met in Baghdad to discuss their two countries' troubled relationship, at least three pertinent observations came to mind about the state of the cold war that has played out in the Gulf region ever since Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979. For one, the arrival of the Biden administration and its distinctly diverging Iran strategy from the Trump administration helped convince the Saudis of the need to recalculate their own approach toward Iran. For another, in pursuing talks, Saudi leaders are suggesting that diplomacy may stand a better chance of achieving their objective of containing Iran than confrontation.… Seguir leyendo »
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Revolutions can take decades to show their full transformative impact, but in the case of the Middle East and North Africa, the popular uprisings that coursed through the region beginning in late 2010 have failed to fulfil any of their early promises ten years on.
Instead, with the possible exception of Tunisia, they have only made things worse: several countries descended into chaos and civil war; in others, sitting regimes strengthened their hold on power or, suffering an initial defeat, returned with a vengeance, a brutal Tweedledum making way for a vicious Tweedledee.
In 2011, protesters flooded into the streets and squares calling for social justice, jobs, and an end to nepotism, state-sponsored bribery, and the daily indignities inflicted by a highly intrusive security apparatus.… Seguir leyendo »
Standing in a Tunis, Cairo, Benghazi, Sanaa or Manama square in early 2011, one could be forgiven for believing that these joyful, family-friendly mass gatherings were an augury of dramatic peaceful change in a region that badly needed it, yet had very rarely seen it. That was a time before the reigning autocrats turned their guns on the protesters; before Russia and Arab counter-revolutionary forces rushed in to uphold a senescent order that could no longer stand on its own legs, and Western powers coughed politely while looking the other way; and before Iran jumped in to exploit the political vacuum left by Arab state collapse.… Seguir leyendo »
As a moment in time, the Arab Spring produced breakdown, repression and violence, with Tunisia the only notable exception. Yet, seen over the subsequent decade, these uprisings were merely the first manifestation of popular rejection of a deep malaise that no attempt to quell them could remedy or even frustrate, but only magnify. In hindsight, we may think of revolutions as short, dramatic outbursts that overturn the reigning order, seemingly overnight. In reality, they may take years to unfold before they radically restructure society and the rules that govern it. In the Middle East, such fundamental change has likely only just begun.… Seguir leyendo »
The past year’s uprisings shook countries – Sudan, Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon – that their predecessors had passed by, showing a continuity in roots and purpose. They have in common their anti-establishment sentiment and anger at elites incapable of meeting citizens’ basic needs. But each has its own internal focus and dynamic.
In Algeria, people converged on urban squares when an aging and ailing president announced he would pursue a fifth term in office. In a move to prevent a popular movement from bringing down not just the leader but the entire regime, the military stepped in, replacing the president, targeting some particularly corrupt figures in his entourage, appointing an interim government and organising presidential elections.… Seguir leyendo »
No reconocer las revueltas de los países árabes de 2011 como un punto de inflexión que anuncia la necesidad de un cambio de régimen en la región –y la consecuente revisión de la política occidental con respecto a ella, que está pendiente desde hace tiempo– sería un error con importantes consecuencias negativas. Las fuertes réplicas a los acontecimientos de 2011 siguen presentando la posibilidad de debilitar no solo a Estados individuales, sino al sistema de Estados árabes en su conjunto.Resumen
Los drásticos cambios acaecidos en Oriente Medio y el Magreb tras 2011 imponen la necesidad de que entes externos definan un nuevo enfoque político para abordar los retos a largo plazo de la región.… Seguir leyendo »
By pulling the U.S. out of the nuclear agreement (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA) between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (the P5+1), the Trump administration has brought the U.S. relationship with Iran back to an earlier, more confrontational, era. The two states have been locked in an adversarial logic ever since the 1979 Islamic revolution (though popular grievances that fuelled the Shah’s removal date back to 1953, when the CIA helped depose Iran’s popular prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh). The fall of the U.S.-backed guardian in the Gulf, followed by the embassy hostage crisis, launched almost four decades of unremitting enmity, which only the JCPOA began to thaw.… Seguir leyendo »
Crisis Group's Middle East & North Africa Program Director Joost Hiltermann participated in the 2018 Körber Policy Game, designed to explore possible outcomes in the event of a crisis between Turkey and the West in Syria. While the exercise underscored many of the Syrian conflict's complexities, it also revealed that a strong desire by stakeholders to find common ground can help overcome them.
If it were up to regional experts advising their governments, things in the Middle East needn’t look so bad: the Syrian conflict could be contained; a war between Israel and Iran could be avoided, and so, too – and more importantly – a war between Russia and the United States; and Turkey would return to providing regional stability, anchored firmly in the West through its NATO membership.… Seguir leyendo »
After more than three years of fighting, Yemen is teetering on the cusp of an even fiercer war. The Saudi Arabian-led coalition is poised for an offensive on the Red Sea port of Hodeidah that could plunge Yemen into greater turmoil, deepen its humanitarian crisis, and provoke a surge in cross-border missile attacks by the Houthi rebels.
The European Union and its member states have a chance to stop the conflict from sliding into a lethal new stage; now is the time to take action. All sides have declared a readiness to engage in talks (with various conditions), but they need to be nudged towards the table before a full-fledged battle for Hodeidah breaks out.… Seguir leyendo »
When they meet with trauma and survive it, a people’s aspiration to surmount it and prevent its recurrence does not die. On the contrary: it gains strength over time, despite setbacks – sometimes of the disastrous variety – until a time arrives that offers the chance to break through externally imposed barriers and realise long-nourished dreams. But success is not guaranteed. A people’s agency – their willingness to struggle and make sacrifices – may be essential in the achievement of their goals, but it alone does not suffice. The ever-shifting geopolitical environment, too, will play a role in shaping the outcome.… Seguir leyendo »
At first blush, what do these preliminary results amount to? Any surprises? Any dramatic change in the way Iraq will be governed?
There is less surprise in the victory of a component of the Shiite Islamist political firmament than in the nature of that component: the Sadrists, long demonised in the West and not particularly liked in Tehran. They won in alliance with the Communists, also vilified by the West and Iran alike, but in a much earlier era. But the antipathy of external powers is not all the Sadrists, followers of the populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and the Communists have in common.… Seguir leyendo »
The government of President Bashar al-Assad is resurgent in Syria, steadily retaking terrain lost to the rebels. This may bring to an end one set of conflicts, but it could spark newer, potentially more dangerous confrontations.
The key to preventing the Syrian civil war from splintering into an even more chaotic and deadly phase will be Russia, whose September 2015 military intervention gave it control of Syrian airspace and placed it politically in the driver’s seat. But the United States, too, could still play an important role in preventing matters from getting worse.
To understand how perilous the situation in Syria is, look at the map: In the northwest, in Idlib Province, a “de-escalation zone” that is monitored by the Turkish Army remains tenuous.… Seguir leyendo »
As we witness the slaughter of civilians in yet another part of Syria – most recently, the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta – the country appears to enter the endgame of the confrontation between the regime and an array of rebel groups.
But new battles await. Syria is increasingly turning into a battlefield for outside parties’ wars: in the south between Israel and a Hezbollah backed by Iran; in the north between Turkey and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) affiliates; and in the east, potentially, between Iran and the U.S. Instead of ending the population’s suffering after years of merciless fighting, these conflicts extend and add a perilous layer to it that could trigger a regional conflagration.… Seguir leyendo »
There are still many unanswered questions about the reported incident with the Iranian drone in northern Israel last week, but two things should be clear. First, the 12-year-old lull between Israel and Hezbollah will come to an end if a new understanding about the rules governing conflict in this region is not reached. And second, Russia will need to help broker that new understanding.
As for the incident itself: Israel claimed that it shot down an Iranian reverse-engineered Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel drone as it entered the country’s airspace from Jordan on February 10. The RQ-170 is a surveillance drone the size of a small airplane, with a wingspan of over 65 feet.… Seguir leyendo »
What's new? Since the 2011 Arab uprisings, conflicts of divergent origins across the Middle East have intersected and metastasised. This has drawn in regional and international powers, poisoning relations between them, creating more local conflict actors and greatly complicating the task of policymakers to respond effectively.
Why does it matter? Policy responses that treat conflicts in isolation and ignore their root causes may end up doing more harm than good. Stabilising war-torn states or de-escalating crises requires an understanding of the interconnectedness and the deeper drivers of regional conflicts.
What should be done? A new methodology is required to effectively address the Middle East’s post-2011 conflicts.… Seguir leyendo »
In war, the spoils go to the victor, but so does the burden of maintaining the peace, lest the conflict flare up again, requiring new investments in blood and treasure. Are Russia and Iran both willing and able to take on this burden? The current scale of destruction is almost beyond imagining, and it will take years of at least relative calm and a significant influx of funds to restore even a measure of liveability to areas worst affected. Russia and Iran have displayed their military prowess, but can they back it up long-term with the required financial resources? This is highly doubtful, and yet they cannot afford to let things linger post-conflict.… Seguir leyendo »
The UN-led Syria talks in Vienna last week highlighted two inescapable truths: The Geneva process has come to play second fiddle to the Russia-sponsored Astana process, which more accurately reflects the balance of forces on the ground in Syria; and Astana can’t replace Geneva if Russia, which is in the driver’s seat, wants the conflict the end via negotiations and a political transition.
Astana’s predominance was brought home by the collapse of the Vienna talks and the UN decision to allow its Syria envoy, Staffan DeMistura, to attend the peace conference in Sochi this week. DeMistura will arrive with his pockets empty: the UN has been unable to make progress on core elements of UN Security Council Resolution 2254: a transitional governing body, the drafting of a constitution and UN-sponsored parliamentary as well as presidential elections with diaspora voting.… Seguir leyendo »
Just a few months ago, it appeared that the Kurds of Iraq and Syria were the biggest winners in the war against the Islamic State. Bolstered by alliances with the very Western powers that had once betrayed and divided them, they dared to dream that they were on the verge of undoing what they perceived as a historic wrong, when geopolitical maneuvering denied them a state following the end of World War I.
Yet, instead of witnessing the creation of an independent homeland, the Kurds have suffered a major setback. As the military campaign against the Islamic State winds down, the United States and its allies’ enthusiasm for using the Kurds as their proxies against the jihadi organization has not translated into long-term military or diplomatic backing and certainly not into support for statehood.… Seguir leyendo »
Once oriented mainly toward Europe and no more than a (wary) bystander in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Turkey became one of the region’s aspiring heavyweights in just over a decade. The country is bound to the neighborhood through blood and cultural ties, even if its distinct Turkish character sets it apart from the Arab world. Despite a shared history and geographical proximity that could have ensured strong commercial and diplomatic links with states formerly part of the empire, Turkey’s traditional establishment and elites long saw exposure to a conflict-ridden Middle East primarily as a liability. It was only in the 1980s that Turkey started developing closer trading, cultural, and people-to-people ties with the surrounding region.… Seguir leyendo »
On September 25th, the Kurds of Iraq indicated for the second time in 12 years that they wish to be free of the rest of the country. While the final results are not yet in, early indications are that it was an overwhelming victory for “yes.” That sentiment cannot come as a surprise. Feeling cheated out of a state of their own after the World War I, having fought central governments that suppressed their aspirations, and suffering grievously in the process, Kurds understandably see independence as the only viable escape from further such woe.
Yet for statehood to arise, a people’s right to self-determination and their desire to exercise it must be matched with possibility.… Seguir leyendo »